Every year when Israel’s Independence Day comes round, I always experience delight, pride, and sadness.
Delight and pride because after two thousand years of exile, of suffering under the oppression, hatred, and prejudice of so many countries, civilizations, and religions, at last and miraculously, we have been able to reestablish ourselves in our historical homeland. We have contributed so much to humanity that we deserve the right to be treated equally and to be as autonomous as everyone else.
That includes the right to be able to make ones own mistakes in ones country as much as anyone else. Of course we should recognize the right of others to be autonomous, too, and in our specific case to try our best to reach a fair accommodation with the Palestinians.
However, let us make no mistake, the desire of so many to see Israel disappear will remain a challenge and there is no alternative but to face it. That is a sad reflection on others.
But the sadness that I am talking about is our own. On both sides of the spectrum I see fellow Jews with who I have little in common.
Let me start with those closest to me on the religious side. I can understand the mindset of opponents of secular Zionism. Secular Zionism was born out of an anti-religious secular, and mainly Marxist, worldview that saw religion as restricting, medieval and responsible for everything that was negative in the Jewish condition.
Its declared aims were to establish a state where religious values were excluded or at least marginalized. The early years of Zionism saw a profound sense of alienation between the Old Yishuv and the New. The Old were Jews living in the Holy Land out of religious conviction; a constant feature of exile, whenever conditions allowed. The New Yishuv were the secular pioneers who came to create a new state through the work of their own hands.
This antagonism has continued, but over time it has softened, largely due to the euphoria after the Six Day War and the personality of Menachem Begin who brought changes that brought both Sephardi and other traditional Jews into the body politic and into the workforce hitherto dominated by the secular unions.
Of course there is still a kulturkampf going in Israel, as is there is in many free societies, between religion and secularism. It is right that this struggle plays itself out in the democratic process and is accommodated, if not settled by it.
However, the situation today in Israel is very different than my first experience when I arrived in Haifa in 1958 and was spat at for wearing a kippa. Nowadays the spit seems to be flying mainly in the other direction. In my days the violent anti-Zionism was confined to a handful of lunatics called the Neturei Karta (“The Protectors of the City”, as if they protected anyone) who were even ostracized by the ideologue of anti-Zionism, the late Satmar Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum.
The anti-Zionists have every right to oppose the Zionist state. That is democracy. But isn’t it ironic that the Israel they abhor gives more support to Torah than any state ever has in history. And its social welfare system enables ultra Orthodox families to live a life of study and in many cases indolence. Their inability to be grateful is one thing. But to attack those Charedi Jews who choose to serve in the Israeli army and to destroy their property, brothers who actually defend and protect them, is simply criminal and I hope they are put in prison.
They claim to be religious, as I do, and claim to follow Jewish Law, as I do. Yet with such people I wish to have nothing to do whatsoever. I could not bring myself to be civil to such mutations of Judaism. They typify everything I despise about extreme, irrational religion.
I am an unreserved admirer of the late Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, who believed that anyone helping build a Jewish state or helping the Jewish people survive was worthy of respect, admiration, and gratitude for that alone, regardless of whatever other shortcomings they were guilty of.
Now let me switch to the other extreme. I have every respect for those who wish to support the establishment of a Palestinian state that would live at peace with Israel and recognize its right to exist as a democratic state. I have enormous respect for those who stand up against abuses of law, humanity, and civil rights, whether within Israel itself or on the West Bank, and who highlight the mistakes and tragedies that have been made.
But I have no time for those Israelis who oppose the existence of a Jewish state and accuse Israel of genocide or apartheid and who show no sense of equivalence whatsoever.
As for “settlers”, however one defines them, fair and just resolution will be one in which Muslims and Christians live equally and peacefully in a Jewish state alongside the Jews, and Jews and Christians will live in a Palestinian state in safety and at peace alongside its Palestinian Arab population. That is why I support those who would be happy to live in a Judea and Samaria under Palestinian rule, just as I oppose those settlers who believe that Palestinians should never have a state of their own and those Palestinians who want it to be Jew-less.
Finally in this list of those I have nothing in common with I include those Jews who out of lack of education or any substantively Jewish experience feel no interest or commitment to a Jewish state. I am simply not in the same space.
I am one of those middle-of-the-road committed Jews who want the best of both worlds. As with everything, it is the extremist who gets the attention. But I know there are far more moderates like me than most people seem to realize. We are not silent. We express our views and propagate them. We just do not make as much noise as the zealots on both sides. But that doesn’t mean we will not win the argument in the long run.
Now let me switch to the Muslim world. It is indeed awash with anti-Semitism and dominated by extremists who call for the death of Jews and Christians and who will kill them given a chance. We are accorded Dhimmi status by the Koran. This is not a status that can be morally acceptable in this modern world. It is redolent of primitive fundamentalism and no more to be tolerated than discriminating against homosexuals, blacks, or other minorities in any civilized society.
But I know full well that there are many Muslims who do not accept this and are in exactly the same position in relation to their world as I am in relation to mine. We do not approve of fanaticism. We can and we do talk to each other. Not enough, of course, but there can never be enough reconciliation and moderation.
Now if I can claim that the Neturei Karta and those Jews who deny Israel legitimacy are alien deviations and distortions of Judaism, so moderate Muslims can say the same about their extremes. I often hear people ask, “Where is the moderate Muslim?” Just as I often hear people ask, “Where is the moderate Orthodox Jew?” We are there and not “hiding behind stones and trees.”
In conclusion, we are like a dysfunctional married couple. Professional counselors might help, outsiders might help, family might help, and common sense might help. Above all, one should keep on trying. But in the end each one of us has to do the best to survive.
I am happy to be alive. I am sad that some people don’t want me to be. But I won’t let it stop me trying to make the world a better place for everyone.