OCALA, Fla., November 4, 2013 — Fewer questions are more challenging, or controversial, than this: What is Israel’s place in twenty-first century society?
Is it a homeland for the Jewish people and nothing more? If so, then how does one define said people? Do Jews constitute a religious community or an ethnic group?
In the latter case, which ethnic subdivision — Northern European Ashkenazim, Middle Eastern Mizrahim or Mediterranean Sephardim — will ultimately wind up running the country? In the former scenario, would Orthodox be considered the only legitimate denomination, leaving Conservative, Humanistic, Karaite, Reconstructionist, Reform, and Universalist Jews in the lurch?
“In Israel, there is less religious freedom for non-Orthodox Jews than anyplace in the Western world,” political columnist Allan C. Brownfeld noted in this fall’s edition of Issues, a publication of the non-Zionist American Council for Judaism.
“Israel regularly proclaims itself a society in which there is ‘religious freedom.’ Its definition of this term, however, is unique. Conservative and Reform rabbis have no right to perform weddings or funerals and their conversions are not recognized. Orthodox Judaism is, in effect, the state religion.
“Israel’s Declaration of Independence, read in the great hall of the Tel Aviv Art Museum on May 14, 1948, was highly liberal and modeled on the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the American Declaration of Independence.
“It was, writes Hebrew University Professor Zeev Sternhell in ‘The Founding Myths of Israel,’ an ‘article for export, an act of public relations. It had no legal standing in Israeli jurisprudence and thus could not serve as a point of reference with regard to the rights of man, with regard to gender equality (which the religious parties very strongly opposed) or with regard to equality before the law, which, if applied, would have made the Arabs remaining in Israeli territory full citizens.’”
For quite awhile, Israel has been building settlements in the West Bank. Over the last several years, however, these settlements have grown rapidly in population. Despite the fact that young Israelis are increasingly leaving their country for economic purposes, they are being replaced by Diaspora Jews.
No small number of Diaspora Jews who choose to make aliyah — immigration to Israel — fall in line with Orthodox traditions. Younger native-born Israelis tend to be more theo-conservative than older generations, harboring pronounced anti-Arab viewpoints.
In short, there is little promise on the horizon for Israel to end its settlement policies. As these settlements are constructed on Palestinian land, already anti-Israeli locals are angered even further.
“A binational state in Israel-Palestine in which all citizens enjoy equal rights is one of the concepts most fiercely opposed by the state of Israel and most of its Jewish citizens,” journalist Max Blumenthal tells The Washington Times Communities. He has written much about Israel’s precarious situation, and virtually all of it has generated controversy.
A video he made in which young Israelis were asked about sensitive political issues was banned from YouTube. His latest book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, seems on its way to securing a place among the most politically incorrect nonfiction works in modern history.
“However, Israel’s policies and the logic of its planning since 1967 have rendered a two state solution impossible, making a single state inevitable,” Blumenthal continues. “Today, Israel-Palestine is a single state in which Palestinians suffer under a matrix of Israel control differing depending on where they live.
“This is the source of their resentment of Israel and it is driving anti-Semitic attitudes in the Arab world. Clearly there needs to be an effort to think past the old, discredited remedies of the so-called peace process and begin preparing the people of Israel-Palestine for a shared future. The only other option is the current reality: a single state under a regime of apartheid.”
Brownfeld also wrote that “(a)n extensive survey released late in June shows….Arab citizens of Israel are increasingly alienated and view their status as clearly being second class. The survey, 2012 Index of Arab-Jewish Relations in Israel, was conducted by Professor Sammy Smooha of Haifa University.
“In Smooha’s view, eliminating discrimination is essential, but he fears that the process will be slow. The nature of the state of Israel as a Jewish state, he points out, makes it more complicated. He cites the Law of Return as an example. The law pertains to Jews and eliminates even Palestinian spouses of Arab Israelis, for fear the children may be raised unloyal to the state.
“But, said Smooha, Arab Israelis remain very loyal: ‘They are resigned with Israel as a Jewish state … They don’t want to shatter the rules, they just want more equality and dignity.’”
“The philosophy of Zionism has oriented Israel towards Europe and the West,” Blumenthal explains, “defining it against the indigenous culture of the Middle East – ‘a rampart of civilization against barbarism,’ as Theodore Herzl said.
“This mentality has led Israel to shield itself in armor, with separation walls and Iron Domes and policies of exclusion and dispossession that have badly corroded its social fabric while making life unbearable for millions of Palestinians.
“Israel has no endgame or strategy for ending its occupation or reversing these deeply undemocratic policies. It will be unable to reverse the current trends without outside pressure that imposes a solution offering equality to all in Israel-Palestine.
“This may force Jewish Israelis to decide whether they would like to become more integrated into the Middle East, a region that consists mostly of Arab Muslims. Many of them can be expected to resist such a scenario tooth and nail, to claim that it represents Israel’s ‘destruction,’ but there will be others in Israel who will welcome the removal of an inhumane system that is turning their own society into an authoritarian, theocratic theater of cruelty that is increasingly unbearable.
“As I explain in the final chapter of [Goliath], there are already 600,000 to a million Israelis living abroad, and many young, liberal-minded Israelis living in Berlin. They have left for better economic opportunities and also a chance to experience light and justice. And they will continue to make the exodus until the status quo is reversed.”
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