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Hail the Jewish State; Screw Democracy!

Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

That’s the bottom line, my friends, regarding the ‘Jewish nation-state law’ the Knesset had passed last week. You can twist it in so many ways, and amend it a hundred times more, it won’t change its premise and purpose. Because, what’s in that law when you actually read it (which I have done), isn’t so drastic on first and even second reading. It says nothing about the Arab citizens of the country being relegated to a ‘second class’ status, or about their language being relegated to a ‘second language’ (other than to say that “the state’s language is Hebrew”). Or any such wording that can bluntly be blamed for being outright racist. But it says a lot about the intent of the people who fought for this law to become a ‘basic law’ in Israel.

by Avi Katz

Case in point. But wait… just to clarify: Israel has no constitution, per se, and all attempts at creating it since independence have failed. It does have the ‘Declaration of Independence,’ signed by David Ben-Gurion and other brave men and women upon declaring independence, which until now has served as the principal document—sort of constitution for Israel and its citizens—and that among other things promised “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race or gender.” This historic, monumental document—written and passed under the gathering clouds of war—is now rendered almost mute by the passing of this new, infamous ‘basic law’.

And a ‘basic law’, by the way, is sort of a constitutional law in Israel. It meant to guide the legal system and it’s more difficult to repeal than regular laws. (The last sentence in this law states that “This Basic Law shall not be amended, unless by another Basic Law passed by a majority of Knesset members.”) It is, indeed, the intent of the ‘framers’ in this case as well: To enshrine it as irreversible law. And the way Israel and its population go—i.e. right and very-right of center currently, intolerant and religiously zealot—it’s here to stay. The law’s main function and purpose is to serve as a springboard for generations to come. And for actions to come. Actions that will continue to erode the legitimacy and existence—as free, equal-right citizens—of the Arab citizens of the country, and the Druzes too, together over twenty percent of the population.

You see, what this law does—more than anything else—is giving another push, a strong, decisive one forward to the forces that oppose tolerance; oppose liberal democracy; support intolerance and even ‘fascism’ of sorts. The erosion, if you will, or the march of Israel toward an autocratic-ruled, semi-Apartheid country is being moved into high gear by this law. Which at the same time kick the ball—excuse the cliché, but I enjoyed greatly the just concluded month of the World Cup—of democracy, tolerance, equality almost out of the playing field. Time will tell, of course, but the momentum of Israel founding fathers’ endeavor, and their historic, thoughtful document is gone. Thrown by the wayside.

Now back to the above mentioned “Case in point.” I am fortunate enough to receive every Friday the e-newsletter of the ‘Consulate General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest,’ in which they tell us—Jews, Israelis—all there is to know (of course, what they want you to know) related to Israel, usually with a brush of pink color, on everything that took place the previous week. And so when I opened the latest newsletter, just a day or two after passing of the ‘nation-state’ law, I was immediately drawn to one headline, titled “Israel Is the Jewish State.” Wow… Really?!… Tell me something I don’t already know. Anyway, I follow the attached link, which opened to an article in the Wall Street Journal, titled “Get Over It—Israel Is the Jewish State.” Big deal. As if we didn’t know that already. As if before the passing of this law it was not the case. Or in doubt.

Just as was the case with the moving of the American Embassy to Jerusalem—which, by the way, has failed miserably so far to generate any other civilized nations (other than two small, bribed South American regimes) to join in—the declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was no big deal to most Israelis. We already knew that. It meant to create problems, which indeed it brought about. (The so-called Trump administration’s ‘huge, greatest peace deal of all times’ is dead before its arrival). It meant to push back the possibility of peace with the Arabs, which it has achieved spectacularly; it meant to continue the erosion of Israel as a democratic, liberal nation.

I will not go, here and now, into the details of the law—you can easily find it yourself in countless of articles online—other than to stress that it is indeed another milestone on the road to the cliff of hell. Too strong a wording, you say? Probably. But strong actions demand strong words. So let’s try it a different way: It’s as if another heavy stone has been laid on the grave of the liberal, enlightened state Herzl—the ‘visionary of the Jewish state’—and his brave, like-minded Ben-Gurion—who envisioned Israel as a liberal, democratic state for all its citizens. A “Light to the Goyim,” if you will. But no more. Screw the ideal of liberal democracy. We are living in the real, cruel world. Ideals are meant for leftists.

And by the way, here’s an anecdote, important though: Only two members of the Knesset abstained during the vote (passed by 62 to 55). One of them was Benny Begin, a member of the governing party the Likud. Even he, the son of Menachem Begin, the leader of the Irgun, the founder of the Likud, the first Prime Minister of a rightwing government in Israel, couldn’t—in all his moral consciousness, (probably hearing his father rolling in his grave—vote for this law. Not in my name.

* The “Leave a Comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.

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The Villa in the Jungle

ofdesign.net

Three months ago Ehud Barak—former Israeli Prime Minister, Defense Minister, IDF Chief of Staff, commander of the storied Sayeret Matkal, and still the most decorated IDF soldier—visited our town as part of the ‘Sacramento Speakers Series.” Like other expatriate Israelis, and many Jews in our community, I was eager to hear Barak’s talk, and learn of his views regarding the current Israel government and political situation, the Palestinian issue, Middle East, Iran, war and peace. To be frank, I was largely disappointed, as he hardly touched on these topics, at least not in his initial long talk. The second part of the evening however—the interview session, where he was asked question by a local TV personality—was much more interesting and he was forced to touch upon these topics, and was also more revealing as to who Ehud Barak the person is.

The reason I’m coming back to his talk so late is because one thing, one phrase of his, had remained planted in my head—and kept bothering me—more than anything else he’d said that evening. He’d kept comparing Israel to “The Villa in the Jungle,” at least a couple of times (this being his favorite moniker). There was also an element of smugness in him, of look how clever I am, saying that. And I came to believe that this saying is symptomatic of a lot of what’s wrong with Israel’s attitude and politics today, with the army’s parlance and ‘school-of-thought’ adopted by political leaders. I thought it’s well worth analyzing. So here goes:

The first thing to disturb me in this saying was the stench of plain racism that came from it. We built, he actually said, a beautiful (white, I assume) villa in the jungle (dark, I assume). Inside, he said, we’re doing very well, but once we venture outside, we’re surrounded by the (black, I assume) barbarians at the gate. What can we do, he really remarked, but we are not living in Canada. This was, still is, so reminiscent of South Africa, and how the white minority, the Anglo and Dutch outsiders had ruled over the native, black majority there for so many years. And how they thought of, and behaved toward, the people surrounding them. Indeed, Israel is accused by many of being in the process of creating an Apartheid state.

It’s also, for second, not exactly true. In the north of Israel we have Lebanon. For many years, it was regarded, especially Beirut, as the ‘Paris’ of the Middle East.’ Southern Lebanon, where Hazboollah now is completely in charge, was the bastion of the Christians, historically an educated, culturally sound society and place (I know, I’ve been there). If not for the Palestinian issue—which Israel continuously refuses to solve, and to acknowledge as being the central issue, the core of the conflict—things there would’ve been much, much better.

True, it was Ehud Barak, in his short stint as Prime Minister, who pulled the IDF out of Lebanon. It’s also true that he tried to strike a deal with Arafat—unreciprocated unfortunately—in order to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. There are some ongoing efforts to promote coexistence with the Israeli Arabs, and with Palestinians. And not that there were never any other serious peace negotiations and attempts on Israel’s part. Yitzhak Rabin paid with his life for one such an attempt. Still, in the current political climate in Israel, these are too few and far between, and the majority of Israelis continue to move right-of-center, and are opposed to any compromise with the Palestinians.

And then we have Syria and Jordan to the East. Yes, things in Syria are horrendous currently, but that country carries a lot of historical, cultural significant in the Middle East and the world. And so does Jordan. And we also have Egypt in the south, with its own immense historical, cultural treasures. It’s not as if we Jews, by coming to the land of our forefathers, are the only cultured, educated, enlightened people around.

It’s also brings to mind the larger question of how we see ourselves—Israel that is, and its people—living in the region. Are we there to erect and solidify our walls (that indeed Israel keeps building), to separate ourselves in our fortified “Villa,” fighting and dreading the day we’ll be overrun by the wild people of the “Jungle.” Or do we, finally, want to be an integral part of that rough neighborhood. To belong, at least, if not necessarily to assimilate. To live in peace with our surrounding neighbors, and not in a constant war.

Finally, this saying—which depicts, describes Israel as the “Villa in the Jungle”—represents a lot of the problems afflicting today’s Israel and its people. It’s the reason why, despite all its advances—in agriculture, hi-tech, culture, democracy, and yes, military might—it’s still so isolated, especially culturally. Not that surprising then that Natalie Portman, Paul McCartney, the singer Lorde, and the Argentinian Soccer team, all refused to come to Israel lately. In a way, Israel brings it upon itself, isolating itself—culturally and politically especially—with this attitude; which the saying—the “Villa in the Jungle”—is such a reflection of.

* The “Leave a Comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.

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