Text size
related tags

Aluf Benn writes that the struggle over the future of the territories is actually a derivative of the real struggle over the character of the state, whether it is to be "Jewish or Israeli, facing the past or the future, isolation or openness." ("Jewish or Israeli?", Haaretz, March 10). He says that Benjamin Netanyahu heads a coherent nationalistic camp and that he emphasizes Jewishness and the past, while opposing him is an amorphous camp interested in bolstering democracy, emphasizing the future, and Israeliness.

Benn has succumbed here to one of the dominant elements in our public discourse, by speaking in terms of opposing factors, of quasi-binary systems, while between the apparently conflicting factors there is in fact a close connection.

On one side of the equation are the "good guys" or the "forces of light" and on the other the "bad guys" or the "forces of darkness." It is the left which is open to the future, to progress and to social justice, while Netanyahu and the "nationalist camp" tend to foster the historical link to the nation and the land, and support the Israel Defense Forces.

Moreover, Benn observes that the struggle is being waged only within the public that is neither Arab not ultra-Orthodox. It is not clear where he places modern Orthodox Zionists, because he states that despite the increase in the numbers of the former two groups, "the Israeli Jews who drive on Shabbat and do not put on phylacteries will continue to rule the country."

His attitude toward the Arabs is also not clear, because "the left is divided between political interest, which requires that it link up with the Arabs and incorporate them within Jewish society, and its wish for legitimacy which leads it to a more security-based and less democratic position."

The internal debate over the character of the state is indeed critical, and it shapes the dispute over the territories. But Benn is wrong to describe the argument in such black and white terms, because just doing that thwarts the chances that Israel will be able to formulate a clear policy that will reflect the necessity for integrating the two essential components of its identity: both Jewish and democratic, both nationalist and committed to universal human rights.

This is the way of Zionism at its best. Only this integration gives the enterprise of the State of Israel its essential nature and its raison d'etre. Only it will make the construction possible of a mainstream consensus, one that will enable the consolidation of a large and stable majority of Israeli society behind bold and difficult decisions of the elected leadership. Such a consensus necessitates maintaining both nationalism and social justice. The IDF must remain the people's army, above politics but subject to supervision of the way it and its power are used.

We must not focus only on restoring the past and ignore the rights of the people living here today, Jews and non-Jews alike, and their well-being. But at the same time, it is impossible to conceive a new nation here, one for which this country is not its historical homeland.

The State of Israel's purpose is to be the one place where Jews are a majority and can enjoy self-determination, making it possible for them to be full members of the family of nations.

It is not a question of being nationalist or democratic, of a Jewish state or a democracy, of being Jewish or Israeli. The Arab minority is also not only democratic; it is nationalist, and its national-cultural identity is different from that of the state's Jewish majority.

Therefore, Israel is Jewish and democratic, Jewish (because it has a Jewish majority and a Jewish public culture and is the realization of Jewish self-determination) and also Israeli (a country in which all citizens, and only citizens, participate in the democratic decision-making process).

It would not be right to allow any of the camps to acquire a monopoly over one of these components and to keep the other components out. By doing that we would lose the state's cohesion of values, and we would not be able to maintain either its Jewish nor its democratic character.

The writer is founding president of the Metzilah Center for Zionist, Jewish, Liberal and Humanistic Thought.