Defining Israel by What It Is Not

No to Arabs, no to Jews, no to the world; no to foreigners and no to settlement freezes; no to the bomb and no to the peace initiatives; no to ending the siege and no to Syria. That's a frighteningly thin vocabulary - a one-word national dictionary.

The State of Israel can be defined in the negative: no to Arabs, no to Jews, no to the world; no to foreigners and no to settlement freezes; no to the bomb and no to the peace initiatives; no to ending the siege and no to Syria. That's a frighteningly thin vocabulary - a one-word national dictionary. Among the overabundance of "no," the word "yes" has disappeared. Sixty-two years after its establishment, nobody knows where the state is headed. What does it want? What are its leaders and citizens seeking? What sort of state would we like to see?

This is quite a surprising situation for a state whose miraculous establishment was always accompanied by visions. It was as though vision and reality were equal partners: They may have been illusory visions, or visions of dread, but there was always a vision, some sense of the future that did not end with the next edition of the daily news.

Theodor Herzl had a vision, as did David Ben-Gurion and Ze'ev Jabotinsky and Moshe Sneh. The Mapai party had a vision as well; and when Menachem Begin took power, he raced forward with a series of initiatives - from neighborhood renewal to peace with Egypt to liberalization of the economy, each of which derived from vision.

Every political party had a clear platform, by which it spelled out what it intended to do, not just what it rejected. Some wanted an egalitarian socialist society, others called for a middle-class civil society; some parties envisioned a secular state or a religious state; some sought a European social character, others one that would be more Middle Eastern; and of course whether they supported "Greater Israel" or a territorial compromise.

Everything was clearly envisioned. There was an ethos. There was a street lamp at the end of the neighborhood, and it shed light on our provincial childhood: Every kid in Israel knew who stood for what, not just who opposed whom.

And what is Israel's ethos today? The Iranian bomb? The removal of Hamas? A gas mask for every worker and a bomb shelter for every building? "Jewish democracy" - a concept whose meaning is opaque to everyone?

Try to figure out what the big parties in Israel stand for. Ask any citizen who crosses your path what he'd like to see happen here, what sort of society and state he favors. You won't get an answer. Nothing. Everyone wants foods and work, quiet and security, survival and, if possible, a vacation. And that everyone around us should look just like us.

At first glance, this seems normal - a state of affairs resembling that of all other peoples, even though some of them, like the Americans, operate on the basis of a declared vision. But a state that is still groping around for a path in the darkness; that is located in a region which has yet to accept it and its society; a state whose immigrant population is far from being socially cohesive and is, in fact, increasingly torn into fragments; a state whose democratic framework is acutely fragile; a state that lacks well-rooted, strong institutions apart from its army; a state whose values are blurry and vague - such a state needs clearly defined orientations. And it has none.

Virtually every American citizen and every immigrant to the United States can recite the series of principles and values which are intended to guide his or her nation. We do not possess such values and principles.

The problem will not be solved via ridiculous means, such as introducing more Zionist lessons into the public school curriculum (at a time when the core term - Zionism - is contested and unclear ), or establishing more "heritage sites." We must reach a decision as to where we are headed.

Do we accept Arab citizens, or not? Do we intend to hold on to the occupied territories forever? Do we want to become integrated into the Middle East? Do we want an open, multicultural society or an isolated, ultra-nationalist society? Do we want our country to be based on religious law, or on the separation of religion and state? Do we want a civil society, of which security institutions are just one element, or do we want to continue living in a quasi-military state? This is a long list of fateful questions, none of which are on the agenda.

Nobody has stepped forward to place these issues on the discussion table - not the political leadership, not the media, not the educational system, not any sectors of civil society (which barely exists ). Public discourse relates to trivia, to the most meaningless, transient scandals, to army conversions, to the fire on the Carmel, to police commander Uri Bar-Lev. And so what is left for us to do? We must start to say no, no, no. Absolutely not. And to what can we answer yes?