Kaniuk's Complaint, or the Gripes of Wrath

The problem with habitual complainers is that their moans are just one long kvetch.

In the midst of the deafening noise of the various and sundry memorial days, both legitimate and alternative, individual emotional turmoil is almost inevitable. Suddenly, from the wings comes a scream, a screamlet, from a person who also wants to be remembered: "I, too, contributed! Why aren't they mentioning me?"

The person's name in this case is Yoram Kaniuk, a respected and successful author. But his scream isn't from the field of literature - or perhaps it is, indirectly. Kaniuk, who wrote, among other things, the novel "The Last Jew" in 2006, says he no longer wants to be listed as a Jew in the Population Registry; instead he wants to be registered as a person without religion. In this he is continuing the quixotic fight of Yonatan Ratosh and the Canaanite movement (or the Young Hebrews, to use their official name ), and organizations for the prevention of religious coercion - which have fought in vain against the way the Jewish state pressures its citizens to belong to one religion or another.

Yoram Kanyuk
Eran Wolkowski

Ostensibly, every secular person in Israel should be rushing to Kaniuk's side and supporting him. However, anyone who saw the really small gathering on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv - against the backdrop of Meir Dizengoff's heartbreaking tribute to himself, a statue of him riding on a horse that looks like a mule that looks like a donkey - could not help but feel tremendous pity for the veteran author who is hurling himself into a maze from which he will never exit.

What is the meaning of the minuscule amount of public support for such a sublime and obvious idea? Here's one answer: The vast majority of Israeli citizens have decided to authorize the state to restrict their religious freedom, for the sake of an idea that seems more important to them - that Israel should remain a Jewish state. But because the willing sacrifice of freedom contains something irrational or untenable, the question continually arises as to how it is possible that an entire nation is unable to act in accordance with the rules of simple logic and is not prepared to legislate, once and for all, the matter of separation of religion and state - but rather, keeps on postponing the solution to some unclear future.

However, there is also another possible answer to this perplexity: Time after time, those who take it upon themselves to lead the campaign for separation of religion and state are people whose major feature is the moan. In other words: kvetchers. And what do kvetchers do? They kvetch. And what do they kvetch about? Anything that bothers them. Because no one pays attention to their kvetching.

Let us consider Voltaire, the French philosopher and the founding father of the idea of separation of religion and state. Was he a kvetcher? No. He fought the church, was exiled from his country and went back and fought again. But he did not moan to everyone that they owed him something and weren't giving it to him. On the contrary. He didn't want the state to grant him rights; he wanted to be the one to give the state the right to grant anything at all.

And what is the path of the poor man's Voltaire? They want favors from the state. And they believe that if they moan enough, the state will get tired of their moaning and grant them the privilege they want. And in the case before us: Erasing Citizen Yoram Kaniuk's religious affiliation from his identity card. Paradoxically - entirely paradoxically - this might, by chance, succeed. In the kvetchers' state, the question is only what decibel level the loudspeakers through which your moans are emitted can reach.

And there are quite a few examples of moan campaigns that have succeeded, or almost succeeded, in exhausting the state's institutions. For example, in the deportation of the labor migrants' children. Or in the furor over the release of Gilad Shalit. Both these affairs, and many more, suffer from the same disability as the Kaniuk affair: They want the state to take pity and be compassionate, because look how much we're suffering, and moaning, and how hard it is for us. And in any case you, the state, are no paragon of virtue, so what would happen if you too were to behave not entirely according to the dry letter of the law?

In the kvetchers' state, it sometimes happens that the state, exhausted by the moans of people with a gripe, gives in to the moaners. So, it closes its eyes and doesn't deport the migrant workers' children. Then the citizens of the moaners' state - who have ostensibly succeeded in their fight - celebrate. They are so happy they don't notice, or they pretend not to notice, that right under their noses the state is deporting other migrant workers, or the state is shutting its ears to appeals from people who don't have at their disposal a well-oiled system of moans that make it into the media.

Because of all this, presumably Kaniuk's current fight to have the religious affiliation erased from his identity card will remain a mere curiosity. And even if, out of the blue, the state decides to do as he asks, it will still remain a mere curiosity.

When will this all end? When the State of Israel takes action and amends retroactively the sentence in the Declaration of Independence that declares Israel to be the Jewish state, or else formulates a new declaration in which the truth is told: We hereby declare the establishment of a kvetcher state in the Land of Israel, the state of Kvetchel.