This Is What Is Wrong With a Jewish State

Thanks to the Netanyahu government, never has the idea of a Jewish state looked worse.

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JAFFA - Why was this Fourth of July different from all other independence days?

What the world has seen over the past 12 months is a re-definition of patriotism. It derives from a central lesson of the Obama campaign, the Obama victory, and, so far, of the Obama presidency: In true love of country, there is no room for hatred.

Perhaps this is what is so crushing, so profoundly depressing, about the people who have of late taken to redefining patriotism in Israel.

There is no little irony in the circumstance that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chose Palestinian recognition of Israel as "the national state of the Jewish People" as a central tool in efforts to stave off peace talks and deflect demands for a settlement freeze.

Never, thanks to his government, has the concept of a Jewish state looked worse.

The undercurrent of racism in this year's election campaign was a clear warning. Overtly anti-Israeli Arab legislation and bills aimed at curbing Arab freedom of expression have soiled the concept of a Jewish state to a nadir that Israel's worst, most energetic enemies have never managed to approach.

The outpouring of hatred has since become an equal-opportunity sewer. Radical settlers and immigrants from the former Soviet Union have voiced unabashed, despicable racist attitudes toward a black president of the United States.

Inevitably, fellow Jews in Israel have become targets of the hatred as well. In Jerusalem, Jews who presume to be among the most devout of all adherents to Judaism, think nothing of attacking fellow Jews on the Sabbath with cinder blocks and glass bottles, all in protest over the opening of a parking lot.

Rabbis in the West Bank give Israel's enemies new ammunition week to week, by condoning killings of Palestinians.

And, in a reference to Israeli Arabs, ultra-Orthodox Housing Minister Ariel Atias this month chose the Bar Association, of all venues, to declare that he saw it as "a national duty to prevent the spread of a population that, to say the least, does not love the state of Israel." He went on to explicitly argue for segregation, not only between Jews and Arabs, but between ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews.

Whether all this is done in the service of patriotism or in the service of Jewish tradition, its effect is disservice to both.

Jewish tradition offers its adherents the widest range of choices, from an almost superhuman level of compassion and lovingkindness, to Old Testament admonishments to genocide.

It's up to the individual Jew to choose. And up to the Jewish state.

It's up to a Jewish state to find a way to oppose a Hamas government without resorting to blocking shipments of humanitarian supplies to more than a million innocent people, or arresting peace activists , among them a former U.S. congresswoman and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate trying to bring those supplies to Gaza.

It's up to a Jewish state to recognize when a policy of collective punishment is self-defeating as well as immoral, and to call a halt.

It's up to this Jewish state to redefine patriotism.

Love of country is, at heart, trust in a nation's people, faith in their better nature, esteem for their best hopes, understanding for the magnificence and the distinctiveness and the huge, infinitely shaded cultural palette of their simple humanity. Hatred has no place in this equation.

The choices here are never easy. The kinds of sacrifices which will be necessary to forge a peace with the Palestinians will come at the direct expense of many of the most fervent - if also most recent - ideologies of Orthodox Jewry, beginning with the imperative to settle the West Bank and oppose peacemaking.

The kinds of tolerance and policies which will be needed to deal fairly and humanely with refugees from Africa and with other non-Jews seeking a life in Israel will be difficult to enact and implement.

Yet we cannot call ourselves a moral Jewish state and countenance a situation in which, as in a Sunday edition of the newspaper, a picture of a refugee African boy protesting in Tel Aviv against threatened mass deportations, is placed directly atop an ad welcoming Jewish immigrants from southern Africa and wishing them "a smooth absorption in Israel, your new home."

The election of an African-American to the highest office of the nation which best embodied human equality - and for much too long, rebuffed it - is the kind of impossibility which takes minds and souls and forever alters them.

What sort of impossibility will it take for the Jewish state to place prophetically based compassion over rabbinically sanctioned boorishness and superiority to all those not exactly like us?

Hatred has no place in a Jewish state. And a Jewish state which sanctifies intolerance in the name of tradition or patriotism, will inevitably prove unwelcome not only to non-Jews, but to the Jewish People as well.


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