Israel's 'Jewish Majority' Obsession

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Ultranationalist right-wing protesters hold a placard depicting PM Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and FM Avigdor Lieberman during a demonstration against the Palestinian's UN bid, Nov. 29, 2012.Credit: Reuters

It's all based on an obsession: Israel must be a Jewish state at any cost. Just or unjust, good or not good, flourishing or not flourishing — the main thing is that it be Jewish. And as with any obsession, few can explain why and no one is allowed to doubt it.

On the day Israel shakes this obsession and becomes a country like any other, a democracy like any other, it will become a safer and more just place. For the time being, we have a major stumbling block.

To celebrate the Jewish New Year this evening, there's no need for a Jewish state. In New York, Johannesburg and Uman, Ukraine (and even in Tehran), the holiday will be marked the right way. To maintain a Jewish lifestyle there is no need for a Jewish state. Freedom of religion exists in many countries. But then things get complicated.

Almost all Israeli Jews (and most of the world) think Jews deserve a national home; Jewish Israelis also want to live in a country where most of the citizens — preferably all the citizens — are Jewish. The first aspiration is legitimate and has come true, the second is illegitimate and nationalist. It also lacks real meaning.

Peter Beinart explained in Haaretz Friday that there's no such thing anymore as the American Jewish community: “In 2015, knowing that an American is Jewish doesn’t tell you much about how she lives or thinks either. There are today basically two American Jewish communities each of which has more in common with a group of American gentiles than with each other.”

These words are even truer regarding the Israeli Jewish community — it's subdivided into loosely connected communities. And yet the obsession about the “Jewish majority” is intensifying, uniting the Jewish right and left.

In most enlightened countries, no one dares ask what a person’s religion is. In Israel it’s key. When Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai says his goal is for “the percentage of Arabs in the country not to rise,” he's expressing the height of Israeli political correctness. There are countries (and Israel should be one of them) where such a statement would be one's last as a legislator. But when the name of the game is Jewish majority, such harmful words are no problem.

There are no Jewish values or Jewish morals — there are universal values and universal morals. A mother should hope her son becomes a good man, not a good Jew. A Jewish restaurant is an Eastern European restaurant, and Jewish sites are ultra-Orthodox or religious in general. Israel must stop busying itself with its “Jewish character” and Jewish majority all the time. It must start worrying about progress, justice, morality and values.

The Jewish state was established long ago; now is the time to establish a democratic, egalitarian and just state. It will not become this if it does not shake the obsession of its Judaism. A state that shakes its obsessive preoccupation with its Judaism will also shake its anxieties and stoke less hostility — it will be more just.

And what can we say about the Jewish majority if it's a majority for fascism, racism and hatred of Arabs and foreigners? What is Jewish character for most of us if it means a country of religion? Why should a liberal Israeli want to live in a country with a Jewish majority based on settlers and nationalists? Wouldn't it be better to establish a community of democratic, liberal, secular people fighting the fundamentalists, anti-democrats and nationalists?

Sixty-seven years after Israel’s founding, now is the time for the second war of liberation — a war of liberation from Israel's Judaism.

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