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For God's Sake, Enough With This Obsession Over Judaism

There is no place in the world today where Jews are harassed about their Jewishness like they are in Israel

Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav
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Labor Party head Avi Gabbay in Ashkelon May 22, 2016.
Labor Party head Avi Gabbay in Ashkelon May 22, 2016. Credit: Baz Ratner / Reuters
Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav

This Jewish mumbo-jumbo has to stop. It’s an obsession. Israel has become an intolerable place for a Jew to live in.

Everything has turned topsy turvy. The Israeli state was set up to give Jews one corner on earth where they wouldn’t be scrutinized, their identity not put under a microscope and the extent of their loyalty not be inspected morning noon and night. They would simply be left alone. Every man has a right to believe – or not to believe – what he chooses. But there is no place in the world today where Jews are harassed about their Jewishness like they are in Israel.

In any other place and at any other time it would be seen as racism and anti-Semitism. Once it used to be the sole domain of the Orthodox rabbinate and the Interior Ministry. The harassment was despicable and humiliating, but instrumental in nature (conversion, burial, the Law of Return). Since then the dam has broken and anyone who gets hold of a microphone or keyboard is drafting decisive theories about who’s a Jew. Avi Gabbay didn’t invent anything, at most he brought a prevalent trend to the realm of the grotesque.

Let’s face it: In exile, for hundreds of years, the Jewish nation produced the wisest people in the world, and in 70 years of sovereignty it succeeded in becoming extremely stupid. There are of course circumstances, some of them mitigating. The Holocaust and revival screwed the nation up. The nation-state knocked it out of balance. Sanctifying the land and the militarism drove it out of its mind. Then came capitalism and populism and, together with commercial television, finished the job.

In the meantime there’s been a deevolution. Einstein and Leibowitz don’t live here anymore. Maimonides was replaced by Maran, the late Ovadia Yosef. Orthodox Zionist moderates Yosef Burg and Haim Moshe Shapira were replaced by Naftali Bennett and Bezalel Smotrich. Hannah Arendt’s place was taken by Irit Linur. And the party that had been led by wise, sober Jews like Ben-Gurion, Sharett and Eshkol is now led by Gabbay.

Unlike some of my best leftist friends, I refuse to be offended by his ideas about Judaism and God. As far as I’m concerned he’s mainly insulting himself. Meanwhile the question of political acumen remains open: A man is elected to represent a camp and lead it back to power, and then chooses to attack it again and again. It was said once that the Jewish head comes up with solutions and patents. Who knows, maybe we’ll find out that the man has discovered a global patent.

One way or the other, Gabbay is only the symptom. We’re dealing with a national mental illness. From right and left, from top to bottom, the preoccupation of Jews with their Jewishness is simply obsessive. And all this is taking place, paradoxically, after they received a state of their own and have long ensured its thriving existence. They’re demanding that even the Arabs recognize its Jewishness. How insecure can a nation be in its country and identity? Now they’re trying to enact a “nation-state law” that would subject the state to its Jewishness, while at the same time compelling the justice system to rule in favor of “Jewish law” when there is doubt.

The sad conclusion is that the Israeli project has failed. The Declaration of Independence’s statement of intentions has gone bankrupt. Instead of a modern state with a sold, confident sense of citizenship, we’ve returned to the ghetto. A shtetl with nuclear submarines and a national cyber headquarters. The agents of this ethno-Christian obsession aren’t only politicians but all the Dov Alboims and Sivan Rahav-Meirs throughout the generations, with the endless harping on the week’s Torah portion. It’s a clever move: Any attempt to deny the holiness of this folklore is portrayed as “condescension.”

But it’s necessary to remind everyone: Judaism germinated as a religion, but developed into a people. A Jew is a person whose mother is Jewish, or has chosen to join the Jewish people. He can be ultra-Orthodox, religious, observant, a believer, secular, atheist. Zionist or not, leftist or not, it doesn’t matter. As long as he’s a human being. For God's sake, so to speak, leave us alone.

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