Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Equally Inevitable Yom HaAtzmaut Post

For the uninitiated, Yom HaAtzmaut is Israeli independence day, Hebrew-calendar style. The American Jewish community makes a really big deal out of it, which is odd to me since we're, um, not Israeli. I mean, we don't all go around celebrating Bastille Day.

I guess most Jewish Americans are still under the impression that Israel is a Jewish state. You probably are, too. It's a common misconception, fueled by the whole "law of return" thing and the gigantic Magen David on their flag. And sure, it's run by Jews and it exists for the purpose of giving Jews a place where it can be guaranteed that they won't be picked on for once. In that sense, it's very valuable to the Jewish community, so I guess I can see why its independence is celebrated. History tells us that even when things seem really good for the Jews in a Diaspora country, we're just one rabble-rouser away from widespread bullshit. (See Germany circa 1933.)

And yet, I cannot consider Israel a Jewish state.

Why? Because its government discriminates against the significant Arab minority living within its borders. Because it has sought nuclear weapons. Because its policies seem unconcerned with the poverty of their Palestinian neighbors. Because its foreign policy is guided by the cold, amoral directives of realpolitik that function only to maintain power. All of these are contrary to Jewish teaching, and no Jewish state would freely engage in such activities.

It's not that Israel conducts itself any worse than any other country. Certainly it would be folly to say that Israel is surrounded by morally superior foes; indeed, Israel is far better governed than your average Middle Eastern state. Furthermore, I don't think anyone with any sort of moral compass could support the violent assholes who murder civilians in order to make a point. And Israel's done some naughty things foreign-policy-wise (Guatemala, anyone?), but as I mentioned on Yom HaShoah, try to find me a government that hasn't. Indeed, the criticism levied upon Israel for being amoral and power-seeking often comes from those who are themselves amoral and power-seeking. Indeed, give even the staunchest anti-Zionist a choice between Israel and Iran, and he'll be on the next plane for Tel Aviv.

While I resent the hypocritical moralizations of anti-Israel governments, simply being better than the other guy isn't good enough. We are Jews; we are supposed to hold ourselves to the highest standards of morality. The prophet Amos remarked, "You alone have I singled out from among the nations of the earth; that is why I call you to account for all your iniquities." Racism towards Arabs, disconcern with the poverty of Israel's neighbors, a power-seeking, amoral foreign policy: these are Israel's iniquities. Any Jewish state would be seeking to purge themselves of these sins, and would be seeking to elevate itself to the moral level dictated by Torah and Jewish law. And until Israel demonstrates its willingness to forgo the sins born of power-seeking and fear and holds itself to Jewish morality, I will not consider it a Jewish state, and I will not celebrate it nor feel a connection to it.

So happy Yom HaAtzmaut, American Jews. Maybe one day we'll be celebrating state that truly represents Jewish values.


Mike said...

Great post. Echoes of considering the United States a Christian nation, or any number of Middle East countries Muslim nations. Which is an analogy that probably doesn't work, at least in the former case, but it's what I thought of nonetheless.

Ben said...

It's probably too late for the occasion this time, but you should totally send this to your local paper next year on this day. My friend Ian Millhiser got published in either the Herald-Sun or the N&O (I forget which) after sending in a piece. They were always eager for some sort of local input and published it as an op-ed. (Actually, he didn't even get informed they published it. He only recently found out by doing the equivalent of Googling himself on Lexis-Nexis.)

But this is good and other people should read it.