Saturday 13 December 2014

Apologetic No More

Two thousand years of exile from its homeland left numerous effects on the Jewish people.  They  were forced to seek cover and shelter wherever they could, and wherever they would be tolerated.  Anti-Semitism resulted in numerous countries banning Jews from living there and, even in countries where Jews were tolerated, they were frequently banned from living in certain areas, undertaking certain professions and mixing in certain social circles.  This had the impact of creating great resilience and resourcefulness amongst our people, which has certainly contributed to our survival under great hardships.  It  also led to Jews going out of their way to seek acceptance as good upstanding citizens in countries where they have taken shelter over the years.  The attempts by Jews to be accepted as ordinary citizens of their host countries, has seen them become overly eager to be recognised as being as worthy of being accepted as their non-Jewish neighbours.  This, in turn, has given rise to the sense that Jews are somewhat apologetic.  They wish to show themselves to be more patriotic than their fellow compatriots, and also to maintain a low profile in order to avoid attracting unwanted attention or being given the label of "trouble-maker".  Jews who have raised their heads too afar above the parapet were often castigated by their fellow Jews for risking their continued welcome in one host country or another.

The most extreme manifestation of the apologetic Jew was seen during the tumultuous years of the 20th century, particularly in Eastern Europe.  Jews were shipped from pillar to post without any regard for their humanity.  This culminated in the biggest genocide known to mankind, the Shoa.  It was contended by many, that Jews went to the gas chambers like "sheep to the slaughter', an accusation that does great injustice to the massive resistance that was instigated by Jews over the years of the Shoa.  A picture that was widely distributed as representing the plight of the Jews at that time, has also contributed to the view of the apologetic Jew.  The picture, believed to be of young Tsvi Chaim Nussbaum in the Warsaw Ghetto, tells a thousand words.  This was the apologetic nature that many Jews such as Zeev Jabotinsky wished to try eradicate from the Jewish psyche.  Jabotinsky used the example of Joseph Trumpeldor as the new type of Jew for his people to aspire to emulate.

The new type of Jew was born in 1948 with the declaration of independence of the State of Israel, the Jewish state.  With the knowledge that Jews would never again be homeless, there was no longer the need to pander to the host countries in which Jews had lived in fear for so long.  The Jewish army not only defended the safety and security of the Jewish state against the odds, it also protected and defended the rights and existence of Jews wherever they were around the world.  Jewish confidence grew, and the need to be the weak and apologetic Jew was eradicated.

Despite 66 years having passed since this earth-shattering event in the Jewish world, and despite there being clear evidence that the Jewish state has truly given rise to a new type of Jew, we still find evidence of the apologetic Jew in our midst.  Our brave IDF soldiers, true examples to Jews and non-Jews around the world, are the epitome of the new type of Jew.  They volunteer to take on difficult and dangerous tasks to defend our state and our people, they are unafraid to go into battle when called upon to do so, they are as patriotic and proud as any Jew in history, while ensuring that they are humans at all times, even in the heat of battle.  They are everything that Jabotinsky dreamed of, and more.  And yet, this humanity has allowed the old, unpleasant apologetic characteristic to creep back into the psyche of our people.

Never before has an army been built with the strength and determination of the Israeli army.  This army is considered to be one of the strongest in the world, and perhaps even the strongest on a man-for-man basis.  And yet, one of the key characteristics that the army demonstrates, as part of the application of the Jewish values upon which it is built, is also regarded as a key weakness.  The Israeli army has always gone out of its way to avoid civilian casualties, almost at any price.  It is well documented that the Israeli army has called off important military strikes, and changed battle plans at the last minute, in order to avoid civilian casualties.  The enemy has responded accordingly - by fighting entire wars in civilian clothing using civilian neighbourhoods to fire missiles from, and using civilians as human shields.  All of this is done in the hope that Israel may be dissuaded from taking certain actions, due to its principle of avoiding civilian casualties.  And if civilians become involved in the battle despite Israel's attempts to avoid this, the Palestinians stand ready with their access to the international media and social networks, to advertise that Israel targets innocent civilians.  This has led Israel to adapt its way of engaging in battle, in order to be ready to justify every action that it takes and every attack that it launches.

Instead of using the obvious big picture that shows Palestinians using tactics to draw Israel into a battle involving civilians at every opportunity, Israel has become defensive and, dare I say it, somewhat apologetic.  We see movies from the battleground showing pilots calling off critical attacks at the last minute due to the entry of a civilian to the area.  We see Israel spending millions of dollars in developing defensive systems to shoot down missiles that are fired towards its own civilian population, instead of the easier and cheaper option of simply annihilating the location which is the source of the rocket fire.  And when there is a necessity to attack areas that are known to house civilians, Israel uses personal telephone calls and SMS messages to warn civilians to leave the area.  The fact that the Palestinian leadership forces civilians to remain in these areas despite Israel's warnings, never seems to be taken into serious consideration as a crime against civilians despite Israel having to endure huge criticism for its so-called targeting of civilians.  Instead of being recognised for is efforts to act in a humanitarian way, it seems as though these actions attract more criticism.  In turn, Israel has become increasingly defensive about the way in which it operates.  Instead of being proud of what we have achieved on the battlefield and the humanity that we show, Israel is constantly trying to disprove the accusations that are levelled against it and is always concerned about the prospect of having to defend its accusations at the International Criminal Court.  Entire teams of people are deployed to justify Israel's actions to the world in anticipation of the criticism after the fact.  This would seem to be a very defensive position to take, and perhaps even invites criticism.

Israel is a democracy that allows people to use their seats in the Knesset to plot subversive activities against the security of the state, and gives citizenship and social benefits to the families of people who have carried out terror activities against innocent citizens of the country.  It gives free access to religious sites, even to those who come to cause unrest and are open in their desire to eradicate the Jewish state and the Jews who live in it.  The original concept of the Jewish state was to have a democracy, and to allow others to be welcome to live in it in the way that Jews were denied during the period of exile.  Despite having achieved this and a great deal more, Israel is constantly being accused of being an apartheid state.  Israel is the most criticised country at the United Nations Human Rights Council, and is forced to answer to human rights accusations posed by countries that are not democracies, and that kill hundreds of people each year as part of their policy of capital punishment.  Israel finds itself treading carefully in the international community, almost apologetically, to avoid running the risk of being accused and singled out once again.

The unjustified attempts to make a scapegoat out of Israel are clearly fuelled by anti-Semitism.  The plight of the innocent Palestinians, who suffer due to the policies and actions of their own leadership and not because of Israel, has served to effectively make anti-Semitism politically and socially acceptable.  Left-wing groups around the world have united in support of the downtrodden Palestinians, something that is a worthy cause to support.  The Palestinian leadership, who is to blame for this situation, conveniently deflects the blame onto Israel.  This, in turn, provides an open season for those wishing to make anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic comments and actions politically acceptable and even correct.

I am concerned that Israel's over-sensitivity and apologetic response may well be further enabling those who seek to discredit and destroy her.  I often wonder whether it would not be better for Israel to take a tough, unapologetic stand that shows pride in all her actions, while requiring to be held to the same standards as all others within the international community.  Perhaps this would reduce the level of international attack that she is under.  After all, Israel has every right to feel proud of what she has achieved.  She has been at constant war and under constant attack for the 66 years of her existence.  And yet, she remains concerned about not harming the innocent civilians of her enemies.  This must surely be a first in international warfare.  Let us not forget the bombings carried out over Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to name but a few.  Where were the recriminations for those actions, and the actions at the International Criminal Court?  How would those who criticise Israel have responded to 66 years of constant warfare?  I doubt that any other nation on earth would have acted with the same humanity as Israel has, given the same circumstances.

I believe that the time has come for Israel to change its approach in the international community, and for her to be prepared to stand more firmly behind her actions and behaviours.  By being less apologetic, it is my view that the international community will also respond differently.  Being nervous of the international reaction and showing even the slightest doubt about the justification of the actions simply invites attack and criticism.  I hope that Israelis will continue to be very sensitive about all actions and responses to the threats to her security and existence, and will always behave with humanity.  But Israel, and those who live here, should be apologetic no more.

Thursday 4 December 2014

Is the "Jewish State" Bill Really Needed?

The Israeli government decided last week to submit the so-called "Jewish State" bill for consideration to the Knesset to be incorporated in the Basic Law.  The decision by the government to approve this law has proved to be enormously controversial, both within Israel as well as by the international community.  There are many questions about whether the Jewish State bill is really needed in Israel at this time, whether the bill is really required at all, and whether the introduction of such a bill will make any difference to the facts on the ground in Israel?

The main purpose of the Jewish State bill is to enshrine in Israel's Basic Law (which acts as a type of constitution in the absence of an official constitution) that Israel is the national state of the Jewish people and that Israel is a Jewish state.  Despite the fact that there are various references in different Israeli laws to the Jewish nature of Israel, and despite the fact that it is mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, members of the government have deemed it necessary and appropriate at this time to entrench it in the Basic Law.

While the proposed bill has yet to be passed into law, it seems as though the proposed bill in its current form will not make any difference to the way in which Israel operates.  Israel has always been governed as a Jewish state.  This manifests itself in a number of different aspects of Israeli everyday life.  National holidays are according to the Jewish calendar, the day of rest is Saturday while Sunday is a regular school and working day, Jewish religious law is applicable in certain situations specifically those relating to family matters, and people with one Jewish grandparent are entitled to claim immediate citizenship of Israel under the Law of Return.  None of these aspects of Israeli society will change as a result of the Jewish State bill.  It is anticipated that all matters that relate to the Jewish nature of Israel will continue to apply in the same way as they have applied until now.

Some of the Jewish aspects of Israel have been controversial, in a country that prides itself on its democracy.  There are those who believe that the Jewish nature of the state is a contradiction to democracy, due to the fact that these aspects disadvantage non-Jewish citizens of the state.  Despite the fact that all Israelis, Jewish and non-Jewish, are entitled to vote, are entitled to be a member of Knesset, have the right to freedom of speech and receive state education and health, there are many who feel that the Jewish nature of the state discriminates against those who are not Jewish.  As a counter-balance, non-Jewish citizens are not obliged to be conscripted to the army while young Jewish men and women are mostly required to sign up.  Non-Jews are free to volunteer for military service, and many choose to do so.  The question is whether these points of law, that favour Jews over non-Jews, result in a democracy that is not really democratic?  How does this compare, for example, to affirmative action that has been employed in a number of democracies around the world.  It is contended that favouring one group or race over another, even where this is designed to correct wrongs in the society, is an undemocratic policy.  Does this make the entire country undemocratic?  In cases outside of Israel, employing policies that may be considered questionable on a purely democratic scale, have not resulted in the country's democracy being called into question.  By the same token, it is my view that the Law of Return and the Jewish nature of the state, do not change the fact that Israel is a real democracy,  the only one in the Middle East.

If this is true, why would there be such opposition to formally adopting a Jewish State bill?  Many people believe that the idea of reinforcing the Jewish nature of the state is, in itself, not objectionable.  The problem for them is that the draft bill does not specifically balance this out against the democratic nature of the state.  They object to the bill for its form rather than for its substance.  These objectors wish to see some open statements in the draft bill to reinforce the democracy of the State of Israel, while also confirming the Jewish nature of the state.  For other objectors, their opposition comes to the timing of the introduction of the bill.  Israel is currently experiencing a wave of terror attacks that some are calling the start of the third Intifada.  Israel has been criticised for events that have taken place on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and some have even accused Israel of attempting to change the current modus operandi of the Temple Mount.  The situation is extremely sensitive, and there can be no doubt that the introduction of such a bill at this time contributes to stirring up this sensitive situation.

What is the reason behind Prime Minister Netanyahu's desire to introduce the Jewish state bill at this time?  Perhaps it is about countering the current Palestinian violence and uprising that is being experienced in Jerusalem and other areas.  The prime minister has been known to take unilateral steps against the Palestinians to counter the unilateral steps that the Palestinians take.  I believe that it runs deeper than that.  We know that the peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel are currently stalled on the issue of the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has insisted that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas acknowledges this fact before the talks can move forward.  Abbas has failed to do this, and the talks are stalled.  Netanyahu has come under criticism in the international community for this position, and it is presented that this is his own demand that has been made without justification.  By passing this into law, Netanyahu can turn this argument around by saying that this fact is now in Israel's Basic Law.  Failure to recognise this on the part of Abbas is tantamount to denying a fundamental tenet of the State of Israel.  Have the Jewish State law on the books may cause further delays to the peace talks, but may also help to clear the logjam and progress the talks.  Abbas will be forced to turn to his people to say that he has no choice where this is concerned because it is a law of the land, and not a whim of Netanyahu.

The Jewish nature of Israel is undeniable.  This was clear to those who escaped the ashes of the Shoa and found Israel to be the only place that Jews can really feel safe, and it is clear now when anti-Semitism is rife around the world.  Members of other religions have more than one country in which they can to choose to live, that will give them the religious freedom that they desire.   Jews only have one.  It is inconceivable that the Jewish nature of Israel can be denied, in the same way as the democracy of the State of Israel cannot be denied.  The fact that some members of the international community are questioning the concept of the Jewish State bill, is perhaps enough reason to insist that it be passed into law.  We have an obligation to future generations of Jews to ensure that the Jewish nature of Israel can never be denied, not by those who live here and not be those who do not.  Israel will always be the safe haven for Jewish people, and placing this on the law books is a natural extension of the intentions  of the founding fathers of our country as set out in the Declaration of Independence.  It also reflects the views of the majority of those living in Israel, including many of those who are objecting to the introduction of the bill for technical reasons.

I do not believe that balancing the Jewish State bill with statements reinforcing Israel's democratic nature, dilutes the statement of the Jewish nature of Israel.  As such, it seems sensible to balance the statement out in order to gain wider support in favour of the bill.  Those non-Jews who wish to accept these principles upon which Israel is premised, are welcome to live here and enjoy our democracy.  Despite the fact that the bill will change little or nothing on the ground about the way that Israel operates, I personally support having this on the statute books and including it in the Basic Law.  After all, it is one of the fundamental premises upon which the State of Israel was built, and upon which the state continues to be built.  And we should not be ashamed to say so.