How long can Israel stay Jewish?

By Dow Marmur

Jerusalem (Jan. 25, 2018) – While the prime minister of Israel insists that others, notably the Palestinian Authority, recognize his country as a Jewish state, there’re now Israelis who’ve come to question its Jewishness. Thus in today’s Ha’aretz one of its regular columnists, Yossi Klein, writes that we seem to have become “Israelis first and only slightly Jewish.”

Having in mind recent decisions by the government of Israel, he observes that “as Jews we wrote, studied and taught; as Israelis we conquered, expelled and abused.” He, therefore, declares almost dramatically: “I’m proud of Judaism and ashamed of Israeliness.”

Has the Zionist dream of wanting to create a state that would enable Jews to be like others gone sour? Has our Judaism become, as he puts it, fake? In his harsh formulation: “Our Holocaust lesson is that cruelty pays and that racism is rewarded.” These words are, of course, prompted by the decision to expel asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan that reflects for Klein “the transition from the ruled to the rulers,” because “power went to our heads.”

The lethal blend of Orthodoxy and nationalism has also led to the serious rift between Israel and the Diaspora.

He writes that even God has become the hostage of the politicians: “In his name we expropriate land and deport refugees. In his name the land is ours, forever.” The reference here is, of course, to the unholy alliance between the nationalists and the ultra-Orthodox who between them constitute the majority in Israel’s current government. It has made God “subject to coalition discipline, who measures skirt lengths and closes stores on Shabbat; a God who prefers to pay idlers in yeshivas and deport work migrants who support themselves and don’t ask for favors.”

The lethal blend of Orthodoxy and nationalism has also led to the serious rift between Israel and the Diaspora. It’s manifest, for example, in the machinations around equal access to the Western Wall. It fosters the lie that non-Orthodox Diaspora Jewry is about to disappear. Assimilation from within and anti-Semitism from without are going to annihilate most of the Diaspora, they argue. Klein observes that “anti-Semitism hurts Jews there, but serves us here”: those who want to stay Jewish are bound to want to come to live in less or little Jewish Israel. Thus three cheers for anti-Semitism.

Though Klein refers to several recent government measures – e.g., the hardening of Israel’s presence in the West Bank and the efforts to close down grocery stores on Shabbat – his real issue is the possible expulsion of the African refugees, so reminiscent of the expulsion of Jews through the ages and particularly in recent times.

It’s impossible not to be affected by the stench of racism. Klein could have also referred to the 8,000 Ethiopians who claim to be Jewish and have many close relatives in Israel but are kept out of the country. Israel too, like the president of the United States, may prefer Norwegians.

The intended measures to get rid of the asylum seekers – expulsion or imprisonment – seems to have moved many ordinary Israelis to act. Air traffic workers have already declared their refusal to transport the refugees, doctors and Holocaust survivors have just signed declarations reminding us that Israel is about to do to the Africans what the Europeans did to the Jews.

Dare we hope that the ordinary citizens will help to make sure that Israel stays Jewish?

Rabbi Dow Marmur is Rabbi Emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. He lives in Jerusalem.

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