Thursday, April 15, 2010


I note, humbly (well, not just humbly), that the "Hebrew Republic Lecture," to which one can link to the right of this post, has passed 2000 viewings. My thanks to Vanderbilt University, and especially to the Chairman of its Jewish Studies Program, Lea Marcus, for hosting the lecture and making it available on the web.


Michael W. said...

I didn't notice the link till now. I'll have a look.

I don't know exactly what you mean by 'Hebrew Republic', but I'm interested in the secular sector of Israel and its role in government, having grown up on a secular kibbutz and then in the US and learning about its history.

Michael W. said...

Just finished watching your lecture on Youtube. I like a lot of what you said.

I have one disagreement. I don't think that granting Jews citizenship under the 'Law of Return' harms Israeli Arabs nor is it turning Israel into the theocratic type of Jewish state that you and I fear. Your vision of the Hebrew Republic needs to at, some point, stop analyzing the the political division along ethnic lines. There is only one Jewish state, and you acknowledge that Israel is based on the Jewish people. Hebrew culture will always be tied to Jewish culture. The Hebrew Republic will still have a population divided by language.

You are a liberal academic who is more likely to meet Arab elites and liberals. But how often do you meet the Arab family where the husband has three wives and 30 kids! The Hebrew Republic does not fix the issue with the parallel Arab identity. I think you over estimate the ability of the Arab community to assimilate to the Hebrew culture when Hebrew is only spoken by 7 million people, some of whom are Arab, when 300 million Arabs, speaking Arabic of course, are right next door.

When regarding policies such as immigration, not every country or every democracy has to have the same policy. The loss of any culture is a loss to the richness of humanities diversity and creativity. Israel is the best place to guard Jewish life and culture. We may adapt and evolve our practice of Judaism over time and space, but Israel is the one place where the rhythm of daily life follows the rhythm of Jewish life.

I haven't actually read the text of the 'Law of Return' legislation but I don't think it says that all Jews are "already" citizens. Diaspora Jews don't have the right to vote, and Israelis abroad don't have the right to vote either.

If today the US decides that any Christian (but what kind? Baptist?) would have the right to come here and receive citizenship, it won't remove or impede on any of my rights. It will symbolically alienate non-Christians, but it wouldn't take any of their rights away or make them any less Christian citizens. Europe was similar to that for a long time and still is like that a little bit. What sets the US apart is that it was created by people who prescribed to a culture and philosophy that was anti-Europe. The US took what Europe didn't want. The 'Right of Return' is Israel's version of that. It is the only place that consistently kept its doors open to Jews as long as they had the means to do so.

As it says on the Statue of Liberty, "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free". Israel does not have the resources to let in every refugee or asylum seeker, but it started with taking care of the people it was mandated to take care of, the Jews, no matter where they were born.

Michael W. said...

Do you know of any nation-state that goes to the four corners of the Earth to help its brotherhood? The Arabs don't have a state that will take great lengths to rescue and protect any Arab community that is facing danger? If there are any Christian states, they sure left a lot of Christians in miserable conditions in Africa, Asia, and S. America. If any ethnic group with and without sovereign power, has fought to protect its group no matter where it is by taking them in, I find that admirable. God forbid that a state would stretch its hand to any one group? That state should be like every other state and stretch only the hand of commerce and trade?

What alienates the Israeli Arabs most isn't the Jewish symbolism, but the discrimination in employment and allocation of state resources (partially because of their own doing, too long to explain in this post). Don't get me wrong, Israel has a responsibility provide a channel for all citizens to be patriotic, but I don't think the 'Right of Return' makes Israeli Arabs less equal.

You say that citizenship is something that should be earned, not something that should be gain by mere accident of your birth or your religion. So for the US, do all 18 year olds have to take the citizenship exam? And if they don't pass, they are stripped of citizenship? Your view point is non-nationalistic and non-Zionist.

If you reject the idea that a Jew should stretch his hand to other Jews just because they are Jews using powers afforded to him as a citizen of the Jewish state, then you reject Zionism. If you wish to promote secularism in the government and laws of Israel, you have to respect the idea of Zionism built by those that made "Israeliness" possible, or else you will alienate mainstream Jewish Israelis.

Potter said...

My thanks as well to you Dr. Avishai. I was one of those 2000 plus a while back and I have been meaning to listen again.

Larry said...

Just a brief comment - Michael W. writes, "If today the US decides that any Christian (but what kind? Baptist?) would have the right to come here and receive citizenship, it won't remove or impede on any of my rights. It will symbolically alienate non-Christians, but it wouldn't take any of their rights away or make them any less Christian citizens." I find this puzzling, I guess; no, it wouldn't remove any of my rights, but the alienation it would produce would be a lot more than symbolic, I think - it would be deeply felt, it'd be for me as if I'd been declared an alien or or at any rate second-class citizen in my own country.

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