Monday, October 11, 2010

Jewish And Democratic?

In response to the government's passage of the loyalty oath bill, The Jerusalem Post asked a number of people to write short responses, which they published today. This is mine; regular readers of this blog will not be surprised by it:

Does anyone really understand what “Jewish and democratic” means? Cultural Zionists from Ben-Gurion to Yehuda Amichai did. They assumed a democracy with a Jewish character would advance the Hebrew language, whose modern revival was the real Zionist revolution.

The Declaration of Independence assumed just such a Hebrew republic when it mandated that all citizens – from any “race” and “religion,” and irrespective of individual “conscience” – might contribute to a common life that was Jewish in the national sense, but did not presume to straighten the crooked timber.

Today, then, our everyday words contain the nuances of Jewish history and literatures (the state is not named Edom, after all) but leave space to welcome anyone willing to be acculturated, even Arab writers like Salam Masalcha, say. This approach to nationality is common throughout the democratic world, from the European Union to Quebec. No other conception of Jewish can be democratic because it makes a nonsense of equality.

Is this the “Jewish” Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman expects loyalty to? No. He wants a state in which Halacha, and its rabbinic courts, have civil responsibilities. He wants citizenship and other material privileges to be based on J-positive blood or conversion by Orthodox law.

He wants a state whose founding is justified and capital established, not by standards of international law, but congregational presumptions about divine will. He wants a state that purports to represent Jews everywhere, as if the majority of liberal American Jews do not blush for him.

Now, Neeman says all immigrants – not just Arabs – should take an oath to his totalitarian idea. I would not have when I first came – and would not now.

Also, my friend Carlo Strenger writes with particular cogency in Haaretz today: 

Israel is now facing a fateful question: will it remain a liberal democracy, or is it on the way to becoming a totalitarian ethnocracy? This is not a rhetorical question. Democracies do not turn into autocratic regimes from one day to the next; it mostly happens step by step. The ugly wave of anti-liberal legislation we are witnessing shows that Israel has embarked on a slippery slope; and we cannot know where it will end. The day may well come when Lieberman and Yishai will argue that critical articles about the government are disloyal to the state, and must be forbidden; and the day may come where the repeated attempts to shut off academics who do not show sufficient “loyalty” will succeed, and they will be fired or jailed.