What kind of Israel do we want? (JERUSALEM POST) By GREER FAY CASHMAN 02/23/12)
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“Israel was created to concentrate Jewish anxiety in one place,” Dr.
Tal Becker told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish
Organizations convening in Jerusalem on Wednesday. “Some of us are
afraid that crisis is the greatest thing that unites us.”
Becker is a Fellow at Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute and an
International Associate at the Washington Institute for Near East
On a more serious note, he said that in Israel, as distinct from the
Diaspora, “the conversation has moved away from how to protect the
state from external enemies to the kind of society we want.”
The focus in the Jewish world has always been on threats to Israel’s
existence, he said, and while Israel acknowledges that this crisis is
real, the general feeling, especially with regard to peace, is that
there’s not much that anyone can do about it. So now, Israelis are
asking themselves more and more what kind of a society they want,
“We like to talk about crisis because of our history. We are a people
who have gone through a lot of trauma and the miracle of the creation
of the State of Israel after the Holocaust. The guiding idea of
Zionism was that the Jewish people needed a refuge – a safe haven.”
But now there is a need for a different kind of Zionism, Becker said.
“Our greatest moment is behind us. Tomorrow has come, and the first
question we need to ask ourselves is not how to respond to the
challenge, but with what values.”
Under the old Zionist flag, criticism of Israel was seen as a form of
treason, but under the new flag – at least in Becker’s perception –
“when you are focused on the kind of country you want, criticism
becomes a vital part of the question.”
One of the reasons he believes in permitting criticism is
because “there is nothing that makes a voice louder than trying to
silence it. Outside of Israel, you either support Israel or you
don’t. But in Israel the argument is about the kind of society you
To illustrate how difficult it is to reach consensus, Becker quote
the oft repeated statement that Israel is a democratic, Jewish state.
Personally, he has no problem with that, and can even present a
convincing argument as to the lack of internal conflict in the
definition. But he said that the general feeling is that to that
extent that Israel is democratic, it isn’t Jewish, and to the extent
that it is Jewish, it isn’t democratic.
In Becker’s opinion, there’s too much tribalism in Israel and not
enough sharing of common space.
MK Einat Wilf, who chairs the Independence faction, said that she has
been thinking a lot lately about whether there can be solidarity
between Zionists and non- Zionist in Israel – namely mainstream
Israeli society with Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews.
To have a generous welfare state, she said, “You need a high level of
trust among the citizens themselves and the citizens and the
That level of trust must be developed in the formative stages of
With hindsight, Wilf came to the conclusion that when Israel was
formulating its policy of social justice, it didn’t ask the right
questions. “The social justice mechanism was created by Zionists for
Zionists to serve the solidarity of Zionists who were engaged in the
insane effort to establish a homeland for the Jewish people in this
region,” she said.
Two groups were excluded from the Zionist enterprise, Wilf said. One
was the Arabs who regarded Zionism as a threat, and the other was the
ultra-Orthodox who viewed Zionism as heresy.
However, the solidarity mechanism was extended to the Arabs and ultra-
Orthodox on the basis that welfare would breed solidarity rather than
that solidarity would breed welfare.
This was not a successful means of creating trust, said Wilf. “The
Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox still have an ambivalent attitude to the
state and say that it’s all right to take but not to give.”
Wilf suggested that the time had come to bid each other farewell and
to allow the Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox to lead their own lives
without interference but also without the support of the state.
“That means we won’t have a socialist or a capitalist system, but a
More significantly, it means that Arabs and ultra-Orthodox who don’t
serve in the army or in community services will not receive free
education, National Insurance or child allotments. Members of those
communities who do serve will receive the same benefits as mainstream
“It may not be the most politically correct thing to do, but it will
be the right and most sustainable thing to do if we are to go
forward,” Wilf said. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 02/23/12)
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