Last week, NIF was proud to co-sponsor the Haaretz conference on democracy. And while a few of Israel’s most extreme hard-liners made a very public fuss about boycotting such a “subversive” gathering, many more Israelis, from across the political spectrum, came to celebrate, debate and worry over the future of Israeli democracy. Indeed, the keynote speaker was none other than Israel’s President Rivlin.
The first four speakers summed it all up for me: Haaretz Publisher Amos Schocken, President Rivlin, our own Israel Executive Director Rachel Liel, and opposition leader Itzhak Herzog. Truly, we were right where we should be: at the heart of the conversation, standing shoulder to shoulder with other fierce, proud and patriotic democrats, people for whom neither aspect of Israel’s identity as both a Jewish homeland and open and equal democratic state for all of its citizens is open to compromise. This was summed up beautifully by President Rivlin, who issued a harsh criticism of the anti-democratic tendencies of Israel’s hard right: “There is a crisis on the right. It sees the Jewish and democratic state as a democracy for the Jews. This is something I cannot countenance.”
His words remind us that there are still powerful figures in Israel who are willing to stand publicly in defense of democracy. And I hope they serve as a warning and rebuke to those in the American Jewish community who, in attempting to silence dissent, smear those with whom they disagree, and fly a militant banner of “Israel, right or wrong,” only serve as the worst kind of enablers of the anti-democratic, xenophobic and ethnocentric camp in Israel.
Finally, I am grateful for the outpouring of support demonstrated by so many of you, our NIF support community in the United States, who signed our petition condemning the boycott by right-wing politicians of the conference. Your voices were heard in Tel Aviv, and your brothers and sisters there are strengthened by your dedication to our shared vision for Israel.
I cannot begin to say how privileged I feel to be a member of the organization that Dan described in his report about his most recent trip to Israel. It was gratifying to read about how we may finally be at the threshold of being accepted and even respected by the so-called “mainstream” in Israel–hopefully both for what we actually do and for the values for which we stand–but we will have to see the upcoming election results before feeling comfortable that a critical mass of like-minded Israelis “get it”. If they do, we must assist them however we can in the pursuit of our shared agenda. If they don’t, we must redouble our efforts to promote our values. Either way, count me in.
If the Conference did not demand a constitution including a solid wall between synagogue and State, not only is democracy there doomed, but so are prospects for peace in a two-state solution.
Yes, quite!! Here’s the problem: the People of Israel, the Israelites now called Jews, are united by ethnicity, history, cultural elements and the hatred by others. The cultural elements have historically been represented by activities that are religious in role and rite. The problem is how to respect the ancient forms of the culture (our roots), yet move with the times that require separation of Synagogue and Mosque (Misgad) and Church (there are Christians in Israel) from State. I have no pat answer. Any suggestions?
Yes, easy suggestion of text: “The Knesset shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
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