Marc Oppenheimer wrote a nice piece in his Beliefs column in the New York Times for which I was interviewed. The piece features Stefan Krieger, Corey Robin, Rabbi Alissa Wise, Danny Boyarin, Noam Pianko, and me. The headline given to it was “A Conflict of Faith: Devoted to Jewish Observance, but at Odds With Israel.” In my case that’s a bit misleading. I do have a conflict, but not between Jewish observance and Israel. I have a conflict because I am an Israeli; I live in a country that I believe is fundamentally flawed, despite the wonderful things it also possesses. In my blog I only talk about the flaws, but that’s because they are fundamental. Perhaps I will post one day a list of my favorite things about Israel (hint: You wont’ find most of them in Ari Shavit’s new book.)
The piece says my religion leads me “to oppose Israel.” That’s ambiguous; it could mean “oppose Israel’s policies” (yes) or “oppose how the Jewish state was envisioned and came into being” (yes), or “oppose the very idea of a Jewish state” (that depends). No, I am not opposed to any Jewish state. As my colleague, Jerome Slater, has said, I don’t have a problem with a Jewish state – it’s this Jewish state I have a problem with. I can imagine Israel evolving into a liberal state of all its citizens, a state that fosters both Hebrew culture and a connection with the Jewish people, and a state that sees its non-Jewish citizens as belonging with the Jews to the Israeli nation – a Hebrew (and Arabic) Republic, to use Bernard Avishai’s phrase. I can also see Israel/Palestine evolving into a binational state or a federation, or whatever. What I insist upon is that both peoples – the Israeli and the Palestinian – have maximum self-determination, maximum security, and maximum opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And that cannot be done, in my opinion, within the framework of the current ethnically-exclusivist state that is mired in nineteenth religio-ethnic nationalism. Rightly called by Oren Yiftachel an “ethnocracy,” Israel presents itself to the world and to itself as a liberal democracy. In fact, it is marching backward and not forward.
My idea of a Jewish state is a state that Jews and Palestinians can be proud of, and that incorporates in its public space and public support elements of the Jewish and Palestinian cultural past. With over five million Israeli Jews, I am not looking to de-Judaize the culture of the state of Israel. But I would separate religion and state, and when the Palestinian Israeli writer Sayed Kashua writes a column in Hebrew in Haaretz, I, as an Israeli, celebrate my fellow Israeli as an Israeli writer, a member of the Israeli people. But the phrase the Israeli people is one you will never hear in Israel – it’s only Am Yisrael, the Jewish people. And I don’t want a nation-state of the Jewish people in that sense.
But don’t the Jews have a right, like other peoples, to a state of their own? No they don’t, and neither do other peoples. Self-determination, yes; statehood, that depends – and never at the expense of other people’s rights, in this case, the natives of Palestine.
Anyway, my thanks to Marc Oppenheimer, and if the NY Times wants to get the interviewees together for a group shot, I’m game.
PS. In working on my blog before Shabbat, I inadvertently distributed an old post about Justice Goldstone. My bad; I was rushing for Shabbat.