When the United Nations held the vote for Partition on Nov. 29, 1947, adopting Resolution 181, granting two states – one Jewish and one Arab, no one had any illusions that this was not what either side wanted.
Yet, Israel’s leaders were willing to live with that enormous compromise, since it meant the long-awaited recognition of a Jewish homeland with self-determination and the realization of finally achieving our dream. That was nearly 76 years ago and, during that time, Israel has fought no less than 17 wars, while simultaneously building a technologically savvy and economically prosperous country that has become the envy of all.
Apart from having God’s blessing upon our nation, we were able to accomplish all we did through the ingenuity, innovation, hard work, determination and persistence of a diverse amalgamation of people from a multitude of cultures, vantage points, ideals and resources. Yet, despite the vast assortment of personalities, we still had one thing in common: The desire to create a land that would welcome, embrace, lift up and propel its citizens to their greatest potential.
Indeed, we reached that goal, and the image that Israel has projected to the world is one of great advancement, mutual respect for other nations, the desire to help those less fortunate and the expectation that we would continue to be a source of hope on so many fronts to all humanity.
It is, consequently, ironic that after realizing these spectacular successes, we now find ourselves being governed by a coalition that seeks to remake that enviable image into one better known for intolerance, lack of inclusion, a forced acceptance of specific religious values, a one-sided interpretation of law, the perpetuation of military non-participation, the diminishing of personal freedoms and the downgrading and marginalization of minorities within the country – to name a few.
Although those who have control of our government may not view their values as being smothering, overbearing and narrow-minded, that is exactly how the rest of the world will see our nation, because most of us see it that way already.
Case in point. National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir recently felt emboldened enough to state that the rights of Arabs are far less important than those of Jews when he stated: “My right and my wife’s and my children’s right, to get around on the roads in Judea and Samaria is more important than the right to movement for Arabs.”
No doubt, Ben Gvir was not considering Israel’s image when he made that statement, because it immediately provided rich fodder to Arab Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi of the Hadash-Ta’al party who used that blatant lack of diplomacy to immediately post the tweet: “For the first time, an Israeli minister admits on air that Israel enforces an apartheid regime based on Jewish supremacy.”
While Israel is, indeed, the Jewish homeland, it is also not exclusively a land where only Jews reside, and that important fact must always be a factor in how our leaders speak, act and manage a country that lays claim to at least two other major religions, with a significant number of representatives from those faiths residing here.
When publicly characterizing Israel as a country that does not offer its non-Jewish citizens commensurate considerations, our government leaders are, in effect, creating a completely new image of Israel which opens up a Pandora’s box of harsh criticism and blame for disregarding the rights, freedoms and entitlements of all of its residents, whether or not they possess citizenship.
Those individuals rightly assume, while living in Israel either as residents or non-Jews who were born in the region, that they, too, will be recipients of the basic protections and safeguarding of liberties. In fact, the way that a nation treats its weaker inhabitants is often a hallmark of how morally civilized and humane that state can claim to be.
Of course, this in no way relates to terrorists whose family homes are demolished after murdering those who live in Israel, whether citizens or not. That policy, which was set up specifically to deter such attacks, is justified and one that assures a swift and harsh response toward any who would seek to harm the population.
What is in jeopardy at the moment is the image of Israel, which took 75 arduous years to build; an image based on mutual tolerance, respect and inclusivity. It has only been when our agencies, such as the Interior Ministry, have been governed by the ultra-religious, that rights have been trampled, due to bureaucrats who received their orders from above. Those government portfolios, coveted by the ultra-Orthodox, treated entrance to Israel as their private domain, refusing to extend that right to those who were eligible if they didn’t pass muster.
Although that practice still exists, few know about it because it is not widely publicized. But those kinds of inconsistencies, where a group of religious zealots wield an inordinate amount of power over potential immigrants, absurdly contradicts the free-wheeling image that others have of the Jewish state. The two cannot coexist because they are completely at odds with one another.
There is no question that Israel’s protesters are, in large part, fighting to preserve the type of image that Israel has been able to forge, as well as how she hopes to be viewed in the future. That is why it is up to the citizens of Israel to decide what Israel’s image should look like as we head into the next 75 years.
Will we be known as a freedom-loving country that values human rights for all, embracing and extending a warm welcome to non-religious Jews, intermarried Jews and even Jews whose convictions of faith may differ from the prevailing Orthodox expression of Judaism? Or will we project an image of the new guard that is doing its best to destroy all the great strides and advancements that have propelled us into being the admired nation that we are?
Right now, we have an image problem, as the rest of the world looks on to see how all this will end up. Our street fight must prevail as we resist those who are seeking to remake Israel into their own intolerant and one-dimensional likeness.
Our image must always be depicted and exemplified by the words of our national anthem, “HaTikvah” (The Hope) which celebrates “a free people in their own country,” because anything less is not who we were meant to be!
A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.