Since Israel won the Eurovision Song contest anti-Israeli sentiment has escalated and as usual people have jumped on the band wagon with little or no comprehension of what they are supporting or fighting against. As I have said in previous posts, the biggest misunderstanding relates to the notion that Israel’s orthodox Judaism and in particular Zionism, are part and parcel of a rigid theocracy and therefore it follows that religion is to blame for a perceived extremist government and its poor treatment of Palestinians. In addition to the threatened boycotts of the song contest. I have encountered the view that Jews are fascists, which given the horrors of the Holocaust is the most insensitive, cruel and unwarranted insult to the Jewish people and those who share their interests.
To be clear, Israel is not a theocracy, indeed, had it been inaugurated as a theocratic state, there might not have been the ensuing problems we see today. As the Jewish philosopher Rabi Isaac Breuer suggested, Israel’s order is secular Jewish nationalism, which does not include the high standards and principles contained in Judaism. Take note of Theodor Herzl’s vision of the Jewish States in the passage that follows:
“Shall we end by having a theocracy? No, indeed. Faith unites us, knowledge gives us freedom. We shall therefore prevent any theocratic tendencies coming to the fore on the part of our priesthood. We shall keep our priests in the confines of their temples in the same way as we shall keep our professional army within the confines of their barracks. Army and priesthood shall receive honours high as their functions deserve. But they must not interfere with the administration of the state, else they will conjure up difficulties without and within”.
Herzl recommended that the priesthood be excluded from participating in the administration. However, you cannot really have a Jewish State without the priesthood. Religion is crucial to Jewish people, it is not just a doctrine, it is identity, ethnicity, morality, health and welfare, as well as altruism and much more. The Jewish character is religious in respect of a particular view of the world that is historical and spiritual and often overrides common theology. Herzl bans the priests from the administration so they can no longer act as advisors or the conscience of the people in any way that will interfere with the established state and in doing so he has removed an integral component in what constitutes the Jewish tradition and its people. As the philosopher Paul Eidelberg states, “Eretz Israel assimilated Jews would inevitably establish a state whose governing institutions would be based on gentile rather than Jewish principles”. The result seems to me to be a divided and weakened Israel. However, Israel is not alone in this problem, there has been a world wide spread of monoculture.
As Eidelberg goes on to say, Israel’s mode of governing is fraught with western interests and influences, which may not be in Israel’s interests.
While I do not agree with all of Eidelberg’s views, some things make sense. Had the priests had their way the state of Israel would function according to the Torah and its rabbinical interpretations. This is not to say the Jews would not have had enemies, but take one example of the ensuing problem; acts of revenge or the eye for an eye principle. This idea drives nations to take revenge equal to that of an injury that has been caused. Hence, if someone takes your eye in battle, you take the eye of your enemy to make things equal. This would have been treated differently in a Judaic Midrash as in Rashi’s Talmudic commentary, on the eye for an eye issue. Rashi suggests, the eye for an eye principle does not mean blinding one’s enemy in order to equal the damage caused, but rather it means paying restitution of another kind equivalent to the damage caused. For example, in labour, a bond or the forfeiture of material assets. Rashi advocates restitution, not revenge. This idea takes belief and ingenuity.
In the same sentiments as Eidelberg, one is left wondering if the ruling elites in Israel lack the ingenuity and faith that Jews have historically gained from the Torah and its interpretations, if so the notion of Jewish State is a misnomer as are the struggles surrounding it.
Consider the most well-known aspect of the Arab-Israeli struggle, the 1967 Six Day War between Israel and its neighbouring states of Egypt (the United Arab Republic). There was already bad blood between the Egyptians and the Israelis, which can be traced back to the 1956 nationalization of the Suez Crisis by Egypt, which saw Israel’s participation in the European invasion of Egypt and the Arab nationalist government of President Nasser. Access to the Suez was vital to a number of countries for trade and security, but none received the backlash that Israel encountered. With Israel’s help, Europe got what it wanted, a short cut for trade across the globe. What did Israel get? Israel got ten years of border clashes with its neighbours. One might ask, whose interests were being served? Was this a misguided attempt on Israel’s’part to assimilate?
In 1967 the hostilities escalated and Egypt created a blockade of Israel’s access to the Red Sea, which constituted an act of war. Israel was not the first to take up arms. In April 1967, Syria shot at an Israeli tractor ploughing in the demilitarized zone. Added to this, Russia fed false information to the Arabs that Israel was going to strike and the threat to Israeli borders increased. A short time later, Israel launched a strike, which gave rise to the Six Day War. The War was a surprising and massive win for Israel and it might have settled the grievances, but it did not.
Allow me to put these events into context. The United States of America, Europe and Russia were in the middle of a Cold War. Israel had revealed itself a force to be reckoned with so America had Israel poised as a strategic base in the event of a potential Third World War. Subsequently, Americans aided the future development of Israel. Thousands of American Jews (and others) were encouraged to send money and clothes to Israel to support the people, while Israel would be expected to support the American government. Israel unwittingly became a strategic military out base for the United States, a positioning that was likely anticipated when the Jews were given a homeland in the first place.
After the Six Day War victory America then closed the Suez Canal to Russian ships, which saw closer alliances between Russia and the Arabs. Israel had failed to take sovereignty over the lands it had defeated, (which would have revived Holy Land). Instead, Israel’s government left itself open to continuing warring factions rendering Israel and the Arabs both as villains in the eyes of the world.
It is not hard to see who wins in this scenario and it is not Israel, nor is it the Palestinians.
In 2000, the fertility among the country’s Arab population stood at 4.3 children per woman, while the fertility rate of Jewish women was 2.6. If this expansion in birth rates continues the Jews are going to be significantly outnumbered and their existence in their homeland significantly threatened.
Israel is the only homeland Jews have had in 2000 years. For the most part the good and caring people of the west show great sympathy for refugees and the homeless. This is not the case, and never has been for the Jews. Even after the horrors of the Holocaust, surviving Jews trying to seek refuge in Israel had their ships turned around by the British. How heartless can people be? Today, Israeli’s living near the border face constant aggression and rocket attacks. Clearly, the destruction of Israel in any way possible is on someone’s agenda. Seemingly then those who condemn Israel are either ignorant of the facts or they believe Israel has no right to a homeland. Israel may have fighting power, but it faces constant humiliation.
Arabs throw stones at the Jews across the border and this is interpreted as a lack of resources (weapons) therefore poor people must resort to what they can pick up from the ground in order to defend themselves. Historically, across the east people were stoned as a means of ultimate degradation and humiliation. It was the worst possible insult that could be bestowed on a human being, one much greater than death. The practice has Biblical Origins. (David struck Goliath the Philistine with a stone). The roots of the Israeli-Arab struggle go deep. Isaac gained favour over Ishmael. Many of the grievances have religious origins and I believe the resolutions are beyond governments. It is more likely that through the meeting of faiths that these struggles will find common ground.
Given the facts then, how will boycotting the Eurovision contest help either side in this struggle? I have a firm belief in the right to protest, but know what it is you are protesting about. In wars there are victims on all sides. In culture there is a different and more creative opportunity for reconciliation than that found in politics.