Tuesday, September 06, 2016

The Jewish Home

A Facebook pal I hold in high regard recently made aliyah, but when pressed by a second friend to articulate that qualities that make Israel great, he talked about food and convenience: Everything at the food court is kosher. No special accommodation are needed at work for Shabbos and Yom Tov. Things like that.

I supposes what he means is that no longer feels like a guest or a stranger in his own country. And that, I think, is my point of departure from many Modern Orthodox Zionists. Unlike many of them, I've never felt like an outsider in America. I've always taken seriously the constitutional guarantee that Jewish citizens and Non Jewish citizens are identically "American." I reject the notion that this is a Christian country as I reject the notion that America belongs to any one ethnic group at the expense of the others that reside here. I've always felt perfectly at home here.

After the terror attack in France, when Netanyahu told the Jews of France that "the state of Israel is your home" I felt that along with offering support to beleaguered French Jews, he had had also done something inexcusable.

Part of the civic struggle of the last few centuries has been the battle to convince racists and bigots that citizenship in a Western Democracy does not depend on race, gender or religion. All of us, irrespective of color or creed, have equal access to all of the benefits, burdens and responsibilities of American society. When Netanyahu says Israel is the "Jewish home" he is communicating his lack of faith in this essential tenet, and endangering all non-Israeli Jews by letting bigots and racists know that they are free to disregard it, too. Even worse, he seems to be hinting that that only Jews are entitled to the full benefits of Israeli citizenship, just as he seems to imagine that the benefits, rights and protections of French citizenship are available to the ethnically French alone.

Like my nouveau-Israeli friend, I'm not at blind to the pleasures of living in a society that is built to revolve around my own needs and desires. But philosophically, I oppose it. I think allowing any one religion or ethnicity to dominate the public culture is bad civics.

One of the truly singular and remarkable things about America is that this does not happen here. The fact that it happens in Israel feels to me like a guilty pleasure.

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