Orit in Israel: Just say ‘no’ to the Jewish state

At the risk of losing some loyal fans and readers who have considered me their dear defender of the Jewish state, I’m coming out of the closet as a detractor of its current incarnation. No longer will I silently obey the exhortations of the Jewish community that I support the Zionist dream. I will unabashedly admit that this Jewish State is no longer a supreme value in my life.

The main reason for this: the “Jewish State” no longer really means anything. All too often it is an empty idol worshiped by the Jewish community and Israeli citizens to which the happiness and rights of individual Jews are routinely sacrificed.

The “Jewish state” means something different to so many Jews, just as the term “Jewish” does. For many Jews today—from Reform to Orthodox—the Jewish state simply means a political entity with a Jewish majority. This ranks the citizen’s race and religion as the top criteria for determining the state’s Jewish nature. This definition creates an obsession with Jewish demography, leading the State to view Jews as chess pieces on the board game of its borders. This definition is what has allowed 9,000 Jews to be cruelly uprooted from their homes in Gaza in the summer of August 2005 for the sake of the “Jewish majority.” A state can have many Jews, but what if most of those Jews are criminals? Of what value then is a Jewish majority?

Some consider a state “Jewish” if its leaders are Jewish. Give me a wise, righteous gentile over the power-hungry, incompetent Olmert any day. A leader’s Jewish blood does not guarantee justice for the Jews.

For the more liberal elements of the Jewish population, “Jewish” translates into altruism, compassion and self-sacrifice. These Jews, many of whom have no solid backing in the pshat (plain meaning) of Jewish texts, interpret Judaism to make it a competitor for Christianity in touting the virtue of altruism. As a light unto the nations, Jews must exhibit chesed, kindness, and that includes giving the poor Palestinians a state, ensuring the terrorist nest in Gaza receives humanitarian aid and care, removing all checkpoints even at the risk of terror infiltration. I’m afraid the Jewish state won’t last much longer if it’s too kind.

And then there are the more religious, conservative elements who translate the “Jewish” state as a state governed by halachah. Halachah is a system of law that has developed throughout the years, particularly in the Diaspora, replete with rituals that do not necessarily translate into the just governance and management of a country. Furthermore, halachah has all too often become obsessed with the small ritual details over the broad ethical principles of the Torah, such as the Ten Commandments. I for one do not want to live in a Jewish state in which I am forced to eat kosher or keep Shabbat. For me, keeping the minutiae of halachah is the not the ikar, the main essence, of what it means to be a Jew.

Some define the Jewish state as a state which employs Jewish symbols and holidays. When I have to deal with draconian Israeli bureaucracy, exorbitant taxation, and countless parking tickets, I am not comforted by the fact that my legal notices are imprinted with the state symbol of a menorah. Especially after being dragged out of a synagogue in Neve Dekalim in Gush Katif by soldiers wearing caps and vests imprinted with the Jewish star and menorah, I don’t view state symbols with joy and excitement. Countless of Jews in the Diaspora are not rushing to live the Jewish state because they are eager for a passport with a menorah on its cover.

At the end of the day, no matter how religious Jews are or aren’t, what most truly seek is to live a happy, fulfilled life. If the Jewish state is a state that doesn’t create the conditions for its Jewish citizens to pursue happiness: to realize themselves creatively, to feel secure crossing the street and its borders, to start businesses with undue hassle, to worship their form of Judaism, then of what true value is the Jewish state? For what are we really fighting? A symbol? A border? A piece of real estate?

What then, you might ask, would make the Jewish state different from the United States of America? There is a reason why the Unites States was called the New Zion. Let us not forget that many of the Founding Fathers of the United States were inspired by Scripture—only they looked towards the broad ideals of liberty and justice that permeate the Biblical tradition, not the ritual minutia, not the gushy moralism.

Like an individual, every nation has its own character and history. I uphold the necessity of a state to provide Jews refuge from persecution and to give Jews full cultural and religious expression on their soil. But those values will only take Jews so far if, on that soil, Jews are not protected from harm by its enemies, from government corruption, or from state-sponsored suppression of individual rights.

When the state of Israel gives every single Jews the opportunity to truly flourish and thrive, each according to his or her inalienable rights—and the Jewish symbols stand for that—I will be a proud defender of the Jewish state. I won’t mind if a sizeable Arab population lives within it, so long as they too uphold right of Jews to pursue happiness. I guess you could say my vision for Israel is a pure theocracy, where God translates into an objective, rational, moral rule of law that guards the unfolding of the human—and Jewish—spirit in all its beauty.

—Orit in Israel