by Ilan Bloch
Image courtesy of en.wikipedia.org
I do not believe in the State of Israel. It is not that I am an extremist liberal, or a fundamentalist Haredi Jew; but rather that I simply cannot identify a state, the residents of which hold shared fundamental ideals and values, or who adhere to a fixed set of norms and mores. It is easy to talk about “Israeli values” but, more often than not, such values belong to only one sector in Israeli society. I prefer to talk about several silos in Israeli society, or even different states of Israel, which are equally valid, authentically Israeli, and each of which contribute to the rich tapestry of this country.
The first of these is Medinas Yisroel – the State of Haredim. In this state, Halacha (Jewish law) is obligatory and reigns supreme. This state values Torah learning, avodah (Divine worship) and gemilut chasadim (acts of lovingkindness), fears contact with modernity (and with the other states), and has, at best, an ambiguous relationship to modern political Zionism. Medinas Yisroel imposes severe gender segregation between its residents and fears spiritual poverty more than economic poverty. It is disturbed by the secular nature of the state and by its very existence which it sees as going against Rabbinic Law (cf. BT Ketubot 110b/111a). The key for residents of this state is Torat Yisrael; Rabbi Ovadia Yosef even suggested that residents of this state should leave the actual State of Israel if they were to be drafted into the IDF.
This is not to say that all Haredim “live” in Medinas Yisroel, but this certainly represents a major trend in Haredi society. There are Haredim who find their homes in one of the other states of Israel.
Secondly, we have Medinat Watani – the State of My Homeland (in Arabic). The almost twenty percent non-Jewish minority of the actual State of Israel are generally part of the Palestinian nation and, at the same time, Israeli citizens. In a sense, residents of this state have given up on being caught between a rock and a hard place. They have rejected the enormous difficulty of their people and their country being at war (or pursuing peace!) and embraced Palestinian nationalism and their own Palestinian ethnic identity, albeit one which has, through circumstance, undergone a process of “Israelization” over the last 65 years. Some have even embraced Islamism (not to be confused with Islamic terrorism). The key to residents of this state is their Palestinian identity (albeit one which has, through circumstance, undergone a process of “Israelization”) – lived on what they consider to be their ancestral homeland.
This is not to say that all Israeli-Palestinians “live” in Medinat Watani, but this certainly represents a major trend in Israeli-Palestinian society. There are Israeli-Palestinians who find their homes in one of the other states of Israel.
The third is Medinat Yehuda – the State of Judah (part of the West Bank). About half a million Israeli Jews live in territory conquered by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War. Many view their lives as being devoted to modern-day chalutziyut (pioneering), just like the founders of Israel, and consider themselves willing to make sacrifices for the sake of the actual State of Israel and its people, for example, by committing to extended IDF service. Others moved for quality of life reasons, and some of their staunchest supporters actually live in “Israel proper.” HaBayit HaYehudi party head Naftali Bennett, who is a resident of Ra’anana and wants to annex Area C (about 60%) of the West Bank, is a prime example of the latter. The residents of this state believe that Israeli retention of these disputed, God-given territories in which the majority of the stories of the Tanach took place is a must, if not for reasons of religious faith, then because of security and water considerations. The key to residents of this state is Eretz Yisrael; some of its more fundamentalist members might even prefer to live in Judea under Palestinian rule than live inside the actual State of Israel.
This is not to say that all West Bank settlers (or their supporters) “live” in Medinat Yehuda, but this certainly represents a major trend in the society of the ideological right. There are Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria who find their homes in one of the other states of Israel.
Next is Gosudarstvo Izrail – the [Russian] State of Israel. About one million Russian-speaking immigrants made their home in Israel after the fall of the Iron Curtain, bringing with them a rich level of cultural creativity and appreciation, and love of intellectual pursuit. Many, but certainly not all, support libertarianism and conservative politics, are anti-socialist, view the mainstream media in a highly critical light and, with most being relative newcomers, bring a fresh perspective to discussion about the Arab-Israeli conflict. The key to residents of this state is Medinat Yisrael – and a strong and stable one at that, which demonstrates strength and power to those across its borders, while not interfering unnecessarily in the economic and religious lives of its citizens.
This is not to say that all Russian-speaking immigrants “live” in Gosudarstvo Izrail, but this certainly represents a major trend in Russian-speaking society. There are Russian-speaking immigrants who find their homes in one of the other states of Israel.
Also, let us consider Medinat Tel Aviv – the State of Tel Aviv (one might say of the Jerusalem suburb of Rehavia as well.) The residents of this state support, to one extent or another, western democratic norms, such as the supremacy of the rule of law, freedom from of and from religion, individual rights and equality before the law. This state, with its Israeli middle class, is shrinking. This state represents the so-called “Israeli consensus,” that is, the center and left of center and right of center of the Israeli political map. The key to residents of this state is various combinations of Torat, Eretz and Medinat Yisrael – combined with an emphasis on the individual who lives in Israel.
This is not to say that all Tel Aviv (or Rehavia) residents “live” in Medinat Tel Aviv, but this certainly represents a major trend in Tel Aviv (or Rehavia) society. (In fact, a good twenty percent of Tel Aviv voters in the recent election for parties to the right of Likud. *) There are some who find their homes in one of the other states of Israel.
Finally, we have Medinat Sefarad – the State of Mizrahi Jews. This state embraces pride in the rich ethnic, religious and cultural history of Jews originating in North Africa and the Middle East (and to a much lesser extent, those who have their roots in Spain, Portugal and Navarre). The key to residents of this state is preserving and embracing the rich and wonderful heritage of Sefardi Judaism, often with a strong emphasis on Jewish tradition and heritage, but not necessarily strict Halachic (Jewish legal) observance. For some, but very much less so than in the past, intertwined with their ethnic identity will be feelings of persecution and the ongoing implications of the historic injustice committed against them by Ashkenazim. Most will be more conservative in their views on the Arab-Israeli conflict and socio-economic issues, although some – like members of the Mizrahi Rainbow Democratic Coalition – will promote more liberal views.
This is not to say that all mizrahim “live” in Medinat Sefarad, but this certainly represents a major trend in mizrahi society. There are mizrahim who find their homes in one of the other states of Israel.
It should be stressed that this blog post utilizes generalizations which, by definition, are never be fully correct. It should be clear that some Israelis live in overlapping silos or, in a sense, hold dual, or even multiple, citizenship in different states of Israel. And, of course, some other Israeli population groups, such as Ethiopians, and foreign workers and asylum-seekers, cannot be easily categorized into any of the states of Israel which I have delineated; there are, for sure, more than six states of Israel.
Israel is a construct – a relatively modern phenomenon, not necessarily linked to previous conceptions of what it meant to be Jewish. Perhaps here lies the major split in Israeli society. Were Zionism and the establishment of the State of Israel meant to normalize the Jewish condition, and make the Jewish people a nation like every other, thereby representing a break with the Jewish past? Or, were they meant to allow the Jewish people to fulfill an almost mystical potential and become an ohr lagoyim (light unto the nations), thereby representing a continuation of the Jewish past, in the form of a state. Perhaps the other major split in Israeli society is the question of to what extent universalistic values should be embraced and incorporated into the public sphere, and into Israeli values, culture and society, together with particularistic values. There are no clear answers to these questions.
But it is not only Israel which is a construct; the “Israeliness” that Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid loved to talk about during his time as a journalist is also a construct. It is too easy for the hegemons of Israeli society to argue that their state of Israel is the actual State of Israel, and that the ideals and values of their state of Israel are the ideals and values of the actual State of Israel, thereby disenfranchising members of the other states of Israel. It is too easy to dismiss the “other,” whether she be Haredi, Arab, Russian, settler or from Tel Aviv as “un-Israeli” – whatever that means. Each of these different silos in Israeli society is certainly authentically Israeli. Each of these different states of Israel is legitimate, and their rights, ways of life and place in the actual State of Israel should be protected. There is no need for a melting pot. This does not mean autonomy for each of these groups – there should certainly be one law for all. But, such laws must be developed through a partnership between all sectors of Israeli society, which must all be acknowledged and respected as stake-holders, and be truly representative of them all.
With which state/s of Israel do you affiliate? Why?
*This is after dividing the Likud-Beiteinu vote in the city according to the division of Knesset seats between Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu.
Ilan Bloch is the Director of Teaching Israel. http://www.teachingisrael.com http://www.facebook.com/teachingisrael