The Mundane Dilution of the Jewish State - 27 Feb 05

The attorney-general, mid-level IDF brass and faceless bureaucrats in the
education ministry nonchalantly weaken the Jewish identity of Israel - and
therefore her raison d'etre

The Mundane Dilution of the Jewish State

27 February, 2005

Israel is a Jewish State.

Or is it?

Recently we have witnessed a number of disturbing events reflecting a
growing trend to 'de-Judaize' our culture and society. True, our calendar
and language certainly reflect Jewish roots, and our place in the hearts of
many Jews around the world strengthens the impression. Yet for those who
care and take pride in the Jewishness of Israel, these latest incidents
should be seen as 'warning shots across the bow' and as calls to immediate

In his book "The Jewish State - The Struggle for Israel's Soul" (2000),
Yoram Hazony describes the intellectual struggle between those opposed to
the very idea of a 'Jewish' State, led by Martin Buber, and those favoring
Herzl's original idea, led by David Ben Gurion. Alarmingly, Hazony's book
details how Buber and his school were in many ways victorious, as the State
of Israel lost various manifestations of its Jewish identity over the past
half-century. Today we are seeing the results of this trend in even more
disconcerting ways, as the natural effect of this philosophy 'trickles down'
into mundane decisions taken by mid-level bureaucrats as almost a matter of

A few weeks ago, in a seemingly unconnected series of events, we were
treated to three expressions of this trend in quick succession. These
examples demonstrate the degree to which Buber's anti-Jewish
"universalistic" approach to the State and its organs has been accepted by
decision-makers at all levels. A review and brief analysis of them
highlights the danger and the depth of the crisis facing us.

Attorney-general Menachem Mazuz recently announced a change of policy
regarding JNF lands administered by the Israel Lands Authority, and has been
praised and condemned in equal parts by the spiritual descendents of Buber
and Ben-Gurion. The interesting aspect of this decision lies less in its
acceptance of the petitioner's claims - reasonable from the standpoint of
any non-discriminatory Western legal basis - than the process which brought
it about. Mazuz apparently sat with the heads of his office, officials from
the ILA and representatives from the JNF - and together they decided that
the policy of selling JNF land only to Jews is not defensible in the court
of the Jewish State.

That the JNF - whose initials stand for "Jewish National Fund" lest we
forget - was established to reclaim land in the Land of Israel for the
Jewish people is not contested. The question raised in this case - whether
such discriminatory practices are acceptable in Israel - highlights both the
complexities of the JNF's relationship with the State, as well as the
State's relationship with its Jewishness and with the Jewish people who are
not citizens of the State.

The solution proposed - compensating the JNF with State lands whenever it
sells land in its holdings to non-Jews - simply skirts the main issue: Can a
democratic country discriminate in favour of one segment of its population
and remain truly democratic? It would seem, from examples in Europe (where
Christianity is in the main the State religion of most countries) and the US
(where 'affirmative action' is an honored concept) that it is indeed
possible for a free country to espouse equality while also protecting and
promoting the interests of one group over another.

In the US, in fact, affirmative action is really simply another name for
compensatory discrimination in favour of one segment of the population to
counteract the effects of historical injustices against them - in this case,
African Americans. One could certainly argue that the historical injustices
done to the Jewish people, from the Roman dispersion through the Spanish
Inquisition and the Holocaust to the expulsion of 800,000 Jews from Arab
countries in the past century, might justify a similar approach here. But
the accepted wisdom, reflected in the decision of Mazuz & Co., is that
democracy (as they understand it, and as Buber interpreted 'universal
values') trumps Jewish interests and identity.

Similarly, the IDF decision regarding disbanding Hesder units (combining
Yeshiva learning with active combat duty in homogeneous units) reflects a
growing trend to reject the Jewish aspects of state institutions in favour
of the more palatable 'normal' trappings of a 'state of all its citizens.'
Hazony provides sufficient evidence of the IDF turning its back on its
Jewish role and history, including turning the 7-page code entitled "The
Spirit of the IDF" into a "'profound code of ethics'" which in fact includes
no reference to "the Jewish State, the Jewish people, the land of Israel, or
anything else to hint at the Jewish national identity." in any of its eleven
"values" and thirty-four "basic principles".

It certainly is in keeping with this drift towards secular universalistic
humanism to choose, at the level of the IDF Manpower command, to break up
what is known as one of the army's most highly-motivated and
highly-performing units. Announced only two days prior to the JNF decision,
here also the process is more important than the policy itself. This was
clearly not a strategic decision taken by the political echelon at the
defense ministry after long consideration (and discussion with the leaders
of the Hesder programs or social/community leaders).

Neither was it a calculated decision to disband all such organic units and
to disperse soldiers who until now served in what OC Manpower Elazar Stern
called "ideological frameworks". As Rabbi David Stav, head of the Petach
Tikvah Hesder Yeshiva noted, the IDF has not decided as a whole to take
"similar action against the special Beduin, haredi or Kibbutz units, only
against the national religious Zionist units." IDF officers at the
operational and directorate level discussed and decided on this historical
alteration of long-term IDF and national policy, announced almost
off-handedly in the middle of a busy news week. (Whether this plan relates
in any way to the proposed disengagement and the propensity of
religiously-observant soldiers to oppose disengagement is irrelevant, at
least with regard to the method of decision-making and launching the

The IDF's attitude towards Hesder units - viewing the added element of their
Jewish content as somehow threatening or undesirable - is shared, it seems,
by nameless bureaucrats in Israel's education ministry. Just a week before,
the education ministry was embroiled in controversy over a report in
Ha'aretz newspaper that the ministry does not recognize immigrants'
university degrees if they included credit for Yeshiva study. That this
policy is transparently ridiculous is clear when put into the context of the
numerous degrees bestowed by the same leading universities which include
various credit-earning activities - such as foreign study abroad, volunteer
work, and social or 'experiential' activities. This writer earned credits
towards his BA from one of America's leading universities for Zen Buddhist
'sitting', researching fraternity drinking parties, and a very enjoyable six
months spent in England 'studying' between motorcycle tours of Europe.

That such a policy could be agreed upon by mid-level functionaries in the
education ministry in such a blatantly anti-Jewish manner is as
transparently objectionable. The education ministry of the one Jewish state
in the world accepts Columbia degrees which include credit for volunteer
work in Ecuador and Harvard degrees which include credit for Native American
folk-dancing, not to mention my UC Berkeley degree as described above, but
not the same degrees if they include credit for (rigorous) study in an
advanced institution of Jewish learning in Israel - called a Yeshiva for
overseas students.

At issue here is more than the specific matters under review. These three
examples - and the many similar, seemingly minor decisions taken without
public fanfare - are not strategic policy decisions at either the cabinet
level nor Knesset level. Nor are they taken as a result of research and
analysis by prominent think-tanks or public-policy fora. These are
bureaucratic decisions with far-reaching implications, often made on the
basis of partial information, on prejudiced approaches to law and society,
and on acceptance of supposed 'western norms' without reference to the
special circumstance of Israel as the world's only Jewish state.

This is not the place to argue in detail the relative merits of each
decision - and each has, in fact, been argued in these pages in the past few
weeks - though I've offered a few perspectives to help clarify the issues.

This article is an attempt to point out the insidious, virtually subversive
nature of the decision-making process, and of the acceptance of this
'universalistic' anti-Jewish mind-set.

At the end of his book, Hazony notes that "a state is not a material object"
but rather is "an idea" which is at base a "matter of culture". He stresses
that when the people cease to believe in the state, when their culture
depletes their willingness to make efforts and sacrifices on behalf of the
state, "it is only a matter of time before the entire construct proves as
shallow as is the belief in it". Like the Soviet Union, or Czechoslovakia,
or Yugoslavia, a state "need not be defeated militarily to be defeated"; it
may be destroyed merely "on the battleground of ideas."

Today, here in Israel, whether in the university environment where Israel is
attacked mercilessly as the root cause of all evil in the region by some
professors; in the media where observant Jews are castigated for their
dedication to the Land of Israel and the Torah of Israel; or in the social
milieu where it is deemed acceptable to demonize Jewish symbols and actions
even at the highest levels of the cultural and political elite, the idea of
a State for the Jews, as well as a Jewish State, is being assaulted as never
before. More important, as the examples related above show, it is no longer
Buber (or Sarid, or Lapid) who are assailing the Jewish character of the
State. It is nameless bureaucrats at every level of the apparatus of the
State, and named second-level functionaries who cannot by any stretch of the
imagination be called "leaders", who as a result of decades of post-Zionist
rhetoric have so accepted Buber's main thesis that their decision-making is
simply a natural extension of this acceptance, without their even knowing

It is high time, as Hazony concludes, for the strengthening of the idea of
the Jewish State, the legitimacy of the Jewishness of our State, by our
leading thinkers and writers and "men of spirit". Not only to justify the
Jewish nature of our country legally, morally and socially, but to provide
the foundation for the next generation of Israelis to proudly bear the
banner of Israel - The Jewish State.

[The writer is a senior advisor to Natan Sharansky, Israel's minister for
Jerusalem and Diaspora affairs.]


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