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Politicians talk about Judaism, but neglect Israelis

Op-ed: Instead of preaching 'Jewish values,' a responsible political system should focus on how to make the eight million Israelis living here – Jews and non-Jews – feel safer, more satisfied and prouder of their country.

Published: 12.16.14, 00:43 / Israel Opinion

Sharon Even-Haim (Shawn Evenhaim) is the chairman of the IAC, the organization of Israeli emigrants in America. The first letter in the organization's name is not an English version of the word "emigrants," but an English version of the word "Israeli."

 

 

Last week, I met Even-Haim in Washington. When I asked him what was the justification for a separate organization of former Israelis, he explained, plainly, that the Israelis have not been absorbed into the Jewish community and don't want to be absorbed into it. They are different.

 

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It turns out that one has to fly 10,000 kilometers to discover that there is such an entity: Israelis. In Israel itself, it has disappeared from the consciousness.

 

The politicians, who are vigorously wooing voters these days, have a habit of including the word "Jewish" in their speeches. The right is swearing to protect the Jewish tradition and Jewish heritage and Jewish dignity and Jewish security, and the center-left is swearing to protect the Jewish majority and the Jewish interest.

 

I am searching for the Israelis in their speeches and can't find them. Listening to them makes it seem like Israel is not a sovereign state, but another Jewish community in the Diaspora, whose members are in need of a constant reminder of their descent, or else they will assimilate with the gentiles.

 

There is a reason why David Ben-Gurion refused to name the state "Judea," as some of his colleagues suggested: He realized that if the state's name would be "Judea," its residents would be called "Jews," and the difference between them and the Jews in the Diaspora would be blurred.

 

Ben-Gurion was a devout Zionist. Imagine the name we would have been living under had the decision been placed on the shoulders of politicians like Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman or Naftali Bennett.

 

They talk about "Judaism" with great respect, and can't explain what they actually mean. There is no Judaism in the Bible. In dictionaries it appears in different, conflicting meanings.

 

Judaism is sometimes a demographic definition, like French Jewry for example, and sometimes a theological definition – Christianity's parallel and competitor. Is there Reform Judaism and Conservative Judaism just like there is Catholic Christianity and Protestant Christianity? "God forbid," the ultra-Orthodox say. "Judaism only means us." "That's not true," say the national-religious. "Judaism means us."

 

And sometimes Judaism is also a historical, ethnic, national definition – each person and his own definition of Judaism.

 

Israel is an emigration country. It doesn’t make people Jewish; it makes them Israeli (Photo: Amit Shabi)
Israel is an emigration country. It doesn’t make people Jewish; it makes them Israeli (Photo: Amit Shabi)

 

Bayit Yehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett once headed an association called My Israel. Now that Israel is his, Israel has been banished from his speeches. He preaches the adoption of "Jewish values" as an alternative to the old, secular Zionism, the one which founded the state. He doesn’t say what Jewish values are, but the hint is clear: We, the Bayit Yehudi party, have better values, more Jewish values. We are the crème de la crème.

 

Do those who set fire to the bilingual school in Jerusalem, who sit in court and laugh the evil laughter of Yigal Amir, with their skullcaps on their heads, have more values than their victims, the children of the torched school? I'm sure they don’t.

 

Do the religious settlers who built illegal outposts in the Shilo Valley and rob Palestinian farmers of their lands on a daily basis have more values than those who protest against them? I doubt it very much.

 

The only purpose of talking about "Jewish values" is to appeal to a certain type of voters: Pay attention, I don't have an Arab mother. Vote for me, I hate Arabs as much as you do.

 

It may be time to put things in order: There is a Jewish Diaspora and there is the State of Israel. The affiliation between the two is deep, and let's hope it stays that way for a long time. The feeling of responsibility is mutual, and it includes a promise of a warm home for every Jew seeking to come here, whether Orthodoxy recognizes him as Jewish or not.

 

Israel is an emigration country. It doesn’t make people Jewish; it makes them Israeli.

 

Israel has Jewish residents and non-Jewish residents – more than one-fifth of the population. A responsible political system should have focused on how to make Israelis, all the eight million living here, feel safer, more satisfied, prouder of their country.

 

We don’t need recognition from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but from the politicians pursuing our votes. They should let the Jewish history be: It mocked greater people than them. They should serve us, their voters.

 

But they insist. It's true, they imply to us, we are failed leaders: We failed with Hamas, we failed with Iran, we failed with the cost of living. But we are excellent Jews.

 

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