נדב תמיר
Nadav Tamir
Photo: Archive
Protests and prayers in Israel

Israel can be Jewish and democratic

Opinion: We must not let the distorted interpretation of the Jewish faith and nationalism by anti-liberal elements disconnect us from the values of liberal Zionism, which allow us to uphold our uniqueness and universal humane values

Nadav Tamir |
Published: 10.10.20 , 23:37
What is more important during the coronavirus pandemic, the right to pray or the right to protest?
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  • This question has revived an all-too-familiar discourse familiar to many of us: What are we more - Israeli or Jewish?
    תפילות והפגנותתפילות והפגנות
    Protests and prayers in Israel
    (Photo: AFP)
    Even Transportation Minister Miri Regev recently acknowledged this dilemma, when she said that, “The tension between the Jews and the Israelis is emphasized by the debate over demonstrations versus prayers.”
    Regev also made sure to elegantly add that the conflict is "a product of the hypocrisy and lack of substance on the part of the left."
    In contrast to Regev’s claims on the matter, those of us who define ourselves as liberals should have no qualm or conflict regarding our identity.
    The very purpose of Zionism, which was clearly defined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, is clear: Israel is both the nation state of all Jews and the state of all of its citizens - without distinguishing between religion, race and nationality.
    כיכר הבימהכיכר הבימה
    A demonstrator holds up a banner during a protest against Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv
    (Photo: AP)
    A liberal Israeli Jew is one who feels solidarity both towards all the world’s Jews and to the Arab citizens of Israel.
    In recent years, the anti-liberal stance has gained traction in Israel, which can be clearly seen in today’s Likud. The party is nothing like the Likud of Menachem Begin and other leaders of the Revisionist movement, who were all liberals.
    One of the clearest expressions of this stance is the Nation-State Law, which dealt a catastrophic blow to the sense of equality among Israel’s non-Jewish citizens, when it tried to tip the scales in favor of Judaism in the equation of "a Jewish and democratic state."
    הפגנה נגד חוק הלאום בכיכר רביןהפגנה נגד חוק הלאום בכיכר רבין
    Members of Israel's Druze community protest in Tel Aviv against the Nation-State Law
    (Photo: Moti Kimchi)
    Liberal Jews in the meantime, see no conflict between democracy and Judaism. On the contrary, it was Judaism that gave humanity the basic principles of liberalism by determining that every single person was created in the image of God.
    In addition, it was democracy and liberalism that allowed the Jewish people to flourish in Western nations, chief among them the United States.
    As far as liberalism goes, everybody has the right to protest and pray, as long as doing so doesn’t hurt the well-being of the general public, and as long as it's with strict adherence to the health regulations.
    At the many recent demonstrations I have attended I have seen members of the public gathering while wearing masks as instructed. In the same way, I've seen many religious communities pray outdoors during the High Holidays while carefully observing the Health Ministry's directives.
    מתפללים במרחב הפתוח בירושליםמתפללים במרחב הפתוח בירושלים
    Praying outside in Jerusalem during the High Holidays
    (Photo: AFP)
    Even so, there will certainly be scenarios in which we are forced to decide between democracy and a Jewish state.
    This decision will be forced upon us, for example, if we are unable to reach an agreement regarding the two-state solution with the Palestinians.
    Then we will have to choose between our ability to preserve Israel as the nation of the Jewish people and safeguarding democracy. In such a case, I would rather give up Israel’s Jewish identity, so as not to turn the country into an apartheid state.
    Does this choice make me more Israeli than Jewish?
    The answer is no, because choosing apartheid is not only contradictory to the values of democracy, but to the values of judaism.
    מחאות בירושליםמחאות בירושלים
    A Haredi man is arrested during protests in Jerusalem against the closure
    (Photo: Shalev Shalom)
    Choosing to become an apartheid state would serve to eliminate Israel's connection with the vast majority of the Jewish people, who are mostly liberal in their views.
    More than 80% of North American Jews will refuse to associate themselves with an apartheid state.
    Democracy and Judaism do not contradict each other, that is why we must preserve both. We can uphold the rights to both protest and pray.
    And while I am secular in every fiber of my being, my connection to Judaism lies in my national affinity and blood ties to Jewish civilization.
    בצל מגבלות הקורונה. תפילת נעילה המונית בכיכר דיזנגוףבצל מגבלות הקורונה. תפילת נעילה המונית בכיכר דיזנגוף
    Praying outdoors in Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Circle on Yom Kippur
    (Photo: Moti Kimchi)
    I believe that religious people should not be prevented from doing what they believe is a mitzvah, just as religious coercion against secular people such as myself is wrong.
    This is why we must not allow the anti-liberal elements among us to present us with a false dilemma.
    We must not let a distorted interpretation of Judaism and nationalism disconnect us from the values of liberal Zionism, which allow us to maintain both our uniqueness and our universal humane values.

    Nadav Tamir is a former diplomat and the current director of international affairs at the Peres Center for Peace
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