Photo: Yaron Brener
'The term Israeli must be redefined to allow everyone to identify with it'
Photo: Yaron Brener

Who is an Israeli?

Op-ed: We must find a way to include everyone, both Zionists and non-Zionists, in the definition of the term 'Israeli'

Legendary US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once said that "the task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.” These days, while the uproar of an equal share of the national burden is bubbling again as the main issue in the coalition negotiations for the establishment of a new government, the Israeli public is waiting for leaders to get us to where we've never been – a dialogue.


While most of our leaders are standing firm in their positions – on the one hand those demanding an equal share of the burden without any compromise, and on the other hand those arguing that things will remain the same – none of them stands up and asks the only question which gets to the root of the complexity of the Israeli society's problem, and that the equal share of the burden issue is just one of its symptoms: Why wide parts of the public, mainly the haredim and Arabs, fail to include the term "Israeli" as part of their self-definition? Why don't they identify with the State and feel obligated to contribute to it as well?


A solution to this issue will only be the result of a dialogue process which will begin in the educational system and penetrate points of discourse within the entire Israeli society, and at the end of it we will redefine the term "Israeli" so that every resident of Israel will be able to really identify with it.


The majority of the public in the State of Israel has avoided dealing with this question so far, fearing that a new and wide definition of the term "Israeli" will come at the expense of Zionism. But can we sincerely say that while we are demanding full equal duties, we are also willing to grant full equal right? Are we, who have so far carried the burden on our own, but also enjoyed complete hegemony over the definition of Israeliness, willing to share its new definition with the haredim and Arabs?


When we can give an affirmative answer to this question, we will be mature enough to hold a sincere and considerate dialogue with the haredi and Arab public, in which we can also demand and receive equal contribution in carrying the burden. It must be a sensitive dialogue which will ease their fears that their inclusion in the definition of "Israeli" means separating from their faith, culture and identity.


My experience as the person who founded a haredi campus more than a decade ago shows that such a process can succeed. While the first class opened with several dozen students, trust was built slowly, the success stories echoed, and today the Israeli society reaps the fruit of that deed – with more than 1,500 graduates integrating into the labor market and Israeli society, and more than 2,000 male and female haredi students making their first steps on that very same road.


We must understand that the term "Israeli" is a wide and complicated term. It includes "us Zionists," but also "them," those who do not define themselves as Zionists but whose Israeliness is expressed in a variety of colors and forms which are different from ours. We must find the way to include everyone, all of us, in this definition. A clear sign of that must be our willingness to write together a new verse for the national anthem, Hatikva, a verse other Israelis can sing and feel that they share it with us and that it makes us all part of the same nation. Such openness can only come from a place of strength, confidence and faith in the rightness of our path.


Our leaders must get us to where we've never been. They must go against the wind and tell the public, courageously and honestly, that immediate solutions are impossible and that an equal share of the burden cannot be gained through legislation or a new "outline," but only through a long and complex educational process. And they must disclose the identity of the partners to the process, say how the dialogue will take place, and restrict it to a limited timeframe.


Ranan Hartman is the founder and president of the Ono Academic College



פרסום ראשון: 03.08.13, 15:00
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