Trying to understand why, in the creation of the human species as recorded in the Bible, God began the world with one person, our rabbis asked: â€œWhy was but a single person created? It was for the sake of peace, that none could say to his fellow, â€˜my father is greater than yoursâ€™â€ (Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5).
Equality is the most fundamental characteristic of a democratic society. Safeguarding equal rights determines the moral worth of a country. The relevance of such a truism to Israelâ€™s present social and political reality is profound. The cynic will say that in the world of terrorist atrocities, it is not morality that counts, but power. But, in response, ought not one say that the unrestrained use of power will inevitably lead to abuses of the basic elements of democracy, and impinge on the moral behavior of those who are charged with enforcing democratic principles?
For Jews, the building of a society based on a prophetic vision of social justice, equality and humanity is predicated on a universal understanding of a Jewish moral code of conduct that has been refined and elaborated in the perspective of both the historical experiences and the literary tradition of the Jewish people. Questions having to do with acceptable moral behavior for Jews in Israel are of an ultimate kind, so much so that what is at stake is the very idea of a Jewish state. In saying this, no one should imply any agreement with those who claim that the Jewish state cannot remain both Jewish and democratic. The Jewish state can legitimately call itself Jewish only so long as it is Jewish and democratic and humane.
THERE IS one major force that can threaten the foundations of a democratic and Jewish state, and that is racism. In todayâ€™s Israel, we are witnessing a convergence of economic and security fears that have introduced laws that have the potential to suspend any respect for the basic elements of Judaism and democracy.
In the security field, the IDF in response to drive-by shootings and other forms of terrorism may be introducing permanent separate roads for Palestinians and Israelis. This conjures up comparisons too painful to contemplate, that if taken out of context can be used against Israel in ways that are both grotesque and contemptible.
No matter what the perceived security steps needed to protect us, they must not approximate, even in the most remote way, those acts that haunt our worst nightmares. No people should be more sensitive to the notion of â€œseparate lawsâ€ than Jews.
IN THE economic field, the governmentâ€™s proposed budget would include a discriminatory law that withholds child subsidies from those who have not served in the army. Since we all know that the ultra-Orthodox community will find a way around this part of the new budget, and that new immigrants will also receive exemption from this draconian measure, it will leave the Arab citizens of Israel to suffer this prejudicial offense.
History has proven over and over again that when a nation is faced with both an economic crisis and a security threat, the foundations of democracy can be readily sacrificed. But, it is under extreme circumstances that a nation is ultimately tested. For Jews, this is a serious matter. To bolster the country economically and militarily by trampling the basic rights of others is to deny the very values on which we Jews were born as a people.
Indeed, our Jewish national identity has been formed and solidified through the bitter experience of discrimination that has plagued us from time immemorial. And so, once settled in our own independent state, we crafted a Declaration of Independence that â€œwill be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture.â€
In light of our present behavior, we should ask ourselves: Did we return to our ancestral homeland to become a nation like all other nations? If we teach our people the tactics of our historical enemies, will we not begin to look and act, at least in the eyes of others, as having assumed the posture of our most despised persecutors?
Whose image do we want reflected in the mirror a Prophet or a Pharaoh? Israel and the Jewish people are at a crossroads. What hangs in the balance is not the matter of the territories, nor even the issue of war and peace. What hangs in the balance is the very face of Jewish civilization.
To put it more dramatically, should we Jews blot out the ethical and moral code that both defines and guides us as a people, we will cease being able to call ourselves Jews. Ultimately, by introducing racist laws, it is not others, but we who are challenging our own legitimacy as a people and a nation.