This ain't a simple country.

Part of the explanation is that Jews are not a simple people.

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And another part is that the Land of Israel, however you define its boundaries, was and is an outsider in both ancient and modern versions, always having to defend itself in a tough region, and never being completely independent of greater powers.


Truth of the matter is that no country is truly independent. The world has not always been globalized, but it has been regionalized, with no place an island completely isolated from others.

Israel more than many other countries is dependent on what happens elsewhere, and that affects what happens inside, among its people.

Americans who think of themselves as truly independent should think again about American history, from the beginning until this morning.

Jews here and elsewhere who learned about Zionist or Judaic ideals must recognize that no country operates primarily by ideals. They may be  somewhere in the aspirations of citizens and leaders, but they must bend with constraints.

Among the constraints are different conceptions of Zionism and Judaism, as well as demands from the citizens that reflect something other than Zionist or Judaic ideals, and the needs to adjust or adapt to what comes to the place from outside.

Zionist and Judaic ideals are both a blessing and a problem for this little place in its dangerous neighborhood. Some may say that being the country of the Jews is both a blessing and a problem.

Under the blessings are its service as a refuge from Jews fleeing from a range of experiences involving absolute horrors (Holocaust), lesser horrors (North Africa, Yemen, Iraq) serious constraints (Soviet Union, Ethiopia), occasional instability (Latin America) an uptick in a sense of personal insecurity (contemporary France), or simply a sense that they could not live as they wanted as Jews in western democracies.

Under the problems are the inflated, imaginary, or mythic expectations of what should be an ideal country. For example, how religious should be the Jewish country. What's evolved is partially enforced observance of Sabbath and religious holidays, with limited public transportation and entertainment, partial religious control of marriage, divorce, and burial, and issues of kosher food, which make different clusters of Jews uncomfortable that the place is too Jewish, or not Jewish enough. That all religious restrictions can be avoided does not lessen the sense of inconvenience of annoyance felt by those who are not religious, or whose status as Jews is not recognized by the Orthodox Rabbinate..

The country's chronic and often unpleasant place in the spotlight of international organizations, major governments, and media has something to do with being Jewish, and its location in the Promised Land at the focus of three faiths.

A Palestinian student once told me that his people were saved from being alongside the Jews. A similarly restive minority anywhere else would long ago have been expelled, liquidated, or so thoroughly squashed as to disappear from anyone's concern.

Jewish morality has something to do with Palestinian survival, as well as other people's concern with the Promise Land and the Jews.

Israel's government, public policies, and the actions of its officials are as complex and contorted as those of any other genuine democracy. What officials declare and what appears in official statements of policy, law, and regulations only begin to predict  what will happen.

Implementation is partial everywhere. Aspirations do not match the realities of what is possible when intentions come up against the resources available, the traits of a population wanting service, changes in demands that come from citizens and politicians, and what is pressed on the country from international economics and politics. Violence-- both from domestic and international sources--also plays its part in limiting implementation.

It's not always easy knowing what is happening here with respect to the exciting matters that reach the headlines. The police find it convenient to protect their investigations with court orders prohibiting the publication of names and other details. Media personalities often say that they know more than they can report. One can find some details by Googling, best to do so in Hebrew, but what appears is likely to come from bloggers with their own imaginations and limited sources.

Israel's extremes of right and left are active in criticizing what officials do, what they fail to do, and how they do what they do. Both extremes have their financial and political supporters outside as well as inside the country. There is seldom an exciting event here that does not stimulate overseas observers who yearn to participate, or at least to comment.

Non-Hebrew speaking Jews and others who want their news from the Israeli left should find the English site of Ha'aretz. Those sure about the rightness of it all should find Caroline Glick on the site of Jerusalem Post, the English sites of Israel Hayom, and Arutz Sheva.

Currently on the agenda is a government proposal requiring the identification of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that operate with more than 50 percent of their funding from foreign governments. Opponents claim that such measures would compromise Israel's democracy. Especially curious was such a claim from the US Ambassador, while the US Government has similar measures requiring foreign government agents to identify themselves as such.

Left wing critics attack the measure because it does not require overseas right wing individuals to clarify their involvement in Israeli politics, while overlooking the involvement of left-wing individuals from overseas in their own campaigns.

Anyone trying to describe or judge Israeli politics and governmental actions must recognize the mine field underfoot.

Attitudes are strong, often stronger than justified by the limited experience of those holding them. Again we meet the idealized conceptions of Zionism and Judaism, producing feelings of what Israel should be. Some of these seem to be built on conceptions of how Israel used to be, in what the observer sees as his or her golden age. For some, that golden age is Israel before 1967, when the country was beleaguered, struggling with poverty, idealized by those who remembered the Holocaust, had yet to acquire the problems associated with control over a much larger hostile population, along with the possibilities of establishing settlements of Jews in the territory described as "disputed," "occupied," "liberated," or "conquered." Each of those terms reflects a different perspective that has affected Israeli and international politics for nearly a half century.

The nation of Israel (עם ישראל)--a conception that includes all Jews, whether or not they want inclusion--has never been more secure, prosperous, or healthy. But none should claim that Paradise has arrived, much less the Messiah, whoever or whatever that might be.

Comments welcome

--
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
irashark@gmail.com

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position or viewpoint of The Jerusalem Post. Blog authors are NOT employees, freelance or salaried, of The Jerusalem Post.

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