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(photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR/FLASH 90)
THE PASSOVER STORY, read each year as part of the Seder ritual, is a narrative of freedom from slavery and the rise of the Jewish people.
But what does freedom mean? Today, thousands of years after the Exodus from Egypt and 63 years after the establishment of the State of Israel, does being free merely mean that Israelis are not subject to the lash of the Egyptian taskmaster? Isn’t true freedom supposed to mean much more, to be found in the right for all to live constructively and happily, as individuals and as national groups?
In the immutable words of the philosopher Isaiah Berlin, should we therefore distinguish between negative liberty, which is merely the absence of obstacles, barriers or constraints, and positive liberty, which includes the opportunity to take control of one’s life and realize one’s fundamental purposes.
Or is freedom, in the inimitable words of Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster, “just another word for nothing left to lose?”
In this season of the Arab Spring, one might look to the multitudes taking to the streets throughout the Middle East, seeking to create their own narratives of freedom and nationalism, to find 21st century answers to these questions. More pertinently, one might also ask about freedom in Israel, which for generations has been known as the only democracy in the Middle East.
HOW DOES ONE MEASURE freedom? Most prosaically, there is the form of governance, as well as the extent of a citizen’s right to vote and the transparency of elections. On a more day-today basis there is one’s ability to speak out, move about, associate and assemble.