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In recent years, I've grown increasingly worried about the future of Israel, as the country's leaders appear to have lost their senses entirely.
Fumbling and bumbling from one disaster to the next, they inspire little confidence in their ability to grapple with the challenges that lie ahead.
But now, to be honest, I'm even more concerned, because I think that many of our leaders have lost their souls, as well.
Take, for example, Meir Sheetrit, who was recently elevated to the powerful post of Interior Minister in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's cabinet.
Though the ink is barely dry on his appointment, Sheetrit has already made a series of statements that are as shocking as they are callous, and which say a great deal about the decay of values that has taken place among our political leadership.
In an interview in the Jerusalem Post last week, Sheetrit reiterated his call for an end to the aliya of the Falash Mura from Ethiopia, declaring with nary a hint of shame, "Who needs them?" That is how a minister in the government of Israel dares to speak about 18,000 human beings, all of whom are descendants of Ethiopian Jews forced to convert to Christianity a few generations ago, many against their will.
The Falash Mura now wish to rejoin the Jewish people, and we have an opportunity to save them and to bring them back home. A broad spectrum of prominent people, ranging from Israel's Sephardic Chief Rabbi to Canada's former Minister of Justice to the head of the Reform movement, have all called for their restoration to Zion, but that doesn't seem to move Mr. Sheetrit one whit.
"We are creating a hell of a job for ourselves because of political correctness or trying to be nice," Sheetrit said, insisting that, "We need to take care of the future of Israel and this aliya will never finish." Reading these words should shake us all to the very core of our being. Instead of viewing the immigration of our Ethiopian brethren as a blessing from Heaven and the fulfillment of the vision of the Prophets, Israel's Interior Minister prefers to kvetch.
Sheetrit asserts that efforts to bring back Ethiopia's "lost Jews" somehow distract us from "taking care of the future of Israel." But he has got it precisely wrong. What he fails to realize is that the two are intimately connected and can not - no, must not! - ever be separated.
FOR IF Israel ceases to concern itself with rescuing Jews in distress, then it has undermined the very foundation of its existence. We might as well then just close up shop, go back to the Diaspora, and hope for the best.
And yet, even this self-evident truth seems to escape our inimitable Interior Minister, who went on to say that he thinks it is time for Israel to become a "real state" rather than a "committee of the Jewish people."
Having lived here for over 12 years, I too would finally like to see Israel start acting like a "real country," in more ways than one. But Sheetrit's effort to strip away the Jewish and Zionist core of national policy is simply repugnant and distressing.
It speaks volumes about just how far our present government has strayed from everything the Jewish people hold dear. They view Jewish history as a burden, and Jewish destiny as something to be mocked. No wonder the country is adrift, unsure of where it is headed or even why it should continue to struggle for its existence.
Sheetrit and his ilk are indifferent to the fate of the Falash Mura, even though they are Jews. But their indifference does not stop there. It extends to the refugees from Darfur as well, hundreds of whom now face deportation to Egypt, where they face the possibility of prison or even death.
Israel is a country of seven million people. Is it really too much to expect that we might give refuge to a few hundred stragglers fleeing genocide and torture? When Menachem Begin was premier, one of his first acts in office was to grant entry to a group of 66 Vietnamese boat people escaping persecution back home.
ON JUNE 10, 1977, an Israeli cargo ship sailing toward Japan had rescued the refugees after their vessel began taking on water. The refugees were fed and taken care of, and Begin humanely decided to take them in.
Over the next two years, Israel welcomed an additional 250 Vietnamese refugees, giving them citizenship and a new home, in what Begin later told US president Jimmy Carter was "a natural act to us" in light of the Jewish people's history of wandering.
But even the concept of "welcoming the stranger," which is so fundamental to Jewish practice and belief, has now become foreign to those holding the reins of power in our land.
They don't want Falash Mura Jews from Ethiopia, and they could care less about the fate of Christians from Darfur in Sudan.
What kind of leadership is this? The answer, sadly, is clear. It is a leadership that has lost touch not only with the most elementary sense of Jewish pride, but even with the most basic values of humanity.
"Zion shall be redeemed through justice," the prophet Isaiah foretold. "And those who return to her through righteousness," he added.
Therein lies the key to our future - to act justly and to uphold virtue. That is what will ultimately bring about our longed-for redemption.
But men such as those who are currently in charge are so disconnected from faith and from decency that our deliverance has never seemed so far off.
And that is why I fear so much for the future of this country. And so too, I think, should you.