Iam an Israeli patriot; this goes without saying. And I am also a person with
liberal, humanitarian values. A leftist, in favor of a Palestinian state within
the 1967 boundaries. I oppose with vehemence the settlement movement which has
brought nothing but catastrophe to Israel. I believe Israel to be the only
national homeland of the Jewish people, one of the most dramatic success stories
in modern history – the homecoming of exiles; the renewal of an ancient language
and culture; the development of a modern army and one of the world’s most
sophisticated hi-tech industries.
There are some, even many, if not a
majority, who would see in my above statements a contradiction in terms,
definitely those in power today. The Right in Israel has created a dangerous
equation – the more you are an advocate of a Greater Israel, the more patriotic
you are; the more you hate the Arabs, the more “nationalist” you
This is pure and dangerous demagoguery.
The Right does not
have a monopoly over our flag and anthem.
Patriotism is linked to a sense
of belonging, to a sense of pride and to a set of common core values. George
Bernard Shaw once said ironically that “Patriotism is your conviction that this
country is superior to all other countries because you were born in
From a universalist point of view, he may have had a point. The
distinction is not between the patriotic and the anti-patriotic.
Israelis who want to feel a sense of belonging and pride in their country, are
patriotic, regardless of their political views, ethnicity or religious
The real distinction is between “patriotism” and an emerging
Israeli brand of “ultranationalism” (leumanut). This ultranationalism distances
itself from basic humanistic values common to many democracies, and comes with
an air of superiority – in Israel this has become a widespread feeling, stemming
from a gross misinterpretation of the biblical “light unto the nations” into the
Israeli xenophobia against goyim and widespread racism towards Arabs. Albert
Einstein once defined nationalism as an “infantile disease – the measles of
In recent years, the right-wing, which is showing a strong
attachment to that “infantile disease,” has attacked the leftwing for a lack of
patriotism. This goes hand in hand with attempts to monopolize the blue and the
For years, Shimon Peres, the father of our defense industry, was
treated as a traitor by Menachem Begin and his followers.
This came to a
climax in the incitement against Yitzhak Rabin as the ultimate traitor who “sold
Israel out” in Oslo. This incitement ultimately led to Rabin’s assassination.
This demagoguery of delegitimization has a strong resonance still today, as we
have not learned from our mistakes.
The right-wing special troops of
Binyamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman accuse the High Court of Justice of
being leftist, not to mention the media, and are now attempting to jeopardize
our civil society by enacting a law by which foreign donations to left-leaning
political NGOs only will be highly taxed. Under this legislation, Physicians for
Human Rights – which saves people’s lives – will be punished by our
This undermines our democracy and is being done in the name
of patriotism, but is nothing short of fanatic ultranationalism, carried out in
a McCarthyesque fashion.
Where can this slippery slope lead us? It is
leading to a delegitimization based on political views – delegitimizing the
“other” is the beginning of the end of delegitimization of Arabs, then of the
so-called extreme Left, then the moderate Left, then civil society, then the
High Court and then the writers and intellectuals.
This is not a
prediction; this is not a far-away place. This is happening now and this is
To this we must add the weakness, bordering on cowardice,
of the Left.
The democratic house is on fire and the firemen are
exhausted. The core of the problem is the lack of political and moral
Maybe there is hope, but it can’t be found within the current
political system. Perhaps the only hope lies with civil society and the young
generation. While in polls, many of the young express anti-democratic views
against the participation of Arabs in the political process and in favor of a
“strong” leader, there are still hundreds of thousands of young people, many
active in civil society, who believe in empowerment of the people, vis-a-vis the
current political leadership.
These are the young people who came out
this summer, in the largest numbers ever, demanding social justice.
young Israelis, “new Israelis” as student leader Itzik Shmueli named them, have
to reconquer the squares of Israel. They must understand that without democracy
there is no social justice, no peace and ultimately, no Jewish
Real patriotism is caring about the core values that made us a
thriving country, based on the values of the Declaration of Independence, as
every democracy is based on core values which stand at its
Americans are reminded daily by their government and civil
society to adhere to the values of their Declaration of Independence which
states, “All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with
certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit
We too must return to our core values that were so
eloquently expressed in our Declaration of Independence: “The State of Israel
will insure complete equality of social and political rights to all of its
inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race or sex and guarantee freedom of
religion, conscience, language, education and culture... We extend our hand to
all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace. The State of
Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort to advance the entire
These values stem from the visions of our prophets. They
are part of the Jewish and Israeli ethos, as well as of universal values. Real
Israeli patriotism must be based on these values, and mutual respect of
differences of opinion, in other words, respect of freedom of speech. The danger
of the new wave of Israeli ultranationalism is an existential
Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch expressed this forcefully
last week when she criticized politicians for open incitement against the legal
system and a campaign to delegitimize the courts. Her words are a red warning
light for anyone who cares for our democracy.
This is a dangerous hour in
our history; we know from other historical examples where it might lead
It is more dangerous than Iran and Hamas put together. The people of
Israel, specifically the young, must return to the basic values of true
patriotism, as opposed to the dangerous ultranationalist distortion of it, to
the values of our Declaration of Independence.
Once they’ve done so, they
need not only to conquer the city and town squares of Israel but also the hearts
and minds of Israelis.The writer is president of the Peres Center for
Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.
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