Statue of Liberty_311.
(photo credit: Reuters)
The United States of America celebrates its 235th Independence Day today, more
unsure of itself and its role in the world than it has been since assuming
leadership of the Western world early last century.
Economy crippled by
astronomical debt and stubbornly high levels of unemployment, and a military
seeking a strategy to leave Afghanistan and Iraq firmly behind them, the US is
no longer the world’s unipower, able, if it ever was, to shape the world
according to its vision.
But this does not mean America should give up on
its dream. As President Shimon Peres noted last week at the US ambassador’s July
4 reception, while some criticize the US, “all of us know that a world without
the US would be the greatest mistake of all – for all of us.”
acknowledging the differences in size, resources and power between Israel and
America, Peres then remarked that “the US and Israel share something fundamental
and essential: We are both, first and foremost, an idea... We are nations that
seek to set an example, to be a shining light guiding the evolution of a better
society and better mankind. We don’t have a choice but to be exceptional, each
in its own way.”
And as America begins to turn inward to examine how it
can reinvigorate itself in the light of the challenges – both domestic and
external – it faces, it is also time for Jerusalem to conduct some
soul-searching to discover its “shining light guiding the evolution of a better
FOR ONE thing, Israel needs to place the rule of law over that
of the beliefs of rabbis. In the case of rabbis Dov Lior and Ya’acov Yosef, the
issue is not so much whether they are guilty of incitement by writing an
endorsement for the book Torat Hamelech
, which justifies the killing of non-Jews
in a time of war, but that they refused a police summons for questioning for
over two months.
Any regular citizen would have been immediately hauled
in by the police had they refused such a summons; what’s unacceptable in Lior’s
and Yosef’s case is not that they were brought in for questioning, but that the
police delayed such action for so long. A rabbi, no matter how venerable,
is not above the law, and neither is the Torah he espouses.
like America, which was established by the Founding Fathers seeking to escape
religious persecution, Israel is a democracy, not a theocracy, and the Torah and
its practitioners should have no special standing when it comes to the demands
of the secular authorities. There is no law that grants rabbis special status,
and should the State Attorney’s Office suspect a rabbi of incitement, it is
incumbent on the police to open their inquiries and question the relevant
But Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s limp-wristed reaction last
week to Lior’s arrest and the subsequent demonstrations outside the Supreme
Court and Deputy State Attorney Shai Nitzan’s home was far from being a “shining
light.” Waiting a full day before issuing a comment, and that only after being
goaded by opposition leader Tzipi Livni, all the prime minister could come up
with was “Israel is a law-abiding state” and “the law includes everyone, and I
call on all Israel’s citizens to uphold it.” No word about Lior’s evading arrest
for two months, and no support for Nitzan, who has been targeted by extreme
religious right-wingers only because he is conscientiously carrying out his
duties as a Justice Ministry official.
AND IN terms of the outside world,
Israel is also losing its way. The clearest evidence of this came from World
Jewish Congress President Ron Lauder’s warning last week that Israel was facing
increasing international isolation because of its failure to launch a diplomatic
initiative regarding the Palestinians.
Lauder is no Peace Now spokesman
or J Street supporter. A staunch Netanyahu backer for decades and a Ronald
Reagan-appointed US ambassador to Austria in the 1980s, Lauder has also been a
fierce critic of President Barack Obama’s Middle East policies, most recently
arguing that Obama’s call for negotiations to take place on the basis of the
1967 lines (with territorial swaps ) endangered Israel.
So when somebody
with this background stands up and tells a conference of the International
Council of Jewish Parliamentarians in Jerusalem that Israel must present a
diplomatic plan in order to regain international support and block Palestinian
efforts to obtain unilateral recognition for statehood from the UN in September,
it’s definitely worth listening.
To make his point even clearer, Lauder
also criticized the conditions Netanyahu has set for talks, such as the
Palestinians needing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The only way Israel
can escape its international isolation is to agree to begin negotiations without
preconditions, Lauder insisted.
With September drawing ever closer,
Israel is running out of time to put itself back on course to following the
dream so eloquently laid out by President Peres.The writer is a former
The Jerusalem Post.