A Light on the Fence (Extract)

Extract of article in Issue 24, March 18, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. To be a normal state like all the others, or to be a beacon unto the nations, an exemplar of what human society can achieve - that old question about Israel's goal is still around in the minds of many. We know by now that Israel is a pretty normal state. It has corruption among its high officials. It has sexual peccadilloes and worse among its military heroes and its political leaders. Votes are coerced; people are harmed by the usual forces of self-interest. The army tries hard to hold to a purity of arms but sometimes it slips. The power of life and death over another population, one you fear, has led quite naturally to some brutality that dims that beacon. There are poor and undereducated youngsters and opportunity is more real for some than others. There are drugs in the streets and neighborhoods where women and old people are beaten. Nevertheless, compared to most places on this earth, little young Israel, besieged on all sides, valiant David against the Goliaths of the Arab world, has indeed held its values dear, kept its citizens from murdering each other in large numbers, which cannot be said of many other nations. It has managed so far to maintain peace between the religious fundamentalists and the secular majority with some grace and compromise. It has built factories and industries and technology without driving the populace to the beggary of Victorian England. There are capitalists at work in Israel but few sweat shops, few toxic dumps or products polluted with poisons. There are prisons that might make the hardest of hearts cringe but there are also schools that teach and poets that work and newspapers that quarrel freely with everyone. So, on the whole, the normality of the state has to be admitted along with its not yet extinguished beacon of human possibility. Is it unfair to ask of the Jews that they make of their small property on the planet something finer than can be found elsewhere? Of course it is. And yet it isn't. Because the nation came into being with a sense of itself as a moral force, as God's representatives. The Jewish mission was not simply to take land and hold it. Jews were never very good at holding it. The Jewish mission always had something to do with bringing us forward, toward a better way, toward an ethical condition. Some will say that God is the source and the center of that world and others will say that the ethics itself, decency and kindness and respect for life is the fuel that drives the Jewish people in its stubborn persistence through a most discouraging history. I resent the idea that Jews should be more moral than anyone else. That seems to me to be a reaction to the powerlessness of our experience in the European diaspora. You can't have a real kingdom so you claim a moral space from which you can't be exiled since it exists only in your own head. On the other hand, that moral hope has kept our heads high for many centuries and I admit that I too feel that the Jewish condition is about more than mere survival, more than territory claimed and fenced in. It spins into creative contributions, intellectual contributions, commandments that make life better, not worse, for more people. Contributing editor Anne Roiphe is a novelist and journalist living in New York. Extract of article in Issue 24, March 18, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.