It has become increasingly clear that for those who have been protesting and demonstrating against judicial reform, the real issue is an existential, not a political one: What kind of a nation should Israel be?
The choice has been set up starkly and crudely: either the Western cosmopolitanism of secular Tel Aviv or the religious, theocratic, Torah-dominated world of Jerusalem. This emanates a near-apocalyptic sense that such a choice is inevitable and thus justifies a scorched earth response by those who see a future they despise – unless it can somehow be thwarted. What we have here is a failure of imagination. It is also a failure of history and self-awareness.
This “either/or” dichotomy does scant justice to the uniqueness of the Jewish people and their unprecedented return to their homeland.
There is no either/or dichotomy: There is only the Jewish state
Sadly, the posed choice itself provides the answer as to how it should be resolved. Why should we embrace the sameness of the rest of the West? Has it ever occurred to the distraught would-be “51st State”-ers that the only reason they are here to bemoan their fate in an actual Jewish State is because their very own ancestors chose to be a people apart, not reckoned among the nations?
Their ancestors would not kiss that cross nor drop their faith in order to get tenure at a university, submitted to unending Dhimmitude rather than embrace Islam.
I suspect these ancestors would look highly askance at all this. “For this, we sacrificed? So you could turn your back on your people? For what? Your own guilt about knowing nothing of your own tradition?”
Sadly, a great many of those on the barricades have no awareness of any of this, and especially none of Judaism. In fairness, they were raised by their parents to be “new Jews.” The difference was that their parents (or grandparents) were members of the founding generation of Israel that was steeped in Jewish learning and literacy – even if they had rejected religious observance. Their offspring, on the other hand, received no Jewish education and were raised with contempt for the Jewish religion as an old-world vestige that only succeeded in contributing to the marginalization and oppression of Jews.
Today, these new Jews are prominently visible, and visibly angry, at protests as they face the prospect that the old secular Israel that they grew up in and defended in the Yom Kippur War is disappearing.
The very good news is that, well-financed and media-covered acts of “resistance” notwithstanding, the vast majority of Israeli Jews do “get it.” They understand that they are a unique people – not better, but possessed of the great gift of membership in the Jewish people – that, contrary to the rules of history, indeed the laws of nature, has managed to survive and to reconstitute itself in its ancestral homeland.
There are two trajectories that define the upcoming younger generation that should be a source of optimism. One is that surveys consistently show that Israelis are becoming increasingly religiously traditional. This denotes awareness and respect. It means an appreciation of what it means to be Jewish, and a desire to make sure that one’s children share that appreciation. In many respects, the rise of traditionalism mirrors the coming of age of Israel’s Mizrachi community – Jews from Muslim lands – who brought with them a profound immersion in Jewish tradition, as well as a remarkable ability to tolerate the variations of that expression by their fellows. While the Mizrachim have no interest in a theocracy, they do have a profound interest in making sure that Israel continues to reflect Jewish values, standing alone as a Jewish State.
The other trajectory that the majority of the country is embracing, is the desire for Jewish sovereignty and control. One of the great lessons of the November 2022 election was the recognition of how strong the desire of voters was for Israel to assert control over its territory and destiny. This is not the politics of fear nor of accommodation with hostile forces. It is not the politics of a Peace Now nor of Oslo, nor of Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert offering to give back the Temple Mount in a vain attempt to create some kind of calm and acceptance.
Younger Jews today, what Prof. Elisha Haas characterizes as the “third generation” of Israelis, see Zionism as a work in progress, but a successful work in progress. They want to go from strength to strength and that means building and securing Israel, both on the Mediterranean coast and in the hills of the Shomron, for Jewish sovereign life.
The worldview presented by a great many of the protesters, particularly the older ones, is a world of weakness, defeat, and abjectness. They have anointed the Supreme Court as their saviors, oblivious or uncaring of the reality that the Court has become a tainted institution, bloated with its own oligarchic omnipotence. All the Orwellian doublespeak in the world cannot change the fact that the protesters are clinging to the hope that true democratic decision-making can be thwarted, that the demographic clock can be stopped and that a world that has passed can somehow be recovered.
I feel sorry for these Jews because they are bereft of an awareness of themselves. They have no idea of who they really are, and the magnificence of their heritage.
We, young and old, who do have that awareness and cherish that heritage must make sure that we persevere, trying our best to explain and expose that heritage to those who know it not.
But we owe it to our ancestors and to ourselves to see the inescapable importance of the mission to build, secure, and cherish a Jewish State in the Land of Israel.
The writer is the chairman of the board of Im Tirtzu and a director of the Israel Independence Fund.