Savir's Corner: Patriotism

The people of Israel must return to the basic values of true patriotism: the values of our Declaration of Independence.

Israeli flags 521 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli flags 521
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 are.
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 it.”
From a universalist point of view, he may have had a point. The distinction is not between the patriotic and the anti-patriotic.
All Israelis who want to feel a sense of belonging and pride in their country, are patriotic, regardless of their political views, ethnicity or religious beliefs.
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 mankind.”
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 white.
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 legislature.
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 Israel today.
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 leadership.
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.
These 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 state.
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 foundations.
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 of Happiness.”
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 Middle East.”
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 one.
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 us.
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.