Israel Harel
Haaretz (Opinion)
February 9, 2012 - 1:00am

It is indeed true that Israel does not have, and quite possibly could not have, an "umbrella definition of a Hebrew nation that, from a political and legal standpoint, is supposed to embrace us in all our factions and variations, including religious and ethnic ones, while separating religion and state," as Doron Rosenblum wrote (Haaretz, February 3 ). Such lamentations over the lack of "Israeliness," and therefore, of "normalcy," date back many years, and represent the feelings of a nontrivial segment of Israeli society.

The longing for a normal life is shared by most of the public. But in general, the argument made by those who term themselves "Israelis" is that we have failed to achieve "normalcy" because we cling to outdated ideologies and beliefs. In contrast, those the "Israelis" term "the Jews" feel that "normal" normalcy, at least at the present time, is impossible, and is also not the top national priority. We are here in order to live in a Jewish and Zionist state, in which - and only in which - the Jewish people can, despite all the internal disputes, fulfill its national and universal aspirations.

Normalcy is a desirable goal, but not an existential one. Even if normal life were not possible, we would still cling to the land; we would still create, absorb immigrants and develop a flourishing and just economy, even under difficult conditions; and if necessary, we would still fight to defend ourselves and our existence.

It is possible that both religion and Zionism would have benefited from a separation of religion and state, and that the end product, which we'll call "Israeliness," would have been closer to both Zionism and religion than the modern-day "Israelis," who are alienated from both. Maybe so.

But today, because of this sector's aggressive efforts over many years to undermine the state's Jewish-Zionist identity - and not merely its religious identity - the chances of separating religion and state are near zero. This is not just because of opposition from the ultra-Orthodox and most religious Zionists, but also not because of increased belief in the creator of the universe, as demonstrated by the recent Guttman-Avi Chai poll that horrified so many Israelis.

The truth is that many "believers," and even many religious Jews, support separation. But they look at who the people promoting such a separation are, and what their motives are. And then they are turned off. Even difficult scenes like those that recently outraged the entire public are not enough to convince them to prefer the post-national, post-Zionist "Israeli" alternative, which, even if it doesn't say so explicitly, aspires to a "state of all its citizens" rather than a Jewish state.

"On all other days of the year, and on all other levels, Israeliness is de facto alive and well and flourishing," Rosenblum wrote. Then why has it become "limited" even "in the eyes of its supporters?" After all, the "normal" faction - part of which lives in Israel only conditionally - has filled most of the posts that shape the public consciousness and public opinion for the past several decades: in the media, academia, the justice system and, most of the time, even the education system. In the only civics textbook taught for the last 15 years, "Israeliness" predominates over all other ideologies, including Zionism.

A significant portion of these shapers of consciousness and opinion have, by means of unbridled and disproportionate criticism, made life in Israel seem loathsome. Their own loathing was underscored when some of them positioned themselves - and more than once - alongside those who reject the Jewish state's right to exist. The result: Because hundreds of thousands of Israelis were convinced that they were living unjust and "nonnormal" lives here, they chose the "normal" escape route: yeridah (excuse me, "emigration." Aliyah and yeridah, with their implication that immigration to Israel is an "ascent" while leaving Israel is a "descent," are loaded ideological terms, the academics have ruled. ) And today, they are "Americans," "Canadians," "Australians" or even "Germans." But both just and normal, of course.

Vibrant activity that consists mainly of criticizing and rejecting, without any positive element, is like foam upon the waves. Indeed, that is true of anything that lacks a vision and doesn't strike deep roots. True, the Israelis' "wagon" isn't empty. But what baggage does it carry, and what special significance does this baggage have, if so many people are jumping off the "full" wagon in favor of a "normal" life overseas that is fated to end in assimilation?


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