fbpx
Add Listing
  • You have no bookmark.

Your Wishlist : 0 listings

Sign In

The Aspiration of a Jewish Democracy

Last week, I spoke at Park Avenue Synagogue (PAS) in New York City on the complexities of being a Zionist activist. I shared my own experiences of feeling ostracized from the progressive movement, feeling confused at the rhetoric surrounding Israel and Palestine on college campuses, and the implications of the BDS movement regarding contemporary antisemitism. In the audience, listening intently, was a cluster of teenage Hebrew school students from PAS, no doubt internalizing how they were meant to process this information ahead of their impending college career. When the panel was over, one of these students asked me: “What do you mean when you say Zionism is the goal of a Jewish and democratic state? Because when I hear that definition, it’s like, you cannot have one and another at the same time.”

How could I reconcile taking issue with the imprinting of “In God We Trust” on American money, or allocated time for prayer in public schools, while overlooking the blending of faith and politics when it comes to my own people’s civilization? 

One of the reasons I loved this question was because it was a notable departure from most audience queries at congregations or Jewish community centers. Rather than giving advice on how Jewish students can combat anti-Zionism on campus or how they can organize pro-Israel advocacy in their communities, I was now propositioned to address the root of a problem that many Jews struggle with, an issue that I myself struggled with when I first began thinking about the contradictions of a Jewish state. I remember pondering, at the height of my left-wing college days, how I could possibly fight for the separation of church and state in my own country while fighting for a specifically Jewish homeland overseas? How could I reconcile taking issue with the imprinting of “In God We Trust” on American money, or allocated time for prayer in public schools, while overlooking the blending of faith and politics when it comes to my own people’s civilization? 

If a Jewish student cannot answer this question sincerely and with enough conviction, it is pointless to expect them to stand up for Zionism. Therefore, I was sure to craft my answer with as much care as possible, highlighting simple truths that all in the public square can understand.

The idea to build a Jewish state is in part a secular idea to grant a nation the universal right to self-determination, especially considering the absence of this self-determination has borne the greatest human rights calamities our modern world has seen.

I first explained the fundamental difference between the Jewish people and the Christian, Buddhist or Muslim people. The Jewish people are an ethno-religion and a people, bound together by yes, religion, but also by national aspirations, common history, shared languages, and culture. The idea to build a Jewish state is in part a secular idea to grant a nation the universal right to self-determination, especially considering that the absence of this self-determination has borne the greatest human rights calamities our modern world has seen. But let’s say one points to the clear religious influence in Israel, from the growing Haredi population to their burgeoning representation in the Knesset. It is important to add that religion has a place in many of the world’s liberal countries, as seen by crosses on the flags of European countries or the tethering of various royal families to the Church. This is not to say the presence of the Church is completely compatible with democracy, but it does not cancel out our thinking of such nations as democracies. And then, there is the example of the Arab Spring.

A Jewish democracy is a place we need to get to, not a place in which we can already revel.

During the Arab Spring, multiple Middle Eastern countries rebelled against either theocracy, authoritarianism, or both. The world cheered on, as many in the West correctly assumed that liberalism was possible to integrate into even the most illiberal of circumstances. Even if the Arab Spring largely failed and plunged the region deeper into war, it did so because of anti-democratic forces such as fundamentalist militias despotic tyrants. The Arab Spring also did not fail everywhere, considering Tunisia, a majority Muslim country and a part of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, now boasts a democratic republic with a President as Head of State and a Prime Minister. The valiant campaign to bend Islamic countries toward democracy while immediately casting off the principle of a Jewish democracy as an automatic impossibility is hypocritical, and indeed reveals a contempt for Jewish society in any form.

Next, like all the world’s “democracies,” a Jewish democracy is an aspiration, not a final status reality. A Jewish democracy is a place we need to get to, not a place in which we can already revel. One can argue that the United States was not a true democracy until the 1960s, for democracy is inchoate when Black Americans are prohibited from the ballot box by the millions and certainly when women, half the population, are banned from political participation. Yet the foundations of our nation are that of a republic, and within the words of the Constitution are the seeds to weed out tyranny, even if its writers were in part tyrannical. Or take, for instance, Great Britain and France, which have been considered “democracies” even while enslaving, plundering, and pillaging much of the planet. Germany was still considered a democracy when it decided to abandon democracy altogether at the start of the 1930s. As with many nations, democracy is a verb in Israel, a push and pull between conservative and liberal impulses that propulse a nation, albeit nonlinearly. 

Finally, when we continued the conversation after the panel was over, I explained that part of the foundation of a Jewish democracy is the argument over how much religious law should be heeded. If arguments are essential to representing a pluralist country, surely the advancement of one Israeli ideal over the other and vice versa just years down the line represent a struggle over power, not a one-party hegemonic rule. We discussed the implications of the Star of David on the flag, the lyrics to “Hatikvah,” and the “Law of Return” for Jews, conversations I am sure she doesn’t feel welcomed initiating in more establishment pro-Israel circles. I then informed her that we, right now in the moment, were contributing to Jewish democracy, simply by proposing ways in which we would like to see Israel better reflect our own political visions. 

I informed this student that I would be making aliyah in the autumn, as I feel so strongly in the principle of Jewish democracy that I cannot help but participate. “Every Jew, everywhere, has this right,” I told her. Truthfully, I hope more American Jews make aliyah in the coming years, considering there is no point in us constantly complaining when Israel disappoints us if we don’t have a direct stake in how the Jewish people form and reform our country and our destiny. A Jewish democracy is an aspiration, a dream, and as the founder of the modern idea of a Jewish democracy once promised, “If you will it, it is no dream.”

Blake Flayton is New Media Director and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

Source: Jewish Journal

Tags:
Prev Post
DONOR CARE FUNDRAISER
Next Post
Three Angelenos Among WRJ Women’s Empowerment Awards Honorees

Add Comment

Your email is safe with us.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.