Yishai FleisherYishai Fleisher is the director of Israel National Radio and the founder of Kumah - an organization dedicated to connecting all Jews to Israel and strengthening Israel's national character. www.kumah.org
This article may seem at first to be dealing with nothing more than semantics. But in this case, we are dealing with words pertaining to our very identity. Our identity is the way we perceive ourselves and broadcast that perception to others. The name we are given and words we use to describe ourselves are fundamental to our identity.
In an interview with Haaretz journalist Daniel Ben Simon the day following Shimon Peres' defeat to Benjamin Netanyahu in the 1996 election, the following exchange took place:
The irony of it all is that in today's Israel, the 'Jew' is the new 'Israeli'.
Interviewer: "What happened in these elections?"
Peres: "We lost."
Interviewer: "Who is we?"
Peres: "We, that is, the Israelis."
Interviewer: "And who won?"
Peres: "All those who do not have an Israeli mentality."
Interviewer: "And who are they?"
Peres: "Call them the Jews."
According to the Peres model, there are two publics in Israel: the 'Israeli' and the 'Jew'. 'Israeli' represents the New Jew, free from the constraints of religion and free of the "Galut mentality." This individual has thrown off the baggage of two thousand years of exile and has now taken his rightful place amongst the nations as an equal. He has developed a new culture, a mix of East and West; and while he speaks Hebrew, he is a citizen of the world and feels that Israel's greatest mission is to achieve normalcy and equality amongst the nations.
Peres' 'Jew', on the other hand, stubbornly retains his religious observance. The 'Jew' tends toward political isolationism and in his ignorance he is willing to disregard world opinion. The troublesome 'Jew' supports the continued "occupation" or "settlement" of Judea and Samaria, thereby retarding all progress towards peace. The 'Jew' is some kind of relic that needs to be cleared away so that a "New Middle East" can be born. The 'Jew' even has the audacity to fight for his land, not to mention for his life.
Recently, Yair Lapid, the son and heir of the anti-religious Shinui party founder Tommy Lapid, with no trace of brotherly love, eulogized the "Jews" of Judea and Samaria by saying the following: "These people create a situation whereby, when the day comes, and the agreements are signed on the lawn in Washington, it will be easier to give up this land, which isn't really ours; this land where not only the laws and landscape are different, but also the people."
This is yet another example of the linguistic and anthropological paradigm which we have been taught: the progressive and the regressive are two very different people living in the same parcel of land. One is 'Israeli' while the other is an outsider; he is the 'Jew'.
The division between the Israeli and the Jew is artificial, counter-productive, and anti-Jewish. Our leaders should always be striving to strengthen the bonds that unite every Jew in the world - especially in this time of renewed anti-Semitism and the world jihad. So why do people like Peres and Lapid utilize the 'Jew' versus 'Israeli' paradigm? Because the distinction between 'Jew' and 'Israeli' was created by them and their post-Zionist cohorts. By blaming the 'Jew', they seek to create a scapegoat for their failed attempts to make peace by manipulating the public and giving away our country. By diverting the spotlight away from their own ineptitude and corruption, they stay in power.
Furthermore, cowardly people who are prepared to give away the heart of Israel to our sworn enemies feel threatened by fellow countrymen who represent bravery and a will to survive. For post-Zionists like Peres and Lapid, the woman who happily raises her kids in Judea and Samaria is a constant reminder of their own gutlessness, leading them to develop a burning hate for the pioneering and strong 'Jew'.
The irony of it all is that in today's Israel, the 'Jew' is the new 'Israeli'. Israel was supposed to be the breeding ground for a strong new Hebrew who does not cower. Yet in today's Israel, it is the secular-post-Zionist-left which is the cowering Jew being led to the slaughter. The religious settler is now the emancipated Israeli, bedecked with side locks and tzitzit, and armed with the classic fundamentals of Zionist ideology; that is, to ingather, to build, and to settle the land of Israel.
In a cynical and cunning fashion, the post-Zionists are attempting to take away 'Israeli' identity from those parts of society which still retain the true 'Israeli' and Zionist spirit. By branding strong Israelis as 'the Jews', post-Zionists are trying to marginalize and denigrate that segment of society. The division between Jew and Israeli works to their advantage.
Sadly, after the Disengagement, many of the 'Jews' have also embraced the very same 'Jew' versus 'Israeli' lingo. While it is not commonplace, some religious Zionists proclaim: "I am not a Tzioni, leave that for the Israelis, those who kick Jews out of homes and bash our children's heads in Amona like Cossacks."
Without realizing it, the religious Zionist who embraces the 'Jew' vs. 'Israeli' lexicon is a victim of a propaganda aimed at destroying him by cutting him off from the state he helped build and defend. Instead of relinquishing his Israeli identity, he would be better off saying the truth: it is the post-Zionists who have lost their Israeli self. The strong Jews of Israel are the real Israelis.
The word 'Israel' has been hijacked and has been made merely to reflect an identity of citizenship. However, while Israel is indeed the name of our country, it is much more than that. It is the name of our people.
Our familial and tribal name is Israel. Our Book of Collective Memory tells us that we are all sons and daughters of
While Israel is indeed the name of our country, it is much more than that.
one man named Jacob, who was renamed Israel: "Then G-d said to him, 'Your name is Jacob, your name shall not be called Jacob any longer, but Israel shall be your name.' Thus he called his name Israel." (Genesis 35:10)
(Israeli Arabs are not Israeli, and how could they be? Israel is a name set aside for the people of Israel. Arabs who live here can be called "Arabs with citizenship of the State of Israel", but they are certainly not 'Israelis'. Ask them and they will tell you the same thing.)
Israel is the country that we have built. We, the Children of Israel, have returned to our land and have built a prosperous and healthy country in which Torah flourishes alongside advanced farming, life-saving medicine and computers. Are these things in contradiction? Of course not. We are one nation, reuniting on one land, speaking one language. We are Israel.
I am Israeli, because for two-thousand years of exile I was the Jew, a lone speck traveling through time just to arrive at this point of redemption. I am no doubt Jewish, and I love Judaism. But I am even prouder that I have been given the great opportunity, the Jewish dream of two thousand years, to live in Israel and to help build it into the wonderful and holy country that it will one day be.
Nobody is going to take away my hard-earned right to be an equal member of Israeli society. Nobody is going to take from me my country and my identity. And certainly I am not going to relinquish my name Israel and give it to those who have forgotten what Israel is really all about.