Rabbi Shmully HechtShmully Hecht is the Rabbinical advisor of Eliezer; the Jewish Society at Yale.
Even by his own 'high' standards for twisting facts into self-righteous anger at his own country, Gideon Levy latest column, "The Jewish Republic of Israel," appearing in the October 10th edition of Haaretz, is particularly hysterical and ignorant. Levy sees Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for a loyalty oath to the Jewish state of Israel as the end of the modern country as we know it and a slide down a slippery slope to the brutal theocracies of Saudi Arabia and supposed "republic" of Iran.
Levy is wrong on all counts. Wrong about the nature of the founding of Israel and wrong about the directions it is taking not in order to oppress but so as to survive.
In fact, Netanyahu’s plan is not a declaration of a new direction for Israel but a continuation of Herzl's initial call for a state. The unapologetic declaration of the Jewish character of Israel is in fact an appropriate extension of Herzl's basic intention to secure a refuge for his people. Naturally, Israelis must continue to balance the needs of the Jews, for which the State was founded, and the rights of all of its citizens. But Israel is not the 51st American state nor a member of the European Union, and must forge its unique path among other modern, tolerant, nations.
The question of blending Judaism and democracy without betraying either reminds me that former Israeli Supreme Court Chief Justice Aaron Barak, who himself has angered religious Israelis and others on the centrist and right end of the political spectrum, once spent an evening with the membership of Eliezer, the Jewish society at Yale of which I am the rabbinical advisor. Explaining the essence of his obligations to the Jewish and democratic state of Israel (the very aspects that Netanyahu wants to enshrine), Justice Barak told the students of a current case with which he was dealing:
Should El-Al, the national airline of Israel which obeys the strictest rules of Judaism, such as never flying on the Sabbath and only serving kosher food, nonetheless ensure that the gay partner of an employee receive the same benefits and entitlements as spouses in heterosexual relationships? Barak held that such rights should be extended, and though I am an orthodox rabbi who believes that in my faith marriage is defined as the union of a Jewish man and Jewish woman, I understood at the time that Justice Barak was reconciling what Gideon Levy says cannot coexist. The Israeli High court ultimately agreed to allow gay partners to receive the same benefits as heterosexual employee spouses. As Barak explained to me today, (on Yale’s campus where he is teaching) he always used the Bible and its commentaries along with Western democratic law, as a source for his rulings. Finding a synthesis between them was his, and the court’s job.
Israel is the Jewish homeland and is obligated to defend the rights of all of its willing and loyal citizens. This inspired democracy owes its people and the world freedom and rule of law. The Jewish State, however, owes self destruction to no man, country or ideal. Israelis and Jews the world over must continue to amalgamate the wisdom of our scripture and commentaries with the founding texts of the great democracies. Israel must show the world what it means to be an unapologetically Jewish democracy that is quite the opposite of Saudi Arabia and Iran, where Levy would be jailed for sedition rather than published and even praised.