It was, he answered, the decision many years ago when the government decided that Arabs who did not want an Israeli flag on their license plates could dispense with it.
What a shockingly symbolic capitulation this was, he lamented. How can you have two sets of laws in one society and expect to maintain social cohesion?
What my friend had brilliantly done was to identify a seemingly innocuous accommodation, borne out of sensitivity, and understood that it actually bespoke the lack of resolve and conviction that could eventually bring us to the brink of civil war.
Stated otherwise, this decision was the pulling on the loose thread of a cheap polyester suit that ended up unraveling the whole thing.
If it seems like a quantum leap from dual license plates to refraining from singing Hatikvah because it is "insensitive ," if not downright "offensive," it really is just the incremental result of continuing to allow dual standards in lieu of a cohesive, unitary expectation of national societal practice and behavior.
It is difficult to maintain civic consensus in any society; it is all the more difficult to do so in Israel, where there are constituent elements with very different group sensibilities, values and norms.
Jews, even Israeli Jews, are, on a certain level, embarrassed to exercise power. We are by nature seekers of compromise and accommodation; and we understandably assume that others would also want to be treated in the same way.
But, with the best of intentions, this is a conceit. It does not take into account that there might be others who do not value these priorities, that do not operate according to the same existential owners' manual.
It is bad enough not to understand this, but it is far worse to diminish and denigrate your own people in a misguided effort to placate others.
The unfortunate, but unmistakable message being sent by Israeli authorities is that we are not resolute, we are not even firmly committed to Israel as a Jewish state.
A resolute Israel would say, as it once did, look this is a Jewish state. That's the way it is. You have complete civil rights, you are welcome to be here, but "here" is a Jewish state. If that is problematic for you, there are dozens of other States that are either Muslim or Christian that you can go to.
Once upon a time there was an understanding across the spectrum of Israeli society that ours was a Jewish state and the institutions of the nation functioned accordingly. No one would question the right to a flag parade marching through any part of Jerusalem.
There was undoubtedly a sense in certain sectors that this fact meant that they, as non-Jews, were somehow second-class citizens.
This is understandable and requires amelioration. But that amelioration should not compromise the Jewish underpinnings and institutions of the State.
There have been new and recent efforts to integrate Israeli Arab citizens more fully into Israeli society. Unlike earlier efforts which originated from the societal Left, the recent initiatives have originated from the Right.
The starting point for these recent endeavors has been the explicit Arab acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state. Only with this recognition and acceptance can a real integration process begin.
It is not clear whether the recent riots, and their ensuing spike of distrust, will derail these initiatives. But whenever they can resume and intensify, the way forward can only be based on this kind of understanding and assent.
We are in parlous times. Far more unnerving than the attacks from Hamastan, the riots in such mixed cities as Lod, Akko and Jaffa exposed the simmering fault lines in our society.
The willingness to challenge the social order was not born out of desperation, but out of brazenness, the brazenness born out of coddling and accommodation.
As the rabbinic sages famously teach, those that are merciful to the cruel will ultimately be cruel to the merciful.
Times change, but human nature does not. Only by asserting our sovereignty through a requirement of one Law for all can we maintain the kind of social cohesion that will allow us to address, from strength, our internal divisions.
Douglas Altabef is the Chairman of the Board of Im Tirtzu, Israel’s largest grassroots Zionist organization, and a Director of the Israel Independence Fund. He can be reached at [email protected]