It’s been a while since my last blog post here. No, it’s not because I was lazy, or ran out of things to say… I simply found myself in some sort of a conundrum. I originally started the blog because I wanted to share with friends my personal experiences around coming back to Israel after living in the US for 20yrs. It was a fairly big change for me and my family, and I had a ton of “observations” to share. But it’s been 7.5 years since we came back, and talking about my “back to Israel” experience seemed to have run its course. After all, 7.5 years is plenty of time for things to settle, right? Not really.

two-wrongsTrue, the relevance of my transition experience wore down a little. But regardless of the time that has passed, I realize that things will never truly settle for me. A friend of ours told us many years ago: “Once you cross the ocean, you’re always on the wrong side”. At the time, it sounded as an amusing phrase. But now, I realize how true that saying is. So while the physical transition back to Israel has been completed, the mental transition continues…

When I lived in America, I realized that even after years of living there, I am still an “immigrant”. I had to accept the fact that I will never feel completely at home there. True, I led a very comfortable life, had a great job and many close friends, yet America could never become my “homeland”.

A famous Jewish poet, Shaul Tchernichovsky once wrote: “A person is nothing but a reflection of his homeland landscape”. While I believe that I am more than just a reflection of my hometown, there is no doubt that the environment and culture I grew up in plays a big part in who I am. Homeland landscape notwithstanding, there are other parts of me that were shaped by the years I spent in California. Living in an environment that cherishes diversity, liberalism, freedom of speech and human rights did have its impact.

It never ceased to amaze me that back in 1776, a group of American politicians, let by Thomas Jefferson, came up with an immortal text, as part of the United States Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

It took America about 90 years and a bloody Civil War to recognize that “all men” means ALL men – including African Americans. It took another 50 some years to acknowledge that not just me, but also women should have a part in electing its government. Nowadays, it is generally agreed that “all PEOPLE are created equal”.

Many Israelis tend to discount Americans as “naïve”. After all, what do Americans know about the harsh realities of the Middle East, or the threat of Islamic Terrorism? May I remind my fellow Israelis that we’re talking about the world greatest superpower, a nation that built itself through enormous struggles, triumphs and defeats? Perhaps we can learn a thing or two from those “naïve” Americans?

Lately, it seems to me that Israel decided to follow some other examples. Rather than embracing values of liberalism and equality, it is increasingly leaning towards ultra-nationalism, with shades of theocracy. This may sound to some a bit extreme, after all Israel is still a democracy. Yet we need to constantly remind ourselves that other nations before had transformed from “democracy” to “dictatorship” in a span of just a few years…

Listening to some of Israel parliament members and ministers suggests they may need a refresher course on Israel founding principles – the ones expressed in its own declaration of independence:

“The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the In-gathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

Why is equality and human rights so important? Does Israel have the luxury of treating all its citizens as equal? Especially given the many security threats Israel faces even today? There’s of course the moral/philosophical rationale that favors equality – a lot has been written about that. But there is also a national security rationale:

Israel, much like the US, is a country formed by immigrants. Yes, most immigrants are Jews, but that’s pretty much the only commonality. There are Jewish immigrants who came from Eastern Europe, Western Europe, North Africa, South Africa, North America, Latin America, former Soviet Union, etc. While they’re all supposedly Jewish, the cultural differences between these groups are significant.  And if the diversity of Jews isn’t enough, then we should add to the mix the fact that about 20% of Israel citizens are of Arab descent. By any measure, Israel is a complex melting pot – much like the US.

When you have such a diverse society, the only way (in my opinion) to unify it and garner support for  common national goals is by promoting equality. An approach that highlights the differences between groups, one that promotes one faction over another, is an approach that creates deep fractures within the society. And fractured societies don’t do well when faced with major challenges.

The American phrase “United We Stand Divided We Fall” holds true for both the US and Israel. After all, Jews of all people have learned that lesson: the biblical Jewish state met its tragic end with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple some 2000 years ago. Jewish scholars put a large part of the blame for the fall of Jerusalem on none other than ‘baseless hatred’ (“Sinat Hinam”). Historians of the time described the fierce inner-fighting that took place between rival Jewish factions.

You would think that the value of unity will not be lost on a leadership that faces external adversaries… Yet too many politicians tend to engage in “divide and conquer” tactics, promoting and exploiting rifts within the society. Perhaps someone should remind them that we’re all in the same boat, and should it sink – we’re all going under…

But wait, didn’t I say that I’m bound to always be at the wrong side of the ocean? Well, with everything that goes on in America now days, I am not sure the other side of the ocean is the “right side”. It seems that a refresher course on the American values is something that American politicians could use as well…

Looks like when it comes to politicians, there is no “right side of the ocean”. So what does it mean? I guess it is a case of “Two Wrongs Make a Right” – if no side is better than the other, than it really doesn’t matter which side I am in, does it? In other words, either side is the “Right Side”…

 

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