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The decent state of Israel

Tal Niv, editor of Haaretz’s English edition, has written that Zionism is falling into a void. She believes that the secular, liberal, civil and egalitarian form of Zionism has departed from the vision of Theodore Herzl. Her points can be summarized as follows:

  1. Secular liberal Zionism as failed.

  2. The case of three ultra orthodox children accused of committing terrorism against six Palestinians is evidence it has failed.
  3. Someone who would do this “has no understanding of what it means to inflict disability” for which the wider society is to blame.
  4. Because of a small number of self-righteous criminals the Zionist project is turning its back on human rights.
  5. Therefore, Israel is no longer a state “in which a decent person could live.”

Normally, this is where a Zionist apologist would discuss Israel “in context” or compare Israel to the brutal regimes that surround it. That is not necessary. Israel is worth supporting on its own merits.

The first attack mentioned in Niv’s piece is a notable example of Israel’s quality. She wrote of the recent Molotov cocktail assault on traveling Arabs by Jewish youths: “Not long after the attack, pictures appeared in the media of the three children who were being held for the crime.” Consider the novelty. A free press covering the story of police forces arresting its young citizens on suspicion of attacking the national “enemy.” That is not the norm in societies with high levels of sectarian or ethic conflict. Consider the failure of law enforcement to act in the Jim Crow-era American South where my parents grew up, or the plight of Catholics in Northern Ireland under the Stormont government. Tough times are little excuse for official misbehavior. Israel is doing the right thing: arresting the suspects without prejudice.

The reaction of the first responders to the case of the several Israeli youths who recently attacked Arab teens in Zion Square is another example of what is right about Israel. When one of the Arabs was unconscious and near death, he was revived by Magen David Adom, Israel’s version of the Red Cross. The Israel police secured the scene and began to search for the suspects.

These crimes are terrible. Yet it is an indulgence of the ridiculous to write that they put the whole Zionist project and by logical extension the future of Israel in doubt. Niv is concerned about religious intolerance influencing anti-Arab violence. If Israel has a problem in this regard, it is not that secular democracy or Zionism has failed but rather that certain parts of the progressive intellectual movement of the 20th century have been adapted by Israel to its detriment. If she feels that the Orthodox behave as if they are outside the normal rules of Israel society, then perhaps a discussion should be had on the negative influences of progressive government policies rather than the broader Zionist ideal.

Sovereign power implies responsibility and guilt. It requires the responsible use of force and the acceptance that you must accept guilt for all lapses in the use of that national power. The re-establishment of a Jewish nation-state is the embodiment of Zionism. Israeli regret goes hand in hand with that power. However, the progressive movement has attempted to perform intellectual alchemy by presenting perfection as the goal of government rather than the hard – but attainable – task of securing the liberties of the citizenry. Therefore, the progressive governing ethos is never satisfied with a better society. Israel is then assailed for deviations from its normal society rather than accepted as a worthy country that deals with problems as they arise.

The state of Israel as a democratic free society has not failed, and it is still a place where decent people would want to live. Israeli courts continue to function as they should, weighing evidence presented against the accused and rendering judgments. The Israeli parliament continues to have consistently free and frequent elections where the people choose their elected representatives to carry out their will, limited only by the rule of law. Israeli businessmen continue to innovate, Israeli teachers continue to instruct at some of the world’s finest universities, and Israeli police continue to protect their communities with a fair hand. Israel continues to thrive and continues to fulfill the mission of providing a homeland for the Jewish people.

Tal Niv makes a mistake is in the assumption that because someone commits a crime or inflicts pain upon another person they have become bankrupt or devoid of humanity and do not understand what it means to feel pain or to have pain inflicted upon themselves. One could make the judgment that to perform such violent acts you must lose some of your humanity; however, it is naïve to say they have lost their understanding of harm. Throughout history people have deliberately and knowingly inflicted pain upon other people. Ignorance of harm is not the cause of human suffering; I wish it were that simple. Rather, man’s inhumanity to man is usually caused by the common failings of the human condition: pride, covetousness, jealousy, self-righteousness and the desire to rule others.

If a failure to completely eradicate the baser parts of human nature means Zionism has failed, then humanity has failed. But if that were the case, then the self-flagellation of some on the Israeli left would be just another indulgent progressive conceit. Like the decent people of the United States, decent Israelis strive to overcome enmity. They are still the majority. Israel is still a county they can be proud of.