Thursday, 12 May 2016

I'm a Zionist

I'm a Zionist because I believe the Jewish people have a right to a nation in the Land of Israel. Not the only right, and not all the land, but a right that stretches back through time and a right no less just than the rights of so many other nation states of both modern and ancient creation.

In the words of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, "the Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books. After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom."

I applaud the extraordinary achievements of a state whose created only a blink of the eye ago; Israel's contribution to the global society in which we all live, in worlds of thought, art, science, commerce, medicine is staggering. I applaud Israel's democracy, its commitment to freedom of speech and press, its vigorously independent judiciary, I even applaud a society where Prime Ministers and Presidents have been incarcerated for criminality and abuse of office. It was Hayim Nachman Bialik who said the Jews would know that their dream of a nation state had been fulfilled when there were Jewish prostitutes, Jewish thieves and a Jewish police force. That part of the dream is fulfilled. Normality deserves respect set against the disaster that is the current fate of so many other countries forged in the last decades But there is still much more to dream.

My dream is a dream of peace, two states for two peoples. There are hard compromises that must be fought for by both Jews and Palestinians. The physical and psychological scars of years - frankly millennia - of violence and hatred need to be given time to heal, but more importantly there is a desperate need for courageous leadership on both sides of the Green Line and the support of the entire international community. In the meantime, good fences may be necessary, but the dream is the dream of the Biblical prophet Micah, "They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig-tree; and none shall make them afraid." Despite the pain and the violence, I still dream this dream.

I stand in respect for those whose love for, and need of, a Jewish home led for them to make the ultimate sacrifice to her survival. The memory of 23,477 fallen soldiers and victims of terror attacks has rightly been honoured this week by the entire nation of Israel and will be honoured in our Shabbat service. I feel guilt that these heroes - and every able-bodied young Israeli - have made such sacrifices to protect a country I love, but in which I don't intend to spend the rest of my life. It's a stunning luxury to be a diasporic Jew in the time of the State of Israel. It's a stunning luxury to complain, as I do, of Israel's failures to live up to the totality of the vision articulated in her own Declaration of Independence, 'of [a] country developed for the benefit of all its inhabitants; based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; [ensuring] complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; failures to do even more to bring a Two-State solution into being. These are the critiques of love, as the Rabbis of Bereishit Rabba taught, 'all love without critique isn't love.'

Happy Birthday Israel.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Jeremy

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