Monday, July 19, 2010

Israel, before the Revolution

By Bernie Quigley

For The Hill, 7/18/10

The Clinton presidency was an aftermath; a time of building, growing and consolidating, like the prosperous times that follow a revolution. In Israel, there was investment and building but there had been no revolution. There was gradual progress to an advancing scale but there was no one moment you could call back to as you would in the Taoist parable of enlightenment: Before the revolution we cut wood and carried water. After the revolution we did the same. But we were different then. There was no Nelson at Trafalgar to mark a day. No Washington at Yorktown, no Crockett at the Alamo. No David. In my adult life the only one who approached even folk status was the brave Arab who rose to his bullet as confidently as a song bird rises to greet the dawn, Anwar El Sadat. But I have felt for a long time that it is just ahead for Israel and its definitive moment will come in the next 20 years and possibly very soon.

Some today, however, are beginning to feel unfriended. In an op-ed in The New York Times, “The Diaspora Need Not Apply,” Alana Newhouse, editor in chief of Tablet Magazine, which covers Jewish life and culture, writes that last week a Knesset committee approved a bill that would give the Orthodox rabbinate control of all conversions in Israel. If passed, this legislation would place authority over all Jewish births, marriages and deaths – and, through them, the fundamental questions of Jewish identity – in the hands of “ . . . a small group of ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi rabbis.”

The move has set in motion a sectarian battle that is not only dividing Israeli society but threatening to sever the vital connection between Israel and the American Jewish diaspora, she says.

“Who is a Jew?” she asks.

Israel is undergoing a change in temperament. It parallels a change occurring in America. A new cultural life force is rising that brings a challenge to left and right political traditions. In Israel, as in the United States, left and right traditions are converging to ward it off.

As a Buddhist I find I have much in common with my religious Israeli correspondents. More today in serious ways than with some of my oldest American friends who are Jewish. The path of Arjuna parallels in many ways that of Aaron and over time I become more “Jewish.” My American friends become more secular.

Newhouse’s essay is of vital importance to Jews and non-Jews alike, because the questions which will arise next are: Who speaks for Jews? Who speaks for Israel? Does Bill Clinton, George W. Bush or Barack Obama? Does Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? Does Joe Biden? Does New York’s former mayor Ed Koch? Does the UN’s Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon? Does the EU’s foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton? Does CNN? Do Thomas Friedman and Frank Rich and The New York Times? These we hear from. The assumption that they do could easily be challenged by a rising generation.

“This year, with God's help,” Moshe Feiglin, a native-born Israeli leader wrote recently, “there will be more Jews in Israel than anywhere else in the world. This is a sea change in the state of the Jewish nation and the first time since the First Temple era that the majority of Jews has resided in Israel. This summer we start the countdown to the end of the exile.”

Destiny will follow demographics, in Texas, in New York, even in the House of God.