What we carelessly call Jewish identity is founded, as I see it, on some basic
fundamentals. One is of course the Torah, that is the five books of Moses (the
Pentateuch) with its rules for how you should live your life. Even more vital is probably
theTalmud, the extensive writings which were completed prior to the 6th century.
The lasting value of theTalmud is that it gives you several parallel interpretations of
the Torah. There isn´t one way to understand the Scriptures, there are several. The
debate, the dialogue is more important than finding an absolute truth. You don´t need
to be wrong because I am right! In modern times you can call it Hegelian dialectics,
an inquisitive way of thinking that is the opposite of fundamentalism.
This intellectual openness was there, built in into the studies of the Torah and the
Talmud and probably of advantage to many Jews when it came to Art and Science.
Respect for diversity also applies to the complexity of human beings: We are complex
beings where evil and good are mixed and opinions seldom are rectilinear.
Thousands of years of persecutions, pogromes and the Nazis work on the final
Holocaust gave the Jews the hallmark of victims. Prayers and learning didn´t help
against our tormentors, so superior in number and arms. But the knowledge that our
studies has given us is still there as long as there are any survivors.
With the foundation of the state of Israel a new identity was born. Many are those who
can witness about the pride of the existence of a Jewish state, the feeling of finally
being able to straighten your back. There was a small territory where Jews would not
be persecuted. That Palestine was inhabited by people other than Jews escaped most
of them in the aftermath of the Holocaust and in the lingering colonialism. To feel joy
and solidarity with the Jewish state became, along with the memory of the Holocaust,
perhaps the most important part of a Jewish identity. The attacks from surrounding
states confirmed their roles as victims, the victories confirmed the new pride.
Israel also stood out for many as a role model in terms of democracy, social justice
and equality between men and women - not least in comparison with the majority of
the countries in the Middle East.
Israeli politics has turned further and further to the right. Ultra-orthodox fanatics (who
don´t need to work, not to do military service - they are not even Zionists) have got
great influence. In Jerusalem there are bus services, where women are obliged to sit
on the back seats. The West Bank is perforated with Jewish towns, so called
settlements, where land has been looted from the Palestine inhabitants. People who
work for peace are threatened and harassed. Non-Jewish citizens are living under
increasingly difficult conditions.
Fundamentalism is gaining ground
John Kerry and Desmond Tutu have used the word apartheid. Fundamentalism is
gaining ground and the dehumanization of the other is accelerating on both sides.
Arab children ignore the Holocaust, Israeli children are not taught the history of the
The basic biblical texts are interpreted for the state by the Supreme Rabbinate. The
space for balanced dialogues seems to shrink. The victim status is made into an
argument for the right to oppress the weaker Non-Jewish groups and for violence
against innocent inhabitants in Gaza and on the West Bank.
The current government seems to live in symbiosis with Hamas, another elected
representative government. Hamas is a fundamentalist, misogynist and violence
glorifying regime, that has to take its share of the blame for the fact that peace seems
more and more remote.
To tie your identity to a particular country and its politics is not a good idea. You can
love a country, but its politics is quite something else. In particular when religion is
taken in as a political argument. Israel has, as the stronger part, a responsibility for
creating peace. But without a desire for peace from the government of Israel, the Jews
in Israel will never be able to live in security. We can feel pride as Jews to have Israel
as our second homeland only when they show that.
In Israel , unlike in most of the surrounding Arab states, there is a living active, public
discussion that gives a glimmer of hope. The peace line is represented by leading
former politicians such as the Knesset former Spokesman Avraham Burg and by world
famous writers as Amos Oz. Unfortunately, at the moment, it seems that most Israeli
friends have forgotten the wisdom that the study of the Talmud gives.
Plea for peace
Fundamentalism and discrimination is not a breeding ground for a democratic society.
Respect for the equal value of all human beings and the realization that there are
different ways to interpret the context is the basis upon which a just and secure
peace must be founded.
Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora have different opinions, even about the politics of
Israel. The Jewish identity I and others feel must be decoupled from
unconditional support to a government that abuses its power in the name of religion
and of the Jewish people . A Jewish identity is doing best if separated from an
unconditional support for Israel.
Spokesman for *JIPF (Jews for peace between Israel and Palestine), active in the Jewish Congregation of Gothenburg (The Article was originally published in the Swedish newspaper Göteborgs-Posten 10 August . The translation was made by Lena Alexandersson, member of the Swedish Freinet Movement )