TOPICS : Israel must pursue diversity within unity

To ask “Should Israel be a Jewish State?” is like asking if the Pope must be a Catholic. But champions of individual rights do raise this question, frequently using arguments similar to those raised by their counterparts in Britain and many other countries, who argue that unless national identity is greatly attenuated, minorities will not feel at home and will turn into fertile fodder for terrorists. These arguments ignore the nurturing that is provided by the national community, by the core values and identity it provides, and the normative glue that prevents nations falling apart.

In Israel the argument for minority and individual rights is made in two parts. The relatively easy one points out that a continued occupation of the West Bank forces Israel either to persist as a colonial power or to give up on its Jewish identity by turning into a bi-national state. Withdrawing to the 1967 borders, following some redrawing, is considered vital not merely to end the evils of occupation and its corrosive effect on Israel’s soul, but also to maintain a demographic basis essential for a Jewish, democratic state.

The more difficult challenge is posed by the second part of the rights advocates’ thesis, which also raises issues faced by other nations. The advocates hold that Israel, secure behind its 1967 borders, should be multiculturalised; and that Israel should give up its core of Jewish values and become a culturally neutral state to make the more than a million Arab-Israeli citizens (approximately a fifth of all Israelis) feel at home. Furthermore, such state neutrality would free secular Jews of what rights advocates consider to be an oppressive Rabbinical regime. At present, one cannot get married, divorced or buried in Israel without involving a Jewish, Muslim or some other religious authority.

The way out for Israel is diversity within unity. It would entail not only respecting the rights of Jews and of Arabs to practice their own religion, but also to practise none at all.

At the same time, preaching and teaching hate, and above all violence, would not be condoned. It would mean that Israel would

cease to discriminate against Arab Israelis and secular Jews when various benefits and privileges are allotted by the state, for instance stipends for students.

The crucial sociological observation is that societies are complex beings that serve multiple needs and values, and cannot be designed to maximise any single concern without undermining others. One cannot go the whole hog in the service of the sensibilities of various minorities without undermining the essential national sense of community.

Trying to either fully assimilate minorities by eradicating their separate cultures, or to wash out the national ethos by eradicating the shared culture, will only heighten conflicts and tensions. Instead, all would benefit if the dialogue focused on where to properly draw the line between the elements of diversity and the core values that all are expected to embrace. —The Guardian