By Rabbi Jason Holtz

I love Israel and I fear for it.  I love Israel because of what it is and what it stands for, a proud, defiant, free, democratic, Jewish state reborn after thousands of years.  Not only that, but all that Israel has achieved, it did so in the most difficult of circumstances.  Only a few years removed from World War II and the Holocaust, the Jewish state was born.  And it was born when every surrounding country tried, through war, to stop that from happening.  Time and time again, tiny Israel was attacked and tiny Israel prevailed.  And through it all, it maintained its commitment to being a caring society, guided by the highest values in the Jewish tradition.  I fear for Israel for several reasons.  Outside threats still exist, particularly Iran.  Yet, I also fear for Israel because the values that Israel was founded on, most especially democracy and fairness, seem to be in danger.  

At the time of me writing this, we are now less than a day removed from the Israeli elections and it seems most likely that Benjamin Netanyahu will continue as the Prime Minister.   I fear because right before the election Netanyahu said that as long as he is the prime minister, there will be no Palestinian state.  If there is to be no Palestinian state, than the only other option is a single state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River.  If that state is to be a democracy, then all Palestinians must be granted citizenship, and the uniquely Jewish identity of the state will cease.  To be sure, following a fair judicial process, all convicted criminals and terrorists should not be afforded the right to vote.  However, that still leaves millions and millions of people voting and distancing Israel from its Jewish character.  The only other option is to permanently deny Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank citizenship and accompanying rights, and that is no option.  The Torah states, “There shall be one law for the citizen and the resident alike.”  Maintaining a separate legal structure, separate set of rights (or lack thereof), and so on, runs completely counter to our tradition.  Judaism affirms one God and one law.  Discrimination without cause, denial of rights without reason, is not simply not Jewish, it is antithetical to everything our legal tradition stands for.  For the first time in thousands of years, Jews have real power.  This is the test of our tradition, our beliefs and our justice—to see if everything that we have learned over the last several thousand years works in practice.  For to often, we’ve learned the hard way of what it means to be oppressed.  With that in mind, will we use the power afforded to us to promote a fair, equal and democratic society, or will we use it to unjustly deny an entire people equal rights, either in their own state or in Israel?  Mr Netanyahu said what the future will not entail so long as he has power–a Palestinian state.  So the question is, now what?  What will Israel be, fair and democratic, but not particularly Jewish, or unfair, undemocratic, favouring Jews over others (but still not particularly Jewish, as all of this runs counter to our highest values).  I’m waiting, with no small amount of fear over the future of a country that I love.  

We’re soon entering into the month of Nisan, the month of the Exodus from Egypt.  Year in and year out, we remember and celebrate with a seder.  The whole point of the Passover is to teach the importance of freedom and a fair society, where one people does not rule over another.  We must love both citizen and stranger alike, for we were strangers in the land of Egypt.  We must stick with what we know, that any people that intends to rule over another is inherently counter to the morality of the Torah.  It’s simply wrong.  Rather, let Israel be worthy of the name—a people and a country that remembers what it’s like to be denied freedom and therefore is always freedom’s champion, a people that was the first to proclaim that as there is one Creator, we are all equally God’s creations, equally deserving of dignity.  That’s the people that we’ve historically been.  That’s the people we should continue to be.