Originally published October 14, 2010 by the Jerusalem Post.
Instead of wasting time, energy, and damaging Israel’s standing with meaningless new laws and nonsensical bargaining positions, Netanyahu should be making a serious drive for peace.
The first of the Ten Commandments is not really a commandment: All it says is, “I am the Lord, your God.”
It is a statement. There is no need for a commandment to believe in God; the Torah tells us the existence of God is obvious. Such a commandment would be superfluous.
Similarly, requiring prospective citizens to take an oath affirming loyalty to the State of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic” state – or requiring the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel as a “Jewish” state – is superfluous and unnecessary.
Demanding recognition of Israel as a Jewish state goes against the values we learn from the Torah.
We are not supposed to take a vain oath. Swearing the sky is blue is considered a vain oath. Anyone can see the sky is blue. You don’t need to invoke God’s name for that. Swearing Israel is a Jewish state would equally be a vain oath.
The loyalty oath – and the insistence that the PA recognize Israel as a Jewish state – are both racist and discriminatory.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman does not propose that Jews should have to take the loyalty oath – he knows many would refuse. The government does not insist that other countries recognize Israel specifically as a Jewish state – presumably because Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu does not want to be laughed at in the halls of the United Nations.
WHAT DOES it mean to swear loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state? Does it mean anyone who would prefer to see Israel as a secular democracy – a country like America, for example – is disloyal? Does it mean anyone who does not keep kosher or observe the Sabbath is disloyal? Oops, Netanyahu and Lieberman probably don’t mean that, do they? If being Jewish means the haredim can force women to ride in the back of the bus, if Jewish means the haredim can force women to one side of a public street and men to another, if being Jewish means the state can arrest a woman for carrying a Torah scroll at the Western Wall, if being Jewish means the Chief Rabbinate can deny marriage to people with halachicly correct conversions because they don’t like a particular rabbi – I would not swear an oath to such a state either.
The Palestinians should call our bluff. PA President Mahmoud Abbas should tell Netanyahu: “I’d accept Israel as a Jewish and a democratic state if it started acting like a Jewish and democratic state – including treating its citizens equally and displaying the Jewish values of treating the stranger with justice and pursuing peace. Will you agree to that?” One of the highest values in Judaism is peace. Peace, we are told, is one of God’s names. A blessing for peace seals Judaism’s most important prayer, the Amida.
By bowing to the populist foolishness of Lieberman, Netanyahu is putting form above substance. He is allowing things with no significance – a completely meaningless oath and a call for an equally meaningless statement from the PA – to be a barrier to something with great significance: peace. He is causing a desecration of God’s name. He is causing other nations to view Israel as racist. He is causing other nations to see us as so insecure in our identity that we have to club others over the head in a way other nations do not to reassure ourselves that we really are entitled to our Jewish and democratic nation.
Instead of causing a desecration of God’s name, our prime minister should be causing God’s name to be sanctified. This will happen – in the eyes of Israel and of the entire world – if he manages to reach an equitable peace with our cousins, the Ishmaelites, the Palestinians.
Instead of wasting time, energy, and damaging Israel’s standing in the eyes of the world with meaningless new laws and nonsensical bargaining positions, he should be making a serious drive for peace.
That would be the truly Jewish thing to do.