Friday, April 05, 2013

Can Israel Ever Have a Non Jewish President?

Can Israel Ever Have a Non Jewish President? I would hope so.

Of course, I don't see it happening any time soon. But is theory it should not be a problem.

Of course many Jews and many Israelis disagree. Recently, on an email list I participate in someone wrote: "The Jews will disappear, if Israel will not become a cultural centre for the Jews. Therefore, if Israel remains the cultural centre, there cannot be a non-Jewish PM or President in Israel."

Here is my reply:

I disagree. (And, by the way, so did Mordecai Kaplan.)

Why does Israel - THE STATE - have to be the cultural center? Why can't the Jewish community in the land of Israel be the cultural centre? And if so what does it matter what religion/nationality the Prime Minister or President is?

For hundreds of years Poland was the Jewish (or at least the Ashkenazi) cultural center, and by Poland everyone understands that this means the Jewish community of Poland, not the Kingdom of Poland - which for much of that time did not exist, as Poland was under foreign rule.

In earlier periods Spain was the Jewish cultural centre - when it was ruled by Muslims. Still earlier Babylon was the Jewish cultural centre when it was ruled by Persian Zoro-Astrians. The Mishna was composed in Ertez Yisrael when the Roman Emperor was the head of State, and the Tanach itself was mostly compiled - according to the common theories - either under Babylonian or Persian rule, and probably in Babylon.

I agree that it is best for the Jewish people to have a strong cultural centre, and today that cultural centre is in Israel, and will stay that way for the foreseeable future. But that does not mean that the STATE must be Jewish or that its leaders must be Jewish.

I also think that the Jewish community in Israel is doing a BAD job of being the kind of cultural centre I would like to see, and therefore I think that we need to make sure (a) that culture improves and/or those element of the Israeli Jewish culture I support are strengthened, and (b) we need to create a strong and vibrant Jewish "counter culture" in the Diaspora, both for its own/intrinsic value and in order to influence Israeli Jewish culture and world wide Jewish culture.

Finally - we are talking here about cultural - and by asserting that in order to preserve our culture we need to create an ethnically exclusive state that denies fundamental rights (like like having the right to be Prime Minister or President) to ethnic/national minorities - we are making a fundamental mistake in priorities. Political and economic rights must always trump cultural rights - if push comes to shove. The smart People figures out a way to avoid this conflict, to curb its desire fro cultural hegemony in order to create a more just political and economic - and ultimately cultural - space.

I lived in Israel for 15 years, and my three children were born there. When I left, I understood full well that I was going to have a reduced (in quantity at least) level of Jewish experience, and that I would no longer be fully participating in the greatest Jewish project of our times. But I also understood that this project was fundamentally mistreating non-Jews. I tried to imagine 25 years into the future, howI would justify living in an apartheid state (and yes, that is the exact term I used in my internal conversations even back then) and I decided that my "cultural rights" did not justify the oppression of non-Jews, and I would just have to try to "muddle through" my cultural/religious/national life without the "benefit" of a hegemonic state structure, but also without the burden of having to justify and participate in and constantly struggle against that hegemony.

The kind of the Jewish culture, and cultural centre, that I dream of would be improved, not destroyed, if Israel were to have a non Jewish President or PM.

(PS. I don't want it understood that my personal reasons for moving from Israel were all "political" or noble. This was only one of the factors.)


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