Having just returned from a visit to Israel, I have renewed affection for the land and its people, yet I am struck by the contradictions I encountered there.
The availability of moving, liberal spiritual experiences in the Holy Land is greater than ever before, and they involve more Israelis than was thought possible a generation ago, yet the level of corruption on the part of government officials is also at an unprecedented high.
Flags were flying all over the country in celebration of Yom Ha’Atzmaut, and the national pride and sense of calm were palpable. The Gaza border clashes seemed far away, yet when jets unexpectedly appeared flying low overhead, the possible threat seemed real, and most Israelis were visibly upset until they were sure there was nothing wrong.
There are multiple construction cranes building high rises in every city, and there is more wealth than ever before. Yet there are poor people living in wretched conditions with less help for them now than there used to be.
There is a wonderfully free press, and open debate of every imaginable issue, yet the present government is attempting to limit the High Court’s ability to preserve the country’s freedoms and commitment to human dignity.
The country’s roads and trains are vastly improved, and it is possible to move about the country with ease and speed, yet the many roadblocks in the West Bank have made transportation for Palestinians abysmally difficult.
In a country built by Jewish refugees, the terrible treatment of African refugees is hard to comprehend. Many of them are interred in miserable transit camps, and others are scraping by in Tel Aviv. Since the refugees are denied work permits, they must work illegally to survive, leading to very low wages and exploitation by employers. Banners protesting the treatment of African refugees and the threat to deport them hang from residential balconies all over.
The country is renowned for its high-tech achievements, yet it has not figured out how to effectively respond to Palestinian demonstrations without causing serious injuries and deaths.
The ruling coalition still talks about seeking a permanent peace, but it is seizing Palestinian land and building settlements in the West Bank at a rate that makes clear its intention not to allow a two-state solution or to treat Palestinians fairly. Everyone agrees that holding onto that land means that Israel can be Jewish or democratic but not both. Holding onto Greater Israel means the end of the Zionist dream of a nation honoring every inhabitant.
In conjunction with the 70th anniversary of Israel, a survey was taken about what Israelis consider the state’s greatest accomplishment. The winner? Iron Dome, the anti-missile system that protects Israelis all over the country. Yet as a possible war with Iran, Syria and Hezbollah threatens, the number of missiles held by these enemies of Israel dwarfs the number of missiles available to Iron Dome.
The values of most American Jews include inclusion, democracy, freedom, justice, human dignity and peace. We must join with our allies among its citizens to ensure that our values are embodied in its government’s policies and actions.
There is much we can do to reduce the contradictions. Activism on behalf of J Street to strengthen American political voices that have a positive impact on Israel, and on behalf of the New Israel Fund to strength civil rights and justice organizations in Israel, can have a greater impact now than ever before. This is a time when actions must replace complaints.