Sometimes you just don’t feel like saying you’re sorry. Even if it is Erev Yom Kippur.
Yesterday I participated in a panel discussion in front of a group of American post-collegiates just beginning a six-month program in Israel. There were two other panelists, one of whom is dati and the other of whom is a professor of political science. This professor gets up and, completely off-topic, has the following inanities to declare, with no attempt at justification.
-Israel is not a democracy because “Palestinian Israelis” (i.e., Israeli Arabs) don’t have rights
-There can’t be real democracy because there is no constitution and there is no constitution because “the religious” are opposed to any constitution but “the Bible”.
-There is no peace because “the religious” prefer war to peace.
I kept telling myself to stay calm. I failed.
Just think about the scene. The guy is on a panel with two people whose dress clearly marks them as “religious”. One has been introduced as working on drafting an Israeli constitution for years and the other has been introduced as editor of a magazine devoted to finding common ground between religious and secular Israelis. The audience consists of Americans for whom this kind of trashing whole segments of the population is considered off-the-charts politically incorrect. How can someone be so blind to the situation?
Not to mention ignorant. The first constitutional proposal in Israel was written by an Orthodox Jew named Leo Cohen and was used as a working document by the Law Committee of the provisional government chaired by another Orthodox Jew, Zerach Warhaftig. It was rejected by the far-left Mapam and all subsequent proposals were blocked by Ben-Gurion.
Furthermore, for almost all the years of Israel’s existence, the Orthodox parties together numbered fewer than 20 MKs. So who prevented the other 100 MKs from passing a constitution? How many batallions did the Chazon Ish have?
In any case, I’ve spent many years at this game and never heard any serious person propose that the Bible could serve as a constitution. And I’m sure my interlocutor has never heard that from any of his “very good friends who are religious”, either.
So why do people who should know better say such stupid things and expect to get away with it?
To understand this phenomenon we need to understand that Israel was founded upon the rejection of slowly evolving cultural and quasi-political traditions in favor of central institutions designed and run by an elite leadership consisting of secular Ashkenazi leftist old-timers. Contempt for those benighted souls who didn’t get with the program has only increased as it has become more obvious that socialism and secularism haven’t brought the promised utopia.
My interlocutor, being a secular Askenazi leftist old-timer, is firmly convinced that everyone who doesn’t fit that exact description lives here on the sufferance of those who do. And if his little coterie hasn’t brought about the promised socialist utopia, well, it’s got to be somebody else’s fault. And if those annoying chnyoks, frenks and fascists are actually a bit more complex than the stereotypes that make scapegoating them possible, he’s not going to read about it in Haaretz, his only source of information.
Anyway, to get back to my story, I actually got up and said all this. I mean all of it, from off-the-charts politically incorrect and Leo Cohen right on down to the part where I pointed at him and declared him a specimen of the rapidly disappearing species secular Askenazi leftist old-timer. At which point he got up stammering that I know nothing about Israel (i.e., I’m not one of the branja) and stormed out of the room.
It’s Erev Yom Kippur, dammit, and instead of feeling contrite I feel purged. Maybe tefilla zaka will get me in the proper mood.