My latest piece for "Good Letters", "Welcome to Tel Aviv," was written not long after my return from my most recent trip to Israel--before the Knesset passed the problematic "nation-state bill." A threat to the democratic principles on which the state was founded, the bill, among other things, downgrades Arabic to a language with a "special status" rather than as one of Israel's official languages.
Twenty percent of Israel's population within the green line are Arabs. During the trip, we heard an Arab-Israeli journalist, native of Israel, resident of East Jerusalem, express his strong feelings that as an Israeli-Arab citizen who pays the same taxes as Israeli-Jewish citizens he should be entitled to the same support as Israeli Jews: infrastructure, education, employment. The downgrading of the status of Arabic is a further insult to Israel's Arab citizens. That's just one of the troubling features of this new bill. Nonetheless, my love of Israel is strong. As an American Jew, I want to do what I can to contribute to the state, to help it realize the ideals set out in its declaration of independence:
"THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations."
It's significant that Jews have a "homeland." (Jews are at home in many places, but there is something different about Jews living in their ancestral home.) It's crucial, I believe, that we do all we can to help that "homeland" live up to the highest Jewish values.