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Jewish Journal

Opinion

By Avi Davis

by Avi Davis

June 18, 1998 | 8:00 pm

Avi Davis is president of Israel Development Group, a business consultancy, in Beverly Hills. He and his family own a home in Safed, Israel. Senior columnist Marlene Adler Marks will return July 3.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With this latest assault on Jewish values and tradition, things have gone just a little awry in the Jewish state.

A Nation Like Any Other

By Avi Davis

The sight of Israeli Minister of Tourism Moshe Katzav being kissed by Israeli singer and Eurovision song contest winner Dana International must have made someone, somewhere blush. But you wouldn't have known it by reading any of the Israeli papers last week. With the kind of glee that is only reserved in the Holy Land for the smashing of idols, Israeli editorialists pounced on Dana's victory as further proof that Israel, having produced not just a Eurovision contest winner, but a transsexual one, has finally arrived as a nation among nations. So finally, we have the good word from Israel: Androgyny is in. Ethnocentricism (read Judaism with its intolerance for diversity and priggish emphasis on sexual purity), is most definitely out.

It's not the first time an Israeli singer has stirred the pot of national pique. Last year, pop singer Noa, in a show of flagrant contempt for her own religion, sang "Ave Maria" to Pope John Paul II in the Vatican. Of course, there are millions of Israelis who champion such acts of self -revilement. Many voices declare that the seeming struggle between internationalism and insularity is in reality a murky battle between tolerance (read secularism) on the one hand and repression (read religion) on the other.

Unfortunately, that translates as little more than an apology for the collapse of one of Zionism's most fervent promises. For if there was ever a sense that Israel as a nation might have a mission in this world other than material gain or the right of personal expression, it seems to have dissolved in the secular world's exultation of escape from stifling age-old commitments.

Yet such joy can only be tentative. Because when examined carefully, the hankering after international acceptance reflects no more than a pervasive sense of inferiority and absence of self-worth.

With this latest assault on Jewish values and tradition, things have gone just a little awry in the Jewish state.

Indeed, if he returned today, Joshua, the Jewish people's first general, might be puzzled to discover that many of the Caananite practices he thought he had eradicated are making their slow but steady comeback.

And although child sacrifice may still not be on anyone's agenda, there is an eerie sense that in the unceasing effort by Israeli secular society to strip all religious influence from their lives, the moral imperatives that have served us faithfully for so many centuries are being discarded.

It should not have been like this. The early Zionist ideologues struggled with the moral character of the nation to be. Ahad Ha'am, one of the most spiritually inclined of them, declared that the Jewish state would be built on a foundation of Jewish values or it would perish.

Later, David Ben-Gurion made the famous statement that he longed for a normal state with normal problems. However, this expectation of normalcy was never conceived by Ben-Gurion to import the tawdry and banal from other nations at the expense of Jewish culture. Ben-Gurion's profound respect for Torah and the ethical teachings of the prophets became for him a genuine ideal for the revitalization of his people. For Ben-Gurion, dyed in the wool secularist though he was, the term am segula (treasured nation) came to denote not so much the feat of land reclamation as a reassertion of the Jewish people's role in the moral development of the world. In his own curious way, Ben-Gurion's ideas were very much in tune with the vision of the prophets.

Sadly, despite some remarkable acts of charity as a nation (offering refuge to fleeing Vietnamese and providing agricultural aid to drought stricken African nations are just two examples that spring to mind), that's not the way things have turned out. Everyday life in Israel is beset with acts of dissoluteness and discourtesy. Israelis are often uncouth and vulgar. Rudeness, in stores and on the roads, is a way of life. In Tel Aviv, Jewish prostitution has become a very serious problem; an underground Israeli cartel now works in partnership with Palestinian thieves masterminding a pandemic of car thefts in the major cities. From male strippers in the living rooms of Tel Aviv to the notoriously unpleasant business practices of Israeli entrepreneurs, both in Israel and outside of it, Israelis have earned for themselves the unhappy sobriquet of prickly boors for whom ethics are no more than the doormat you use to clean your boots when you enter a house.

It is of course unfair to label all Israelis as degenerates or even lay the blame for every moral infraction at the feet of the secular. The Orthodox (courtesy of Yigal Amir and Baruch Goldstein) and ultra-Orthodox have done little to assuage the prevailing view that they are self-righteous bigots who would bleed the state rather than give to it.

But the tragedy remains that for the secular, self-abasement has become the language of dissent and a weapon of revenge.

All of this just to be a nation like any other. You have to wonder if the ghetto was a happier place.

Whatever the answer, it was the sudden superstar elevation of the transsexual Dana International that provided the final confirmation that there is a price to be paid for normalcy and that price is the squandering of a profound moral heritage. To many of us, the singer's victory became meaningless when her status as Israel's first transsexual singer was given more prominence than her actual song.

In truth, Dana International is perhaps a victim of all the hype that surrounds her and her painful journey deserves more our sympathy than our scorn. Yet her personal struggles set the State of Israel's in sharper relief. Is it, after all, truly unrealistic to expect Israel, a country composed largely of secular Jews, to subscribe to traditional Jewish codes of ethics and behavior? I don't think so. Does it mean that all secular Israelis need to become religious? Not at all. But the Israeli education system can certainly provide guidance by accepting as a principle that being an Israeli carries with it responsibility and instituting compulsory instruction in musar (ethics) that would ultimately lead to strengthening the nation's moral purpose and an improvement in everyday life.

In the meantime, all normalcy advocates can certainly take heart. In normalcy, they will find a fertile ground for the flourishing of tolerance and maybe even the political framework for a future State of Canaan.

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