HAROLD HALPERN: The Promised Land of Israel belongs to all of its citizens – Sarasota Herald-Tribune
The New York Times on Oct. 26 carried a front-page column by Patrick Kingsley entitled “Whose Promised Land? Journeying Across a Divided Land.”
Kingsley spent 10 days traveling in Israel and interviewing a handful of Israelis from which he concluded that Israel is a fractured society.
Israel, he wrote, was not a “melting pot … that blended diverse communities into a single Jewish state,” but rather like an unsolvable jigsaw puzzle – “a collection of incompatible factions, each with its own priorities, grievances and history.”
Let me paint the picture of quite a different Israel. Israel’s Declaration of Independence, proclaimed on May 14, 1947, is a clarion call for democracy providing that “The State of Israel … will be based on precepts of liberty, justice and peace … (and) will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens without distinction of race, creed or sex …. We call upon the Arab inhabitants of the land to play their part … with full and equal citizenship …”
Despite the need to defend itself against attacking armies in a War of Independence, wars of 1967 and 1973, and terrorist attacks, immigrants from more than 100 countries came to Israel. Many came because they were expelled from their homes in Arab lands, others to free themselves from antisemitism and others to fulfill a dream to return to their ancient homeland. All were welcomed and helped to adjust to their new home.
Israel, a country in 1947 of less than 1 million Jews, is now home to 9 million citizens, including 7 million Jews and 2 million non-Jewish citizens, most of whom are Israeli Arabs.
Kingsley writes that the immigrants did not fully assimilate into the Israeli culture as part of a unified” melting pot” but instead retained their diverse cultures. The melting pot theory of societal adjustment doesn’t work as an enlightened policy. It has been replaced by the “salad bowl” society in which immigrants retain their own cultural identity combining it with that of the host country. Israel welcomes immigrants and the richness of their diverse cultures that become blended into the Israel way of life.
Israel is not without its faults. New immigrants and minorities may have a tough time before they are treated with dignity and social equality. Generally, it takes three generations for immigrants to find the balance between maintaining their culture and absorbing the culture of their new home and to succeed in the new society. Alexis De Tocqueville, French writer and politician, wrote his observations of America in 1831, that “the greatness of America lies … in her ability to repair her faults.”
This too is the greatness of Israel. Mizrachi Jews from Arab and Muslim countries benefited from the changing concept of melting pot to salad bowl and are largely integrated into Israeli life. Gradually the Ethiopian Jewish community is learning along with Israeli society how to both integrate and retain their distinctive customs. And, importantly, progress is being made with integration of the 2 million Israeli Arabs into the fullness of Israeli life.
Israeli Arabs in University almost equal their 20% of the Israeli population; 46% of all Israeli physicians are Arab Israelis; 53% are nurses; and 57% are pharmacists.
Ra’am, one of the Arab Israeli parties in the Knesset, is a vital member of the current government. Salim Joubran has served on Israel’s Supreme Court and many Israeli Arabs are in government, a number rising to ambassador.
Having said this, much more remains to be done to reach economic parity and social integration but one must acknowledge that much has been achieved.
Israel is a democracy. The diverse interests of Israeli’s are represented by 13 parties in the current 120-member Knesset (Parliament). The “jigsaw puzzle” is solved by a vote of the majority after vigorous debate. Israel should be commended, not criticized, for its vibrant democracy, with equality of all protected by the Israel Supreme Court.
Israel is proud that it thrives as a nation and has helped the world to be a better place in humanitarian assistance and technological innovation. There is not sufficient space to fully elaborate but I will highlight some of Israel’s contributions.
Israel is among the first to assist anywhere around the world when disaster strikes. Recently it sent its Search and Rescue Team to Miami on the collapse of the Surfside condominium. They helped to recover 81 of the 97 victims in the rubble. This is but one of countless examples of its aid. It has set up field hospitals and provided medical staff, food, clothing and temporary shelter and humanitarian aid for disasters in New Orleans, Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Nairobi, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Haiti, Japan, Kashmir, Nepal, Turkey and many other places.
Israel is one of the most advanced nations in development of new technology. A few of the thousands of technological creations are an exoskeleton powered computer to help spinal injured people to walk, technology to create artificial vision to help the blind and visually impaired, a bandage that stops bleeding in seconds, and use of brackish water to grow crops. These examples are only a hint of Israel’s technology development enhancing life around the world.
I will write later more comprehensively about Israel’s humanitarian activities and technological development.
Polling data from 149 counties ranks the Israeli people as the 12th happiest based on per capita gross domestic product, social support, generosity, life expectancy and freedom to make choices: far from being a “fractured” society.
May Israel continue progressing to fulfill the highest ideals of its Declaration of Independence.
Harold Halpern is a retired attorney residing in Lakewood Ranch and a board member of the American Association of Lawyers and Jurists and of the West Coast Branch of the American Jewish Committee.