Israel and Her Minorities

A spectre is haunting Europe -- the spectre of growing anti-Jewish activities. Within that landscape disturbing events build upon disturbing events. In one recent political debate, a French politician said to her Jewish challenger, originally from Russia, "Why are you even here, you belong in Moscow or St. Petersberg. You are not wanted here; you are a Jew." We are appalled by such language coming out of the country and culture which gave the world the rallying call of liberté, égalité, fraternité. We will all say another painful example of the clear message that Jews are not wanted in Europe.

The more disturbing problem with this recent exchange is that it did not take place in Europe, but rather it took place in the Jewish state itself. The exact words that Israel's Foreign Minister said to Ayman Odeh, an Israeli Arab running for the Knesset were, "Why did you come to this studio, why not Gaza, or Ramallah? Why are you even here? You are not wanted here; you are a Palestinian citizen." In short Avigdor Lieberman would like to see Israel Arabrein. The other candidates were silent, and did not challenge what Lieberman said.

To add to this vile perspective Prime Minister Netanyahu said on Tuesday during the voting, "Arab voters are streaming in huge quantities to the polling stations." His words too closely echoes the words of Haman when talking about the Jews, "There is a certain people." If the president of the United States said something even close to those words he would be impeached. In Israel such a person is likened to King David.

Israel is not the only country in the world, and particularly the Middle East, with a culture of intolerance towards minorities, that must be denounced and challenged. The litmus test of any democracy is how it treats its minorities. This value is stated clearly in the Israeli Declaration of Independence. The great irony, rather tragedy, is that the rebirth of Jewish state by a minority people of the world who for centuries were persecuted and maltreated are creating a country and culture where they are acting more and more like those who mistreated them throughout history.

No amount of Nobel prizes and the scores of other amazing achievements the Modern State of Israel has achieved, often under very difficult situations, can mask this stain. If Israel wishes to be "a light unto the nations" she must put the brakes on this growing intolerant tendency towards 20 percent of its own population. The tragic consequences if she does not will be hard to stop.

A variation of this post first appeared in the Jerusalem Post March 20, 2015.