Israel at 70 - AJC eBook - Page 13

Moreover, there is the tricky and underappreciated issue of the potential clash between the messy realities of statehood and, in this case, the ideals and faith of a people. It is one thing for a people to live their religion as a minority; it is quite another to exercise sovereignty as the majority population while trying to adhere to one’s ethical standards. Inevitably, tension will arise between a people’s spiritual or moral self-definition and the exigencies of statecraft, between the highest concepts of human nature and the daily realities of individuals in decision-making positions wielding power and balancing a variety of competing interests. Even so, shall we raise the bar so high as to ensure that Israel — forced to function in the often gritty, morally ambiguous world of international relations and politics, especially as a small, still endangered state — will always fall short? Yet, the notion that Israel would ever become ethically indistinguishable from any other country, reflexively seeking cover behind the convenient justification of realpolitik to explain its behavior, is equally unacceptable. Israelis, with only seven decades of statehood under their belts, are among the newer practitioners of statecraft. With all its remarkable success, consider the daunting political, social, and economic challenges in the United States 70 or even 170 years after independence, or, for that matter, the challenges it faces today, including stubborn social and economic inequalities and stark, indeed widening, political divisions. And let’s not forget that the United States, unlike Israel, is a vast country blessed with abundant natural resources, oceans on two-and-a half sides, a gentle neighbor to the north, and a weaker neighbor to the south. Like any vibrant democracy, America is a permanent work in progress. The same holds true for Israel. Admiring Israel as I do, though, doesn’t mean overlooking its shortcomings, including the excessive and unholy intrusion of religion into politics, the inexcusable marginalization of non-Orthodox Jewish religious streams, the dangers posed by political and religious zealots, and 7