Hebrew had been a dead language for many generations, more or less like Latin, when it was still used in the Catholic church. Then, suddenly, concurrent with the emergence of Zionism (but independently) it sprang back to life. This never happened to any other language.
Theodor Herzl laughed at the idea that Jews in Palestine would speak Hebrew. He wanted us to speak German. "Are they going to ask for a railway ticket in Hebrew?" he scoffed.
Well, we now buy airline tickets in Hebrew. We read the Bible in its Hebrew original and enjoy it tremendously. As Abba Eban once said, if King David were to come to life in Jerusalem today, he could understand the language spoken in the street. Though with some difficulty, because our language gets corrupted, like most other languages.
Anyhow, the position of Hebrew is secure. Babies and Nobel Prize laureates speak it.
The fate of the other miracle is far less assured.
THE FUTURE -- indeed, the present -- of Israeli democracy is shrouded in doubt.
It is a miracle, because it did not grow slowly over generations, like Anglo-Saxon democracy. There was no democracy in the Jewish shtetl. Neither is there anything like it in Jewish religious tradition. But the Zionist Founding Fathers, mostly West and Central European Jews, aspired to the highest social ideals of their time.
I have always warned that our democracy has very shallow and tender roots, and needs our constant care. Where did the Jews who founded Israel, and who came here thereafter, grow up? Under the dictatorship of the British High Commissioner, the Russian Czar, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, the king of Morocco, Pilsudsky's Poland and similar regimes. Those of us who came from democratic countries like Weimar Germany or the US were a tiny minority.
Yet the founders of Israel succeeded in establishing a vibrant democracy that -- at least until 1967 -- was in no way inferior, and in some ways superior, to the British or American models. We were proud of it, and the world admired it. The appellation "the Only Democracy in the Middle East" was not a hollow propaganda slogan.
Some claim that with the occupation of the Palestinian territories, which have lived since 1967 under a harsh military regime without the slightest trace of democracy and human rights, this situation already came to an end. Whatever one thinks about that, in fact Israel in its pre-1967 borders maintained a reasonable record until recently. For the ordinary citizen, democracy was still a fact of life. Even Arab citizens enjoyed democratic rights far superior to anything in the Arab world.
This week, all this was put in doubt. Some say that this doubt has now been dispersed, and that a stark reality is being exposed.
CHARLES BOYCOTT, the agent of a British landowner in Ireland, could never have imagined that he would play a role in a country called Israel 130 years after his name had become a world-wide symbol.
Captain Boycott evicted Irish tenants, who defaulted on their rent because of desperate economic straits. The Irish reacted with a new weapon: no one would speak with him, work for him, buy from him. His name became synonymous with this kind of non-violent action.
The method itself was born even earlier. The list is long. Among others: in 1830 the "negroes" in the US declared a "boycott" of slave-produced products. The later Civil Rights movement started with a boycott of the Montgomery bus company that seated blacks and whites separately. During the American Revolution, the insurgents declared a boycott on British goods. So did Mahatma Gandhi in India.
American Jews boycotted the cars of the infamous anti-Semite Henry Ford. Jews in many countries took part in a boycott of German goods immediately after the Nazis came to power in 1933.
The Chinese boycotted Japan after the invasion of their country. The US boycotted the Olympic Games in Moscow. People of conscience all over the world boycotted the products and the athletes of Apartheid South Africa and helped to bring it to its knees.
All these campaigns used a basic democratic right: every person is entitled to refuse to buy from people he detests. Everyone can refuse to support with his money causes which contradict his innermost moral convictions.
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