From Gush Shalom
"AS LONG as in the heart, within, a Jewish soul is yearning..." thus starts the official translation of Israel's national anthem.
Actually, the Hebrew original says "the soul of a Jew," but the translator probably got it right. It's the Jewish Soul that was meant.
But is there a Jewish Soul? Is it different from the souls of other people? And if so, what is the difference?
FRANKLY, I don't know what a soul is. But let's assume that there is such a thing as a collective psychology, the general spirit of all the men and women who make up this collective -- each of whom has a psychology of his/her own. What is it that differentiates it from that of other peoples?
Looking at the present day Israeli people, a stranger may well be perplexed. First of all, more than a fifth of Israelis are not Jewish at all, but belong to the Palestinian people, who presumably have a different "soul." When people speak about Israelis, they generally really mean "Jewish Israelis."
This, by the way, should have convinced Israelis long ago to change the national anthem and other symbols of statehood, to give the minority a sense of belonging. The Canadians did so. When they realized that the citizens of French descent were liable to secede and found a nation of their own, they changed their anthem and flag, so as to give the French minority a sense of belonging. As far as I can judge from afar, the operation was successful. But there is little chance of this happening here.
EVEN WHEN speaking about Israeli Jews only, our national psychology (or "soul") is rather perplexing. It contains elements that are mutually exclusive, profound inbuilt contradictions.
On the one hand, most (Jewish) Israelis are immensely proud of the power of the state they have "built out of nothing." 150 years ago, there were hardly any Jews in the land of Palestine, and these were completely powerless. Today, Israel is the most powerful state in the region, a nuclear power excelling in many fields of human endeavor -- military, technological, economic, cultural etc.
Yet listening to many Israeli outpourings, one might come to the conclusion that we may be wiped from the map at any moment. The world is full of people whose sole aim in life is to destroy us. Therefore we must be ready at any moment to defend our very existence.
How do these two contradictory attitudes go together? No problem. They do very well.
FIRST, THERE is the ancient belief that God chose us from all the peoples.
Why did God do that?
God knows. He does not have to explain.