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What makes Israel worth our blood and tears?

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It was May 7, 2004 when Salim Joubran solidified his position on Israel's Supreme Court. The day that he became the first permanent member of the Court from the Israeli Arab community should have also been the day Israel's doubters realized that Israel was in fact, a democracy like none else in its region.

Possibly in an act of defiance - and the New York Times recently carried the story - Justice Joubran did not chant the Israeli national anthem; presumably because the words "Nefesh Yehudi homiyah," which means, "A Jewish soul still yearns," do not apply to him.

The Hatikvah was not new to him when he became a lawyer, nor when he became a Supreme Court judge. It may indeed be an uncomfortable concept to recite, let alone believe if one is not Jewish, and it highlights the delicate tightrope Israel walks in its pursuit of peace and prosperity while safeguarding its democratic statehood.

For Jews, living in Israel ironically can remove Jewish identity from everyday life. Unlike most places, where for many, Jewish identity is worn on our sleeves so to speak; on our heads actually for some, but also with the often uncomfortable vacation requests at work and exclusion from eating at non-kosher restaurants, Israeli Jews to do have to face these issues. In Israel, Jewish holidays are the State holidays and no one feels out of place donning a skullcap, and non kosher is the exception, not the rule.

With Judaism all around, maybe Israel should consider removing the overtly Jewish words or other ubiquitous Jewish symbolism from everyday life to accommodate those not of one of the 12 Tribes.

There is growing talk among secular Israelis, Jewish ones mostly, to eliminate the overt Jewishness from the State itself. The difficulties between the ultra orthodox (Hareidim) and the less observant have been growing to the point where it has made the front pages of some of the world's most antagonistic-to-Israel media venues. These differences only enhance the calls by the secular Israelis, as they express the belligerence of the ultra religious communities, and their  negative views on  Zionism, secularism and modernity, and their unyielding intransigence when it comes to economic or social contributions beyond their own communities.

In the efforts to highlight the extremist nature of Israel, leftist media print their political opposition on  such issues as Judean and Samarian expansion and retaining defensible borders, and they take the truly offensive nature of the assaults on women and secular Jews by these pockets of Hareidim and promote them as the routine occurrences in the Jewish state.

This serves Israel's detractors as it equates the Jewish state with the radicalized Islamic countries that purport to see her smothered. The fact is that when relatively small extremist activity perpetuated by Jews in Israel occurs it is often highlighted and met with more international disdain than the malignant fanaticism that everyday Arab men, women and children face regularly in many of the countries that challenge Israel's existence. Actions of and in those nations often get a free pass from criticism, as Israel is held to a different standard. Yet, I digress into a whole other topic altogether.

Some argue that Jewish identity is so prevalent in Israel through its population and character that Jewish symbolism built into its government and national themes, like the Hatikvah are just not needed.

This debate rocks between Israel's left and right.  Some on the right want to make it harder for non Jews and non-believing Jews to participate, and some on the left urge making Israel more inclusive; essentially, making it nothing more than the United States on the Mediterranean.

Israel's Declaration of Independence ensures "complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex." The irony, however, is that this issue above was sparked over an Arab judge from Haifa who has a permanent seat on The Jewish State's highest court.

Israel's laws ensure that all religions and races can emerge through its ranks to sit or serve in any position; and Judge Joubran is one of the most visible and powerful examples. This controversy for the large part was raised by others, while the judge, for his part, actually just stood quietly when the Hatikvah was chanted.

These are difficult considerations and the resulting answers are not clear, nor do they follow conventional logic. To be a true democracy, Israel would needs to cede its Jewish identity, but to do so, would make it impossible for Israel to remain a Jewish homeland, safe from future persecution and expulsion. As history tends to keep repeating, majority populations will at some point turn on its Jewish citizens.

The Jewish people are unique in that they are both a religion and nationality.  They have been treated as pariahs throughout history and all over the world. They have been jailed, tortured, dispersed to all corners of the earth, forced to renounce their beliefs or just killed for being Jews. Yet, they endured as a people and kept the tenets of their faith.  Jews have outlived their ancient enemies, and are poised to face their new ones, whoever they are.  A Jewish nation in its ancient homeland is the hope to stop Jewish persecution from recurring.

Born from the Levant where the G-d to whom Abram had prayed offered to make him a great nation if he left his home and family (Gen 12:1).  The Nation of Israel, the Jewish religion and this specific land are unequivocally tied to one another, making the yearning for Israel not just a slogan, but a compulsion as strong as the belief in G-d itself. It is the main reason why when Theodore Herzl was searching for a land the Jews could emigrate to, escaping the Russian pogroms in 1905, the Seventh Zionist Congress rejected the Uganda Proposal, believing that only in the physical land of Israel could Jews truly be free.

Israel is therefore an anomaly and needs to be treated as one. There is no other country to compare it because it is not merely about acreage and capricious borders, but it is an ancient calling said to be imparted by the G-d of the oldest monotheistic religion in the world.

Fanatical Hareidim aside, for secular Jews to feel that the religious nature of the country is too cumbersome, for non Jews to feel that the Hatikvah is too Jewish, or for both to want to make Israel a secular sanctuary, the only answer has to be no.

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Juda Engelmayer is the president of HeraldPR and Emerald Digital, and now a managing partner with Converge Public Strategies. His expertise are in the Corporate communications/Public Affairs/Crisis Communications areas of Public Relations, and (more...)

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