‘Jewish and democratic’

‘Jewish and democratic’

Israel has proved itself a diverse and flourishing Jewish democracy, which makes it doubly disturbing when some of its loudest voices are of those who challenge its Jewish and democratic ideals.

Case in point: Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of the Shas party and the former chief Sephardi rabbi of Israel, who added to his growing list of disturbing comments by suggesting that gentiles exist to serve Jews. “Goyim were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world, only to serve the People of Israel,” he said in very public comments heard on Israel’s Channel 10.

Yosef’s remarks, based on the narrowest and meanest interpretations of chosenness, rightly outraged anyone who understands the Torah’s essential tenet that we are all, Jew and gentile, created in the image of God.

Meanwhile, a Kadima Party lawmaker has proposed legislation that would ban Arabs from eastern Jerusalem from serving as tour guides in the city. According to Gideon Ezra’s bill, “these residents often present anti-Israeli positions to groups of tourists that they guide.” His bill would mandate that tour guides be Israeli citizens and have “institutional loyalty to the State of Israel.”

Even if there are legitimate concerns about some guides, Israel’s Tourism Ministry could surely keep their tours from becoming platforms for political propaganda without an intrusive citizenship test.

These two troubling incidents come at a time when Israel is understandably feeling besieged by those who challenge its legitimacy. The new pledge of allegiance, which adds “Jewish and democratic state,” grew out of this context. While innocuous on its surface, a number of political scientists and democracy advocates in Israel worry about the ambiguity of the word “Jewish” and suggest that the oath is meant to cast a shadow on Israel’s Arab citizens.

Israel’s democratically elected government is entitled to its own decisions. But its leaders might well heed the concerns of its own citizens, many of whom insist that the best way to ensure Israel’s Jewish and democratic character is to assert it in deed, not word.

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