There is not a single political leader in Israel who will not uphold the country's identity as the Jewish state. But what does that identity mean? Does the fact that Israel is the Jewish state mean that it has a unique mission in the world that distinguishes it from every other state?
The overwhelming majority of Israelis would say that the fact that Israel is the Jewish state means that Israel is a unique state and that it has a unique mission in the world. Religious Israelis believe that the establishment of the State of Israel was the beginning of the period of divine redemption and that the mission of the Jews in the redemptive age is to defend the State of Israel and to work to ensure that the People of Israel in the Land of Israel act as a light unto the nations of the world. Non-religious Israelis will generally say that the mission of Israel is to be a homeland for all the Jews. It is a physical refuge for those in need and – at a minimum – an anchor and guarantor of Jewish identity and continuity for Jews who live in free societies outside of Israel.
In both cases, national memory – from Abraham to the Exodus from Egypt, the establishment of the ancient Jewish commonwealths in the Land of Israel, the Roman exile, the expulsions from England and Spain, the religious persecutions in various exile communities in Europe and Asia, the messianic movement of Shabbtai Zvi in the 17th century, through the debated legacy of the Emancipation in Western and Central Europe, the Holocaust and the establishment of the modern State of Israel – plays a central role in both group's basic understanding of Israel's role in the world today.
THERE IS a third group of Israelis, that finds its home on the far left, that includes leaders like Uri Avineri and Yossi Beilin for whom the Emancipation which granted citizenhip to Jews in Europe but forced them to assimilate into the socieities in which they lived, left a wholly positive legacy. For these people, Israel has no unique role in the world. Rather, it is simply an outpost of Western civilization in the Middle East. As a Western encroachment on Arab civilization, these deracinated Jewish ideologues believe that Israel's role is to ask for forgiveness from the Arabs for our "crime" of moving in on "their" territory. Since Israel has no particular role to fulfill in the world as the Jewish state, for these men and their followers, the national memory of the Jewish people is the primary hindrance, rather than the anchor of national progress and endeavor.
Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, where this article first appeared.
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