Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The New Nationalism

The New Nationalism - How Ben Gurion's vision has diminished in our day.

With the establishment of the "Nation State" law, Israel has enshrined in law a tremendously honest and transparent truth: Israel is created first, foremost and forever as a state for Jewish people.  The Muslim Public Affairs Council declared the law "Jim Crow," and has called upon America to "Condemn Israel's undemocratic and unjust actions towards Palestine."  55 members of the Israeli Knesset (including the 13 from the Joint Arab List) opposed the measure. 2 senior Druze army officers and one Arab member of Knesset have resigned in protest.

The essence of the protest is this.  The pronouncement of the State of Israel, still found on the Knesset website, declares equality and freedom of religion for all Israel's citizens.  Ever since her founding, Arabic and Hebrew have been legally equal languages in government and education. Israel functioned under an understanding of democratic ideals.  The new basic law, carrying the weight of a constitutional amendment, removes the commitment to the equality of all her citizens.  Jews, like Hebrew, are the prioritized citizen of the state.  While there is no practical law or policy which has changed, and so the whole thing is posturing, it is also more than symbolic.  As a basic law, courts will bear it in mind in future rulings.

"So what?" you may ask.  Immigration, under the Law of Return, was always the privileged realm of Jews from anywhere.  And the Jewish settlement of the Land (regardless of where) has been the ethos of the State from the beginning.  Build new towns, and make the desert bloom.  Other immigration is possible, but not easy.  What is so different now?  The problem lies at the center of nationalism, and the nature of religion.

The State of Israel was created so that Jews would have a state "like all the other nations." Theodore Herzl famously pursued precisely that idea.  But one must know that "Jews" are defined by culture in that national identity, not by religion.  A communist atheist Jew has every right to claim the national identity of Jew as any profoundly religious Jewish person might.  Therefore it is the cultures of Jews throughout the world who make up the nationality in question.  Just as religion in Germany is not shared by all Germans, Judaism as a religion is not shared by all Jews.  So the State of Israel was not created for Religious triumphalism.

But the State of Israel did not evolve organically in the Land. It was created, mostly by waves of Jewish immigration, amidst a native population.  So the high ideals of that State under Ben Gurion were peace, civil rights, equality, religious freedom, and a democratic government of its citizens.  The Jewishness of the state was a commitment to the cultural identity and protection of the Jewish People in its ancestral home, but Ben Gurion was hardly a religious person and did not define Jewish in religious terms.  Herzl had insisted that the native population's rights would not be diminished by the establishment of a Jewish State, as did the Balfour Declaration of the British Mandate in Palestine between the wars.  And Ben Gurion enshrined that in the Declaration of Independance.  Those ideals have now been - not so quietly - removed by the Nation State Law under PM Netanyahu's leadership.

Does that mean that Israel will become a full blown "illiberal democracy" institutionalizing inequity and persecuting its minorities?  To be fair, there is some of that already.  Reform and Conservative Judaism are not equal or free in the State of Israel, and two weeks ago a Conservative rabbi was arrested for performing a wedding that the Orthodox beit din in Haifa disapproved of.  And much of the Palestinian narrative is based in systemic disparities between services, opportunities and protections for the Jewish Israelis on the one side and for Arab Israeli citizens on the other side - not to mention the curtailing of such liberties under the Israeli Military, Palestinian Authority and Gaza structures that are in play today.  The truth is that Israel is a democracy where various minorities are not treated equally and do not enjoy full freedoms.  The Nation State Law enshrines the positive value of Israel as a haven and incubator for the Jewish people, with the undeniable implication that anyone "outside" of that group is at a disadvantage or is vulnerable.

But to be even more fair, Israel is a place of profound freedoms.  Israel's freedom of speech and freedom of the press are among the most vigorous in the world.  Israel's participation in its elections and democratic process is also among the strongest in the world.  The civil rights of non-Jews in Israel are far better than the civil rights of many muslims and christians throughout the Middle East.  Equality and democracy are not exactly normal in that region of the world, and Israel - the best of them all in the neighborhood - is uniquely criticized for things like this.  Must Israel be fully liberal to be good?

In Herzl's day, nation states were the norm. Austria for Austrians. Russia for Russians.  Israel for Jews.  It's not a very subtle way of seeing the world.  Unfortunately, it doesn't work. WWI, WWII and countless other conflicts have been pursued as nationalist conflicts.  And with the shrinking of the world and the movement of populations, the diversity of human civilization is not so neat and tidy anyways. France, Belgium, Germany, Hungary and others are all engaged in internal debates about national identity and the "other."  And Israel has proven incapable of providing religious equality for its own Jews. And the security concerns and biases that are ingrained within the Israeli/Palestinian conflict prevent democratic idealism in the daily administration of government and the military control of territory at this time.  One might lament that, but there it is.

In the current situation, one must choose.  Nationalist moves within a democracy that becomes less a land of equality, or a commitment to full equality while asserting the Jewish ethos, identity and mandate of the state?  Herzl or Ben Gurion?

Unfortunately, a state that discriminates already between different kinds of Jews can not be trusted to be the protector and advocate of a benevolent Judaism.  Israel needs to separate "church and state," and protect all civil liberties for all its citizens.  It must return to Hertzl's understanding that it is the Jewish people's cultures and hopes that are the ethos of the nation state, not its religion, and Ben Gurion's understanding that a Jewish State does not exclude living with others in dignity, equality and peace.

Yes, Israel is still good. No, Israel is not perfect.  Yes, Israel is better than any other country in the region. No, Israel is not a place of unlimited equality and Justice - for Palestinians or for all Jews.

The Law is a step forward in clarifying the purpose of the existence of Israel, but it is a step backwards in diminishing the ideals of equality and freedom for all.  We now know what it is.  But how will it be used?

What will now change?

Friday, July 13, 2018

NYC Identification Cards - "I am Spartacus!"

Get your NYC ID Card today!  If you are a resident of NYC, it is free and easy, and important.  Why?  Read on. And apply here.

The recent arrest of ConcepciĆ³n and Margarito Silva's at Fort Drum should shock us all, and question the current ICE practices of the Trump Administration.  

What did they do? The came to Fort Drum to celebrate July 4th with their son-in-law, an active duty Marine, and their pregnant daughter. They presented NYC government issued I.D. cards for entry.  Fr. Drum asked for another form of I.D., as the NYC I.D. card is often used by undocumented aliens, recent prison parolees, and others who have difficulty finding an honest government i.d. document.  According to an Army spokesperson, the NYCID card does not have a scannable barcode that provides the guard with a photo to check against the person holding the card.

There is no question that the i.d. was a lawful, accurate identification document. But for some reason, Fr. Drum went further. So they showed their Mexican Passports, which did not have a legal entry stamp or visa to the U.S. But the Passports would have verified the identity found on the ID card, which the spokesman says was the concern.  Instead, ICE was called, the couple was arrested, and they remain imprisoned in Brooklyn awaiting a hearing and probably deportation.  Their U.S. citizen daughter and marine son-in-law will have to raise their baby without hardworking grandparents who have been peacefully working in this country for 20 years, because they were stupid enough to think that celebrating America's Independence day at a military base with their family was a good thing to do.

This seems to be a U.S. Army mandate now, as it is not the first time an undocumented immigrant has been taken into custody after presenting their IDNYC card. New York resident Pablo Villavicencio was detained while delivering a pizza to the Hamilton army base in New York City last month, after presenting his identification card at the gate.

Is this what we have come to? Hard working, honest people working 7 days a week to raise a family are being challenged without probable cause because they are using a completely legal and accurate NYCID card.

 If we see an injustice that is trying to cull the herd, to pull individuals out of the crowd, we should stand up and hide the innocent in the wave of the majority.  Think of the famous scene, "I am Spartacus!"  To that end, I encourage everyone who is a resident of NYC to sign up for the NYCID card, and to use it everywhere that government I.D. is required.

In this way we can normalize the document's use, so that people acting in the honest light of day do not need to suffer in this way.  Let the people live and work.

In the meantime, yes - I do believe in legal immigration, and I do not want people, including children, crossing the river on our southern border.  The death of children in the water and the dessert has not been sufficiently covered in the news. We should not have a system that encourages and rewards people to come across in that way.  Genuine asylum seekers should be welcomed at the ports of entry of the U.S. and a serious system of justice must be afforded them.  And I do believe in a much larger immigration system than we currently have, including a path to citizenship for those like the Silva family.  I do not believe in open immigration, and I do believe in strong borders. 

The recipe is clear. Broader acceptance of legal immigrants, strong enforcement of our borders, a path to citizenship for those who are here, and a process of dignity justice and mercy for those who seek asylum.

There must be an open door of mercy, and a reasonable process of justice.