Article By Ehud Tokatly

[Comments are welcome at our Dialogue Corner]

A Jewish Democratic State?

An open letter to President Katsav

Dear Mr. President,

In your speech of 10th August 2005, you said: "On behalf of the State of Israel, I ask you, the settlers, to forgive the demand to leave after decades of building and making sacrifices". Your official apology has confused many of your citizens. If you think that the disengagement is a wrong for which the State should apologise, why did you let it happen? How do you expect people to feel if, for example, a criminal would tell them: "Please forgive me. Tomorrow I am going to rape your wife. I understand how you feel, but I am your brother and your forgiveness is very important to me"... Would you accept the apology of this sophisticated rapist and open your door when he comes to do his premeditated crime?

Indeed, Mr. President, you should apologise to your citizens. You could have done much more to prevent the terrible rift in Israeli society. You should apologise for your failure to act when your citizens asked you to. I know that your role is more ceremonial than practical, but you could have tried to persuade Mr. Sharon to allow the public to vote on his controversial plan. The settlers gallantly declared that they would accept a democratic majority vote to uproot them. The rift could have been prevented. I personally saw at least two people standing in front of your official residence, pleading with you to call for a national referendum or early elections. But you ignored your citizens. Your position is supposed to be a unifying symbol for all your citizens, but you have turned your back on a large sector of Israelis.

It seems that neither Mr. Sharon nor you, Mr. President, realise the severity of the current crisis. If you take a quick look out of your window, you will see the ocean of orange ribbons in the streets. It seems that the entire Israeli leadership fails to grasp the true meaning of these ribbons. They do not express only a political position on the specific question of the disengagement plan. They express much more than that.

The humble orange ribbons convey a deep protest against the brutal, undemocratic conduct and the anti-Zionist spirit of Israel's current rulers. They express a deep sense of betrayal and alienation. Many of the people who wave the orange ribbons feel unwanted and rejected in today's Israel. The real disengagement is only starting.

Many voices have described this dangerous process as a deep ideological crisis that threatens to drive the religious Zionists away from their patriotic dedication to the State of Israel. Yet, only few realise that the real threat is hovering over the heads of the less traditional Israeli Jews.

Many religious and nationalist Jews are already calling to "disengage" from the secular State of Israel. Many of them cannot see the current politicians who stole their votes as the genuine leaders of "the beginning of our redemption". Many patriotic Israelis feel oppressed by a small group of corrupt politicians, journalists, jurists and judges that represent alien values and despise the people whom they are supposed to serve and represent. Many carry the orange ribbons to express their loss of trust in Israel's failed democracy.

If these devoted patriots, both Orthodox and non-religious Jews, drift away from the ruling establishment, the people who wave blue ribbons would have to continue on their own. Would they be able to run this country without the patriotic, devoted people that they call with contempt "right-wing fanatics"?

Moreover, the "oranges" have an alternative. Their identity and culture are only partly dependent on the State of Israel and the Zionist ideals. They consider themselves primarily as Jews. If the State of Israel fails to serve the just cause of the Jewish Nation, they can carry on living as Jews and struggling for the future of the Jewish people.

But can the "blues" preserve their identity without the "oranges"? Since secular Zionism succeeded in changing their identity from "Jews" to "Israelis", what would they do if they succeed in weakening the State of Israel? Their very identity as "the people of the land" depends on the existence of a strong Israel. Have they embarked on a path of collective suicide?

The Zionist movement has succeeded in building a deep sense of unity between all Israeli Jews. If the "blues" and "oranges" disengage, God forbid, the "oranges" will remain Jewish. No one in his right mind has ever doubted the Jewishness of observant and traditional Jews. Yet, some other Israelis may find it difficult to prove their Jewishness if they continue to reject the "oranges". This may soon turn the "blue Israelis" into mere colonialists who have no moral, historical or even legal claim to this land.

From the Balfour Declaration to the 1947 UN Partition Plan, International Law has given the Jewish People the legal basis for the State of Israel. By disengaging from the religious and traditional Jews, the secular Zionists may soon find themselves in a similar position to other European invaders who had no moral right to colonise the lands of other nations.

Mr. President, I hope that you understand that the State of Israel needs the "oranges" for its very survival. Are you going to try to save the only Jewish democracy from the government that is leading it to suicide?

Ehud Tokatly, 18/August/2005

The Office of the President Responds

In reply to your letter above my response is as follows:
1. The issue of the disengagement plan is under a severe political dispute and the President has not expressed his position on this subject and is not a party to the various steps in this regard.
2. The President of the State announced on 11th October 2004 that he supports a national referendum.
3. On 3rd November 2004, the Knesset decided to support the disengagement plan with a majority of 67 against 45.
4. The Prime Minister opposed the referendum on the disengagement plan, as did most of the Knesset factions. The decision to conduct a referendum on the disengagement plan is in the hands of the Knesset.
5. On 28th March 2005, the Knesset voted against the Referendum Bill with a majority of 72 against 39.
6. The Knesset is the sovereign that has the authority to decide and it is within its power to change the decision or to reject it.
7. The democratic nature of the government's conduct is a matter for debate in the Knesset, in the Judiciary and in the media.
8. The President of the State empathises with the pain of the settlers who settled in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, following their conscience and in accordance with the decisions of the governments of Israel. They have risked their lives for the ideal and the faith and have known tragedy and bereavement.
The ideals for which the settlers are struggling continue to be vital for the nation and the State.
Moshe Goral
The Director General

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