Power corrupts...even in Israel

While in the intervening years there were some "Jewish" states, those states were essentially military in nature and rooted in other traditions, like the case of the Himiarites in Yemen or the Khazars in the Russian stepes or the Parthians of Adiabene.

The restoration of Jewish sovereignity in the land of Israel was and will remain for many centuries one of the high points in Jewish history, but it also opened a different problem: since Jews didn't exercise power for so long, the question became how do you exercise power in the XX (and XXI) century; what are the ethical standards for modern political power in the context of our tradition? The Six Day war of 1967 created additional problems when it put another people under Jewish occupation...how does Judaism deal with that moral dilemma?

Like so many other times in History, Jewish tradition is to let the forces of History and the arguments among Jews (Rabbis and lay) decide or not decide the issue. Arguments have been made on both sides - why the occupation is moral and why it is immoral, and all those arguments on both sides are based on Torah, of course. The free discussion of issues is what kept our tradition alive through 1800 years of exile, but it has been a while since we had to deal, as a people, with the ethical dilemmas of power.

Last week, on October 27th, the Knesset passed in Israel a law in committee- still to be presented up for vote - that would allow local absorption committees to reject prospective residents if they don't fit "the community's fundamental outlook", something that reminds me of so many places where Jews where not allowed in the 50s in this country as well as in my native Argentina.

Also last week, a group of extreme right militants marched through the streets of the Arab Israeli city of Umm-al-Fahm and I couldn't help but draw a parallel with the infamous Nazi march on Skookie all those years back.

Israeli society is struggling to define its relationship with power in a Jewish context, and Israeli Democracy is still a work in progress. It seems to me, however, that since Zionism is the most important collective enterprise of the Jewish People in the last two hundred years or more, and Israel is the most important result of Zionism, we as Jews have a stake on these discussions whether we live in Israel or not. We cannot vote unless we choose to move to Israel and become citizens, but we can help our Israeli brothers and sisters in their struggle with the concept of power.

A society that exercises unrestrained power and/or separates power from its responsible exercise is not a Jewish society - that is something we can all agree on. But of course the Devil is in the details of what are appropriate restrains in the exercise of power - in that we will probably disagree as much as Israelis do.

In this week when, as American citizens, we are exercising our civic voice by voting, it seemed appropriate to me to raise this issue of the Ethics of power and opening the question of what does that mean in a Jewish context. Paraphrasing Rabbi Tarfon, we don't have to answer the question - but we have a responsibility with future generations to struggle with the question honestly and openly...


Add Comment