The Jewish State and its Citizens: Questions and Answers with Moshe Feiglin
I don’t know if you remember, but about a year ago you met with a group of people who were working on Kibbutz Yahel. I was fascinated by you; particularly because I define myself as a leftist, a Meretz activist and former Shomer Hatzair member. What interested me most was your approach toward liberty and your solution for the Occupation. Since that talk that you gave, my worldview has destabilized. On my search for truth I have met some very interesting people, who continued to destabilize my entrenched world view. I would like to ask you a number of questions and hope you can answer them.
You have spoken extensively on the topic of privatization of many state-run systems, among them public transportation. Your logical claim is: “Why should I desecrate the Shabbat for those who wish to travel on Shabbat?” Your solution is to privatize public transportation and if a community wishes to fund its own buses on Shabbat, so be it. By the same logic, I would like to ask the following:
Why should the State define who is an acceptable life-partner? Why should it only be a man and a woman? Isn’t this the same reasoning as buses on Shabbat? The State should not decide what constitutes a couple, because if I wed a man under state auspices it would debase your faith system. So shouldn’t every person be able to wed whom and what he pleases in his own community?
Why does the State have to define itself as Jewish? Why shouldn’t every person define himself as he pleases, with the State’s role to protect its citizens from discrimination and terror?
You speak about ending the occupation of Judea and Samaria.
Does that include revoking the citizenship of the Arabs who live within the Green Line?
Why not revoke the citizenship of all those who do not define themselves culturally as Jews, such as atheists, seculars, etc.? That is just the logical conclusion of that approach. In other words, what separates the atheist or secular from those who define themselves as Palestinians and comprise a threat to the State of Israel as a Jewish state?
Where should the State be involved? In education? Health?
Do you think there is an ethical problem with ruling over the Arabs who call themselves Palestinians?
You often say that the problem that the Moslems have here is not the occupation, but the fact that there are Jews in Israel. In other words, the fact that we rule over the Arabs is the result of Arab aggression, such as the 1929 massacres – which predated the State of Israel. Do you not think that the present situation blurs the religious reasons for the conflict and it is now based on the insufferable reality that the Arab children grow up under limitations, witnessing their parents being arrested? In other words, although it may have started as a religious problem, it has metamorphosed into a problem of occupation?
There are people in Israel who define themselves as leftists, secular and Zionists, who do not see much importance in keeping the Land of Israel. Do you not think that there may be those Arabs who live here who may truly be interested in this solution?
Thank you very much,
P.S. I hope that your party will gain momentum, because currently you are the only one challenging the ‘solutions’ of the Left and also the Likud for the Middle East (Land for Peace). I see that slowly but surely, the discourse will change to the question of a sovereign Jewish State in the entire Land of Israel, or a state of all its citizens. I see this as good news. Little by little, we are discovering our true values.
23 Nissan, 5775/April 12, ‘15
Thank you for your thoughtful letter. I usually answer letters like yours in a few short sentences. But when I read your words, I realized that you have touched upon very basic questions, so I have made time to write some fundamental answers:
The main axis around which your questions revolve is the proper relationship between the state and the citizen in general – and between the Jewish State and its citizens, in particular.
People always ask me what the sources of my inspiration are. Religious people ask me who my rabbi is; seculars ask me who my philosopher is and many people have decided that I am an Israeli libertarian. The truth is, that just as I do not have one Rabbi (except for the rabbi with whom I consult on issues of Jewish law) there is also no one school of thought to which I belong.
Like the libertarians, I also think that the role of the State – except for security, justice and vital infrastructure – is mostly not to get in the way. But that does not mean that the state is a security company. A state is not a strictly technical organization. It represents both national and ethical essence. A nation – in other words, a group that has developed beyond the personal, family and tribal level and reached a national structure – carries with it certain values. The role of the nation state, in addition to providing individuals with security, is the protection, development and dissemination of those values.
The nation does not create values only as a by-product. On the contrary: the values build and sustain the nation. (This is my major argument with Netanyahu. He talks about existence and uses destiny as a political tool, as he demonstrated with the Nation Bill – while I remain steadfast in my approach: the necessity of a destiny, without which no long-term existence can be sustained).
The nation states are currently disintegrating. This is happening for one of two reasons. Either (mostly in the Mid-East and Africa) they are tribes that have never developed to the required level of national culture, so the structure of a modern nation state (which was generally forced upon them by the West after WWI) never fit them in the first place: Or they are nations with a very developed national culture and tradition (generally Europe) attacked by a deadly virus (which appears under many attractive names, such as multiculturalism) that pulverizes the cultural glue that fostered the development of the modern nation state.
Do you remember the mesmerizing footage of the Twin Towers imploding? That is what we are witnessing right now in Europe; a 2000 years old civilization collapsing into itself.
By the way, when the demonstrations began in Tahrir Square against Egypt’s President Mubarak, many gleefully greeted the ‘Arab Spring’ (the Middle-Eastern version of the ‘Prague Spring’). Similar to the ‘peace festivals’ of Oslo, this time we also see up-close how shortsighted the television analysts and pundits really are. It seems that the faith-based perspective affords us with better tools for understanding reality.
At the onset of the ‘Arab Spring’, I wrote that the masses in the Square did not have the cultural foundations for the construction of a higher national platform. I wrote that the revolution expresses liberation from the West’s arrangement – that had been forced upon them – into the chaos that will eventually end with a return to the natural Arab tribal structure.
What has happened since then in the Middle East completely fits this forecast. I am confident that my forecast for Europe will eventually take place, as well.
At first glance, it looks like the Arab/Moslem civilization is conquering its European/Christian counterpart. But in fact, both towers are collapsing simultaneously and I have no idea what reality will look like when the dust settles. What I do know is that Israel is perhaps the only nation that has the cultural potential to withstand this great upheaval. More than anything else, it is the demographic wonder that points to this. The Jewish Israeli woman – including the secular Tel Avivian – is the only woman in the world today that gives birth to more children than her mother. She is also among the only women in the world who give birth to enough children to sustain and develop civilization. In less than 100 years since Auschwitz, the Jewish Nation in Israel will be producing more 18 year olds than the German nation. (Dying Civilization, David Goldman).
A state is much more than a technical tool. Its role is to guard and nurture the values of the nation that established it. These values are what ultimately guard and preserve the existence of the state.
If this is the situation in any state, it is even more true of the Jewish State. The Jewish State, the state of the People of the Book and the children of the prophets – is a state that heralds a cultural, ethical and spiritual message – more than any other state. This is the conscious and sub-conscious expectation of humanity from us. It is the source of Israel’s power and wondrous survival. But it is also the basis for its terrible weakness. Without vision, Israel’s national collapse is steep and painful – more than that of any other nation.
And so, the perspective that sees the state as a security/insurance company is about as far from my understanding as one can get. I see the state – any state – as a vessel that holds values. I see the State of Israel as the vessel that is supposed to preserve, nurture and realize the values of the nation that has touched eternity. I even see another dimension in the State of Israel: the dimension of holiness. That is why I say the Hallel prayer of thanksgiving (with a broken heart) on Israel’s Independence Day.
I live very well with this dialectic of a holy state on the one hand and the need to treat it with a healthy irreverence, on the other. Really, there is no contradiction. On the contrary, the dialectic reflects the correct approach to its importance and value. But values must have a hierarchy. G-d’s first commandment to the Children of Israel is: ‘I Am G-d’. Not ‘I am the State.’ There are some religious circles that have forgotten this. Without noticing, they have exchanged G-d for the sanctity of the state, even positing that the State of Israel cannot err. According to their reasoning, every dictate of the State must be fulfilled – even if it is foolish. Some secular politicians and religious circles have turned the state into a pagan deity. They have made it an end and not a means. They have pulled the train that was supposed to have towed all of the lofty ideals – off track. As holy as it may be, the train has begun to flatten and destroy everything near it.
Now that my viewpoint on the State is clearer, I will try to answer your specific questions:
As I see it, it is not the State’s role to wed couples or divorce them. That role should be saved for the community. We invite many guests to our weddings – not just to increase the joy, but mainly to receive the community’s endorsement for the new status of the newly-formed family. From the State, we get a piece of paper; that is all. People wed and divorced before the establishment of the State and it would be good if the State would not be involved in this area of our lives. If there would be a community that attaches the same values to both homosexual and heterosexual unions, so be it. But for most of humanity, and certainly the majority of the Jewish Nation, homosexual unions do not have the same status as the values of the classic family. I am not getting into questions like the right of the child to have both a father and mother as opposed to the right of the adults to experience happiness, nor the debate over the essence of love and the quality of the investment in raising children. I am assuming that homosexual couples invest all their energies and love in their children on the same level that normative couples do. I believe that technical rights (such as tax points, etc.) should not be denied to children growing up with such a couple. But from an ethical standpoint, in Jewish culture a homosexual couple is not considered a family. Thus, the attempt to coerce this moral standpoint upon society completely contradicts the entire reason and foundation for the existence of the State of Israel, as I have explained until now.
Thus, when MK Adi Kol (Yesh Atid) proposed a bill that aimed not only to rectify a technical injustice with the tax points (which I would have supported) but to draw moral equivalence between a homosexual couple and the normative family – in other words, when an MK attempted to legislate a fundamental change in the values of the Nation – I opposed it (against the coalition, as well).
This is a simple example of the minority forcing its values on the large majority. I completely oppose religious coercion (and religious legislation) but by the same measure, I also oppose secular coercion. The liberty that you mentioned – a Jewish value of the first degree – is the only foundation upon which Jewish culture can develop. The State of Israel must carefully protect it.
By the way, the Jewish Home party voted in favor of the bill. Hmmm…
About the Arabs of Judea and Samaria:
I am not referring to a separate autonomy. Ramallah has to turn into Ramle (in the beginning) and Gaza – to Jaffa. Both Ramle and Jaffa have Arab majorities, but they are under full Israeli sovereignty, with an Israeli flag flying from every school building.
I am not talking about nullifying the citizenship of the Arabs of Israel. But they must recognize that Israel is the Jewish State and be loyal to it as such. I once asked MK Hammad Amar (a Druze), “How do you live with the fact that a relative of mine can come to Israel and receive Israeli citizenship whenever he pleases, while your relatives may not do so.?” He answered that he has no problem with that situation. He recognizes the fact that he lives in a Jewish State. Like the Druze community, the rest of the non-Jews who wish to live in Israel will have to internalize that fact.
We recently celebrated the Seder Night. We sat around the table with the entire family. I know the wise son, the evil son, the simple son and the son who doesn’t even know how to ask a question. I do not know of a “Palestinian” son. We have all sorts of neighbors, with whom we wish to live in mutual respect and peace. But they are not part of the Jewish “salad”. Our atheist, secular and ‘wicked sons’ all play an important role in challenging our public discourse and developing the Jewish-Israeli culture. None of us has all the pieces of the huge, complex puzzle. Each of the sons has some of the pieces in his pocket. We need them all in order to build the entire picture.
2. According to Maimonides, the king is responsible for his nation’s security and justice apparatus. The state must provide security and national infrastructure. Above and beyond that, the State’s main goal is not to get in the way.
The process of transformation from slavery to the State to liberty for the citizen must be gradual and parallel. Construction of the alternative mechanisms must be simultaneous, affording freedom of choice. This is true for education, health and welfare.
Responsibility must be restored to the citizen; first and foremost, responsibility for the education of one’s children. In my opinion, there is room for an education tax, as education is a primary, undisputed national interest. The tax, however, must return almost intact to the public (today, a large percentage is swallowed up by the apparatus, itself) in the form of education vouchers, to be redeemed by parents at the school of their choice. Welfare must be transferred to the authority of the community. National Insurance should insure the nation. Today, most of the National Insurance funds are invested in the Arab public, who are (an estranged ) minority of the population and pay just a few percentage points of their share into the National Insurance fund.
The situation in the health arena is catastrophic. Centralized government has created a swamp of corruption, which for the past twenty years, has transferred a portion of the money allocated to the government-run hospitals into the pockets of the well-connected. The reform and competition in the cell-phone field has transformed the telephone owner from a hostage into a king. The same should be done for the ill: true competition in health services. The State must create a safety net – and like mandatory car insurance, every citizen should insure himself with basic health insurance so as not to become a burden on the public.
3. Yes, there is an ethical problem with ruling over the “Palestinians”. It is not ethical to rule in somebody else’s Land. But in truth, there is no such thing as a “Palestinian” nation and the Land of Israel was never the land of this non-nation.
4. Because we refused to declare Israeli sovereignty in Israel’s heartland immediately after it was liberated, and because we recognized the existence of the invented nation, a second and third generation have been born into the ‘occupation’ that we created with our very own hands. Thus, the hatred of the occupied toward his occupier was added to the religious and national hatred that you described. Israel must end the occupation and reflect absolute certainty and self confidence about our connection to our Land – and the coming generations will be able to get on with their lives.
5. Like any society, Arab society also includes many fine people. Their human rights and honor must be safeguarded. But from a national standpoint, they never wanted the partition option and a ‘Palestinian State’ is their nightmare. The reason for that is simple: Their national self-determination is not a Palestinian state, but rather, the destruction of the Zionist state. They never demanded a state in Judea, Samaria and Gaza for themselves when those areas were under Arab occupation – Egyptian and Jordanian (as a result of the Arab invasion on the eve of the 1948 War of Independence).
They never accepted the generous proposals of Israel’s leaders (Peres, Barak and Olmert) and always started a war when the powers that be attempted to force them to finally establish their own state. They even rejected the proposal of the Egyptian president to receive land in Sinai upon which to establish a state.
“Palestinian” “nationalism” exists strictly in the areas held by the Zionist (They would do fine with the Jews, but that is the topic of a different article.) At the second that the State of Israel would G-d forbid disappear from the map, the “Palestinian” entity would immediately disappear as well – and there is not one Arab to whom I said that who did not agree with me.