Israel’s entrant in last week’s Eurovision 2016 song contest, the openly homosexual Hovi Star (Chovav Skoltch), and our local TV host for the event, drag queen Talula Bonet (Tal Kallai), made many Israelis proud.
In whichever way one justifies the phenomenon of LGBTQ (lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders and queers), there can be little doubt that the biblical law Israel is supposed to uphold explicitly forbids same-gender sexual activity (Leviticus 18: 22, 20:13). Lest I be misunderstood, the same law treats adultery just as severely, if not more so, being one of the Ten Commandments.
Yet Israelis seem to be proud of violating the first, and careless regarding the second. Though certainly much less severe, today many Israelis are also tattooing themselves from head-to-toe, thus showing disregard for another law forbidding this practice (Leviticus 19:28).
These are just a few of the more glaring examples of the disdain shown for Israel’s religion, a phenomenon that is acutely relevant because of the direct bearing it has on the anti-Semitic tidal wave emanating primarily from the Western liberal camp.
With few exceptions, Israelis are attempting to justify Israel’s existence on its being the only liberal democracy in the Middle East. Again and again, one can hear Israeli officials emphasizing the values of our Western democracy, while downplaying our identity as Jews. By so doing they rest the existence of the Jewish state on security and the secular values of a particular ideology.
This kind of argument overlooks Israel’s inherent value. And it is one reason why so many liberals can say that Jews might as well exist in one form or another in a different place entirely.
In his helpful attempt to understand the hate so many left-wingers harbor for Israel, David Bernstein concludes that for liberals the Jewish state “is nothing but reactionary nationalism based on at best foolish sentimentality, and at worst racist notions of Jewish superiority.”
Correct as this conclusion is, and as much as Bernstein wants to affirm Jewish ethnicity, he, too, will not dare invoke any spiritual significance for the Jewish state, thus again leaving Israel’s existence problematically unexplained.
But there are those, like Minister of Education Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home), who understands well that “our path and sacred values have accompanied us for generations, and compromising them would likely lead Israel into the abyss.” For those who think like Bennett, as much as democracy is valuable, and to an extent irreplaceable, it can’t be guarded at the cost of Judaism.
Speaking at the Israel Prize ceremony that takes place annually on Independence Day, Bennett reminded us all of the spiritual value of Israel, without which it can’t exist. “The goal of Judaism’s history is to heal a wounded world,” which is why the next generation of Zionism should invert the present form of Zionism, meaning that “instead of searching for universal solutions for the problems of the Jews, we’ll find Jewish solutions for the problems of humanity.”
This, for those who might have missed it, is a modern expression of Isaiah’s vision, in which the prophet sees Israel as a place from which “the law will go forth.”
As difficult as it may be for Israelis to understand, taking pride in tolerance for different expressions of gender and certain sexual behaviors does anything but legitimize Israel’s existence.
The same can be said about justifying Israel’s existence on security grounds. If anything, today it is the existence of Israel that poses the greatest threat to Jewish life.
In terms of Israel’s prophetic call, it must stand upon both its Jewish and democratic legs, or it will fall. It would be fair to say that a growing number of Israelis are beginning to realize that giving up on a meaningful Jewish identity is no longer a viable option.