Sunday, November 17, 2013

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The Narrative of the Knesset

by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths

I had an opportunity to visit the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, late last week.  Visiting the seat of government of the state of Israel was interesting, hearing the narrative they tell more so…

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The narrative is the story they tell.  The first part is why the Knesset is where it is, on a hilltop in Jerusalem with a university nearby.  “To meet the twin goals of being a Jewish and a Democratic state, they placed the Knesset and then placed Hebrew University next to it in Jerusalem, to make Jerusalem the religious center (with the Kotel and the Old City) and the democratic and cultural center.”

It’s hard to tell from the narrative if the goal was to revive and enliven Jerusalem (and indeed government jobs are a major economic resource for the city) or to dilute the religious aspect.

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The Israeli declaration of independence shows the same dichotomy.  The first part discusses the Jewish people’s biblical rights in the Land of Israel, followed by the historical exile and then the Holocaust.  But it carefully avoids mentioning G-d.

“The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.  After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.  Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland.”

How strange such language seems to us religious Jews, attempting to appreciate the history of the Jewish people without attributing either Judaism as a religion and peoplehood or G-d.  (This did not stop them from utilizing both, as they continued to raise funds from Jewish communities worldwide to support fledgling Israel.)

This theme continues through the tour of the Knesset.  One of the highlights of the building is a massive 3 piece Chagall tapestry that might be entitled History of the Jewish People.  King David and Moshe Rabaynu are represented, as are Avraham and Yitzchok, as well as celebrating Israelis and Israeli soldiers.  Interestingly the tapestry was completed before 1967, so Jerusalem is painted as a dream in grey, not yet accessible.

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The Israeli Knesset has to be one of the most interesting political bodies in the world, as well as one of the most influential.  Keep in mind, Israel is a small country.  For Americans, we barely understand what this means.  Europeans get it better.  Israel is physically the size of New Jersey, and similar in population and economic activity to Denmark.  The population is less than New York City, yet it has one of the top military forces and intelligence services in the world.  It’s the religious focal point for 5 long established religions (5? Yes, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Bahai and Druze.)  And is surrounded by neighbors that want to destroy it and use it as the boogeyman to their own populations.

So the Israeli parliamentarians are dealing with life and death issues, military, intelligence, religious issues affecting up to 5 religions, social security, health, and support issues like any country, economic, union and work issues, oh and like any state they’re dealing with where to build houses, where to build roads, how much to fund schools, etc.  One moment their talking about defending against genocide, the next whether a road needs to be expanded due to growth in an area.  It’s bizarre.

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They’re inordinately proud to show the mix of representatives they have, and that “type” has crossed party lines.  “See, we have a Druze in Likud, and a Charedi in Yesh Atid, and an Ethiopian in Bayit Yehudi.”  Interestingly while I was there, Moshe Feiglin of Likud but better known as the head of the Jewish Leadership faction was acting as speaker.  What’s interesting about that is he’s generally considered an enemy of the Prime Minister Netanyahu (part of the same party), so why are they letting him run things?  (Or maybe they have to and they have him the slow day?  I have no idea.)

Israel is a place of strong convictions.  It shouldn’t surprise me that the less religiously invested, specifically the government types, have created their own narrative.  For how else can you survive in Israel (when competing with the strong religious positions of the land) if you don’t have a story of your own? 

It shouldn’t surprise me.  But it did.

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