Thursday, August 30, 2018

An American Hero

John McCain’s death was hardly a surprise. (The announcement at the end of last week that the decision had been made to discontinue medical treatment was certainly a clear enough indicator that he was coming to the end of his days.) I admit that the national wellspring of emotion the senator’s death brought forth from political fellow travelers and opponents alike, even leaving the President’s belated and begrudging response out of the mix, caught more than a bit off-guard. But it was Senator McCain’s posthumously-revealed wish that he be eulogized in a bipartisan manner both by Presidents George Bush and Obama that made the strongest impression on me. That these were the two men who the most consequentially thwarted his own White House aspirations—the former by defeating him for the Republican nomination in 2000 and the later by defeating him in the presidential election of 2008—also impressed me as a sign both of humility and magnanimity. The funeral is this Saturday, so I’m writing this before knowing what either man will say. But my guess is that both will rise to the occasion and pay homage to the man, not for holding this or that political view, but for having the moral stamina to move past his own defeats at both their hands to return to the Senate to continue his life of service to the American people.
Senator McCain was a complicated figure and hardly a paragon of invariable virtue. He himself characterized the decisions that led to his involvement in the “Keating Five” scandal the “worst mistake of my life.” (The fact that he made that comment after the Senate Ethics Committee determined that he had violated neither any U.S. law nor any specific rule of the Senate itself speaks volumes: here was a man who could have gone on to crow about his innocence—or at least about his non-guilt—yet who chose instead publicly to rue the appearance of impropriety that he feared would permanently attach itself to his name.) He owned up publicly to the fact that, at least in the context of his first marriage, he was not a model of marital fidelity. He was in many instances a party-line guy, going along with the plan to invade Iraq without stopping to notice that there was no actual evidence that Saddam Hussein possessed the weapons of mass destruction President Bush was so certain had to exist and in fact going so far as to refer on the floor of the Senate to Iraq as a “clear and present danger” to our country without pausing to ask himself how he could possibly know that in the absence of evidence that Iraq possessed actual weapons capable of reaching these shores.

On the other hand, his more than five years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese—the beatings and the torture he endured, his refusal to accept the early release offered to him because the military Code of Conduct instructs prisoners to accept “neither parole nor special favors” from the enemy, his two years of solitary confinement—speaks for itself. (And the phony “confession” he signed at a particularly low point when his injuries had brought him to the point of considering suicide does nothing to change my mind about his heroism. In the end, he defied his captors in every meaningful way and was momentarily defeated by them only once.) As does his lifetime of service to the American people, one given real meaning specifically by the fact, as noted above, that he specifically did not abandon his commitment to serve merely because he was twice thwarted in his bid for the presidency and instead simply returned to the Senate, following the admirable example of Henry Clay, who lost the election of 1824 to John Quincy Adams and then, after serving as the latter’s Secretary of State for four years, returned to the Senate where he served as Senator from Kentucky for two non-consecutive terms and died, like McCain, in office.
But it was McCain’s posthumous letter to America that I want the most to write about today. Lots of literary masterworks have been published posthumously—all three of Kafka’s novels, for example, came out after he died in 1924—but most have been works that their authors for some reasons chose not to publish or were unable to get published in their lifetimes, not letters that their authors specifically wished to be publicized after they were gone from the world. That concept, however, is not unknown…and the concept of creating what is called an ethical will in which a legator bequeaths, not physical possessions or money, but values and moral principles to his or her heirs is actually a Jewish practice that has its roots in medieval Jewish times.

There are early examples of something like that even from biblical times—the Torah contains the pre-posthumous blessings that both Jacob and Moses left behind for their heirs to contemplate and to allow to guide them forward after Jacob and Moses were going to be gone from the world. (When the New Testament author of the Gospel of Matthew portrays Jesus as doing the same thing, in fact, it is probably part of an ancient author’s effort accurately to depict Jesus as a Jewish man doing what Jewish men in his day did.) But the custom reached its fullest flower in the Middle Ages—the oldest extant ethical will from that period was written by one Eleazar ben Isaac of Worms in Germany and dates back to c. 1050. After that, there are lots of examples, many of which were collected and published in two volumes back in 1926 by Israel Abrahams under the title Hebrew Ethical Wills and still available for a very reasonable price. There is even a modern guide to preparing such a will to leave to your own descendants in Jack Riemer’s Ethical Will and How To Prepare Them: A Guide for Sharing Your Values from Generation to Generation, published in a revised second edition just a few years ago by Jewish Lights in Woodstock, Vermont.
And it is in that specific vein that I found myself reading Senator McCain’s letter to the American people: not as last-minute effort to make a few final points, much less to get a few last jabs in at specific, if unnamed, opponents. (The Bible has a good example of that too in David’s last message to the world, which includes a hit-list of people David hopes Solomon will find a way to punish—or rather, to execute—after David is gone from the world and Solomon becomes king after him.) The McCain letter, neither vengeful nor angry, is not at all in that vein. Nor is it particularly soothing: it is, in every sense, the literary embodiment of its authors hopes for the nation he served and his last word on the course he hopes our nation will take in the years following his death. To read the full text, click here.

Senator McCain identifies the core values he feels should lie at the generative core of all American policy: a deep dedication to the concept of personal liberty, an equally serious dedication to the pursuit of justice for all, and, to quote directly, a level of “respect for the dignity of all people [that will bring the nation and its citizens] happiness more sublime than life’s fleeting pleasures.” Furthermore, he writes unambiguously that, in his opinion, “our identities and sense of worth [are never] circumscribed, but enlarged, by serving good causes bigger than ourselves.”
He characterizes our country as “a nation of ideals, not blood and soil.” And then he writes this: “We are blessed and are a blessing to humanity when we uphold and advance those ideals at home and in the world.” But his tone is not at all self-congratulatory. Indeed, the very next passage is the one that seems both the most filled with honor and trepidation: “We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down; when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.” It is hard to read those words without reference to the current administration, and I’m sure that McCain meant them to be understood in that specific way. But the overall tone of the letter is not preachy or political, but deeply encouraging and uplifting. His final words to his fellow Americans are also worth citing verbatim: “Do not despair of our present difficulties,” the senator writes from the very edge of his life. “We believe always in the promise and greatness of America because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit, we never surrender, we never hide from history. We make history. Farewell fellow Americans, God bless you, and God bless America.”

I disagreed with John McCain about a lot. We were not on the same side of any number of the most important issues facing our nation, but those divisions fall away easily as I read those final words. Here, I find myself thinking easily, was a true patriot—a flawed man in the way all of us must grapple with our own weaknesses and failings, but, at the end of the day, a principled man and a patriot. His death was a loss to the nation and particularly to the Senate, but the words he left behind will, I hope, guide us forward in a principled way that finds in debate and respectful disagreement the context in which the American people can find harmony in discord (which is, after all, a peculiarly and particularly American concept) and a focused national will to live up our own Founders’ ideals.
In the physical universe, energy derives from tension, friction, and stress. In the world of ideas, the same is true: Socrates knew that and developed a way of seeking the truth rooted not in placid agreement but in vigorous debate. That concept, almost more than anything else, is what shines through Senator McCain’s literary testament to the nation. He notes wryly, and surely correctly, that we are a nation composed of 325 million “opinionated, vociferous individuals.” But he also notes that when debate, even raucous public debate, is rooted in a shared love of country, the result is a stronger, more self-assured nation, not a weaker one enfeebled by conflicting opinions. I think that too…and my sadness at the senator’s passing is rooted, more than anything else, in that specific notion.

John McCain’s life was a gift to our country and his death, a tragedy. May he rest in peace, and may his memory be a source of ongoing blessing for his family and for his friends, and also for us all.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Pajama Rabbi Seized!

Last week, I promised to devote at least the first few of my letters this year to some of the more remarkable or controversial events that took place in Israel during my stay there earlier this summer. Today, I would like to devote myself to the scandal surrounding the KGB-style pre-dawn raid that brought into police headquarters for questioning one Rabbi Dov Haiyun, a Rabbinical Assembly colleague and the rabbi of the Moriah Congregation in Haifa. What specifically the police were thinking by arriving at Rabbi Haiyun’s doorstep at 5 AM to bring him in rather than simply phoning him up and asking him to stop by police headquarters later in the day to answer some questions is part of the issue, as is the larger question of what Rabbi Haiyun’s treatment says about the precarious position all my R.A. colleagues occupy in Israel. I would like to write today about both those issues.

Whatever its ultimate reason, however, the overkill here—treating a scholarly, gentle man as though he were a dangerous drug lord who, if he had somehow been tipped off that the police were on their way, could easily have been on a private jet out of the country before anyone was the wiser—is an integral part of the story, not an amusing side-detail. Indeed, the aggressive behavior of the police was clearly meant not simply to accomplish its overt goal of bringing an individual in for questioning by the police, an everyday event that would normally receive no press coverage at all, but something darker and more nefarious. Nor can it be irrelevant that Rabbi Haiyun was never actually arrested at all, merely questioned and released. Could the real goal of the whole incident merely have been to intimidate the rabbi (and, by extension, his and my colleagues who serve congregations in Israel) and thus to discourage him and them from repeating the dastardly deed of which Rabbi Haiyun stood accused: marrying a couple without registering that marriage with the Chief Rabbinate? It feels like we’re getting warmer.
But whatever the “real” point of arresting my colleague in his pajamas was, the specific complaint lodged against Rabbi Haiyun places him in a strange, Catch-22-like situation: obliged by law to register the weddings he performs —a 2015 amendment to the Law for Marriage and Divorce specifically stipulates that anyone at all who performs a wedding ceremony for a couple and then fails to register it with the Chief Rabbinate is liable to a two-year prison sentence—but also not permitted to register them since he is not an Orthodox rabbi certified by the above-mentioned Chief Rabbinate, Rabbi Haiyun’s dilemma is thus part legal, part procedural, and part existential.

The reality is that non-Orthodox rabbis perform weddings in Israel all the time. Joan and I attended one just last summer, a lovely garden ceremony overlooking the walls of Jerusalem presided over by my colleague, Rabbi Mauricio Balter, executive director of Masorti Olami, the international organization of Conservative and Masorti synagogues outside North America and Israel. When I asked the bride if she and her groom were planning eventually to go to Cyprus or Canada (where her parents grew up) to have the kind of civil wedding that the State of Israel would recognize—since weddings performed by non-Orthodox rabbis in Israel are not recognized by the State either, not only not by the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate—she explained that they had no such intent and that it simply didn’t matter to them what the Ministry of the Interior thought regarding their marital status. They were being married, she further explained, under a chuppah in Jerusalem by a rabbi they respected and whose work they would not insult by seeking some meaningless piece of paper in some foreign land just to placate the forces of darkness that govern religious life in Israel. She spoke passionately, which impressed me. Her husband, an oleh from Russia, seemed on precisely the same page. When I asked Rabbi Balter if he wasn’t worried about being in contravention of the law, he told me that that amendment to the Marriage Law was passed as a sop to the ultra-Orthodox parties in the Knesset, but that it was brazenly and openly flouted by rabbis of many different varieties with no discernable consequences at all. Was the daring Haifa raid that brought Rabbi Haiyun in for questioning meant to signal a sea-change in that policy of benign neglect and principled non-application of a scurrilous law? Or was it just an example of overzealousness on the part of police officers eager to placate the local rabbinate but not specifically intending to send anyone any sort of message through their actions? The bottom line is that it’s hard to say. Both alternatives sound plausible. But behind this particular incident is a far more complicated issue in desperate need of resolution.
The notion of a “chief” rabbinate—that is, a specific body recognized by the State as the sole arbiter of all religious issues that affect Jewish people in any way—that specific version of an ultimate religious authority that has no legal obligation to act in any specific way other than however it wishes and which has the right to disenfranchise and delegitimize any rabbis deemed excessively liberal in belief or practice, is unfamiliar to Americans, but remains a feature of Jewish life in many Western nations. There are, for example, such “chief” rabbinates in the U.K. and in France, as well as in Ireland, South Africa, Russia, and several other countries. Invariably, these institutions are run by Orthodox rabbis who discriminate openly and, in at least some cases, proudly against non-Orthodox rabbis. None of them stands for much other than the preservation of its own power and authority. As a people, we would be better off without any of them.

Interestingly, there is no actual basis in Jewish law for such an institution. Yes, there was once a Sanhedrin that functioned as the ultimate religious authority for all Jews. But that was a feature of antiquity that was in decline for centuries when the Emperor Theodosius II final dealt it its coup de grâce in 426 CE. There have been attempts to revive the Sanhedrin over the ages, including Napoleon’s strange (and unsuccessful) 1806 effort to do just that. But the notion of specific nations having their own “chief” rabbinates was actually a concept foisted on that nation’s Jews by secular governments primarily interested in creating an internal Jewish body that could assist the secular authorities in collecting taxes and collecting vital statistics regarding that nation’s Jewish population.
The history of the Chief Rabbinate in Israel is part of that larger picture. Its story begins in 1842, when the Ottoman Turks combined the offices of “Hakham Bashi,” the rabbi in Istanbul (then still called Constantinople) who represented the Jewish community in the sultan’s court, with the office of Rishon L’tziyon, who represented the Jews of Turkish Palestine before the Turkish government, to create a kind of proto-chief rabbinate for the Ottoman Empire.  Later, under British rule, the High Commissioner of Mandatory Palestine “improved” on the situation bequeathed him by the Turks by adding a chief Ashkenazic rabbi to the mix and thus creating an officially recognized “chief” rabbinate that could provide an address to which the British could turn when they wished to speak with the wider Jewish community regarding religious matters. And then, in 1947, as part of the pre-independence negotiations that led to the founding of the State, Ben Gurion sought to bring the religious political parties into the future government by agreeing that the British-sanctioned rabbinate would become the so-called “Chief” Rabbinate of Israel.

And from there things simply evolved to the moment of Rabbi Haiyun’s arrest earlier this summer. I’m sure some of the rabbis associated with the Chief Rabbinate must be decent, learned people. (Nor would it be fair to tar them all with the same brush merely because so many have been accused of corruption, mostly famously Rabbi Yona Metzger, once the chief Ashkenazic rabbi of Israel, who was actually sent to prison after pleading guilty to charges of corruption, theft, money-laundering, conspiracy to commit a felony, and breach of public trust.) But this is not really an issue about the decency or worthiness of individuals at all, but rather something much larger relating to Israel itself and the relationship of its Jewish citizens to their own Jewishness. For secular Israelis, the fundamentalist intransigency of the Chief Rabbinate is an excellent reason to feel good about remaining distant from religious observance. For right-leaning Orthodox Jews, the Chief Rabbinate serves primarily to justify their own views on most things. But for more liberal Orthodox types and for all Israelis affiliated with the non-Orthodox movements, the monopoly that the Chief Rabbinate holds over all matters relating to personal status—including even who may be buried in a Jewish cemetery and all matters pertaining to marriage and divorce—is an intolerable infringement on the kind of religious freedom we Americans take for granted and of which Israelis can only dream.
I belong to a fine Conservative congregation in Jerusalem. The congregation has its own building and its own rabbi, and boasts a large cadre of dedicated volunteers who keep things running. Most, I think, are pleased to have nothing to do with Israel’s Chief Rabbinate and are proud of the degree to which they function on their own and under their own steam. But knowing that their rabbi risks arrest if he performs a wedding and then fails to register it in a way that he is not permitted to do is disheartening, to say the least. (He is barred from presiding over congregational funerals too, at least in the sense that American Jews would understand the concept.) And so the members of Moreshet Avraham—all deeply patriotic Israelis, almost all veterans of the IDF, each fully dedicated to building up Jewish life in Eretz Yisrael—live a kind of double existence: free of the Rabbinate when in shul and under its thumb when they are obliged to interact with the government in any way that involved religious ritual or practice. As a frequent visitor rather than a permanent resident, I myself can easily have nothing at all to do with any rabbis associated with the Chief Rabbinate. But my friends in shul and in our neighborhood are not always that lucky.

Rabbi Haiyun’s arrest could have been a momentary act of idiotic overkill on the part of some overzealous police officers. Or it could have been a monitory bellwether of things to come. No issue divides American Jews from the Israeli government more profoundly than the dismissive disenfranchisement of the large majority of our American-based religious leaders and their (and my) Israeli-based colleagues from any positions of power or authority in Israel. If the Israeli government is hoping to count on diaspora Jewry for its support—and particularly on American Jewry—then the time has clearly come to dismantle the Chief Rabbinate. As the late, great Aretha Franklin would have put it, all we want is a little respect!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Jewishness of Israel

As we move forward through the next weeks, I hope to discuss many of the issues that I found the most interesting and the most controversial this summer in Israel. Some I have addressed already, but others are—at least in their current iteration—brand new. Some have aroused a lot of interest outside of Israel, while others appear to have garnered almost no attention outside the nation’s boundaries. And some strike me as truly crucial issues, while others appear to me—an outsider, admittedly, but a regular visitor and an informed observer—to me, at least, as a huge amount of ado about almost nothing at all.

And so, first up is the issue that has aroused the most controversy both inside and outside of Israel, the newly passed Basic Law, more correctly known as the “Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People.”  All, even the most vehemently outraged, seem to agree that this law was almost entirely symbolic and merely grants a level of official recognition to a situation that all know already to exist and that all observers have considered fully self-evident for the last seventy years. Even Sayed Kashua, an Arab-Israeli author violently opposed to the new Basic Law, had to admit in his red-hot New York Times op-ed piece a few weeks ago that this summer’s bill simply makes de jure a situation that has been de facto reality since the founding of the State.
Defenders of the law have made the point, and sharply, that the Israeli Declaration of Independence formally acknowledged the Jewish nature of Israel at the moment of its national inception and that this summer’s bill merely ratified that concept and granted it a level of official recognition it has lacked from then to now. And, indeed, the opening lines of the Declaration could really not set out the concept of the Jewish nature of the new Jewish state in clearer language:

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. In recent decades they returned in their masses. Pioneers, ma∙apilim [that is, immigrants coming to Eretz-Israel in defiance of restrictive legislation] and defenders, they made deserts bloom, revived the Hebrew language, built villages and towns, and created a thriving community controlling its own economy and culture, loving peace but knowing how to defend itself, bringing the blessings of progress to all the country's inhabitants, and aspiring towards independent nationhood.

But, as Americans also know, a Declaration of Independence is just that, a declaration that serves as a kind of political statement of intent and of ideals by a nation’s founders, and not a bona fide legal document at all. (That is why the oath of office that the President of the United States takes at the inauguration ceremony references the obligation to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States” and not, say, to uphold the ideals of the Declaration of Independence.) And this accurately mirrors the situation in Israel as well, say Israelis who favor the Basic Law: since Israel does not have a written Constitution akin to the U.S. one, the decision was made early on—in a 1950 decision of the Israeli Supreme Court called the Harari Decision—that in lieu of an American-style foundational document, the series of Basic Laws passed by the Knesset over the years would serve as the legal foundation for Israeli jurisprudence. This summer’s initiative, therefore, is merely an effort to translate the basic values of the Declaration of Independence into Israeli law, almost precisely in the way that the delegates to the Constitution Convention of 1787 took the task upon themselves to enshrine the values and principles that led to American independence in a legal document that would serve as the basis for future American law. And, they ask, should that be more controversial in Israel than it was in America…or in any modern country?
Furthermore, a nation’s right to self-determination and self-definition being basic to its sense of national self, this kind of effort to establish in law the values and principles that led to a nation’s founding is not seen in any other quarter as bogus or racist merely because the nation in question has citizens, even lots of them, who are members of minority faiths, ethnic groups, or language groups. Iran self-defines as an “Islamic republic,” for example, and the world seems to find it not at all troubling that there are non-Muslims among the citizenry. So do Pakistan, Mauritania, and Afghanistan, all three of which nations have non-Muslims among their citizenry. Nor do I notice people suggesting that Norwegian or Icelandic products be boycotted because their nations’ constitutions recognize a specific religion as the national one despite the obvious truth that among the nation’s citizens are people who subscribe to different faiths. The U.K. also has an official religion, by the way—and British law requires that the sovereign belong to it. But I can’t recall ever hearing anyone denounce the British for maintaining a formal relationship as a nation with the Anglican Church, much less suggesting a boycott of British products until the U.K. renounces its ties to its own national church…to which only a  minority of the population maintains formal affiliation. (It is true that a majority, 62%, of British Christians are Anglicans. But fewer than 60% of the general population are affiliated with any Christian church—a majority, to be sure, but not a very large one.)

When taken in the context of other nations’ foundational documents, formal constitutions and otherwise, the situation seems even stranger to me. The Basic Law makes Hebrew the official language of Israel and grants Arabic special status and guarantees that the level of official Arabic usage will be maintained. (Arabic is the native language of about 18% of Israelis.)  By comparison, the Latvian Constitution recognizes Latvian as the national language of Latvia despite the fact that about a third of the citizenry speaks Russian, not Latvian. The Spanish Constitution makes Spanish the nation’s national language, and requires that citizens conduct their affairs in that language regardless of their actual native language, be it Basque or Catalan or any one of several lesser-known native tongues spoken by Spanish citizens. And many other nations, particularly ones that are the homes to unusual languages that are not widely studied or known elsewhere than in that single country—nations like Estonia or Armenia—have enacted laws designed to promote the use of the national language regardless of the fact that some of the citizenry grew up speaking different languages and continue to speak them. About these laws, however, no one seems much to care.
Regarding immigration, the Basic Laws specifies that the “ingathering of the exiles” concept will remain fundamental to Israeli immigration policy and that, as a result, Israel will remain permanently open to Jewish immigration. Given the fact that the 1950 Law of Return declares unequivocally that “every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh,” that is, “as an immigrant,” the response to this part of this summer’s Basic Law seems particularly surprising. Nor is there any lack of international parallels: the laws of many nations, including such Western democracies as Italy and Ireland, grant special status to would-be immigrants who belong to the nation’s ethnic majorities. There is an American parallel to this as well, as Eugene Kontorovich pointed out in an essay in the Wall Street Journal  last July: the State Constitution of Hawaii specifically authorizes the state government to create policies that will facilitate land acquisition by native Hawaiians by enacting preferential policies openly favoring ethnic Hawaiians over the rest of the state’s citizenry.

So the short answer is that nothing has changed and the Basic Law largely codifies policies that have been in place  for well more than half a century.  And yet, the level of real anger—expressed both inside and outside of Israel in massive demonstrations and petition-signing campaigns—seems to me rooted in something more basic than the decision formally to declare Hebrew the national language of Israel or to create a legal basis for the Law of Return almost a cool seven decades after it was voted into law by the Knesset.
In an age of rising nationalism, many people—myself included—are at least on some level wondering what the whole concept of nationhood should mean in the post-colonial world.  The myriad issues relating to immigration here and particularly in Europe are part of this as well. As is the cardinal question of what it could or should mean for a nation to embrace a specific culture and to promote that culture to the exclusion of others. Sometimes, the issues involved are benign or, at the very least, not oppressive. (I have no clear idea why Christmas should be a federal holiday in a nation that has no state religion, but I’ve long since stopped fretting about it.) But other times the effects of enshrining a national culture in law are profound. So the larger question is really whether the concept of a national state with its own culture—and the attendant baggage that culture brings along in its wake—whether that idea is something that deserves a place at the table, so to speak, in the twenty-first century…or whether it should be consigned to the dustbin of history along with its malign offspring: ultra-nationalism, ethnocentrism, racism, and xenophobia. Or should the idea be specifically not to pitch out the baby with the bathwater and so to attempt thoughtfully and rationally to pursue a policy that promotes the healthy growth of a nation’s chosen identity without allowing its policies to veer off into intolerance or prejudice?

In the end, there are nations and there are nations. Some, like Israel, are the sole nation-states of an indigenous people whose land has been occupied over long centuries by a long list of foreign invaders and colonialists. Nations like that—Armenia, Finland, South Korea, or Estonia would be good examples of others—have, it seems to me, a reasonable right to promote their national heritage as long as that formal effort does not result in untoward discrimination towards citizens merely because they self-define culturally differently. Our own nation promotes American culture in countless ways. So do most countries. To single out Israel for opprobrium because of its wish to see itself as the embodiment of the national aspirations of the Jewish people is to deny it a right easily and almost automatically offered to every other nation. And that, it seems to me, is defensible solely by arguing that ultimately the Jewish people has no right to its own nation, its own national culture, or the pursuit of its own national aspirations. I’m sure there are people out there who think just that. But I’m far less sure why anyone who does not feel that way would be enraged by the Knesset’s decision to ratify as law the principles that have guided Israel since 1948.  The timing may have been controversial. There may even have been no specific need to undertake this specific action at this specific moment in history. But, in my opinion, the Basic Law itself seems a reasonable attempt to enshrine in law values that have been part of Israel’s national sense of purpose and identity for the entire length of its history as a modern state.