Being Jewish and part of the Jewish people has been a central part of my consciousness and identity for as long as I can remember. Religion has never been the central core of my Jewish identity, peoplehood has been. My Judaism has never been defined by antisemitism. Allowing such a definition dignifies and perhaps even legitimizes antisemitism.
The Holocaust is not the single most important thing that has happened to the Jewish people in modern times, the establishment of the State of Israel is. Israel was not established because of the Holocaust and not even as a response to it. Zionism was the national liberation movement of the Jewish people and Israel is the state of the Jews, not a Jewish state.
Having not been born in the State of Israel, I came home to Israel, because this is where my roots are and I believe this is where my future is – as part of the Jewish people. But as much as I feel home in Israel and there is no place on earth where I call home except here, the State of Israel has pushed me further away from the Jewish religion and gives me an increasing sense of alienation from the religious rituals and customs of Judaism.
My secular Jewish identity has an ideology. My ideology comes with a cradle of history, culture and language that is forever expanding, expressed with exuberance and creativeness that easily completes with any other society in the modern world. The rebirth of the Hebrew language – an unprecedented phenomenon – in our ancient homeland has created a library of new classics that our Jewish identity has shaped and that shape our identity.
In more recent times, our language is actively interacting with our sister language, Arabic, the language not only of our neighbors but also of some of our greatest scholars, such as the Rambam, enriching our culture and yes, our identity.
It is not the so-called Left which has forgotten what it means to be a Jew, it is the right-wing religious ultra-Orthodox and ultra-nationalists who are redefining Judaism as belonging to a particular political camp, or supporting a particular prime minister, or by believing that parts of the Land of Israel were liberated by divine design and not occupied in a war fought by our army in self defense.
The State of Israel has alienated me from religious Judaism by sanctifying stones and not human life and humanitarian values. Judaism in the State of Israel is claimed by a monopolistic orthodoxy one of the leaders of which, a rabbi and the chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, standing in front of secular Jews at the last Haaretz Peace Conference, said: “I am willing to sit and talk to Israel’s worst enemies, but I will not sit with Conservative or Reform Jews.” Is that what being Jewish means? How can it be Jewish to deny equal rights for all Jews in the State of Israel? How can it be Jewish for Israel to be the only democratic country in the world where Reform or a Conservative rabbis cannot performs rites of passage? Jewish law doesn’t even demand that a rabbi perform a wedding ceremony, so denying the rights of non-Orthodox Jews can be defined as being Jewish? I am Jewish. I was born Jewish. I have been raised Jewish. I married a Jewish woman and have raised three Jewish children. I now have a Jewish granddaughter living in the first Hebrew city, Tel Aviv. I immigrated to the homeland of the Jewish people and believe that I have worked every single day of my 39 years in Israel to make the Jewish homeland a better place.
By the way, I am also an atheist.
I am also very Jewish and there is nothing that anyone can do that will convince me that the criminal in prison for theft or violence or rape who wears a kippa and prays three times a day, and keeps the Shabbat according to Jewish law and fasts on Yom Kippur and doesn’t eat hametz on Passover is more Jewish than I am.
I don’t pray. I don’t go to synagogue.
I don’t fast on Yom Kippur.
I keep the Shabbat according to my own rules and I only eat matza on the eve of Passover and yes, I am very Jewish.
I am very Jewish and I am very connected to the Land of Israel and the State of Israel. I am Jewish and I feel attachment to all of the Land of Israel – also to Judea and Samaria. I am Jewish and I live in Jerusalem and there is no place on earth I would rather live. Our Jewish history was in Judea and Samaria, but our future is not there. If Judea and Samaria were not also the home of almost three million Palestinian Arabs the situation might be different. But because we want Israel to be the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people, Judea and Samaria cannot remain under Israeli sovereignty.
I believe that the state of the Jewish people must be a democratic state. The lessons of our history and the values that we have imparted to the world are built on a foundation of human rights, human dignity, compassion and equality. The State of Israel cannot be the nation-state of the Jewish people when half of the population under its sovereignty are not Jewish and do not want to be Jewish, or part of the nationstate of the Jewish people. The most un-Jewish thing I can think of is forcing the Palestinian Arabs of Judea and Samaria out of the land where they were born or confiscating their property.
I accuse! I accuse those who believe that in the name of Judaism and the Jewish people they can deny millions of people their human and political rights because they are non-Jews or because they don’t recognize the legitimacy of Zionism.
Those who continue to march Israel forward into a non-democratic binational reality have forgotten what it means to be Jewish. I accuse those who deny modern and liberal expressions of Judaism as no longer being Jewish or being part of the Jewish people of forgetting what it means to be Jewish.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.