Thursday, October 2, 2014 Tishri 8, 5775

Fighting Forgetfulness

October 21, 2010
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Amid all the noise over loyalty oaths, it would be easy to miss some of the more significant developments in the Middle East over the past week.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad trampled on Israel's doorstep, with a visit to Lebanon bent on bolstering Hezbollah; former President Jimmy Carter trekked to Damascus, once again blaming Israel for all the region's troubles; and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted that Hamas had acquired anti-aircraft missiles, a possible game-changer in Israel's strategic calculation for containing the terrorist threat from Gaza.

Yet with all this hostile activity on the country's borders, debate over the Israeli Cabinet's decision to require new citizens to pledge allegiance to Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state" took center stage.

Let's be clear here: The Cabinet's move was politically motivated -- a payoff to Israel's controversial foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who had demanded enactment of the new loyalty oath as a condition for joining Netanyahu's government.

Throughout his tenure, Lieberman has broadcast a distinctly different message than the one Netanyahu has been trying to articulate -- that the prime minister is serious about pursuing peace talks.

Responding to the firestorm of criticism, including from prominent members of his own Likud Party, that applying the new provision only to non-Jews would, in fact, undermine the very democracy it was seeking to uphold, Netanyahu on Monday said the new oath should also extend to Jewish immigrants.

Yet new citizens already must pledge their allegiance to the State of Israel, whose Declaration of Independence espouses its Jewish and democratic character. So one has to wonder why this issue is being pushed now, at such a diplomatically sensitive moment.

At a time when much of the world is intent on delegitimizing Israel and the Jews' historical claim to the land of Israel -- doubters can refer to last week's Torah portion, Lech Lecha, in which God tells Abraham to leave his home and go to the land of Canaan -- it is unwise to focus on symbolism over substance.

The 15th yahrzeit of the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, which was marked this week in Jerusalem, is a poignant reminder that the struggles within Israeli society are at least as potent -- and sometimes, more so -- than the struggles without.

As Israel's enemies grow closer and ever more threatening, now is the time to remember Rabin's legacy, and not let endless distractions get in the way of tough decisions.

"We must fight forgetfulness," Israeli President Shimon Peres said at the Rabin event this week. "Such forgetfulness is the enemy of man. It also puts democracy in danger." 

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