This was Theodor Herzl’s dream for Israel:
“It is founded on the ideas which are a common product of all civilized nations… It would be immoral if we would exclude anyone, whatever his origin, his descent, or his religion, from participating in our achievements. For we stand on the shoulders of other civilized peoples. … What we own we owe to the preparatory work of other peoples. Therefore, we have to repay our debt. There is only one way to do it, the highest tolerance. Our motto must therefore be, now and ever: ‘Man, you are my brother.’” (Quoted in “Zion & the Jewish National Idea”, in Zionism Reconsidered, Macmillan, 1970 PB, p.185)
This was no new or radical concept. The sage Hillel, when asked to explain Torah to a gentile, said, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the commentary; go and learn."
There is no question that the Palestinians are Israel’s neighbors. Nor is there any question that Israel treats the Palestinians in ways that would be hateful if done to Jews.
The only possible logical conclusion to be drawn from this is that Israelis are not familiar with Torah and should not be considered Jews because Jews are people who follow Torah.
I’m no Talmud chochem, but I studied a little Torah and Mishnah myself and I remember the Orthodox rabbi who was my teacher explaining away the contradictions by saying that if your neighbors are not Jews, then they are not your neighbors. But that doesn’t make sense. Neighbors are neighbors no matter who or what they are. They may not be your friends, but they are still your neighbors.
There has been very little media attention to Sasha Polakow-Suransky’s new book, The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa. Polakow-Suransky’s parents were South African Jews, and in good Jewish tradition and in accordance with Torah, they opposed the Apartheid regime. It is quite normal for Jews, as a historically oppressed people, to make common cause with other oppressed peoples, and in this case it was obvious that blacks were being oppressed by Apartheid. Polakow-Suransky knew that Israel’s billions of dollars worth of arms and weapons sales to the Apartheid government at a time when no other nation would do business with it, had helped prop up a racist regime, but he lacked the proof. So he filed the South African equivalent of a Freedom of Information Act request and after a couple of years he got about 7,000 pages of documents from the South African government among which he found not only the proof that Israel had been supplying the Apartheid regime with weapons, but also that Israel had offered to sell them nuclear weapons.
Many Jews throughout the world have made common cause with the Palestinians due to their wretched condition of oppression by the Israeli government. It isn’t because Jews are anti-Semitic or hate Israel, but because Jews who follow Torah hate oppression.
Israel, on the other hand, Israel which killed more people in one morning’s attack on a Peace Flotilla than have been killed by Palestinian rockets in the past ten years, thinks that it can only provide for its own security by oppressing its neighbors. Any fool can see that when you oppress your neighbors you arouse hostility and ensure permanent insecurity, but the Israeli government isn’t as smart as the average fool.
So the struggle is on. I don’t know if Israel will win, or if Jews and Torah will win, but I know that they are not only not the same thing, but that they are natural enemies.
I myself have a distinctly American view of my neighbors. I live in a large low-income senior building in an urban area. My neighbors are from many different countries and have many different religions. I treat them all with respect and courtesy, because whether I like them or not, I believe that they have the same rights that I have. I don’t have to like them and they don’t have to like me, but for us to live in peace we have to treat each other the way that we expect others to treat us. Nothing could be simpler.