Israel Independence Day

 The founding of the State of Israel in 1948, 66 years ago, will be observed the 6th of Iyar, this Tuesday, May 6th. It has been a tumultuous history, born from a war initiated by its neighbors who refused to accept the UN vote declaring Israel a Jewish State. Yet Israel, still surrounded by enemies, grows, develops and prospers. Today, Israel is one of the great democracies of the world, and the only true democracy in the Middle East.  A few significant facts: ·         Israelis come from one hundred countries around the world, representing diverse ethnic, religious and racial groups.  75% of Israelis are Jews, 20% are Arabs, and 4% Druze, Bahais and from other religions. ·         In the State of Israel Arab citizens enjoy equal rights with Jewish citizens.  They can participate in the political process and hold seats in the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament.  There are currently 12 Arab members of the Kenesset.  Salim Jubran, an Arab, has been an Israeli Supreme Court Justice since 2004. ·         Israel has two official languages: Arabic and Hebrew. ·         Israel has one of the world’s most vibrant free presses. Israeli newspapers regularly criticize their government — free from threats of retaliation. ·         Israelis have the right to freely assemble and demonstrate on behalf of their beliefs.  In 2011 an estimated 430,000 people took part in demonstrations across Israel demanding social justice and economic reforms that benefit middle class and poor families. In January, 10,000 African migrants protested their treatment by the government of Israel as they sought refugee status in Israel. Two months ago thousands of ultra-Orthodox men took to the streets to protest a Supreme Court ruling that upheld the withholding of state funds to Yeshivahs whose students have evaded military responsibilities based on their Ultra Orthodox practices.. ·         According to the Washington DC based Pew Forum, government hostility toward religious minorities is rising in the world, particularly in the Middle East since the Arab Spring. Israel remains a country where Jews, Christians, Muslims, Bahais, and other religions enjoy freedom of religion.  Declaration of Independence declares that Israel “will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.” ·         Israeli law forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation. In 2012, Tel Aviv was voted “The World’s Best Gay City” in an online competition, garnering 43% of the votes and ranking it above New York, San Francisco and Sydney, Australia.. ·         Israeli law also guarantees full equality to women.  Israel had a female prime minister, Golda Meir, between 1969 and 1974. When she assumed the post at the age of 71, she was only the third female Prime minister in the world.  In last year’s election, a record 27 women were elected to the Knesset. Three women were at the head of the parties that made it into the legislature.  Nearly half of all district and magistrate judges are women. Dorit Beinisch was the first woman elected President of the Israeli Supreme Court in 2005 serving in that capacity until 2012. ·         Women have served in the Israeli army since the state was founded in 1948. Zahara Levitov, a pre-state female fighter in the Palmach, flew combat missions in the War for Independence.  Yael Rom was the first woman to graduate from the Israeli Army Flight School, the IAF, in 1950. She saw action during the 1956 Suez War. However, the IAF stopped accepting women into their flight school soon after. In  In 1994 a trained civilian pilot, Alice Miller, petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to rule on the gender discrimination that prevented women from enrolling in the IAF flight school.  Against the wishes of the IAF commander at the time, the court ruled that the IAF could not bar candidates for training based on gender alone.  Since that time 35 women have completed the course and are qualified to fly missions for the IAF.  Starting this year, pregnant pilots will be allowed to fly transport planes until their 25th week of pregnancy. Contrast this to Saudi Arabia, where women are not even legally allowed to drive a car! The fact that Israel is a vibrant democracy should come as no surprise. Rabbi Morris N. Kertzner z”l notes that the same principles that are fundamental to Judaism are also fundamental to democracy. Judaism teaches that all people are created equal, and that each person is precious in the eyes of G-d. Judaism teaches that we are our brothers’ keeper – that we are responsible for each other’s well being. Judaism teaches that we are each made in the image of G-d, and therefore it is the responsibility of society to bring out the potential in each and every person. Finally, Judaism teaches that freedom is prized above all else – indeed, we are constantly reminded in our Torah that we were once slaves, and that G-d brought us out of slavery to freedom.  Benjamin Franklin proposed in 1776 that the Great Seal of the United States depict a scene from the Exodus from Egypt, with the motto underneath, “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to G-d”.  Indeed, the thread of democratic values and principles in a fundamental sense runs through Jewish history from our nomadic beginnings to our present day. Shabbat Shalom