Monthly Archives: December 2014

Is Israel A Jewish State?


Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is promoting a law which would declare Israel to be a Jewish State. At the same time he affirms that it will also be a democratic state. This is a step in the wrong direction and a contradiction because a democratic state cannot grant favored status to one part of its citizens.

Twenty percent of the Israeli population consists of Palestinian Arabs. They are already marginalized and such a law would codify their status as pariahs. Israel is de facto a Jewish State. The “Law of Return” guarantees that every Jewish person will be accepted and welcomed wherever he or she comes from. Israel’s Declaration of Independence also defines it as a Jewish State, but also pledges to ensure complete equality of political rights to all its citizens.

The proposed law would enshrine the rights of the majority over those of the minority. Currently the status of the Arabs is murky and ambiguous, but as long as it is uncodified there remains room for maneuvering and a possibility of gradual reform. The passage of this law would slam the door on reform and encourage those who view Israel as an Apartheid State.

Imagine this happening in the U.S. with Barack Obama asking Congress to declare the U.S. as a Christian State. His rationale could be that the majority of this country is inhabited by Christians and that it was founded by Christians fleeing persecution in Europe. Unthinkable, right?

In practice Israel already is a Jewish State. In Israeli homes there is a mezuzah on the doorpost which designates the home as Jewish. Woe to the family who does not observe Yom Kippur or Passover. No buses or elevators run on the Sabbath and Kashrut (religious food laws) is observed in public institutions. A bar mitzvah is the norm for every Jewish boy. Religious tribunals control marriages, divorces, circumcision, funerals and burials. How much more Jewish can you get?

Religion is already playing a disruptive role in Israeli life. The ultra-religious settlers provoke the Palestinians and cause most of the current bloody confrontations. Because Netanyahu needs the support of the Orthodox parties to hold his government together, he is beholden to their wishes and the State suffers.

Israel has already lost much of the international political and moral support it has historically enjoyed. It is time to stop alienating the remaining people who still love Israel.

On Words and Miscommunicating

Words“Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way”. (words and music by Mac Davis)

Our Oakland mayor who was just defeated for a second term has a most assiduous staff which used to bombard me with emails almost every day. After our recent election an email showed up to thank me for my vote. It said: “I am humbled by your support”. In the first place I voted for her opponent, and secondly what has “humbled” got to do with the situation? Why not say “grateful” or “appreciative”? Truly humble and modest people generally do not run for office, do not put themselves forward in any way and certainly do not advertise their humility.

Churchill famously characterized Clement Attlee as “a modest man who has much to be modest about.” Business letters used to contain the closing phrase: I am Sir (Madam) your most humble and obedient servant. We don’t use this Dickensian phraseology any more.

Here is another “miswordism” It is not a spoonerism or malapropism. (I checked). Newscaster: “We’ll see you again at 9.” Doesn’t she mean: You’ll see us again at 9? I sure hope she is not peeking into my living room.

New words added to the Merriam Webster dictionary. In 2013: selfie. It may be a new word but not a new concept. Painters who could not afford models sat in front of a mirror and painted themselves. It was called self-portraiture.

And for a finish here is a quiz question. If you are, like me, a Jeopardy watcher, you may have seen it recently as it was a “final Jeopardy” question: What three letter verb has the most entries in the Oxford English Dictionary? By the way I picked the wrong one. The answer next time!