Politically Incorrect – Why A Jewish State Is a Bad Idea
by Ofra Yeshua-Lyth
To be a secular peace-seeking Israeli leftist can make for a highly uncomfortable life. You’re likely to be suspect at home and ignored abroad. If anyone needs solidarity, it is these people: yet they are so often dismissed as a benign but inherent ‘part of the problem’. To our shame, we show little support for these defiant voices: one of which belongs to the brilliant Ofra Yeshua-Lyth.
This descendant of Yemeni Jews is a long-time Israeli journalist and columnist who, in this mixture of family memoire and political commentary, presents a compelling case for a single democratic secular state within the boundaries of ancient Palestine. It can be achieved, she says, only when the intrusive and negative role that religion plays in Israel has been eradicated.
The bigotry and exclusiveness of Ashkenazi Orthodoxy is written into Israeli law and practice. It has the authority to enforce central issues like who is accepted as a citizen; who can be married; how they can be educated; even what they eat and where they can be buried. The ancient mantra of the Chosen People and their need to segregate themselves from ‘goys’ holds back progress like a chain manacled to a prisoner’s leg; it justifies the theft of land; it glorifies the continuation of war: it makes peace impossible.
Ofra Yeshua-Lyth argues that the Jewish state – a religious institution never envisaged by the founders of Zionism – is a unique barrier to any Middle East peace solution; because it contains within itself inherent prejudices and structural inequalities that brook no compromise. And yet at the same time over 40% of Israelis describe themselves as secular, even as they are subject to the enforcement of the religious code of the Halacha.
There are many echoes in this book of Arundhati Roy’s writings on India in Listening to Grasshoppers; not only in the intelligent, shocking, convincing and gripping writing but with its parallel themes of discriminating laws that institutionalise prejudice; a middle class content not to see what is happening; and an impoverished mass dispossessed of their land.
My only problem with this rich and provocative book was its title: ‘Politically Incorrect’ made it look as if I was carrying round an offensively lewd joke book, rather than what it is: a detailed exposé, a fascinating history and a principled manifesto. I know the Testament’s wrong, but this is a book of revelation.