Blogger Sam Shube, an American oleh with a history of Labor Zionist activism and a career in bi-cultural Arab/Jewish education in Israel, shares his reflections with us on the Purim story. The following selection is the meat of his post, “Purim 2014: A Political Homily“:
. . . The age of Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East confronts us with a choice of paradigms. . . . Will the machinery of Israeli statehood follow the path set by the Persian couriers of old – to each province in its own script and every people in its own language – or will we pursue the policies of ethnic hostility promoted by Haman and avenged with no less sanguine methods by the partisans of Mordecai? Will Israeli society have the wisdom to see the Arab 20% of its citizenry as a bridge to the cultural wealth of the Arab world of which we are in many ways part, or will we eschew them as an alien influence? Both possibilities are equally conceivable.
Much, of course, depends on whether the Arab world itself reverses its longstanding refusal to accept Jewish sovereignty. We, for our part, have behaved with unfathomable schizophrenia. On the one hand, Israel has wisely adopted a policy of linguistic autonomy, guaranteeing the existence of an Arabic language public education system for its Palestinian minority. On the other hand, the separate educational systems thus engendered have guaranteed further ethnic polarization and alienation.
On the one hand, the Israeli government has launched several unprecedented media campaigns combatting racial discrimination. On the other hand, a growing ideological wellspring — led by fundamentalist-xenophobes such as Rabbis Dov Lior, Shlomo Eliyahu and Yitzhak Ginzburg – all political compatriots of Israel’s Economy Minister [Naftali Bennett] — demands the marginalization of Arabs and their elimination from the public sphere.
As a Zionist, I jealously defend Israel’s right to don the symbols of Jewish national identity – much like Great Britain shrouds its own sovereignty in the symbols of a Christian past. And I agree with Netanyahu that our democratic system remains sui generis in the Middle East. Yet I live in constant angst that the partisans of nationalist mayhem may yet set the tone for our still emerging republic. Ohad Ezrahi, writing in Haaretz this past Shabbat, relates how settlers in Bat Ayin cheered news reports as casualty figures came in following the massacre of Moslem worshipers by Baruch Goldstein in Hebron on that black Purim day, 20 years ago.
Purim can be a holiday of vengeance and blood. And it can be a celebration of diversity. By the waters of Babylon we wept our exile. But in the streets of Shushan we enjoyed “light and gladness, happiness and honor.” These are the options that history offers us. … [Click here for Shube’s full post.]