Recently two articles were brought to my attention that offer a bird’s eye view of what has been happening in Israel.  Although coming from very different perspectives, I think you’ll find these of interest – see links below – because they address  trends and developments that will affect what Israel might be like in the future.

The first is an interview with Rabbi David Hartman, the founder of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, on the occasion of his 80th birthday. Rabbi Hartman made aliyah 40 years ago from America because, as he says in the interview, ““That’s what I thought I would see in Israel–a living Judaism that was gentle, sensitive, moral, loving. From the moment that I moved here, I fought for it to be that way. That’s why I built the institute, as a place open to religious and secular, Jews and Arabs.” The interview is an anguished cry from a leading religious scholar about what has happened to Judaism and Israel; where did they lose their way religiously and morally?

In the past few days I have had several conversations that tried to understand how coveting the land seems to have become the central obsession of the Jewish state. How did stones and dirt become more important than how we treat other human beings? How did very religious Jews seem to become more concerned with the minutia of observance versus the ultimate spiritual purpose of that observance? Although I was unable to formulate adequate answers to these questions, Rabbi Hartman attempts to address these very issues in the interview. See http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4159477,00.html

The second article is an opinion piece in last week’s Haaretz newspaper written by Ari Shavit, a centrist columnist who in the past was generally sympathetic towards Netanyahu. He is very concerned about the concerted attacks on democratic principles and civil rights in Israel and how that might transform the country into something unrecognizable. As he writes in this column, “Time after time there have been assaults by the secular right and the religious right on the principles of liberalism and on liberal institutions, but there has never been an all-out, multi-pronged and multi-dimensional attack on the core values of the Jewish democratic state.” It is notable that someone like Shavit is publishing this type of piece.

I expect in future posts on this blog that I will provide details on specific issues such as attempts to limit freedom of the press or restrictions on funding for human rights organizations. But Shavit in this column presents a broader picture. See http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/israel-has-never-been-so-ugly-1.401501

Lest you think Israel is alone in this assault on democratic values, far-right and even fascist parties are becoming stronger in many European countries. Hungary is the canary in the coal mine where a veto-proof, two-thirds majority of right wing parties in the parliament has re-written the constitution to limit freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and gerrymandered election districts to ensure their continued power. This doesn’t make the Israeli situation any better but perhaps does provide some context.

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