Israel Education 'Blitz'

A Free People in Our Land


Find attached the Am Chofshi B’Artzenu booklet produced by Makom. Through the guided questions to the text studies, and a couple of programs on Hatikva and the Prayer for the State of Israel, this is a powerful resource for addressing our deep and rich connection with Israel.


The Palestinian Authority has announced that in September this year it will be seeking recognition of the State of Palestine at the UN. Whether or not this plan succeeds, and whether or not this turns out to be disastrous or beneficial for Israel, what is clear is that in this period we will see a significant upturn in what has come to be known as “delegitimization”.

This “delegitimization” movement would seem to be made up of a few genuine enemies of Israel who wish to eliminate its right to exist, and many people who do not seek Israel’s elimination but have found in campaigns such as Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) a convenient way to express their critique of Israeli policy.

Our task as a community will be to drive a wedge between the enemies of Israel, and her critical friends. In order to do so, we ourselves must be clear as to the difference. How do we differentiate between the dangerous enemy of Israel, and the confused guy who could do with reading a book or two? The less we distinguish between critique and attack, the more we are likely to push the confused critic – non-Jewish or Jewish - into the arms of our enemies.

So how do we do it? How do we sketch out the limits of our “broad tent”? We would suggest that the answer lies in Israel’s national anthem. When the State was established, the penultimate line of the Hatikva anthem was rewritten. Instead of referring to a return to the land of our fathers, the line was altered to define our hope of two thousand years: Lihiyot Am Chofshi B’Artzenu - To be a free [Jewish] people in our land”.

It may be that this broad, generative, dialogical definition of our hope for Israel is far more useful to us than the seemingly-scientific language of “a Jewish and Democratic State”. The latter construction hints at paradox, feels painfully particularistic, and makes no reference to place. By contrast, the aspiration to be a free Jewish people in our land is lyrical, inviting, and most importantly: common to all. What else was behind the world’s initial excitement at the Egyptian uprising, for example, if not the sight of Egyptians fighting to be a free Egyptian people in their land?

Applied to Jews and Israel there is, woven into the phrase, a shared assumption (To be) and a threefold wish (Free People in Our Land):

To be - that the Jewish People know what it is to be threatened with destruction, and our continued existence is both a miracle and a value. At the same time, after millennia of struggling not just to establish but to justify our existence, might we not deserve the chance just “to be”?

Free – for Israel to be a place that allow Jews to be free to renew, to be different, to experiment and even to rebel, while at the same time free to take responsibility for its decisions.

People – for Israel to be the place where the Jews can redevelop their nature as a collective: broader than a religion, richer than an ethnic tendency, connected to Jews around the world, and drawing on strong ideas and profound values.

In Our Land – for Israel to exist not in Uganda nor in Patagonia or Alaska, but in the area of land referred to in the Bible and in our prayers. In this way our People may have its own landscape from which to engage with the world.

We would suggest that if one were looking for a litmus test of “who is pro-Israel?”, asking someone’s attitude to this three-fold aspiration for the State of Israel would be extremely revealing and useful. Am Chofshi B’Artzenu (Free Jewish People In Our Land) should be the three pillars that define our communal “tent”, whose “roof” would be the assumption of our continued existence as a fundamental value – Lihiyot (To be).

All stripes of Israel-supporter can agree with this statement - and argue within it. We may not agree on the exact borders of “our Land”, nor may we agree to what extent we must share this land with others who also view it as “theirs”, but we do agree that the Jews’ State must be in that biblical Middle Eastern neck of the woods.

We may not agree exactly on our definition of who is a Jew, nor may we agree on our interpretation of halacha or its applications, but we can agree that the Jews are a People and as such deserve their own opportunity for self-determination.

Our understandings of Free will be nuanced, too. Some Zionists cannot understand the liberation movement of the Jewish people without democracy: How can we free the Jewish People to control its own destiny without freeing the Jewish person to do the same? Others will engage in a heated discussion about the morality of enjoying freedom while restricting the freedom of others, while their interlocutors will argue how our freedom from terror should be our most important guide.

What we are pointing out is that this “holding form” for agreement is no strait-jacket. We would still have plenty of room to argue within this formulation. We are arguing for the parameters of a communal “tent” rather than a communal “tank”.

A tent is not a tank. In a tank we can be safe, we can fight back against our enemies, but life is pretty cramped and miserable inside, everyone must follow orders, only the military exists, and everyone outside is a mortal enemy.

A tent allows us room to talk freely among ourselves, allows space to have fun occasionally(!) and appreciate that not all is a military compound, and – perhaps equally significant – can empower us to engage more confidently with those not inside the tent.

This definition of the tent’s limits allows us to clarify who sits outside its parameters, and help us design our approach to them accordingly. There is clearly no point arguing the complexities of Israel’s immigration policy with someone who does not accept that Israel should have the right to decide any immigration policy! There is nothing to be gained discussing the desired borders of the State of Israel with someone who does not agree that the Jews have a connection to the land in the first place.

Yet we can defend the basics: Why we regard the Jews as a people, the rights of a people to freedom, and our connection to the land. As long as we keep our eyes on this three-pillared structure to our tent, instead of turning our backs to critics, we can learn to face them.

At the same time, if we reject the constrictions of a communal “tank”, and accept how “Am Chofshi b’Artzenu” defines the extent of our open-sided tent, we may now embrace the work to be done inside the tent. Within Israel and within the Jewish world we can now talk and work at the areas where these different values harmonize, and where they sometimes clash.

The way the Ketura solar panel fields will feed into the world’s first national network of electric cars, while also offering a fresh solution to the issue of Bedouin land rights, can serve as an example of how being a Free People In Our Land can better the world. On the other hand, Israeli policies towards African refugees, or women at the Kotel, indicate that not all is yet harmonized inside the tent.

This three-pillared tent will allow us to differentiate between three kinds of people we are in danger of conflating. We will better defend ourselves against the malicious rejecter of Jewish rights in Israel, we will converse more fruitfully with principled dissenters, and we will be free to work with those who live inside this fascinating and compelling tent of Israel.

To this end we have created this Am Chofshi B’Artzenu booklet for your use. Through the guided questions to the text studies, and a couple of programs on Hatikva and the Prayer for the State of Israel, we hope you may find a powerful resource for addressing our deep and rich connection with Israel.