In fact, there are many vocal Israelis who query these relations and what it means to be Jewish in Israel today. They ask questions that cut deep about secular and religious Jewish identity. Even if their dialogues don't always see wide distribution, individuals like Menachem Klein, Avram Burg, and Shlomo Sand share a common desire, with varying approaches, for a critique of Israel beyond the question of its survival.
These individuals wish to move Israelis and Jews to a new understanding of their society. Like Old Testament prophets, they have a tough time of it, garnering as much criticism as their fore-bearers. Their words may seem like 'cries in the wilderness' while occupation and conflict continue.
As is the case with many Middle Eastern identities, the past remains a large ingredient of what it means to be Jewish today. The Jewish people have survived over millenia. Among many achievements, they have utilized a book of scripture to preserve their culture, resurrected a holy language and transformed it into a vernacular, and returned after centuries to a land described in these scriptures as their home.
Indeed, the commitment of Jews to their culture (and, by some, to their faith) is remarkable in its durability despite tribulation: Jews have survived a great number of the difficulties and traumas that history can inflict. That survival has resulted in the state of Israel: a country that represents a haven and fortress for a people that has 'wandered' and suffered for thousands of years.
Jews have indeed often overcome massive odds, preserved their identity and founded a state. But, is the purpose of all the triumphs and defeats of history only the survival of the group for its own sake? Or do Jews have a larger mission implicit in their compact with their scriptures and with themselves?
It is a natural human instinct to put the needs of our group’s survival above all else. If the main goal of the Jewish people is group survival for its own sake, then indeed Jews in Israel should fight at all costs to survive with few other considerations. The mission would be clear and simple and the litmus test would be, indeed, survival. If that is the case, then the question of any larger purpose is moot.
But, it is the Jews themselves who claim a higher calling.
Throughout history, Jews have been the reverse of simply a tribe: they have been also the source of many universal laws for greater human development. From Abraham the patriarch of three faiths, to the message of Jesus, to Freud's breakthroughs in psychology, to Marxist dialectics, to Einstein's laws of physics, Jews have contributed hugely to the discovery of universal laws of great utility to humanity.
Indeed, this tendency may derive directly out of the scriptures on which Jewish culture and bonds are based. These writings may reflect a deep interest in understanding a unifying and universal being; they may spur a millennial commitment and a longstanding search for universals.
Today's Jewish nationalism, and many actions of the state of Israel, have much to do with the preservation of a people, or a tribe, and little with that greater principle.
The fact is that the creation of Israel has resulted in the suffering and displacement of another people, the Palestinians, as well as chronic conflict with its neighbours. Yet, in all faiths and in most societies, healthy relations with outsiders is a consistent marker of properly meeting a larger reality.
If Israel and Jews have a larger road, then Israel's relations with its neighbours are today’s litmus test: Is the group effectively the centre of its universe or is it, like all things, a means of outreach to a greater whole?
In the early 20th century, Martin Buber, an early Zionist and philospher, believed that the Jews should live alongside the Arabs in a new enterprise. He pleaded with his fellow Zionists for a bi-nationalist project: Arab and Jew. He believed both peoples were there to serve the land, and not to compete over its acreage. In his view, the universal call in Jewish scripture would be the spark of a more constructive and less exclusive relation with others at all levels: political, social and moral.
Martin Buber lost his battle but the struggle has been picked up by others. Recently, Avram Burg, former Speaker of the Knesset, wrote a book entitled 'Defeating Hitler'. It claims that Hitler had in fact won, not by destroying the Jewish people but by leaving them with enough trauma and fear to create an oppressive force for survival in the Middle East. 'Defeating Hitler' would mean moving away from this trauma and towards a renewal of the Jewish universalism cultivated so successfully in the past in the Islamic world, in Europe and elsewhere.
The basic question that Jews, Israelis, and all groups must ask is: What is the purpose of an identity? What is its litmus test? Only survival for its own sake? Or is it an instrument for larger growth, an extension from the particular towards universal qualities - a stretch that Jews have in fact excelled at for millenia.