Start-up Nation Or Nation In Need Of Repair

by Jay Ruderman

We here in Israel, and well-meaning members of the Diaspora, tend to be obsessed with the external threats facing the Jewish state, and for good reason.

Whether it’s the status of Israel’s negotiations with the Palestinians or Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, the threats to Israel’s very existence are constantly on the minds of Israelis and her supporters around the globe. At the same time, however, Israelis tend to ignore the very real fissures within our society that rear their ugly heads from time to time. Our obsession with our external threats and lack of engagement with our internal threats has led us further down the path toward a society of which none of us should be proud.

We’ve all heard many times that we should be judged as a society by how we treat those members of our society who are in need. If this is the proper standard by which we are to judge ourselves, we are lacking in so many ways. When looking at how we treat those members of society living on the fringe, we come up short. In fact, when those of us from the fringes of society exert our rights to be included in all aspects of Israeli society, we are often rebuffed, ignored and even worse, attacked.

Two very recent items that received scant coverage in the Israeli media should shake us to the core and make us think twice about what kind of society we are building – and whether it deserves to be held up as a model to the world.

AKIM Israel, an organization that fights for the rights of people with intellectual disabilities, recently released a study which showed that 43 percent of Israelis do not want people with disabilities living next to them. Their study went on to show that 67% of Israelis feel that they do not know how to speak to a person with a disability, and 37% would deny people with intellectual disabilities the right to vote.

You may think that these attitudes have no real impact on the ability of people with disabilities to live in our society, but you’d be wrong. Attitudes that foster discrimination can have a very real impact. Just yesterday it was reported that a home of people with disabilities in north Tel Aviv was shot at by unknown assailants. Previously, neighbors had broken the lock on the door and physically blocked the entrance to the house. The message was loud and clear: “We don’t want people with disabilities living among us.”

If we truly believe that we here in Israel should be a light onto the nations, we must take a long, hard look at ourselves before promoting ourselves to the rest of the world. We Israelis take great pride in our “Start-Up Nation” status. Israelis travel the globe telling all that will listen how smart and talented we are.

Missions from the Diaspora land in Israel every day seeking to meet with our political and military leaders to hear about the “real” existential threats to Israel and Israeli ministers are all too happy to run to the media to talk about these threats. But none of it matters if the internal threats remain untreated.

If we want to be a truly great nation, all of us – Israeli leaders, Diaspora leaders and those obsessed with Israel’s image – must take a stand against the very real segregation and discrimination within our society.

Instead of turning the page when we learn about the ugly side of Israel, we should all determine the very real steps we will take to advocate for an inclusive and just society. After all, we will be judged not by our hi-tech success or military prowess, but how we treat those in need among us.

Jay Ruderman is the President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. He is happy to connect and engage on Twitter.

This opinion piece first appeared in The Jerusalem Post.