I Have No Other Country

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, July 31, 2023

Ein Li Eretz Acheret – I Have No Other Country
Lyrics: Ehud Manor
Music: Corinne Elal

I have no other country
even if my land is aflame
Just a word in Hebrew
pierces my veins and my soul
With a painful body, with a hungry heart,
Here is my home.

I will not stay silent
because my country changed her face

I will not give up reminding her
and sing in her ears
until she will open her eyes [chorus]

I have no other country
until she will renew her glorious days
until she will open her eyes [chorus]

(Listen to Ein Li Eretz Acheret as sung by Gali Atari)

These words, penned by the renowned Israeli songwriter Ehud Manor are from one of his most famous songs, a patriotic classic in Israel. Written as a protest song during the first Israel-Lebanon war, Manor reflects the love a person has towards Israel and the Hebrew language, despite the criticisms and disappointments they have towards their homeland. Ein Li Eretz Acheret reflects Manor’s pride and pain – both the complexity of Israel and a single, essential truth: I have no other country.
During the past week protests over the painful internal division and debate in Israel over judicial reforms have reached an inflection point in Israel. The root of the current divisions and protests stems from the recent shocking and unprecedented decisions of Prime Minister Netanyahu and his supporters.

The legislative system in the small country of Israel has some similarities and some differences from the Canadian and US systems of government. In Canada, we have provincial governments that each have their own provincial legislature and judiciary. In addition, we have three branches of government – executive, legislative, and judiciary – that all have checks and balances on each other. We have a Constitution that guarantees such.

Israel is such a small country that there are no provinces or states; there is one federal government that controls everything. In addition, Israel has only two branches of government, like a Parliament in Europe, and no Constitution but instead a set of Basic Laws. The executive and legislative branches are combined; the “speaker of the house” becomes Prime Minister. Therefore, the only check on the Prime Minister and his party, who control the Knesset or the combined executive-legislative branch, is the Israeli Supreme Court.

The current coalition was elected by the slimmest majority (after four failed elections in four years) and is composed of the most radical right-wing Israelis. Despite pressure from the United States and their own citizens, they have now passed a law (the Reasonableness clause) saying that the Supreme Court has no check on their power, making them solely in charge. The Ultra-Orthodox who control the government through Netanyahu will now pass laws cementing yeshiva students’ exemption from service, funneling money to yeshivas, doubling the number of settlers in disputed territories, and annexing Judea and Samaria. They are also using the police to further settler claims and often violence against the three million Palestinians who live in the West Bank.

And now currently on the Knesset table is a bill stating that the decision of the Election Commission is final and definite and cannot be challenged. If it were to pass, it appears that this bill could prevent free and fair elections. This would allow for example, for the committee to determine that an Arab party in the Knesset is not Zionist and therefore does not comply with No. 7 of the Basic Law of the Knesset and invalidate the Arab party, which essentially would silence the voices of Arab citizens in Israel and can invalidate any list of similar benefits.

Striking down the reasonableness standard in Israeli law seeks to undermine the very principles of democracy and fairness in Israel. Within Jewish law (Halakha), the principle of “derech eretz” (literally, “the way of the land”) in Jewish law encompasses ethical conduct and reasonable behavior. The Israeli legal system not only draws inspiration from Jewish law, it is also grounded in British common law, and legal principles adopted by other Western legal systems which guide legal decision making and action in a manner that is just, equitable, and considerate of others.

These decisions are an internal threat to the State of Israel. And there is widespread concern that the Israeli government is endangering the security of the State.

During the past week we have asked our Israeli colleagues in the Reform movement in Israel “What do you want to share with our Reform congregations in North America that would be fruitful and helpful?” Here are their responses:

We have so much educational work to do here and need true partners.

-Rabbi Alona Lisitsa

I want you to talk about hope.
I want you to talk about love.
I want you to talk about how hard it is to see a country one loves choose a dangerous path of self-harm.
I want you to make clear that democracy is not just the tiny thin majority enforcing its will on the minority and that is true wherever we are. There are universal moral truths which we cannot turn our backs on.

This is the message of this week’s parasha [Va’etchanan, which contains both the Ten Commandments and the Sh’ma]. The coming together of Aseret HaDibrot [The Ten Commandments] as a symbol of the most fundamental moral truths, and our credo of Shma Yisrael – a statement spoken to the particular Yisrael (ישראל) but focused ON the universal Echad (אחד). We turn to each other as fellow members of the people of Israel to remind each other of the oneness of creation – we are all in this together. Whenever one part of the human family falls, it affects us all.

And so yes – we all have a piece in this tragic outcome, but not equally.
The people who will suffer most are those who are already weakest. Palestinians, LGBTQ Israelis, Women, the poor, the disadvantaged. These are the people who have lost their protection today.

Democracy is not just BY the people and OF the people. It must also be FOR the people. All the people. This great injustice is part of a long abandonment of universal values which the people of Israel have allowed to happen for far too long. This loss of democracy for Israelis is the natural end of our giving up on democracy when we became comfortable with a never-ending occupation.

But this is not the end.
By the time Shabbat comes around we will be on the other side of Tisha B’Av, and while that is a day of mourning, it is also a testament to our resilience, our tenacity and our ability to continue to survive and to adapt.

We shall overcome.
Because we have hope. Because we have love.
Thank you for loving us xx We love you, and we won’t stop fighting for this country.

-Rabbi Haim Shalom

As you know our country is burning … It is a sad and difficult afternoon here…. Yet – the protest brought many indifferent people out of the house to show how important this country is to them, and how unwilling they are to give up democracy, civil rights and matters of religion and state. We really hope that this protest will also lead people to choose by their feet and join the liberal movements like the Reform movement. We have a lot of work to do in all fields, and the road is long – “the hope is two thousand years old” – and it does not end with one decision or another. There is a large movement of protest here, and alongside it a large movement of people who want to continue holding hands despite all the differences. We as the Reform movement and communities are here to hold on to hope even when darkness seems to be falling.

-Rabbi Rinat Safania

As hard as this is to see and watch from afar, and the reality is certainly very very very concerning, there are also huge waves of people working for a better Israel. And that this is not the end, but a pit that we can climb out of, like Yossef. Like all those who are struggling, we need friendship and solidarity more than ever. The rabbis and members of the Reform movement in Israel are front line activists.

-Rabbi Leora Ezrachi-Vered

Do not despair. Continue to educate ourselves and our communities about the issues, from both sides. To be leaders in dialogue. To delve into All of Israel is Responsible for One Another. To talk about the dangers of sin’at chinam [baseless hatred]. What is Reform/Progressive Zionism? How we can be supportive of Israel and supportive of Reform/Progressive Zionist values? How important every single person is to the success of Israel, both those of us who live here and those who live elsewhere. Our hope is not lost to be a free people in our own land.

-Rabbi Stacey Blank

Hatikvah, “The Hope” is the message of Israel’s national anthem. Our friends in Israel are continuing to protest, to aspire to something better, to pursue progress even in the wake of the recent political decisions.
Ein li eretz acheret – I have no other country. When he wrote these words Ehud Manor was torn apart about the actions of his government and its policies in Lebanon. But he reminded all of us of a fundamental truth: There is only one Jewish country in the world, and it belongs to all of us. Israel is the national homeland of the Jewish people. We cannot be silent or indifferent. Israel and our Reform partners in Israel need our support, our love, our hope, and our engagement in the hard work to ensure its future as a just, fair and democratic state.


Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

Filed under: Rabbi's Message

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