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We need to talk about Israel.
Too often it seems that our conversations about Israel are either too cerebral to be meaningful, or too passionate to be intelligent. We need to be able to bring both our heads and our hearts to bear. This is no easy task, as we face at least three challenges.
Tent or Tank?
How can we easily delineate the parameters of the tent, making it a Middle Eastern kind of tent – that has defined edges, but that is open to all sides?
How can we speak in universal terms without losing our own particular authenticity?
Finally, can we sum up the complexity in a simple way that isn’t simplistic?
At Makom, the Israel Education Lab, we believe we have something to offer. An approach and a program that addresses all three of these challenges.
Let’s start from the universal. We would suggest that there are four questions underlying all conflict in the world…1. One driving question underlying most news headlines is “How do we keep safe?”2. The second question is: “Who are We and how should We behave?”3. The third question is simple, but growing increasingly complex: “How can we be free?”
4. Finally, as we are seeing that the questions of home, homeland, and territory has returned with ever-increasing urgency, we ask “How do we make a place our own?”
Often the most burning issues draw on all four questions together. As refugees desperately seek safety in Europe, and Europeans ask themselves what is their distinctly European response as well as their national response, while the principle of freedom of movement is suddenly in question, and borders represent a moral challenge – we can see that addressing these four questions is a way of speaking to the world, not just to Jews.
From Universal to Jewish
What is the Jewish way of wording these crucial universally-shared questions?
We at Makom add a question-mark to the four Hebrew words that make up the penultimate line of the Hatikvah Israeli National Anthem:
“To be” asks questions of Safety and Security. “People” asks about who We are and how We should behave. “Free” asks about Rights and Responsibilities, and “In Our Land” asks questions of home, homeland, and borders.
Before breaking down how these four questions play out in an Israeli context, let’s consider the four words as a sentence. “To Be a People, Free In Our Land” is something of a consensus aspiration.
In this language of liberal national aspiration, Israel is the embodiment of being the People of Israel, Free in the Land of Israel. There is also significant international support for the Palestinians to be a PalestinianPeople Free in the Land of Palestine.
Anyone who does not agree that we have the right to be the People of Israel free in the Land of Israel, is “outside the tent”.
Rather than excluding some, this construction allows us to understand and include many more people “inside the tent”, and to dialogue far more constructively with those outside.
Here the Four Hatikvah Questions (4HQ) come into their own. For while we can expect those “inside the tent” to agree with the sentence, we don’t have to reach consensus on the answers to the questions!
To be? All of us inside the tent agree that Israel should exist. But we do not all agree on the way we should define an existential threat. It is entirely legitimate to argue about the best means to defeat or neutralize a threat, and we are bound to continue to question whether or when we are free to disregard a threat and to just be..
The Jewish People? It would be impossible to be “inside the tent” of pro-Israel discourse without acknowledging the centrality of the Jewish People to the enterprise. But it is completely fair to question the way in which Jewish tradition and religion plays a role in modern Israel. Questions of social solidarity within Israel, and between Jews throughout the world will always be ongoing policy questions. And the way in which the Jewish People should relate to people who are not Jewish will rightly resonate throughout our moral considerations. The fact that we might argue on this question does not make us anti-Zionists…
Free? To imagine a State of Israel that is not democratic is anathema to real lovers of Israel. But questions of pluralism, electoral systems, of how ongoing control over areas East of the Green Line affects our democracy, questions of human rights, creativity, innovation – these are the kind of questions that keep us alive!
In Our Land? The days of considering the Uganda Plan are long gone – Israel must be located in Biblical Israel. But which part? How large a part? With access to other parts? What makes a homeland? These are all legitimate, live, and crucial questions.
The Zionist enterprise can be defined as the ongoing drive to implement ever-better answers to these four questions of Hope.
When it comes down to it, the Israel conversation is made up of four questions.
The Four Hatikvah Questions.
4HQ. The Four Questions of Hope.
4HQ is a simple way to contain the complexity that is Israel. It is universal yet particular, and it offers a constructive approach to the “Big Tent”.
How can we put 4HQ to use?
A Thinking Tool
First of all, 4HQ is a way to listen to Israel conversations, and a way to think clearly about Israel issues. What is she saying? What is he shouting about? Listen for which of the underlying questions they are asking, and address them. The conversation will be far richer, far more constructive. When the latest headline screams across the Washington Post or New York Times, see where it addresses which of the Four Hatikvah Questions. Is it about existential threat? Is it about being Jewish? Is it about democracy? The Land?
A Mapping and Planning Tool
When looking at a calendar of events, ask yourself whether you are covering all four of the questions? If you notice a weight on questions of security and land, with little addressing freedom, perhaps your programming has a right-leaning bias. If freedom dominates your agenda, with no acknowledgement of threats, then the chances are you are leaning left-wards! Programming that wishes to both represent the fullness of Israel, and the breadth of your community’s connections to Israel, should attempt to address all four questions.
An Aid to Celebration
When we celebrate Chanukah, or Pesach, there are one or two texts, a few traditions, that we can easily refer to every year. But Yom Ha’atzmaut? What exactly is it that we are celebrating? For the first time in two thousand years, ever since May 14th, 1948, we have been able to answer all four primary questions of hope with a resounding “Yes!” Do we exist? Are we a living breathing People? Do we rule ourselves democratically in the Land of Israel? Yom Ha’atzmaut is the day to celebrate the fundamentals.
A Response Tool
When the latest hot topic comes burning across the media, and the community looks to you to convene a conversation in response, we tend to look to 4HQ. For example, when Prime Minister Netanyahu came to speak to the U.S. Congress, some communities wished to watch a live screening of the speech, and then sit around tables to talk about what they saw and heard. We at Makom provided them with discussion table mats, presenting key questions in the framework of 4HQ.
Makom training in 4HQ
Tools are one thing, but learning how to use them is another thing entirely!
- Makom can come to you and run short or in-depth customized training for your staff, lay leaders, and/or para-professionals.
- We can offer 4HQ training as a component of your trip to Israel, and/or build for you a a 4HQ-filtered tour of Israel.
- You can turn to us for source materials, discussion guides, etc, according to your needs.