The people of the State of Israel “lack an understanding of what democracy actually means in this country,” said former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren.

In a conversation with Adam Bellos over a cup of Ella Valley white Chardonnay, Oren waxed on about the challenges in Israel today and for the future.

He said that Israel has allowed at least two states-within-a-state to form in Israel: The haredi or ultra-Orthodox community and the Negev Bedouin. Oren said this is largely because Israelis are still figuring out how to manage their country and its varying demographics.

“We don’t have 800 years of democratic thought as they have in the West,” he said. “Most of our population comes from Arab countries, Middle Eastern countries or from Eastern Europe. They did not come with democracy in their suitcases.”

He noted that “the same is true for sovereignty. The Jews were not sovereign for 2,000 years, and before that, we were sovereign in various equivocal ways. We have a lack of understanding of what sovereignty means or what it requires.”

In the Negev, Oren claimed that Israel has turned a blind eye to the fact that Hamas and its Israeli nonviolent affiliates established themselves in Bedouin villages and started educating children there. “And it’s interesting that the Israeli-Arab part in the government, Ra’am, is a Bedouin Palestinian nationalist Islamist party. … We created from Ra’am a ‘Frankenstein monster.’ ”

Oren also spoke about:

• The disconnect between assimilated American liberal Jews and the Jewish state.
• The need to teach Hebrew to Jews worldwide.
• The BDS movement and why Israel has not managed to overcome it.
• Israel’s successes and what the country managed to build in the shadow of the Holocaust.

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