Speaker for local Israel at 50 isnt waving flags

"I'm proud of Israel. I appreciate it and love living there," he said in a phone interview last week from New York. "But I'm not setting off a lot of sparklers and waving a lot of flags — and I'm not crying any tears."

Chafets, who describes himself as "left of secular" and "right of secular," writes a witty, sarcastic column for the Jerusalem Report. He is also the author of several books.

Currently on an American speaking tour, Chafets will join other prominent Israelis at a San Francisco symposium on Thursday, May 14 — the 50th anniversary of Israel's birth on the secular calendar.

But don't expect any garden-variety patriotism from Chafets, who is 50 himself.

"The fact that someone wants to have a big party is of no interest to me whatsoever…I'm not saying it's not a date to be marked and remarked about. But most of this is hype," said Chafets of his government's plans for large-scale, public celebration.

"It's an event largely important to journalists and government officials who can get something out of it."

In the same vein, Chafets regularly fills his columns with the biting words of an iconoclast willing to lambaste or poke fun at any political or religious figure.

A recent column, for example, chastised Labor Party leader Ehud Barak's ineptitude in announcing that he would have been a terrorist if he'd been born a Palestinian. But Chafets didn't stop there.

"It is too late to prevent Bibi…from portraying Ehud Barak in a keffiya," Chafets wrote. "The correct response is not to stammer rationalizations, it is to counter-attack by putting Netanyahu in a shtreiml" — referring to the black hat of the fervently religious.

A native of the Detroit area, Chafets made aliyah in 1967 — shortly after attempting to volunteer for the Israeli army but then missing the Six-Day War. Today, he splits his time between residences in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Chafets defends his fellow Israelis for not wanting to march to the government's beat on the 50th. Most Americans, he noted, probably spent the bicentennial at picnics or playing baseball with friends.

Instead of dancing in the streets to mark Israel's statehood, Chafets would rather see Jews reading a book or attending a lecture about Israel — preferably his lecture.

"A great many Israeli writers and gasbags are cashing in on it. I'm no better than the tour guides and restaurant people," said Chafets, who doesn't mind making himself the butt of his own barbs.

In fact, he asserted that the anniversary doesn't mean much to him. It never occurred to him that Israel wouldn't reach 50.

"I don't think about it in those terms. I means a lot to me that the country is prospering or that there's freedom of the press…These are the issues I care about."

He also cares about trying to secularize Israel's political system.

Chafets believes in the complete separation of synagogue and state. He opposes religious political parties and state-funded religious schools. And he doesn't think religious movements should receive government money.

During his childhood in America, Chafets was raised Reform. Today, he's "like most non-Orthodox Jews. I pick and choose. But for me, the greatest Jewish experience is living in Israel."

He does fear an eventual civil war between secular and religious Jews. "They already murdered the prime minister," he said.

Chafets, however, is sure the secular Jews will win.

"Free people do not lose to tyrants," he said. "In my opinion, free people don't lose to backward people."

Though a passion for Israel led him to make aliyah, Chafets now states that Zionism's work is done. The ideology was the spark that culminated in the state of Israel.

"Zionism can now take a rest," he said. Today, "the state should be allowed to evolve into whatever it involves into."

While Chafets is optimistic about the country's future in the region, he does say Israel requires just one thing to survive for another 50 years in the Mideast.

"It needs to get itself a good anti-ballistic missile system. That's all. That's it."