Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni got this right:
International acceptance of Israel’s right to exist is not enough, the world must accept Israel as a Jewish state, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Wednesday to the thousands of Jewish American leaders who had come to Jerusalem for the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities.
“The world is willing to defend the right of the state of Israel to exist, this is the part of the requirement that the [Mideast] Quartet demands [of] Hamas. But I would like to add two more words to this demand of the quartet: They need to accept the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state,” she said. — Jerusalem Post
Unfortunately, she said it to the wrong audience. She should say it to the UN and to every foreign leader that she deals with, and in particular to Mahmoud Abbas and Salaam Fayad of the Palestinian authority, to Saudi Arabia, and to the leadership of the Israeli Arabs all of whom have categorically refused to accept this.
First of all, let’s get straight what a Jewish state is and is not. It is not a theocracy like Iran; its leaders are democratically elected from all segments of the population. It is not a state governed by halacha [Jewish law] analogous to Islamic states such as Iran or Saudi Arabia in which the legal system is based upon shaaria. Although family law in Israel is in the domain of religious authorities (but not only Jewish ones — Muslims, Christians and others also follow their traditions and authorities in this area), this is in no way essential to the Jewishness of the state.
The definition of the Jewish state is that it is the political realization of the Jewish people in the historical land of Israel — am yisrael b’eretz israel. Anti-Semites, extreme leftists and other enemies of the Jewish state understand this and try to attack the concept of the Jewish people or the provenance of the Jews in the land of Israel. But the more scientific evidence — evidence from modern genetics and archaeology — is uncovered, the more unfounded these claims are seen to be.
It is instructive that so many find the idea of a Jewish state — even a democratic one in which non-Jews can vote — so unacceptable, so 19th century or worse, and at the same time do not complain about the myriad absolute monarchies and dictatorships, the nationalistic states of Europe, the Islamic republics and kingdoms, and the states (like the UK) with established religions.
Palestinians do not accept that Israel is a Jewish state because they believe that Jewish control of the land is illegitimate. They don’t accept the Zionist claim to purchased land, the Balfour declaration of 1917, the UN partition decision of 1947 or the outcome of the War of Independence that followed. They do not accept any responsibility for the consequences of their actions and those of their allies that caused their nakba. They are historically, legally and morally wrong about this but I and no one else will convince them of it, since — even among the secular Palestinians, in a sense — this has become a religious issue. This fact has had and will continue to have tragic consequences.
Nevertheless it is the responsibility of Israel’s leadership to insist upon the concept of the Jewish state in every venue. Nothing is more important for, as Livni said, this is “the raison d’être of the state of Israel.”