There is something of the absurd in the recent flurry of activity in Israel to ensure that it is recognized as a Jewish state…
Is Israel so insecure about its identity that it needs others, particularly its adversaries, the Palestinians, to tell it what kind of a country it is? If Israel wants to be a Jewish state, let it be so. It shouldn’t need anyone else to affirm it. Israel should worry more about its own citizens, Arab and haredi, who have a problem with its self-declared identity.
On the contrary, it is not only not absurd, it is absolutely essential.
The Arabs and others who refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state — or, in another formulation, as the state of the Jewish People — do so because they refuse to admit that there is a Jewish people.
Here are some Palestinian comments made last month in response to PM Netanyahu’s statement that there would be no progress in talks with Palestinians until they recognized Israel as a Jewish state:
Omar al-Ghul, an adviser to PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, said that Netanyahu’s demand was aimed at transferring the Palestinians to another country.
“No Palestinian leader can ever accept this demand even if the whole world recognizes Israel as a Jewish state,” he stressed. “The state of Israel belongs to all its citizens, the Palestinians [sic] owners of the land and the Jews living there.”
Hafez Barghouti, editor of the PA’s daily mouthpiece, Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, said that Netanyahu’s demand was aimed at expelling the Arab citizens of Israel and turning Jerusalem into a Jewish city.
“Netanyahu wants to replace the Palestinian kaffiyeh with a Jewish kippa,” Barghouti said. “This is an irrational and absurd request. No country in the world has ever demanded that it be recognized on the basis of its religion and not political entity.” (my emphasis)
Palestinians have been consistent in their insistence that ‘Jews’ means ‘practitioners of the Jewish religion’ and nothing else. If there were no Jewish People, this would be very convenient for the Palestinians, because it would indeed make no sense for a ‘religion’ to ask for a state. Zionism, which demands self-determination for the Jewish People, would be meaningless. By denying that there is a Jewish people, the Arabs are denying Jewish self-determination.
Unfortunately for the Palestinian Arabs — whose own claim to peoplehood is far more tenuous — there is a history and tradition of the Jewish People over thousands of years. 19th-century Zionists, many of whom (including Herzl) were entirely secular, called for a Jewish state to solve the historical problems facing Jews — religious and secular — living among other peoples. The Balfour Declaration, the Mandate, the UN Partition Resolution and Israel’s Declaration of Independence — not to mention the practical self-defense of Israel since then — all declare that there must be a homeland for the Jewish People.
We need to understand the Palestinian position in the context of all of their demands, including ‘right of return’. Practically speaking, what it means when Palestinians deny a Jewish People is that they see Israel as just another Middle Eastern state, which happens to be under the control of Jewish colonialists. But of course the real ‘owners’ will ultimately repossess it.
As long as they do not accept Israel as a Jewish state — a state of the Jewish People — they continue to claim it, and to assert the right to ‘resist’ its ‘unjust’ occupation.
This is actually the first thing needed for peace: an unambiguous admission that we have a right to be here. The rest would be a matter of details.