Above All, This Is a Jewish State

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Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas' recognition of Israel as the nation-state for the Jewish people is the litmus test for the conflict's end.Credit: AFP

The argument surrounding the issue of recognizing the State of Israel as a Jewish state has gone too far. We can argue as to whether Israel should posit such a demand as a sine qua non for an agreement with the Palestinians. I personally have no doubt that the prime minister’s demand and insistence on this issue are justified. But recently there have been articles on the pages of this important newspaper that question the very assertion that the State of Israel should be seen as a Jewish state.

Some have repeated the futile arguments that an emphasis on the Jewish character of Israel constitutes racism, or a blow to the equality and rights of the minority, or a way of allowing religion to rule the country. There was even an opinion piece by senior columnist Zvi Bar'el, entitled “A Jewish nation-state is for Israelis with identity anxiety” (Haaretz English Edition, March 26), which implied that Israel is following in the footsteps of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

But this is not the case! The demand to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people has nothing to do with religion – it is a matter that is entirely in the national rather than the religious realm.

The Jews are a people, a nation that has existed for the past 3,000 years. They have a language of their own, cultural assets of their own – first and foremost the Hebrew Bible – and a land of their own. This nation also has a single unique religion, and therefore there is no such thing as a Christian Jew.

But most of the Jewish people in Israel and certainly in the Diaspora are not religious, and many are atheists. That is the meaning of the statement by the sages that “A Jew, even though he has sinned, is still a Jew” – in other words, even if he has no connection to religion, as long as he hasn’t adopted another religion he is still part of the Jewish people.

Some people claim that the nation-state is an anachronism in the 21st century, a phenomenon that is gradually disappearing. Anyone with eyes in his head, who grasps the international situation, knows this claim is groundless. It’s enough to hear the residents of Crimea talking about “Mother Russia” or the residents of Kiev talking about “Mother Ukraine” in order to understand how unrealistic this assertion is.

It’s not clear why it is acceptable if the Germans and the French and the British – even if they have national minorities in their countries – are proud of their nation-state, but here one is not allowed to mention that the State of Israel is a nation-state – that is presumably racism or chauvinism. All the philosophizing and the populist hair-splitting cannot conceal or do away with the historical truth that the State of Israel was established by the Jewish people and is in the possession of the Jewish people.

The demand that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people is justified because it is the real test, the litmus test for ending the conflict. Anyone who compares the Jews in Israel to the French settlement in Algeria or the British settlement in Kenya is not a partner to peace because one does not make peace with a colonialist occupier, a foreign implant.

I too have a narrative about our right to the entire Land of Israel, but I understand that it has to be adapted to the reality of a Palestinian nation living in this country. If the Palestinians want peace they must adapt their narrative of Greater Palestine to the historical truth of the existence of a Jewish people with a profound connection to this country, and a solidly grounded right to establish its state on at least part of it.

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