Opinion

It’s OK to Say You Want to Live in a Jewish State

The goal must be to cultivate a ‘broad’ Israeli identity in Arab citizens, based on the state being their home and their country, in addition to its being the national home of the Jewish people

Jewish worshippers cover themselves in prayer shawls as they recite the priestly blessing at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot October 19, 2016.
Baz Ratner, Reuters

“Most Israelis wouldn’t want to live in a country with an Arab majority, including the leftists. Not because they are racist, but because they want to live in accordance with liberal, democratic values and they see how the region’s Arab states are.” Uri Misgav wrote this in a rebuttal (Haaretz Hebrew edition, Jan. 18) to Gideon Levy’s vision of a single, binational state.

Anyone who is reluctant to say that he wants to live in a Jewish state has to explain why he doesn’t want to live in an Arab state. But it seems to me that the explanation of the desire to live in a Jewish state, in addition to having the advantage of honesty, is also a more enlightened explanation, and more politically correct in the positive sense of the term. That is, the desire to avoid giving offense unnecessarily. It is also more universal, in the sense of recognizing the principle of human equality.

For example, I am not interested in living in a state with a Danish majority. I would not want to live in the Danish national state, nor in a binational state with the Danes. From this aspect, there is no difference in principle between the Danes and the Arabs, and nothing that distinguishes the Arabs in a bad way. The right of nations to national self-determination is a universal principle and people’s desire to live in an independent nation of their own people is a legitimate desire that does not raise the suspicion of racism.

There is no need to reject this suspicion by explaining what is actually wrong with an Arab majority. Of course, anyone can see that given the existing circumstances it is better to be a minority in Denmark and not a minority in an Arab state, but this is just an appendix to the main issue dependent on current circumstances.

Relying on the principle of national self-determination allows one to explain why the Jews need a state without saying anything bad about the Arabs. The harsh circumstances in our region are clear to everyone, but the Jewish people has a long memory. European Zionism, as far as an ideological alternative existed and not just as a response to severe distress, was a decision to leave Europe to live in the heart of the Muslim-Arab world.

The desire of Israeli Jews to live in a Jewish state is natural and legitimate, as is too the desire of the Palestinians living in the territories for national independence in their own state. In both cases, what is not legitimate is to deny the right of the other people to independence.

It is also clear that many people around the world (including many Jews) live as a minority, and there is nothing wrong this phenomenon either, or with the attachment of the minority to their country. Given the existing circumstances, it is clear that most Israeli Arabs — and not just Israeli Jews — do not want to live in an Arab state. But that is not enough. The goal must be to cultivate a “broad” Israeli identity in Israel’s Arab citizens, which is based on the state being their home and their country, in addition to its being the national home of the Jewish people. Partially and insufficiently, albeit much more significantly than many people think it is, such a form of Israeliness is not just an ideal but a reality today too, despite all the difficulties involved.

And as for the “single state,” it is clear (if, God forbid, it comes to be) that it will be not as Gideon Levy presents it but rather as Uri Misgav assumes it will be. Anyone who does not understand this is living in a dreamworld. In this dreamworld there is no nationalism in our region, only Jewish nationalism; no religious fanaticism, only Jewish fanaticism and no brutality, only Jewish brutality.

It is true that too many Israelis ignore the elephant in the room, which is the occupation. But even this elephant cannot not compare to the mammoth in the room, which Gideon Levy ignores.