Following are several statements that are not at all contradictory:
1. The Jewish people have a right to self-determination in the framework of a state.
2. This right is not a right to deny the right of another nation to self-determination in the framework of a state, nor is it a right to violate international law.
3. Despite that, the State of Israel – whose agenda has been dominated by the settlers in the past decades – was not satisfied with the international mandate it received to establish a national home for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, and chose to include messianic-ethnocentric (and anti-Zionist) content in the definition “Jewish,” whose main objective is to promote the settlement enterprise in contradiction of international law.
This means undermining the right of the Palestinians to control their own fate, whether in the framework of a sovereign State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel (which requires the division of Jerusalem and withdrawal to the 1967 borders), or in the framework of the one-state solution (which requires granting the right to vote). The only possible solutions to the problem of the Palestinian population according to the messianic-ethnocentric interpretation are transfer or apartheid.
4. The destructiveness that stems from the messianic-ethnocentric content is infiltrating into Israel as well, and is eroding democracy in its basic sense. This erosion is reflected in the attitude toward the Palestinian minority in Israel; in the attitude toward other populations such as refugees, asylum seekers and the LGBT community; in undermining the right to freedom of religion and in an attempt to restrict the democratic gatekeepers, such as the judicial authority, the press, academia and the school system.
The State of Israel could adopt a different interpretation of the expression “Jewish and democratic,” which could perhaps be described as “the democratic state of the Jewish people.” Such a state would implement the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in the State of Israel, but within democratic boundaries.
First and foremost, this proposal requires giving up the settlement enterprise and the vision of Greater Israel. Second, it requires that the country adopts only liberal and humanistic interpretations of its definition as “Jewish,” and rejects benighted interpretations.
Third, it requires that the country actively works to promote civil and collective equal rights for the Palestinian minority. Seventy years after its justified establishment, and as a regional power supported by the United States, Israel can muster the courage to recognize the existence of a Palestinian narrative as well.
Fourth, there is a need to strengthen the democratic component as a value in itself, and not only as a procedural aspect of a majority decision.
The content proposed by Tzvia Greenfield in her op-ed “Yes, Jewish and democratic” (Haaretz in Hebrew, August 11) are a possible starting point for a discussion of the democratic state of the Jewish people: a country that will nurture the memory of Jewish history, support the study of the Jewish oeuvre and promote a practice of customs drawn from Jewish tradition.
Practical expressions of that, for example, are Hebrew as the official language, Shabbat as a day of rest and Jewish holidays as national holidays. Their proposal to expand voluntary customs in our personal lives (marriage, divorce, circumcision and burial) into a political requirement is too harmful to the rights of those who are excluded by the religious establishment, and undermines the right to freedom of religion.
But along with examining the practical expressions of the fact that Israel is the country in which the Jewish people realizes its right to self-determination, there is always a need to ask about the complementary arrangements for the Palestinian minority. An example of such a proper balance is the recognition of both Hebrew and Arabic as Israel’s official languages.
This discussion also includes more sensitive issues: For example, despite the democratic difficulties aroused by the Law of Return, it can be justified by the anti-Semitism in the world and the danger that faces Jews just because they are Jews (but an examination of the immigration arrangements as a whole requires the revocation of the amendment to the Citizenship Law, which disproportionately harms the right of Israel’s Palestinian citizens to equality and a family life).
Second, it is hard to justify undermining the right of the Palestinian minority to commemorate the Nakba (the “catastrophe,” as Palestinians refer to the large-scale exodus of Arabs upon the establishment of Israel). Israel can at the same time demonstrate confidence in the justice of its establishment and recognition of the fact that many Palestinians s uffered a catastrophe.
And third, we can consider a partial waiver when it comes to symbols, in order to signal to Israel’s Palestinian citizens that Israel really does consider them citizens with equal rights. The song “I Believe” has already been proposed as the national anthem: a Hebrew song, written by Jewish poet Shaul Tchernichovsky, but Israel’s non-Jewish citizens can also identify with it.
It’s clear that the more Israel strengthens its democratic nature – and this involves above all giving up the vision of Greater Israel, as well as a willingness to achieve more equal arrangements with the Palestinian minority – its legitimacy as a country in which the Jewish people are realizing their right to self-determination will increase. But meanwhile, Israel is marching in the opposite direction. Those contributing to that are the politicians, the intellectuals and the other leaders of public opinion, who are trying to adapt themselves to the spirit of the times and are concentrating on the Jews’ right to self-determination. Today they are the protective wall of messianic-ethnocentric Judaism.
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