Those Undermining the Jewish State

Proponents of religious-messianic nationalism, key partners in the Israeli government, are making a dangerous mistake by trying to base Israel’s claim to all of Mandatory Palestine on a divine promise made in the Bible.

Party leader Naftali Bennett, (front row, center) and Rabbi Avichai Rontzki (front row, right) at a meeting of Habayit Hayehudi before the 2015 election.
Avishag Shaar Yishuv

Never had a young national movement undertaken a commitment on the scale of the one adopted by the first Zionist Congress, held in Basel in 1897. That congress adopted a resolution which stated that “Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured under public law”. Zionists recognized their political and physical weakness but were confident in the justice of their claim, which was based on universal values. This is why they determined that the right to fulfill the principle of self-determination of the Jewish people would be decided by the international community. They realized that the manner in which the Jewish people realized its right to self-determination would be exceptional, since the absolute majority of the nation lived outside the Land of Israel, in which there was a decisive Arab majority. However, they did not regard this as harming the moral justification for fulfilling the rights of the Jewish people, in light of their exceptional, tragic history.

In contrast, proponents of religious-messianic nationalism, who are key partners in the current Israeli government, are trying to base the legitimacy of the Jewish state over all of the territory of Mandatory Palestine on a divine promise made in the Bible. In doing so they undermine the historic, political, legal and moral validity that underpins the foundation of the Zionist narrative and which serves as the basis for the establishment of the State of Israel. Realization of their policies could lead Israel to failure in meeting the standards of the “law of nations.”

‘All or nothing’

One could debate the validity of a faith-based way of thinking, but one cannot ignore the damage it is inflicting on Israel’s standing in the world. By the very nature of such thinking, its proponents refrain from using arguments that are customary in the sphere of international relations, ones that could lead to compromise. Adherents of such a faith-oriented approach rely on an axiomatic conception that allows them to disqualify the legitimacy of others – Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims – leading the two sides into an “all-or-nothing” religious war under the belief that they will be the ones to win the entire land.

The Zionist claim for a Jewish state in the Land of Israel does not require ratification such as the one expressed by Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who said, “The entire land was granted to us by the Creator.” The validity of the Zionist claim is based firmly on a host of arguments that were accepted and promoted by the international community, justifying the non-application to Palestine of the principle of self-determination despite its Arab majority “due to the wish to establish a national home for the Jewish people,” as stated in the UN Partition Plan report from 1947.

The political-juridical validity of the Zionist claim was built on three layers. One was the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which granted Zionism recognition by Britain, the power that had conquered the Middle East. However, this declaration was but one of several declarations of support. There was another given in 1917 by Jules Cambeau on behalf of the French government, stating that “it would be a just and compensatory act to support, with the help of the powers, the revival of the Jewish nation in the land from which it was expelled centuries ago”; a further declaration was made by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in 1920: “I have become convinced that the allies, with the full assent of our government and people, agree that the foundations for a Jewish community be laid in Palestine.”

The second layer was the Mandate Order given to Britain by the Entente powers at San Remo in 1920. The third and decisive layer was the unanimous ratification of the Mandate by the League of Nations in 1922.

A nation, not just a religious community

The recognition of the natural right of the Jewish people to self-determination drew its strength from the international community’s recognition of the Jews, dispersed across the world, as one nation. In other words, as a group with a common national history, language and culture, not just as a religious community that believes in the Old Testament. International recognition was given despite the controversy surrounding this issue within the Jewish community itself, as demonstrated in 1917 by an ad published in the Times by the Jewish community in London, in which it declared that “Judaism is not a nationality but strictly a religion.” In later years, the Arabs wrote in the Palestinian national charter: “Judaism as a divine religion is not a nationality on its own, and Jews do not constitute one people they are citizens in the countries they belong to.”

In the Mandate Order the international community emphasized the historic validity of the Zionist claim. In the context of the Arab statement that appeared later in the Palestinian charter, saying that “claims of a historic or spiritual connection of Jews to Palestine are not consistent with historic truths,” it should be noted that the Mandate Order said, “Recognition is hereby given to the historic links between the Jewish people and Palestine and to their right to renew their national home in this land.”

Moreover, the international community later emphasized, in the partition report of 1947, that “both the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate Order included an international commitment to the entire Jewish people.” In other words, Jewish communities around the world belong to one nation that was exiled from its land, to which it has a right to return and re-establish its independent state. The commitment was made to the entire Jewish people, not just to the 80,000 Jews then living in the Land of Israel.

These solid foundations of the Zionist claim and narrative were used again by David Ben-Gurion in the 1948 Declaration of Independence. He chose to emphasize that the Zionist movement had withstood the test of the law of nations, so that the Jewish state was being established based on three-fold rights: “the validity of our natural and historic rights and on the basis of the UN General Assembly resolution.” The “natural right” of the Jewish people is the right any nation has to self-determination. The “historic” right derives from historic ties between Jews and the land. Along with these came a right based on recognition and support by the international community. The inclusion of this third right in the Declaration of Independence was made possible only after bitter arguments with Herzl Rosenblum, the Revisionist representative, who opposed it.

Resistance to ‘law of nations’

Adherents of religious-messianic nationalism do not want to and cannot adopt a position based on the “law of nations” since over the years the international community has also recognized Arab claims. In 1923 the League of Nations decided to exclude Transjordan from the scope of the Balfour Declaration, according to Article 25 in the Mandate Order, enabling the establishment of an Arab kingdom there (Transjordan). In 1947 the United Nations decided, in its partition resolution, to establish an Arab state alongside the Jewish one, since the basic assumption underlying the Partition Plan was that the claims on Palestine, by Jews and Arabs, were both valid yet irreconcilable. Of all the proposals submitted, partition was the most practical one, which would allow the partial fulfilment of the claims and aspirations of both sides.

Since 1988, the year in which the PLO recognized the Partition Plan (UN Resolution 181) and the Security Council’s Resolution 242, many resolutions have been adopted at the United Nations and other supranational organizations, resolutions that recognize official Palestinian demands to establish a state defined by the 1967 borders. The most prominent one was adopted on November 29, 2012, in which 138 countries recognized the PLO as the state of Palestine, defined by these borders.

Hotovely tried to strengthen her national-religious position by quoting Rabbi Yehuda Ashkenazi, who said that “if Jews are convinced of the righteousness of their cause when confronting the world, they’ll be OK.” Naftali Bennett, Hotovely’s coalition partner, expresses similar views, saying that “we’ll help the world get used to” an annexation of Area C, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem.

In the absence of a capability to contend with the international community’s recognition of Palestinian demands, and with the support of this position by more than half of all Israelis, the adherents of a nationalist-religious-messianic worldview only become more extremist. Their failure and despair push them into promoting a raft of new bills bearing the hallmarks of post-World War I fascism: militarism, anti-intellectualism, xenophobia, oppression of the individual, of women and the LGTB community, perpetual war, accusations of treason hurled at peace-seekers, exploitation of social distress and more.

Losing international community’s support

The upsurge in these phenomena could turn the harsh, exceptional incidents we’ve witnessed in recent years, such as in the West Bank village of Qusra, whose inhabitants were targeted by settler vigilantes, or in Duma, where the Dawabsheh family home was torched, or the incidents in Hebron, will become routine. If Jewish Israeli society allows these types of incidents to persist it will by its own hand cancel the moral validity on which this country was based. It will lose the international community’s support for “the existence of a Jewish homeland in the Land of Israel,” by breaching the clear condition for such support, as emphasized in the Mandate Order, that “no action will be to harm the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities.”

Bennett, Hotovely, Zeev Elkin, Miri Regev, Benjamin Netanyahu, Gilad Erdan, Yariv Levin and others must recognize that the Jewish people don’t need religious and messianic arguments referring to a divine promise in order to obtain international recognition for their right to sustain their country on the Land of Israel, within recognized borders.

The arguments that have to be repeated are not the ones viewing Jews as a chosen nation, superior to others, whose land was promised to them by the Creator. Instead, in the spirit of Jewish humility and morals, legal, political, historic and moral arguments that have withstood the rule of the “law of nations” should be employed. One should reiterate that these are valid only if one recognizes their universality and the right of the Palestinians to a state of their own, as also recognized by the “law of nations.” Ignoring the requisite compromise and mutual recognition, together with the desperate attempt to hold on to one “truth” that is convenient to one side only, is pushing Israel outside the boundaries of universal morality, evicting it from the family of nations.

Dr. Arieli is an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the author of “People and Borders: About the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.”