Who Will Recognize the Israeli Nation?

There is an enormous difference between a nation-state formed by the majority of its citizens and a theocracy that forces on us a definition based on religion.

One of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's talents is his ability to engrave short and catchy slogans in the public consciousness in a way that seems non-political. It's hard to shake them off and just as tough to handle their their almost hermetic logic. Who can argue with the Palestinians' demand for "mutuality"? Or with the equation, "If they give, they'll get; if they don't, they won't"? Or with "the war on terror" and "the Iranian threat"?

What should we say in response: Lack of mutuality? Asymmetry? If they give they won't get and if they get and won't give? Or, there is no terror and no Iranian threat? No, no one is better than Netanyahu in this respect. The trouble starts when even he is fated to capitalize on this ironclad logic because of reality - the tougher part of a prime minister's task. This is much harder than the stages of the presentation - the sound bite, the branding and the jingle.

The latest word to come out of the Netanyahu copywriting workshop is "Jewish," with several derivatives: "The Jewish state," "recognizing the nation-state of the Jewish people" and "our Jewish identity." True, it's not a new word, but Netanyahu, with his talents, has appropriated it for his political needs of the hour just as an old van is enlisted to serve in the reserves. Who can argue with that? What could we say in response - that we are opposed to a Jewish state? Or that we favor two Palestinian states? It's not surprising that the political establishment and media immediately adopted this latest rhetorical fashion.

Netanyahu has thus again sold us something new. The "Iranian threat" has been forgotten, the "terror" has been neglected, and suddenly our lives are hanging on two teeth - the demand that the Palestinians will "recognize" the Jews' right to a state, and the demand that the Israeli Arabs and other Gentiles will pledge allegiance to the state's "Jewishness." And it's amazing how the entire political discourse has become "Judaified." All of a sudden, Labor Party leader Ehud Barak and Kadima chief Tzipi Livni are reciting "our Jewish identity" and "the Jewish state" like obedient children, whether talking about political concessions or the memorial gathering for Yitzhak Rabin.

On the face of it, everyone is talking about the same thing - maintaining Israel's unique character as it developed here for more than 100 years, especially thanks to the Jewish demographic majority. But it would be a mistake, and a decreasing of Netanyahu's value, to think that his "Judaifying" the conflict is merely a semantic or symbolic matter.

This is because there is an enormous difference between a nation-state formed by the majority of its citizens that exists for them and their security, and a theocracy that forces on us a definition based on religion. There is an enormous difference between a normative state and a transcendental entity whose fate is appropriated from its citizens because it "belongs" to some "nation" that goes back for generations and has been present on many continents; a community where every casino owner from Atlantic City or messianic "rabbi" from the territories considers himself entitled to dictate the state's borders and fate simply because of his religion.

It's true that the "left," even more than the "right," talks a lot about Israel's "Jewish identity" as a winning argument for returning to the 1967 borders. But what seems obvious - defining ourselves as the Israeli nation - is not being posited as an alternative to the view that sees the state mainly as the military arm of the "Jewish people" and a kind of armed Land-of-Israel community. This is the nation that is the realest of the real, but it has been rejected and denied, and not even recognized by the Supreme Court. And when there is no recognition of this nation, as is becoming clear, there is no democracy and peace.