The Real Controversy Behind the ‘Jewish State’ Bill
“The State of Israel is democratic, based on the foundations of freedom, justice and peace in light of the visions of the prophets of Israel, and upholds the individual rights of all its citizens according to law.” So states a proposed bill that sought to officially recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jews.
One may quibble with the wording of this or that in the proposed “Basic Law: Israel — The National State of the Jewish People.” All in all, however, what the bill does is to state the obvious: that Israel is primarily a state of the Jews, by the Jews, for the Jews. The whole purpose of a Jewish state, after all, is to be a state for Jews. Israel’s primary identity as a Jewish state should not of course mean that non-Jewish citizens must enjoy second-class status. And indeed the state can be both Jewish and democratic, as it has been for the past 66 years.
So why all the fuss? And plenty of fuss there has been. Sundry pundits have denounced the bill. Human rights groups have decried it as “racist.” Former Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid likewise panned it.
The latter two’s opposition caused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to dissolve his cabinet and call for new elections. “There are many [people] who are challenging Israel’s character as the national state of the Jewish people,” Netanyahu opined, adding: “The Palestinians refuse to recognize this.”
It’s hard to argue with that. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking at an emergency session of the Arab League in Cairo, declared that “We will never recognize the Jewishness of the state of Israel.” Abbas failed to elucidate whether he expected the world to recognize the embryonic state of Palestine with Islam as its official religion.
Therein lies the rub of the Arab-Israeli conflict: What is reflexively granted as a right to Palestinian Arabs is deemed “racist” if demanded by Israeli Jews.
The bill arrives at a time when Israel’s legitimacy has been under vicious attacks for years.
And it’s not just Israel’s self-declared status as a Jewish state that has riled its myriad enemies and sundry detractors. It’s the country’s very right to exist as an independent nation that continues to be up for debate from the ivory towers of “progressive” Western academia to the op-ed pages of The New York Times.
Even if we were to accept the widespread, if often unsaid, view that Israel is, by modern standards, an inherently atavistic and chauvinistic entity by virtue of being Jewish, we would still need to acknowledge that it fits right in with all the other similarly ethnocentric (and far more oppressive) nation states in the region.
Take Saudi Arabia. Here’s Article 1 of the kingdom’s Basic Law: “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a sovereign Arab Islamic State. Its religion is Islam. Its constitution is Almighty God’s Book, The Holy Quran, and the Sunna (traditions) of the Prophet (PBUH).” Or take Iran, whose Constitution’s Article 1 states: “The form of government of Iran is that of an Islamic Republic, endorsed by the people of Iran on the basis of their longstanding belief in the sovereignty of truth and Koranic justice.”
Yet, seeing as Israel is a vibrant, free, and democratic country – which can’t be said of any Arab nation – why is it presumed to be uniquely immoral by virtue of its openly ethnocentric leanings? Here’s why: The Jewish state’s perceived morality is assumed to decrease in direct proportion to its unwillingness to make unacceptable concessions for peace. And since peace remains as elusive as ever, Israel must ipso facto be blamed for it.
The land-for-peace fiasco has been a testament to such thinking. Israeli concessions ushered in not peace, but the rise of Hamas and a relentless barrage of rockets along with it. Yet Israel is still blamed for the horrible state of affairs in Gaza, whose Islamist rulers have shown no interest whatsoever in building anything resembling a functioning economy and free civil society. Rather, they proudly tout their credentials as masters of an Islamic Arab territory with the aim of eradicating “the Zionist entity.”
For peace to reign in our time, we’d have to see the rise of a Palestinian leader who was truly willing to make peace with Israel. Mahmoud Abbas has been widely hailed as just that leader. Curious then that just last March, during a meeting at the White House with President Obama, Abbas reiterated Palestinians’ three historic no’s: 1) No to recognizing Israel as a “Jewish state”; 2) No to giving up the (spurious) demand for “a right of return” for millions of Palestinians to the land of Israel; and 3) No to ending the conflict.
Abbas is no partner for peace.
The Jewish State bill isn’t the issue. The issue is Arab-Muslim nations’ historic refusal to accept Israel in their midst, much less to recognize its right to be a Jewish state. True rapprochement will come only when Palestinians and Arabs in general finally accept that, like it or not, Israel is here to stay and that it has the right to be a Jewish state in the first place.