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November 27, 2014 2:13 pm

Why Israel Must be a Jewish State

avatar by Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn

Email a copy of "Why Israel Must be a Jewish State" to a friend
The Temple Mount atop Jerusalem's Old City. Photo: Dave Bender

The Temple Mount atop Jerusalem's Old City. Photo: Dave Bender

Israel’s cabinet has approved legislation to officially define the country as the nation-state of the Jewish people. This timely measure accomplishes several important goals. It will facilitate peace by encouraging the Arab world to accept Israel’s permanence. It will help forge a sense of unity among the famously diverse and contentious Israeli public. And it will not in any way infringe on the rights of Israel’s Arab citizens and other minorities.

The core obstacle to Arab-Israeli peace has always been the refusal of both Arab regimes and the Palestinian Arab leadership to sincerely accept the permanent existence of a Jewish state. The classic study ‘Arab Attitudes to Israel,’ by Proessor Yeshoshafat Harkabi (1921-1994) of Hebrew University, has an entire section called “The Artificiality of Israel.” It describes the widespread conviction among Arab leaders, intellectuals, and journalists that the existence of Israel is an aberration, a violation of the natural order of the world, and a contravention of the will of Allah. Harkabi (who, incidentally, was from the political left) sums up the Arab view: “Israel cannot endure, for justice will win in the end…Israel is fated to disintegrate and disappear.”

That is why formally defining Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people will send an important message to the Arab world that Israel, the Jewish state, is here to stay. If and when the Arabs finally accept this reality, peace will be possible.

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The new legislation will also contribute to Israel’s own sense of national cohesion. Forged of immigrants from every corner of the globe and from every political and religious orientation, this “ingathering of exiles” is also notorious for the vehement political, cultural, and religious arguments among its citizens – so fierce are some of these disputes that doomsayers occasionally issue dire warnings of the danger of social violence, or even of an all-out civil war. Especially in difficult times such as now, when Israel is under incessant attack – whether from rockets in Gaza or guns, knives, and firebombs in Jerusalem – it is more important than ever that Israelis reaffirm their common ground. A basic issue on which the overwhelming majority of Israelis can agree is that modern Israel was established to be the nation-state of the Jewish people.

Israel, after all, was not created in order to be a purely secular Western state. It has uniquely Jewish features, and most of its citizens want it that way. The Jewish Sabbath is the official day of rest. The national language is Hebrew. The national culture is permeated with Jewish symbols, history, and memories. An official definition of Israel as a Jewish state is the natural corollary of this national consensus. It will help bind Israel’s people together in a sense of kinship, fraternity, and common national purpose.

None of this will in any way impinge on the rights of Arabs and other minorities who are Israeli citizens. Beginning in the 1970s, some Jewish peace activists began urging Israel to take steps to tone down its Jewish identity. They said it was necessary in order to make Israeli Arabs feel truly equal. They said, for example, that the national anthem, Hatikvah (The Hope), should be changed because its lyrics speak of “the Jewish soul yearning” for the Land of Israel. They said that the Law of Return should be abolished, because it gives Jews alone the privilege of receiving automatic citizenship upon immigrating to Israel.

Well, those who predicted the ever-increasing alienation of Israel’s minorities have been proven wrong. Israeli minorities have made enormous strides in real, practical ways that are far more significant than the anthem or the citizenship law. Today, an Israeli Arab sits on the Supreme Court, Israeli Arabs and Druze serve as Israeli diplomats abroad, a Druze colonel commands an elite division of the Israeli army, and a Bedouin Arab is slated to become one of its tank commanders, another first. An Israeli Arab woman was named Miss Israel – and that was back in 1999. Hatikvah and the Law of Return did not hold them back. And neither will defining Israel as a Jewish state.

To facilitate the chances for peace and to advance the cause of national unity – while continuing to respect the equal rights of non-Jewish Israelis – it’s time to call Israel what it really is, and was always meant to be: the nation-state of the Jewish people.

Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn are members of the board of the Religious Zionists of America.

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  • Simone Miller

    Israel has been a beacon of hope for the Jews of the world. In no way should that purpose be allowed to die just because the arabs say so. When oil is no longer a necessity for the industrial world opinions will change in favor of the Jewish State.

  • BASED ON THE OLD TESTAMENT…..CLEARLY IDENTIFIES

    THE OWNER OF ISRAEL [ THE JEWISH STATE ]……

    NO ONE HAS THE RIGHT TO GIVE AWAY ANY PART OF THE LAND

    The day that the world recognizes The Jewish State with

    Jerusalem its Capital…

    Is it a wonder why Abbas refuses to recognize ISRAEL,

    as the Jewish State…his objective is JUDEN REIN

  • Absolutely. Explained perfectly.

    • charlie johnson

      I guess that some of these Arab states could import a few million Chinese and set an example of a multicultral nation in the Mid East?Maybe a Martin Luther Ching could arrive and explain how to love your neighbor?

  • Markus E Brajtman

    I CANNOT UNDERSTAND WHY SOME POLITICIANS ARE AGAINST ISRAEL BEING THE NATION STATE OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE. JUST LIKE IRAN, IRAQ, SAUDI ARABIA TURKEY, JORDAN, EGYPT ARE ISLAMIC STATES.

    MAYBE SOME MINORITIES IN THOSE STATES DO NOT FEEL LIKE “THEY BELONG” SOME ARE TREATED AS SECOND CLASS CITIZENS.

    ISRAEL WAS ESTABLISHED AS A JEWISH STATE BY THE UN IN1947, WITH FULL RECOGNITION OF THE NON JEWISH MINORITIES

    PM NETANYAHU SHOULD CALL THE LEADERS OF ALL THE MINORITY RELIGIONS IN ISRAEL, AND ASSURE THEM THAT NOTHING WILL CHANGE FOR THEM. THEY ARE AND WILL ALWAYS BE FULL ISRAELI CITIZENS IN A JEWISH STATE.

    SOME YEARS AGO, I SUGGESTED THAT ISRAEL SHOULD TAKE A LOOK AT THE SOUTH AFRICAN NATIONAL ANTHEM.

    BEFORE 1994, THE ANTHEM WAS FOR THE WHITE MINORITY.

    THE ANC INTRODUCED A NEW ANTHEM WHICH INCORPORATES THE OLD ANTHEM WITH THE NEW ANTHEM.

    THIS MAKES ALL SOUTH AFRICAN CITIZENS FEEL THAT THEY BELONG.

    A NEW ISRAELI ANTHEM MUST HAVE HATIKVAH AS THE MAIN PART, BUT IT SHOULD BE WORDED SO THAT EVERY MINORITY WOULD FEEL THAT THEY BELONG EVEN INCLUDING ARABIC.

    I WOULD HATE TO SEE THE LOYAL DRUZE AND BEDUINE AS WELL AS CHRISTIANS AND ARABS FEEL THAT THEY ARE SECOND CLASS CITIZENS. THEY MUST FEEL AND KNOW THAT THEY ARE ISRAELIS IN A JEWISH STATE. THAT THEY HAVE A FUTURE, JUST LIKE EVERY JEW HAS A FUTURE.

    GOD BLESS ISRAEL

  • aall55

    Great article .
    This is the first step towards the future:for Israel to be the great nation is meant to be and for the world in general to accept and respect the Jewish people .

  • manley

    Why so much concern for the 99% of Palestinians who would welcome the disappearance of Israel? While the Palestinians living in Israel obey it’s laws, even if they don’t respect or like them, deserve fair treatment.

  • art

    Does anyone complain that England has the Anglican Church as its official religion or that Sweden, Norway Holland are Lutheran. Italy, Spain Brazil etc are Catholic, Greece Greek Orthodox, Armenia Armenian Orthodox, India is Hindu, Japan Shintu and there are 52 muslim states. No one complains

  • Clyde Dinkins

    This is a long overdue action by Israel. By Israel’s cabinet approving legislation to officially define the country as the nation-state of the Jewish people gives notice to all, especially Arab/Muslim countries that Israel is here to stay.

    Further,This will help facilitate peace by encouraging the Arab world to accept Israel’s permanence. And It will help forge unity among the diverse Israeli public.

    The following Haiku poem is apropos. I follow the traditional Japanese format: 1) No title; 2) Exactly 17 syllables total; 3) Three segments and 4) A 5-7-5 syllable segments ratio.

    Israel exists,
    A nation-state God’s promise,
    Peace can be with all.

    Sincerely,
    Clyde Dinkins
    Las Vegas

  • steven L

    A violation of the Muslim order! Muslim Disorder and INEPTITUDE rather.

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  • Mickey Oberman

    Thank you, gentlemen.

    Mickey Oberman

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