One of Bibi Netanyahu’s non-starter demands is that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Forget the fact that it is more than just a Jewish state since it is also a state for its Muslim, Christian and Druze citizens. Think about how ridiculous it would be for Mahmoud Abbas–or even Ismail Haniye for that matter–to demand that Israel recognize Palestine as a Muslim state, before Palestine would negotiate a peace agreement.
My more ‘pro-Israel’ readers will object that it is less critical that there be yet another Muslim state in the world while there is only ONE Jewish one. So let’s turn the tables and say hypothetically there is no other Muslim state in the world besides Palestine. Still, and I repeat the question, why in heaven’s name does it make any difference whether Bibi Netanyahu concedes that Palestine is Muslim? I’d say it’s none of Bibi’s damn business whether Palestine is Muslim, Christian, Hindu or Shinto for that matter.
Similarly, it’s none of Abbas’ business what Israel is. That’s for Israelis to decide.
Does Mexico demand that we recognize it as a Catholic state before we negotiate cross-border agreements? Should we insist that Canada recognize that the U.S. as a Christian nation before we negotiate the next thorny issue confronting our two nations?
Now to return to one of the more problematic aspects of the issue of Israel as a Jewish state. If Israel is a Jewish state, then it is not a democratic state. It is an ethnocratic state. That is, a state with a hierarchy of rights with Jews at the top and Muslims at the bottom.
This is not to say that Israel, in an ideal articulation, could not be a state in which its Jewish citizens see it as a Jewish homeland while its Arab or Muslim citizens see it as their respective ethnic homeland as well. To concede this is not to concede that Jews will lose recognition of any of their Jewishness within this reframed state. Instead, what will happen is the re-envisioned state will expand its conception to embrace all its citizens and their respective religions and ethnicities.
Make no mistake, my rightward pro-Israel readers call this “the death of Israel as a Jewish state” or “the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state.” It is nothing of the sort. If Israel continues to embrace its Jewish citizens while reaching out additionally to its Arab citizens, this is the death of nothing. It is different from the current system. But nothing need die if Israel adopts a truly multi-ethnic egalitarian model.
And another point which Tony Karon raises, if Israel is to claim it is a Jewish state this implies a continuity of values or interests with the rest of the world’s Jews. But who has asked Diaspora Jews whether Israel is their state? Who has given Israel the right to speak for them as Jews? Yes, there are many older generation Jews and the Israel lobby which accept this deal. But increasingly, a younger generation of Jews doesn’t.
If Israel is to become a state of all its citizens it would be far healthier for there to be more of a distinction between Diaspora and Israeli Jewish interests. I do not say that they should never overlap, but there certainly should be nothing wrong when they don’t. Israel must earn the support of the world’s Jews, that support should not be automatic or assumed. If Israel realizes the Jewish values of Diaspora Jews then it should gain our support. If it violates our conception of such values it should not assume we will fall into line like good soldiers.