Thursday, November 17, 2011

Israel - A State or a "Jewish" State

"His Majesty's Government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people  and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."

These are the words of the 1917 Balfour Declaration.  "Jewish Homeland in Palestine" was also the term used in the original 1897 Zionist Declaration at Basel.

Does "Jewish Homeland in Palestine" imply a "Jewish State?"  Should Israel be regarded as "The State of Israel" or "The Jewish State of Israel?"  A series of articles in the current issue of Foreign Affairs addresses this issue.

With a significant growth in Israeli Jewish ethnocentrism,  questions have been raised as to how non-Jewish Israelis could not be considered as "second class" in a Jewish State.   Is it not difficult for  such a citizen to relate to the strikingly Jewish symbols of the Israeli state - its flag, its seal, its national anthem?  Is it possible for a Jewish state to be governed by a non-Jewish prime minister?  Is it possible for a future Jewish state to have, a citizenry which is only 50% ethnically Jewish?  (It is now less than 80% Jewish.)  It was interesting to read that neither Jordan nor Egypt, though recognizing Israel, acknowledges Israel as a Jewish state.

To us Jews Israel is unique and our relationship to Israel is unique.  Many Jews (if not most) draw a very thin line, or perhaps no line at all, between Israel and Judaism.  We are ethnically and historically and religiously forever joined at the hip!  I can think of no other extant 5000-year-old people-land connection.  As Jews, in our hearts, Israel is and always will be The Jewish State!

But that's us.  And we are not the world!

When I was a boy Christmas was celebrated in my public elementary school every year.  I learned all the carols which were to be sung at "assemblies."  Jewish holidays were unrecognized and, for the most part, unfamiliar to our teachers.  Weekly "assemblies" started with a hymn (Abide With Me) or The Lord's Prayer (which, of course, I still can sing and recite.)  I can't say that it bothered me very much at the time, but it certainly made me regard my standing as very different from that of the overwhelming majority of my fellow students.  They were part of the "real America," whereas I was a member of a sort of "subset of America." Things are clearly quite different today.  P.S. 22 of 1945 is not P.S. 22 of 2011!  Though "Christian" is a very important concept in the history of the United States, the exclusive teaching of Christian customs and liturgy is no longer permitted.

Right or wrong, the terms  "Jewish State," "Muslim State," "Christian Republic," or "Buddhist Republic" - even "Gallic State" or "Anglo-Saxon State" - imply an ethnic or religious affiliation contained within that "state" associating it with a particular religion or ethnic identity which may be incompatible with the views of a significant minority of its citizenry.

Thinking objectively (not easy) it may prove more constructive if ethnic and/or religious references were omitted from the names and identities of states, since such recognition would tend to promote exclusivity on the one hand, and exclusion on the other.  History is replete with nation-states, but the concept of a true nation-state is very questionable today.  I strongly believe in Israel as the home of the Jewish people and as a state that should be culturally and historically Jewish.  But, perhaps illogically, to include the subtitle "The Jewish State" is somewhat difficult to accept.

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