Delegitimizing Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people

Ever since its inception, Israel has faced a wall of alienation and delegitimization, mainly by its neighbors. Nevertheless, it managed to secure wide international acceptance as an undisputed fact and as a legitimate member of the family of nations.

Yet a little more than six decades later, delegitimization seems to be on the rise, progressing from the Middle East and the margins into the mainstream of international discourse. The manifestations of this phenomenon are numerous and they are gathering momentum to the extent that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called it a strategic threat. Concurrently, we are witnessing dangerous phenomena of delegitimization of the Jewish people and its connection to Israel, essentially touching upon critical questions such as is there a justification for the existence of a nation-state for the Jewish people.

It is a mistake to devalue delegitimization. The State of Israel and the Jewish people do not exist in a vacuum. Their robustness, strength and thriving rest on the acceptance of their legitimacy within their local and international environments. This phenomenon aims at Israel’s international standing, its freedom to use military power to defend itself, its deterrent power, its economy, its sense of identity and its relationship with the Diaspora.

As the trend increases, spreads and becomes mainstream, its destructive power will increase and could gain strategic currency.

The present challenge is graver than the challenge we had known in the past, because this is a different world, less familiar with the legacy of the Bible and the horrors of the Holocaust, more “globalized” and focused on human rights in the international discourse. It is a multipolar (some say nonpolar) world of asymmetric warfare and new patterns of information generation and message absorption. Western culture – especially in Europe with its growing Muslim community – is reassessing the classic institution of the nation-state, and the world increasingly blames Israel for the violation of Palestinian human and national rights.

Clearly then, delegitimization phenomena must not be taken for granted, let alone ignored. Yet, in the face of it, Israel and Jewish leadership in the Diaspora seem to lack a clear strategy that can be translated into action plans.

At the moment, there are more questions than decisive answers.

Where, for example, is the line separating legitimate criticism of Israel and rejection of the legitimacy of its existence as a Jewish state? To what extent is delegitimization driven by Israel’s image as a “peace naysayer” and to what extent is it driven by a desire to negate or revoke Israel’s right to exist and defend itself? It is important to clarify to ourselves the extent to which, where and how, Israel and the Jewish people – together and through international partnerships within and outside the Jewish world – can affect the trend of delegitimization and reverse its course. Time is of the essence.

– Brig.-Gen. (res.) Michael Herzog is a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute. The Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) has initiated a long-term strategic project on delegitimization phenomena. The discussion of this topic by a working group as part of JPPI’s 2010 Conference on the Future of the Jewish People is designed to help formulate a conceptual framework for this project

Fifteen points on Israel’s national security challenges

1. Deep conflict causes need time, understanding and coping. This includes violence accompanying the establishment of a new state (Israel), coping with Islamic traditions, clash of cultures, conflict over sacred ground and so on.

2. Reaching an agreement with main Islamic actors, or at least a modus vivendi, is very important and perhaps critical. Muslims constitute 23 % or the world population, Jews 0.2 %.

Islamic global power is increasing. Therefore, accommodation with Arab and Islamic states as a whole should be the goal of Israeli statecraft.

3. Without an agreement with main Islamic actors on the Holy Basin, no accommodation is possible.

Not recognizing this fact is a serious symptom of reality denial.

4. The Palestinians are not the core of the conflict, however important and, even more so, conspicuous.

“Two states” will be a component of every peace, but to benefit, Israelis must be component of a comprehensive agreement.

5. Only massive intervention with deep historic processes can achieve the critical mass needed to bend them into a desirable direction. The Arab-Israeli conflict has a robust core of violence. Only a large-scale peace can achieve the mass needed to bend the violence-prone processes into a peaceful direction. Agreement with the Palestinians is inadequate.

6. The real need is for a comprehensive Greater Middle East agreement within the context of Islamic states.

The lack of a fitting shift in Israeli statecraft following the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002 was a serious error.

7. Within a comprehensive agreement, a Palestinian state is an essential component. But, by itself, it is not worth it. Israel has limited bargaining chips. They must be used to achieve a comprehensive peace. Otherwise Israel will give a lot without adequate benefits.

8. Active Jewish support towards Islam is needed. It is essential for peaceful co-existence, involving Diaspora support of Muslim communities and rights.

9. “Permanent” is a misnomer – “relatively stable” is the maximum. The Middle East is turbulent. Even if a “permanent agreement” is reached, its fragility must be recognized.

10. All statecraft is a fuzzy gamble. Therefore, success cannot be assured and preparations to cope with failure are essential. Israel needs military superiority and much support by the Diaspora for at least most of the 21st century.

11. An innovative Israeli statecraft violence paradigm is an essential counterpart. Israel’s power should be re-directed to facilitating and stabilizing peace while hitting all who attack it.

12. Real and demonstrated Israeli capacity to thrive even without peace is essential. Paradoxically, demonstrated Israeli ability to flourish without peace, will make peace easier to achieve and stabilize.

13. Radical implications for the Jewish people are certain, whether the peace process succeeds or fails. The Jewish people have to adjust to the possibilities of both a Middle Eastern peace or a protracted bloody conflict.

14. Consultative serious discourse by Jewish people forums is urgent.

Israeli choices are of profound importance for the future of Judaism and the Jewish people. Israel must make the decisions, but after consultation with Diaspora leaders and organizations.

15. Jewish-Islamic and Israel-Arab relations are a long-term process to be understood and coped with as such. It will take another two generations until Israel’s standing in the Middle East will be stabilized.

– Yehezkel Dror is a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the former founding president of JPPI. These points were prepared for the Conference based on his forthcoming book Israeli Statecraft: National Security Challenges and Responses (Routledge).

Will Muslim growth in Europe be a blessing or a curse for the Jewish people?

Among the trends shaping the future of Europe, two interconnected ones, the growing Muslim presence and the emergence of opposing post-nationalistic xenophobia require special attention from Jewish people policy planners. These developments are of concern for the future of the Jewish people as a whole because, beyond their critical impact on the local Jewish communities, they act as historical precedents and announce situations that may further occur along additional horizons.

Following massive immigration and the failure of cultural and social integration, Muslim presence is transforming Europe. In a context of growing economic instability, social uncertainty, rapid globalization, technological developments, welfare state erosion and increasing social gaps, the presence of massive exogenous populations foments a growing popular resentment.

Islam is perceived as a heterogeneous component of the traditional European culture. Many Europeans feel that their core belief system is under threat and are reticent to accept Islamic practices in the public sphere. This year, anti-Islamic parties garnered 28% of the vote in traditionally tolerant Holland.

The presence of the tenfold more numerous Muslim populations affects the political, electoral, economic and even symbolic status of European Jewish communities. Moreover, in the context of the unresolved Israeli- Palestinian conflict, social jealousy and Muslim resentment toward the West, European Muslims regard Jews with hostility.

Do European Jews have any sway over this anger? This is less than certain.

Muslim antipathy primarily derives from geopolitical shifts: developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iranian nuclear ambitions and the consequent sanctions, reinforcement or dismantling of radical Islamic actors, the global status of Muslims and oil-producing countries. The resentment also has derived from specific European factors: migrant social integration policies and European attitudes regarding cultural relativism as well as Muslim migrant attitudes toward European enlightenment values.

The development of these attitudes will fundamentally depend on whether global geopolitical factors nurture a willingness to integrate into the general society among children of Muslim immigrants. All these factors, with the exception of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, are beyond the direct influence of Jewish people institutional actors. Jewish-Muslim dialogue and cooperative projects may eventually mitigate the impact the Muslim resentment, but this is mainly limited to the local and personal levels.

The radically opposing scenario will be a nationalistic reaction that will target Muslims and attempt to exclude them from leading positions. The Christian and nationalist movements, which seek to protect and defend Europe’s Judeo-Christian and democratic heritage, are gaining audience and political support. A large part of this movement’s activists oppose rampant multiculturalism, associate past European thriving with its core belief system and wish to preserve Europe’s unique cultural character.

Many among them are aware of the Jewish sources of Christianity and are sympathetic to Jews and Israel. In a 20-year time frame, there is a wide spectrum of possible scenarios.

Muslims can and should be encouraged to become partners in our dream to reconstruct an open and pluralistic Europe.

– Dov Maimon is a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute.

A fundamental solution to the ‘conversion crisis’ or a practical one?

The difficulty of defining who is a Jew and, accordingly, the increasingly difficult task of agreeing upon the nature of the “gateway” to the Jewish people (conversion), has accompanied the Jewish people throughout history. From time to time a crisis erupts when a change in policy is made regarding the question of conversion.

Such a crisis recently arose in response to the attempt of Israel Beiteinu MK David Rotem, with the agreement of the haredi parties in the Knesset, to change the conversion law.

This recent attempt was met with great criticism on the part of Diaspora communities – alleging that the proposed bill will empower the Chief Rabbinate and its ability to enforce its agenda.

The first question that must be raised in every discussion related to conversion is whether to take a fundamental or practical approach. In other words, is there any point in a debate over the essence of conversion, which purports to suggest a formula for determining who is a Jew, or is it perhaps better to limit the discussion to the question of practical solutions while avoiding as much as possible fundamental questions that would inevitably lead to crisis? In this context, the Rotem bill offers an interesting “war game” model.

In a schematic description, this is the model: If the Rotem bill intends to solve a problem that requires an urgent solution (the conversion of hundreds of thousands of Israeli residents); and if it is possible to suggest a practical solution that would help alleviate the problem (privatized conversion by community rabbis, for instance); and if it is possible to arrive at a skeletal version of a solution that does not touch upon the fundamental issues (in this, the Rotem bill, in its final and tabled version, ultimately failed); then the skeletal, limited solution must be chosen.

Of course, the difficulty of making an unequivocal recommendation on this schematic model stems from the fact that in the Rotem bill war game, it turned out that even the skeletal model had vigorous opponents who might further thwart it in future iterations. In the case of the Rotem bill it was the haredi parties, but there are other possible skeletal models that other groups will likely oppose.

In a certain sense, the difficulty in constructing a consensual skeletal model derives from the fact that even practical solutions to the issue of conversion are always accompanied by priorities that reflect ideological viewpoints. Legislative action around the Rotem bill, carried, even in its skeletal version, the following beliefs:

• Conversion of immigrants from the former Soviet Union is beneficial and important for the Jewish people. This is a belief that may inspire argument on the grounds that mass conversion of those who are not interested in keeping the mitzvot makes the very definition of a Jew superficial.

• The current conversion process is too strict, and a way must be found to create a more lenient procedure. This is an assumption that many rabbis will argue against.

• Rabbis recognized by the Chief Rabbinate are those authorized to convert.

This practice will also have opponents, even among Orthodox rabbis.

The practical reflects a priority of fundamentals, and therefore does not ensure a solution. The question whether to choose local, limited solutions – whose success is also not assured – over an attempt to resolve at least some of the fundamental problems is still open.

– Shmuel Rosner is a fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute and a Jerusalem Post blogger.

Meaning and belonging in Israel and the Diaspora today

The challenge of managing and deepening relationships between Israel and world Jewry has been with us for decades. Today far-reaching changes are being rung on these familiar questions.

For Diaspora Jews, Israel is one possible element of their Jewishness; for Israeli Jews, Jewishness is one possible element of their Israeliness.

What has changed? We live in an historical moment which complicates perhaps as never before relationships between the particular and the universal, the global and the local. The welter of forces to which we refer in shorthand as “globalization” and “the Internet” are collapsing distances and reconfiguring the very shape of identity.

Jewish identity itself is hard to define, but whatever it is, it is some synthesis of meaning and belonging, of finding and experiencing meaning – moral, religious, spiritual, social, cultural – in and through one’s being attached to some larger entity, a people, land, civilization. Building that attachment in an age of discussion is a defining challenge of our time.

For younger Jews, particularly in the Diaspora, belonging as such, certainly as defined by external threats, is far less compelling than meaning.

What then can be done? We must work to increase the multilayered and crosshatched weave of connections between Jews everywhere, including between Israel and the Diaspora. The idea behind Birthright points a way – creating the framework for I-thou encounters between Jews and through the medium of Israel. Social media are fascinating and helpful but limited; even today there is no substitute for meeting and building face-to-face, through study, group projects and more.

On the political side, the challenge is how to keep discomfort or criticism from turning into estrangement. Though all politics are local, Jewish politics are global. Surveys show that the Israeli policies which most deeply disillusion and distance Jews, in particular younger Jews, are less those revolving around issues of territory and security as such and more those relating to the Jewish and democratic character of the state – such as “Who is a Jew?” and religious coercion (and now maybe loyalty oaths).

Jews who are fundamentally committed to Israel will not necessarily give any Israeli government a blank check, nor should they. But their criticisms will be rooted in engagement and care.

Efforts to strengthen Jewish identity abroad necessitate a parallel effort by Israelis to strengthen their own Jewish identity, awareness of their belonging to the Jewish people as a whole and familiarity with Jewish communities abroad. Without a shared cultural language, Israel and the Diaspora will simply talk past each other, if they talk at all.

– Yehudah Mirsky is a member of the Board of Yerushalmim, a fellow of the Jewish People Policy Institute and a Contributing Editor at Jewish Ideas Daily.

When our destiny is at stake

Facing the enormous challenges, internal and external, of the Jewish people in 2010, it sometimes seems that looking at the 2030 time horizon is overly ambitious, a luxury we cannot afford. The Jewish People Policy Institute’s 2010 Conference on the Future of the Jewish People focuses on some of the most daunting concerns in the Jewish world today while also bearing in mind the 2030 time horizon.

The most crucial process we are undergoing is the effort to achieve peace with our neighbors.

Even if at the end of the day the main responsibility for the Jewish character of the state, its capital city, the holy sites and its final borders rests on the shoulders of the elected leadership of Israel, the voice of the Jewish Diaspora cannot be ignored.

The Zionist movement, since its inception at the end of the 19th century, was based on the Jewish yearning for Jerusalem. Millions of Jews made the life decision to leave the countries in which they were born, their mother tongues and their cultural roots for the unknown Promised Land to live among their brothers. Millions of Jews who decided to remain where they were born and to be loyal to their countries, as they should, still face Jerusalem when in prayer or at least feel part of the Jewish civilization which has made a huge contribution to the whole of humanity.

For these reasons, prime ministers of Israel, have defined and represented it as the core state of the Jewish people. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spelled it out when he declared, in his Bar-Ilan University speech last year his demand for a binding and sincere Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people as part of any final peace agreement. The Palestinian leadership’s negative response and its echoes in the Arab League made Israelis suspicious that the Arabs are pushing a two-state solution, one Palestinian and the other a binational Israel. In their eyes this won’t bring an end to the conflict.

But in this postcolonial era, when many other states are challenged by social, demographic and cultural shifts, the Israeli demand for a national Jewish identity is not easily digested. It fuels the delegitimization phenomenon not only in the Muslim world but also around the globe, and it’s not only directed against Israel but against Jews wherever they are.

This may have a negative impact on Jewish identity and identification.

Jerusalem and the Jewish holy sites are not just an Israeli issue. We are a small people without a global Jewish structure to support our natural desires. There is no Jewish League to consult.

– Avinoam Bar-Yosef is the founding director of the Jewish People Policy Institute.
The 2010 Conference on the Future of the Jewish People is not convened to supersede the existing decision-making structures, but it may create, a roundtable to discuss the challenges faced today and to try to formulate a set of recommendations to keep us united when the destiny of our people is at stake.

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