A friend sent me a link to a New York Times Op-Ed piece entitled "Israel''s Identity Crisis." The points were ‘Who is a Jew?’ and ‘Why is Netanyahu confounding the peace process by insisting that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish State?’
It is not difficult to understand why the New York Times would publish such an item, and why this particular friend would send it to me. It is written in clear English and ridicules Netanyahu, thus fitting with the postures often articulated by the New York Times and this particular friend.
The contribution of the item to ongoing discussions is minimal in the extreme. Jews have been pondering their character for all the many years we have been writing about ourselves. Take another look at the story of Abraham in Genesis, and the Book of Ruth.
No doubt the frequency of the discussions have increased since the latter part of the 18th century, as Jews in increasing numbers looked out of their communities and joined others in seeking Enlightenment. No surprise that the incidence of such discussions is especially high in Israel, where there are lots of Jews at various degrees of secular or religious persuasion, learning and passing on the age-old arguments about Jewish identity, obligations, and customs. In case anyone remains in the dark about such things, it is possible to find some of the most intensely nationalistic Jews among some of the most profoundly doubtful about religion and its implications.
And it is not only Jews who ought to ponder what it is to be what they are. The people working at the New York Times and my Jewish-American (or American-Jewish) friend should be as confounded as anyone about their nationality. Ancestry, language, or political loyalties are no help in an age of globalism, multiple loyalties, and freedom of expression. European countries lost whatever homogeneous identities they claimed on account of what has happened since World War II, and none of them could genuinely justify their claims of homogeneity before then.
What about that person Varda and I saw recently on Princes Street in Endinburgh, clad from head to lower legs in black, with only dark eyes showing through the narrow slit across her face, but sequined high heels and the tips of designer jeans below the black? Was she (assuming she was a female) any less Scottish than kilt-clad men not too far away?
With respect to the major point of the New York Times Op-Ed piece, i.e., that Netanyahu (now with Obama''s endorsement) is only fouling the air by insisting on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state--
Israel has been calling itself a Jewish state since the first sentence of its Declaration of Independence. http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Peace+Process/Guide+to+the+Peace+Process/Declaration+of+Establishment+of+State+of+Israel.htm
It is widely viewed as such by its residents and others, despite the arguments and nuances surrounding the verbiage.
Netanyahu''s insistence is meant to leverage Palestinians away from their obsession with demands, and reluctance to respond to Israeli offers with anything other than rejection. Netanyahu''s demand reflects the sentiment, widely shared, that many Palestinians are not serious about ending the dispute, and view negotiations only as a stage toward the eventual destruction of Israel.
The prospect of negotiations is serious business involving land and the possibility of moving tens of thousands of people in one direction or another. Tens of thousands of others have died on account of these issues since the United Nations tried to settle things in 1947. The rules of high school debates, parlor games, or academic seminars do not apply. It is appropriate to use pressure with sensitive verbiage. The Palestinians do it with their claims that General Assembly resolutions are international law that Israel must accept. Netanyahu''s demand is no less kosher.
The least enlightening item in the Op-Ed piece was the way the author (hitherto unknown to me) identifies himself. "A foreign policy analyst based in Tel Aviv."
Credentials are not essential when every Tom, Dick, Harry, Yitzhak, and Shulamit can distribute what they want via the Internet, and Op-Ed pages are open to those who appeal to editors. But foreign policy analyst based in Tel Aviv? According to my reading of Israel''s Statistical Yearbook, there are 400,300 individuals who fit that description.