Mahmoud Abbas with Muammar Gaddafi 311 (R).
(photo credit: Reuters)
I was at a seminar in Tel Aviv a while back when one the speakers, Dr. Saeb
Erekat, a senior Palestinian negotiator, was giving his view of how to resolve
the Israel- Palestinian conflict: a two-state solution along the 1967 borders,
appropriate land swaps, even the suggestion that Jewish individuals who wanted
to continue living on the West Bank could do so as law-abiding
Then, like a bolt of unexpected lightning out of the largely
academic and mature audience, came a shout from a man, who also happens to be a
senior government official: “What about recognition of Israel as a Jewish
state?” he demanded to know.
The demand, that the Palestinians give
Israel a hechsher
as a Jewish state, is obviously intended as another spoke in
the wheels of any peace process, as if there were one, and indeed has become the
mantra of those who want to ensure that a peace agreement that involves a
Palestinian state on the West Bank never takes place. The goal is politically
kosher, but the means is not. At present, Muslims, Christians, Baha’is and
Mormons have more freedom of religion in Israel than non- Orthodox Jews do. At
least they can marry and bury their own.
What type of Jewish state
exactly are we asking the Palestinians to recognize? The one envisioned by Eli
Yishai, the perennial cabinet minister from Shas, who told a prime-time radio
interviewer that Reform Jews, because they are “guilty of taking God’s name in
vain,” were theoretically liable of being stoned to death.
Why get the
Palestinians involved in Israeli internal affairs? Surely the Jewishness of
Israel is up to the Jews to decide, or certainly those who live within it and
who, astoundingly, do still not recognize the Jewishness of the progressive Jews
outside Israel, though they constitute the majority of the Diaspora Jewish
And do we really need Palestinian recognition of a Jewish
state that does not formally recognize the Jewishness of many of its own
citizens, including tens of thousands who came as immigrants years ago from the
former Soviet Union and have since become productive members of Israeli society?
I have heard the demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state
from the prime minister himself. I wondered then, and wonder now, what he meant.
Recognition in the context of a peace agreement between two countries is an
issue of sovereignty, not religion; Jewish is a religion, not a country or
national entity. By recognizing Israel as Israel, the Palestinians we are
demanding this from would be recognizing Israel as the de facto homeland of the
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Imagine if, and perhaps when, Hamas takes over as part of
a peace treaty that they demand “verbal parity” with Israel as a “Jewish state”
and demand, in return, that we recognize them as the “Islamic State of
Palestine.” That’s all we need.
Muammar Gaddafi demanded that he be
recognized, among other things, as “King of Kings of Africa,” and look where
that got him.
With the demand that Israel be recognized as a Jewish
state” precedents are created and a Pandora’s Box opened that would better be
left closed. And if we want to get down to brass tacks, it would be far better
if Israel were to recognize the legitimate rights of progressive Jewry both in
Israel and abroad, and deal with the issues confronting those Israelis to whom
religious affiliation continues to be denied.
Israel has done enough on
the treadmill of peace and its officials do not have to spend time looking for
more excuses to go nowhere. Instead, when demanding that Israel be recognized as
a Jewish state they may want to first ingest the story I read in this
newspaper’s local edition two weeks ago. An article in In Jerusalem lauded that
there had been an increase of 200 pupils in the secular and national religious
school systems in Jerusalem, this in the face of all predictions to the contrary
due to a secular exodus from the city. Then I read the following three times to
make sure it was not a mistake. By the same count, the number of children in the
haredi school system in Israel’s capital went up by 9,000 students – a ratio of
45 to one in a school system where some of the subjects essential for a better
and self-sufficient future are not taught.
It seems very unfortunate at
this time, when Israel is fighting for its international legitimacy, that its
leaders would take the apparently self-defeating anachronistic step of wanting
it to be recognized as what some would see as a theocracy, and not the shining
beacon of rational democracy in the Middle East it can so proudly claim to
The writer is a senior research associate at the Institute for
National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. His most recent book,
Anatomy of Israel’s Survival, was published by PublicAffairs, New York, this
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