After a short period when maybe his mind was occupied with more urgent issues, Prime Minister Netanyahu, pressed to come up with reasons why negotiations with the Palestinians are not taking place, came back with the “main reason”: the Palestinians need to recognize Israel as the “Jewish State”.
Besides this being a very successful slogan that has been used by him for one reason only, that he knows in cannot be accepted by the Palestinians, what actually does this mean: “the Jewish State”?
The term was first brought up by Theodor Herzl, but I doubt he had in mind what is now being created.
But what is a Jewish State?
Is this a State where (only) Jews live? And who is then going to decide “who is a Jew”? This in itself has been one of the most hotly disputed questions in Israel and in the Knesset. Together of course with the question who is allowed or eligible to answer this question.
Netanyahu tried to give an answer himself by defining Jews as originating in Judea, like Japanese in Japan and Chinese in China, but the question of who is a Jew extends way beyond their origin, and at least in Israel, the way people experience their Judaism plays a major role. Reform Jews have been called “worse than Goyim” and that would imply that they have no place in the Jewish State? And what about converts? Assuming that they were converted according to all orthodox rules, are they Jewish? Even if they originate from Venezuela?
Just for the very simple reason that “important” Jews (who decided that they are “Jewish????”) cannot and probably never will be able to reach agreements on the question of who is a Jew, makes the whole issue of “The Jewish State” an embarrassing farce. There will always be the disputes about non-orthodox streams in Judaism, which will lead to disputes on who may convert and according to which rules, and then you will have people who consider themselves Jews, are considered Jews by others, but are left without the rights of Jews in the Jewish State.
The catastrophic error that stands on the basis of the failure of the Jewish State is a simple one: The answer that Israel is trying to give to the question of the “Jewish State” is an answer based on religion. Netanyahu is right about Japanese being from Japan. But Japanese may be Buddhist, Shinto, Christian, and even Baha’i.
Jews can only be Jews, and only Jews can be Jews, Christians cannot be Jews, Muslims cannot be Jews and Buddhists cannot be Jews. The moment the organizational basis of a State, or any entity for that matter, is based on Religion, you generate exclusivity which when applied in a non-religious manner as is done in Israel, becomes discrimination and racism.
So what about the Jewish race then? Is there such a thing? Maybe there is, maybe not, depends on who you ask I guess (Shlomo Sand would be an interesting person to ask). And would that supply an answer to the question who is a Jew?
But this would lead to new controversies and disputes. “Jews for Jesus” count as Jews? And what about converts? Even if they are converted according to the rules of Orthodox Judaism?
To be eligible to live in the “Jewish State” do you have to fulfil both the religious and the race criteria? Or is one of them enough? Either one?
At least some of the Israeli lawmakers are sufficiently intelligent that they will be able to reach conclusions about the Jewish State by themselves. But the power struggles in Israeli politics do not allow for clear points of view on this matter (like on so many other issues) and it is better left in the dark backrooms where it is now.
And for Netanyahu and his colleagues, this situation is very comfortable of course. Imagine that the Palestinians at some point will agree to a formula which includes in some way or another, the “Jewish State”. This disaster can always be averted by changing the definition of what a Jewish State is.
But let’s consider the possibility that indeed Israel reaches internal agreement about what is a Jewish State (and with that I guess also “Who is a Jew”). How will the practical issues of this Jewish State be dealt with? How will Israel deal with the 1.5 million non-Jews living in Israel today? And the 2.5 million non-Jews in the Occupied Territories?
The wildest solutions have been suggested over the years, from “Transfer” (deportation to other Arab Countries), to “Autonomy”, whereby the non-Jews would be allowed to rule themselves in areas where they live. Recently, Housing minister Yoav Galant suggested “concentrating” Bedouin in specific areas (remember the Bantustans?) and Defense minister Lieberman has been advocating removing Arab Israelis from Wadi Ara, simply by exchange of territories (at least he talks about exchanging, not simply taking).
The main thread through all the “solutions” being suggested, is the complete “neutralization” of the non-Jewish population of Israel. We “neutralize” them when they come at us with a knife, but we also “neutralize” them when it comes to their status within Israel and in the Occupied Territories.
Fifty years ago already, Golda Meir denied the existence of a Palestinian People and only this morning Bezalel Smotrich, a loud-mouthed ultra-far right Knesset member, said the same thing.
Most Jewish Israelis do not see the Palestinians within Israel or in the Occupied Territories as a problem, and issue that needs to be dealt with. They simply ignore them. They will not form a problem when we annex the Occupied Territories, because they do not need to be taken into account. The “Greater Israel” will still be Jewish and Democratic, because only Jews count when building the State. So what to do with the non-Jews? Either they will go away by themselves, or we will help them go away. But either way, they are not there. They don’t exist. We have dehumanized them completely.
As an outsider, and after 40 years in this country I still feel an outsider, I keep on wondering how come that “dafka” the Jews did not learn from history. True, they did learn that you can only count on yourself, that you need the means to defend yourself, that you need to be strong in the face of evil, that everybody needs a place to call his own, etc. etc. So how come it was forgotten that all of that doesn’t count for Jews only? That there are others out there striving to reach those noble goals and live as a people in a place they can call their own.Or did the Jews want to forget all that?