Friday, October 07, 2011

Avineri, Nusseibeh and the Jewish People

A few days ago I wrote about an article by Sari Nusseibeh, where he says Palestinians shouldn't recognize Israel as a Jewish state, but should recognize Judaism as Israel's official religion and and Jews as the majority. Here is some of what I had to say:

"What's the difference between recognizing Judaism as the official religion of Israel and recognizing its Jewish character? What Nusseibeh describes here is what most Jewish Israelis mean and want when they say that Israel is the Jewish State - a democracy with a Jewish majority and Judaism as the official state religion."
I overlooked the fact that Nusseibeh focuses on Judaism as a religion and seems to ignore the fact that the Jewish people is a nation (though he does mention Jews as being an ethnic group, which isn't the same as a nationality). Though Israelis want a state with a Jewish majority and Judaism as the state religion, they also want it to be the state of the Jewish people - a country Jews the world over can feel kinship with, because we're part of the same national group.

I realized my glaring omission when reading Shlomo Avineri's excellent point-by-point rebuttal of Nusseibeh's article today (Hebrew here; English here). Avineri sees the fact that one of the most moderate Palestinian intellectuals doesn't recognize Jews as a people means the gulf between the most moderate Jews and Palestinians is so wide, that it is hard to believe the conflict can be solved yet.

I don't think he is correct. While it does bother me that Palestinians don't recognize us as a people, in the end, what really matters is that we recognize ourselves. We don't need our enemies to define us. By demanding that Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state we are inadvertently inviting them into the debate over what a "Jewish State" is or what it means to be Jewish. Those are internal matters, where Mahmoud Abbas and Sari Nusseibeh have no say.

So, even when taking the "Jews as a people" aspect into consideration, my conclusions remain unchanged. We don't need the Palestinians' recognition of the Jews as a people. We just need them to promise not to work against Israel's Jewish character in any way.

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