Sunday, February 05, 2012

Jewish State: Who Decides

At a pro-BDS conference at the University of Pennsylvania yesterday, the founder of Electronic Intifiada (a word which most Israelis and many Americans associate with terrorism) Ali Abunimah had a whole lecture about what it means for Israel to be a Jewish State. "Let's ask that question", he said. Well, it isn't his question to ask.

The biggest problem I have with Israeli demands that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state is that it invites the Palestinians into the debate over what a Jewish state, or Jewish and democratic state, means. They have a point when they say that they need to know the definition of the term before agreeing to it. But the thing is that this is an internal Israeli issue, an issue only Israelis - Jews, Arabs and others - can debate. The Jewish State is a very general concept, in constant flux. Some Israelis see it as a state for the Jewish people, others see it as a state based on Jewish law - and those are just two of the various possible definitions. It is a vital discussion for Israeli citizens to have, but it isn't the business of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and the diaspora.

Of course, Abunimah might have discussed the Jewish State concept anyway, even without the wrongheaded Israeli demands. After all, he is a one-stater, right of return activist who would like to see Israel vanish in favor of a State of Palestine with a Jewish minority. He has also defended terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. But then again, Israel's demand to be recognized as Jewish legitimizes his intervention in this domestic issue.


  1. Abunimah has at least the right to ask questions about that issue, considering that even Israeli Arabs and Bedouin will have no say whatsoever in that issue, even though that issue is likely to seriously affect them in the future.

    One of Israel’s tragedies is that by the time Zionism started to gain traction, European Nation States had already begun abandoning the idea of Nation States based on ‘one People and/or one Religion’, despite a brief resurgence of ‘Blood and Soil’ nationalism around that time and one that clearly inspired Herzlian Zionism.

    Now, despite the Palestinians already having recognised the State of Israel before (and having gotten very little for it in return), that same state wants to further emphasize the Jewish religious ethnic character of the state that caused their Catastrophy.

    Ultimately Zionist exceptionalism will be its undoing. Its current ideology harks back basically to the 1880s, see also how keen it is to receive antisemitic support: Brenner’s ‘Zionism in the Age of the Dictators’ shows how little back then Zionism was committed to fighting antisemitism, instead making common cause with swathes of them. Plus ça change…

  2. Arab citizens of Israel should have a say - and if more of them would vote in Knesset elections, they'd force us Jews to include them in the conversation. But it is no more Ali Abunimah's business than it is the business of any other non-Israeli.