By Sheldon Richman
October 28, 2019 "Information Clearing House" - Israel’s champions owe us an explanation. First, they insist that Israel is and always must be a Jewish state, by which most of them mean not religiously Jewish but of the “Jewish People” everywhere, including Jews who are citizens of other states and not looking for a new country. To be Jewish, according to the prevailing view, it is enough to have a Jewish mother (or to have been converted by an approved Orthodox rabbi). Belief in one supreme creator of the universe, in the Torah as the word of God, and in Jewish ritual need have nothing whatever to do with Jewishness. (We ignore here the many problems with this conception, such as: how can there be a secular Judaism?)
The definition of Jew has been bitterly controversial inside and outside of Israel since its founding. The point is, as anthropologist Roselle Tekiner wrote, “When the central task of a state is to import persons of a select religious/ethnic group — and to develop the country for their benefit alone — it is crucially important to be officially recognized as a bona fide member of that group.” (This is from the anthology Anti-Zionism: Analytical Reflections, which is not online and is apparently out of print. But see Tekiner’s article, “Israel’s Two-Tiered Citizenship Law Bars Non-Jews From 93 Percent of Its Lands.”)
Second, Israel’s champions insist that Israel is a democracy — indeed, the only democracy in the Middle East. They vehemently object whenever someone demonstrates how Israel-as-the-state-of-the-Jewish-People must harm the 25 percent of Israeli citizens who are not Jewish, most of whom are Arabs.
Israeli law uniquely distinguishes citizenship from nationality. The nationality of an Israeli Arab citizen is “Arab” not Israeli, while the nationality of a Jewish citizen is “Jewish” not Israeli. Are citizens of any other country distinguished in law like that? The prohibition on marriage between Jews and non-Jews is not the result of political bargaining with religious parties but of a desire to protect the Jewish people from impurity. These contortions are required by Israel’s self-declared status as something other than the land of all its citizens. Early Zionists said they wanted Palestine to be as Jewish as Britain is British and France is French — a flagrant category mistake that has had horrific consequences for the Palestinians.
The insistence by Israel’s supporters — that Israel can be both Jewish and democratic — thus is puzzling. What does it mean for Israel to be a Jewish state if that status has no real consequences for non-Jews? If all it meant was that the Star of David was on the flag, we might hear far fewer objections to Israel. But of course it means much more.
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