Amnon Rubinstein: On Dreams and Nightmares

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If Israel is not a Jewish state, it can’t be called Israel, because Israel is a synonym for the Jewish people. If Israel is not Jewish, its Declaration of Independence should be annulled, because it talks about the establishment of a Jewish state named Israel.

If Israel is not Jewish, the United Nations resolution of November 29, 1947 regarding the partition of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and the other Arab, should be revoked.

If Israel is not Jewish, the Law of Return should of course be abrogated, along with Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom, which determines that Israel’s values are based on it being a Jewish and democratic state.

If Israel is not Jewish, a new national anthem will have to be found instead of Hatikva. If Israel is not Jewish, it won’t be Catholic. Or Buddhist. It will be Arab-Muslim – even if the path toward this outcome has to go via a bi-national state.

If Israel is not Jewish, there will not be two states for two peoples. If Israel is Arab-Muslim, it is not likely to be democratic.

If Israel becomes all of these things, all its anti-Zionist journalists and intellectuals will be the first to flee. However, the Jews from Middle Eastern countries will be left behind. Although they once fled from an Arab regime in order to live in a Jewish country, that same regime, which humiliated and oppressed them, will catch up with them.

SUCH a scenario would be a nightmare – one that will never come to pass, but it is essential we understand just how important the demand to define Israel as a Jewish and democratic state is. Yet we are being told that the existence of a large Arab minority in Israel means that Israel cannot be defined in this way, because defining a country without taking the minority into consideration is not democratic.

But when the UN declared the establishment of a Jewish state, the Arabs constituted more than 40 percent of the population, and despite this, the UN General Assembly saw no contradiction between this reality and defining Israel as a Jewish democratic state.

The anti-Zionists say that this reality has changed, that the world has entered the age of post-nationalism. But even in this age, most of the countries of Europe, even those with very large national minorities, remain nation-states.

The truth is of course that there is no justification whatsoever not to recognize Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Our Supreme Court has repeatedly defined what the principal Jewish characteristics of the state are and has included in them the following: that the Hebrew language is its principal official language, its rest days will be held in accordance with Jewish tradition and that the state has a Jewish majority. We are told that defining Israel as a Jewish state awakens suspicions of it becoming a theocracy, and that at most, Israel is no more than the state of the Jews – like the name of Herzl’s book. But Herzl himself saw no difference between the idea of a Jewish state and that of a state of the Jews, and allowed the name of his book to be translated into other languages as “The Jewish State.” When the UN General Assembly decided that Israel would be a Jewish democratic state, it certainly did not have a theocracy in mind; and neither did David Ben-Gurion, who drafted the Declaration of Independence; nor did the former president of the Supreme Court Aharon Barak, who defined the essence of the state as Jewish.

And what good will it do to change Israel’s name? Will the Palestinian Arabs ever agree to the existence of a state of the Jews under any name?

If Israel as a Jewish state does not have to be Jewish in the religious-halachic sense, what then does it mean to be Jewish? That meaning has not changed since Herzl’s time: The Jews, at least since the Emancipation, are a people, a single people that has a very important religious element to it, and which, like other peoples, is strongly connected to its religious past. That past is the launch-pad from which its modern national identity takes-off.

Israel is the state of the Jewish people and all its parts, and it must also be the state of all its non-Jewish citizens, as well as of its large Muslim minority, whose leaders deny that they belong to the state.

The state cannot be identical to just a part of the Jewish people. It is the shared home of all – both non-Jews and Jews, Orthodox, traditional and secular – and it must not discriminate between any of the elements that constitute it.

Yes, there are still shortcomings in Israel’s governmental system, with the absence of civil marriage being one of the most serious of them. The subjugation of Israelis to the Orthodox rabbinical courts and judges is at odds with Israel’s essence as a democracy.

But that is not the reason the Arab leadership and the Palestinian president are opposed to defining Israel as a Jewish state. On the contrary, they themselves seek to establish a fanatical, anti-democratic theocracy of their own here, in place of Israel.

Their opposition is to the existence of a democratic Jewish state anywhere in the region. Their dream is our nightmare.

Amnon Rubinstein: On Dreams and Nightmares

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