Israel’s National Identity Problem

IsraeliFlagby Avi Davis   12/6/14
News has arrived that the Netanyahu Government coalition, less than 20 months old, is fragmenting due, among other things, to tensions over the potential passage of a new bill before the Knesset.  Titled “Israel, the Nation State of the Jewish People”, the proposed legislation is an attempt to finally produce the Israeli equivalent of a Constitution, establishing the guiding principles for  the State’s governance.  The document itself is short — barely a page long — and expressed in extremely simple language.

It affirms some very basic principles which have been widely recognized as fundamental to the State’s existence and have been largely taken for granted over the past 67 years; among them:

The Land of Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish People and the place of the establishment of the State of Israel.

The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish People in which the Jewish People realizes its right to self-determination in accordance with its cultural and historic heritage.

The right to realize national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People.

The State of Israel is democratic, based on the foundations of freedom, justice and peace in light of the visions of the prophets of Israel, and upholds the individual rights of all its citizens according to law

Notice that these principles are stated without reliance on any other authority (in contrast to the 1948 Declaration of Independence which had relied on United Nations Resolution 181, the Balfour Declaration, and other documents in part to affirm the right to self-determination) but draws on the Jewish peoples’ heritage and long historical connections to the Land of Israel.

The question is: Why now?  What has impelled Netanyahu to risk his government over something that is widely accepted in the country anyway?

The answer is multi-dimensional but if necessary can probably be redacted to a few key words: the need to set both a vision and a purpose for the country.

In rapid succession over the past 20 years, the concept of the legitimacy of a Jewish state has come under pounding assault — first in the 1990s from the Israel’s post-Zionist historians, then from the Israeli Supreme Court under Chief Justice Aharon Barak; following that from a raft of post-9/11 campus radicals, and finally from the Palestinian Authority itself, which is now successfully leading the world in delegitimization efforts. They have attempted to chip away at the foundational legitimacy of the Jewish state, declaring any religious affiliation of the State to be racist and buttressing accusations of a reversion to South African-style apartheid. Forgotten of course is that most Arab countries in the region define themselves as Islamic states and Israel is far and away the only country in the Middle East to extend true legal protections to its minorities.[pullquote]Why now? What has impelled Netanyahu to risk his government over something that is widely accepted in the country anyway?[/pullquote]

From the state’s very beginnings it has been debated whether the Israel should be governed as a Jewish state or as a state of all its citizens. No one has forgotten that there is sizable minority — a little more than 20% — of non-Jews living in the country which now includes a broad mix of Arabs, Druze, Bedouin, Thais, Filipinos, and Russians.

The question has never been completely resolved, and in the absence of a Constitution (which was once attempted but abandoned when the tension over the religious character of the state scuttled the effort) the country was legally held together by the passage of a series of Basic Laws which have governed such controversial subjects as Sabbath observance, marriage, death, conversions, and immigration.

But now, as one European country after another lines up to recognize a Palestinian state outside of an internationally sanctioned peace agreement, the Government of Israel can probably see the writing on the wall. Just as Palestinians have elected not to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state, so will the international community be goaded into following suit when it finds Israel doggedly resistant to the demands for the establishment of an implacable foe on its doorstep.

The opponents of the new law have mounted a vigorous attack upon it, declaring that it is at odds with the democratic nature of the state.

It’s a curious argument since our modern understanding of the concept of democracy is government sanctioned by the majority.  The democratic nature of a state is not destroyed when the majority elects a government which seeks to affirm the nation’s identity and character.

In addition, the bill which as it stands takes great pains to stress that the state will uphold the individual rights of all its citizens according to law; that the State will act to enable all residents of Israel, regardless of religion, race or nationality, to preserve their culture, heritage, language, and identity; and that members of recognized faiths shall be entitled to rest on their Sabbaths and holidays.

No discrimination against any non-Jews there.

But there is yet another important argument to make. There are those critics who portray democracy as if it is some sacred totem to which all human beings must bow in worship even when  the existence of that ideal conflicts with the expressions of a nation’s identity or even its national security. However even the West’s greatest philosophers and most fervent proponents of democracy never believed that there was a perfect representative system which would ensure that the interests of all citizens within any given polity would be completely represented. How could it be logically so when democracy is the rule by majority vote? To put it starkly, in any democracy there will always be a tension between a majority mandate and minority aspirations. They are in constant balance and at times the balance will shift unfavorably against the minority.

We are well aware, after all, of the flaws in American representative government and how hard it is to guarantee that any law passed by Congress will not at one time or another be tipped against one particular minority or group of individuals. We cannot forget that a small country such as Israel, with a population 1/32nd the size of the United States, is a unique experiment in world history and as a Jewish sovereign democratic state — the first in 2,000 years — cannot and should not be expected to meet an impossible standard that even the most vigorous democratic nations have failed to achieve.

The vote in the Knesset to approve the bill Israel,“the Nation State of the Jewish People” has become essential for Israelis themselves to emphatically affirm that after centuries of persecution there now exists and will always exist a place of refuge for the Jewish people, one which guarantees, in the words of the country’s 1948 Declaration of Independence itself, ” the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, in their own sovereign state.” It is this unassailable right to self-determination, which draws its life blood from Jewish law and history, that lies at the heart of Israel’s founding — and not its opponents’ tendentious argument that protecting the sensitivities of minorities was and is primary. The twin ideals of Jewish nationhood and representative democracy have sometimes comes into conflict — that is true. But, as many Zionist thinkers have recognized, that tension might be the price to be paid for having any Jewish state at all.

(This article was originally published at American Thinker.)


AFA logoAvi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance and blogs at The Intermediate Zone. • (1769 views)

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13 Responses to Israel’s National Identity Problem

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I once dated a psychologist. From her I learned enough about psychology to make me dangerous, particularly in dealing with the so-called “passive aggressive” personality. You know you’ve run across one when they make you feel “icky” and there is never a correct answer.

    Such is the state of Israel in the face of much of the world. The world puts out “icky,” disingenuous, duplicitous, and passive-aggressive malarkey, holding Israel to a “special” standard. Always. Ever.

    Yes, it is theoretically possible to criticize Israel and Jews without being an anti-Semite. I do it all the time. Jews tend to be pretty flakey politically. But let’s be honest. Most of the criticism directed at them stems from anti-Semitism or is the second-hand noxious smoke of Leftism which hides its anti-Semitism under the pirate flag of “diversity” and “multiculturalism.” Multiculturalism for thee but not for me (for the Jews, that is).

    Every Western country, not just Israel, needs to make a statement about who they are…before it is too late. In Sweden and Norway, they need to make a similar statement that “Our country is for the Swedes or Norwegians” with a nod toward the obvious that plurality and real tolerance (not fake PC tolerance) is what makes the West free and civilized (as is Israel a civilized country surrounded by barbarian Muslims).

    The Left has done a powerful job of getting people to believe that holding onto one’s national identity is some kind of horrible “nativism.” This has been the wedge (guilt) they have used to undermine the West. Consider this bizarre state of affairs where the #1 name for a newborn male child in England is some form of the word “Mohammed.”

    Yes, in the state of Israel they tend to be a bunch of multi-culti flakey socialists. They’d been the Charley Brownian fools who keep trying to kick the football that Lucy is holding, always trading land for peace and then being surprised when the Muslim hordes are not appeased. Bibi does his best to man-up the country, but he is only one man (and what a truly great man he is…God keep him safe).

    The official policy of StubbornThings is to tell anti-Semites of all stripes (including the kind that comes frequently from Libertarians) to go eff themselves. People need to realize that the issue with Israel is not about Jews and Palestinians, per se. It’s about holding the line against barbarians. We dare not sell out civilization, especially on the front lines.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Isaac Asimov in his Treasury of Humor mentioned a story about an American, a Brit, and an Israeli being captured by cannibals, who gave each a last wish before they would all go into the pot. After the first 2 made theirs, the Israeli asked to be kicked in the rump. They were surprised but complied, after which he pulled out his Uzi and gunned them all down. When the American and Brit wondered why he didn’t do that to begin with, he answered, “What? And have the UN call me an aggressor?” As the Preacher says, there is nothing new under the Sun.

    • Rosalys says:

      I worked with a Jewish woman once. Not a Jew-in-name-only, but really very Jewish. I told her once that I liked Netanyahu and her response was, “I don’t trust him!”

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Maybe she thought there was good reason to distrust someone who is, after all, a politician. Our company had a couple of Russian immigrants during the 1990s, and I recall one had a poor opinion of Boris Yeltsin, seeing him as just another politician. Considering that Yeltsin chose Tsar Vlad the Putrid as his successor, he had a point, even if we didn’t learn that until later.

        • Rosalys says:

          She didn’t have a distrust of all politicians – only Republican and conservative ones; so, I shouldn’t have been shocked by her distrust. I was mistaken to think just because Bibi is strong on the defense of Israel that a fellow pro-Israelist would have any feelings of common ground. It seems that among the hardcore they are Liberals/Progressives/Socialists first and whatever else second.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Yes, that’s a point I make down below. A professional liberal Jew is a liberal first, and a Jew second (if at all).

  2. Rosalys says:

    “To put it starkly, in any democracy there will always be a tension between a majority mandate and minority aspirations. They are in constant balance and at times the balance will shift unfavorably against the minority.”

    Which is why our Founders, in their wisdom, gave us a republic – not a democracy.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Just FYI, the Emirtus Professor (whatever the heck that is) at Wellesley College has an article (a long one…too long…as in not entirely to the point) at American Thinker: Anti-Semitism at Wellesley.

    It’s interesting (okay…horrific, actually) how Anti-Semitism has become fashionable amongst the “caring” Progressives. Israel is just trying to live in peace and the Palestinian barbarians are lobbing bombs at them over the border and yet the Israelis are the aggressor.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Prior to 1967, Israel was the underdog. After that, the Palestinians were. So for liberal ideologues, it was emotionally necessary to switch sides (in their usual reflexive reaction).

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        The fevered brains of the Left, Progressives, Communists, and socialists are not always so easy to fathom. But certainly “victimhood” has a lot to do with it. But it’s important to remember who the Grand Oppressor is: Western Civilization.

        And it is arguable that nothing else this side of Athens underpins Western Civilization like the Jews. It’s thus ironic (and monstrous) that so many Jews have abandoned their faith and taken up the idol of “Diversity” or “Multiculturalism” or “Tolerance” — basically substituting Leftism for their true religion.

        A very large number of Jews in this world are severely screwed up. They don’t know who their friends are, and thus they have no idea of their enemies. They keep voting for these Leftist anti-Semites while reassuring themselves that there is some congregation of “right wing” Protestants somewhere in America whose hatred of Jews somehow justifies their own blinkered and self-destructive prejudices.

        As Dennis Prager often points out, the best friends of Jews and Israel are conservative Christians. And most Jews seem clueless about this, stuck in their own prejudices with the same gusto as the blacks in Ferguson are. And that’s a shame. We share the same fight…or should.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          But remember that a liberal X (or professional liberal X, I suppose, but I think most ideological liberals are professional liberals) is a liberal first, an X second. This applies to Jews as well as scientists, lawyers, economists, etc.

  4. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    The Land of Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish People and the place of the establishment of the State of Israel.

    The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish People in which the Jewish People realizes its right to self-determination in accordance with its cultural and historic heritage.

    The right to realize national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People.

    It is pretty clear that these three sentences are at the heart of the question.

    Given the history of the Jews, a large number of them have an almost genetic aversion to governance based on any type of tribal or religious identification; even a Jewish one.

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