by: Joshua Spurlock, BFP Israel Mosaic Radio
But what does Israel mean when they refer to themselves as a Jewish state? Prime Minister’s Office spokesman Mark Regev defined the term in an interview with Bridges for Peace as meaning “that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people, the place where the Jewish people have national self-determination in a country of their own. Our Declaration of Independence talks about those principles and also guarantees Israel’s non-Jewish citizens full equality under the law.”
Regev cited several other examples of states that are the places where specific peoples have political expression, ranging from France to Japan. Regev noted that as Israel is the place where the Jewish people have national self-expression, Israel’s culture is linked to its Jewish nature. “Israel is the one country where our official language is Hebrew, where our national holidays are Jewish holidays, where Jewish culture is the national culture,” said Regev. “The principle of national self-determination is widely accepted, and surely, it must apply to the Jewish people as well.”
Considering that the concept of self determination is supported and in use around the world, Israel’s desire for the same shouldn’t be too surprising. Many seem to have forgotten that Israel has already been officially labeled as a Jewish state—by the United Nations. In the 1947 resolution on the partition plan for the region, the UN referred to its division into “independent Arab and Jewish States.”
The Core Issue
But what about Israel’s minority groups, especially its sizable Arab minority? Regev said they too have equal democratic rights, including religious freedom, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble and demonstrate, and the right to vote their own representatives into office. Israeli Arabs have multiple political parties, and currently there are 14 Israeli Arabs in the Knesset, including some who are members of primarily Jewish parties. “The law is color-blind, and must be,” said Regev. “These are all rights that Israel’s minority communities enjoy. Arabs in neighboring countries don’t necessarily have all those rights.” And of those Arab nations surrounding Israel, many remain official enemies with Israel—a circumstance that dates to the Arab effort to destroy Israel following its creation.
The tendency for Arab nationalists to assign fundamental illegitimacy to the Jewish Israel as a colonialist invention with no right to the region is a key reason why Regev said the Palestinians need to recognize Israel as the Jewish state. Regev argues that if the Palestinian leadership can’t offer legitimacy to Israel, then “what sort of peace are you offering? Is it merely just a ceasefire?”
Said Regev, “This is the core of the conflict. If we’re talking about a historic compromise, historic recognition, it has to be based on accepting the legitimacy of the other side’s national aspirations. And just as we in Israel are being asked to accept the legitimacy of Palestinian national aspirations, that there’s a Palestinian people entitled to national self-determination in a state of their own, that the Palestinian people have a historic connection to this land, we are equally entitled to hear the same thing from the Palestinians…It would show that Israel is acceptable and legitimate in the eyes of our neighbors, and that would be a very important move forward in peace.”
One propagandist fear is that should Israel be recognized by the Palestinians as a Jewish state, Israel will “ethnically cleanse” the country of its Arabs. Regev did not even allow the question to be finished before replying “that’s complete nonsense.” Noting that Israel has had an Arab presence for decades, Regev labeled the ethnic cleansing fear as “hateful propaganda.”
In fact, Israel has acted to maintain the democratic rights of its Arab citizens despite the efforts of some of their politicians to actively undermine the nation politically. Knesset Member Hanin Zuabi, for example, joined the Turkish Mavi Marmara flotilla against Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Yet, while Haaretz reported that some of Zuabi’s Knesset privileges were rescinded for the action, such as Knesset payment of her litigation fees, it should be noted she nonetheless stayed on as a member of the Knesset.
Israel has been granted legitimacy as the home for the Jewish people by the UN, and it has managed to strike a fairly healthy balance of maintaining democratic rights and freedoms for its minority population while supporting its national character, despite being surrounded by enemies.
However, Israel’s status as a Jewish state is not merely 62 years old—it’s more than 3,000 years old! It dates not from the United Nations, but from God’s calling of Abraham. And while its status as the nation of the Jewish people is supported by the UN, it is ultimately supported by God Himself. “He remembers His covenant forever, the word which He commanded, for a thousand generations…and confirmed it to Jacob for a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant, saying, ‘To you I will give the land of Canaan as the allotment of your inheritance’” (Psalm 105:8, 10–11).
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