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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

This is what is right with a Jewish State

The official goal of Zionism at its foundation was to achieve a national home for the Jewish people, guaranteed in international law. In the mind of the Jewish masses, that goal was embodied in the title of the book by Theodor Herzl, "Der Judenstaat" (The Jewish State). The exigencies of history proved that the state was the only meaningful implementation of the national home. The mind of the common man was proven right.
The fundamental idea behind a Jewish State or Jewish national home, as it was understood by most American Zionists, and especially by the American Zionist leader, Justice Louis Brandeis, was that it would be both a cultural and national center of the Jewish people, and most urgently a place of refuge for unfortunate Jews who needed it.  
The idea of implementing such a state became an element of almost universal Zionist consensus following the  Biltmore Conference, because it had become apparent that only a state would guarantee to the Jewish people the fundamental right to succor its own brethren when they were faced with mortal danger. The right of the Jewish people to self determination and the validity of the Jewish state received the approval of the world in UN General Assembly Resolution 181, which called for a Jewish state and a Palestinian state. 
Not everyone agreed, and not everyone recognized the right of the Jewish people to self-determination. Arabs and anti-Zionists insisted that there is no Jewish people, that Jews are only members of a religion. That is why the Israel War of Independence broke out in 1948, and that is why the Arab states did not make peace with Israel after the war.

With quite a different intent, the Cultural ZionistAchad Haam wrote "Jewish State and Jewish Problem" after the first Zionist congress. He argued that the land would have to be settled gradually, for economic reasons, and that therefore it would take many centuries, and perhaps forever, before a majority of Jews would live in the Jewish state. He wrote:

Dr. Herzl, wishing to demonstrate the superiority of his State idea over the method of Palestinian settlement adopted hitherto, calculated that by the latter method it would take nine hundred years before all the Jews could be settled in their land. The members of the Congress applauded this as a conclusive argument. But it was a cheap victory. The Jewish State itself, do what it will, cannot make a more favorable calculation.
Achad Haam, like all Zionist functionaries, was somewhat of a hypocrite. In his case, the hypocrisy was expressed in that after carefully explaining why Jewish settlement in the land of Israel was an impractical project, and impressing on everyone the urgency of staying in the Diaspora to bring about a cultural revival of the Jewish people there, Achad Ha'am ignored his own prescription and settled in Tel Aviv, where he died. He was quite right that all the Jews would never settle in the Jewish state, for within about two generations of his essay the Jews of Europe were for the most part dead. Instead of Palestine, they were sent to Auschwitz and Maidanek and Ravensbruck and Dachau and other such places. Achad Ha'am's concept was wrong. He didn't understand that a time would come when Jews would have migrated en masse to a Jewish State, if only they had been able to do so, regardless of economics, because the only alternative was death. 
In the extreme case, a Jewish State is an existential necessity if the Jewish people are to ensure their survival. This was foreseen and understood in 1937, when the Zionist executive accepted the pitiful offer of the  Peel Partition Plan. Even a tiny and virtually powerless Jewish state would have been able to save hundreds of thousands of Jews before the gates of their prisons slammed shut on them. The Jewish people paid a terrible tuition to learn what is right about a Jewish State, and why it is needed, but unfortunately it is being forgotten.
The Arab refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to self determination in the land of Israel has been at the core of the Israeli-Arab conflict at least since the 1930s. The Arabs, of course, rejected the Peel Partition Plan. They would not agree even to a Jewish state on 25% of the land west of the Jordan river, called "Palestine" since 1918 when it was conquered by the British. Palestine east of the Jordan river came to be called Transjordan and then Jordan, but in the Arab world, Palestine west of the Jordan remained Palestine. Israel did not exist.
The demand that in any peace settlement, the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state, or the state of the Jewish people, was quite correctly, if belatedly, introduced by the Olmert government during the Annapolis negotiations. The Palestinians for their part, do not accept the demand, claiming that it is "racist," though they themselves want to have a "Palestinian Arab state." They insist that "Jewish State" will be a green light for persecution and expulsion of Israel's Arab minority. It is a strange thesis, since the French Republic that was proclaimed on September 22, 1792 did not begin to expel any national minorities. On the contrary, they emancipated the Jews of France. The Czechoslovak Republic proclaimed after World War I did not expel or persecute any minorities either, until the Sudeten's German minority betrayed it and helped the Nazis to destroy it, an event which might suggest a parallel.  On the other hand, a racist government bent on ethnic cleansing does not require a national ethnic state framework to do so. Stalin had no problems wiping out entire nationalities in the USSR as well as persecuting the Jews. He didn't need a "Russian State." It was not also not necessary for there to be a Palestinian Arab state in order for the British officered Jordan Legion to ethnically cleanse Gush Etzion after massacring many of its defenders in 1948, or to ethnically cleanse the  Jews of the old city of  Jerusalem in 1948. A government bent on genocide can call itself a Workers and Peasants Democratic Peoples Republic.
The Palestinian Arabs, for their part, insist on the "right of return" for the third and fourth generation of Palestinian Arab refugees to Israel, which they claim must be part of any peace settlement. No refugees anywhere in the world carried this status for more than one generation, and no "right of return" was granted in numerous cases of exchanges of population in history. The right of self-determination, on the other hand, is Jus Cogens, strong law, that overrides other rights (see Palestinian Right of Return ). A massive influx of Palestinian refugees, their (often foreign) spouses and offspring, would destroy the Jewish right to self determination. It would also put an end to the Law of Return. Israel would cease to be a Jewish State in fact, whatever it was called. Palestinians insist that they would end the "racist" Law of Return. As this vicious and racist article by Columbia professor Joseph Massad explains:
With few exceptions, prominent Zionist leaders since the inception of colonial Zionism have desired to establish peace with the Palestinians and other Arabs whose lands they slated for colonization and settlement....
Israel is willing to do anything to convince Palestinians and other Arabs of why it needs and deserves to have the right to be racist. Even at the level of theory, and before it began to realise itself on the ground, the Zionist colonial project sought different means by which it could convince the people whose lands it wanted to steal and against whom it wanted to discriminate to accept as understandable its need to be racist. All it required was that the Palestinians "recognize its right to exist" as a racist state.
...After all, Israeli racism only manifests in its flag, its national anthem, and a bunch of laws that are necessary to safeguard Jewish privilege, including the Law of Return (1950)...
Of course, all states have flags with national symbols and all states have national anthems, and many other states have similar immigration laws that favor their own ethnic expatriates abroad and nobody considers them "racist" (see  Israeli Law of Return).  The Palestinians understand perfectly why they oppose a "Jewish State" and what is wrong with a Jewish state from their point of view. Once they agree to such a state, they must abandon the idea of flooding Israel with "refugees" and repealing the law of return. One wonders what Professor Massad thinks of Palestinian law, which prescribes the death penalty for anyone who sells land to Jews, or to Jordanian law or Saudi Arabian law, which forbids Jewish citizenship entirely. They must be learning interesting things in Columbia.  
For once however, there is good news for supporters of Israel. Americans may be divided on issues such as a settlement freeze, but a recent Rasmussen survey found that 81% of American voters answered "Yes" to the following proposition: "As part of a Middle Eastern peace agreement, should Palestinian leaders be required to acknowledge Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state?" This was evidently misreported elsewhere by Rasmussen as "Palestinian leaders must recognize Israel's right to exist as part of a Middle Eastern peace agreement," and an important scoop was missed.
Israel has a winning point here - the main element of Zionism, rejected by the Arab states, is accepted by the international community and wins almost solid support in the United States, if the survey results are correct. So why has the demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state been put on a back burner, while Israel gets bogged down in counterproductive bickering over details? The first reason, is that Israel is still playing the negotiations game by the American rules - bottom up instead of top down. This favors the Palestinians, since they have nothing to concede but matters of principle while Israel can only offer territorial concessions and tinkering with the conditions of Palestinian statehood. Therefore, negotiations consist of endless Israeli concessions while the Palestinians repeat the mantra of right of return, 1967 borders, no Jews in East Jerusalem and no recognition of a Jewish state.
The second reason, is that it turns out that not everyone in Israel understands why we must have a Jewish state and what it implies. They forgot the costly lessons of the past. The "Jewish State" phrase that should protect the Jewish right to national self determination has been abused for other purposes. Orthodox Jewish extremists use this slogan to try to enact a constitution that would turn Israel into a Halachah-based theocratic Jewish state. Anti-democratic politicians may use it to try to enact laws that really do discriminate against Israeli Arab citizens. In the context of internal Israeli politics, the "Jewish state" became problematic and confused people. And so well meaning people who forgot what it is all about, object to the insistence on a Jewish state or a State of the Jewish people. In "This is what is wrong with a Jewish State" Bradley Burston opines:
There is no little irony in the circumstance that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chose Palestinian recognition of Israel as "the national state of the Jewish People" as a central tool in efforts to stave off peace talks and deflect demands for a settlement freeze. .
Perhaps it is only being used as a "tactic," but it is a "tactic" that is a legitimate and central condition for peace. The requirement is a necessary condition for the fulfillment of Zionist aims. If the other side will not make peace with a Jewish state, there's no point in any peace talks. The Palestinian Arabs would not be expected to accept "peace" in which Israel recognized Palestine as a state of the Jewish people, or as a "secular democratic state" that allows unlimited Jewish immigration.
In his attack on the "tactic" of the Jewish State, Burston goes on to enumerate a host of ills, some of which, such as ultraorthodox riots on the Sabbath, have been with us since the inception of the state. All of them it seems, are in his view the result of having a "Jewish State." If you want to understand what is right with a Jewish state, try to get an immigration visa to Saudi Arabia or Jordan, or visit Auschwitz.
If Israel is to remain intact and have a future, whether the current peace process is real or a sham, we must draw together and build a national consensus regarding our minimal rights, and what they mean. If we do not know what we want, we can hardly expect others to give us our rights.
The cardinal condition for any peace agreement must be recognition of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in this land - a Jewish state. That is what we have been fighting for all these years. It has very little to do with the internal policies of the state, with whether or not there are racists in Israel, or how ultraorthodox rioters should be treated. Those are internal issues - decisions to be made by a sovereign people, not decided by a racist and hate mongering professor in Columbia University, or the reactionary ruler of Saudi Arabia.  It has everything to do with the goal of providing a national home for the Jewish people, without which Zionism is utterly pointless. If we cannot explain that to an intelligent, supposedly Zionist journalist, we have truly forgotten what Zionism is all about.
Ami Isseroff

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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