Is Israel too Jewish for the Palestinians?
When Israel evacuated every Jewish settlement and settler from the Gaza Strip, Palestinians burned every vestige of Jewish existence, including synagogues. It became Judenrein (devoid of Jews). I guess the media were too busy to notice.
Now we hear from the Palestinian ambassador to the United States, Maen Rashid Areikat, that Jews in an independent Palestinian state would not be welcome. It has been reinforced by the fact that the sale of any property to Jews is forbidden. So the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are one in governing territory that is Judenrein.
The next question is why the Palestinian Authority won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state. After all, even the hawkish prime minister of Israel recognized the Palestinian state shortly after President Obama’s speech in Cairo early in his administration. This just a year after Ehud Olmert’s generous peace terms were ignored by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Next month we will be celebrating the 64th anniversary of the UN resolution recognizing the Jewish state of Israel and, incidentally, a Palestinian state adjoining it. Two states for two peoples. Does this sound familiar?
Why do the Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as the Jewish State? We have some answers from an op-ed titled, “Why Israel Can’t Be a Jewish State,” published on Al Jazeera’s website by Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al Quds University.
The idea of a Jewish state is “logically and morally problematic because of its legal, religious, historical, and social implications,” he writes. “The term ‘Jewish’ can be applied both to the ancient race of Israelites and their descendants, as well as to those who believe in and practice the religion of Judaism. These generally overlap, but not always. For example, some ethnic Jews are atheists.” So that makes a Jewish State an impossibility.
Really! We treasure the tradition that Jews are unique in that we are both an ethnic group or people and a religion. That’s Klal Yisrael or Jewish peoplehood. That’s what makes the Jewish State so rich in diversity and customs and what has made it flourish for its first 63-plus years.
Nusseibeh goes on, “Second, a modern nation-state being defined by one ethnicity or one religion is problematic in itself. The modern nation-state as such is a temporal and civic institution, and no state in the world is — or can be in practice — ethnically or religiously homogenous.”
Please explain that to your Arab brethren, Mr. Nusseibeh, who constitute over 20 nations that are Islamic by definition, and in many cases don’t tolerate other religious groups. In many of these countries, the practice or conversion to other religions are capital offenses. Israel, on the other hand, has a significant Arab minority constituting 20 percent of its population, who are free to practice Islam, Christianity, or any other religion.
Third, Mr. Nusseibeh states that, “Recognition of Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ implies that Israel is, or should be, either a theocracy or an apartheid state, or both, and in all of these cases, Israel is then no longer a democracy.” Since 1948, Israel has been a thriving democracy and has Arab legislators elected as equal members of the parliament. There is no prescribed state religion and rights of minorities, a free press, and full gender equality are guaranteed by law. Contrast this with its Arab neighbors. Ironically, the Arab Spring is trying to achieve the very freedoms Israelis — Jew, Muslim, and Christian alike — take for granted. The jury is still out as to whether it will succeed.
Nusseibeh also asserts that a Jewish state that proclaims Jerusalem as its undivided capital would “privilege” Judaism above Christianity and Islam, which also consider the city holy.
The reality is that from 1948 to 1967, Jews were not only forbidden to worship in the parts of Jerusalem under Jordanian control, including the Western Wall and historic Jewish quarter, but synagogues and cemeteries were desecrated. To this day, Jewish access to holy sites in the West Bank has at best been severely restricted; at worst, these sites have been subject to hostile attacks. In contrast, Israel has provided free and open access to all holy sites in Jerusalem since it regained control of the Old City 44 years ago.
The professor’s arguments are farcical and hypocritical. We must look for other reasons as to why the Palestinian Authority is balking about recognizing the Jewish state.