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Insisting on a ‘Jewish state’ is folly

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A declaration by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, that Israel is a Jewish state means nothing

By MOSHE GIT

In the current settlement negotiations with the Palestinians, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists that the Palestinians agree to regard Israel as a “Jewish state.” Not only does this demand make very little sense, it even sabotages Israel’s bargaining potential.

A state, any state, is merely an organization, a shell: it can neither be Jewish nor un-Jewish. A statement that Israel is a Jewish state can only mean that the laws of that state conform to the Jewish code (halacha), or that the state provides preferential treatment to citizens of Jewish background.

Except for a limited area in family law, where Israel disenfranchised itself and adopted, for Jews, Christians and Muslims, the laws of their respective religions, the laws of the state of Israel are civil — they are by no means the laws of halacha. The great majority of Israel’s citizenry would, in fact, object to have their state adopt halacha as the country’s general code of law. This is in a sharp contrast to a few countries that have enacted, or desire to enact sharia (Islamic religious law).

The character of a state is determined by the composition of its population. To arbitrarily predetermine that a certain segment of the population, its ideas and aspirations, would enjoy preferential treatment over other segments, which would be the case if a Jewish character is imposed on Israel, is not only undemocratic but also unsustainable.

A Serbian Orthodox church that was destroyed in a 2004 pogrom in Prizren, Kosovo. Moshe Git says that Serbs regarded Kosovo as their spiritual capital, but eventually had to allow Kosovo to split from Serbia. (Photo: Creative Commons)

A Serbian Orthodox church that was destroyed in a 2004 pogrom in Prizren, Kosovo. Moshe Git says that Serbs regarded Kosovo as their spiritual capital, but eventually had to allow Kosovo to split from Serbia. (Photo: Creative Commons)

A case in point is Lebanon, Israel’s neighbor to the north. It was conceived as a Christian state. Indeed, at the time of its founding the great majority of its citizens were Christians. Its political system was designed accordingly and everything seemed to be fine and dandy. This is no longer the case, and the gap between the expectations and the present situation caused by the shift in the composition of its population leads Lebanon from one crisis to another. South Africa is another example to the fact that an imposed character is unsustainable. But perhaps the more illuminating example is Kosovo.

Kosovo is considered by Serbs to be the spiritual center of their nation. In Serb lore it occupies a similar stature to that of Jerusalem in the mind of Jews. Alas, along the years, its Serbian population dwindled and at the time of the breakup of Yugoslavia it constituted a mere 10 percent. At the beginning, the Serbs insisted that Kosovo be an integral part of Serbia, they wouldn’t even consider anything else; yet, led by the circumstances on the ground, gradually, but quite rapidly, they silently accepted the de facto separation of Kosovo from Serbia.

The more Jews settle in Israel and the more entrenched in Judaism these Jews become, the more Jewish Israel will be. A declaration by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, that Israel is a Jewish state means nothing. Israel’s insistence on this matter just provides the Palestinians with a bargaining chip that has no intrinsic value, but for which Israel will have to pay with hard currency.

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Moshe Git lives in Minnetonka.

(American Jewish World, 2.14.14)

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