Most Jewish Israelis and most Jews living in the diaspora take it for granted that Israel is "a Jewish state." This particular description does not elicit a great deal of controversy for them; it seems obvious and relatively unproblematic. For many Arabs, whether Christian, Muslim, or atheist, and for many Muslims living outside the Middle East, however, the phrase seems unacceptable, and usually provokes an exclamation of disbelief that such a thing should be possible. To them it seems prima facie racist. Likewise, while most Jews see Zionism as the political expression of a belief in Jewish self-determination, dating to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, for many Arabs and Muslims it is a fascist, genocidal, and/or racist ideology with none of the legitimacy granted to other nationalist movements, including Pan-Arabism.
To me, this discord invites two different lines of inquiry.
- Of course, arguments must be made for and against. Indeed, I myself have been forced to engage in such arguments ad nauseam, a fact that at this point in my life tends to fill me with resentment as soon as I hear yet another person challenging me to resist their conversionary or enlightening zeal.
- However, a different line of inquiry would proceed more phenomenologically (I think). It would ask: what do all these different people mean when they talk about a "Jewish state"? Further, it would try to investigate why some people sees this self-description as unproblematic, while others vigorously oppose it; it would, moreover, ask the same thing about the desire of many Jews (in Israel and elsewhere) to have the Palestinians as well as others accept the definition of Israel as a Jewish state. This would be a study of fears, hopes, and their consequences.
We think that the fact that there’s a Jewish state is a good thing given the history of antisemitism and our understanding of how the world works. Here in the US, we have a melting pot society. This is not a Christian or Anglo-Saxon state. It’s a liberal state. There is no one ethnic or religious group that dominates; it’s a melting pot. I don’t like the idea of living in state dominated by one culture. But around world, there are lots of states where people identify themselves largely in terms of culture – take Japan: most people there consider themselves to be Japanese. Same is true with Israel – it’s a Jewish state; the same is true for Germany. It’s not the way I like to do business; but it’s perfectly legitimate way to do it in the international system today. I believe in national self-determination. Zionism is a form of nationalism and perfectly legitimate one. There is nothing wrong with having a Jewish state. We are arguing that Palestinians are also entitled to have a state of their own. If there’s national self-determination for the Jews, it should also exist for the Palestinians. The principal obstacle to establishing Palestinian state at this time is Israel. Israel is interested in colonizing the West Bank and giving the Palestinians nothing more than a few enclaves, keeping them disconnected, controlling borders, air and water. As long as that’s the case, the Palestinians won't have a viable state. The same logic that leads us to support a Jewish state leads us to support a Palestinian state.