Without a Jewish State

Jews, particularly in the West, now enjoy an unparalleled degree of security and cultural freedom in part because of the connection the Jews feel toward Israel, and the recognition that the country is committed to their protection and well- being.

Dr. Alex Grobman

OpEds Knesset plenum
Knesset plenum
Arutz 7

Without a Jewish state, asserts Ruth Gavison, professor of Human Rights at the Faculty of Law at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Jews would become a cultural minority again, which would most likely involve living in continuous fear of antisemitism, persecution and genocide. Relinquishing a state would be similar to “national suicide.”

Jews have endured for two millennia without a homeland, but at times at great personal risk. Jews, particularly in the West, now enjoy an unparalleled degree of security and cultural freedom in part because of the connection the Jews feel toward Israel, and the recognition that the country is committed to their protection and well- being.

The Strongest Jewish Community in the World

In less than 60 years Gavison noted, Israel has become the strongest Jewish community in the world. The country has the right and obligation to “promote and strengthen” the Jewish character of the state as this is based on the concept of national self-determination.

This idea does not mean that every citizen in the country must belong to a particular national or ethnic group. But the state has the right to protect itself physically and culturally against assimilation or attempts to attack and destroy it. The claim of self-determination “is not a matter of abstract rights talk. Rather, such claims must be addressed according to demographic, societal and political realities that prevail both in the Middle East and in other parts of the world.”


Many European countries, for example, explicitly identify as Protestant or Catholic; many Muslim countries are classified as an “Islamic Republic,” while in the United States only Christian holidays are officially observed.
The state also has a responsibility to safeguard the rights of non-Jewish minorities. They should be treated fairly, with respect, and their safety and well-being should be ensured. These obligations do not require, however, the termination of the Jewish character of the state.

Espousing a Jewish Identity

As former Israeli ambassador Dore Gold and philosophy professor Jeff Helmreich observed espousing a national identity—ethnonationalism—is not unusual. Most states formally identify with a specific religious or cultural tradition of their predominant groups. Many European countries, for example, explicitly identify as Protestant or Catholic; many Muslim countries are classified as an “Islamic Republic,” while in the United States only Christian holidays are officially observed.

Israel alone is castigated for reflecting the identity of the Jewish people.

Maintaining Ethnic Dominance

As part of an effort to maintain ethnic dominance, historian Jerry Z. Muller explains that many countries have a differential immigration policy. Armenia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Serbia and Turkey offer automatic or fast-track citizenship to members of their own dominant group living outside the country.

Chinese immigration laws give ethnic Chinese residing overseas preference and benefits. Citizens in the former colonies of Spain and Portugal are granted favorable treatment in their immigration applications to those countries. Individuals who are not citizens of Japan or Slovakia, but who are members of the leading ethnic group, are given official identification documents enabling them to reside and work in the country.

Americans who view such policies as an infringement of universalist standards and thus repugnant, would be considered “provincial” in the rest of the world.

Obligation of a Democratic State

The responsibility of a democratic state is to embody the preferences of the majority, providing they do not impinge on the rights of the minority Gavison adds. Each country protects its own cultural and religious characteristics that are seen by some of its citizens as either “neutral” or at times “alienating.” The banning of headscarves for Muslim women and skullcaps for Jews in French schools is a prominent example.

French Catholics were willing to accept a secular society Gavison asserts, but not one that would allow extensive multiculturalism. In Israel, Arabs and Jews tend to live in separate communities. Arabs and Israelis share the view that no one should be compelled to live in a bicultural community or one where they would be the minority culture.

A very significant number of countries in the world are built around the self-determination of a particular religious or national group; some examples are Russians, Armenians, Sunni Muslims, Irish, Japanese, Han Chinese, and Poles. Minorities exist in practically all of these countries with their own culture and language. In the U.S., the relations between minority groups are generally peaceful.

Ethnic clashes in the Balkans or in Iraq are examples of where the dominant group is in conflict with the rights of a sizable and periodically antagonistic domestic minority. In Czechoslovakia, the citizens decided to divide the country—one state for Czechs, the other for Slovaks. This same solution occurred in a more brutal form in the former Yugoslavia, in Armenia and in other states of the former Soviet Union.

Justification for Jewish Settlement

To understand the justification for Jewish settlement, Gavison says, we must distinguish between “rights” and “liberties,” concepts advanced by Wesley Newcomb Hohfeld, an American jurist. Hohfeld postulates that we may talk “of liberty when there is no obligation to act or refrain from acting in a certain manner. A right, on the other hand, means that others have an obligation not to interfere with, or to grant the possibility of, my acting in a certain manner.” As long as the actions of the Jews who settled in the Land of Israel “were legal and nonviolent,” Jewish settlers “were at liberty to enlarge their numbers among the local population, even with the declared and specific intent of establishing the infrastructure for a future Jewish state.”

The liberty to establish an infrastructure in the land of Israel Gavison avows, was far more justified than that of the Spanish and English who settled the American continent. Palestine was a far more justifiable destination for Jews than Argentina or Uganda. Unlike colonists, Jews had a preexisting connection to the land, returning to an area where they were once the sovereign power.

Alex Grobman is a Hebrew University trained historian He is the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society, and a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.




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