Recognizing the Jewish State

##Why does Israel insist on recognition as a Jewish State?

Many critics of Israel assert that Israel’s insistence on Palestinians or Iranian recognition of the Jewish State is designed to scuttle any serious peace talks. They say it is unnecessary, needlessly provocative, and was never brought up in peace deals in the past.

It is true that Israel did not bring this up during past peace talks, however, this was not because it is unnecessary or provocative, but rather because of conflicting Zionist ideologies and misunderstandings about the necessity of such a recognition.

As the late Yehuda Avner documents in his masterpiece, The Prime Ministers, Menachem Begin was the first to reject any sort of recognition of the State of Israel (not just as a Jewish State) as either a favor or condition for peace:

The national security adviser [Brzezinski] had brought with him a draft for the prime minister’s approval, and after analyzing each phrase with his eagle eye, Begin said, “Totally acceptable but for two sentences.”

“And what are they?”

“Please delete ‘The United States affirms Israel’s inherent right to exist.’”

“Why so?”

“Because the United States’ affirmation of Israel’s right to exist is not a favor, nor is it a negotiable concession. I shall not negotiate my existence with anybody, and I need nobody’s affirmation of it.”

Brzezinski’s expression was one of surprise. “But to the best of my knowledge every Israeli prime minister has asked for such a pledge.”

“I sincerely appreciate the president’s sentiment,” said Begin, “but our Hebrew Bible made that pledge and established our right over our land millennia ago. Never, throughout the centuries, did we ever abandon or forfeit that right. Therefore, it would be incompatible with my responsibilities as prime minister of Israel were I not to ask you to erase this sentence.” And then without pause, “Please delete, too, the language regarding the U.S. commitment to Israel’s survival.”

“And in what sense do you find that objectionable?”

“In the sense that we, the Jewish people alone, are responsible for our country’s survival, no one else.”

Menachem Begin was 100% right: Israel’s existence and the recognition thereof is not a negotiable factor nor is it a favor to bestowed. If this was the only factor surrounding calls to recognize the Jewish State, that would be the end of it.

###So why does Israel insist on others recognize its Jewish character?

The way critics talk about the recognition issue, you would think Israel was incredibly insecure, constantly looking outward for affirmation of its identity. This is what Mahmoud Abbas would like us to think when he said in 2009:

The “Jewish state.” What is a “Jewish state?” We call it the “State of Israel.” You can call yourselves whatever you want. But I will not accept it. And I say this on a live broadcast… It’s not my job to define it, to provide a definition for the state and what it contains. You can call yourselves the Zionist Republic, the Hebrew, the National, the Socialist [Republic] call it whatever you like. I don’t care.

The fact of the matter is that Israel doesn’t need the Palestinians to recognize the Jewish State as such in order for it to legitimately be one. As Begin said, Israel exists and will continue to exist as the Jewish State by right and not because anyone else agrees that it is so.

When Israel insists that the Palestinians and enemy states recognize its right to exist, it isn’t asking for a mere formal declaration. Such a declaration is meaningless. What Israel is actually asking for is a change in the way enemy societies interact with and talk about Israel because without this, any peace treaty that is signed would just be a piece a paper. That is why Abbas’s above declaration is so significant especially since he made that statement at the PA Youth Parliament! If there is ever to be peace between Israelis and Arabs, the Arabs will need to accept and teach their children that Israel exists by right and is not, as they have been told for a century, an imperialist outpost of colonialism forced on them by a secret cabal of Jews in order to destroy the unity of the Arab and Muslim worlds.

Mahmoud Abbas doesn’t just reject Israel as a Jewish State, his Palestinian Authority (not to mention his partners in Hamas) continues to teach its children that Israel is an Apartheid, Crusader state. Why are these terms, in additional to imperial and colonial, used? Because such states lack any and all legitimacy and must be completely dismantled and destroyed. One does not make peace with an Apartheid state, one forces it to disband. One does not negotiate with religious crusaders, one defeats them. One does not make peace with colonial masters, one forces them back their countries of origin.

This is why it is so important that Israel’s enemies recognize its right to exist as a Jewish State because without such recognition, and the reeducation and reframing of the discussion of Israel that would have to come with it, then nothing has actually changed. One need only look at Egypt and Jordan to see that signed treaties alone do not create full peace. The treaties there have created peaceful reltations between governments but done nothing to create peace between the people. Egypt continues to hold war games in which Israel is the enemy, the anti-normalization (read: anti-peace) movement is incredibly powerful, preventing most Egyptians from publicly engaging with Israelis on any level, and the Egyptian media continues to use the most disgusting of anti-Semitic imagery.

anti-Semitic cartoon

Jordan is much the same, with the Parliament holing a moment of silence and a recitation of the Qur’an in honor of the terrorists who murdered 4 rabbis and a Druze policeman at a Synagogue in Har Nof, Jerusalem last November. Sure the King is more moderate and offered his own condolences, but apparently he couldn’t even get his own parliament to keep quiet, let alone condemn the attacks.

Imagine for a second if you will, what would have been the world’s reaction had the Knesset held a moment of silence and prayer for the terrorists who murdered Muhammad Abu Khedir last summer? What would be the reaction if Israeli universities or organizations had by-laws refusing to admit or have relations with any Arabs? What would be the reaction had Israeli state TV financed, produced, and promoted a mini-series based on old anti-Arab and Islamophobic tropes?

These are rhetorical questions when it comes to Israel since no such things have ever happened nor are they likely ever to happen. But these are easily answerable when it comes to Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinians because the answer is that the international community will do absolutely nothing! The world ignores or downplays such incidents when Arabs are the perpetrators for a number of reasons:

  1. No Jews, No News - When Jews can’t be blamed, stories about the Middle East are much less interesting (see Yarmouk)

  2. Anti-Arab Racism - This is the so-called “racism of low expectations” whereby the Liberal West will overlook or explain away atrocities done by Arabs or Muslims with what amounts to “well, they’re Arab or Muslim, they don’t know any better” or “this is the best we can expect from them.”

  3. Anti-Semitism - While this isn’t the only reason and many may not even be aware they are engaging in it, there is no way to ignore the shocking double-standards without recognizing that anti-Semitism plays a role.

  4. Narrative - When it comes to the Middle East, the media has a narrative that portrays Israel as intransigent and aggressive and the Palestinians as passive victims incapable of making any decisions. Any facts that contradict this narrative must be buried.

###But why does it insist on recognition specifically as a “Jewish State?”

There are two main reasons for this:

First, it is important to remember that for the past 100 years, the Arabs have been acting as though the Jews are foreigners who walked in one day and stole the land from its rightful, indigenous inhabitants. If peace is to be sustainable, the Arabs need to recognize that the Jews are in fact the returning indigenous people of Israel with just as much a right to a state of our own here as the Arabs have in their own countries. They must recognize that Zionism is a native, national liberation movement with just as much legitimacy as Arab nationalism. This doesn’t mean they all need to become Likudniks or have to accept or agree with everything Israel does, but it does mean that constant discussion of destroying the illegitimate Zionist Entity must stop.

Second, Israel’s entire reason for being is to be a Jewish State. If Israel’s enemies recognize Israel, but not the kind of state that it is, then what have they done exactly?

Israel must stand firm in its insistence that its enemies recognize its right to exist as a Jewish State as part of its demands for realistic expectations from them. The idea that Israel should make peace with governments who will then continue to teach their people that Israel is the enemy is entirely unacceptable. Cease-fire? Sure. Peace Treaty? Absolutely not.

Imagine that Russia says it recognizes Ukraine and is willing to make peace with it, but it will never recognize it as a Ukrainian State. Imagine that under such a peace deal Russia insists on moving millions of ethnic Russians to Ukraine and allege that Ukraine was a colonial creation of NATO. Clearly such a peace treaty would be a mere cease-fire while Russia attempts to subvert Ukrainian territorial integrity, undermine its government, and attempt to replace it with a Russian satellite state. No one would accuse Poroshenko of trying to subvert peace if he were to condition it on Russian recognition of Ukraine as a Ukrainian state, but when it comes to Israel being recognized as a Jewish State, all of a sudden it is unacceptable.

###But doesn’t that ignore Israel’s non-Jewish citizens?

Israel is not the first or only country to be based around a majority population or religious group, but it is the only one that is continually condemned for it. This despite the fact that the safest place to be a minority of any stripe in the Middle East is in Israel. Yes there is unofficial discrimination in Israel and this must end, but this is in no way unique to Israel. More to the point, recent polls show Arabs in Israel affinity for the state despite its problems and reject the idea of either moving to a potential Palestinian state or having the border move around them so their homes would come under Palestinian control.

This also completely overlooks the fact that other minorities in Israel, Druze, Christian Arameans, Bedouin, Circassians, and others all identify strongly with the Jewish State and serve proudly in the IDF. If it is possible for some minorities, it is possible for them all.

Is the situation perfect? Of course not and there is much work to be done. But to say the only way problems of racism or discrimination can be solved is to completely dismantle the state is outrageous and only seems to be brought up as a solution for the Jewish State and not for any other.

However, if the enemies of Israel continue to teach their children that the Jewish State has no right to exist, there will be no peace, and that is why recognition is so important. Peace will only come when Abbas makes the following declaration before the PA Youth Parliament:

The “Jewish state.” What is a “Jewish state?” The State of Israel is the Jewish State but it must work to remove any discrimination against non-Jewish and Arab citizens. Israel is the Jewish State not only because it reflects the will of the majority of its citizens but because the Jews, like the Palestinian Arabs, have the right to a state of their own, and this state is the State of Israel.

Even those who are naive enough to believe Abbas might eventually come around to making a worthless declaration saying Israel is the Jewish State would never think he could make the above statement. That is because this “moderate, peace partner” is neither and will never accept peace with Israel as a Jewish State or otherwise.

As Ruth Wisse, Professor of Yiddish Literature at Harvard University, said in The J Street Challenge:

There is no such thing as an Arab-Israel conflict. There is an Arab war against Israel. There is an Arab war against the Jewish people’s right to a state.

This is the what the entire conflict is about. It isn’t about occupation - there was war and terrorism before 1967. It isn’t about racism - there is racism in every country in the world. It isn’t about human rights - Israel has one of the best records on human rights in the world and the very best in the Middle East.

It is about the complete refusal of the Arab world to recognize the right of the Jewish people to have a state of their own within any borders. Unless this changes there can be no peace and that is why it is so important for Israel’s enemies to recognize it as the Jewish State.