The Fight To Define The Very Essence Of Israel

The answer is a Hebrew republic. But what is the question?
Perhaps the hardest thing for people not living in Israel to grasp is that for most Israelis, talk about how to deal with the question of Palestine is just foreground. In the background is a contest over what kind of state Israel must be. It is not just thinking about war, with Iranian proxies, say, which makes the situation demoralising. Thinking about peace is also demoralising, though in a different way. For Israel would not come out of a sustained war the same country it was when it went in, but nobody expects it to come out of a peace process the same country, either. What leaks into nearly every conversation these days is uncertainty about Israel’s future boundaries. I don’t just mean geographic boundaries. I mean legal, institutional and cultural limits. Most people in the country will insist that Israel is and must remain Jewish and democratic. Almost nobody can tell you what this means.

Obviously, Israel cannot maintain an occupation, denying a great many people political rights, and remain democratic in any ordinary sense. But there is an even more disturbing problem, which calls the Jewish state into question. Can a state for world Jewry be a republic of citizens, many of whom are not Jews? And just what is a Jew in the legal terms statehood presumes: a member of a Hebrew-speaking civil society, a follower of Orthodox Jewish law or a bearer of J-positive blood? The question is troubling enough as it is, but it also has immediate consequences for the ways Israelis imagine their fight, especially since the Netanyahu government, which has been promoting its “Jewish nation-state law”, seems so satisfied to promote rabbinic law as Jewish and speak of democracy purely in terms of majority rule.

“Look,” most Israelis will now tell you, “we might have to push the Arab states around or make them believe that we can – and we have to be able to do this with the blessing of western democracies or at least Trump’s America.” If you ask them: “But isn’t pre-emption and lethal force making your neighbours more determined to fight you?” they answer: “Our neighbours hate us anyway and, sadly, most of our own Arab citizens do, too. It is naive to believe that they won’t, given the kind of state we are.”

Read on at The Guardian