The sovereign state of the Jewish people

Tal Becker has written a thought provoking article available as a free download in the Washington Institute for Near East Policy here.

The promo for the article states  “Israel’s claim for recognition as a “Jewish” state continues to generate substantial controversy: what many Israelis see as an elementary component of true peace, many Palestinians perceive as a ploy to undermine it. And because this debate has been cast in zero-sum terms, it has created the impression of an insurmountable obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation. In the heat of the argument, there has been a failure to identify the genuine interests at stake, to weigh their legitimacy, and to consider the alternatives for addressing them.  In The Claim for Recognition of Israel as a Jewish State: A Reassessment, Tal Becker seeks to demystify this debate and contend with the inflated and misleading dimensions it has acquired in the public discourse. It places the demand for recognition of Israel’s Jewish character in its historical, political, and strategic context, exploring its essence and engaging directly with the arguments against it. This groundbreaking Washington Institute study provides means not only to understand the debate but also to reconcile the issues. In so doing, it helps overcome what has emerged as a major challenge to navigating the difficult road to an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.”

Becker suggests that the claim to recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and its objections might be reconciled along the lines that it is recognising the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in a sovereign state, rather than recognition of Israel “as a Jewish state”, that recognition should be mutual, and should be sought in the context of a conflict-ending agreement.  Mutual agreement should be given without prejudice to the obligation to respect the human rights of each state’s citizens and minority groups.

He notes that the term “Jewish state” is sometimes misunderstood in the context of recognition claims as implying a Jewish theocracy.  This interpretation, though sometimes raised by opponents of recognition, is clearly not the meaning intended by its supporters.   The term “Jewish” refers here to the national aspirations of the Jewish people, not to Judaism in its religious sense 

Becker adds that “it is generally accepted that the definition of “people” for the purpose of self determination of an ethnic or national group requires the fulfillment of both subjective and objective criteria.  Subjectively the group must perceive itself to be a people.  Objectively it must possess a combination of common characteristics such as history, language, religion and culture.  That the Jewish people meet these criteria is overwhelmingly accepted despite the somewhat exceptional relationship between Jewish religion and Jewish peoplehood.  The vast majority of Jews conceive of themselves as a people, and this status constituted a key rationale for international support for Israel’s establishment.”    

Becker discusses the arguments and implications that swirl around the issue… well worth reading.






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