Thinking out loud: What is all this about recognising Israel as a Jewish state?

Sep 14, 2010
*Special to asia!
-A +A

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists the Palestinians acknowledge Israel as a “Jewish state”. The Palestinian Authority won't. Alright, let's now look at the facts on the ground.


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas won't recognise Israel as a Jewish state.

In 2009, he said, "A Jewish state, what is that supposed to mean?"

"You can call yourselves as you like, but I don't accept it and I say so publicly."

Why? Because there are tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees displaced by the creation of Israel in 1948 waiting to come home. If Israel is a Jewish state, they would lose the right to return. Israel would be absolved of its historical responsibility in displacing them.

How can a Palestinian leader conceivably speak for these refugees and give up their right to return?

Also, what rights would the Arab population in Israel – basically the Palestinians that managed to remain living within Israel - have in a Jewish state as non-Jews?

Can Abbas sign away equal rights for them too?

Well, that is Abba's rhetoric.

"Name yourself, it's not my business," he said. "All I know is that there is the state of Israel, in the borders of 1967, not one centimeter more, not one centimeter less. Anything else, I don't accept."

Except that while he was protesting, a Jewish state is exactly what Israel has established itself as, whether he likes it or not.

Try to get on a bus on the Jewish sabbath.

Let's forget the Jewish Star of David on the Israeli flag, and focus on the daily details.

Try to get on a bus on the Jewish sabbath. Every Friday to Saturday evening, the public transportation system does not work.

Search for a slice of pizza with salami and cheese on it, the Italian way. Or a cheeseburger, patty and cheddar.

The former, you can't. As for the food, you may encounter, after some serious hunting for a non-Kosher establishment.

Basically meat and dairy products do not mix. It is against Jewish dietary regulations. Just like running buses on the sabbath, the Jewish day of rest. And this weekend, even the country's main international airport will shut down for a day.

It is the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. It is a day of fasting and penance, and no work is done.

Once again, that is according to Jewish religious law. It doesn't matter if you are a heaving non-Jew or a Muslim. These same rules will apply to you.

What about the right to live in a settlement where you get tax benefits, grants and subsidies from the government? Called National Priority Areas, costs of developing the homes in these settlements are half-borne by the government, which also provides  more funding for schools and businesses and better infrastructure. You don't have to pay municipality tax like the rest of Israelis for five years too.

For anyone who has seen them, the settlements are among the best environments for a regular Israeli to live and raise a family. But, sorry, no Israeli-Arabs can live here. Strictly Jews only.

The right to live in Israel is controlled as such.

They call it making aliyah and festive welcome parties at the Airport await these new immigrant Jews. This is the same airport at which an Arab citizen of Israel can expect delays and questioning because he is well, Arab.

Each year, thousands of young Jews from the diaspora are also sent on expenses-paid trips here, to entice them to move to Israel. It is called Taglit, or the birthright tour.

All they have to do is to prove their Jewish ancestry.

The last I checked, there is no Taglit for Palestinians, even though it may be argued that it is as much their birthright as that of a Jew born in New York. (When you consider that the grandparents of these Palestinians may have come from Ramle, Yafo or Jerusalem, all of which lie within Israel right now.)

And if these youngsters do decide to move to Israel, they are given subsidies for housing and medical care, and a sum of money to start them off.

All they have to do is to prove their Jewish ancestry.

Palestinians and Arabs in and outside Israel have keys and deeds to the homes that they left, when they fled during the 1948 war. Yet the legal battle to get their homes back is a long and largely futile one. If they were absent during the Arab-Israeli wars and had fled to a country at war with Israel, the government has a law called the Absentee Property Law which made it legal for it to seize these houses then.

The only way these Palestinians could possibly keep their homes was if they stayed in the war zone. Or if they jumped into the Mediterranean, since they could not leave for any of the countries bordering Israel, all of which were at war with it.


Israeli flags

Israel: A Jewish state or not?

There are plenty more examples which will show that Israel is nothing if not a Jewish state.

Never mind that there is at least 40 percent of Israelis who call themselves secular. Never mind that Abbas won't acknowledge the Jewish state.

Israel is a country that has made the laws of God a part of the laws of the state.

Abbas is perhaps right, Israel can go ahead and call itself what it wants. Whether it is a Jewish state or not, is not the key issue.

It is this: Will the Israeli government - or as the more cynical among us would put it, can the Palestinian leadership - find a way to wrestle some equality and justice for the non-Jews, be it equal rights for Arabs or the right of return or compensation for displaced refugees?

The answer will seal for the world's judgement for this Jewish state: Is it one that commands respect by displaying a sense of justice for all, or simply an exclusionary and racist one that looks out merely for its own, allowing existential fear to overshadow, having dare we say it, the greater and more dreadful lesson of the Holocaust?


dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

Contact Dan-Chyi