Emanuel Shahaf

The Brief History of the Jewish Nation State

A review of Israel’s policies ever since 1977, with exceptions from 1992 to 1996 and 1999 to 2000, clearly shows that they are devised to make a Jewish Nation State, one that gives preferential treatment to Jews, impossible. That may seem counterintuitive and is probably not what the Right in Israel, certainly not the incoming government has in mind but it sure follows the age old adage that when you do the wrong thing “you end up getting what you least want and most resist to”.

The never ending effort to extend de-facto (and soon de-jure) Jewish sovereignty over more and more parts of Judea and Samaria while putting ever more local Palestinian residents under Israeli control, the ongoing settlement drive and as a consequence, the intensification of the struggle with the Palestinians, will eventually make it impossible to safely maintain a Jewish Nation State as the ethnocentric entity that is being pursued at present. Eventually, the call for equality for all those under our sovereignty (just as it is outlined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence) will have to be legalized in a basic law or better, a constitution. If that doesn’t happen there is no democratic future for the Jewish State as the incoming government is already trying to prove with markedly illiberal legislative efforts. In the long term we will not be able to maintain an apartheid regime that differentiates legally between Palestinian and Jews in the same areas. So the only question is when the ethnocentric nation state will be put out of its misery and what will come in its place. I want to clarify that I don’t mean to say that Israel will cease to exist, it will continue to thrive, even more so, just not as an ethnocentric Jewish Nation State but as a citizen state, which, by the way, it was likely intended to be legally in the first place, at least by its founders.

Looking back on how it all started, we can see why Jews may have wanted to found a Jewish Nation State even if that exact term was never mentioned even once in any of the constituent documents of the State of Israel (we only did so in 2018 when the Nation State Law came into play).  After all, we had just barely survived the Holocaust and wanted the safety of a nation state of our own. But our founding fathers knew a thing or two about nation states.  They clearly and purposely avoided the term. The eventual construct was make-believe: a nation state in anything but name (national home for the Jewish people, a Jewish State, a home for the Jews, Jewish homeland, etc. etc.), anything you name it, just not a Jewish Nation State. The latter clearly couldn’t be since Israel, according to the UN Partition Plan, would have had a 45% Arab/Palestinian minority and only a lunatic would call for Israel to be the nation state of a majority of only 55%.  And Ben Gurion was anything but. He probably also remembered what European nation states had done to the Jews and other minorities and must have felt a considerable reluctance for Israel to become one, worrying what might be in store down the road in view of the impending ethnic make up of the state. Not that the UN would have sanctioned such a Jewish Nation State anyway. The definition of the state was left vague. After all, what is a Jewish State?  One that had a Bar/Bat Mitzvah? We still haven’t come up with an agreed upon definition, and better so.

Which does make one wonder about the lunacy of defining ourselves, as we did in 2018, a Jewish Nation State, a nation state of the majority with a minority of 20%..There are no liberal democracies around with minorities that large which are nation states of the majority, unless of course, equal rights for all are stipulated in a constitution making the state a de-jure citizen state. That is something Israel has carefully and clearly deliberately avoided doing. Not only that but with the incoming government we are deviating from the citizen-state model more and more.

So here we are in 2022 going on 2023, continuing to dissemble the Two State Solution, trying to delegitimize the only party in the Knesset (an Arab one) that calls for a state of all citizens and generally trying to become as ethnocentric as possible with racist statements and legislative efforts at the ready. That is not what the founders had in mind. That is not what the diaspora will support. That is not what the democratic international community will sanction in the long run. That is not Jewish.

The Netanyahu-Ben Gvir-Smotrich government will do its best to stretch the limits and try to make Israel an ethno-state much more than it is already. It will harm Arab-Jewish relations in Israel and stress bilateral relations with the Arab countries we have relations with and other liberal democracies. In the end it will fail. The question is only the amount of damage that it will cause until this nighmare is over.

About the Author
The author served in the Prime Minister’s Office as a member of the intelligence community, is Vice Chairman of the Israel-Indonesia Chamber of Commerce, Vice-Chairman of the Israeli-German Society (IDG), Co-Chair of the Federation Movement (, member of the council at and author of "Identity: The Quest for Israel's Future".