The Nation-State

The Jewish world was deeply moved in 1917 when Lord Balfour issued a document that became known as the Balfour Declaration. For the first time in two thousand years of prayer and hope, the dream of the prophecies came to pass as the non-Jewish world declared the right of the Jewish people to their historic homeland. The immense joy in the Jewish world at this time was only matched by the immense anti-Jewish awakening among the Arabs of the Land of Israel at the time. And no less surprising, various groups of Jews joined the wave of opponents of the Balfour Declaration. Those Jews who opposed the “Balfour Declaration” used similar arguments as those being used today against the “Nation-State” law. Some argue that this recognition will increase anti-Semitism, some argue that the possibility to assimilate within their countries of residence will diminish, some argue that there is no need to anger the states of the world, claiming that it was fuel on the fire for the enemies of Israel.

The purpose of the Balfour Declaration was not to strengthen our faith in the return to Zion, our love of the homeland, or our memories of the destroyed Jerusalem. Nearly every event in Jewish life mentions our longing and love for the establishment of a national home. And yet, the Balfour Declaration brought intense attacks against the Jewish people.

Israel is not in a political conflict with the Palestinian Authority or any specific group of Palestinians, but is instead fighting for its historical right to have a state in the Middle East, due to the claim that the entire Middle East belongs to the Arab nation. It is fighting against a series of lies being spread that question the historical ties between the Jewish people and its homeland. In our era, even Israel’s supposed friends no longer speak of the solution of “two states for two peoples”, but rather of “two states in the region”. This transformation follows the Arab refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. It is no longer a matter of self-definition of bolstering self-confidence as a Jewish state, but is instead a fight against the complete surrender of global public opinion, which denies our right to statehood. Anyone who does not see this deterioration in the recognition of our rights is either blind or evil.

It is unclear whether the Arab citizens of Israel wish to define themselves as part of the Islamic nation, part of the Palestinian nation, part of the Arab nation – however, it is clear that they do not speak of a single defined people, as several are Christian, Druze, Circassians, some of whom view themselves as part of various national definitions. However they define themselves, Israel guarantees them full equality and individual rights, following the Jewish religious dictate “And you must love the stranger”, based on the memory of when the People of Israel were strangers in a foreign land.

Currently, we are now required to present to the world our identity as a Jewish nation, and our view of Biblical history which is based on democratic principles, and our unequivocal commandment to love those who choose to live with us, granting them both complete rights and privileges. This must be the answer of Zionist Judaism, based on our historic rights, based on the historic declarations of the nations of the world, from the Balfour Declaration to the United Nations, on the basis of the Declaration of Independence, which was signed by the head of state upon the establishment of the State of Israel. During these difficult days, this recognition is an existential necessity. It is a recognition whose hand is outstretched to embrace all citizens of this country who choose to live in the nation-state of the Jewish people, based on the principles of love of humanity, rather than upon hatred of the other. This is a Jewish democracy that loves her sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and all of its residents for who they are.

About the Author
Dr David Altman is senior vice-president at the Netanya Academic College and vice-chair of the college's Strategic Dialogue Center