There is Now a Jewish State. Let the Hysteria Begin.

Israel has done the unthinkable. The state of the Jews has declared itself a Jewish state. OMG.

If you see smoke rising on the horizon, it is from thousands of pages of thesauruses catching fire as a result of the febrile search for words of condemnation: “Ethnic supremacy.” “Racist policies.” “Blatant discrimination.” “2nd class citizens.” “Violation of international law.” “Immoral.” “Death of democracy.” “Segregation.”

And, of course, Israel’s Arab parliament members are calling it “apartheid.” Apartheid Israel’s Arab parliament members. (If you don’t catch the irony in that sentence, please get in touch.)

It is worth noting that if Sweden declared itself a Swedish state, or Myanmar declared itself a Myanmarish (whatever) state, the world would respond with a yawn. But Israel Jewish!? APOCALYPSE NOW!

Naturally, it’s okay for other states to have their own identity, even their own religious identity. Islamic symbols are found on the flags of 21 countries (including, among others, Turkey, one of the most vociferous critics of the Israeli legislation. Big surprise). And just for the record, there are 31 flags with Christian symbols. Even the big red dot on the Japanese flag is related to Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess.

But those are only symbols, right? Wrong. 25 countries declare Islam as their official religion—as does the Palestinian authority: “Islam is the official religion in Palestine. Respect and sanctity of all other heavenly religions shall be maintained. (Basic Law of the State (!) of Palestine, Article 4).

But of course, these are all autocratic states (real or wannabe). Democracies wouldn’t have an official religious identity, right? Wrong. From Costa Rica to Liechtenstein to Greenland to Tuvalu, there are dozens of democratic states with an official religion or a privileged “first among equals” religion. You’ve heard, maybe, of the Anglican Church, the established Church in England?

But in our day and age, this is just an echo of the past, with no practical consequences, right? Wrong. In Britain, the 26 most senior bishops in the Church of England have automatic seats in the House of Lords. In Sweden, the monarch must be a true member of the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Jews need not apply.

But what will happen to Israel’s Muslim and Christian minority if Israel is now officially Jewish? In a word: Nothing. The Jewish state bill enshrines the protection of their rights, and Israel has a far better track record of guarding those rights than Israel’s ethnically more homogeneous European critics, or its Arab neighbors. In Church-of-England England, for example, 68% of Pakistani and Bengali households live below the poverty line. In Christian/Muslim Lebanon, 66% of the Palestinian population lives below the poverty line. In now officially Jewish Israel, by contrast, the figure for the Arab population is 46%–obviously nothing to write home about, but not exactly your hair catching on fire, either.

So what’s the big deal? Why is the world so bent out of shape that Israel declared itself Jewish? The answer has its roots not in current geopolitics but in obscure theological history. For classic Christianity, there was almost nothing more threatening than a Jew with power. By church doctrine, Jewish degradation was proof of the truth of the Church, and Jewish dispersion from Israel was the precondition for their (our) degradation. (see: St. Augustine on Psalm 49:19 “Scatter them abroad in Your virtue: take away from them virtue, take away from them their strength. And bring them down, my protector, O Lord.)

Oops. There’s one church doctrine down the toilet.

For Muslims, the establishment of a Jewish state is religious blasphemy. As part of its imperialist past, Islam redefined Judaism as a religion, without a political/national/territorial component. This is reflected in the classic PLO Charter, Article 18: “Judaism, because it is a divine religion, is not a nationality with independent existence. Furthermore, the Jews are not one people with an independent personality…”

Oops. Sorry, guys. Am yisrael chai.

And finally, for Jews, particularly for modern, liberal, Western Jews, there is a perverse tendency to recognize the legitimacy of every political identity but our own. We applaud when Samoans are Samoan. We praise Native Americans for asserting their ancestral rights. We bemoan discrimination against Aborigines in Australia or Roma in Rome. We even take seriously the issue of Palestinian national rights, in spite of the fact that Palestinian national identity is barely a hundred years old.

But when it comes to Jews being Jews in a Jewish state with which we have been associated for nearly 4,000 years, (ever hear of Judea?) all of a sudden we’re back in the 1950’s afraid of being called “pushy.”

Oops. Grow a backbone.

Is a declaration that Israel is Jewish “provocative,” as many are claiming? No. Rockets landing on Sderot is provocative. Flammable chemicals scorching the Carmia nature preserve is provocative. The Palestinian Authority declaring that Palestinians have a right, as “freedom fighters,” to murder Israelis is provocative. Israel being declared Jewish is provocative only if you think the existence of the Jewish people is provocative.

And if that’s what you think, I couldn’t care less. Enjoy your hysteria.

About the Author
Rabbi Wolkoff serves Congregation Bnai Tikvah in North Brunswick. He has published hundred of articles and lectured internationally on Jewish topics, and has been active both in interfaith work and in the struggle against anti-Semitism, both in the United States and in Sweden, where he served for a decade. He is a JNF Rabbi for Israel.
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