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Thursday, December 20, 2007

A line in the sand

I once experienced a complete disconnect with a colleague regarding a conference that was scheduled to take place over Yom Kippur.  Although he knew I was Jewish - and observant - he didn't seem to 'get' the fact that I couldn't attend the conference.

I asked him if he would agree to attend a conference on Christmas (He was a Catholic), to which he replied, "That's not a fair question because that's a national holidays and they never schedule conferences on national holidays."

I paused a few moments to allow the part of my brain that deals with logic to reset itself and then asked, "Excuse me?  What does that have to do with anything?  That the government, in its infinite wisdom, decided to be pragmatic and make a particular religious holiday a national holiday, doesn't invalidate my question.  Would you attend a conference on Christmas?"

He thought for a moment and replied, "Well, no, I guess not.   But that's not a fair comparison.  If conferences had to be scheduled around every Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Rastafarian holiday, the people who plan these conferences would have, like, two days a year left open to them."

My brain's logic board was taking a beating.

"I'm sorry", I said, "but what on earth does that have to do with someone not being willing to attend a conference on a religious holiday that is important to them?"

His awesome reply:  "I'm just saying that conferences are planned to meet the needs of the majority of people.  It's understood that others will have to work their holiday's around the schedule that most people follow."

At that point I got a blue screen with a 'general failure' error and had to walk away to allow my whole system to reboot.

I never did attend that conference... but to my knowledge, neither did my colleague ever grasp the reason behind my refusal to go.  He just couldn't understand the concept of anyone else's religious mores having the same weight and value as his.

Flash forward to the present.  Israel is having a variation of the same conversation with its neighbors and the world at large about its status as Jewish State.

Let's start with a few working definitions so we're all on the same page, mmmkay?

Zionism

The belief that Jews should have their own nation.

(American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition)

Israel

A country of southwest Asia on the eastern Mediterranean Sea. It was established in 1948 following the British withdrawal from Palestine, which had been divided by recommendation of the United Nations into Jewish and Arab states. [emphasis added]

(American Heritage Dictionary)

So far so good? 

We have Zionism, whose aim has always been to establish a Jewish State in the part of the world known (at the time) as Palestine.  We have the State of Israel, the country referred to above and recognized by the United Nations and most of the civilized world as a Jewish State

So can someone please explain to me why the starting point of the current negotiations with our enemies is the very definition of Israel as a Jewish state? 

I've already provided an extensive list of states that define themselves, and more importantly are internationally recognized as Muslim/Arab entities.   For the sake of argument I also tossed in the sovereign state of Vatican City which defines itself, and is internationally recognized as, both a Catholic entity and the seat of the Holy See (with only Catholics eligible for citizenship).

I mention these examples because not only have our moderate Palestinian peace partners absolutely refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, but in order to ensure that no Palestinian negotiator or political leader considers recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, they recently passed a law making it a capital offense to do so.

And lest you think that the Arabs are the only ones having a hard time getting their heads around Israel's Jewishness, check out this doozy:

"Roman Catholic Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah gave a pre-Christmas address on Wednesday in which he rejected Israel as a Jewish state.  Speaking in English and Arabic, Sabbah told reporters that Israel must abandon its Jewish character in favor of a “normal state for Christians, Muslims, and Jews.  If there’s a state of one religion, other religions are naturally discriminated against.” *

Needless to say, the Vatican didn't feel the need to weigh on on that one. 

So with Israel's very raison d'être off the table, so to speak, what else is there to negotiate?  This whole situation is so reminiscent of that long-ago conversation with my work colleague.  The only way any of these demands make sense is if we all agree to remove the importance of the Jewish factor from the equation.  But that will result in logical conundrum - a mobius strip of sorts - that has no beginning, no end and certainly no satisfactory conclusion. 

No Jewish State = No  reason for Zionism 

No Zionism = No reason for a Jewish State

Yossi Beilin et al frequently bemoan the fact that Herzl didn't accept the offer extended to him by the British in 1903 to establish our country on the Mau plateau of Uganda.  Apparently they've already thrown in their lot with the Arab view of things.

The Arabs haven't altered their negotiating position vis a vis Israel in all the years that negotiations (or more accurately, demands) have been ongoing.  Yet Israel keeps sweetening the pot... making better and better offers in order to sue for that elusive thing called peace.

One of my astute readers made the following observation not so long ago in a comment she left here:

"The Left needs to spend some time in the souk...if you chase after the seller, the price goes up. If you walk away, the seller eagerly wants to engage you and even lowers the price to make a deal attractive.  Olmert (and Rabin's and Rice's and Clinton's) avid pursuit of a "peace deal" has done nothing but inflate the price the Arabs want for "peace" and ultimately that higher price will be paid by the Jews."

I couldn't have said it better.  The world doesn't understand why this whole 'Jewish thing' is such a deal breaker for us.  That Arabs know, but they have a strong motive for ignoring it.  Their concern is getting what they want in the negotiations; a two state solution... one, an Arab/Muslim state and the other a multicultural state (that through the 'right of return' will ultimately also become an Arab/Muslim state).

I'm sorry, I don't care if you are left wing, right wing or centrist, but this question of Israel's definition as a Jewish State is something that we either dig in our heels and consider an uncrossable line in the sand... or we admit that everyone else is right and that there is really no compelling reason for us to be here causing all this trouble.

Everything else (and I mean EVERYTHING) - territory, borders, settlements - are negotiable.  Heck, we've moved our borders dozens of times since 1948.  But Israel can't begin to negotiate on any these things unless we first and foremost come to some sort of internal consensus that it doesn't matter if anyone else understands or values our religion or national aspirations.  The only important thing is that we all agree that we, like any other nation, have a right define ourselves on our own terms.

* Source

Posted by David Bogner on December 20, 2007 | Permalink

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It's so obvious that it doesn't even need to be uttered. Or, does it?

Posted by: QuietusLeo | Dec 20, 2007 3:02:28 PM

"Israel -
A country of southwest Asia on the eastern Mediterranean Sea. It was established in 1948 following the British withdrawal from Palestine, which had been divided by recommendation of the United Nations into Jewish and Arab states."

The Israeli-Palestinian conversation has become so screwed up that people forget that the so-called "two-state solution" (which you later refer to) has ALREADY BEEN IMPLEMENTED. In 1948. The two states were Jordan and Israel. According to the original Balfour Declaration, Jordan should have been part of Israel. The Palestinians already have their "Arab state in Palestine" - it's called Jordan. And no one ever talks about that anymore. Of course, in a world where Pali "historians" claim that Jerusalem was never Jewish, I guess you have to pick your battles.

Posted by: psachya | Dec 20, 2007 3:52:32 PM

"Israel -
A country of southwest Asia on the eastern Mediterranean Sea. It was established in 1948 following the British withdrawal from Palestine, which had been divided by recommendation of the United Nations into Jewish and Arab states."

The Israeli-Palestinian conversation has become so screwed up that people forget that the so-called "two-state solution" (which you later refer to) has ALREADY BEEN IMPLEMENTED. In 1948. The two states were Jordan and Israel. According to the original Balfour Declaration, Jordan should have been part of Israel. The Palestinians already have their "Arab state in Palestine" - it's called Jordan. And no one ever talks about that anymore. Of course, in a world where Pali "historians" claim that Jerusalem was never Jewish, I guess you have to pick your battles.

Posted by: psachya | Dec 20, 2007 3:53:36 PM

This has really nothing to do with your post, but I also bemoan Herzl's refusal of Uganda. There are about 1,000 gerim in Uganda, more like 3,000 before Idi Amin started burning synagogues. The community was founded just after it was rejected as a Jewish homeland. We could have had neighbors who wanted to be Jews, not destroy them! I'm almost motivated to move there! They are the Abayudaya, and they are real Jews, not just people who've read our books and half-heartly ripped off our ideas. The story I heard is that a Ugandan cheif was given a Christian Bible by the British; he was told to share the message with his village. He read the book, and quickly concluded that the last part didn't fit in with the rest! He later realized Christians were polytheists, and that Jesus didn't fit in with the other ideas. He circumsized himself and his family, and began to observe some obvious mitzvot. When he reported this new to the Brits, they laughed and said, "Only JEWS believe that!" He retorted, "Then we'll be Jews!" 80 years later, a more-or-less functioning Jewish community exists thre. They even recorded and album of liturgical music, which won a grammy. Please check this out, because I'm pretty sure this is a miracle, and it is a shame that so few Jews know this story. They are people who realized our way of life is valuable, despite never even seeing it firsthand! Israel ignored them when they were persecuted before, it would be a shame to let our ignorance continue. It would be fantastic if you could tell a few people about this, because it is an uplifting Jewish story, but they also need Sifrei Torah, Megillot, and Siddurim. Maybe somebody knows a synagogue that's buying new ones? They need cash, the way every Jewish org does, but what they really need are things they cannot make themselves. Sorry to gush, I do this whenever Uganda comes up.

Posted by: chavah | Dec 20, 2007 4:14:57 PM

Way to get to the very heart of the issue. Everything in this situation stems from this very thing. I want to thank you yet again for your blog. If I had to depend on CNN, FOX News and the nightly news for "on the ground" reports in Israel, I'd be missing some very important information. Thank you!

Posted by: Maya | Dec 20, 2007 6:41:02 PM

Speaking in English and Arabic, Sabbah told reporters that Israel must abandon its Jewish character in favor of a “normal state for Christians, Muslims, and Jews. If there’s a state of one religion, other religions are naturally discriminated against.” *

In a sense he's right. If there's a state of one religion, other religions are in effect discriminated against.

The big question is where is this state of which he speaks? Where?

Israel is not a religious state. The largest ethnic group are the Jews. Many of the Jews are not religious. One could argue that maybe Mea Shearim is a religious state.....

The problem is that the entire world, for perverse and inexplicable reasons, persists in considering Jews in religious terms. Rather than as a nationality, ethnicity, or cultural entity.

This despite the well-known fact that the typical Jew will refuse to attend the same synagogue as the Jew next to him - "this is my shul, that is his shul, and that, well that is the shul neither one of us would be caught dead going to".

Creed-wise there is such a diversity of Judaisms that it makes little or no sense to think of most Jews having the same religious identity.

Israel is a Jewish state. Simple. Iran is a Persian State. Lebanon is an Arab state.

---------------

And as far as religious holidays (or religious gloomy days, such as yesterday, for instance) are concerned, I always check my calendar for the significant days of my customers. I ain't gonna make a collection-call to a Jew on Yom Kippur, a football-fan on superbowl Sunday, or a Chinese person right after Chinese New Year, for example. Doing so would just not be very effective, and rather insensitive.

[Of course the corrollary to that is that I will act hideously offended, if I so chose, when I receive an unwanted phonecall on those days - "I'm sorry, this is really very inconvenient, it's Chinese New Year AND almost sh'kiya!".


Posted by: Back of the Hill | Dec 21, 2007 12:04:24 AM

I wonder what would happen to the good patriarch if he were to make his remark with reference to, say, Saudi Arabia....

For whatever it's worth, I've said for years that our conflict with our neighbors has nothing to do with land.

Posted by: Rahel | Dec 21, 2007 10:57:51 AM

Allow me to generalize my comment Trep... Some people hate what they cannot understand and conquer!

Posted by: Rami | Dec 21, 2007 12:29:00 PM

Yeah!

Posted by: Miss Worldwide | Dec 21, 2007 12:35:09 PM

A country of northern central Africaon the southern Lake Victoria. It was established in 1948 following the British withdrawal from Tanganiayka, which had been divided by recommendation of the United Nations into Jewish and African states

Posted by: asher | Dec 21, 2007 12:56:58 PM

The point being that basing a case on a dictionary definition is not the strongest argument.
Also, as a Jew I get a whole looad of limitations placed upon me, such as who I can marry, where I can work, that any other state would have been branded as anti-semitic were it to enact such laws.
For example I can't work in the Carmel wineries because I don't keep Shabbat, and my wife can't teach in the state-religious school system (can't teach geology or geography that is, never mind history or even Bible).
Also, any debate about the Jewish nature of Israel is invariably hijacked by the religious-right who insist in pushing the Arab question into everything, as if we founded a state in order to have lots of Arabs to worry about all the time instead of worrying about Jews. Last sentence came out abysmally phrased.
Question is - can you have Jews without non-Jews?
Don't laugh - that is a big question.
After all, the Pope would be happy to wake up and find that everyone in the world had adopted Catholicism, and too many Muslims reckon that the best way to bring a non-believer round is to chop his head off, but where would we be without "who has separated us from among the nations"?

Posted by: asher | Dec 21, 2007 2:16:04 PM

It is time to stop asking the world to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

We know it is and so do the Arabs and much of the rest of the world.

By asking for recognition we give the impression that it is open for discussion.

It is not. End of story, next discussion.

Posted by: Jack | Dec 21, 2007 2:33:22 PM

After all this time, we still don't have the guts to stand up for ourselves and expect recognition of these basic rights...very sad. There's a serious lack of Jewish pride there.

It's a shame that these "leaders" don't believe that we have the right to defend ourselves against those who seek to destroy the Jewish people.

Why should we have to "ask" for these basic, inalienable rights? What is wrong with these "leaders" who value the lives of our enemies more than the lives of our own people?

Sickening and disturbing.

Posted by: tnspr569 | Dec 21, 2007 4:24:24 PM

It's not just the Vatican, either, that has had a state church. In Sweden, until 1996, all children automatically became members of the Lutheran Church of Sweden at birth, if at least one of their parents was a member.

I remember visiting a distant relative, an American Jewish expat, in Stockholm in 1999. He was not happy that the rule applied to the children he had with his Swedish wife.

Posted by: Lisa | Dec 21, 2007 6:22:22 PM

Oh, and don't discount the importance of sheer numbers in deciding what religious holidays to observe publicly. I grew up in a town where most of the students but few of the teachers and school administrators were Jewish. They used to keep school open on Yom Kippur but finally gave up since hardly any kids showed up for class; they ended up making it an official school holiday.

Posted by: Lisa | Dec 21, 2007 6:25:31 PM

My colleagues couldn't understand why I refused to attend training conferences on Saturdays.....I often got the "just this one time?" request for Saturday trainings and court hearings on Rosh HaShanah....don't even get me started on the theological discussions....

Posted by: aliyah06 | Dec 22, 2007 8:32:35 PM

I agree with Asher's comment above. What does it mean to be recognized as a ?Jewish state"? The United States has relations with Israel. Has it formally recognized that Israel is a "Jewish state"? Israel IS the "Jewish" state. Any country recognizing Israel de facto recognizes the Jewish state. Has Egypt recognized Israel as a Jewish state? Does Israel recognize that Egypt is an "Arab" republic? I'm not asking these questions rhetorically, since I really don't know the answer.

[pause]

ok, I just went to the actual text of the Arab-Egypt peace treaty at http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Peace%20Process/Guide%20to%20the%20Peace%20Process/Israel-Egypt%20Peace%20Treaty and did control F and looked for jew or jewish and those words do not appear anywhere in the treaty. The word Arab appears in the first sentence: "The Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Government of the State of Israel"

Posted by: amir | Dec 22, 2007 11:12:23 PM

Whoops. I meant to say I agreed with Jack's statement above. When I saw where my name popped up relative to my comment (after) I realize I had attributed comments to the wrong name.

Posted by: amir | Dec 22, 2007 11:19:46 PM

"Speaking in English and Arabic, Sabbah told reporters that Israel must abandon its Jewish character in favor of a “normal state for Christians, Muslims, and Jews. If there’s a state of one religion, other religions are naturally discriminated against.”

Long live religious discrimination! I have no problem with Muslim, Jewish and Christian and etc. countries. I'd think the Ay-rabs would be thanking their lucky stars that the Jews only want one country. Most of the other religions seem intent on many, many countries.

I teach in a weird thing: a non-religiously sponsored private school that accepts all denominations (including some budding atheists) for courses. In that sense, we are an "American" school -- the rules of the game here are different, and no religion is to be established as a federal religion.

But ask those from Utah if Utah is a Mormon state. It pretty much is, and I pretty much don't care whether it is or not.

I *like* different flavors; I *like* variety.

That doesn't mean I need to like all flavors, though.

It's pathetic and sad that the world can't take a glance at the Middle East, and see what the Jews have done with their little piece of sand, relative to all the long-standing countries around them, and conclude that maybe the Jews know what they're doing.

Sheesh.

I also know which country would top my list of Middle East countries to visit, and that country would remain the same regardless of whether I were Christian or not.

Except -- perversely -- for Islam.

I guess they must still be pissed off by the whole Ishmael v. Isaac thing.

If it makes *my* head hurt, I can only imagine how much it pains Zionist Jews.

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Dec 23, 2007 3:10:33 AM

QuietusLeo... So long as there are those who find it objectionable (actually, a deal breaker), it needs to be mentioned.

psachya... I'd be happy with just one battle in which we didn't have both arms tied behind our backs.

chavah... With all due respect, i have enough to keep track of here at home to contemplate the plight of people who may or may not be Jewish in central Africa. For what it's worth, I mentioned Uganda to illustrate what a tragedy it would have been had Herzl accepted.

Maya... You know what I'm thinking, right? ;-)

Back of the Hill... IT always irks me when the Muslims claim that Israel discriminates against other religious. I can't think of a more tolerant religion (or a state that practices more tolerance).

Rahel... Oh, but is is about land. They want the land very badly. The other stuff is just an excuse to get us off of it.

Rami... pretty much.

Miss Worldwide... I'll take that for concurrence. :-)

asher... I think you had a good observation there somewhere but it got sidelined by your personal politics. Care to give it another try? :-)

Jack... We didn't ask them to recognize us as a Jewish state. They brought the issue up as a precondition to discussing anything else. That sort of brings the issue front and center, wouldn't you say?

tnspr569... The real telling thing about most of our 'leaders' is where their own children are today. The long list of nations where they reside does not include Israel.

Lisa... There are many countries that have state religions (i.e. the Church of England, etc.) but Which do not define themselves as a Christian state per se.

aliyah06... Oh yeah, and don't forget the 'I do it so why can't you' argument of cutting corners in religion. :-)

amir... See my reply to Jack.

Wry Mouth... The place it pains me is further south. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Dec 23, 2007 4:04:26 PM

Interesting definitions in Funk & Wagnalls New Standard Dictionary (1941):

Zionism, n.

A wide-spread movement among the Jews, arising out of their almost world-wide persecution, and having in view the solution of the Jewish question by a resettlement of the Jews in Palestine. The form which lays stress upon the political questions involved is sometimes called "political Zionism" and the term "religious Zionism" is used by those Zionists who lay a special stress upon the regeneration of the Holy Land as a center of social and religious influence for Judaism.

Zionward, adv.

Toward Zion, especially in the figurative sense; heavenward.


Posted by: Dina | Dec 24, 2007 2:12:51 AM

I wanted to research this subject and write a paper. Your post what a thousand words would not. Nice job.






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