Revisiting his 2004 essay “The Soul of a Nation,” Wilfred McClay describes the importance of civil religion—from holidays like Thanksgiving, to such symbols as the flag, to the sense of a unique American mission—in the life of the United States. He explores American civil religion’s origins in the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and New England Puritan thinkers, its roots in the Judeo-Christian tradition, its relevance in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, and his fear that it is disintegrating in the face of deep political and cultural divisions. (Interview by Jonathan Silver. Audio, 46 minutes. Options for download and streaming are available at the link below.)
The American Civil Religion, and the Dangers That Would Follow Its Demise
Palestinian Acceptance of Israel as the Jewish State Must Be a Prerequisite to Further Negotiations
In 1993, in the early days of the Oslo peace process, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) under Yasir Arafat accepted the “right of the state of Israel to exist in peace and security.” But neither it nor its heir, the Palestinians Authority, has ever accepted Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, or the right of the Jewish people to self-determination. Robert Barnidge explains why this distinction matters:
A Jewish state for the Jewish people, after all, was exactly what the [UN] General Assembly intended in November 1947 when it called for the partition of the Palestine Mandate into “the Arab state, the Jewish state, and the city of Jerusalem.”
Although the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state does not stand or fall on this resolution—in declaring the independence of Israel on the eve of the Sabbath on May 14, 1948, the Jewish People’s Council, [the precursor to the Israeli government], also stressed the Jewish people’s natural and historic rights—it reaffirms the legitimacy of Jewish national rights in (what was to become) the state of Israel.
The Palestinians have steadfastly refused to recognize Jewish self-determination. [Instead], the PLO [has been] playing a double game. . . . It is not simply that the PLO supported the General Assembly’s determination in 1975, rescinded in 1991, that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” It is that that the PLO leadership continues to speak of Jews as a religious community rather than a people, and of Zionism as a colonial usurper rather than the national liberation movement that it is.
The U.S. government, Barnidge concludes, “should demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist in peace and security as a Jewish state” and refuse to “press Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians unless and until that happens.”