In Its Essence, Israel’s Nation-State Law Is about Responsibility

Aug. 10 2018

A professor emeritus of philosophy at Tel Aviv University, and the author of the codes of ethics used by Israel’s Ministry of Defense and the IDF, Asa Kasher has been critical of the present form of the Basic Law passed by the Knesset last month. In particular, he argues that the law “should have stated how it is fully compatible with the principles of democracy, including the equal protection of human dignity and rights”—but, he adds, despite the hysterical arguments of some of its opponents, the law is by no means incompatible with those principles. Kasher in fact finds its underlying purpose praiseworthy, and explains why:

Individually, the state [of Israel] belongs to [its Jewish and non-Jewish citizens] to exactly the same extent. Collectively, however, there is a difference. In Israel, Jews exercise their right to self-determination, [as the new law affirms]. An Israeli Arab desiring Palestinian self-determination will see this collective right implemented when [a Palestinian state] is established. Nothing in his status as an Israeli citizen would change. . . .

Why should there be nation-states in the first place? Rootless cosmopolitanism has not shifted the attitude of millions who want to express their deep ethnic and cultural affiliations through statehood. Naturally, we associate Finland with the Finns, Greece with the Greeks, and Israel with the Jews. . . .

Why should there be a Jewish state rather than a political entity of another nature? Why should the Jews be treated differently from the Finns and the Greeks? There is a national minority of Arabs in Israel, indeed, but there is also a national minority of Swedes in Finland. Is there a difference between Arabs as a minority and Swedes as a minority? Denying rights to Jews that are granted to others is, pace Jeremy Corbyn, yet another form of anti-Semitism. . . .

Is the new law mainly symbolic, or does it have practical consequences? The new law does have practical consequences. I take one word in its text to be its conceptual and moral essence: responsibility. Greece shoulders responsibility for the fate of its citizens, and also for the fate of Greeks everywhere, for example in Cyprus. As the Jewish nation-state, Israel is responsible for the existence, security, and wellbeing of all of its citizens, and also for the fate of the Jews wherever they are.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel and the Diaspora, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli politics

 

By Recognizing Israeli Sovereignty over the Golan, the U.S. Has Freed Israel from “Land for Peace”

March 25 2019

In the 52 years since Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria, there have been multiple efforts to negotiate their return in exchange for Damascus ending its continuous war against the Jewish state. Shmuel Rosner argues that, with his announcement on Thursday acknowledging the legitimacy of Jerusalem’s claim to the Golan, Donald Trump has finally decoupled territorial concessions from peacemaking:

[With] the takeover of much of Syria by Iran and its proxies, . . . Israel had no choice but to give up on the idea of withdrawing from the Golan Heights. But this reality involves a complete overhaul of the way the international community thinks not just about the Golan Heights but also about all of the lands Israel occupied in 1967. . . .

Withdrawal worked for Israel once, in 1979, when it signed a peace agreement with Egypt and left the Sinai Peninsula, which had also been occupied in 1967. But that also set a problematic precedent. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt insisted that Israel hand back the entire peninsula to the last inch. Israel decided that the reward was worth the price, as a major Arab country agreed to break with other Arab states and accept Israel’s legitimacy.

But there was a hidden, unanticipated cost: Israel’s adversaries, in future negotiations, would demand the same kind of compensation. The 1967 line—what Israel controlled before the war—became the starting point for all Arab countries, including Syria. It became a sacred formula, worshiped by the international community.

What President Trump is doing extends far beyond the ability of Israel to control the Golan Heights, to settle it, and to invest in it. The American president is setting the clock back to before the peace deal with Egypt, to a time when Israel could argue that the reward for peace is peace—not land. Syria, of course, is unlikely to accept this. At least not in the short term. But maybe someday, a Syrian leader will come along who doesn’t entertain the thought that Israel might agree to return to the pre-1967 line and who will accept a different formula for achieving peace.

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More about: Donald Trump, Golan Heights, Israel & Zionis, Peace Process, Sinai Peninsula, Syria