I have received some protests from people who mistakenly thought that it was I who wrote the piece. That happens from time to time. Years ago the respected British weekly, The Economist, printed my name instead of his, and next week published "an apology to both."
But the difference is considerable. Avineri is an eminent professor, a student of Hegel, an expert on Zionist history, a former Director General of the Israeli Foreign Office, and a devout Zionist. I, as is well-known, am not a professor, I never even finished elementary school, I never was a government spokesman and my attitude towards Zionism is very complex.
In his article, Avineri argued passionately that Israel is a Jewish state "as Poland is a Polish state and Greece is a Greek state." He was responding to a Palestinian citizen of Israel, Salman Masalha, who had asserted that there cannot be a "Jewish state," much as -- he says -- there cannot be a "Muslim state" or a "Catholic state."
Logical, isn't it?
BY NO means. The analogy does not fit.
If Avineri had demanded the recognition that Israel belongs to the Israelis as Poland belongs to the Poles, I would have applauded. But he argues that Israel belongs to the Jews. This immediately raises some basic questions.
For example: Which Jews? Those who are Israeli citizens? Clearly, this is not what he means. He means the "Jewish people" dispersed all over the world, a people whose members belong to the American, French, Argentine nations and, yes, also to the Polish and Greek nations.
How does a person become an American? By acquiring American citizenship. How does a person become French? By becoming a citizen of the French republic. How does a person become a Jew?
Ah, there's the rub. According to the law of the State of Israel, a Jew is somebody whose mother is Jewish, or who has converted to the Jewish religion and not adopted any other religion. Ergo: the definition is purely religious, like that of a Muslim or a Catholic. Not at all like that of a Pole or a Greek. (In Jewish religion, it's only the mother, not the father, who counts in this respect. Perhaps because one cannot be quite sure who the father is.)
There are in Israel hundreds of thousands of people who have immigrated from the former Soviet Union with their Jewish relatives, but are not Jewish according to the religious definition. They consider themselves Israelis in every respect, speak Hebrew, pay taxes, serve in the army. But they are not recognized as belonging to the Jewish people, to which, according to Avineri, the state belongs. Like the million and a half Israeli citizens who are Palestinian Arabs. The state does not belong to them, even though they enjoy -- at least formally -- full civil rights.
Simply put: the state belongs, according to Avineri, to millions of people who do not live here and who belong to other nations, but does not belong to millions of people who live here and vote for the Knesset.
Who has decided that this is a Jewish state? Avineri and many others assert that the character of the state was decided upon by the resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations of November 29, 1947, which partitioned the country between a "Jewish state" and an "Arab state."
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