I AM fed up with all this nonsense about recognizing Israel as the "Jewish State."
It is based on a collection of hollow phrases and vague definitions, devoid of any real content. It serves many different purposes, almost all of them malign.
Binyamin Netanyahu uses it as a trick to obstruct the establishment of the Palestinian state. This week he declared that the conflict just has no solution. Why? Because the Palestinians do not agree to recognize etc. etc.
Four rightist Members of the Knesset have just submitted a bill empowering the government to refuse to register new NGOs and to dissolve existing ones if they "deny the Jewish character of the state."
This new bill is only one of a series designed to curtail the civil rights of Arab citizens, as well as those of leftists.
If the late Dr. Samuel Johnson were living in present-day Israel, he would phrase his famous dictum about patriotism differently: "Recognition of the Jewish Character of the state is the last refuge of a scoundrel."
IN ISRAELI parlance, denying the "Jewish Character" of the state is tantamount to the worst of all political felonies: to claim that Israel is a "State of all its Citizens."
To a foreigner, this may sound a bit weird. In a democracy, the state clearly belongs to all its citizens. Mention this in the United States, and you are stating the obvious. Mention this in Israel, and you are treading dangerously close to treason. (So much for our much-vaunted "common values.")
As a matter of fact, Israel is indeed a state of all its citizens. All adult Israeli citizens -- and only they -- have the right to vote for the Knesset. The Knesset appoints the government and determines the laws. It has enacted many laws declaring that Israel is a "Jewish and democratic state." In 10 or in 100 years, the Knesset could hoist the flag of Catholicism, Buddhism or Islam. In a democracy, it is the citizens who are sovereign, not a verbal formula.
WHAT FORMULA? -- one may well ask.
The courts favor the words "Jewish and democratic state." But that is far from being the only definition around.
The most widely used is just "Jewish State." But that is not enough for Netanyahu and Co., who speak about "the nation-state of the Jewish people," which has a nice 19th Century ring. The "state of the Jewish people" is also quite popular.
The one thing that all these brand-names have in common is that they are perfectly imprecise. What does "Jewish" mean? A nationality, a religion, a tribe? Who are the "Jewish people"? Or, even more vague, the "Jewish nation"? Does this include the Congressmen who enact the laws of the United States? Or the cohorts of Jews who are in charge of US Middle East policy? Which country does the Jewish ambassador of the UK in Tel Aviv represent?
The courts have been wrestling with the question: where is the border between "Jewish" and "democratic"? What does "democratic" mean in this context? Can a "Jewish" state really be "democratic," or, for that matter, can a "democratic" state really be "Jewish"? All the answers given by learned judges and renowned professors are contrived, or, as we say in Hebrew, they "stand on chickens' legs."
LETS GO back to the beginning: the book written in German by Theodor Herzl, the founding father of Zionism, and published in 1896. He called it "Der Judenstaat."
Unfortunately, this is a typical German word that is untranslatable. It is generally rendered in English as "The Jewish State" or "The State of the Jews." Both are quite false. The nearest approximation would be "The Jewstate."
If this sounds slightly anti-Semitic, this is not by accident. It may come as a shock to many, but the word was not invented by Herzl. It was first used by a Prussian nobleman with an impressive name -- Friedrich August Ludwig von der Marwitz, -- who died 23 years before Herzl was even born. He was a dedicated anti-Semite long before another German invented the term "anti-Semitism" as an expression of the healthy German spirit.