Israel, Palestinians, and the Nation State

By Mike Konrad / September 16, 2014 / American Thinker

Israel is now being forced to confront what it means be a nation-state.   The evident fact that Israel will never withdraw from the territories is forcing Israel to confront the awful question that it has dodged for far too long since 1967.  What to do with all these hostile Palestinians under its control?

In dealing with the Palestinians, the West expects Israel to perform like a Western nation-state; so a careful examination of just exactly what a nation-state is, required.

The idea of the nation-state came out of the American and French Revolutions.  The idea arose out of the Enlightenment that a state is actually a social contract between the people and the leaders.  Gone was the concept of divine rule. Gone was the concept of top down authority.  To certain extant, so was identity.  People could choose their nationality.

The nation-state elevated everyone to the status of citizen — initially limited to white males.  Along with the status came equality and rights, as well as civic obligations.  These were tied together.  Once the idea of natural and civil rights was enshrined, it became impossible to deny rights to women and minorities.

In France the effect was astounding.  In 1789, France was an empire, not a nation.  Brittany spoke Celtic Breton, not French.  The French Basque country spoke a language related to no other on the planet.  The Southern half of France spoke Occitan, a language halfway back to Spanish. Corsica spoke Italian. Alsace-Lorraine spoke German. The Mediterranean coast spoke Provencal, a relative of Catalan.  Gentically, Northern France was Germanic, Southern France Latin, Brittany was Celtic, the Basque country Basque, the Mediterranean coast and Corsica Latin.  Only the areas around Paris and the Northwest coast spoke Langues d’oïl: what we would call Parisian French.

Formerly, France had been united only in the person of the monarch.  With the monarch gone, a new creation was born in France:  the citizen.  He had rights and duties enumerated to him.  The Revolution gave the citizen equality, enfranchisement,  freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and the right to a trial.  In return, he was required to learn (Parisian) French, forget his provincial ethnicity, serve militarily if called upon, and assume the honorific of Frenchman. 

For the most part it worked.  Multiple ethnicities and languages — many now all but extinct — surrendered their traditions and history for their future; the unassimilable mix become French, by decree of the République du France.   A similar process happened here in the USA with the incorporation of immigrants.

Those nations which maintained monarchies, like Britain and Spain, did not fare so well.  There, ethnic rivalries spun out of control. Ireland left the United Kingdom. Scotland may go.  Norway split from Sweden; and Spain is chock full of separatist provinces.  Only the equalizing promise of Republics proved effective at assimilation and unifying.  To see the difference, take note that Basque separatism is rife in Spain, but weak in France.

The transaction of exchanging indentity for equality worked.

The concept of common blood, ancestry, and language has been traded for reason, and freedom is the unifying principle of Western Civilization.  Even Euro-monarchies now function like republics, with the monarchs all but useless vestigial traditions.

So effective is the Western idea of the nation-state that we assume that it is the standard of good governance, and we have exported it — with some degree of success — to much of the planet.  We assume it is God’s natural order.  Even those who oppose the West adopt some of our governmental forms.

By this process, Israel should start to teach Hebrew to all the Palestinians, slowly enfranchise them and make Israelis out of them.

But Israel refuses to do this, and frankly, given Arab intransigence, it is not going to happen.  Even were the Palestinians constitutionally similar to the obedient Swiss, I doubt Israel would agree. Israel is determined to remain ethnically Jewish, even to the point that it is willing to ditch democracy if need be.

America required one to become an American, not an Anglo-Saxon.  Israel however is determined to remain Jewish, an ethnic as well as religious identity.

The Bible says that the Jews are a “people [who] shall dwell alone” (Num 23:9).  Scripture forbids intermarriage with Gentiles (Deut 7:3), and there is a sense that this has an ethnic component, not merely a religious one.  It is seen as a covenant made with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  This indicates more than a religious choice.   One may convert to Lutheranism, but one is usually born a Jew.  Assimilation is anathema to many religious Jews.

Many religious Jews take these instructions to heart.   While Israel may have been founded by secularists, their numbers are decreasing relative to an Orthodox revival in Israel.  Religious legislation is increasing in Israel.

Judaism is not Thomas Jefferson and the Middle East is not the Mid West. – Rabbi Meir Kahane

Freedom of religion is allowed in Israel, but Orthodox Judaism, the state subsidized creed, is a case of more equal than others.  Rabbis have great control over who is declared Jewish, who is allowed to marry, etc.

Now, I have to admit that the refusal of Israel to accept Western Nation-State norms, especially the separation of state and religion, I find troubling; particularly since so many Jews in the West strove for a separation of religion and state.  Moreover I find it astounding that Israel strives for a high percentage of Jewish immigrants, particularly since many Jews in America, such as Congressman Emanuel Celler, worked to overturn laws in America that preferred North European immigrants, as a means to protect America’s heritage.  The consequence of that is that America may cease to be a European majority country in a few decades.  Why is it okay for Israel to maintain a Jewish majority, but wrong for the USA to maintain its Northwest European heritage?  I cannot help but see this as a double standard.

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