Who Is an Israeli?
House Divided: Israeli Arabs faced off against police in Umm al-Fahm in March during a march by right-wing Jews through the Muslim town.
Note: The term 'Israeli Arabs'' is a name not accepted by the proud Palestinians. It is akin to the way the slaveholders used to give their names to their slaves. How dare the stampeding European Jews attempt to give a modified name to the identity of the proud Palestinian Arabs? The 'Arab' portion was intentionally chosen to avoid the word 'Palestinian' since the stampeding European Jewry had made a plan to deceive the entire world when they said they 'were a people without a land stampeding to the land without a people."
By Leonard Fein
Published July 08, 2009, issue of July 17, 2009.
The “Who Is A Jew?” question has long been with us, often quite acrimoniously. In Israel, the debate has immediate legal implications. In America, too, the question arises frequently, whether in Jewish population surveys, in responses to the offspring of intermarried Jews or even in discussions of Jewish identity.
At first blush, the question “Who is an Israeli?” seems much simpler. In our time, “Jew” is a category outside any legal framework. But “Israeli”? Israel is a nation-state, and being an Israeli must surely be entirely a matter of law: An Israeli is a citizen of the State of Israel.
I very much doubt there has been a single day since I was 11 years old when I did not, in one connection or another, think of Israel. I write just now from a kibbutz in the Valley of Jezreel, where I am staying during part of this, my 60th or so visit to the country. I have lived here, taught here, loved here. Israel is profoundly important to me. But I am not an Israeli, not at all. A Palestinian resident of Umm al-Fahm who knows nothing of Theodor Herzl or the Balfour Declaration, who has never read a word of Amos Oz or saluted the Israeli flag, is more Israeli than I.
More Israeli than I? Yes: I am zero Israeli; he or she, being a citizen of this country, is 100% Israeli. Israeliness is not a matter of temperament or feelings of identity, however profound they may be. It is a legal category from beginning to end.
When the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra came on its first post-independence tour of the United States, it performed in Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. My family was there, and I shall never forget the thrill of the concert’s opening, “Hatikvah” played not as a song of yearning, focus on the cellos, but as a song of pride, hear the brass. And all of us, of course, standing. Standing very tall. Nor does that peak experience stand alone; there have been dozens more. Yet for whatever the mix of reasons, I hold only one passport, and it is mine as an American, and though that hypothetical Palestinian I’ve mentioned may well never have sung “Hatikvah,” may find the song offensive, he is Israeli, not I.
Now comes the debate between the concept of Israel as “a Jewish state” and the concept of Israel as a “state of all its citizens.” That debate has become considerably sharper lately, as some on the left and some Palestinian NGOs and advocacy organizations have become more consistently outspoken on the matter, insisting that so long as Israel seeks to be a democracy, it must see itself as a state of all its citizens — 20% of whom are Palestinians — and act accordingly. (Acting “accordingly” means putting a definitive end to the many ways in which discrimination against Palestinians has prevailed in Israel through the years.) And the debate has become sharper still because of the priority that Prime Minister Netanyahu has placed on formal recognition and acceptance of Israel as “a Jewish state” by the Palestinians and the international community.
Some days ago, Aharon Barak, retired chief justice of Israel’s Supreme Court, called on Israel to be simultaneously a Jewish state and a state of all its citizens. But he gave no instructions on how to square that circle. And it may not be the right circle to square.
In America, we have been saying for quite a while that “our diversity is our strength.” That is what all of us are taught, that is what many of us believe, and that is what some of us directly experience. In Israel, there is no way around the fact that, for now, its diversity is its weakness. Israelis haven’t a clue as to how to think about, let alone deal with, their society’s diversity — and, most specifically, with the 20% of their society’s members and their state’s citizens who are Palestinians. Shall a Palestinian child be taught that he may one day grow up to be prime minister of the nation? Foreign minister? Minister of justice, or of internal security, and so on and so forth?
And what is the ideal? Is it total integration, really a state of all its citizens — or is it communal self-expression, a Palestinian culture and a Jewish culture living side-by-side, each under its own vine and fig tree? Does Israel’s being a Jewish state mean that Jews are inevitably privileged, Palestinians consigned to second-class citizenship? If so, does that not mean that Israel cannot be a genuine democracy?
No one here, neither Palestinian nor Jew, seeks an ethnic-blind, community-of-origin blind society. Quite the contrary. And, more to the point, if the Jews of Israel want the fact of their Jewishness acknowledged — say, for example, reflected in the curricula of the school system, or in their effective control of the state budget — then surely the Palestinians of Israel are entitled to similar recognition, and more than merely bits and pieces of power over their own forms of self-expression.
When we speak of Israel’s Palestinian citizens, we speak of a community most of whose members speak fluent Hebrew. We speak of people who have, literally, built this country. We speak of generations with roots here that go very deep, of people whose songs of Jerusalem are not less devotional than the Jerusalem songs of the Jews. And we speak of people to whom promises have repeatedly been made and repeatedly been broken.
We speak of people — as individuals and as a community — whose place in the shadows must, if Israel is to keep its promise as a Jewish state, become a place in the sun.
Frank Thu. Jul 9, 2009
Yet another anti-Israel diatribe by the Forward's resident far-left extreme Israel-basher, Leonard Fein. We have seen him repeat this same attack on Israel, over and over again, attacking Israel as a Jewish State. How many times must the Forward try to sell this same leftist propaganda against Israel? Using the tactic of the "Big Lie", used by the PLO, and anti-Semites', attacks on "Zionists" and the Jewish State of Israel, Fein propagandizes for the non-Judaising of the Jewish State. No one questions that arabs live in Israel as citizens, with all the privileges of citizenships, and without all of the obligations bourne by others. But we also know that unfortunately most of them deny the Holocaust, side with the "palestinians" against Israel, do not wish to and cannot be trusted to serve in the armed forces, celebrate when Israel is bombarded by Hezbollah, and vote for representatives that attack the State and engage in treasons which make them unworthy of being a part of the body politic. Fein actually makes the extraordinary claim that Israel's arab citizens are "palestinians", who therefore by definition, if they remain in Israel, will be allied with the planned "palestinian" state, and will be free to move there and be "palestinian" citizens. (Does anyone imagine that "Israeli Jews" will be welcome as citizens of arab "palestine", or even allowed to live there in peace? At the moment, the world is intent on destroying the Jewish "settlements" that will ultimately be part of a planned "palestine".) So, no, the "diversity" the arabs represent does not provide strength to Israel. Fein's dissembling by arguing that Israel should model itself on America is obviously nonsense. There is no analogy. Israel was founded and remains the State of refuge for Jews. Jews are permitted and invited to emigrate. Jordan, Syria, Egypt and the other arab states do not welcome Jews, and Jews were forced to leave those countries and are not welcome as citizens there. (This is after Jews also helped "build" those countries, and were forced to leave, most with just the shirts on their backs.) I doubt any Jew who was allowed to live in any adjacent arab country would be entirely at ease with the national anthems, or of the new "palestinian" one.
If in fact Fein is correct that the arch-typical Israeli arab, "knows nothing of Theodor Herzl or the Balfour Declaration", and, "has never saluted the Israeli flag", it is questionable whether he has the makings of an Israeli citizen. How many Americans know nothing of George Washington, or the Declaration of Independence, and have never saluted the American flag in the Pledge of Allegiance? Yes, arabs may live in America, but we expect their children to know and do all of the above. It appears that the onus is on the "Israeli" arabs to choose whether they wish the relative bounties of living as Israeli citizens in return for a loyalty to their country of citizenship, or to continue to raise their children to reject their status as a minority (like minorities living in most states throughout the world) or choose to live in countries where they are effectively 100% majorities.
By the way, Fein is also selling a pipe-dream about an idealized America where our "diversity is our strength." Its a nice motto, but even now there is far from the "total integration" he would force on Jews and arabs in Israel, and his (false) claim of "second-class citizenship" for arabs is still a complaint used by the left in America to continue to force "affirmative action". Yes, there is strength in diversity, but it is also a source of friction, disputes, and disunity among America's many groups.
And I cannot imagine Americans putting up with a large and growing minority which was virulently ant-American, questioned its very legitimacy and dreamed of destroying the country, and cheered if our neighbors began to barrage our cities and towns with bombs. In Israel the arabs are 20% of its population, and it is surrounded by arabs seeking its destruction, who number about 42 times its total population Can you imagine a United States comprised of 60,000,000 arabs who wished America's destruction, and being surrounded by the equivalent of another 12.6 Billion hostile arabs?
It is a true shame that the far-left Israel-bashers like Mr. Fein cannot find it in their bleeding hearts to concern themselves preserving the Jewish State from demographic destruction from within, terrorist attacks and imminent threats of nuclear annihilation from without, and stop attempting to undermine American Jewish support for Israel (being championed by extremist faux-Jewish Israel-haters, of the likes of J Street, in America).
It is dismaying to see Fein visit Israel to garner new fodder, re-energized to launch into yet another attack on Israel. If he can't find positive things to report about Israel (except for his teary melodramatic claims of his "love" for it), perhaps he should visit Egypt, or Jordan, or Syria, or Saudi Arabia, and report on their laudable societies. We have read too many of Fein's screeds against Israel, Zionism and Zionists, and in support of her detractors. Instead, how about a travelogue to an arab country? Or perhaps a change of scene: an ode to Ha'tikvah?
Yehuda Thu. Jul 9, 2009
"In our time, 'Jew' is a category outside any legal framework". No, actually, that is not true. The Law of Return allows for any Jew to come and live in Israel. The term "Jew" is defined within the framework of that law. The debate over "who is a Jew" in Israel is exactly that - how should "Jewish" be defined in the Law of Return".
"Israel is a nation-state, and being an Israeli must surely be entirely a matter of law: An Israeli is a citizen of the State of Israel". Mr Fein - apparently you do not understand what the term "nation-state" means (amazing as that may be). A nation-state is a political entity (a "state") that was founded as an expression of self-determination for a particular group that perceives itself as having a common descent or ethnicity (a "nation" - from the Latin word for "birth"). Estonia is a nation-state. It was founded to be the expression of self-determination of the Estonians. There is a very large percentage of non-Estonians in the Estonian state (about 40% are Russian-speakers), so they are citizens of the Estonian state - but they are not Estonians. Israel is also a nation-state, obviously. It is a political entity (a state) that was founded as the expression of self-determination for the Jews (a nation, a group of people who perceive themselves as sharing a common descent).
The Arabic citizens of Israel are Israeli citizens. This use of the term "Israeli" is obviously a formal use of language: a citizen of Israel is an Israeli citizen. However, in terms of self-identity (in terms of how one defines oneself) formalities are unimportant. Israeli Arabs do not regard themselves as "Israeli". That term is used in everyday life only for the Jews. Similarly, the Jewish citizens of Poland before the Holocaust were Polish citizens, and they carried Polish passports. But they were not Poles - not in their own eyes nor in the eyes of the Poles. They were Jews who had Polish citizenship. This kind of reality is very common in the world. Besides the Estonian example and the Jewish example in Poland, one could mention the Finnish citizens who are Swedish-speakers. Are they Finnish? Well, no - "Finnish" is someone else's identity. They are Swedes who are Finnish citizens. One's passport does not necessarily define one's cultural or ethnic identity.
It should be noted as well that "Israel" is an ancient word. It was not born in 1948. In both the Jewish sources (in the Torah: bnei-yisrael) and in the Arabic sources (in the Quran: bani-israil), the word simply means the "Jewish people". Hence, although non-Jews are Israeli citizens, they don't call themselves "Israelis". It's obviously a synonym for "Jews". The "State of Israel" in essence means the "state of the Jewish people". It has another national group that shares citizenship with the national group that founded the state - but the state is still an expression of Jewish peoplehood. The USA is not a nation-state. Citizenship in the USA gives one his American identity, not his ethnic descent. Mr Fein has suggested defining Israel along such the American model. But the American model doesn't fit the nation-state definition.
I don't really know what Mr Fein is trying to tell us this week. "Total integration" in Israel would ultimately mean for the Arabic-speaking minority the lost of their own culture. Mr Fein mentioned that the Israeli Arabs do speak Hebrew - however, it is not their language and culture (the language of their home). It is someone else's language that they study very seriously. It could be that the loss of one's own culture doesn't seem to be a big deal for today's American Jews. The Jews abandoned their own Yiddish language and culture quite willingly, and actually they are proud of the process of Americanization. I don't think that Jewish history will give a "passing grade" to the American Jewish experience. The loss of Yiddish was the loss of a real Jewish treasure (that was not replaced by another treasure).
The Arabic-speaking children in Israel generally go to Arabic-language schools. The Jewish children generally go to a Hebrew-language school. Each school system reflects the cultural identity of its community. That's the way it should be. A single system would eventually be a reflection of the majority Hebrew society. That would be cultural oppression of a community that takes pride in its Arabic civilization. They have the right to maintain their own heritage, and the Israeli system provides the means of doing so.
Joel A. Levitt Thu. Jul 9, 2009
The Jewish people have worked hard for 3,500 years. We have developed at least three languages and treasured literature, music and art traditions. We have made exceptional contributions to science and to the production of life-sustaining wealth. We have tested many societal modes and preserved what we have learned in a body of law. We have done these things sometimes with the help of our non-Jewish neighbors and sometimes despite their mortal threats.
And, now we have given birth to a child. That child is Israel. Many of us want to be proud of our child’s contributions to science, art, medicine and agriculture, but instead we spend our time having to apologize to our neighbors – apologize as our child betrays its inheritance of Jewish values -- apologize as our child apes our greatest tormentors.
Sephardiman Thu. Jul 9, 2009
Frank-Enough already. We get it. You are a verkrampte Arutz 7er who sees everyone who doesn't share your narrative as a "far left, extreme anti-Israel basher."
bozhidar balkas vancouver bc canada Thu. Jul 9, 2009
well, i am 00000000001% black, shemitic, slavic, thracian, roman, circasian, greek, scythian, tatar, avar, germanic, and punjabi. also possibly a tad cheroke/apache, maori, ainu, and eskimo.
but, nevertheless, citizen of just one country. This just isn't fair. and it is fault of all these deluded lawmakers which just don't accept my genes.
of course, a jew may also be 000000000002% black, etc. And to come to think of it, if it wasn't for the darkest blacks who had adapted for survival in that scorching sun and suffered for us more than any 'savior' such as moshe, mohammed, jesus, obama, et al, i wldn't be here today and filled with so much genetic make up i sing praises to it everyday. tnx
Yehuda Thu. Jul 9, 2009
Joel A. Levitt - I don't really understand your note. First, let us start with the pronoun "we". What do you mean by saying that "we" have given birth to Israel? There are people who do not participate in any way whatsoever in the making of Israel, yet they take for themselves the credit for her existence. You claim to spend time apologizing to your neighbors about Israel. There are many good Jews who spend their finest years defending this land. Do you apologize to them as well that the division of Jewish labor is so unfair - that they (the other Jews) risk their lives while you stand at a distance and say "oy, oy, oy, what an awful job you are doing"? Who are our greatest tormentors that you see us as "aping"? Perhaps, you should visit the nearest Holocaust museum, reconsider your choice of words - and then apologize again for defaming good and dedicated Jews.
We are living in the midst of conflict. Perhaps, you understand how to survive this crisis without resorting to any acts of violence, without fighting wars. Jewish values are not at all impressive when you have no choices to make, when there are no dangers, when you don't have to face the consequences of your decisions. But there is a Jewish society that faces a life and death situation, and it bears the responsibility of protecting the well-being of real people. That's life in the Jewish world today - and no one has to apologize. All peoples have found themselves in a situation where they had to resort to war. In comparing ourselves with other nations, we seem to be very reasonable in our war. The problem with you, Joel, is that you have adopted the perspective of the anti-Israel propaganda; i.e. there is never any context surrounding Israel. Obviously, if there is no context of threats or attacks, then war-like measures are inexcusable and in opposition to human values. But there is a context to our lives. You don't participate in this context (and therefore you don't have to serve as an example and answer tough questions), so strangely it has escaped your vision
Lee Thu. Jul 9, 2009
Did you ever consider entering a contest for "world's biggest moron"? I'm sure you would do very well.
Raed Kami Thu. Jul 9, 2009
AN Israeli is anyone who steals Palestinian land and uses it for ill purposes. Mr Fein, and Arab who lives in Umm alFahn is not an Israeli. He is a proud Palestinian who is holding on to his rightful lands in trust for the entire Palestinian people. The reason that he is holding on to Israeli citizenship is to recoup a small part of what was stolen from his ancestors in 1948. The whole world recognizes the term "Israeli" as a makr of criminality, a mark of theft and a mark of Cain. That is why the United Nations has passed more resolutions against Israel than against any legitimate nation
DE Teodoru Thu. Jul 9, 2009
This is an issue that has-- most unfaily-- been the basis of the massacre of Jews in the West for cneturies. Finally the British Courts forced some "Jewishness" advocates to grow up and decide whom and what they are-- religion or race. Netanyahu, unknowingly and carelessly, as a gimmick in order to delay a forced settlement between Israel and the Palestinians while he integrates the two peoples economically, demanded that the Palestinians-- AS A PRECONDITION TO NEGOTIATIONS-- recognize Israel as "the state of the Jewish people." Similarly, PM Sharon insisted that all Jews must move to Israel by 2020 or "lose their Jewish soul." Abe Foxam, leader of the anti-DEFAMATION League-- anti-defamation, of all titles-- pleaded at a Jerusalem Conference of World Jewish Students that he be forgiven for having fought so little for Zionism but he was TOO BUSY FIGHTING AGAINST ASSIMILATION!!!!
All these raise questions of trying to have your cake and eat it too on the assumptions that these "dumb goyim" are too dumb to realize it. The Israeli Ambasador to the United States has BOTH Israeli and American citizenship!!!! Can one woder what all this means to non-Jews? Are Jews one of us, or are they a fight column for some foreign country that exists as a fetal state on an American $ placenta?
This is a most dangerous time to open these cans of worms as time now is 20 minutes to Krystanacht in Northern Midwest. Indeed, Jews were not the cause of the current automobile industry colllapse, though some would have you believe it: http://news.ronatvan.com/2009/06/18/the-jewish-zionist-gang-that-bankrupted-general-motors/ (it appears on ten pages of google sites)
This seemingly well "documented" article is indeed a lot of crap. But who will question it when desperate to find a scapegoat so as not to have to face one's own economic avarice driven catastrophe?
For Zionist extremists all this is fine and dandy. Afteral, the "settlements" in Israel are empty buildings built at US taxpayers expense through secret Congressional shenanigans in the hope that SOME DAY Diaspora Jews will chose to make the Great Aliyah to Israel. Recently, on a StLouis radio show former President Cater was asked why did only 38% of Jews vote for him in his bid for re-election? He responded that he was the only Democratic candidate in that election NOT to get a majority of Jews. He explained that it was because "the Jewish leaders" didn't like that he returned the Sinai to the Egyptians and thought it belongs to Israel. One might recall that the original meaning of the Jewish flag was a land of the Jewish people (the Star) occupying the land between the two great rivers, Nile and Eupretes (the two lines). This explains why far more Arabs feared a Jewish state as it not only involved Palestine but from half of Egypt to half of Iraq. When one of Ben Gurion's aides asked him how he could settle for such strange borders as the UN provided he said: there will be more, much more, in time.
All this has muddled the crime perpetrated against the Jewish people in Europe. Especially as Zionism has never ceased to exploit that catastrophe, turning it into a sacrilegious desacration of an event that all mankind must seek to understand so as not to repeat it. Yet, just as Zionists exploit the Holocaust Industry, often with self-serving fabrications that only feed the campaigns of those who deny the historic fact of the Holocaust (focus on the gas chambers ecclipse the fact that German soldiers killed by hand helpless Jewish men women and children), providing illusion of historic fraud.
All this stems from an ambiguity, an attempt to insit to us dumb goyim that Jews can go up and down, right and left at the same time; a skill Christians only attribute to angels. The current British Court ruling puts starkly before Jews the need for a clear statement as to what is a Jew, especially as even Foxman has abandoned his distinction betweeen anti-Zionist and anti-Semite. At this time of Western rage over what america has economically done to the world, it would be very prudent to settle this issue as the mass majority of Jews have proven through thier settlement patterns that they consider Israel a nice place to visit but they wouldn't want to have to live there. American Jews are as American as apple pie and would never forgive Zionists for helping the right wing crazies foment anti-Semitism in America in the hope that they would stampede to Israel with all their assets. Perhaps the lesson of this British legal crisis will be a separation of nationality and religion, especially as most Jews of today are East Europe desendents of converts to Judiam. When Netanyahu abandons this stalling tactic he will no doubt signal Israel's desire to integrate with the Arab world economically and diplomatically as it now seeks to do with the Palestinians before negotiating a two states settlement.