Israel: Jewish and Democratic

by | Jan 24, 2014 | Other News

Gil Troy

This is one of five op-eds that appeared in The Times of Israel (and now, Jewish News). It is reprinted with permission. Gil Troy is part of the Community Relations Council’s Israel Today Forum. 

Even nations need recognition, right?

We exist in the world as individual human beings without the need for any special acknowledgement. Yet if we want to participate as lawyers, doctors, teachers, etc., society requires that we fulfill certain academic/ professional criteria in order to receive a license or certification.

The same is true with groups that have distinct languages, cultures, religions and shared historical experiences. Not all groups achieve official statehood recognition from the international community. But the Jewish people have received such recognition in multiple ways over a long period of time.

Zionism, the movement of Jewish nationalism, began in its modern form in the 19th century, as the very idea of nationalism began to spread throughout Europe. In the 20th century, international proclamations and commissions validated this movement. The Balfour Declaration of 1917, which called for “establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” was endorsed by the U.S. Congress in 1922 and formally adopted by the Council of the League of Nations in July 1922 that established the British Mandate for Palestine. The Mandate’s preamble recognized the “historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine” and the “grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.”

Any ideas of creating a bi-national, Jewish-Arab state in Palestine were quickly discarded as the local Palestinian community reacted violently to the Mandate. Great Britain convened the Peel Commission in 1936 following a particularly severe outbreak of Arab violence. The Commission issued a report the following year, which argued that the best arrangement in Mandatory Palestine would be partition leading to creation of a “Jewish State.”

The concept of one democratic, bi-national state for Jews and Palestinians continues to hold appeal in some quarters. But Jews and Palestinians represent such fundamentally different national groupings, with distinctive languages, cultures, religious traditions and historical narratives that trying to meld them into a cohesive state would be a prescription for endless strife. The leadership of both peoples recognize—as the international community understood even during the days of the British Mandate — separation is by far the preferred course of action. Indeed, the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), whose report formed the basis of the later UN partition resolution, explained that, “Only by means of partition can these conflicting national aspirations find substantial expression and qualify both peoples to take their places as independent nations in the international community and in the United Nations.”

As a result, the UN General Assembly in 1947, by a vote of 33-13 (10 abstentions), adopted Resolution 181 that called for the creation of a Jewish and an Arab state in Mandatory Palestine. Thus, the UN extended its formal imprimatur to the notion of a Jewish state, something it has not done with other states. Israel’s formal application for membership in the UN, as submitted to the Security Council, referred to “the natural and historic right of the Jewish people to independence in its own sovereign state.”

U.S. administrations and Congresses down through the years consistently supported the concept of Jewish statehood. In his landmark speech in Jerusalem in March, 2013, President Obama declared, “for the Jewish people, the journey to the promise of the state of Israel wound through countless generations. It involves centuries of suffering and exile, prejudice and pogroms and even genocide. Through it all, the Jewish people sustained their unique identity and traditions, as well as a longing to return home. And while Jews achieved extraordinary success in many parts of the world, the dream of true freedom finally found its full expression in the Zionist idea—to be a free people in your homeland.… Meanwhile, Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state and that Israelis have the right to insist upon their security.”

Peace agreements have been reached between Israel and two of its Arab neighbors— Egypt and Jordan—and the Oslo Accords of 1993 provide a framework for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The wider Arab world has expressed an interest in normalizing relations with Israel contingent on an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Yet many extremist elements remain, refusing to recognize the legitimacy of Jewish national self-determination in the state of Israel, arguing erroneously that Jews are foreign interlopers undertaking a classic European colonial strategy and displacing the native population.

The extremists’ refusal, which makes the task of achieving peace much more difficult, is ironic in light of the Arab world’s insistence on recognition for Palestinian national rights. Again, mutual respect and recognition should be our standard.

by Gil Troy and Martin J. Raffel