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Why Is Israel a “Jewish” State?

I’m puzzled.  Ephraim Sneh wrote an Op-Ed contribution in the New York Times, on March 12, 2014.

Ephraim Sneh, who defines himself as an Israeli, identified four issues that he believes opponents of peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority:  Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people is one of these issues.  Others are the Palestinians’ “right of return,”  the division of Jerusalem and security arrangements between Palestine and Israel.

This is what puzzles me.  What is meant by the nation state of the “Jewish people”?  Jewish people are well dispersed throughout the world as are most groups.  The Jewish people in Israel appear to have come from many parts of the world: Europe, Russia, Africa, America, many places.  Are they Jewish because of being of a particular religion?  If so, that is also a widely dispersed religion, and the Jewish people of the world, and I suspect, of Israel as well, vary widely in the fervor of their practice of that religion.

Questioning the “Jewish State” usually results in knee-jerk angry reactions, on one side or another.  But doesn’t the notion of a “Jewish” state go against the the direction of the world as it is today: one of globalization, increasing national diversity and integration?  The absurdity of a notion of a “Jewish” state becomes clearer if we think of what would happen if other countries did the same.  Suppose the United States decided that it was a Caucasian state?  Or suppose Texas decided that it was a “Hispanic” state?  I think there would be an uproar, once other people stopped laughing.

Most countries of the world are coping, sometimes well, sometimes badly with integrating citizens of the world into their borders.  Increasing globalization is the direction that the world is taking. We may live in several countries, or use the materials and the good that have been imported from many countries over our lifetimes.  While we may identify ourselves as a certain nationality, or religion, with few exceptions those identifications do not govern our daily lives very tightly.

So what does a nation state of the “Jewish people” really mean?  And why do so many try to defend it?  Perhaps more progress could be made on the other issues dividing Israel from its neighbors if the diversity of the current and future Israelis could be accepted.