What does “Being Jewish” have to do with Arab-Israeli peace? Why does Israel insist Palestinians accept Israel as a Jewish state? What causes Palestinians and other Arabs to be threatened by the “Jewish” character of Israel?
Answer One: Israel is designed to be “Jewish” in the sense that it is meant to be a spiritual home and a physical refuge for Jews—the world’s most persecuted minority.
If you pick a century—or even a decade—in history, you can find how the powers of the day set out to persecute, rob, enslave and kill the Jews of their time: Egyptian pharaohs, Babylonian kings, Roman emperors, European knights, Spanish Inquisitors.
In the last century alone, Nazis and their allies murdered 6,000,000 Jews—a third of the world’s population. In ecological terms, Jews are an endangered species. Israel is a nature preserve for Earth’s most persecuted and perhaps most productive minority.
Israel is a home where Jews can be safe to practice their religion (or not), to identify as Jews or Israelis (or not) without fear of persecution by German Nazis, Russian Cossacks, British Crusaders, French fascists, Islamic maniacs, etc.
Answer Two: Israel must insist on having its “Jewishness” recognized because Arab and Islamic individuals, states and organizations say Jews can only exist as a second-class status within a sovereign Arab or Islamic community. In Islamic terms, this is called being a dhimmi—having protected but limited second-class religious rights.
Making Muslims accept Israel as Jewish really means making them accept that Jews have political and cultural rights like Arabs and Muslims. Arabs have 22 sovereign states whose area is bigger than Europe. The Muslims have 50 or 60 states. No one questions that. So, the Jews can have one state the size of New Jersey.
The so-called “Arab World” and the “Islamic Community” say they do not have an ideological problem with Jews as a religion, but they are being misleading in asserting this. The truth is that they do not have a problem with Jews as long as the Jews “stay in their place.”
Many Arabs and Muslims have a huge problem with the Jewish nationalism known as Zionism. Recognizing Israel as Jewish means Jews are not just a religion but are also a nation, have national rights, and cannot be evicted from their homeland.
When Jew-haters (or genteel anti-Semites from Britain or Norway) say they do not hate Jews but only hate Israel or Zionism, they are lying. It is like saying they are not against Jews but only against Jews having arms, legs, eyes—the ability to see for themselves, build for themselves and protect themselves.
Zionism means a Jewish state, a Jewish refuge, a predominantly Jewish home. This is not just a practical option but a moral imperative. Worldwide, Jews are safer when there is a Jewish state, because it helps them.
In addition, non-Jews are also safer because a Jewish state does not persecute Muslims, Christians, Druze, Bahai, Circassians and others who live in that Jewish state, and that same “Jewish state” also helps to protect non-Jewish minorities in nearby states, and it often gives them refuge from persecution.
The 22 Arab states and 50-odd Islamic states cannot make that claim.
Answer Three: Many Arabs, many Muslims and particularly the Palestinians are threatened by a “Jewish” Israel because Israel is real and successful—a modern state with traditional values. The Jewish state’s very success casts a harsh light on the failures of the “Arab” and “Islamic” states and their values.
This is particularly true of the Palestinians who cannot even agree on who will lead them—the PLO in the West Bank or Hamas or Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Palestinians feel threatened by Israelbecause of their own internal weakness and incoherence.
This is not just political frailty but a weakness of spirit. Palestinians sense something artificial about their own identity. The concept “Palestinian” is relatively new in Arab thinking. It is a foreign word in Arabic. “Palestine” is never mentioned in the Quran, Islam’s holy book. “Israel” and “the Jews” are mentioned scores of times.
This internal Palestinian lack of identity may be the psychological reason for the PLO-Hamas long-time insistence that Israel cease to exist. Perhaps this explains why both PLO and Hamas refuse to recognize the Jewish character of Israel.
Even so-called Arab “moderates” (who are not really moderate) like PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas violate treaties with Israel. They try to boycott, isolate and hurt Israel. Indeed, Abbas and other “moderates” recoil in disgust at the suggestion of accepting a “Jewish” Israel.
On the other hand, staunch Israeli patriots or religious Jews do not fear Arab nationalism, Muslim religion or Palestinian sentiment. Most Israelis feel strong enough about themselves to accept Palestinian Arab nationalism, even as most Arabs still reject the very idea of Zionism or a Jewish state.
The real question remains: Are Arabs, Muslims and especially the Palestinians able to make peace by accepting the Jewish state as a real partner and neighbor?
Dr. Michael Widlanski is the author of Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threatpublished by Threshold/Simon and Schuster. He was Strategic Affairs Advisor in Israel’s Ministry of Public Security, teaches atBar Ilan University and was recently visiting professor at University of California, Irvine. This article was originally published in Algemeiner.com