zondag 11 mei 2014

Israel as a 'Jewish' state

How weird is it that some Israelis want to see their country recognized as a ‘Jewish’ state ?

Pretty weird, according to many Western observers. Their reasoning is that, under customary international law, formally established borders are inviolable and that that’s all that counts. Within those limits, the inhabitants of a country are entirely free to determine their own identity. Recognition of Israel as a Jewish State therefore does, in an international legal sense,  not have any added value in addition to the recognition of Israel as a state .

According to this argument, the reference to an ethnic identity – within international law – is irrelevant. It refers to an outdated organizing principle, for example of the ordering of Central European states after the First World War in which ethnic self-determination was an important principle, and therefore determination of ethnic identity was so too. After the Second World War that principle moved to the background in favor of the principle of inviolability of borders and of once established territorial integrity. So, what proponents of recognition of Israel as a Jewish state do – according to this argument – is: they want to have it both ways. They mix up in an obsucre fashion the outdated principle of ethnic self-determination with the only principle that really matters: territorial integrity. So, their desire is anachronistic and therefore a little weird.

Personally, I think that desire is not so strange. I’m more inclined to find the above reasoning flawed, because it is rather abstract and because it only with difficulty assigns space to factors of a historical, ethnic and linguistic nature. That these can confuse the issue is certainly true, but they are therefore no less real or effective.

That may appear from interventions made in the last decades by the very same West. It is true that thereby actions were frequently based on the principle of territorial integrity, such as the beating of Iraq after the invasion of Kuwait. But the West was certainly not consistent, the principle of ethnic identities also at some times played a major role. For example in supporting Kosovo when it broke away from Serbia. Enough reason for Putin these days to claim that the West applies double standards.

Furthermore, the crisis in Ukraine makes it clear that to simply stick to territorial integrity is not always the solution, and even less so to the degree to which ethnic and linguistic factors have a greater weight.

It could therefore be quite adequate when a country for its integrity appeals not just to its borders, but also to a certain historical and ethnic identity. Because these are real and authentic factors. Having your principles both ways could very well be a necessity, and in fact Western countries act accordingly.

What makes the situation in Israel hard to swallow is that a third principle is in play there: to conquer as much territory from the Palestinians as possible. Because that principle bites with the other two. It is both contrary to the observance of internationally recognized borders, and to respecting the Jewish character of the state. At least as long as democracy is part of that character, and I can not – as yet – view that not to be the case.

Also see The heroic, cosmopolitical Individual