For Lasting Peace, Israel Must Be Content to Be a Homeland for All Its Citizens-Not All Jews

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IsraelandJudaism

As the world-and U.S. policymakers-- focus upon the continuing Israeli-Palestinian impasse, it is important to examine a serious stumbling block along the path to any lasting settlement which has been long ignored. That is Israel's continuing claim to be the "homeland" not only of its own citizens-but of Jews throughout the world. It is, after all, to make room for the hoped-for emigration to Israel of millions of Jews who are citizens of other countries that there is an unwillingness to withdraw from the occupied territories and compromise in accepting the reality of a Palestinian state.

For many years, the State of Israel and the adherents of Zionism in other countries have maintained the position that Israel is the "Jewish homeland," that Jews outside of Israel are in "exile," and that a "full Jewish life" can be lived only in the Jewish state. In our own country, even the leaders of Reform Judaism recently adopted a statement of principles holding that Israel is "central" to Jewish life and encouraging aliyah, or emigration to Israel.

On a visit to Germany in 1996, Israeli President Ezer Weizman declared that he "cannot understand how 40,000 Jews can live in Germany" and asserted that, "The place of Jews is in Israel. Only in Israel can Jews live full Jewish lives."

In 1998, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called upon American Jews to make a "mass aliyah" to Israel. The head of the Jewish Agency, Avram Burg, declared that the synagogue in Western countries is the "symbol of destruction," and that the new center of Jewish life should be the state of Israel.

In 2000, Israeli President Moshe Katsev called upon Jews throughout the world to make aliyah and argued against "legitimizing" Jewish life in other countries. In a book published in 2000, Conversations With Yitzhak Shamir, the former Israeli prime minister declared: "The very essence of our being obliges every Jew to live in Eretz Yisrael.. In my opinion, a man has no right to consider himself a part of the Jewish People without also being a Zionist, because Zionism states that in order for a Jew to live as a Jew he needs to have his own country, his own life, and his own future."

It can be said that Israel's abnormality began with its declaration on May 15, 1948 that it was a state not of the people living within its borders, but of the "Jewish people" everywhere. The Law of Return, which gave Jews the right to emigration and citizenship, codified this "Jewish people" concept when it held that, "The State of Israel considers itself as the creation of the Jewish people," and endowed every Jew with the right to permanent settlement. David Ben-Gurion declared in 1952 that, "The State of Israel is a part of the Middle East only in geography, which is, in the main, a static element. From the more decisive standpoint of dynamism, creation and growth, Israel is a part of world Jewry."

The Israeli High Court in January 1972 declared: "There is no Israeli nation apart from the Jewish people residing in Israel and in the diaspora." Clearly, if Jews outside were to be considered part of the state and were to be "ingathered," room had to be made for them.

In her book The Fate Of The Jews, Roberta Strauss Feuerlicht notes that "...the Zionists chose to create a state by superseding the indigenous population and culture of Palestine and ingathering from all over the world descendants of Jews who had not lived there in any number for 2,000 years and who no longer shared language or culture or anything else except the identification 'Jewish'...Zionism has always been a minority position among Jews and remains so; otherwise, there would not be so many Jews unsettling in Israel."

In 1917, at the time of the Balfour Declaration, Jews were only 10 percent of the population of Palestine. By 1946, Jews were still only 31 percent of the population. Moshe Dayan once declared: "We came to this country that was already populated by Arabs, and we are establishing a Hebrew, that is a Jewish state here. …