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Some questions and issues are only raised about Israel for mysterious reasons. They are always loaded in such a way as to imply that Israel is unique among all the countries of the world, and does things that no other country is allowed to do. The Israeli occupation is billed as the longest occupation. It is not - China has been in Tibet much longer, and Britain has been in Ireland for several hundred years. "Israel is the only state that" can be truthfully completed by the phrase "Has more trees in 2006 then it did in 1906" but probably not much else is uniquely true of Israel.



The most frequent questions relate to misperceptions about the Israeli constitution, the nature of Zionism or the definition of "Jewish" for various purposes. These are either based on racism ("the Jewish race") or the idea instilled by anti-Zionist propaganda that Zionism is based on religion and that Israel is the state of the Jewish religion. If you deny the existence of the Jewish people, then it follows that "Jewish State" must mean a state of the Jewish religion. Perhaps we should be saying "Israel is the State of the Jewish People" to avoid misunderstandings.

In the Wall Street Journal, David Bernstein writes:


A reader, sympathetic to Israel but troubled by its existence as "Jewish state," asks: "Can you point me to any case in any example where you would say '[Country A] has the right to exist as a [Race B] or [Religion C] state?' I can think of numerous claims like this by societies in the past, which are now widely condemned."



It is the classic anti-Zionist challenge, and Bernstein answers it in detail, demonstrating that Israel is not a theocracy, and that "Jews" are not a "race." Of course, there are people who around who think that "Caucasian" race is a real distinction and that there is a separate "Jewish" or "Semitic" race.

The most valuable thing that Bernstein gives us however, is a large set of examples that show that the Israeli law of return, which propagandists insist is "racist" is in fact not different from laws enacted by many other countries. The Law of Return states that anyone who had a Jewish grandparent is Jewish for purposes of return to Israel, whether or not they are members of the Jewish religion according to halachic law. Bernstein's examples:


"...Japanese citizenship is conferred jus sanguinis, and monolingual Japanese-speaking minorities often reside in Japan for generations under permanent residency status without acquiring citizenship in their country of birth."...

An Irish government Web site states: "If you are of the third or subsequent generation born abroad to an Irish citizen (in other words, one of your grandparents is an Irish citizen but none of your parents was born in Ireland), you may be entitled to become an Irish citizen"...
...

Armenia. "Individuals of Armenian origin shall acquire citizenship of the Republic of Armenia through a simplified procedure."

Bulgaria. "Any person . . . whose descent from a Bulgarian citizen has been established by way of a court ruling shall be a Bulgarian citizen by origin."

Finland. "The Finnish Aliens Act provides for persons who are of Finnish origin to receive permanent residence. This generally means Karelians and Ingrian Finns from the former Soviet Union, but United States, Canadian or Swedish nationals with Finnish ancestry can also apply."

Germany. "German law allows persons of German descent living in Eastern Europe to return to Germany and acquire German citizenship." My understanding is that this German descent may go back many generations. (Note that until recently, Germany's citizenship law was less liberal than Israel's, in that it did not allow people who were not ethnic Germans, including Turks who had lived in Germany for generations, to be become citizens.)

Greece. " 'Foreign persons of Greek origin' who neither live in Greece nor hold Greek citizenship nor were necessarily born there, may become Greek citizens by enlisting in Greece's military forces."



The above are not the only examples of course. The "Law of Return" issue, it turns out, is just another non-issue raised by anti-Zionists to "prove" that Israel is somehow racist or evil because it does essentially what most other countries do.

Ami Isseroff



Unasked Questions
Does Japan have a right to exist as a Japanese state?

BY DAVID E. BERNSTEIN
Thursday, August 24, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT

A reader, sympathetic to Israel but troubled by its existence as "Jewish state," asks: "Can you point me to any case in any example where you would say '[Country A] has the right to exist as a [Race B] or [Religion C] state?' I can think of numerous claims like this by societies in the past, which are now widely condemned."

Actually, many, many countries have an official religion, including not only "backward" countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia that enforce religious law, but "progressive" liberal bastions such as Norway, Denmark, and Iceland (all Lutheran). By contrast, Judaism is not the official religion of Israel. Jewish holidays are government holidays, but that's like Christmas in the U.S. (Family law is controlled by religious bodies, but that's true for Muslims, Christians, et al., as well as Jews, and is an artifact of Ottoman and British rule. My understanding is that most Jews in Israel are against the religious monopoly on family law, but it survives because the religious parties have disproportionate power. The Arab community, which is far more traditional in its religious practices than is the Jewish community, almost certainly is more supportive of this arrangement than the Jews are, so this has really nothing to do with Israel being a "Jewish state," as such.)

As for the question of "race," the problem can't be "self-determination" of a group, because the propriety of that principle seems rather well-accepted. "Jewishness" is not a racial identity, but complaints about Israel being a "Jewish state" are often put in terms of the Law of Return being "racist." The Law of Return is based on ethnic (not racial) heritage and grants anyone with a Jewish grandparent automatic citizenship (the Israeli Supreme Court has held that one is not eligible for the Law of Return if one has adopted the Christian religion, because in the complex area of Jewish identity, Jews who become Christians have left the Jewish people). Non-Jewish immigrants with no ethnic Jewish background can become citizens, with some difficulty, as can, automatically, non-Jewish immigrants closely related to Jews (e.g., spouses), many of whom have recently arrived from the former Soviet Union. Arabs who lived in Israel during the War of Independence (and thus presumptively accepted the existence of Israel and were not engaged in warfare against Israel) and their descendants have full citizenship rights, but they are relieved of one of the major obligations of Israeli citizenship, military or other national service (I think this is a big mistake, but that is a topic for a separate post).

One's liberal, progressive or libertarian hackles can easily be raised at Israel's citizenship policies. Why should ethnic background entitle one to citizenship? On the other hand, Israel's defenders would argue that given that the Jews have been the subject of massive state and private violence over the past few centuries, including one attempted genocide (by Hitler) and another one that was averted only by Stalin's timely death, Jews need a homeland/refuge where they can go with automatic citizenship rights.

Whatever side you take on that debate, the more interesting question is why the question of basing citizenship (in part) of ethnic descent only calls the right of Israel to exist into question.

My correspondent was unaware of any other countries that have an overt ethnic identity, but, judging by immigration laws, there are quite a few, and with a few exceptions (Armenia and Germany), their discriminatory immigration policies exist, unlike Israel's, without any justification resulting from persecution of that group.

For example, according to Wikipedia: "Japanese citizenship is conferred jus sanguinis, and monolingual Japanese-speaking minorities often reside in Japan for generations under permanent residency status without acquiring citizenship in their country of birth." Why does Japan have the right to exist as a Japanese state? Has this question ever been asked?

An Irish government Web site states: "If you are of the third or subsequent generation born abroad to an Irish citizen (in other words, one of your grandparents is an Irish citizen but none of your parents was born in Ireland), you may be entitled to become an Irish citizen"--if, as I understand it, you register properly. Does Ireland have the right to exist as an Irish state?

Several other countries recognize a "right of return" similar, but often broader, than Israel's (via Wikipedia):

Armenia. "Individuals of Armenian origin shall acquire citizenship of the Republic of Armenia through a simplified procedure."

Bulgaria. "Any person . . . whose descent from a Bulgarian citizen has been established by way of a court ruling shall be a Bulgarian citizen by origin."

Finland. "The Finnish Aliens Act provides for persons who are of Finnish origin to receive permanent residence. This generally means Karelians and Ingrian Finns from the former Soviet Union, but United States, Canadian or Swedish nationals with Finnish ancestry can also apply."

Germany. "German law allows persons of German descent living in Eastern Europe to return to Germany and acquire German citizenship." My understanding is that this German descent may go back many generations. (Note that until recently, Germany's citizenship law was less liberal than Israel's, in that it did not allow people who were not ethnic Germans, including Turks who had lived in Germany for generations, to be become citizens.)

Greece. " 'Foreign persons of Greek origin' who neither live in Greece nor hold Greek citizenship nor were necessarily born there, may become Greek citizens by enlisting in Greece's military forces."

Wikipedia provides a several other examples, none of which seem to ever raise the same questions about the legitimacy of the states involved as the Law of Return does for Israel.

Of course, Israel has the added burden that the Palestinians claiming that they are the true "owners" of the relevant land, or that at least the Palestinians who fled in 1948 and their descendants should have their own "right to return". But I think that issue exists quite apart from whether Israel's Law of Return is objectionable, and indeed must, given that the Palestinian side is calling for even fourth-generation descendants of residents of what is now Israel, who never set foot there, to be allowed based on their ancestry to return.

In short, the perception my correspondent had, which in my experience is shared by many, that Israel is a uniquely "religious state" is not only wrong; it's backwards--Israel has less of an explicit religious identity than many countries (complicated, I admit, by the fact that one can in an odd way assume a Jewish ethnic identity by converting religiously). And Israel is hardly unique in basing immigration and citizenship policy at least partly on ethnic heritage (the thought that Israel is unique in this regard seems bound up with the confused notion that it must have something to do with Jews thinking they are God's "Chosen People"). The big difference is that unlike, say, Japan, Israel actually has especially strong, though I wouldn't say completely unassailable, reasons for doing so.

Mr. Bernstein is a professor at the George Mason University School of Law. This appeared on The Volokh Conspiracy.

Original content is Copyright by the author 2006. Posted at ZioNation-Zionism and Israel Web Log, http://www.zionism-israel.com/log/archives/00000219.html where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Disributed by ZNN list. Subscribe by sending a message to ZNN-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by e-mail with this notice, cite this article and link to it. Other uses by permission only.

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Replies: 2 Comments

Dennis,

It is mostly about changing the debate from race to ethnicity, not religion.

Essentially as an ethnic group Jews have more in common than just religion, they share a culture, history and a language ... as well

Israel Bonan, Saturday, August 26th


Obviously, the strongest objection to a racial identification of Jews is that this was precisely how the Nazis changed the definition and started hunting down people with one quarter or one eighth Jewish ancestry. It didn't matter if such people had converted to another faith, were agnostics or atheists: they were still eligible for death. The Irish situation mentioned above is interesting. As someone born in Northern Ireland, I automatically have dual Irish and British citizenship, but even though I have lived in England for over 30 years, I cannot become English; and though my wife is Welsh, I cannot become Welsh (even though they have their own national assembly now), though I expect she could become Irish if we moved to Dublin. The religious 'ethnicity' is of interest if we compare Israel to the Islamic world. Technically, Muslims inhabit the international Islamic umma, and it is that which gives rise to the Palestinian claim on Israel. Since there was never a Palestinian state (and you could even argue that the region is, strictly speaking, the property of Turkey), the Palestinian right of return rests largely on the concept that Israel was established on inalienable waqf territory. However, this is also true of Spain and Portugal, but only the most extreme types call for these countries to be re-incorporated within Dar al-Islam. That excites the suspicion that the outrage at losing part of the umma is exacerbated by it being Jews who have taken the land, and this then ties in with the intensification of Muslim anti-Semitism in the modern period. Technically, if a Jew were to convert to Islam, he/she would be entitled to live in 'Palestine' as a Muslim. This is not racist, but it replaces race with religion. Islam has a good record on race, but its discrimination on religious grounds is vicious. The Israeli state/Jewish state which tolerates all religions is actually a much better example of non-discrimination than any Islamic state whatsoever. Shifting the debate from race to religion does, in fact, show Israel as non-racist and non-religionist.

Denis MacEoin, Friday, August 25th


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