Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

What Does Israel Mean as a Nation-State for the Jews?

Nation-State for Jews
An ultra-Orthodox Jew inspects a Lulav (Palm branch), one of four species used during the celebration of Sukkot, the feast of the Tabernacles, in a Jewish Ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood of Jerusalem on September 20, 2021. MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP

Majed Kayali

By perpetuating its view of the nation-state of the Jews, Israel attempts – practically and legally – to remove the Palestinians from space and time. By sticking to that idea, Israel imposes its version of the history of the region. In addition, it gains a political, historical, and moral legitimacy through the following aspects:

First, Israel imposes its control over the entire historical land of Palestine from the river to the sea. Moreover, it forces its conditions per its whims and religious and ideological claims on the Palestinians. We indeed talk about having two states for the Israelis and the Palestinians. However, the Israeli approach indicates that the establishment of the Palestinian state will be subject to the borders imposed or accepted by Tel Aviv. Through such an approach, Israel promotes its policy and claims that it provides Palestinians with an ultimate solution for the rights or demands of the Palestinians.

Secondly, Israel imposes a conviction that historical Palestine is equivalent to the Land of Israel, that is, the exclusive property of the Jews, and not a matter of conflict between two peoples and two nationalities, or between two equal rights. Israel here has an exclusive right, and the Palestinians are just foreigners to time and place.

Third, Israel, as the national state of the Jews, refuses to bear any responsibility for the Nakba and the birth of the Palestinian refugee crisis (1948). Moreover, it refuses to resolve this issue within its borders because only the Jews there – accordingly – have the right to self-determination. The Palestinians can decide their destiny but, in their state, or anywhere else.

Fourth, Israel pressures and blackmails Palestinians into subjugation. It imposes its dictates on them by threatening to revoke the citizenship of Palestinians in the 1948 territories or by confiscating residency permits from the Palestinians of Jerusalem. Under such legislation, the Palestinians will become individual residents who have no collective or national political rights. Interestingly, Israel has been dealing with the Palestinians of its citizens only within the individual and sectarian context. In other words, it does not consider dealing with their national or Arab identity.

On the Israeli level, the affirmation of the Jewishness of the state has contributed to strengthening the extremist national and religious movements. These parties are the core of tensions within the Israeli society, especially between the secular and the religious citizens. These tensions are only covered or mitigated by diverting attention to external challenges, or what Israel defines as the existential danger and Arab hostility.

It may be worth mentioning here that the affirmation of the Jewishness of the state, or even daring to propose such thing, is one of the miserable, unfair and incomplete Oslo Accords (1993) outcomes. It is misleading wording, intended to cover that Israel has dominance and control. It also hides that Israel enjoys having the support of the international community. It is the party that decides the nature of the negotiations and their outcomes.

The Balfour Declaration (1917) stipulated the establishment of a national home for the Jews in Palestine, not the establishment of a state for the Jews or a Jewish state. The same proposition is clear and loud in the Mandate memorandum and the recommendations of the international committees on Palestine before the establishment of Israel. Likewise, United Nations Resolution No.273 (1949), in which the countries of the world acknowledged Israel, stipulated the emerging state to implement Resolutions No.181 (1947) and No.194 (1949). The first resolution stated dividing Palestine into two Jewish and Arab states. The second resolution granted the right of return for Palestinian refugees, which Israel agreed to at the time, but did not commit to it.

It is worth mentioning that talking about a Jewish state at that time is different from being the nation-state of the Jews because the text of the partition plan guaranteed the Palestinians to remain in the state-designated for the Jews, and vice versa. It also stipulated the establishment of an economic union of sorts between the two states and an international administration in the city of Jerusalem. In other words, talking about Israel as the nation-state of Judaism is a novelty. It is also a new confirmation of the colonial and racist character of this artificial state. In addition, that is not limited to the Jewish citizens of Israel, but rather the Jews of the world. With this proposition, Israel disregards its Palestinian citizens and threatens them while living on their land.

Regardless of the legal formulas, Israel has not practically and legally dealt with being a Jewish state since its establishment. The Israeli laws illustrate that approach. The list includes the Law of Return, which allows any Jew in the world to come and obtain citizenship while depriving the Palestinians of the land of fathers and grandfathers. Israel also strips the Palestinians of the right to self-determination, as it is the exclusive right of the Jews, being their state. There is also a State Land Law that considers all lands state property and prohibits their sale or transfer of ownership. That also includes its symbols; the flag, anthem, the Knesset, and laws derived from Torah teachings.

More importantly, Israel acts towards the Palestinians on this basis, which explains the expulsion of the Palestinians and the attempt to remove them from time and space.

Israel’s arrogance reflects a feeling of inferiority and a lack of reassurance, as it is still searching for its identity and self-affirmation after more than seven decades. This state, which has long lived on the claim that it is an oasis of democracy, modernity, and secularism, is emerging from a state that lives in the shadow of historical and religious myths and is moving towards defining itself with religion and sect. To sum it up, Israel is confused between being a democratic or Jewish, secular or religious state.


The opinions expressed in this publication are those of our bloggers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Fanack or its Board of Editors.

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