Why the Jewish State Now?
Israel's raison d’être was as a Jewish state, yet for almost four decades after the 1948 declaration of its establishment its Jewishness was not inscribed in any law. This essay, a structural-historical discourse analysis, seeks to explore what led up to today's insistent assertion of the state's Jewish identity. To this end, the author traces Israel's gradual evolution from its purely ethnic roots (the Zionist revolution) to a more civic concept of statehood involving greater inclusiveness (accompanied in recent decades by a rise in Jewish religious discourse). The author finds that while the state's Jewishness was for decades an assumption so basic as to be self-evident to the Jewish majority, the need to declare it became more urgent as the possibility of becoming “normalized” (i.e., a state for all its citizens) became an option, however distant. The essay ends with an analysis of Israel's demand for recognition as a Jewish state, arguing why the Palestinian negotiators would benefit from deconstructing it rather than simply disregarding it.
Raef Zreik is co-director of the Minerva Center for the Humanities at Tel Aviv University, and a lecturer at the Carmel Academic Center in Haifa.