This is a response to a question asked by Ha’Am, UCLA’s Jewish News Magazine.
Arguably since her birth, the State of Israel has striven and sometimes struggled to reconcile her democratic character and her Jewish character — both of which are guaranteed by the state’s Declaration of Independence. One of the most pressing questions posed by critics of Israel’s policies in the West Bank asks why a true secular democracy, including all of the land and peoples currently under Israel’s control, is not good enough. In your opinion, how important is it — for the Jewish people, for the region, and for the world — that an imperatively Jewish state exists?
I believe it is very important that a Jewish state exists. The Jewish people are justified in their desire to take care of their own and to defend themselves against external threat through the establishment of a state. Jewish nationalism can be validated best by the realization that its aspirations are as legitimate as any other movement for self-determination.
However, saying we support Israel as a Jewish state is not enough. We must define it: “What does it mean for a state to be Jewish?”
Judaism is more than just a religion— it’s a culture and an identity. To envision the Jewish state as theocratic or as one which gives civic preference to its Jewish population would be very narrow interpretations of the concept.
A truly Jewish state would be defined as one that embodies the Jewish values of justice, equality, and tikkun olam by championing full and equal rights for every Israeli citizen, regardless of religion or ethnicity. It would promote the democratic values laid out in its Declaration of Independence and be genuine in its efforts to pursue peace with its neighbors. Encompassing these basic Jewish values will not only make it a Jewish state, but a Jewish state of which I can be proud.
4th Year, Middle Eastern and North African Studies Major
Co-Chair and Founder, J Street U at UCLA
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