The Corner

Recognize the Jewish State

I call readers’ attention to a terrific and important piece by Daniel Pipes over on the home page. Pipes points out that President Obama, in his recent visit to Israel, insisted that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” This is an extremely welcome development, as Pipes explains:

[President Obama’s statement] breaks important new ground and cannot readily be undone. It also makes for excellent policy, for without such recognition, Palestinian acceptance of Israel is hollow, indicating only a willingness to call the future state they will dominate “Israel” rather than “Palestine.”

While it was not the only shift in policy announced during Obama’s trip (another was his telling the Palestinians not to set preconditions for negotiations), this one looms largest because it starkly contravenes the Palestinian consensus. [Hamas leader Salah] Bardawil may hyperbolically assert that it “shows that Obama has turned his back to all Arabs” but his words in fact establish a readiness to deal with the conflict’s central issue. They likely will be his most important, most lasting, and most constructive contribution to Arab-Israeli diplomacy.

I have encountered, over the years, Americans who fret that it somehow violates American principles to endorse a state that expresses a religious identity in its Constitution. I will leave aside the fact that the word “Jewish” can apply to an ethnicity – i.e., something traditionally associated with nationhood in a way that religion is not — and address the purely religio-political issue here.

It is true that our U.S. Constitution makes no mention of Christianity, which was at the time of its enactment, and remains today, the country’s sociologically dominant religion. But for the rest of the world, which is obviously not governed by the U.S. Constitution, the important moral principle we should fight for is that any state recognition of religion must not imply the violation of the human rights to freedom of religion of other believers. In Israel, the Jewish State, people are free to be Muslims or Christians or atheists. In England, where there is a State Church of which the Queen herself is the official head, there is no violation of the liberties of those who hold other faiths (indeed, active members of the State Church are by now a small minority, and run a greater risk of being oppressed than of ever becoming oppressors).

So, if a country somewhere chooses to call itself a Muslim State, that is fine with me, as a matter of pure abstract principle. But the reason it worries me, in practice, is that the record of states with an official government establishment of Islam is abysmal when it comes to respect for the human rights of those with other religions.

On this score, Israel has a sterling record. Kudos to President Obama for standing up for Israel as, specifically, the Jewish State that it is.


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