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Eureka: A few clarifications on Israel
by Joseph Gatt
2018-09-21 06:33:59
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Over a few conversations on Israel, I found that four things caused confusion among observers of Israel. First, the Jewish nature of the state of Israel. Second the territories/settlements in Judea and Samaria/the West Bank. Third the demographic question, lack of Jewish olim/immigrants to the state of Israel. Fourth the unusually high number of Jewish immigrants to Israel from France.

So let me go through these briefly and hopefully clearly.

-The Jewish nature of Israel and the nation-state law

isr01_400Understanding the Jewish nature of the state of Israel is as complicated as learning to write Chinese characters or watching an Alejandro González Iñárritu movie. So let me explain.

A Jew is either someone who has Jewish ancestors, mainly Jewish parents, or someone who practices the Jewish religion. That is if your parents are Jewish, you are considered Jewish, even if you practice Mormonism, Buddhism or Christianity or perhaps Islam. You can pray five times a day and fast on Ramadan, but according the State of Israel, if you have Jewish parents, you are Jewish. You can't get rid of that label, can't be expelled from the tribe, no matter how hard you try. If your parents are Jewish and that you practice the Jewish religion you are also Jewish, regardless of your degree of religious observance. If you convert to Orthodox or Conservative Judaism, you are considered ethnically Jewish, as if you had Jewish parents. If your parents had Jewish parents but your parents were Christian or Buddhist or something else, you are also considered Jewish. If your great-grand parents were Jewish but that your grandparents got married in a Christian wedding and did not perform Jewish rituals at the wedding, unfortunately, you might not be considered Jewish, but then I would get into too many technicalities.

Even in such cases where your great grandparents were Jewish but your grandparents converted to something else, you could be considered Jewish in some cases. If you have a Jewish mother and a Zoroastrian father, you are considered Jewish. If you have a Jewish father and a Zoroastrian mother, your mother would have to convert for you to be considered Jewish, officially because in Judaism we tend to consider that we know for sure who your mother is, but can't be 100% sure who your father is. I know it sounds silly, but that's the way things were before DNA testing. If your parents are Jewish but that you were born to an incestuous relationship, you are Jewish, but can't marry someone Jewish, nor can your descendents for 8 generations. This is because the laws were codified back when Jews lived in a Jewish kingdom where people rarely left the kingdom. And there are other technicalities which I won't get into.

Now Israel considers itself the state of ethnic Jews, not of the religious Jews. As weird as it may sound a convert to Orthodox or Conservative Judaism is an ethnic Jew, even if they are ethnically Korean or Hausa. A convert to Reform Judaism or other non-conventional branches of Judaism is not considered an ethnic Jew in Israel.

So Israel considers itself the state of ethnic Jews. The Israeli Declaration of Independence stated that all ethnicities were equal under Israeli law. That is Muslims, Christians, ethnic Jews, the Druze, Samaritans, the Baha'i, Zoroastrians, Bedouins, Arabs and ethnic Jews are considered equal under the law.

Recently, the beleaguered nation-state law wanted to give a few legal privileges to ethnic and religious Jews. That became a hot-potato in Israel politics, completely dividing Israelis. Some considered that giving ethnic and religious Jews some legal privileges was racist and almost an apartheid measure, while others claimed that it reinforces Israel's status as a Jewish state. But let me reassure you the privileges already existed but were not enshrined in law. That is Hebrew is the only official language (although Arabic used to be an official language the government and the legal system never really used Arabic or translated anything into Arabic) and that Jews were allowed some community privileges, such as Orthodox Jews from congregations living in districts where members of other congregations are not allowed to live.

Now these are purely legal technicalities. That is, before the nation-state law, an Arab could have sued the Israeli government for not translating Knesset proceedings into Arabic. That is no longer possible. Someone could also have sued Orthodox Jews for not selling apartments to non-Orthodox Jews, just for fun or to anger the Orthodox Jewish community. That is no longer a legal possibility. That's all the law is. Arab schools are still legal, Arabs still have equal voting rights and equal protection under the law, business law is the same for all Israeli citizens, social laws are the same for all Israeli citizens, education laws are the same for all Israeli citizens, property law is the same for all Israeli citizens. Something else the nation-state law does is that legally in family, criminal or social law, Judges can look to the Talmud of the Hebrew Bible for precedent, something that was not allowed up until then.

-Territories/Settlements in Judea and Samaria/the West Bank

Some say “occupation” of parts of the West Bank is what fuels and causes terrorism; unfortunately terrorism started on the very day the State of Israel was created. Then you have the very same people saying that the creation of Israel was an act of occupation itself. Always goes back to the Jews should be ruled theory.

Now settlements/territories are always a very sensitive topic in Israel, because it involves human lives who live in territories and whose fate in the territories depends on the whims of politicians. So a lot avoid the topic altogether.

Now what's the fate of the settlements/territories? The current and previous Israeli government's position is that they have to be negotiated in a “serious” agreement with the Palestinians. Not an agreement for the sake of an agreement with terrorist attacks the very next day the agreement is signed. But for reasons I described in previous papers, I don't see any serious negotiations taking place in the near future. If there were ever to be a survey, something like 80, 90, perhaps more percent Palestinians would say Israel has no right to exist. You start by fixing that, then perhaps there can be some form of negotiations.

Now to give an analogy, you can say you don't like the French government. You can say you don't like French food or French manners. You can even dislike the French language. But you can't say you want Germany to take over and have the French get pushed to the Atlantic ocean. If someone said Germany should occupy France and 65 million French should be pushed back to the Atlantic Ocean, I think everyone would see a problem. Why do when the Palestinians say that on a daily basis about Israel they still have people defending them in Europe and elsewhere I have no idea.

Why won't ethnic Jews emigrate to Israel?

20,000 Jewish immigrants a year. Over 10 years that's 200,000 immigrants which isn't a bad number considering the world Jewish population is 14.5 million and 6 million of them are already in Israel.

Some want more Jewish immigrants to Israel. But to many, including Jews, Israel tends to be viewed as something of an anachronism. In a world where people like a world without borders and to travel the world freely, they don't understand why Israel is still fighting for borders. In a world where peace is an aspiration and militarism is frowned upon they often don't understand why Israel is constantly at war. In a world where very few countries have mandatory military service  they don't understand why Israel still has mandatory military service for both men and women. And the Israeli army is one of the few armies in the world which is constantly on the battlefield.

To some Jewish Americans, Russians or Canadians, the Middle East is a region that only really exists on paper. To some people, Zionism is a form of nationalism, and nationalism is something outdated. Others have their daily routine and like to stick to it. Jewish organizations don't have the entire Jewish population as members, and have the problems most non-for profits have: are members human beings or are they cash cows. Does the leadership look at members as human beings or as donation providers?

In sum immigration numbers are the sign of a community that is rather comfortable in its home countries but where a decent number of people want to be a part of the Zionist adventure.

10,000 French Jews, or almost 10% of France's Jews emigrated to Israel. How come?

London is the world's sixth largest French city by French population. Many French IT workers, bankers and engineers used to move to London before Brexit. Better pay, more flexible working conditions, friendlier working environments, better parties, pubs that open late, people are more respected at work.

In sum, those with a college degree in France at some point try the London, Hong Kong or Singapore adventure, or try their luck with Montreal, Toronto or New York City. French companies are not famous for admiring or valuing their human resources at the workplace and often barely tolerate their staff, and that, more than terrorist attacks, is what brings many French Jews to Israel. In France people care little about what kind of worker you are, and companies want you to make the company cash and lots of it without ever asking you what your hobbies are or taking a couple of minutes to get to know you better. So French Jewish bankers, lawyers, doctors, IT workers, engineers but also the average 9 to 5 worker like to try the Israeli adventure  Problem is, about 20% of them tend to return to France. The minute there's a hint of economic growth in France or a decent job opportunity in France, they tend to take it or move back.

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