It’s not a silly question. There are serious disagreements about the answer. But there is only one answer that justifies the sacrifices that have been made to re-establish the Jewish state in its historical homeland, and those that will be required in the future to keep it.
That answer is given by Zionism, which holds that a sovereign state in the Land of Israel is a necessity to protect and preserve the Jewish people – and that their preservation is an objective worth attaining.
The Zionist view implies certain things about the nature of the state, things that logically follow from its function as a refuge for persecuted Jews, a source of strength for the Jewish people, and a place where it is possible to live a fully Jewish life, according to whatever combination of religious and cultural elements are important to the individual.
It is a place where the Hebrew language is dominant, the majority religion is Judaism, the holidays are the traditional Jewish ones (religious and national), and most of the population are Jews. It is (or should be) a place where antisemitism is not tolerated, indeed, where it is unthinkable. Because there are forces that work against these principles, it can’t be expected that they will appear by themselves. They must be woven into the legal fabric of the state and they must be affirmed by its leaders. The Law of Return and the Nation State Law are not accidental; they are essential.
The Zionist state can share some characteristics of a liberal, secular, democratic state such as the USA aspires to be (although recently this conception has come under attack from the anti-rational Left in America), but it cannot be such a state. It will unavoidably need to distinguish between Jews, for whom the state exists, and non-Jewish citizens, in very specific ways that relate to the character of the state – e.g., the language and symbols of the state, the official holidays, etc. – and to the maintenance of its Jewish majority.
Israel is special. It is the only Jewish state, the only one with that specific purpose. It is not a smaller version of the USA. Its socialist founders, despite their emphasis on democratic principles and guaranteeing rights to all citizens, nevertheless were Zionists and proclaimed that they were declaring a Jewish state. Those weren’t just words.
The state may try to provide every possible civil right and protection against discrimination to its minorities, but when there are conflicts between liberal-democratic ideals and Zionist principles, Zionism must prevail. Otherwise the state will ultimately lose its function as a Jewish state. It will lose its ability to protect and preserve the Jewish people as a people, against persecution and assimilation.
Zionism is unpopular throughout the world. The majority of those who have thought about it do not approve of Zionism for one reason or another. Either they don’t see the importance of there being a Jewish people, they actively dislike them, or they think that the cost to others of the existence of the Jewish state is not justified (I suspect that most of those in this group also fit in the second).
Ever since the founding of the state, there have been Jews who are uncomfortable with Zionism. They correctly note that Zionism can conflict with liberal democratic principles, and for this reason they bitterly oppose it and want to “dezionize” Israel. Sometimes they have even made common cause with enemies of the state.
This issue has come up now in the dispute over the “family unification law” which since 2002 has made it difficult for residents of the Palestinian Authority who marry Israeli citizens to move to Israel in order to live with their spouses. I won’t get into the interesting politics of it now, with Bennet’s coalition trying to extend the existing law despite opposition from some of its Arab members, while Bibi’s opposition tries to embarrass them by proposing an even stronger Basic Law on the subject of immigration in general (something that I favor, although not as a tactic to overthrow the coalition). I mention it to note how the opponents of the law, like the publisher of Ha’aretz Amos Schocken and his antisemitic writer Gideon Levy, scream “racism, apartheid, Jewish supremacism!”
This law has nothing to do with “race,” which is essentially meaningless where Arabs and Jews are concerned. It is not “apartheid” which means enforced separation of racial groups, which would not apply to Israel even if Arabs and Jews were different racially. And it certainly doesn’t imply that Jews are superior to Arabs or believe that they ought to dominate them. Although the original purpose of the law was to reduce terrorism (a disproportionate number of terrorists were the product of “unified” families), it is not embarrassing to admit that it helps maintain Israel’s Jewish majority. It is a Zionist law that is unfair to non-Jews. So be it.
Post-Zionists Schocken and Levy also oppose the Law of Return (or would like to see it apply equally to Palestinian Arabs) as well as the Nation-State Law. They also oppose efforts to repatriate the tens of thousands of African migrants that entered the country via the Egyptian border, before an effective fence was built. These things are “undemocratic.” Perhaps, but they are necessary.
The post-Zionist vision is remarkably empty. The right-wing Jabotinsky and the left-wing Ben Gurion had very different ideas of what the Jewish state should be like. Schocken and Levy do not think there should be a Jewish state. In their monumental stupidity and arrogance, they wish for a soulless techno-state built on “equality” and “democracy” for peoples that would have nothing in common except geographic proximity, and a great deal of resentment for each other.
Imagine an Israel without its Zionist purpose (and very quickly, without its Jewish majority). How long would it survive? Why would anyone want to fight for it? Would Jews and Arabs make common cause in support of a liberal, democratic state? It’s hard to imagine. We saw last month what happened in mixed cities like Lod and Acco, where there are about half as many Arabs as Jews.
Most likely, Jews with money and foreign passports would flee. After the initial bloodbath, the ones who were left would face a descent into the tenuous, contingent existence that characterized the Middle Eastern diaspora for more than a millennium. Of course, it’s doubtful that the “lucky” ones in Europe, America, Australia, and other places would fare much better.
Just as a Jewish state is essential to the survival of the Jewish people, Zionism is essential to the survival of the Jewish state.
I wouldn’t say it’s a ‘silly’ question, but rather a non-question. It’s a sort of category mistake, a poorly defined to non-defined/non-definable question, as we say e.g. in maths and philosophy. It implies that countries are ‘for’ something, which I don’t believe they are.
Israel IS the nation state of the Jewish people in its homeland.
Is it possible to edit comments? I posted the above too soon.
“there have been Jews who are uncomfortable with Zionism. They correctly note that Zionism can conflict with liberal democratic principles” – I disagree completely. You might as well say that every single country in the world should be dismantled, based on that false premise. Israel is as liberal and democratic as any country.It’s also more and sometimes far more) liberal and democratic than 90% of the world’s countries.
It’s not a question of whether in fact Israel is more or less liberal and democratic than other countries. It is whether the principles of Zionism conflict with the principles of liberal humanism, which they do (and that isn’t bad).
The Soviet constitution was quite liberal and democratic, while the USSR was the opposite. And Zionist Israel is more democratic than many allegedly democratic states.
In reply to your first comment, why can’t a state have a purpose greater than existence?
Because that’s like asking: “What are human societies for? What are sparrows for? What is rain for?”.
That’s a meaningless question.
The principles of Zionism do not conflict with liberal humanism at all.
Some countries exist for the benefit of all of their citizens. Israel exists to preserve and protect the Jewish people, specifically. Therefore it is necessary to draw a distinction between Jews and non-Jews, and grant the former rights that the latter don’t have. The law of return, the Jewish State Law, and the family reunification policy are examples.
Liberal Humanism is opposed to such distinctions.
Wrong. Every single country has immigration criteria, and having such criteria is not against liberal humanism.
Israel manifestly does offer equal benefits to all its citizens.
Those who are not citizens do not fall under that heading.
Israel’s immigration criteria are ethnically based. Liberals often criticize such criteria regardless of the country.
Anyway, there are a lot of other things besides immigration.
Yes, Israel does its best to grant full civil rights to all its citizens (we are not talking about non-citizens). It does a better job of this than most countries. But the symbols of the state and its character (language, holidays, etc.) are specifically Jewish.
I believe that if the state fully lived up to its Zionist aspirations, it would not only encourage Jewish immigration (as it does), but also Arab emigration. I doubt that today’s liberals and progressives would approve.