The history of Zionism and the quest for a homeland for Jewish people contains an underlying concept that such a homeland would be home to people of various faiths besides Jews. Until President Bush made his recent controversial remark that Israel was a “Jewish state” there is little evidence of such a feeling among prior efforts to establish peace between Israel and Muslim nations. This claim was never brought up during negotiations with the PLO, with Arafat or the Palestinian Authority. It was never raised during discussions with Egypt and Jordan when peace treaties were being hammered out with those nations. No such claim was ever made during the famous Camp David discussions between Sadat and Begin. As always, George Bush displayed his propensity for ineptitude, by introducing a concept that was never on the table for negotiation regarding the future of Israel.
Arabs have good reason to reject this concept, particularly since 20% of Israel’s population is composed of Muslims and Christians. The remark is racist in nature and denies the rights and humanity of 20% of the population. American Jews are furious when Christian religious leaders make reference to the United States being a Christian nation. Jews are 2% if the population, not 20% but they react with anger and horror at such remarks. How can Jews use similar expressions to deny the humanity of Muslims and Christians residing in Israel? A modern state is not a theocracy, it is an area in which people of divergent– or no faith– live in harmony with one another and do not allow religious figures to make decisions regarding national goals and aspirations. During the past few thousand years Jews have fought against religious authorities making decisions about other groups in society. Certainly, the same should hold true in Israel.
Many analysts believe the ready acceptance of the Bush blunder is being used by Israeli leaders to ward off claims by Palestinian Arab refugees for the right to return. Reality is that Israel can not absorb such large numbers of refugees anymore than Arab nations which witnessed the departure of Jews from their lands in the 1950s will ever allow them to return. The issue can be resolved with compromise and common sense on both sides.