Keep my church out of your state.

Today’s Ha’aretz featured a brilliant, brave, though subtly worded criticism of the Jewish state rhetoric. (At least, that’s how I read it.)

There’s a wall-to-wall consensus, from Yisrael Beiteinu to Meretz, from enlightened journalists to learned professors, on Israel’s definition as a Jewish state. But this definition strikingly resembles the definition of Iran as an Islamic republic or the United States as a Christian country. True, some American evangelists believe that the United States’ Christian character is at risk and seek to cement it in legislation. But the United States, like the rest of the enlightened world, still sees itself as belonging to all its citizens, regardless of religion and creed.

Most Israelis would respond to this by saying Judaism and Jewishness represent not a religion but a people, so Israel must belong not to all its citizens but to the Jews of the world, who, as we know, prefer not to live here. …

Rahm Emanuel, as we know, belongs to the American people, and Bernard Kouchner belongs to the French people. But if tomorrow the United States decides to define itself as an Anglo-Saxon rather than an American state, or France seeks recognition not as a French but as a Gallic-Catholic republic, both men will have to immigrate to Israel.

What I gleaned is that while Israel is a nation, and Israelis and more specifically Israeli Jews are a people, the entirety of world Jewry cannot be seamlessly integrated into such a nation-state. Though perhaps many would like to conflate religion and nationality, and that works here for the majority of society, they are not the same thing. American Jews are not French Jews are not Israeli Jews. We may share a faith and customs and traditions but we do not share those other critical aspects of people-hood: culture, language, political experience, soccer teams. I am Jewish, but I am not French and I am not Israeli, just as I am not Iranian or Chinese or Australian.

I am American, but this idea of Judaism as a people who as such are required to have and belong to their nation-state – this idea embodied in Israel as a Jewish state – robs me of my American-ness, of my nation and of a critical aspect of my culture. I am forced then to accept Judaism not as my religion or faith or community (though I belong to numerous communities based variously on regional upbringing, hobbies, my socio-economic and academic circles, etc.) but as my political affiliation and my nationality and my citizenship.

This is not what I want. I should not be required, because of who I am, to give up a nationality that accepts me regardless of this fact, in favor of a nationality that accepts me only because of this fact. At home I fight the constant infringement in state affairs by church proponents (why we are still “one nation under God” I can’t figure out for the life of me). But a state that defines itself by the church/synagogue/mosque/temple is an entire other matter altogether, something much more frightening and dangerous, something I cannot and will not accept being done to me.


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