The law recently approved by the Israeli Knesset, reaffirming that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, sparked a heated controversy not only inside Israel but also throughout the world. Some of the things that have been said about this law though, are inaccurate and, therefore, it is necessary to carefully analyze what the law is really about as well as the reasons behind its approval.
First of all, it is important to understand that, unlike the United States, Israel does not have a written Constitution. But it does have a number of “basic” laws, which have been given a “quasi-Constitutional” status over the years. The recently approved Nation-State Law is one of them.
Until this law was enacted, there was no legislation in Israel referring to Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. But what exactly does this means?
Actually, this is nothing but the basic principle of Zionism and the very foundation of the creation of the state of Israel. It means that Israel is the realization of the right of self-determination of the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland. It also means that it is the place that every Jew in the world can call home, and where any Jew can go to in case of persecution.
This concept is also the basis of the almost universally supported two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When the United Nations General Assembly recommended, back in 1947, the partition of Palestine into two states, one Arab and one Jewish, this is exactly what it had in mind. Israel was always meant to be the nation-state of the Jewish people.
So what is it that bothers some about this law? Many believe that the inclusion of the "Jewish" character of the state in a basic law could have a detrimental effect on the rights of Israel’s non-Jewish minorities, particularly the Arab minority, which today constitutes 20 percent of the population. But the truth is that Israel has always defined itself as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and this has never affected the individual rights of its non-Jewish citizens. This is so because Israel is not only a Jewish state but also a democratic one and, therefore, all Israeli citizens have the same individual rights, regardless of race or religion.
What is also important to understand is that when we refer to Israel as a Jewish state, the word “Jewish” does not refer so much to religion but to a much broader concept: the concept of Jewish “nation.” In this regard, to say that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people is no different than saying that Spain is the nation-state of the Spanish people or France the nation-state of the French. And in fact, unlike many other states, Israel does not have an official religion.
But why is it that the Israelis felt the need to translate this concept into a law? The answer probably lies in the fact that today, more than ever, many Israelis feel that the Jewish identity of the state is under attack. There is a movement, led by the Palestinians but supported by many around the world, which seeks to delegitimize Israel’s existence. They say they are in favor of a two-state solution but categorically refuse to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. In other words, they seek to establish a Palestinian state but want Israel to stop being a Jewish one.
This is so because they promote the so-called "right of return" of the Palestinian refugees to what is now the state of Israel. And by Palestinian refugees they not only mean the surviving refugees of Israel’s 1948 war of independence but also their paternal-line descendants, numbering today more than five million people.
Naturally, the “right of return” is something that no Israeli government would ever accept, as it would mean the end of Israel as a majority Jewish state. The Palestinian refugee problem (a problem that started because the Arab countries decided to fight a war against the newly created state, Israel, with the intention of annihilating it) has to be resolved inside the future Palestinian state, in the same way the problem of the Jewish refugees (who were expelled from the Arab countries where they had lived for generations when Israel was born) was resolved mostly inside Israel. (It is estimated that the original Palestinian refugees were about 700,000 while the Jewish refugees were approximately 800,000).
But the right of return of the Palestinian refugees to Israel is fully supported by the United Nations, as the current debate on UNRWA (the United Nations Refugee and Works Agency) underscored. While UNHCR, the U.N. agency that deals with all the other refugees of the world, strives to reduce the number of refugees by resettling them in the countries that received them (when repatriation is not possible), UNRWA does not try to resettle the Palestinian refugees. It maintains that, until a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is reached, their refugee “status” should not only continue indefinitely but also pass from generation to generation. It is for this reason that today, the children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren of the original refugees are still considered “refugees” by UNRWA, and the U.N. continues to promote their return to Israel.
The recent decision of the Trump Administration to stop the funding of UNRWA was, in this regard, a step in the right direction. The "right of return" that this entity promotes (a “right” that has no real basis in international law) constitutes today the single most important obstacle to the achievement of a two-state solution.
But UNRWA is not the only problematic U.N. entity when it comes to this issue. The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (which was created by the U.N. General Assembly in 1975, together with the infamous resolution that declared that Zionism was equal to racism), and the Division for Palestinian Rights (which was established within the U.N. Secretariat in 1977 to assist the Committee) are two entities that actively promote the right of return while engaging in the most radical anti-Israel propaganda activity throughout the year, in the name of the U.N. The funding for these entities is renewed – year after year – by the U.N. General Assembly and is something that should be disrupted.
All of these clearly explain why so many Israelis felt the need to secure the Jewish character of the state through the enactment of a basic law. It was clearly a reaction to the increasing attempts to transform Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, into another Arab state. It was also a reaction to some of the decisions of the Israeli Supreme Court, which have been perceived by many as not safeguarding the Jewish character of the state.
Many well-intentioned critics though, feel that the law is missing two important words, which, in their view, would not detract from all that is right about it. After a thorough analysis of the text, I agree that perhaps the words democracy and equality should have been mentioned, even when these concepts are already enshrined in Israel’s brilliant declaration of independence and also embodied in other basic laws. Because this is a law that defines Israel’s identity, it might have been advisable to mention not only its Jewish character but also its democratic nature. This would have made the Druze minority, for example, feel less uneasy, and the law would have probably gathered wider support at the Knesset.
Having said that, the international criticism of the law was absolutely out of proportion, as is often the case with every piece of news that involves Israel. Israel has been accused of racism and apartheid, and there were outrageous comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany. All of these characterizations of Israel are nothing but vicious manifestations of anti-Semitism. Israel, with all of its flaws and imperfections, is an extraordinary democracy, the only true democracy in the Middle East, and this will not change with the enactment of this law.
Adriana Camisar is B’nai B’rith International's Special Advisor on Latin American Affairs. A native of Argentina, Camisar is an attorney by training and holds a Master’s degree in international affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.
Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel (People's Council –May 14, 1948)
"… We, members of the People's Council … hereby declare the establishment of the Jewish State in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel … The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice, and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience and culture."
British Mandate for Palestine (Council of the League of Nations – July 24, 1922)
"Where as the Principal Allied Powers have already agreed that the Mandatory shall be responsible for putting into effect the [Balfour Declaration] … and whereas recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection for the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country… the Mandatory shall be responsible for placing the country under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home … and also for safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race and religion… The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudice, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage …. close settlements by Jews, on the land, including state lands and waste lands not required for public purposes."
Sam Remo Resolution (Four Principal Allied Powers of World War I – April 25, 1920)
"… The Mandatory will be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on Nov. 2, 1917, by the British government and adapted by the Allied Powers in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish communities in Palestine…"
Balfour Declaration (His Majesties Government – Nov. 2, 1947)
"… His Majesty's Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine…"
United Nations Special Committee on Palestine Report, adapted as UN Partition Plan for Palestine (UN General Assembly, Nov. 29 1947)
"Palestine within its present borders… shall be constituted into an independent Arab State, an independent Jewish State, and the city of Jerusalem…"
Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty (Knesset, March 17, 1992)
"Fundamental human rights in Israel are founded upon recognition of the value of the human being, the sanctity of human life, and the principle that all persons are free; these rights shall be upheld in the spirit of the principles set forth in the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel. The purpose of this Basic Law is to protect human dignity and liberty, in order to establish in a Basic Law the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state".
Basic Law: Israel – the Nation State of the Jewish People (Knesset, July 19, 2018)
"The Land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people, in which the State of Israel was established. The State of Israel is the nation state of the Jewish People in which it realizes its national, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination. The exercise of the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People … The State shall be open for Jewish immigration and for the ingathering of the Exiles… The State views the development of Jewish settlements as a national value, and shall act to encourage and promote its establishment and strengthening…"
I chose to open this article with quotes from the instruments of the international community that set the foundation for the creation of the State of Israel and the Declaration of Independence, in order to re-establish the obvious — that Israel was always conceived as the nation-state of the Jewish people; not a bi-national or multicultural state devoid of any controlling identity and purpose and whose failure across Western Europe is now clear. In such a state, affirmative action for a small, persecuted minority — in the region — the Jews, should not raise such hackles.
Yet, the Basic Law: Israel – The Nation State of the Jewish People (the Law), has engendered more vociferous debate and demonstrations than any legislation passed by the Knesset in recent memory, surpassing by far the recent surrogacy and IDF draft laws that also tackle significant moral and national issues. Not only has it galvanized Diaspora Jewish sentiment — on both sides of the isle — but it has raised from relative slumber Israel's most loyal minority — the Druze, whose religious and political leaders have very publicly declared war on the Law, in addition to leaders of the Bedouin minority, many of whose members serve in the IDF. Nearly a month after being passed, even massive Hamas rockets attacks and the specter of another retaliatory Israeli ground offensive have not changed the level of discourse about the Law.
Last Wednesday's special Knesset debate, called despite the summer recess, offered another opportunity for both sides to restate their positions. Newly-elected Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) who sees opposition to the Law as a strong rallying point in the next election, whenever they are held, excoriated Prime Minster Netanyahu for the "damage [the Law] is causing to the values of equality and democracy."
Arguing that it runs counter to the Declaration of Independence and causes undue strife, she challenged him to immediately call elections that would serve as a referendum for the Law. Ahmad Tibi (Joint [Arab] List), who has accused Israel of being an Apartheid state, slammed the Law for anchoring a classification of citizens. Citizens who have everything are raised above other groups, a collective with high status, and below that is everyone who isn't Jewish and has no rights. Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid accused the prime minister of "eroding one value after another" — this time the value of friendship with regard to the Druze.
Offering a rebuttal on behalf of the government, Minister Zeev Elkin explained that just like the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty took principals from the Declaration of Independence, and anchored them as Basic Law, so too does the Jewish Nation State Law. "Just as the rights of the individual were entrenched [in the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty], we are making sure that the picture is in balance … When you go over the law article by article, there is nothing here that someone who still has a grain of Zionism in him could disagree with … [The] vast majority of the Israeli public is Zionist and is not ashamed of the fact that we are the nation state of the Jewish people."
The Law was first proposed nine years ago to fill a legal void left by the passage of a series of Basic Laws (that make up Israel's piecemeal constitution) that determined the powers of the three branches of government, assured the freedom of occupation, human dignity and liberty but did not establish the identity and purpose of the state — a cornerstone of any constitution.
Already back in 1948 the High Court of Justice found that the Declaration of Independence — that eloquently established Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people while assuring personal and religious freedoms and rights to all its citizens — has no constitutional or legal consequence. Furthermore, iconic and long-serving Supreme Court President Aharon Barak declared in 1995 that the two Basic Laws passed in 1992 — Freedom of Occupation and Human Dignity and Liberty — laid the foundation for a "constitutional revolution," appropriating the right of judicial review of all Knesset legislation in the light of these two Basic Laws.
Furthermore, when Jewish and democratic values collide — both of which appear as foundations of the Human Dignity and Liberty Basic Law — Barak ruled that the court would interpret the Jewish value with the highest level of abstraction, meaning — according to Tel Aviv University lecturer Emmanuel Navon — that it shall be ignored. This judicial revolution had very practical impact, as Barak's court and those that followed in his image, decided in favor of an Arab petitioner who sought to purchase a home in a village established by the Jewish Agency for Jews, but that a Jew could not purchase land in a Bedouin village, and has struck down dozens of other laws and amendments, some of which were showcase legislation for the government dealing with the illegal migrants and Haredi draft.
This judicial activism by the court irked many legal and political conservatives who accuse the court of being an unelected bastion of the Left that has won only two general elections since 1977 and is therefore out of touch with the majority of Israel society today. The Basic Law now gives the court — which is evolving into a more ideologically balanced bench under the hand of Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked — the tool to rule that the Jewish character of the state can rightfully take precedent over demands that the Jewish flag, anthem, calendar, immigration, settlement and Jerusalem should be replaced with an all-inclusive alternative.
On the issue of Arabic as an official language, this dates to an archaic Mandatory law dating back to 1922 which actually established English as the predominant of three official languages, alongside Arabic and Hebrew. When the official status of English was abolished as part of the first act of the provisional Knesset in 1948 immediately after Independence, Hebrew and Arabic remained as equal official languages. The Basic Law recognizes the fact that Hebrew is the leading language in Israel but assures Arabic a "special status." Furthermore, the law states that setting Hebrew as the state's sole "official" language "does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect."
Also, as David Hazony points out in a recent Forward article, the Jewish State Law communicates favorably with constitutions and laws of ethnically and historically based democracies across Europe where the nation of nation and state are well understood and entrenched, as opposed to the United States where it understandably is not, even among many Jews in relation to Israel.
So in light of all this, why the outcry now that the principle of a Jewish state has been codified in actionable legislation? Demonstrators at Saturday night's anti-law rally at Tel Aviv's Rabin Square may have provided the answer. Chanting the Palestinian rallying call for violence against the State of Israel ("with spirit, with blood, we shall redeem you, Palestine") while waving the Palestinian flag (which, according to professor Eli Carmon, is a version of the rejectionist pan-Arab flag that symbolizes rejection of everything but Islam, these Israeli citizens showed that like many across the Arab world they are yet to come to terms with Israel as a Jewish state and still seek to "redeem" it — all of it — even 70 years later, through violence.
Speakers at the rally — organized by the "High Monitoring Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel" all supported the notion that Israel become “a state of all its citizens” — a specter that the leadership of the Arab minority and some in the Radical Jewish Left have actively promoted over the past decades, as reflected in the four "Arab vision" papers published in 2006 and 2007 by Arab civil society organizations, alongside support for the "Right to Return" by millions of Palestinian refugees and their decedents that together would put a quick end to the Jewish state. Many Israelis fear that these are the true sentiments held by many Israeli Muslim citizens, and has had a numbing effect on genuine efforts at civic co-existence and integration.
Two major questions remain: First, how to placate the loyal minorities who — looking at the plight of minorities across the Middle East — recognizes that their personal and collective future is inexorably linked to continued Jewish control of Israel. This is particularly true of the Druze who, since Israel's independence, have served the state bravely and with distinction. Netanyahu has taken their concerns — that have lead to threats by Druze diplomats and officers to resign their posts in protest — to heart and has already made a number of proposals, including special legislation to recognize the status of the community, grants for programs etc. while not conceding on the integrity of the Law.
Another tack the prime minister could take to recognize the significant increase in Christian enlistment in the IDF could be to acquiesce to petitions to establish a community in the North for indigenous Christians who have utilized the new nationality option in the Citizens Registry and have as Arameans.
Finally, the prime minister will have to find the right words to explain to segments of the American Jewish population that while Israel cherishes their support, they should not be mistaken that Israel was created in the image of the multicultural United States melting pot (a notion that is failing in many Western European countries, reeling from the results of mass Middle Eastern and North African immigration). Instead, Israel should be celebrated universally by the American Jewish community as having prevailed as "a villa in the jungle" (a term coined by Ehud Barak) for seven decades against all odds and for providing the best chance for Jewish survival into the future.
Last week, the American veto stopped yet another dangerously misguided U.N. Security Council resolution from passing. The resolution was tabled by Kuwait, the current non-permanent member of the council from the Arab states. The U.S. was the only state to vote against it, but the resolution was unbalanced enough that four other states (Ethiopia, the Netherlands, Poland and the U.K.) on the 15-member council also chose not to support it, and abstain. A resolution needs nine votes to pass, as long as none of the permanent member of the Security Council (China, France, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S.) votes against it, so this resolution was close to failure on its own, but it did require a U.S. veto in the end.
The resolution was typical of what comes out of the U.N. whenever aggressive provocations by Palestinian terrorist groups lead to a crisis situation. Israel was roundly condemned for defending Israeli citizens and soldiers against Palestinian rioters — often Hamas fighters — trying to storm the border and murder Jews. Hamas was never mentioned by name in the resolution; neither was Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which only days earlier had launched a barrage of rockets toward Israeli communities near Gaza, a situation which could have easily spiraled into yet another war. The resolution does deplore rocket launches from Gaza, but the way it is worded it sounds as if the rockets are magically launching themselves. There is no actor responsible for the terrorism. Some states criticized this lack of naming-and-shaming terrorist groups, but shamefully voted for the resolution nonetheless.
The U.S. proposed a resolution that would have condemned Hamas by name at the same council session. Unfortunately, the U.S. stood alone in voting for it. Russia, Kuwait and Bolivia voted against and the rest of the council abstained, many complaining that enough time was not given to negotiate on the text to “balance” it. In U.N. terms, balance is only achieved when Israel is viciously criticized for defending itself and Palestinian terrorist groups are either ignored or are lumped in on calls for restraint by “both sides.”
Beyond this phenomenon, which — sadly — appears all too often at U.N. bodies, this resolution was notable for its efforts to create an international protection mechanism for Palestinians. The resolution would not have created the mechanism, but rather started the process: it called on the U.N. Secretary-General to report back on recommendations for such a mechanism. Such a mechanism would be unhelpful in the extreme, and Israel would never allow it, especially given the history of ineffectual international missions being stationed between Israel and its neighbors.
In Sinai, U.N. forces withdrew at Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser’s demand as Egypt and other Arab countries moved in on Israel in what turned out to be another failed attempt to annihilate Israel. In Syria, the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on the Golan Heights fled early in the Syrian civil war. European Union observers on the Gaza border also fled after the Hamas coup in 2007. Finally, in Lebanon, the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has not lifted a finger to stop the growing Hezbollah arsenal of thousands of rockets pointing at Israel. Israel knows that in these sensitive areas, only Israel can provide for its own security. An “international mechanism” would only put Israeli (and, ultimately, Palestinian) lives in greater peril.
The Palestinians have been issuing calls for international protection for a while at the U.N. So, in essence what we have is the Palestinians asking for a certain policy, which is rightly ignored by the international community as unworkable. Palestinian terrorists then instigate violence and create a situation where the Security Council feels the need to respond, and the Arab states are there to offer a resolution with the solution that the Palestinians wanted all along. Some of the states on the council that voted in favor of the resolution fooled themselves into thinking that it was a balanced text (though, of course, it was not), and that they were voting to urge a stop to a terrible situation. In reality, they were only making the situation worse in the long run by encouraging Palestinian intransigence and, indirectly, violence.
Finally, there is a real question of whether or not the riots from Gaza warranted this much Security Council attention in the first place. When there are instances of actual peaceful protests being suppressed by authoritarian states, the council tends to ignore it (see, Iran, Venezuela, and most recently, Nicaragua). Palestinian protesters are only cared about if they appear as a violent riot rushing at Israel’s border; the right to protest against Hamas brutality in Gaza or the Palestinian Authority repression in the West Bank is not important to the international community. At the U.N., hypocrisy is the norm and the U.S. veto is the only check against double standards and delegitimization and demonization of Israel.
Oren Drori is the Program Officer for United Nations Affairs at B’nai B’rith International where he supports advocacy and programming efforts that advance B’nai B’rith’s goals at the U.N., which include: defending Israel, combating anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and promoting global human rights and humanitarian concerns. He received a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Minnesota in 2004 and an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Chicago in 2006. Click here to view more of his additional content.
Yesterday’s massive reception in Jerusalem at the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs in honor of the visiting delegation from the U.S., here to help inaugurate the new American embassy in Jerusalem later today, was a celebration of new heights in U.S.-Israel relations reached under the Trump-Netanyahu partnership. Not only were the speeches rendered — by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin — mutually supportive, but there were moments of candid camaraderi, such as when the prime minister recognized White House senior advisor Jared Kushner, saying that he has known him for “105 years and there is a special bond between our families” — that must convince any observer that this is no normal diplomatic relationship based solely on state interests, but one that bores down to the kishkes of both governments.
The relocation of the embassy to Israel’s capital should give Israel’s enemies (Iran and Hezbollah) and detractors (the EU and U.N.) good reason for conjecture about what coordinated steps they might face as they continue to threaten joint Israeli-U.S. strategic interests.
The relief felt by most Israelis who have carried the 70-year old burden of this unique boycott by the international community against its capital and other hurtful diplomatic anomalies was reflected in the words of Netanyahu, who set the tone for the event:
“I call on all countries to join the U.S. in moving their embassies to Jerusalem. Move your embassies to Jerusalem because it’s the right thing to do…Move your embassies to Jerusalem because it advances peace, and that’s because you can’t base peace on a foundation of lies. You base peace on the foundations of truth, and the truth is that not only has Jerusalem been the capital of the Jewish people for millennia and the capital of our state from its inception, the truth is that under any peace agreement you could possibly imagine, Jerusalem will remain Israel’s capital.
It took President Trump, a President Trump to enunciate this simple, basic truth. And once enunciated, that truth will propagate…
And to achieve peace, we have to do one other thing: We must confront the enemies of peace, and I thank President Trump for his decision to confront Iran rather than to appease it…With all due respect to those sitting in European capitals, we here in the capitals of the Middle East — in Jerusalem, in Riyadh and elsewhere — we’ve seen the disastrous consequences of the Iran deal. And so when President Trump decides to pull out of this deal, to walk away from it, we know that when he walks away from a bad deal, he’s doing a good thing for our region, for the United States and for the world.”
While the U.S. will not be alone in Jerusalem — Guatemala will reopen its embassy here on Wednesday (after opening its embassy in Jerusalem in 1959 and moving it to Tel Aviv about 20 years later) and Paraguay will relocate next week — a signal that the going will still be tough, which was reflected in the dearth of foreign ambassadors who accepted the Foreign Ministry’s invitation to honor Israel and the U.S. with their presence at the reception. Of EU states, only Romania, Hungary and the Czech Republic — three countries that blocked an EU draft resolution condemning the U.S. move — and Austria were present, alongside a number of African and Latin American states. Even countries famous for their friendship with Israel such as Germany, Bulgaria, Greece and Cyprus — the latter two who held their fourth summit with Netanyahu just last week in Nicosia — stayed demonstratively at arm’s length.
Besides the upbeat atmosphere of the whole affair — that included a great performance of Naomi Shemer’s “Jerusalem of Gold” by an Ethiopian vocalist and ended with Netta Barzilai’s winning Eurovision song “Toy” — the reception engendered particular pride for me and anyone affiliated with B’nai B’rith. A special exhibit on former U.S. President Harry Truman was displayed in the expansive reception hall. Guests were able to view the pen used to sign the de jure recognition of the State of Israel, which occurred on January 31, 1949. They were also able to view the famous photograph from that occasion showing Truman with the only three invited guests: B’nai B’rith President Frank Goldman, B’nai B’rith Executive Vice President Maurice Bisgyer and B’nai B’rith Kansas City member Eddie Jacobson.
It was Jacobson — Truman’s WWI comrade-in-arms and lifelong confidant — who, acting at the request of Goldman, successfully appealed to the president to meet with World Zionist Organization President Dr. Chaim Weizmann when the State Department was lobbying Truman to rescind U.S. support for the U.N. Partition Plan in favor of a U.N. mandate over “Palestine.” This was anathema to the Zionists who viewed this looming threat as the possible end to the Zionist endeavor of the creation of a sovereign Jewish state. Truman agreed to see the ailing Weizmann — who was ushered in through the back door of the White House secretly, and lodged at a hotel under the alias “Frank Goldman” — and his impassioned appeal to the president to maintain U.S. support for partition won the day.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Alan Schneider is the director of B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, which serves as the hub of B'nai B'rith International activities in Israel. The World Center is the key link between Israel and B'nai B'rith members and supporters around the world. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
By David Michaels
Giorgi Kvirikashvili, the prime minister of Georgia, visited Israel late last month.
Sadly, the visit was overshadowed by the violent attack on a security officer at Israel’s embassy in Jordan and tensions attributed to the short-lived introduction of basic security measures at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount after the gunning down of two (non-Jewish) Israeli policemen there. Coming in the run-up to Tisha B’Av, the date marking the destruction of Judaism’s single holiest place, the crisis again encapsulated the deadly consequences of wild anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incitement. Mainstream Palestinian leaders have both denied Jewish history on the Mount and claimed Israeli designs to “Judaize” it, even as Israel has remarkably preserved Islamic clerical administration of the site for 50 years and disallowed Jewish prayer there.
If widespread international ignorance of this Israeli conciliation weren’t enough, Palestinians again set a new standard for chutzpah by warning that the use of metal detectors outside the site—ubiquitous at vulnerable places worldwide, including at the adjoining Western Wall—would intolerably violate Muslim worshippers’ rights. The Palestinians have already long rejected the presence of cameras on the Mount to further document the vile agitation by clerics that ensures unending warfare against and with Israel.
While foreign capitulation to the Palestinian-led regional saber-rattling has been as dispiriting as it has been unsurprising, the overlooked visit to Israel by Georgia’s head of government deserves positive attention disproportionate to the size of a Georgian citizenry less than half that of little Israel. The trip, one of repeated and reciprocal high-level visits between the two countries, testifies to the strength and significance of Israel’s bilateral relations with an increasingly diverse set of states, even as conditions in the Middle East remain so precarious.
Although Israeli ties to foremost world powers, above all the United States—but also now India, whose prime minister made his own historic journey to Israel last month—will always be considered vital, some less powerful countries, particularly in Israel’s near-neighborhood, offer distinct importance on account of their geographic situation, natural resources, intelligence capabilities, market potential and shared strategic concerns, to name but a few tangible assets.
And so, size doesn’t always matter most in international relations; where once “traditional” powers like France and Germany, their continuing importance notwithstanding, may have privileged them among foreign policy priorities, today Greece and Cyprus, far smaller and less affluent than their northwestern neighbors, take a back seat to no one as focal points of Israeli diplomats and policymakers.
Similarly, the measure of Israel’s relationship with other countries cannot be contained to those countries’ votes on rote motions on Israel at the United Nations—even as there is cause for hope that member states can pull loose from ossified patterns of bloc voting on biased U.N. resolutions related to the Middle East.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—serving also as foreign minister—has sought positive voting trajectories in his broadening global outreach whose capstone undertaking, aside from the trailblazing alliances with India and the Aegean countries, has likely been the restoration of Israel’s long-dormant partnership with African states. Accordingly, now counted among Israel’s friends even at the inhospitable U.N. are not only the U.S., Canada and Australia but Togo and Burkina Faso. And these join Pacific island states like Micronesia and the Marshall Islands and such Latin American states as Guatemala and Paraguay, as well as central and southeastern European states including Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic and Albania. And Georgia.
Some of these countries are courageous enough to vote outright against discriminatory motions at the U.N., while others at least begin to pull their neighbors in the right direction by refusing to support texts that recklessly malign Israel’s record or even whitewash Jewish history, discrediting the U.N. itself in the process.
Last month, B’nai B’rith leaders concluded a visit to Georgia, where we met with Kvirikashvili, and also to Azerbaijan—which Netanyahu recently visited in a first for an Israeli premier. Georgia is a historic Christian land, while Azerbaijan is predominantly Shiite Muslim; both are home to substantial, well-integrated Jewish communities largely spared the anti-Semitism found elsewhere, and both Caucasus countries maintain exceptionally close, critical ties with Israel. Tbilisi, Georgia, and Baku, Azerbaijan, are rare world cities where a visitor senses genuine safety in synagogues—and, even rarer, these are places where, walking down the street, one might come upon an Israeli flag flying side by side with a Georgian or Azeri one. Such a display of genuine international pluralism would not likely be found today in Brussels or Stockholm.
The upshot of Israel’s relationship with Georgia and Azerbaijan, as with so many other countries of varied location and culture, is that comity between peoples is possible. Indeed, it is here, even across faith boundaries. Israel is proud and eager to cultivate bonds of friendship with fellow members of the international community, whether of Muslim, Christian, Hindu or any other stripe. All that is needed for the achievement of a mutually rewarding coexistence in the Middle East is for Israel’s neighbors to recognize that it is at home in the region just as they are.
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