June 07, 2008

What makes Israel Jewish?

I ask because I just stumbled on the Wikipedia entry for Israel. It says this:
With a population of about 7.28 million, the majority of whom are Jews, Israel is the world's only Jewish state.
Now that suggests that Israel is a Jewish state because it has a Jewish majority. It implies that it just happens to have a Jewish majority and that therefore it is appropriate to call it a Jewish state. In fact it is actually like saying:
Israel is a Jewish state because it has a Jewish majority.
A bit like calling France a Christian state because it has a Christian majority or Turkey a Muslim state because it has a Muslim majority. But France is not a Christian state and Turkey isn't a Muslim one. Both are, by their own definitions, secular states.

The UK is a Christian state because it has an established church, that is, the church has a role in the functioning of the state. It is not a Christian state on account of its Christian majority. Other things being equal, the UK would still be a Christian state if Christians became a minority. Surely that would still be the case with Israel and its Jewishness. Well, no it's not the same. In Israel's case, you can get automatic citizenship if you have a Jewish grandparent. You can't get automatic British citzenship by having a Christian grandparent or even by being Christian. Also, you can get Israeli citizenship by converting to Judaism. It think it's probably the only state in the world where you can get an automatic right to citizenship by converting to the state's official religion.

These points being the case, it is just plain wrong to say that "with a population of about 7.28 million, the majority of whom are Jews, Israel is the world's only Jewish state." It is actually the other way around. It has a Jewish majority because it is a Jewish state. It is a Jewish state because it discriminates in favour of Jews in matters of citizens' rights and rights to citizenship. It is a Jewish state because it legislates to maintain a Jewish majority based on colonial settlement and ethnic cleansing.


So how did the Wikipedia entry get to be so bland, indeed, so wrong, when it has open editing to guard against error? Just asking, that's all.

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