Is the world's first Hebrew city Jewish? If you ask Likud Minister Benny Begin, the answer is "no."
"Two years ago I happened to be in Tel Aviv during (Passover) and I was pretty amazed – hametz, hametz, hametz. Is it Jewish?" Begin asked two weeks ago at a conference at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.
Begin's words were picked up on tape, which was handed over to Makor Rishon reporter Zeev Kam.
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"How many tons of gifelte fish must be eaten in Tel Aviv for it to be Jewish?" Begin was recorded saying.
"It doesn't work out. Why? Because we don't agree among ourselves on the definition of a Jewish state. It's a title; it's a word intended to characterize or decree the character of the state. So I don't know – sometimes I've asked people: Is Tel Aviv a Jewish city?"
'Trying to get rid of that expression'Begin said he preferred a scientific, objective and correct characterization of Israel as "the national home of the Jewish people."
"There is no other Jewish national homeland, not in Uganda and not in Argentina, as Baron Hirsch briefly considered. It's here, in our country. It's in the Land of Israel and therefore I'm trying to get rid of the expression (a Jewish state,)" Begin explained.
Tel Aviv: As Jewish as it wants to be (Photo: Yariv Katz)
Begin continued to demonstrate the problem inherent in the expression "Jewish state" vis-à-vis Israel's Arab citizens: "Since I hear from Arab citizens that they perceive the expression as a threat, I wonder – why make things difficult? There are enough troubles, and now we have the Tal Law."
"Arabs – they need to be drafted (too)," Begin stated. "I'm not wild about it, but it's necessary. On the other hand, my friend (United Arab List-Taal MK) Ahmad Tibi hasn't spoken of a 'state for all citizens' in six or seven years – he talks about a 'state for all its peoples.' Indeed, this statement carries a threat to the legitimacy of the national home of the Jewish people," the minister pointed out.
In August 2011, just before the Palestinians planned to declare a state in the UN, Kadima MK Avi Dichter submitted a bill for a Basic Law that defined the State of Israel as the national state of the Jewish people.
"That definition is hierarchical," Begin observes. "I proposed that Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, based on principles of freedom, justice, and peace."
"Each one of us has the great privilege, finally, to be counted among the Jewish majority in the Jewish state in the Land of Israel, but this privilege carries with it an obligation – to treat other peoples who live here fairly," Begin stressed.
After his remarks were published Thursday, Begin responded by saying that he had spoken ironically and that he believed that Tel Aviv and Haifa were "Jewish cities."
"For years I've claimed that the use of the expression 'Jewish state' doesn't work. Why? Because it brings us into the internal question between Jews about what constitutes a Jewish state."
"Is there agreement among Jews about what characteristics are necessary for Israel to be considered a Jewish state?" Begin asked. "Some are more liberal, some are strict, and some don't care."
Omri Efraim contributed to this report
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