I don't need to be convinced about the idea of a Jewish state. Without one, there is no Zionism. The word "democracy" was not the main thread holding the Israeli Declaration of Independence together – but the idea of a national home for the Jewish people. Democracy came later. Its values became sacred because we Jews don't know how to get along with each other, only with our national and religious identity.
Looking back, it doesn't matter who first came up with the demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state or why. The bottom line is that that demand is a basic condition for anyone who believes in peace accords. And this is why I don't support demanding this recognition of the Palestinians: I don't believe such accords are possible; not because I'm a fortune teller, or due to some biblical prophecy, but because of a cold assessment of the situation in our region.
I should admit: I've never been an optimist when it comes to the Palestinians, but at this point I'm beyond even pessimism. As a researcher or bystander, I see before me a long-dead corpse, while eulogizers keep speaking of it as a living being.
And here's the part that bothers me about the demand that this corpse we call "peace with the Palestinians": While they are told to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Israel itself doesn't do so. Israel's definition as a Jewish state is an asset, but one that's kept in an airtight case, which no one is willing to take out and examine closely.
Basic Law proposal: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People hasn't passed a Knesset vote, even though we have a right-wing government. Countless political arguments and loyalty pledges have been made, but still no one is dealing with this important bill.
Why is it a good bill, I've been asked. Well, because it gives answers for important questions we dare not address. Questions like why the Law of Return exists, or why we oppose the unification of Palestinian families in Israel (it's not just due to security concerns), why we need national institutions that make sure lands stay in Jewish hands, and why the Knesset and the court system only conduct business in Hebrew, even though Arabic is an official state language. All of these questions should be clarified in a constitution. Lacking that, they should be mentioned in a basic law.
And that's not all: What of the questions regarding a Jewish state's responsibility for the world's Jewry? Since ultra-Orthodox parties have marked reform and conservative Jews as outcasts, and since these groups include most US Jews, there's no choice but to have the state determine these people's status.
And what of the Shabbat? How is it supposed to look? More and more businesses, malls, even public buses, are operating on Saturdays these days. The simulated crisis around the renovations of the HaShalom train station in Tel Aviv only emphasizes the absurd of religious dealing in this country: Eyes are averted from instances of regular affronts and sins, but voices are raised when there's a high-profile anecdotal event.
Why not ask ourselves once and for all what the Shabbat means (In my view, the hypothetical covenant written by Prof. Ruth Gavison and Rabbi Yaacov Medan answers this question well), instead of relying on the vague concept of a "status quo?"
From whom do I really need to receive this recognition in a Jewish state: The Palestinians, or the Israeli government? What are those who believe in peace accords afraid of, and what scares those who – like me – don’t believe in them? The demand of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state must remain, even if it only applies to ourselves.