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Why Should Israel Be a Nation-State at All?

March 13, 2015 | Yehudah Mirsky
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The proposal by the Netanyahu government to enshrine Israel’s status legally as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” has met with much controversy. Placing the proposed legislation in its philosophical and historical context, Yehudah Mirsky argues that nationalism and the nation-state do much more good than is often assumed, and are preferable to universalism:

Universalism comes in many forms, not all of them benign. This is so not only in the Middle East. To take a malign example, much of Western anti-Semitism rests on a kind of exclusionary universalism—as does radical Islam—in which rights are denied to those who do not accept “our” version of what is good for them and humanity. These exclusions, whether they derive from Athens, Saint Paul, or [the Muslim-Brotherhood theoretician] Sayyid Qutb, have no room for Jews. . . .

[I]n order for statehood to survive, to be able to bring forth the bonds of solidarity and collective responsibility without which even the most solitary life is at the end unlivable, and to endure via anything more than mere brutality and fear, it must speak to some meaningful forms of belonging, managing the necessary ties and nearly inevitable contradictions of the primordial bonds, civic associations, shared pursuits, and ultimate values that together shape the lived experience of our lives. Political, social, and even legal institutions are answers not only to instrumental needs but to existential questions. . . .

The human person, the figure at the center of the very idea of human rights, is not a person-in-general but a concrete figure, embedded in time and place and yet . . . able to see in the people of other times and places a reflection of ourselves. The dynamic tension of the particular and the universal is woven into the very fabric of being human. Living and working that tension to the fullest is the burden, and blessing, of the Jews.

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