Two Voices: this week our weekly progressive Judaism debate tackles…defining Israel 

Q: Is Netanyahu right to seek a law that defines Israel as the Jewish national state?

  • Thais Portilho

    Thais Portilho

    Thais Porthilo says…

Every good person around knows Israel is undoubtedly the homeland of Jewish people. It was created for us and has been recognised as such by most of the world for 66 years.

This is why Bibi Netanyahu’s proposals to make Israel the “national homeland” of the Jewish people, enshrined in basic law, are nothing but an act of shameless provocation – a dangerous flexing of muscles likely to bring even more tension to an already unstable region.

Bibi seems to be actively boycotting the peace process between Israel and our neighbours, as well as trying to transform Israel into an intolerant, discriminatory nation. By fostering those feelings with an unnecessary piece of legislation, he risks more, not less, violence toward our people.

We need to have confidence to stand tall in the world and defend ourselves with integrity, not gimmicks. I love Israel – it brings comfort to someone like me, whose family was expelled from Spain, humiliated, made to convert and forced to give up their community life, that we finally have a safe haven.

However, that haven should exist within an atmosphere of tolerance for our own as well as for those who choose to settle and live peacefully among us.

• Thais Portilho is a member of Kingston Liberal Synagogue

  • Rabbi Lea Mühlstein says…

    Lea Mühlstein

    Lea Mühlstein

The simple answer is no, but let me try to explain in greater detail why I believe Netanyahu is wrong to propose a change to Israel’s basic laws.

The state of Israel was, according to its Declaration of Independence, established as “a Jewish state in the land of Israel”. This is already rightly reflected in Israel’s Basic Laws, which define Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

To define Israel as the national state of the Jewish people implies Israel cannot also be the national state of another people, namely, Palestinians.

The English writer and political theorist Israel Zangwill expressed this in 1901: “Palestine is a country without a people; the Jews are a people without a country.” But he was wrong then, just as Netanyahu is wrong now.

Until a two-state solution is found, Israel must face the fact that it is a land of more than one nation. After all, didn’t Isaiah (56:7) tell us that God says: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations?”

As God’s house is prophesied to be open to all nations, Israel, as a Jewish state, should surely be able to be a homeland to more than one nation.

• Lea Mühlstein is rabbi at Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue