Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's June 14 speech brought fresh scrutiny to the idea of Israel as a Jewish state. Netanyahu accepted that there should be a Palestinian Arab state, but considered that the Palestinians should also accept that Israel is a Jewish state. He was immediately denounced as setting unreasonable conditions and murdering the peace process.
For example, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter criticized the speech on the basis of the "Jewish state" issue: "My opinion is he raised many new obstacles to peace that had not existed under previous prime ministers. . . He demands that the Palestinians and the Arabs recognise Israel as a Jewish state, although 20% of its citizens here are not Jews. This is a new demand."
Influential Middle Eastern Studies professor Juan Cole sang the same tune: "Netanyahu wants the Palestinians to acknowledge that Israel is a 'Jewish state.' I don't understand this demand. Israel is not a Jewish state, it is a multi-cultural state, with about half a million non-Jewish Russians and Ukrainians and 20% of its population is Arab. . . . If "Jewish" is meant racially, then it is a particularly shameful demand. It is like demanding either that the US be recognized as a "Christian" country or as a "white" country."
Much of this sort of criticism of the Israeli desire to live in a recognizably Jewish state—a country where Hebrew is the dominant language, Jewish culture is pervasive, and Jews are the majority—is hypocritical, in at least three ways. Here, we'll focus on one: an obsessive, disdainful focus on Israel as the state of the Jewish people, while ignoring other countries with officially-declared ethnic identities, or in which citizenship is defined ethnically.
Here are some examples:
The constitution of Afghanistan defines who is an Afghan in detailed tribal terms in Chapter 1, Article 4: "The nation of Afghanistan is comprised of the following ethnic groups: Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkman, Baluch, Pashai, Nuristani, Aymaq, Arab, Qirghiz, Qizilbash, Gujur, Brahwui and others."
The preamble of the constitution of Algeria defines "the fundamental components of its identity which are Islam, Arabity and Amazighity [referring to the Berbers]."
Armenia has a "law of return" for ethnic Armenians, similar to that of Israel: "Individuals of Armenian origin shall acquire citizenship of the Republic of Armenia through a simplified procedure." (Article 14.)
Chapter I, Article 1 of Bahrain's constitution also declares the Arabness of the country: "The Kingdom of Bahrain is a fully sovereign, independent Islamic Arab State whose population is part of the Arab nation and whose territory is part of the great Arab homeland." Yet an estimated 46% of Bahrain's population is non-Arab.
Egypt as well constitutionally defines itself as an Arab country in Chapter One, Article 1: "The Egyptian people are part of the Arab nation and work for the realization of its comprehensive unity."
The constitution of Eritrea defines citizenship ethnically: "Any person born of an Eritrean father or mother is an Eritrean by birth." (Article 3.)
Citizenship in Germany is based primarily on blood: If your parents are German, you are German, even if you never lived in Germany—indeed, even if your family has lived outside of Germany for many generations. As the German Embassy in the U.S. explains:
"As a general rule, a child born to a German citizen parent automatically acquires German citizenship at birth through jus sanguinis, regardless of the place of birth." Yet nearly 10% of Germany's population is not ethnically German.
In Title II, Article 11, the constitution of Haiti gives citizenship to ethnic Haitians: "Any person born of a Haitian father or Haitian mother who are themselves native-born Haitians and have never renounced their nationality possesses Haitian nationality at the time of birth."
The same rule applies in Iraq: "Anyone who is born to an Iraqi father or to an Iraqi mother shall be considered an Iraqi." (Article 18.)
Another Arab country, Jordan, hinges the right of citizenship on being Arab: "The people of Jordan form a part of the Arab Nation . . . ." (Constitution, Chapter One, Article 1.)
The preamble of the constitution of Lebanon contains the same ethnic principle of nationality: "Lebanon is Arab in its identity and in its association."
The Constitution of Libya in Article 1 enshrines the ethnic definition of who is a Libyan: "The Libyan people are part of the Arab nation. Their goal is total Arab unity." Thus, not only are Libyans defined as Arabs, but they are part of a transnational Arab ethnic identity.
The island of Madagascar is, under its constitution, the homeland of a particular ethnic group: "(1) The Malagasy people shall constitute a Nation organized as a sovereign, secular State. (2) This State shall be a Republic, unique and indivisible, and shall be named 'Republic of Madagascar.'" (Article 1.)
Article 1 of the constitution of Qatar, in common with many other Arab countries, identifies citizenship with being Arab: "People of Qatar are part of the Arab nation (ummah)." Yet 60% of Qatar's population—the majority!—is non-Arab.
Thus, numerous countries constitutionally define themselves in ethnic terms. And many, many more which do not, are ethnically-based as a matter of fact (for example, the Italianness of Italy). In short, the fact that Israel is an ethnic nation-state merely means that it is a normal country. And as shown above, the fact that it contains an ethnic minority is not a stop-the-presses revelation, either.
There is only one country in the world—Israel—where this normal state of affairs upsets people—enrages them to the point of denying the legitimacy of the state. The fact that Israel is surrounded by Arab states that define themselves as ethnically Arab makes this unreasonable focus even more striking. This blatant use of double standards to delegitimize the Jewish state is anti-Semitism—whether thoughtless or deliberate, it's anti-Semitism.
And it's hypocrisy.