The traditional Jewish community, as it had existed in the Middle Ages, later in Eastern Europe and the Moslem world, or today in Israel itself in such enclaves as Bnei Brak and Meah She'arim, is an outstanding example of a voluntary society which maintains itself with only an external recourse to the state. It has maintained its own educational system, its welfare and social security institutions, its autonomous legal system and its interior checks and balances while adhering to a unifying ideology totally at variance with the ideologies of the host societies. Moreover, it has developed, over the millennia, detailed and precise codes of dealing with the host societies, from whose political institutions it derived its statutory standing and powers.

Reliance On The Gentile State

Some historians even claimed that the Jewish community was "an embryonic Jewish state". But this is a fallacious claim, as the basic characteristic of the Jewish community is its shirking of state responsibility. It relied on the "Gentile" state for its defense, for the source of its authority, for most of its economic and technological needs (like the food it did not grow, the sciences which it forbade its children to study but benefitted from their fruits, like transportation, communications, medicine, engineering, etc.), and in exchange supplied the host societies with certain services (like financial services, some handicrafts, certain trades and commerce). This concentration in a few fields permitted by tradition made possible both the existence of the community and also its detachment from the surrounding world. A state, on the contrary, is forced to face the full demands presented by life and cannot afford such a seclusion. The behavior of the orthodox communities in Israel, who are indifferent or even hostile to the state and are in merely external contact with it, is typical of their behavior also in the Diaspora.
The crisis of the East European Jewish community, which began during the last century, with its secularizing processes and the abolition of the statutory position of the Jewish communities as mediators between the state and the Jewish individual, coupled with the imposition of state law on all citizens equally, did not result in the atomization of Jewish individuals and their assimilation into the host societies, as often happened in the West. On the contrary - these processes resulted in new forms of Jewish organization, now divorced from the religious community: trade unions, political parties, sports clubs, non-religious cultural associations in Yiddish and Hebrew, journals and periodicals for a Yiddish and Hebrew reading public (also Jewish publications in Russian, Polish and German), as well as secular ideological conflicts within a community which still regards itself as Jewish. This community no longer considers itself divorced from the world and indifferent to its events. It becomes integrated in the mosaic of the awakening new secular nationalities of Eastern Europe and forms alliances with some or the others. Thus, instead of the religious-communal consciousness, for the first time a secular-national consciousness is formed, one of the traits of which is often an extreme hostility to the religious community's tradition. This hostility is particularly apparent in the socialist branches of the Jewish national movement, of which Zionism is only one trend.

Voluntary Cohesion

With the development of the Zionist movement, from the 1880's on, these patterns have been largely shifted to Palestine. Thus the "New", national "Yishuv" or Jewish Community (as distinct from the non-Zionist "old Yishuv") emerged as a highly organized, cohesive entity, with a strong, essentially East European ethnic consciousness and a well-defined collective ethos, with a strong internal discipline subject to the guidance of the "National Institutions". These were conceived as internal and organic to the Yishuv, as against the "external" authority of the Mandatory authorities - although it is questionable whether they would have gained this status were it not for their recognition by the Mandatory Power as representative. In some respects, then, this system of relationships parallels that of the traditional Jewish community, though the Yishuv's aim, in contradistinction to that of the traditional Jewish community, was to achieve statehood. The Yishuv's voluntary institutions, first and foremost the Histadrut, the Labor Federation, were indeed meant to become national state institutions, not communal ones. They already contained in embryonic form the power structure of a state - the "Haganah" as a future army, the Anglo-Palestine Bank as a future national bank, the Histadrut Sick Fund as a future national health service, etc.
This voluntary cohesion of the Yishuv, with the well-defined rules of the political game within it, provided the state which inherited it with its remarkable stability and with its political tradition. It also made possible the absorption of an immigration which more than quadrupled the Jewish population in the early years of the state without this causing too severe a social shock. This is particularly remarkable in view of the fact that most of the newcomers were foreign to East European traditions. But the very strength of the Yishuv's cohesion generated a clash with the concept of the state which succeeded it.

Defining Identity

As mentioned before, Mandatory law was indifferent towards a citizen's ethnic or religious identity. Nobody obliged all Jews to belong to "Knesset Yisrael", the corporative body of the Jewish community, and such an omission in no way infringed on the status of the citizen. Neither did the law require any Moslem or Christian to belong to his religious-communal framework. Also, the question "who is a Jew" was never raised at the time and no investigations were made into a person's background to clarify it. The assumption was that anyone declaring his Jewishness must obviously be one.
But, once the Yishuv became a state, the definition of membership in the "organized Yishuv" ipso facto became a definition of citizenship, instead of being part of a broader definition of citizenship. Whereas in the Mandatory passport a person would be classed as a member of the Jewish community, in Israel this became a definition of nationality, according to the conception that Israel is the state of the Jewish nation. The corollary is that Israel is not the state of any non-Jew living in it, even when he is a citizen born in the country and serving in its army (like the Bedouins and the Druzes) and paying its taxes. Any Jew in the world, whatever his nationality, has rights in the state which no non-Jewish citizen has in it.
Furthermore, once the voluntary membership becomes an official definition which in practice determines civic rights, another problem looms: what, after all, defines the Jew as such? Or what qualifications must one meet to be considered Jewish by the law of the state?
The usual definitions of nationality are complex enough: a common language, a common culture, a common ethnic origin, a common history, sojourn in the national territory, or a combination of some of these traits. But Jews in the world have no common language, no common culture, no common ethnic - or genetic - ancestry, no common territory, and each Jewish community has its own history and fate. The only thing common to all Jews is the religious civilization that they have an affinity to, whether active and immediate (as among the orthodox), or vague and distant, or even rejected (as among most secular Jews). At any rate, whoever withdraws from the community and converts into another religion, is not considered any more as Jewish, despite the shopworn argument that Jews are essentially a nation not a religion.

A Recipe for Fragmentation

This legal definition in effect dooms any non-Jew to second-class citizenship in all respects - civic, political, social and economic. Non-Jews are not entitled to enjoy the aid and services of the Jewish Agency, which essentially is a state body. Their educational system is starved by the state in comparison with the Jewish one. The governments are always trying to base themselves on "a Jewish majority" in the Knesset, in order to avoid a dependence on non-Jewish citizens, a development which would introduce them into the "inner", "legitimate" circle of Israeli politics, thus shattering the invisible limits of the corporation state. Jewish society, even the secular one, does not easily admit non-Jews, particularly those of Arab origin. Only a few of them penetrate academia, the media, diplomacy and culture. Above all: only Jews (and a few others, namely Druzes and Bedouins) are permitted to serve in the army (although non-Jews are never allowed to rise above the medium levels of command). But the army and the defense field in general are among the main avenues for social, political and economic advancement in Israel. Not only does the officer corps enjoy a preferred position in society, but it is also relatively easy to pass from the senior levels of command to senior positions in the economy or in politics. Furthermore, the whole field of defense-related industries, which in practice covers all the hi-tec and most remunerative enterprises in the country, is virtually closed to non-Jews. An Arab graduate in electronics, computer-science, metallurgy or mechanics has hardly a chance of finding employment in his chosen field, and the same applies to the field of big finance and banking.
There are numerous complaints about the discrimination against Jews of oriental origins. But even if such discrimination exists, it is largely unintended. It is basically caused by the relative backwardness of people of oriental origin in modem technology and science and not the result of policy. In the main it is nothing but another manifestation of the sociological fact that recent immigrants are generally on a lower income and occupational level than the established population, as we see in the case of the recent immigration from the CIS countries, who despite their levels of education and training which in most cases are not inferior to those of "veteran Ashkenazim", are in fact much weaker economically and politically than the orientals.
Under such conditions, when the state is defined on the level of the corporation, members of other corporations, whose citizenship is secondary and merely tolerated, become a divisive and potentially hostile factor. The state fails to become, as Hegel conceived it, the universal entity which transcends the particularistic interests of civil society, but on the contrary ┬Čit perpetuates and aggravates them. The true situation in such a state is one of suppressed civil war, with the underprivileged groups just waiting for the weakening of the preferred group in order to dissociate themselves from a state whose very definition excludes them. In short: this is a sure recipe for the fragmentation of the state. A true state creates an egalitarian superstructure, within which each individual and group can realize their freedom, as the state was defined in the French Revolution.
This situation derived from the existential conflict with the Arab World in which the Yishuv, then the state, was engaged since its inception about a century ago. This conflict gave the political leadership the opportunity to translate the political-military siege laid by the Arab world, motivated by purely political causes, into the terms of the ancient fears of the Jewish caste-community from the hostility of its Gentile environment and pretend that this is the selfsame hostility. The religious circles of the Yishuv, whose world-view remained that of the closed-in Diaspora Jewish community, are even conceptually incapable of conceiving the Arab siege in any other terms. The relations with the Arab world are not seen by them as a system of power conflicts between states, but as that of the threatened Jewish community versus "the hatred of the 'Goyim''', accompanied by the whole baggage of concepts copied from the relations of "Jews and Goyim" in the Diaspora and adopted bodily by the ultra-nationalist Right, which has failed to carry out the mental transformation from a religious caste-community into a modem national society. So we encounter bizarre terms like "self-abnegation before the 'Goy'", "Jewish pride", "pogroms", etc., etc.

Toward a True State

Against this background, it appears that the speed with which a growing segment of the Jewish Israeli public began to support the peace agreement with the PLO shows that a process of political "normalization" is taking place within the general public, including the oriental communities, and it is more and more prepared to view the conflict in the realistic terms of power politics, not in the eschatological terminology of "Jews vs. Goyim" and "Messianic redemption". Hence one can deduce an intense longing, which until now was repressed due to the political demagoguery of the Right and the religious circles, for liberation from the stifling communal-religious atmosphere and the development of a full national life, including open relations with the Arab world. The reaction of the various religious circles to this development is also understandable: it threatens to reverse the process of absorption of the nation within the caste, to open the horizons of society towards full contact with the surrounding world in which non-Jews would not be considered as "Goyim" (an untranslatable term, combining a loathing of the unclean, apprehension of the alien, and an inclusion of the whole of humanity but orthodox Jews in an indiscriminate, inferior mass) but as equal human beings. If and when the peace agreements are achieved with all of our neighbors, a central element of the conception of the Jewish community in Israel of its own nature will collapse, which will undermine in turn the status of organized religion in the state as definant of the nation.
The Knesset vote on the agreement with the PLO carries a further significance: essentially, it was achieved thanks to the vote of the Arab bloc of Knesset members, which also provides Labor with its majority. Although it is clear that the Labor party was not happy to rely on these votes, it did not refrain from doing so. Thus a taboo existing since the days of David Ben-Gurion was broken. The attempts of the Right to discredit this vote with the argument that it was not the vote of "the Jewish majority" only bring out the Right's essentially anti-state character. Thus the Arab vote is emerging as a counterweight to the power of the religious bloc as a spoiler, and as a beginning of the admission of the Arabs into the inner circle of Israeli politics. Such an admission is one guarantee of Israel's development into a true state, according to the Hegelian concept of the state. <