An aunt of mine, when she arrived in Britain, once jeered at me, calling me a Christian, mostly because she thought of Britain as being Christian. These were the only categories of thought she had.

I, being born here, knew very well, just how deeply secular a country Britain was. This despite all the churches one sees dotted around cities. As Ruskin put it, Europe chose capitalism over Christianity.

Likewise, I wonder, just how Jewish the so-called Jewish state of Israel actually is. Take for example, the remarks of a Palestinian philosopher, Sari Nusseibeh, published in Haaretz in 2014:

There was a time, in the late 1960s, and after the ’67 war, when even I – a conquered Arab and Palestinian – thought I could sense the vibrant and missionary zeal of an extraordinary nation, set to achieve a rare and sublime human condition that would be a model for all to follow, whether friend or foe.

I remember being overawed by the puritanical ideology of young kibbutzniks, as I sat after dusk with them on the steps of the humble convention/dining hall of the kibbutz (Hazorea) where I stayed, listening to them divulge their thoughts and dreams. I didn’t figure in their dreams, of course. But their dreams figured in my consciousness, as I could see these had more to do with building up a new life for themselves than with destroying the life I had ...

He goes on later to add:

...I can, of course, see and admire beautiful individuals. Israel boasts so many of them – poets, writers, journalists, scholars, artists – and just ordinary people in ordinary jobs, trying to live their harmless lives. But that special luster of an idealistic nation to be admired has vanished. I can no longer see it anywhere. It has become replaced, in my mind – sorry to say – by what appears to have become a scientifically skilled colonialist group of self-serving thugs, bent on self-aggrandizement, capitalizing on world-guilt for past pains and horrors suffered, and now hiding behind a religious fiction to justify all the pain and suffering it does to my own people, our heritage and culture

emphasis added.

All very European. All very secular. It makes me recall the last two stanzas from a famous poem by Paul Celan, Todesfuge (Death fugue). His comment on the death-camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belsen, Buchenwald, Dachau ...

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night

We drink you at midday and morning we drink you at evening

We drink and we drink

A man lives in the house your goldenes haar Margeurite

Your aschenes Haar Shulamith he plays with his vipers

He shouts play death more sweetly Death is a master from Deutschland


He shouts scrape your strings darker you'll rise then in smoke to the sky

You'll have a grave then in the clouds there you won't lie too cramped

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night

We drink you at midday Death is a master aus Deutschland

We drink you at evening and morning we drink and we drink

This Death is ein Meister aus Deutschland his eye it is blue

He shoots you with shot made of lead shoots you level and true

A man lives in the house your goldenes Haar Margarete

He looses his hounds on us grants us a grave in the air

He plays with his vipers and daydreams

Der Tod is ein Meister aus Deutschland

Dein goldenes Haar Margarete

Dein aschenes Haar Shulamith

Given Sari Nusseibeh considered judgement, exactly how 'Jewish' should we take the 'Jewish' state of Israel to be?


Given the various comments of 'not understanding the question' or finding it 'baffling', I'm adding a quote from Luce Irigray, who has written:

This is so not only because there are plenty of Jews in the world who take their tradition seriously without identifying it with the state of Israel, from which they continually dissociate themselves, but also because, as the non-Zionist Jews themselves teach, the richness of Jewish culture and its distinct presence in the spirit of the West and the modern world in general did not establish itself with the creation of the State of Israel, and in fact is seriously threatened by it.

I hope this makes things clear.


Speaking from a pure political philosophy perspective, this question centers on the difference between the concept 'nation' and the concept 'state.' Technically, a nation is a (loosely) self-governing community of people who share a common ethnocultural identity, while a state is defined territory governed by a cohesive political entity. In this sense, the nation of Israel ostensibly existed even across the diaspora, and the intent of the Zionist movement was to create a physical territory — a state — which could serve as a home for this nation. The difficulty, of course, is that the creation of this state effectively rendered Palestinians as a stateless nation, subject to the same potential for prejudice and abuse that the nation of Israel suffered after the diaspora (which is the same fate shared by Kurds, Uyghurs, Rohingya, and other stateless groups, current and historical).

However, If we're going to ask how 'Jewish' the 'Jewish' state of Israel is, we run into a linguistic difficulty. There are three ways to interpret the word 'Jewish' in this context.

  1. Identifying as a person of Jewish ancestry: a claim that is not exactly biological and not exactly cultural, but that combines the two in a loose fashion
  2. Identifying as a member of the Jewish faith: subscribing to certain principles, attending certain services, participating in certain rites and rituals.
  3. Being a 'proper' Jew: which means adhering to certain values, ideals, and philosophies with are viewed to be quintessentially Jewish.

The last one is particularly problematic, since it can be harshly evaluative. Most people of most faiths are poor practitioners of their faith — e.g., both Islam and Christianity claim to be religions of peace, and yet many practitioners on both sides are combative and warlike — and so insisting that an entire nation or state live up to the highest principles of a faith is unrealistic. In this sense, Israel is in fact a Jewish state, even if the state itself does not live up to some particular idealization of Jewish faith.

In the early days of the formation of Israel, Judaic idealism (for better or worse) was easy: the Jewish people had suffered a tremendous, catastrophic act of genocide, and the drive for a homeland in which Jews could lead their lives and practice their faith in safety was keen. In the decades since, the priorities have shifted from the need to create such a state to the need to defend and expand it; that is intrinsically less noble and pure than the original intention. But that in no way disqualifies the 'nation' aspect of that state.

  • -1: If I was interested in linguistic difficulties I would have signalled this. Mar 2 '20 at 18:52
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    @MoziburUllah: I suspect you are disinterested in any answer that doesn't match your preconceptions. But that's not something I concern myself with. Mar 2 '20 at 18:57
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    In terms of the distinction between nations and states above, see the piece here by a philosopher who critiques the whole premise that there is anything noble or even morally acceptable about the idea that any modern state should be defined in terms of a specific ethnocultural (or religious) "nation", since the state's geographic boundaries inevitably include many people who are not part of that nation, so such a definition invariably violates their own right to self-determination (and often ends up being an excuse for 'ethnic cleansing').
    – Hypnosifl
    Mar 2 '20 at 19:17
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    @Mozibur Ullah - When you say "He doesn't say that", are you talking about the author of the piece I linked (Joseph Levine) or Ted Wrigley? If Levine, what did I say that was inaccurate? He says "there is a distinction to be made between a people in the ethnic sense and a people in the civic sense" where civic is defined in non-ethnic terms of being a citizen of a state that holds a geographic territory. He then says 'Any state that “belongs” to one ethnic group within it violates the core democratic principle of equality, and the self-determination rights of the non-members of that group.'
    – Hypnosifl
    Mar 2 '20 at 19:27
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    @Mozibur Ullah - I wouldn't divide the world into "fools" and "non-fools" for the purposes of saying latter deserve only insults and dismissal even if they are willing to engage in discussion, that's a recipe for close-mindedness and never changing one's own views or even learning anything new about why others hold different views. From what I've seen here you seem to be completely dismissive of anyone who substantially disagrees with you on any major issue, even if you don't immediately resort to insulting them like you have with me.
    – Hypnosifl
    Mar 2 '20 at 19:56

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