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Israel and the Middle East


The State of Israel, the Land of Israel -- The Statist and Ethnonational Dimensions of Foreign Policy

Daniel J. Elazar

One of the great political issues of our time is how ethnonationalist movements seek to express themselves through statehood and how the two dimensions of statehood and ethnonationalism interact. Dr. Shmuel Sandler of Bar-Ilan University, a Fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, who in an earlier book wrote about the conflicting ethnonationalist claims of Jews and Palestinians expressed in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians over the territories Israel occupied in the wake of the Arab-initiated Six-Day War, here has turned his attention to the interaction of ethnonational and statist considerations within Israel in foreign policy matters. Dr. Sandler points out that Israel is both a strong nation and a strong state.

Jewish nationalism is one of the first of the world's nationalisms, dating 3,000 years and more. Jewish statehood however, after more than 600 years of independence and, with a brief interruption, 1,500 years of self-governance in their own land, was interrupted by the dispersion of the Jews for at least fifteen centuries. Although Jews settled in Israel in every century, it was only in the latter part of the modern epoch that the Zionist movement initiated the return of the people of Israel to the land of Israel for the unambiguous political purpose of reestablishing a Jewish national home in the land and achieving independent statehood. Thus the very reasons for seeking statehood were clearly ethnonationalist.

Unlike similar ethnonational groups in Europe and elsewhere, the Jews had the dual task of reestablishing themselves in their land and achieving statehood. Not surprisingly the result was to strengthen both the ethnonationalist and statist elements in the renewed State of Israel. Through historical exploration of these phenomena during the pre-state period before 1948 and analysis of the first forty-plus years of Israel's foreign policy, Dr. Sandler takes a close look at the interaction between these two elements -- the roots and demands of each, and patterns of reinforcement and conflict between the two perspectives. As a case study, the Israeli experience helps us understand the interaction of these two phenomena and at the same time enhances the study of Israel itself. This book provides us with insights into Jewish conceptions of nationalism and statehood and Israel as a Jewish state. Dr. Sandler's book helps us to determine how Israel has reconciled the two dimensions of its character as the state of the Jewish people to increase our understanding of how Israel functions as a state, especially in its foreign relations.

One of the basic tensions built into Israel's founding is between Israel's functioning as a state like all others and its role as the state of the Jewish people. This question is likely to persist until some equally dramatic transformation of the Israeli polity takes place. The continued existence of a Jewish diaspora, essentially worldwide, containing some twice as many Jews as are located in Israel, only exacerbates that tension. This makes the Jewish dimension of Israeli policy more important and real, and more complex to deal with.

The Zionist founders of the Jewish state were strongly committed to the principle that Israel would indeed be concerned with Jewish interests first and foremost. But they also expected that if not all, then the vast majority of Jews in the world would live within Israel's boundaries, thereby reducing the possible distance between Israel as a state and Israel as the state of the Jewish people. As yet, that has not happened. Thus the real Israel and its government must work within the context of the reality they know with all its possibilities and limitations.

This is the first volume of a study that Dr. Sandler and his students are conducting through the Workshop in Jewish Foreign Policy which he has established as a joint project of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and Bar-Ilan University.

In addition to this book's contribution to the study of this growing area of international relations, it is also a contribution to the growing field of Jewish political studies, as the first book-length study of Jewish foreign policy from this perspective. Jewish political studies concern themselves with the phenomena of Jewish political life in theory and practice. Issues of international relations and foreign policy are part and parcel of this subfield of political science and Jewish studies. Here, too, Dr. Sandler's work is informed by recent work in the field that adds another dimension to what he and his colleagues have been studying.

Dr. Sandler's work was and continues to be carried out under the auspices of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, which pioneered in the development of Jewish political studies. We are pleased to present this work to the public in the knowledge that Dr. Sandler has embarked on an enterprise which should carry him far in his contribution to both aforementioned bodies of knowledge and, in the process, enlighten us all on a major new fact of postmodern international politics.

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