Ruth Gavison, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a founding member of the Israel Association for Civil Rights, spoke about the Jewishness of Israel and its implications Wednesday in Copley Formal Lounge.

The event, sponsored by the Program for Jewish Civilization and School of Foreign Service, is the seventh PJC event of the semester.

In this lecture, Gavison focused on what Israel’s Jewish tradition means to both the Arab and Jewish citizens in Israel, as well as to Jews throughout the world.

TINA NIU FOR THE HOYA Hebrew University of Jerusalem professor Ruth Gavison talked about Judaism in Israel.
TINA NIU FOR THE HOYA
Hebrew University of Jerusalem professor Ruth Gavison talked about Judaism in Israel.

Gavison offered a brief account of history in order to give a base for her argument. In 1947 the United Nations General Assembly made a resolution that the British Mandate for Palestine would be separated into two states, an Arab one and a Jewish one, and that each must make a commitment to respect the rights of the other group living in their territory. However, this resolution was not a conclusive solution to the tensions of the Jewish and Palestinian conflict.

“What was obvious in 1947, ’48, ’49 is not so obvious at all anymore and this is the challenge of the time and why I have to come here and talk to you about what is the meaning of the Jewishness of the state, what is the justification for that, is it okay for there to be a Jewish state and what are the implications of this identity,” Gavison said.

According to Gavison, Jews living within Israel and abroad have a political and ideological internal debate over the Jewishness of Israel.

“Among Jews in Israel there is a general acceptance that Israel is and should be a Jewish state, but there is a debate on the implication and meaning of the Jewishness of the state,” Gavison said. “Some people say the state must be governed by Jewish law. Others say most of the Jews in Israel are not religious and not observant and the Jewishness of Israel is about the right of Jews … and this is not about religion.”

Gavison spoke about the definition of the Jewishness of a state and its nuances.

“It is an ongoing conversation and the meaning of the Jewishness of the State is that the State is in part designed to allow Jews to continue to have this discussion and conversation on an ongoing basis,” Gavison said. “[It is not] to decide it once and for all, but to have the conversation within a political community, which has a territorial base on their ancient homeland in the only place in the world in which they were politically independent and the majority.”

Aditya Pande (SFS ’18) attended the lecture and was pleased that Gavison was able to make clear the core of the problem of the Jewishness of Israel.

“[There are] two states for two people, a Jewish majority state and a Palestinian majority state,” Pande said. “The only obstacle here is what is the Israeli proposal for right of return is, because if they let the Palestinians back into Israel that reduces the Jewish majority which they don’t want so that’s the solution.”

Pande said that he enjoyed the clarity of the speech.

“It was very clear,” Pande said. “She distilled her argument to one very simple point and that is that Israel should have a Jewish majority and should have self-determination. That’s why they were created. That’s why they exist.”

Also in attendance was Jonathan Morrow (COL ’18), who had attended previous lectures sponsored by PJC and was impressed with Gavison’s approach to the topic.

“It’s not just about external diplomacy. It’s not just about high level political discussions. It’s very much a grass roots discussion of what Jewishness means and what a Jewish society and government looks like,” Morrow said.

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