the Jewish right to self-determination



"Jews are the only people who ever created a nation state there. At all other times in the past 3,000 years it was merely an administrative district in an empire whose centre was elsewhere: the Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Alexandrian, Roman and Byzantine empires, the Crusaders of the Holy Roman Empire, the various Muslim empires such as the Umayyads, Abbasids, Fatimids, Mamluks and Ottomans, and finally the British. Jews are the only people who have maintained a continuous presence in the land. They are its indigenous, original inhabitants." — Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (1948-2020), United Kingdom Chief Rabbi.

Self-determination is the idea that peoples who share a national identity — not to be confused with nationality — have a legal right to choose their own governance, rather than live under the thumb of an empire. Self-determination is a basic tenet of international law, applicable to all peoples.

Criticize Israel. Criticize Israeli policy. Criticize Israeli actions. Criticize Israeli politicians. Criticize the war if you’d like (hopefully from an informed place). But once you start revising well-established Jewish history and denying us our universal rights, that’s no longer “criticism of Israel.

That’s antisemitism.



For the overwhelming majority of Jewish history, Jewish identity was primarily a national identity. In this context, a “nation” refers not to a modern nation-state, but rather, a group of people whose collective identity includes shared language, history, ethnicity, territory, and/or culture. It’s a term more political in nature than “ethnicity,” as a nation sees itself as having a common political destiny. 

In the case of Jews, this national identity was first developed when a confederation of semi-nomadic Hebrew tribes coalesced to establish the Kingdom of Israel in 1047 BCE, the first unified nation state in what is now Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Previously, the territory was comprised of various Canaanite city states.

This national identity was further cemented when the Kingdom of Israel split into the Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) to the north and the Kingdom of Judah to the south. The term “Jew” comes from “Judahite,” as in “someone from the Kingdom of Judah.” In Hebrew, both Judahite and Jew is “Yehudi.” The identity developed even more strongly following the Babylonian conquest of Judah and the completion and canonization of the Tanakh. 

The idea of Jews as a “religious” group is not only relatively new, dating to the French Revolution and the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment), but colonial, as it was imposed on Napoleon’s Jewish subjects. 

If we believe in the principle of self-determination for all nations, then it should follow that we should support the self-determination of the Jewish people. And if we deny Jews and Jews only self-determination…well, that’s a glaring antisemitic double standard.



Palestinian and Jewish self-determination shouldn’t have to come at the expense of each other. Many argue that Jewish self-determination — that is, the State of Israel — came at the expense of Palestinian self-determination. What they neglect to address is everything that happened in the 20th century prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. 

The first political Zionists hardly envisioned an independent Jewish nation state, or a partitioned Land of Israel. This was at the tail end of the Ottoman occupation of the Land of Israel, and they couldn’t possibly have imagined that World War I would result in the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. Instead, they envisioned the “Jewish national home,” as they described it, within the framework of a multinational democracy or a multinational Ottoman state.

In fact, it wasn’t until 1937 — in response to Arab antisemitic violence — that the concept for a partitioned Jewish nation state alongside an Arab state was proposed in the first place. The first prime minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion, reluctantly accepted this idea as a compromise in light of Arab refusal to live alongside autonomous Jews.

This refusal is a matter of public record. In 1937, the British asked Haj Amin Al Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and leader of the Arab Higher Committee, should there be a “one state solution,” if Palestinian Arabs would be willing to absorb the 400,000 Jews already living in Palestine. He plainly said, “No.”

Between 1939 and 1947, Palestinian Arabs were offered a number of “one state solutions” from “the river to the sea,” that would theoretically have afforded both Jews and Arabs self-determination. The Arab leadership rejected every single one of them because they did not want a state in which Jews would have equal rights. And that’s not to even mention the fact that the Palestinian Arabs rejected partition in 1947 — instead, they started a war over it, which they lost — and ever since.



Colonies have a metropole — that is, a mother country — or are established on behalf of an empire. For example, colonial Mexico’s metropole was Spain. Al-Andalus — Islamic Spain — was conquered on behalf of the Arab Empire.

To argue that Jews have no legal right to self-determination, one must argue that either (1) Jews do not constitute a “nation,” and/or (2) Israel is not a sovereign state but rather, a settler colonial state. But if the latter is the case…what is Israel’s metropole? On whose behalf was Israel “conquered,” exactly?

The common argument is that Israel is a British or an American colonial outpost. The proponents of the British argument point to the 1917 Balfour Declaration, in which the British stated they “looked favorably” upon the “establishment of a national homeland for the Jewish people” in Palestine. Not only did the letter never specify the exact nature of this “Jewish national home,” but at the time, Palestine was not even under British dominion. Not only that, the British had made contradictory promises to the Arabs both before and after the Balfour Declaration. The British fiercely opposed Jewish immigration to Palestine, abstained from the 1947 partition vote, and helped the Arabs in both official and non-official capacities during the 1948 war. The argument is completely unfounded.

Similarly, not only did the Americans only decide to vote in favor of partition at the last minute, but they actually led an arms embargo against Israel in 1948.

Then there’s the most nefarious theory of all: that Israel was established as a colonial outpost of the all-powerful Jewish cabal, drawing from ancient antisemitic tropes. Hitler himself subscribed to this theory, calling the prospect of an independent Jewish state “nothing more than a national hub for the destructive influence of Jewish interests.” 



Most people in the world are not anarchists. Maybe you are, and that’s fine. But I pose two questions: 

(1) if you oppose nation-states and/or all nationalism, then do you understand that supporting the free Palestine movement/Palestinian nationalism is quite literally antithetical to your own views?

The free Palestinian movement — that is, the movement to “free” Palestine from Israel and turn it into an independent Palestinian state — is a nationalist movement, just as Zionism is a nationalist movement. If you oppose all nationalism, then you should oppose Palestinian nationalism as well. 

Otherwise, you are dabbling in a blatant double standard. 

(2) if you believe no states should exist at all, why do you think the world’s only Jewish state is the one that should go first? 

It seems nefarious, at best, to concentrate all your efforts on dismantling the Jewish state when Jews are not only the longest persecuted minority in history, but we’ve been expelled from thousands of countries around the world. Palestinian nationalists openly tell us that once Palestine is “free,” we will be expelled. Where do you think we should go?

If you want to dismantle nation states, why are you going after one of the historically most vulnerable minorities first?

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