How do you Prove You’re a Jew?

Gershon Gorenberg has written a new article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine
on the difficulties some Israeli Jews are having proving their Jewishness before rabbinic courts in that country.  The article is interesting and touches upon many of the issues we discussed in intro to comparative that deal with concepts of identity–nationhood, ethnicity, citizenship, etc.  In fact, I think I’ll be including this article in the syllabus during future iterations of this course.  In addition, I did not know that there is no civil marriage ceremony (marriage ceremonies are purely a religious affair in Israel) in Israeli law, but upon further reflection, I probably should have guessed that would be the case.

The story is particularly significant for American Jews, to which the accompanying snippets below attest:

02jewish1-500.jpgOne day last fall, a young Israeli woman named Sharon went with her fiancé to the Tel Aviv Rabbinate to register to marry. They are not religious, but there is no civil marriage in Israel. The rabbinate, a government bureaucracy, has a monopoly on tying the knot between Jews. The last thing Sharon expected to be told that morning was that she would have to prove — before a rabbinic court, no less — that she was Jewish. It made as much sense as someone doubting she was Sharon, telling her that the name written in her blue government-issue ID card was irrelevant, asking her to prove that she was she…

…In recent years, the state’s Chief Rabbinate and its branches in each Israeli city have adopted an institutional attitude of skepticism toward the Jewish identity of those who enter its doors. And the type of proof that the rabbinate prefers is peculiarly unsuited to Jewish life in the United States. The Israeli government seeks the political and financial support of American Jewry. It welcomes American Jewish immigrants. Yet the rabbinate, one arm of the state, increasingly treats American Jews as doubtful cases: not Jewish until proved so.

More than any other issue, the question of Who is a Jew? has repeatedly roiled relations between Israel and American Jewry. Psychologically, it is an argument over who belongs to the family. In the past, the casus belli was conversion: Would the Law of Return, which grants automatic citizenship to any Jew coming to Israel, apply to those converted to Judaism by non-Orthodox rabbis? Now, as Sharon’s experience indicates, the status of Jews by birth is in question. Equally important, the dividing line is no longer between Orthodox and non-Orthodox. The rabbinate’s handling of the issue has placed it on one side of an ideological fissure within Orthodox Judaism itself, between those concerned with making sure no stranger enters the gates and those who fear leaving sisters and brothers outside.

The story reminds me of a friend of mine who–of Croatian parentage but born in Canada– upon her arrival in Croatia (she had decided to move there during the middle of the war in the 1990s) had gone to the local police station with the aim of registering her presence (at that time, all foreigners were required to report to police within 24 hours of their arrival).  When she took out her Canadian passport, a clerk at the Ministry of Internal Affairs asked her the names of her parents.  After my friend responded, the clerk refused to allow her to register as a foreigner and insisted that she take out Croatian citizenship on the spot.  When my friend insisted that she was a Canadian citizen, the clerk responded “your father is ours, your mother is ours, that makes you  one of us also.”

 

The USA’s Place in the World in 2016?

I posted earlier some excerpts from Daniel Drezner’s article envisioning what a post-Bush administration American foreign policy may look like, In a similar vein, here are some snippets from a piece in the New York Times Magazine written by Parag Khanna* that try to predict the nature of US power and authority at the end of 2016. The article is entitled “Waving Goodbye to Hegemony.” Do you think that the United States will lose its hegemonic status by 2016? What about the challenges from an integrated Europe and a rising China? I encourage you to read the whole article. If we have time, we will read this at the end of the semester.

But the distribution of power in the world has fundamentally altered over the two presidential terms of George W. Bush, both because of his policies and, more significant, despite them. Maybe the best way to understand how quickly history happens is to look just a bit ahead.

It is 2016, and the Hillary Clinton or John McCain or Barack Obama administration is nearing the end of its second term. America has pulled out of Iraq but has about 20,000 troops in the independent state of Kurdistan, as well as warships anchored at Bahrain and an Air Force presence in Qatar. Afghanistan is stable; Iran is nuclear. China has absorbed Taiwan and is steadily increasing its naval presence around the Pacific Rim and, from the Pakistani port of Gwadar, on the Arabian Sea. The European Union has expanded to well over 30 members and has secure oil and gas flows from 27world3-450.jpgNorth Africa, Russia and the Caspian Sea, as well as substantial nuclear energy. America’s standing in the world remains in steady decline.

Why? Weren’t we supposed to reconnect with the United Nations and reaffirm to the world that America can, and should, lead it to collective security and prosperity? Indeed, improvements to America’s image may or may not occur, but either way, they mean little. Condoleezza Rice has said America has no “permanent enemies,” but it has no permanent friends either. Many saw the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as the symbols of a global American imperialism; in fact, they were signs of imperial overstretch. Every expenditure has weakened America’s armed forces, and each assertion of power has awakened resistance in the form of terrorist networks, insurgent groups and “asymmetric” weapons like suicide bombers. America’s unipolar moment has inspired diplomatic and financial countermovements to block American bullying and construct an alternate world order. That new global order has arrived, and there is precious little Clinton or McCain or Obama could do to resist its growth.

Remember that when I post snippets from articles, that in no way suggests that I agree with what the author is saying. I alert you to them mostly because they introduce or mention concepts, theories and ideas that we discuss in class and also to show you get you to think critically about claims and assertions made by the author(s). To which theory of international relations do you think the author is an adherent? Why? What evidence in this article can you find to support your assertion?

*Parag Khanna is a senior research fellow in the American Strategy Program of the New America Foundation. This essay is adapted from his book, “The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order,” to be published by Random House in March.