columnIsrael News

Israel gets it right on the nation-state, while the West fumbles with identity

Jews are also commanded in the Torah not to wrong or oppress a stranger “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” But what if the strangers in question want to turn your own country into Egypt?

An Israeli flag on Masada, near the Dead Sea in southern Israel, on July 19, 2018. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
An Israeli flag on Masada, near the Dead Sea in southern Israel, on July 19, 2018. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Melanie Phillips
Melanie Phillips
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for The Times of London, her personal and political memoir, Guardian Angel, has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, The Legacy, in 2018. To access her work, go to:

Two utterly fundamental and seismic issues are threatening to tear apart Britain, Europe and America. They are mass immigration and national identity.

The majority of Jews in Britain and America are warmly disposed towards the former and terrified of the latter. They have got it precisely the wrong way round.

Diaspora Jews have a Pavlovian response to immigration. This is entirely understandable: the vast majority, myself included, are the descendants of immigrants and refugees.

Jews are also commanded in the Torah not to wrong or oppress a stranger “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” But what if the strangers in question want to turn your own country into Egypt?

For what’s happening today is not so much immigration as the mass movement of peoples from global south to north.

If unchecked, this will transform the developed world, overwhelm its public infrastructure, and forever alter the culture and identity of its constituent nations.

And there, of course, lies the neuralgic rub. For European and Western national identity, being historically white is considered by the dominant liberal orthodoxy (which judges people by the color of their skin) to be intrinsically racist and thus illegitimate.

The dogma to be enforced instead is multiculturalism, or the equality in value of all cultures. If enacted, however, that would by definition destroy the Western nation. Which is the point of the exercise.

That’s why “open borders” is the core principle of the European Union. A nation without borders cannot survive as a nation. The driving idea of the E.U., though, is that the nation creates nationalism, and nationalism led to Nazism and the Holocaust. So the E.U. project is to create a trans-national superstate that would prevent nations ever going to war again because, in effect, there would be no independent nations in the first place.

In America, the immigration issue is all about restoring national borders and upholding the rule of law. For a variety of reasons—political, economic and ideological—these core democratic principles were successively eroded under both Republican and Democrat administrations.

Now they are being restored under President Donald Trump who, as a result of his beefed-up measures against illegal immigration from Mexico, is excoriated in liberal circles as racist, “nativist” and dog-whistler-in-chief to white supremacists.

The lie to this calumny is being given by none other than America’s Hispanic community itself, whose support for Trump has significantly risen. Only those blinded by ideology would find this surprising.

After all, Hispanic Americans came to the United States because they preferred it to their home countries. So they have every interest in America defending its identity and core principles, including policing its borders and upholding the rule of law.

The problem, in other words, is not so much the immigrants themselves as the fact that in Europe, their hosts are intent on committing cultural suicide.

Immigrants—whether Muslims or anyone else—are a source of benefit to a nation as long as they subscribe to the overarching tenets of its culture. For decades, however, Western liberals have been taking an axe to those tenets in order to destroy that culture.

Muslims who want to Islamize the world have thus seized their opportunity to fill the Western cultural void. Liberals refuse to acknowledge this because they are paralyzed by an ideology which holds that the people of the undeveloped world are powerless victims of the West. British and American Jews refuse to acknowledge it because they are paralyzed by the echoes of historic prejudice and worse against themselves.

In mainland Europe, Jews are far more ambivalent about immigration. That’s because they are suffering to varying degrees from frightening levels of Muslim violence against them.

In Britain, most Jews voted against Brexit. They think the return of the independent nation threatens to bring more anti-Semitism and more ultra-nationalism. But the rise of both anti-Semitism and ultra-nationalist parties in Europe has taken place as a direct result of the E.U.’s denial of the right of the people to determine their own cultural and political destiny.

Trans-nationalism is a recipe not for the global brotherhood of man, but for war between interest groups for power and control. That’s what we’re seeing in the hijacking of public discourse by the growth of nihilist identity politics.

Society has to pull together in pursuit of a common project or else it will disintegrate into warring tribes. That common project—based on a shared history, language, religion, institutions and traditions—is called a nation.

Jews are a nation, and Israel is their nation-state. Its new Nationality Law does what many other nations have done: affirms the national identity of the state. Thus it ratifies Hebrew as its official language, identifies the Jewish calendar as the country’s official calendar, and establishes Independence Day, Memorial Day and Holocaust Remembrance Day as national holidays.

Cue uproar from people who either hate the State of Israel and want it gone because they think a Jewish nation-state is intrinsically racist and that Jews aren’t a nation anyway, or from people who do support Israel as a Jewish nation-state but are hopelessly confused about what a nation actually is.

So when such people read in the new law that “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people,” they howled that this was racist and discriminated against Israel’s minorities such as its Arab or Druze communities.

But this is absurd. National self-determination for the Jews in the State of Israel does not compromise by one iota the democratic or human rights of any of its other citizens. No country in the world offers national self-determination to its minorities, for the simple reason that to do so would make those minorities themselves a nation.

Such confusion is amplified among Diaspora Jews by their terror that their own national identity may be deemed compromised as a result of Israel’s identity as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

So it wasn’t surprising, but nonetheless depressing, that in Britain the Board of Deputies senior vice president Sheila Gewolb said: “Whilst we celebrate Israel’s Jewishness, there is concern that some of the measures in this law are regressive steps. Being Jewish is a wonderful thing, but this should not lead to doing down others.”

Israel has not done so. The real unease here is surely over Israel asserting its national identity at all, just as most British Jews are uneasy about Britain asserting its own national identity.

But without it, democracy and political freedom in the West will die. And without their own acknowledgement that they are themselves a nation, Diaspora Jews will also fade away.

The Jewish world will merely consist instead of the State of Israel—the one place where Judaism’s defining and indissoluble connection between the people, the religion and the land to form the Jewish nation really does have meaning.

Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a column for JNS every two weeks. Currently a columnist for “The Times of London,” her personal and political memoir, “Guardian Angel,” has been published by Bombardier, which has also published her first novel, “The Legacy,” released in April. Her work can be found at her website,

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