Bintel Blog

Ehud Olmert: ‘First of All I'm Jewish, Then I'm Israeli’

By Daniel Treiman

  • Print
  • Share Share

Speaking to this week’s grandiosely named “Conference on the Future of the Jewish People,” convened by the equally grandiosely (and tongue-twistingly) named Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared that he identifies as a Jew first, and an Israeli second.

Y-Net reports:

“If I was asked today, which I am sometimes, how do I most accurately define myself, as a person? What is that defines me most accurately? I probably will say, certainly will say, first of all I’m Jewish. Had I been asked this question when I was much younger, say at the age of 14, 15, I would have said right away, I am an Israeli. Something in me changed,” Olmert said.

“It’s not something that just happened. It happened through a very long and sometimes painful process of soul searching of who I am and where I come from,” Olmert said.

What’s noteworthy about Olmert’s remarks is that these two terms — “Israeli” and “Jewish” — have come, in certain respects, to represent competing identities. (After being defeated in the 1996 Israeli elections by Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu, Shimon Peres famously explained that the election’s losers were “the Israelis,” while the winners were those “who do not have an Israeli mentality,” namely, he explained, “the Jews.”)

In hindsight, one could make the case that the decision to name the newborn Jewish state “Israel” was itself a grave error. This act of naming helped open the door to the possibility of an Israeli identity that is divorced from Jewish identity (as some post-Zionists would like to see happen) and thus exacerbated the potential for a fissure within the Jewish people.

The choice of the name “Israel,” though, was no foregone conclusion. As historian Michael Beschloss reminded us recently in Newsweek, in 1948, on the eve of the declaration of a Jewish state in Palestine, President Truman was under the impression that the new state’s name would be “Judea.” Had that been the case, perhaps today’s “Israelis” would simply be called “Jews.” And why not? Don’t Chinese and Armenians and Lebanese use the same terms for self-identification irrespective of whether they live in their historic homelands or in their diasporas? And even in Israel Jewish citizens are already officially considered to be “Jewish,” not “Israeli,” by nationality.

Of course, when it comes to matters of identity, nothing is simple. One might object, for instance, that had Israel been named “Judea,” then that would make the state’s Arab citizens “Jewish Arabs.” Then again, Israel’s Arab citizens increasingly identify themselves as “Palestinian citizens of Israel,” and so, in our hypothetical, would probably call themselves “Palestinian citizens of Judea,” which is no better or worse than the terminology used today.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Jewish Identity, Ehud Olmert

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.