Now that nationalists in Scotland, Catalonia and other places try to create new states (or to segregate their states from the process towards a federal Europe, like the British right or the Austrian far right), it is timely to remember what an icon of social democracy, the late historian Tony Judt, had to say about the nation state in general, and the state of Israel in particular:
"At the dawn of the twentieth century, in the twilight of the
continental empires, Europe’s subject peoples dreamed of forming
“nation-states,” territorial homelands where Poles, Czechs, Serbs,
Armenians, and others might live free, masters of their own fate. When
the Habsburg and Romanov empires collapsed after World War I, their
leaders seized the opportunity. A flurry of new states emerged; and the
first thing they did was set about privileging their national, “ethnic”
majority—defined by language, or religion, or antiquity, or all three—at
the expense of inconvenient local minorities, who were consigned to
second-class status: permanently resident strangers in their own home.
But one nationalist movement, Zionism, was frustrated in its
ambitions. The dream of an appropriately sited Jewish national home in
the middle of the defunct Turkish Empire had to wait upon the retreat of
imperial Britain: a process that took three more decades and a second
world war. And thus it was only in 1948 that a Jewish nation-state was
established in formerly Ottoman Palestine. But the founders of the
Jewish state had been influenced by the same concepts and categories as
their fin-de-siècle contemporaries back in Warsaw, or Odessa, or
Bucharest; not surprisingly, Israel’s ethno-religious self-definition,
and its discrimination against internal “foreigners,” has always had
more in common with, say, the practices of post-Habsburg Romania than
either party might care to acknowledge.
The problem with Israel, in short, is not—as is sometimes
suggested—that it is a European “enclave” in the Arab world; but rather
that it arrived too late. It has imported a characteristically
late-nineteenth-century separatist project into a world that has moved
on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law.
The very idea of a “Jewish state”—a state in which Jews and the Jewish
religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are
forever excluded—is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short,
is an anachronism."
(The whole 2003 article by Tony Judt, "Israel: The Alternative," can be read here).