Apartheid has become the preferred term for some critics of Israel as the best label for Israeli/Palestinian relations. Irene Calis disagrees. Whereas white South Africans needed, and still need, black people as cheap labour, Zionist containment of Palestinians is merely an unfortunate by-product of creating a Jews-only state.
MK Ze’ev Elkin is pushing a new bill which will supersede all other laws on what sort of state Israel is and who its citizens are. Not only does it define Israel as ‘the Jewish state for Jewish people’ it also promotes discrimination against non-Jews and the development of separate land and communities for Jews – i.e. apartheid.
The headline is more emphatic that the tone of this debate but when even a champion of Israel as The Jewish state flounders for arguments (he says Obama’s too young to remember and fails to say that the growing support for Israel in the US comes from Christian evangelists who decisively sever Israel now from its idealistic past) then one wonders what the serious arguments are.
In defiance and disrespect of reality, Bibi risks splitting his coalition in his messianic drive to create ‘the Jewish state’. As John Kerry said of the Israeli state’s refusal to stay within its borders, “a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens, or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.” On its 66th birthday, writers ask how Israel got from there to here.
Bibi is determined to push through a law on Israel’s unique Jewish status (see post above). But no amount of constitutional change, big walls and wails about antisemitism will embed a sense of security. Every occupying power suffers from the paranoia and fear of revenge which through history has always undermined such regimes.
Netanyahu prevaricates and redraws his red lines (even the NY Times thinks pushing for ‘the Jewish state’ recognition is a step too far); Abbas is pressed by demands he cannot meet and keep the people on side, Kerry is run off his feet what with the Syria and now Ukraine crises to deal with as well. Obama wants these talks to go ahead. He cannot make them happen.
An angry Uri Misgav writes in Haaretz about ‘why I no longer want to live in the most racist state in the free world.’ The state has developed a racist hierarchy of groups. The rankings and exclusions are ‘like the Nuremberg Laws, only in reverse’. For Jews who do not wish to be claimed as members by The Jewish State, One Democracy has launched a petition to make this public.
Netanyahu’s late demand that Palestinians recognise Israel as ‘the Jewish state’ has raised many questions and begged one in particular – what does ‘Jewish’ mean to people who so define themselves? It can define ethnicity, religion, cultural heritage; different groups have different rules on who is Jewish; the distinction between Hebrew as a polite word for the language and people (though not religion) has been lost to the all-encompassing, and thus confusing, term Jewish. The contradictory demands that Israel be accepted as any other nation state, and as the unique ‘state of all the Jews’ apart from all others, entrenches the confusion. Three writers from Haaretz give different views on what the terms mean to them.
The support of the United States, under the leadership of President Truman, for the creation of Israel is often cited as the decisive factor in what was a very contentious issue. What is less well-known is that Truman was adamantly opposed to the creation of ‘a Jewish state’ as being fundamentally unAmerican. He also complained about the intensive lobbying by Jewish organisations he was subject to – but, as author John Judis says – the lobbying was successful and set a precedent that has continued ever since.
During decades of talks about talks between Palestinian and Israeli representatives, the Israelis had not demanded recognition as a ‘Jewish state’. Palestinian negotiators stated their recognition of the state of Israel at Oslo – so what’s new? The demand diverts attention from the key issues of borders, refugees and a Palestinian state; it invites international acceptance of racial discrimination inside Israel – who cares as long as Jewishness is hegemonic? It might scupper the Kerry talks. At the same time, evidence inexorably emerged that the Israeli state was created by extreme, illegal violence.
Susan Abulhawa puts her finger on it: if the Palestinians accede to the seemingly absurd – and trivial – demand that they recognise Israel as ‘the Jewish state’ they thereby renounce their rightful claim to their historic homeland in Palestine, an act of treason. But – apart from Kerry’s drive for a framework agreement – what Palestinians have on their side is a growing popular movement to cement their rights, supported by civil BDS action.
Tikkun’s Rabbi Lerner introduces two very different pieces on the current standing of Israel (MJ Rosenberg) and its demand that Palestinians recognise it as ‘the Jewish state’ (Uri Avnery). The new spin on these old arguments is Rosenberg’s argument that old American Jews have given up involvement in Israel’s suicidal behaviour and young Jews have far more important things to care about.
Israel is not a nation state. Formally, there is no such thing as ‘Israeli nationality’. There is no civil marriage or divorce. Its immigration policy is not determined by nation-state considerations. The ‘nation’ is of all Jews in the world. So while Palestinians do, of course, acknowledge the existence of Israel, it is this fantasy state which they cannot recognise. The sticking point is not Israel as ‘a’ Jewish state, as Rudoren argues, but as ‘the Jewish state’. Bernard Avishai details the Judaic measures taken which ensure Israel is an unfixed place of myth and religion rather than an ordinary state.
The decision endorsed by the American Studies Association to boycott Israeli academic institutions was not wrong because of ‘double standards’ argues Peter Beinart. As others have said before, the focus of the West’s Left has long been on the wrong-doing of the agencies within the west’s capitalist network, because this is ours. Israel is part of it too. The problem he says lies in the implied denial of Israel’s right to decide its own immigration policy and thus preserve its nature as a state for Jews.
Ben White looks at the arguments for Israel being both a Jewish-majority state with a hegemonic Jewish culture – an ethnocracy – and a democratic state. He doubts this is possible. As the purpose of a proposed new law establishing Israel as a Jewish state is to exclude Palestinians it would confirm Israel as an isolated fortress state.
A proposed new law defines Israel as ‘the nation-state of the Jewish people’, at a stroke defining those of us who live elsewhere as expats, or perhaps outposts of the great colonising enterprise that is the Israeli state. Uri Avnery marvels at the cheek – and more seriously wonders about the future of the non-Jews in Israel and whether history is shaping the future of Israel-Palestine as part of a regional common market.
Shlomo Sand, again kicking up controversy, says no. He sees nothing identifiably Jewish in such icons of Jewish culture as Einstein, Marx and Freud – and nor can the governors of Israel define what being a ‘Jewish state’ means outside religious terms. Except that it means not being an Arab. And does Jewish (i.e. Slavic Yiddish) humour raise a laugh among Iraqi Jews? All the customs which may connect Jews are based on Judaic religious practices, the only distinct definition of Jewishness which he thinks is legitimate.
The proposal for land-swaps to break the paralysis in negotiations has been accepted by the Arab League and the PA in the course of Kerry’s talks. Hamas immediately rejected it as treacherous; Netanyahu, more disingenously, says land is not an issue – it’s acknowledgement of Israel as the Jewish state that is.
A founding premise of Israel was that Jews would do the full range of work which had not been open to them in Europe. In reality there has always been a shortage of workers for the manual and menial jobs. Fearful of foreign immigrants diluting the Jewish state, writes JKD’Amours, the Civil Administration has begun offering more work permits to Palestinians – with the usual bureaucratic complexities and inconsistencies.
This is a long, thoughtful interview with Balad MK Haneen Zoabi by Jonathan Cook and IOA. Amongst much else she explains why she is more hostile to leftwing than rightwing Zionists, why Palestinians must look to the new tools demonstrated by the Arab revolutions and the effect of Israel redefining itself as a Jewish rather than democratic state