November 01, 2010

On the loyalty oath and the wretched Zionist "Left"

Earlier this month, Israel's government decided, with a large majority, to obligate non-Jewish naturalized citizens to pledge allegiance to a “Jewish, democratic state”. This is, of course, an abomination. It is another indignity that targets primarily the spouses of Palestinians, and attempts, through them, to strike at the growing resistance against Zionism amidst Palestinian citizens of Israel. It is another advance in the colonial war, both physical and cultural, waged by the settlers against the indigenous people of Palestine. The Loyalty Oath is also in line with what can be expected from the ever more violent, racist and hateful Jewish parliamentary majority in Israel.

That “Oath” provided an opportunity for the moribund “Zionist Left” to wake up momentarily from its terminal delirium in order to cry “fascism!” Like dinosaurs descending from their pedestals in natural history museums, the larger than life skeletons of the white Ashkenazi Israeli left gathered in ethnically cleansed Tel-Aviv. There, fancying themselves a battery of Tom Paines, they ceremoniously released their “Declaration of Independence from Fascism,” reproduced below in its entirety:
A state which forcibly invades the hallowed realm of the individual citizen's conscience, and which imposes punishment on those whose opinions and beliefs do not fit the authorities' opinions and the prescribed "character" of the state, stops being a democracy and embarks on becoming a fascist state.

Behind these stairs where we stand, the state of Israel was proclaimed. The state which increasingly takes Israel's place – a state which fills the country with a variety of racist legislation, promoted by the Knesset and the cabinet – is excluding itself from the family of democratic nations. Therefore we, citizens of the Israel envisaged in the Declaration of Independence, hereby declare that will not be citizens of a country purporting to be Israel and which violates its basic commitment to the principles of equality, civil liberty and sincere aspiration for peace – principles upon which the State of Israel was founded. (See description by Gush Shalom, one of the forces behind this )
What utter nonsense? “Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not.” The state that you call Israel was founded, through ethnic cleansing, on a single principle, the superiority and primacy of the European settler over the indigenous Palestinian. The “democratic” state of Israel that you evoke with moist eyes spent the first years of its existence expropriating the land and property of both the expelled and the remaining native Palestinian inhabitants and distributing the spoils to you and to your parents.

The allegedly defunct state of Israel you mourn sees and has always seen the Palestinian conscience through the lens of the “demographic problem.” A Palestinian cannot be a schoolteacher in Israel without an examination of, and favorable verdict on, the content of his or her conscience by Israel’s security services. Palestinian politicians and intellectuals have been driven into exile, persecuted and jailed because their “opinions and beliefs do not fit the authorities' opinions.” This is not the result of a “right-wing” takeover. This has been the condition of Palestinian “equality” in Israel since 1948.

But let us look closer.

The “Declaration of Independence of Fascism” sanitizes the history of Israel and renders invisible the primary victims of its policies, the Palestinians, who are not even mentioned in the document. Who, according to the declaration, is the victim? The “individual conscience,” which has been intruded by the state. The systemic discrimination and predation of the state, which targets Palestinians not as individuals, but as members of a group, as Palestinians, as indigenous people, and targets the conscience of only those who resist this assault on the indigenous people, has been artfully disappeared. Why?

The primary framework the document establishes is an opposition between the citizens and an alien state, one that has taken over the rightful state. The government, they claim, has taken away their country, Israel, and built another one, fascist, in its place. Where else is this framework used? What can the context introduced by this device teach us about the politics behind it? Two answers come to mind: the populist Right in the US and in Europe, and Palestinian nationalism. Of course, these two are very different. Palestinian nationalism invokes this framework in relation to a real historical event. The state of Israel was indeed founded through a massive act of expropriation, in which the native people lost not only their property but their country. The majority is today stateless refugees. Those who were lucky to remain are treated by the state as well as by the dominant culture quite openly as foreigners in their native land. symptomatically, they are often invited, if they “don’t like it in Israel”, to move to “their” Arab countries.

The populist Right in the west uses the framework of “the stolen country” as a projection. The projection reverses the objective relations between immigrants and their host countries, portray immigrants as powerful and sinister, and the dominant institutions of the state as either naïve victims or as having been hijacked by a foreign and malevolent force (forces such as “communism,” “Jews,” “Islam,” “multiculturalism,” “liberals,” etc.)

Why then does the Zionist “Left” find this framework appealing? I’ll provide two mutually reinforcing hypotheses.

  1. As Oren Yiftachel describes, social antagonisms in a colonial settler society tends to define three major groups: Founders, Natives and Immigrants. In Israel, the Founders are the westernized, secular Ashkenazi Jews. Most of them came to Palestine before the establishment of the state. This group—mostly through “primitive accumulation,” or, in less fancy terms, armed robbery—has come to own the bulk of the land and capital in the country, and to dominate politics, the corporate economy and the professions. The Natives are the Palestinians, who are, when not targeted for disappearance, the enemy of the state and the object of its predation. The Immigrants are constituted primarily by Jews from Arab countries, religious Jews and Russians, social groups formed by those who either arrived to Israel or adopted Zionism after the founding of the state. They participate in the oppression of Palestinians in a subordinate position, and have used their relation to the Founders (Jewishness in the case of Israel), to advance and to challenge the dominance of the Founders. Knowing that the Oath of Loyalty is a scheme whose main promoter is the Russian party “Israel Beiteinu,” and is imposed by the Right (Likud), a party that holds power through a populist appeal to the “Immigrants” since 1977, clarifies the rhetoric of the declaration. The people who are creating the state that “took Israel’s place,” and who are establishing a “fascist state,” are the immigrants: Russians, religious settlers, Oriental Jews, etc. The political ascendancy of these “immigrants,” because they are not western in orientation, (rather than the apartheid policies established already in 1948) lead to the exclusion of Israel from the “family of democratic nations.” This “family” is, as it is easy to recognize, a euphemism for the West (secular, liberal, etc.), which is the cultural reference for the Zionist "Left". Underneath the constitutional language there is a racialized democracy, allegedly undermined by foreigners. Behind the concern for the individual conscience, which itself already masks the identity of the real victims, this “Left” document defends the cultural hegemony and political primacy of the founders against the immigrant challenge.
  2. But there is also a relation with Palestinians. Not only is the Palestinian narrative erased and evaded, but the speakers appropriate it. They are the ones whose country has been stolen. Proclaiming that “grievance” serves precisely to appropriate another attack on the people whose country really was stolen. By proclaiming the founders victims of an expropriation of “their” country, the document naturalizes them in Palestine, and by the same token it naturalizes the spoils of 1948. In this respect, the language of the alleged expropriation of the country by fascists is not altogether different from the transformation of the Jaffa orange, the prickly pear and “khummus” into national Israeli symbols. It is another element in the struggle to erase the presence of Palestinians and to take their place.
There is also a political strategy in this. This so called “left” is willing to defend Palestinians against the Loyalty Oath and other schemes of the far right, but only on the condition that all claims against its own constituency, the wealthiest in Israel, are dropped, and that the Palestinian struggle is made subordinate to the imperative of re-asserting Ashkenazi hegemony. Indeed, the condition is that Palestinians disappear as Palestinians. That is nice. I assume. And perhaps 40 years ago it might have been accepted by some. But today, when this “Left” is not in a position to deliver a bucket of socks, it is empty words, proclaimed symbolically in a city center empty of Palestinians.

The minimal condition of a progressive left in a settler colonial society like Israel is the recognition of the settler colonial nature of the regime, and therefore of the primacy of the antagonism between settler and native. Only are progressive those forces that base their politics on this antagonism and make themselves allies to the struggle of the indigenous people of Palestine. Such left does exist in Israel, although it is marginal. That other "left" that defends the interests of the settlers and seeks to make the Palestinian national problem disappear is not part of the solution. It is part of the problem.


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