February 07, 2012

Israeli citizens and Israelite nationals

The Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) has a series of articles on its site headed, Israel's Democratic Futures. This appears to be down to the worry that the idea of Israel being a democracy is becoming harder to defend. The article in the series which has gained the most attention from Israel advocates, is the one headed, In Defence of Little Israel: An Interview with Michael Walzer even though it appears to flatly contradict the idea that Israel is a state for Jews. The interviewer, BICOM's Alan Johnson and the various Israel advocates whose comments I have read don't appear to have noticed this but Ben White, in New Statesman, has indeed noticed.
At first glance, Johnson appears to be unafraid of posing the difficult questions - but Walzer's unchallenged replies are revealing.
Israel is not the state of the Jewish people; Jews outside Israel don't vote in its elections and non-Jews inside Israel do vote in its elections. The Jewish people are not sovereign in Israel; the citizens of Israel are sovereign there. I think there is a sense in which Israel, I mean green line Israel, is right now politically a state of all its citizens. The real difficulties are not political, they are cultural, and they arise in every nation state.
Unpacked, this is a wonderful illustration of the denial and diversion tactics deployed by those trying to reconcile the idea of a 'Jewish' and 'democratic' state. Walzer says "there is a sense" in which Israel is "a state of all its citizens" - but he presents no evidence, and quickly moves on in order to focus on "cultural" difficulties.
Walzer's response is just wrong (and he surely must know this).
Firstly, foundational to Israel's legal framework as a Jewish state is legislation passed in the first few years, specifically the Law of Return, the Absentee Property Law, and the Citizenship Law. These laws shaped an institutionalised regime of ethno-religious discrimination by extending Israel's 'frontiers' to include every Jew in the world (as a potential citizen), at the same time as explicitly excluding expelled Palestinians.
Incidentally, this notion that Israel is a state for all of its citizens was contradicted a couple of years ago by the then Israeli ambassador to the UK, Ron Prosor, in a Guardian article:
Israel's raison d'etre is to be the "state for the Jews".
I can't help wondering how BICOM could get such a basic fact about their specialist subject so very wrong but leaving that to one side, a lot of Israel advocates, whilst falsely accusing anti-zionists of antisemitism, are fond of saying that they do not equate anti-zionism with antisemitism. Apparently, Jim Denham of Shiraz Socialist has no such qualms. He posted a copy of the interview with Walzer without any comment within the post, though he had the decency to allow comments below the post.

Here is Jim challenging an anti-zionist commenter:
You, apparently, would deny that bourgeois democratic right, supported by Lenin and enjoyed by the vast majority of the peoples of the world, to the Jews and the Jews alone. I’d call that (ie: your denial of the right of Jewish self-determination) a form of antisemitism.
Does this mean that all those Israel advocates who flatly contradict the idea of Israel being a state for Jews are being antisemitic. Is an Israel more exclusively Jewish than it is already part of their agenda?  If they support the "bourgeois democratic right" of Jews to statehood, self-determination, or whatever, at the same time as denying that that is what the State of Israel embodies, why do they support Israel at all?

The trick here is performed by Israel distinguishing between citizens and nationals. For the State of Israel, Jews are its nationals, you might say, Jewish "nationals" are its first class citizens. But why don't the advocates of Jewish statehood simply come out and say so?


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