January 26, 2008

State of the Jews and state of denial

I've had this lengthy essay on the Lawrence of Cyberia blog drawn to my attention. It starts on Israel's state of denial of what it has done to the Palestinians and then runs through some of the implications of Israel being a Jewish state. It even quotes Amos Oz (yuk!) at one point. Here's the opening:

Years ago I read some words of Edward Said that seemed at the time rather innocuous but which I think, in retrospect, really lie at the heart of the I/P conflict and help to explain why it has remained unresolved so long: "Until the time comes when Israel assumes moral responsibility for what it has done to the Palestinian people, there can be no end to the conflict".

I think the reason I have come to appreciate the importance of what Said was saying is that throughout the peace process, Israel's policies - and the tortured justifications it uses to defend them - have repeatedly seemed to have less to do with hammering out a peace agreement than with evading having to really come to terms with why there is no peace in the first place. The Israeli historian, Tom Segev, remarked on this Israeli preference for avoidance - and the negative effect this has on resolving the conflict - when he wrote just last month:

Most Israelis still find it hard to acknowledge that they
bear historical responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem. The Zionist vision is based, among other things, on the assumption that its fulfillment need not cause injustice to anyone: If only the Arabs would relinquish their nationalist yearnings and agree to the fulfillment of our dream, it would be good for everyone, including them.

This historical fiction is very harmful because as long as we convince ourselves that we have no part in the responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian tragedy, we have no real reason to try to correct the injustice. This is the importance of acknowledging our responsibility.
This really goes to the heart of the cultural unpleasantness of Israel and of a great many Jews today, particularly those in the public eye. Leaving aside that the state of denial serves notice that the zionists don't intend that any of their wrongs be righted, a culture of deceipt pervades Israeli Jewish society and dominates organised Jewish communal life.

So much for that. Now the Jewishness of Israel and the problems that causes for democratic life and for peace:
Amos Oz has written that the concept is absurd, for "A state cannot be Jewish, just as a chair or a bus cannot be Jewish". Avrum Burg, former Speaker of the Knesset, describes the definition as inflammatory and suicidal, saying: "To define the State of Israel as a Jewish state is the key to its end. A Jewish state is explosive. It's dynamite". Israel's former Minister of Education, Shulamit Aloni, does not accept that Israel is a "Jewish state", as the term makes second-class citizens of Israelis who are not Jews. Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman finds it "nonsensical" that non-Jews should be expected to acknowledge the multi-ethnic state of Israel as existing for only one of its peoples. The late Israel Shahak, formerly Professor of Chemistry at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, wrote that declaring a "Jewish state" is not only discriminatory against Israel's non-Jewish citizens, but also incompatible with the democratic rights of its Jewish ones:

The principle of Israel as 'a Jewish state' was supremely important to Israeli politicians from the inception of the state and was inculcated into the Jewish population by all conceivable ways. When, in the early 1980s, a tiny minority of Israeli Jews emerged which opposed this concept, a Constitutional Law (that is, a law overriding provisions of other laws, which cannot be revoked except by a special procedure) was passed in 1985 by an enormous majority of the Knesset.

By this law no party whose programme openly opposes the principle of 'a Jewish state' or proposes to change it by democratic means, is allowed to participate in the elections to the Knesset. I myself strongly oppose this constitutional principle. The legal consequence for me is that I cannot belong, in the state of which I am a citizen, to a party having principles with which I would agree and which is allowed to participate in Knesset elections. Even this example shows that the State of Israel is not a democracy due to the application of a Jewish ideology directed against all non-Jews and those Jews who oppose this ideology.

The article looks at all those little rhetorical tricks that zionists like to play to dodge and close down debate. Here's a good and informative one:
If you can just reduce every unsympathetic comment about Israel to "anti-semitism", then Israel and Zionism can never be criticized. For example, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad said that the occupation regime over Jerusalem would disappear from the pages of time. He's not a Zionist. He doesn't think the pre-existing people and culture of Arab Palestine should be destroyed to make way for a Zionist state populated by an overwhelmingly immigrant population of Jewish people from all over the world. To him, the creation of a minority, sectarian regime in the Muslim-dominated land of Palestine raises all sorts of questions, like: What is the justification for it, and how do you expect the disenfranchised majority population will react to it? Why should Jewish people anywhere in the world have greater rights to Palestine than native Palestinian Christians and Muslims? Is a regime like that sustainable, or will it go the same way as the Soviet regime in the USSR, the rule of the Shah in Iran, and Saddam's regime in Iraq? But once you translate his original words as "wiping Israel off the map", and hammer it into people's heads that he was threatening to nuke Israel and "kill the Jews", you don't have to answer any of those questions. Once you have successfully framed the debate in terms of "Ahmedinejad wants to wipe out the Jews, just like Hitler; you surely don't support Hitler, do you?", you have closed down the possibility of debate.

I think there's a similar dynamic at work among at least some of the people who profess outrage over the PLO's rejection of Israel as a "Jewish state". The PLO has legitimate misgivings over recognizing Israel specifically as a "Jewish state". If you really don't want those misgivings to be aired, because they raise questions that are difficult for you to answer, you can simply pretend that in rejecting a "Jewish state" the PLO is actually rejecting "a state populated by Jews". Once you have managed to misrepresent the Palestinian position as simply wanting to "drive the Jews into the sea", a position which has no legitimate defenses, then you have again preempted the danger of rational debate.
And closed down the possibility of peace and maintained a culture of deceipt.

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