False questions and unasked questions
Commentator Bradley Burston, writing in Ha’aretz (2 August) on several themes including the continuation of the Jewish state, managed a heap of confusions in just a few sentences, but failed to ask a heap of important questions.“ I fully recognize as valid the opinions of those who oppose the idea of a specifically Jewish state. I would only ask that they be honest and open about it.”
We quite agree. But who are these people who are not “honest and open” about wanting a clearly multi-racial state? Certainly everyone in the One State movement is perfectly happy to say so, and to outline all the reasons. These dark hints about a hidden agenda are just meant to fuel paranoia, and to give the impression that a Single State is such a terrible thing to utter that people have to be devious and secretive.
“As a supporter of the idea of a truly democratic Jewish state alongside an independent and sovereign Palestinian state, what I cannot accept is the idea that formally Muslim states are acceptable, where a Jewish state is not.”
Three problems here.
First, we have this “truly democratic Jewish state”: a true democracy (or any democracy for that matter) means majority rule, irrespective of race or ethnicity. In any area with shifting populations and a large number of Palestinians having a UN-endorsed claim to a right to return to their homeland, the ethnic character of the state’s majority cannot be both democratic and pre-determined. (And that assumes that a majority is static and defined by ethnicity and not variable and defined by politics.)
Second, does he really support an independent and sovereign Palestinian state, with full control of its own water, borders, foreign alliances, security and armaments, airspace and infrastructure? If not, maybe he is the one not being “honest and open”.
Then we get to the big one, his complaint that “formally Muslim states are acceptable, where a Jewish state is not”.
This is a false question, for several reasons.
The countries defining themselves as Islamic states already existed as settled countries. They didn’t shunt people about or bring in more Muslims so that Muslims would have a Muslim state. They simply gave legal power to their clergy.
Israel as a Jewish state hasn’t quite given power to its clergy, but it does demand power for Jews. As these Jews are still free to be religious or secular, it’s not really ideologically religious, as are the Islamic states. The mostly secular founders said Israel was for the Jewish Nation rather than the Jewish religion, and even so, Israel was happy to take in a mass of immigrants who were not Jewish either by religion or ethnicity and had to be “converted”. (Since when did Judaism go out recruiting? Only since the “ingathering of Jews”, which Israel was counting on for its cast-iron majority, didn’t materialise.)
Israel’s foundational belief and continuing bottom line is all about Jews “having their own” country, as Burston reiterates with the child’s question: if they’ve got one, why can’t I have one too?
Here are some questions he doesn’t ask.
♦ How can it be “their own country” when it was already someone else’s home?
♦ What is the use of Israel to Jews and Judaism? Aren’t Jews doing rather well as a scattered minority, in terms of influence, achievement, defining their individual and collective Jewish identity, and living a good life? Wasn’t this what they had always been good at, rather than building empires and state machines? There is nothing in millenia of experience or culture to provide guidance on autonomy, let alone on ruling over others as a majority. In 1948’s new Knesset, a member spoke this salutary reminder: “For the first time we shall be the majority living with a minority, and we shall be called upon to provide an example and prove how Jews live with a minority.” Evidently, no-one was listening.
♦ Why has the history of Zionism been falsified and simplified to exclude the major thinkers of the Ichud group who during the 1930s and ’40s argued and organised for a non-state Zionism that would share the country with its other ethnic groups?
♦ Is Israel there for the world’s Jews, or are they there for Israel: to defend it (right or wrong) and pay towards its upkeep and military hardware — which would not be needed if they only agreed to share the country?
♦ Do American Jews, British Jews etc even feel like they are a minority in someone else’s country, or do they simply regard themselves as Americans or Brits? And if Israel had never existed, would it perhaps be a whole lot simpler to be Jewish Americans??
♦ Does the existence of a badly behaved (or at best, controversial) Jewish State not put intolerable pressures on Diaspora Jews? If Israel behaved decently to the Palestinians, would that not make other Jews feel rather proud instead of torn, worried, confused and upset? If Jews shared Israel fairly, would that really make its future meaningless?
♦ In the modern world, how many people still define themselves primarily by religion and not by politics, culture, family, interests, age, profession etc etc?
♦ Is anti-semitism an eternal curse, or something that grew out of circumstance and is best combatted, alongside all racial hatred, scapegoating and intolerance, wherever it arises? In a recent survey, about half those who had witnessed or experienced anti-semitism said it was related to the perpetrator’s views on Israel. So Israel is creating problems for Jews that they may not have had, and is of course not remotely a safe haven from such problems.
♦ Is it so important to have a Jewish majority state (in order not to be a minority in “someone else’s country”) even if it absolutely requires, by definition, the retaining of a majority stakeholding by means of gerrymandering and ethnic cleansing and obsession with demography and wars, and lies, and walls?
♦ Quite aside from the Palestine issue, just where is Israel headed? This is one question that is rarely asked in the context of the “specifically Jewish State”, though it’s a constant worry among Israelis and one reason why close to a million of them (at least 15%) are living abroad. For Israel certainly is not standing still. There is an inexorable move from Jewish ethnic power (which can be secular) towards Jewish religious power. The once-fringe orthodoxy is increasingly evident, and well organised, in politics, the army, education and the legal system. They have a very high, and highly subsidised, birthrate and some armed and well drilled private shock troops. Their American counterparts are also set to outnumber and overwhelm their traditionally critical, liberal Jewish communities.
These orthodox Jews have more in common with the fundamentalist Christians and Muslims than with the liberal Jewish tradition, or the original Israeli way of life. Their growth and growing power means that one of the world’s most powerful, and nuclear-armed state machines could one day be a rogue state in the hands of a fanatical, militant, militaristic group of religious Jewish Jihadis who are every bit as dangerous and irrational and hate-filled as their Muslim and Christian counterparts. Already they call the shots on a whole range of issues.
Could Israel in a few decades indeed become a Jewish version of Iran, ultra-right, stifling, and bludgeoning its “own” less observant citizens? Maybe not in this decade or the next, but if the present trends continue they clearly point to the direction that a separate Israel will be taking if it doesn’t re-organise very soon as a unitary state with full civil and voting rights for the whole population of the original land of Palestine: which is just one of many compelling reasons to reconstitute Israel as a normal, non-ethnic, secular democracy with a clear separation of state and clergy.
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