One State issues of race, rights and democracy that led to Israel’s shock elections
“This bill is legal preparation for the right wing’s one-state solution, the annexation of the territories and the establishment of the Jewish apartheid state. The bill is the constitutional foundation, and its acceptance is the laying of the cornerstone of the bi-national segregation state that the right wing is setting up quietly and methodically, unseen and unhindered” — Gideon Levy
Israel’s PM Bibi Netanyahu has broken up his ruling coalition after just two years, and forced a new election. The exciting news is that it might backfire and see his defeat. But what led up to this?
Significantly, he split not with the fascist ultra-right, the orthodox religious parties or the settlers, so this was certainly not about paving the way for a two state deal. He dumped instead those who refused to support his plan for a hardened definition of Israel’s ethno-religeous supremacy.
With the prospect of a permanent single state visible on the horizon, Israeli politics must now position itself between the right’s Greater Israel vision, and its moral, legal and political opposite, One Democratic State.
The One Democratic State (ODS) movement argues that, irrespective of the sub-contracted Palestine Authority, in all of one-time Palestine there now exists only one over-riding power and jurisdiction, ruling within the two-tier apartheid entity on behalf of its dominant and favoured Jewish population. That entity is the single State of Israel. The choice lies not between current reality and the illusory Two States: the choice lies in whether the actual, existing single state is ever to be democratic or not.
”It is no accident that the Jewish nation-state bill was introduced only after the right-wing government succeeded in (almost) completely killing the two-state solution. Now that it is obvious that there will not be two states, they must start worrying about the character of the one state, which is already in the formative stages. They must make sure, at any price, that it will not be democratic and egalitarian” — Gideon Levy
In the ODS projected strategy, once the Two State illusion finally crumbles the struggle will change gear into a full-blown civil rights struggle. It’s widely recognised that without a viable Palestinian state, then all the Palestinians living between the river and the sea will have a claim to vote as equal citizens for a single parliament, and to receive the same human and legal rights across the entire population.
The ODS movement stands for a single state that is equal and democratic for all its citizens, a state that is constitutionally neutral and disengaged on matters of religion and ethnicity. The hardline Zionists, whose DNA is about being Top Dogs and never having to share power, will do anything they can to prevent that.
“This is how the last excuse of the apartheid-deniers, who claim that unlike in South Africa there are no racial (or national) laws here, will fall. The Jewish nation-state law will shape the character of the one state according to its spirit – the spirit of apartheid. The law will ensure what the right wing has always been saying: that this country has room for two peoples, one superior and one inferior. One with all rights, and one with none” — Gideon Levy
With the Two State re-partition all but buried, Netanyahu cooked up a plan for a “Jewish State” law to shift Israel’s official designation away from all pretence of equal rights for its Jewish and Arab citizens. With over 30 laws that already discriminate, this pretence is of course pretty flimsy.
Yet Israel’s claim of being democratic lies at the heart of its self-image and propaganda. And several of Netanyahu’s coalition partners, who may genuinely believe that Israel is democratic (even if they admit it’s “not perfect”) saw that the proposed law would place that illusion under threat: no longer that strange hybrid “Jewish and Democratic” but now “just Jewish”.
Certainly, the “Jewish State law” would undermine their self-denial and make Israel’s apartheid regime both official and also very much worse in practice. So Netanyahu’s insistence on it has split the coalition and led to a re-alignment and a general election in March 2015.
The ODS movement has been told time and time again that the Two State re-partition is “the only game in town”; that an egalitarian single democracy is a dream, a no-hope, utopian solution, on the outer fringe and nowhere near the agenda; that Israeli public opinion would always make it unachievable.
A Strategy for changing hearts and minds
Because one democratic country has to be entered into freely and willingly by all parties, Israel’s paranoia and self-righteous arrogance will have to undergo a sea-change. But we believe that is not impossible, and we see hope for that happening as a result of international boycotts and pressure to isolate Israel and force it to account. Such world-wide pressure led to white South Africa voting itself out of power.
We also hope for a backlash within Israel against the settler/religious right and its fascist thugs who torch mosques and bi-lingual schools and turn up to protest violently at mixed weddings. Many do wish for peace and normality, but can’t see the way to get there; fear makes them cling to the status quo of an aggressive Zionist state.
This backlash may be in prospect now, and the focus on the intrinsic character of Israel as Jewish OR Democratic makes it hard to shrug off race, seeing it as an “international” issue. Opinion polls now indicate that there has finally been a recoil: much to everyone’s surprise, Netanyahu is in for a genuine fight for his political supremacy, a fight that he could even lose.
The winning parties will of course be staunch Zionists such as Tsipi Livni who is on the Wanted List for war crimes against Gaza in the Cast Lead onslaught of 2008-09; and her Labour Party ally Isaac Herzog who has the 1948-67 Nakba in his personal and political lineage. But the opening out of the political landscape, and the fact that we might even see the far right being cut down to size and put in its place, shows that many in Israel are ready for a different conversation.
By all accounts the electoral contest will follow tradition and focus on social issues, on VAT and the cost of living, as if the big foundational questions simply don’t exist: ex-Likud politician Moshe Kahlon, tipped to unseat Netanyahu, is best known for making mobile phones cheaper! Even in the massive “social justice” protests of 2011, when millions took to the streets, the Palestinian issue was shunned as being “over there”, beyond the green line, not their problem.
Election opportunity for broad campaign
But the fact remains that it was the proposed Jewish State law that triggered the election, and this could open the way for those who do understand and oppose the basic exclusivity of Zionism. But they need to make the most of this opportunity and force these core issues into the discussion and onto the election campaign agenda.
The past two years especially have not been fruitful ones for Israel’s dissidents. Against a background of mass hysteria and racism, enabled by incitement from government ministers, fascist vigilantes have had the freedom of the streets with their slogan: “Death to Arabs, Death to Leftists”. Just to hang on in there and carry on their work was the most they could do. And that in itself took a lot of guts.
At this possible turning point for Israel’s politics, on the main stage the big names are banding together to make a better showing. Now would be a good time for the genuine democrats to do the same, to join together and intervene in the election (either as candidates or raising questions from the sidelines) with a single broad campaign against racism, for universal human and civil rights, for mutual respect, for freedom, equality and justice, and for restitution and reconciliation.
A Charter of Rights can unite and focus dissidents
A Charter of Rights could be the focus for such a campaign, and could be used to challenge the electoral parties and candidates, to question where they really stand on democracy. It could gather individual signatories too.
If a common Charter were to be adopted jointly by Israel’s Arab parties, by the dissident left and the radical anti-racist projects, and by the popular resistance in Gaza and the West Bank, it could use the months of the election campaign to weld together an effective and powerful ongoing movement.
♦ See also and Like Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/jewsagainstjewishstate and if you are Jewish, support and sign this petition: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/jews-say-no-to-israel-as-jewish-state.html
♦ Look at “A Watershed Year”, our latest Newsletter on advances in BDS and the diplomatic front, Israel’s slide into extreme racism, recent progress for One Democratic State thinking, and Mazin Qumsiyeh’s tribute to Ziyad Abu Ein
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