Friday, March 07, 2014

A state of all its nationalities?

Dror Eydar

1. The relatively new line in the political controversy going on in Israeli society becomes clearer with the passage of time. This line can be drawn relative to the demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state as preliminary, inviolable condition for any future peace agreement. The left wing's contention is that we do not need Palestinian approval for our identity as a Jewish country. The Palestinians themselves claim, using sophistry, that they recognize us according to the name by which we are known in the world: the State of Israel.
This refusal, which seems a trivial matter (one might ask our opponents: What difference does it make? Say that you grant the recognition and get what you want) is the tip of the iceberg of the conflict. Not a territorial conflict -- that we could have solved a hundred years ago and after -- but one of principle: Does the Jewish nation have any right to this land, at least as much as those who are negotiating with us? Or it is only because the Jews cannot be forcibly expelled? What about the elegant claim that considering that more than six million Jews live on this expanse of land, the other side recognizes, under duress and ex post facto, the political entity known as Israel? Take good note: some may define the phrase "recognize Israel" as "recognizing Israel's right to exist," but not recognizing the Jewish people's right to a state in this land.

Those who favor the two-state solution say that without a peace agreement, Israel risks the danger of a binational state in which two nationalities of equal size exist between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The doomsayers speak of a Jewish minority controlling an Arab majority, as happened in South Africa, which would be the death knell of Israeli democracy.
Let us leave aside the demographic statistics that show differently, or at least are controversial, and ask: Couldn't a binational state exist even within tiny Israel's borders? Even now, the more combative of Israel's Arab citizens are talking about cultural autonomy that goes as far as political autonomy. During the recent decades, parts of the Jewish intelligentsia have been working to undermine the idea of Jewish national feeling. Only last week Haaretz, which has been fighting against that idea for many years, ran articles that view such feeling as "racism" and "fascism," and as resembling the character of the Third Reich's regime. The word "Jew," with its various diversions, causes profound anxiety to this group. As far as it is concerned, conversational Hebrew and some dry studies in Judaism are enough to express the ethnic identity of Israel's Jewish population.
This view matches the mood of some segments of American Jewry that are moving away from any real Jewish identity and, as proof of their loyalty to universal and non-particularist (read: Jewish) values, criticize Israel without letup and see it as the root of (all) evil.
2. A new idea about Israel's identity -- "a state of all its citizens" -- started spreading in the 1990s. This is the idea that informs the New Israel Fund and a plethora of other nongovernmental organizations, many of which are anti-Israel. It is a purely Israeli idea, and relative to other terms from the field of political science, it has hardly been used in academic debates that are not connected with Israel.
The idea seems harmless enough. What could be wrong with a state that takes care of all its citizens? But we know that Israel takes care of all its citizens equally, as anchored in its law and its institutions, even if at times its expression on the practical plane leaves something to be desired (and as far as that goes, non-Jews are not the only ones to suffer; so do other groups within Jewish society).
The clear meaning of the phrase "a state of all its citizens" is that Israel should no longer be a Jewish and democratic state, but a state that contains several national identities equally. That is why the idea should really be called "a state of all its nationalities." In such a state, no preference would be given to the Jewish people and its culture. The flag and the national anthem would be changed, and the Law of Return would be repealed. Even now, a battle against Israel's Jewish identity is in progress. Every year, tens of millions of euros and dollars are funneled into a fight whose purpose is to change the country's Jewish character.
The moment a peace treaty is signed, we will not be left in peace. The heavy artillery that had been focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be turned inward, and the pressure will become far greater. The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement will keep on doing its abominable work, and Israel will continue to be called an "apartheid state" because it "prefers" one nationality at the expense of another. The world will discuss the Law of Return as a racist law that violates human rights. The anarchists will move from the separation barrier in Bilin to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and most of the Israeli media will support, as is its boorish wont, the stripping away of Israel's Jewish identity.
The Palestinians, for their part, will announce that although the territorial conflict has been resolved, Israel is not free of guilt: Within its borders once lived the oppressed Palestinian people, who were "exiled and expelled" by the Zionist army. So, they will say, it is only right that the Palestinian minority living in Israel be given national rights equal to those of the Jews. We can continue this scenario, since it is no dream. We have only to open our eyes and listen to Ahmad Tibi and Saeb Erekat and Mahmoud Abbas and the representatives of Adalah -- The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, and the officials of the New Israel Fund, and read the hundreds of articles in Haaretz and Yedioth Ahronoth.
3. Several things must be done to counter this evil and ensure true peace instead of the fantasies of those who have forgotten their people and their country. Here are three.
First: Pass the Basic Law: Israel as the National Home of the Jewish People as soon as possible. The purpose of a national home is to provide a legitimate space for the blossoming of a specific, distinct culture, particularly when the culture differs from that of the nations among which it stayed during certain periods of its history -- and where, by most accounts, it was stifled and oppressed. The justification for a national home -- and all the more a state for the Jewish people -- increases exponentially according to the degree of tangible and possible threat against the Jews as a nation and as a culture. Dr. Assaf Malach showed convincingly in his doctoral work that the moment we start removing Jewish markers from the public space in the name of civic neutrality, we lose the basis for having a national home. If we confine Israel's Jewish character to the flag, the national anthem and the Law of Return, we will lose the justification for these things as well, since if the national home is not supposed to express the culture of the Jewish people, then why not allow everybody to identify with the flag and the national anthem?
Second: The demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state must never be dropped. To put a conclusive end to the conflict, the Palestinian side must recognize the Jewish people's right to its own national home at least in some part of the historic Land of Israel. Otherwise, the conflict will continue.
Third: National feeling and thought must be encouraged, and knowledge of the historical national tradition of the Jewish people and the differences between it and other national viewpoints must be expanded. Mostly, we should not let the contemptible attempt to compare Jewish national feeling to well-known racist theories upset us. National feeling is a deep and noble thing, and even if it has been expressed in terrible ways, we must not give it up. Rather, as with any good thing, we must beware of the radical fringe and of alien, dubious viewpoints. And the main thing is to have no fear at all.

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