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Juan Cole: 'Israel Declares for Ethnic Nationalism'

by shergald Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 10:33:33 AM EST

It is a sad turn of events when a nation recreates a grievous mistake that a majority of its own people have been the victims of in the past. But that is just what happened when the Israeli Cabinet passed legislation to require a "loyalty oath" of all its citizens that demands allegiance to Israel as "a Jewish and democratic state," including non-Jewish persons applying for citizenship.

Juan Cole analyzes its implications (links in the original):

The Israeli cabinet has approved a measure that would require persons applying for Israeli citizenship to affirm the "Jewish and democratic" character of Israel. The new oath would at the moment affect relatively few people, mainly Palestinians outside Israel who marry Palestinian-Israelis and who wish to unite the family on the Israeli side of the green line (and are permitted to do so). But the backer of the oath, Avigdor Lieberman (a former club bouncer from Moldavia), wants a similar or even stricter oath to be administered to all the Palestinian-Israelis, who form roughly 20 percent of Israel's population.

Supporters of the measure, such as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, point out that this language already exists in Israel's organic law.

But Palestinian-Israeli community leaders and members of the Knesset (parliament) have lambasted the oath as racist.

"Jewish" as a marker of identity can refer either to a religion or to ethnicity (as defined in Israel, persons born of a Jewish mother). Ethnicity is arguably the more important of the two markers, since a practicing Jew in Israel born of a Gentile mother cannot be listed as "Jewish" in their identification papers. The most recent Israeli census said there were 7.2 million Israelis, with about 5.5 million Jews, 300,000 non-Jews, and 1.4 million Arabs or what I call Palestinian-Israelis. The non-Jews are mostly those children of mixed families where the mother was not Jewish. Most of them view themselves as Jewish and some are actively upset that they cannot be so listed. The 5.5 million Jews, moreover, included large numbers of Russians who do not practice Judaism but whose claims to Jewish ethnic ancestry were thought credible by the Israeli authorities. (Among Israeli intellectuals there are many skeptics about many of these Russian "Jews.")

It seems obvious, then, that the "Jewish" in Netanyahu's new oath is not primarily a religious marker, since otherwise many of the 300,000 would be "Jewish" on their identity cards and many of the Russians would be non-Jewish on grounds of love of ham sandwiches. Admittedly, religion is in the mix, since at some point in the past the matriarchs producing Jews were themselves religious Jews. In the past, religion preceded ethnicity, while in current Israeli law ethnicity precedes religion.

As such, asking someone to say that Israel is a "Jewish and democratic state" in order to gain citizenship would be analogous to asking a Hindu Indian immigrant to the United States to affirm that the US is "a white, ancestrally Christian democratic state." That is, white ethnicity would be privileged and would be defined in part by Christian, and likely even Protestant, antecedents. (Early twentieth century racist judges had already clarified that while Hindu Indians might be Aryans insofar as they speak an Indo-European language, they were not "white.")

It should be obvious that asking African or Asian immigrants, or even many Latinos, to make such an affirmation as the price of citizenship would be discriminatory and racist, insofar as their very oath would deprive them of first-class citizenship.

Political theorists distinguish between "civic" nationalism, such as that in the United States and France, and "ethnic" nationalism, more common in 19th century Central Europe. Civic nationalism is based on ideals (fealty to the US constitution, e.g.) and history. Thus, Crispus Attucks, an African-American, has often been seen as the first martyr to American independence, which was about ideals and not ethnicity. There was nevertheless a latent racism in American nationalism, which assumed that the "real" Americans were white Protestants. Thus, the ideal of civic nationalism is sometimes tainted by or intertwined with the sentiments of ethnic nationalism. But by and large over time, civic nationalism has won out in the American courts, though often only after a long struggle.

I don't like ethnic nationalism, since at its worst it produces phenomena like Nazi Germany or Milosevic's Serbia. If the nation is defined by a dominant ethnicity, then how "pure" does the ethnicity have to be? And is it polluted by the presence of other ethnic groups (might not they intermarry and dilute the core ethnicity?) In a globalizing world with massive labor migration, ethnic nationalism is a recipe for race war.

And, of course, as a historian I reject the whole idea of a "race" in the 19th century Romantic nationalist sense as a figment of the imagination. Brian Sykes found on looking at the mitochondrial DNA of Europeans that all the women had only one of 7 haplotypes or patterns in the chromosomes, and that the same 7 appeared in all linguistic and national groups, including e.g. the Basque, though the proportions varied. Germans are no different in this regard from the Irish or from Bulgarians. The vast majority of Ashkenazi Jewish women have one of the same 7 haplotypes rather than Palestinian ones. I.e. they are directly descended from Gentile great great grandmothers who married Jewish men. One only has to go back ten or twelve thousand years at most, probably, to find a common ancestor for all the Mediterranean populations. There are no races and all human beings are all mixed up in regard to ancestry. A recent excavation at Rome from the time of Augustus found a Chinese worker. How he got to the Roman Empire would make a great tale. But if he married a Roman woman and had children, likely all Italians now have some descent from him, and so are cousins of all the Chinese.

Ethnic nationalism is not only intrinsically unfair, but it is also based on a lie, that races are real things.

If most countries have a mix of civic nationalist emphases with ethnic nationalist ones, there is nevertheless typically a predominance of one over the other. However privileged French-speaking Catholics tracing themselves to the Gaulois were in post-Revolutionary France, the long-term keynotes of French law and political practice tended toward acceptance of all who stood with the Rights of Man and other key French revolutionary traditions.

In Israel, it is the ethnic nationalism that has been predominant, though there nevertheless have been some civic-nationalist aspects to Israeli politics. Thus, Palestinian-Israelis are citizens, can vote, can form political parties, and have representation in the Knesset (Parliament), though they can also fairly easily be expelled from that body. Their civic rights are fragile and less stable than those of Jewish Israelis.

What Lieberman and Netanyahu have done with this loyalty oath is to put the emphasis even further on ethnic nationalism, with Jews as the core or privileged ethnicity. They are right that it is not a new gesture, but are wrong if they think it is not a departure of sorts in the degree of emphasis on the ethnic versus the civic.

That changing balance in favor of a privileged ethnicity is why the Palestinian-Israeli politicians and community leaders are crying racism.

It would be an exaggeration to say that the oath makes Israel an Apartheid state inside the Green Line, i.e. inside 67 borders. Palestinian Israelis are citizens, can socially mix with Jewish Israelis, can go to university and attend the same schools, etc. They can even intermarry if they are willing and able to do so abroad. The oath does not make for Apartheid, but for an ethnic nationalism of the older German or Serbian sort. It is of course shameful for Jews to adopt such exclusivist political ideas, which harmed Jews so much.

It is the situation of non-Israeli Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza that more resembles Apartheid policies of creating cantonments for the Africans.

(By permission)

Just a footnote on Cole's analysis: if Avigdor Lieberman's idea of cordoning off pieces of Israel containing large concentrations of Palestinian-Arabs takes hold, then not just the West Bank, but Israel proper will become a full-fledged Apartheid state.

Richard Silverstein posted what may be the most cynical response to Israel's new loyalty oath.

Can we be far from separate water fountains and bathrooms for Arabs?  We already have separate schools, separate towns and separate political parties.  For that matter, can we be far from prohibiting anyone who isn't Jewish from becoming a citizen?  Actually, Israel will always allow Christians to become citizens.  It's the Muslims who are a problem.  So the next thing you know Israel will be prohibiting Muslims and Arabs from becoming citizens.  They might just as well add "Arabs raus" to the Israeli Declaration of Independence.\

And while we're at it, can't we add a loyalty oath for visitors, especially the undesirable ones like Norman Finkelstein, Noam Chomsky and Ivan Prado, the Spanish clown.  That should end the problem of Israel having to arrest them and send them packing when they arrive at Ben Gurion unwanted.  No more nasty ISMers either.  Just think about it.

Let's think really big, instead of confining the oath to non-Jews who wish to become citizens, let's apply it to leftists who already are citizens.  When they go abroad to spout their anti-Israel swill, don't let `em back in the country till they swear allegiance to the Judenreich.  That will get rid of any number of Sheikh Jarrah activists, Neve Gordon, Gideon Levy, Amira Hass, and the like.  It also ought to bring down substantially the number of leftists afflicting the Israeli body politic.

http://www.richardsilverstein.com/tikun_olam/2010/10/10/israeli-cabinet-approves-loyalty-oath-for-no n-jews-only/

by shergald on Mon Oct 11th, 2010 at 03:58:27 PM EST

Unbelievable. Of all the excuses Israel has provided for not settling for two states over the past 18 years, this one takes the cake:

Vice Premier: No chance of peace with Palestinians in near future

Ya'alon tells Army Radio that Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state shows they are not serious about two-state solution.

"In the eyes of Palestinians, the occupation began in '48 and not in '67," Ya'alon told Army Radio. "Not only Hamas thinks this - Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] does too."

http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/vice-premier-no-chance-of-peace-with-palestinians-in-n ear-future-1.318641

What a joke! It is already assumed by most the Netanyahu's current peace effort is nothing but another stall and deflect ploy. The Likud Charter to wipe Palestine off the map is still the Israeli playbook.

by shergald on Tue Oct 12th, 2010 at 10:02:58 AM EST
Why shouldnt the Palestinians negotiation baseline be the '48 borders?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Oct 12th, 2010 at 10:29:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If the Israelis would honor UN Resolution 194, the 1948 borders would be the borders of both peoples. When the UN Security Council recognized Israel as a sovereign state within the 1948 border, it did not expect that Israel would forcibly and through fear (of massacre) ethnically cleanse over two thirds of the Palestinian population. The Right of Return, which is what UN 194 refers to, was a last minute attempt to undo the unexpected Israeli move. In fact, the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians actually began two months before Independence was declared, and the UN should have known what was going on. The massacre at Dier Yassin, for example, occurred before May 15.

Israel is the homeland for the Jewish people, as we often hear, but it is also sitting on Palestine, the homeland of the Palestinian people for over a thousand years. There are Palestinians living in refugee camps today still holding onto keys to their homes in over 470 villages now located in Israel, most demolished intentionally to obliterate the Palestinian memory. The injustice perpetrated by the UN in 1948 has been known for sometime and the creation of UNWRA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, six months after Independence never did assuage its guilt.

by shergald on Tue Oct 12th, 2010 at 11:38:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How about a "one-and-a-half-state solution" or....

One State, Two State, Red State, Blue State

Lawrence of Cyberia again seems to have all the insights on the current and purported peace negotiations going on between Israel and the Palestinian people, or not. Whatever the solution, any peace agreement or the lack of one will end up with the same result. Why do we bother?

19 September 2010

I think there's a degree of wishful thinking in the positive reaction from some pro-Palestinian one-staters to recent suggestions by a few Israeli rightists that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be resolved by gradually offering citizenship of a Jewish state of Israel to some of the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories. The wishful thinking lies in the assumption that "we" are talking about one state, and "they" are talking about one state, so regardless of the differences in the details we're all to some extent reading off the same page.  

I don't think there's any basis to that assumption at all. What the Likud's apparent "converts" mean by the one state solution is that there will be no Palestinian state, only an expanded Jewish state encompassing Israel and the West Bank. Some of the West Bank Palestinians may be granted citizenship in the Jewish state, so long as they formally accept Zionist supremacy and don't expect to become citizens in the sort of numbers that would make them a "demographic threat" to Zionist rule. Meanwhile, the Gaza Strip and its inhabitants can fulfill Yitzhak Rabin's dearest wish, and sink into the sea.

What does all this have to do with the "one state solution" as traditionally understood by its secular left advocates? Not much. The basis of their one state solution is full citizenship and equal rights for all the inhabitants of Israel-Palestine, regardless of ethnic-religious background. In contrast, the Likud single state plan is based on preserving the ethnic-religious privilege that currently prevails, but preserving it in a way that attracts less foreign condemnation that the current situation. It's not really proposing anything very different from the situation that currently exists in Israel and the Occupied Territories minus Gaza, which is effectively already one state where the benefits of democracy are rationed out in accordance with one's degree of Jewishness. In the Likud single state solution, the annexation of the West Bank would be formalized, instead of surreptitious, and some of the Palestinians who currently enjoy no rights at all would be promoted to the second-rate citizenship of Palestinians within Israel's 1967 borders, but those are hardly revolutionary changes.

So, if the concept the Zionist Right is describing when it uses "one state" vocabulary is nothing like what the pro-Palestinian one staters envisage; if it's based on an underlying ideology they fundamentally oppose; and if it envisages an outcome on the ground that they would never settle for in a million years; how much does it really matter that the concept is wrapped up in sympathetic vocabulary? We might all be using the same words, but we're not talking about the same thing at all.

This is a phenomenon we've already seen with "two state solution" terminology. Throughout the peace process years, we've been told that Palestinians and Israelis overwhelmingly support a two state solution, and that "everybody knows" what the final parameters of the two state settlement will be. And yet, 17 years on from the signing of the Oslo Accords, the two state solution - which everyone apparently supports and knows what to expect of it - still doesn't exist.  One of the reasons why the two state solution doesn't exist is that those who claim to want it don't even mean the same thing by it.  

Read on HERE

By permission

by shergald on Tue Oct 12th, 2010 at 10:16:27 AM EST
That's an excellent piece by Juan Cole, but I'm afraid he won't move anyone who already favours ethnic nationalisms.

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Oct 14th, 2010 at 04:54:54 AM EST
Well, I certainly hope that those who favor ethnic nationalism (e.g., Miloshovich's Serbians) do not blog here.

by shergald on Thu Oct 14th, 2010 at 10:15:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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