[News] Why Israel Has No "Right to Exist" as a Jewish State

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Nov 20 12:32:52 EST 2007


http://www.counterpunch.org/

November 20, 2007


Thus Spoke Equality


Why Israel Has No "Right to Exist" as a Jewish State

By OREN BEN-DOR

Yet again, the Annapolis meeting between Olmert and Abbas is 
preconditioned upon the recognition by the Palestinian side of the 
right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. Indeed the "road map" 
should lead to, and legitimate, once and for all, the right of such a 
Jewish state to exist in definitive borders and in peace with its 
neighbours. The vision of justice, both past and future, simply has 
to be that of two states, one Palestinian, one Jewish, which would 
coexist side by side in peace and stability. Finding a formula for a 
reasonably just partition and separation is still the essence of what 
is considered to be moderate, pragmatic and fair ethos.

Thus, the really deep issues--the "core"--are conceived as the status 
of Jerusalem, the fate and future of the Israeli settlements in the 
Occupied Territories and the viability of the future Palestinian 
state beside the Jewish one. The fate of the descendants of those 
750000 Palestinians who were ethnically cleansed in 1948 from what is 
now, and would continue to be under a two-state solutions, the State 
of Israel, constitutes a "problem" but never an "issue" because, God 
forbid, to make it an issue on the table would be to threaten the 
existence of Israel as a Jewish state. The existence of Israel as a 
Jewish state must never become a core issue. That premise unites 
political opinion in the Jewish state, left and right and also 
persists as a pragmatic view of many Palestinians who would prefer 
some improvement to no improvement at all.Only "extremists" such as 
Hamas, anti-Semites, and Self-Hating Jews--terribly disturbed, 
misguided and detached lot--can make Israel's existence into a core 
problem and in turn into a necessary issue to be debated and addressed.

The Jewish state, a supposedly potential haven for all the Jews in 
the world in the case a second Holocaust comes about, should be 
recognised as a fact on the ground blackmailed into the "never again" 
rhetoric. All considerations of pragmatism and reasonableness in 
envisioning a "peace process" to settle the 'Israeli/Palestinian' 
conflict must never destabilise the sacred status of that premise 
that a Jewish state has a right to exist.

Notice, however, that Palestinian are not asked merely to recognise 
the perfectly true fact and with it, the absolutely feasible moral 
claim, that millions of Jewish people are now living in the State of 
Israel and that their physical existence, liberty and equality should 
be protected in any future settlement. They are not asked merely to 
recognise the assurance that any future arrangement would recognise 
historic Palestine as a home for the Jewish People.What Palestinians 
are asked to subscribe to recognition the right of an ideology that 
informs the make-up of a state to exist as Jewish one. They are asked 
to recognise that ethno-nationalistic premise of statehood.

The fallacy is clear: the recognition of the right of Jews who are 
there--however unjustly many of their Parents or Grandparents came to 
acquire what they own--to remain there under liberty and equality in 
a post-colonial political settlement, is perfectly compatible with 
the non-recognition of the state whose constitution gives those Jews 
a preferential stake in the polity.

It is an abuse of the notion of pragmatism to conceive its effort as 
putting the very notion of Jewish state beyond the possible and 
desirable implementation of egalitarian moral scrutiny. To so abuse 
pragmatism would be to put it at the service of the continuation of 
colonialism. A pragmatic and reasonable solution ought to centre on 
the problem of how to address past, present, and future injustices to 
non-Jew-Arabs without thereby cause other injustices to Jews. This 
would be a very complex pragmatic issue which would call for much 
imagination and generosity. But reasonableness and pragmatism should 
not determine whether the cause for such injustices be included or 
excluded from debates or negotiations. To pragmatically exclude moral 
claims and to pragmatically protect immoral assertions by fiat must 
in fact hide some form of extremism. The causes of colonial injustice 
and the causes that constitutionally prevent their full articulation 
and address should not be excluded from the debate. Pragmatism can 
not become the very tool that legitimate constitutional structures 
that hinder de-colonisation and the establishment of egalitarian constitution.

So let us boldly ask: What exactly is entailed by the requirement to 
recognise Israel as a Jewish state? What do we recognise and support 
when we purchase a delightful avocado or a date from Israel or when 
we invite Israel to take part in an international football event? 
What does it mean to be a friend of Israel? What precisely is that 
Jewish state whose status as such would be once and for all 
legitimised by such a two-state solution?

A Jewish state is a state which exists more for the sake of whoever 
is considered Jewish according to various ethnic, tribal, religious, 
criteria, than for the sake of those who do not pass this test. What 
precisely are the criteria of the test for Jewishness is not 
important and at any rate the feeble consensus around them is 
constantly reinvented in Israel. Instigating violence provides them 
with the impetus for doing that. What is significant, thought, is 
that a test of Jewishness is being used in order to constitutionally 
protect differential stakes in, that is the differential ownership 
of, a polity. A recognition of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish 
state is a recognition of the Jews special entitlement, as eternal 
victims, to have a Jewish state. Such a test of supreme stake for 
Jews is the supreme criterion not only for racist policy making by 
the legislature but also for a racist constitutional interpretation 
by the Supreme Court.The idea of a state that is first and foremost 
for the sake of Jews trumps even that basic law of Human Freedom and 
Dignity to which the Israeli Supreme Court pays so much lip service. 
Such constitutional interpretation would have to make the egalitarian 
principle equality of citizenship compatible with, and thus 
subservient to, the need to maintain the Jewish majority and 
character of the state. This of course constitutes a serious 
compromise of equality, translated into many individual 
manifestations of oppression and domination of those victims of such 
compromise--non-Jews-Arabs citizens of Israel.

In our world, a world that resisted Apartheid South Africa so 
impressively, recognition of the right of the Jewish state to exist 
is a litmus test for moderation and pragmatism. The demand is that 
Palestinians recognise Israel's entitlement to constitutionally 
entrench a system of racist basic laws and policies, differential 
immigration criteria for Jews and non-Jews, differential ownership 
and settlements rights, differential capital investments, 
differential investment in education, formal rules and informal 
conventions that differentiate the potential stakes of political 
participation, lame-duck academic freedom and debate.

In the Jewish state of Israel non-Jews-Arabs citizens are just "bad 
luck" and are considered an ticking demographic bomb of "enemy 
within". They can be given the right to vote--indeed one member one 
vote--but the potential of their political power, even their birth 
rate, should be kept at bay by visible and invisible, instrumental 
and symbolic, discrimination. But now they are asked to put up with 
their inferior stake and recognise the right of Israel to continue to 
legitimate the non-egalitarian premise of its statehood.

We must not forget that the two state "solution" would open a further 
possibility to non-Jew-Arabs citizens of Israel: "put up and shut up 
or go to a viable neighbouring Palestinian state where you can have 
your full equality of stake".Such an option, we must never forget, is 
just a part of a pragmatic and reasonable package.

The Jewish state could only come into being in May 1948 by ethnically 
cleansing most of the indigenous population--750000 of them. The 
judaisation of the state could only be effectively implemented by 
constantly internally displacing the population of many villages 
within the Israel state.

It would be unbearable and unreasonable to demand Jews to allow for 
the Right of Return of those descendants of the expelled. Presumably, 
those descendants too could go to a viable Palestinian state rather 
than, for example, rebuild their ruined village in the Galilee. On 
the other hand, a Jewish young couple from Toronto who never set 
their foot in Palestine has a right to settle in the Galilee. Jews 
and their descendants hold this right in perpetuity. You see, that 
right "liberates" them as people. Jews must never be put under the 
pressure to live as a substantial minority in the Holy Land under 
egalitarian arrangement. Their past justifies their preferential 
stake and the preservation of their numerical majority in Palestine.

So the non-egalitarian hits us again. It is clear that part of the 
realisation of that right of return would not only be a just the 
actual return, but also the assurance of equal stake and citizenship 
of all, Jews and non-Jews-Arabs after the return. A return would make 
the egalitarian claim by those who return even more difficult to 
conceal than currently with regard to Israel Arab second class 
citizens. What unites Israelis and many world Jews behind the call 
for the recognition of the right of a Jewish state to exist is their 
aversion for the possibility of living, as a minority, under 
conditions of equality of stake to all. But if Jews enjoys this 
equality in Canada why can not they support such equality in 
Palestine through giving full effect to the right of Return of Palestinians?

Let us look precisely at what the pragmatic challenge consists of: 
not pragmatism that entrenches inequality but pragmatism that 
responds to the challenge of equality.

The Right of Return of Palestinians means that Israel acknowledges 
and apologises for what it did in 1948. It does mean that Palestinian 
memory of the 1948 catastrophe, the Nakbah, is publicly revived in 
the Geography and collective memory of the polity. It does mean that 
Palestinians descendants would be allowed to come back to their 
villages. If this is not possible because there is a Jewish 
settlement there, they should be given the choice to found an 
alternative settlement nearby. This may mean some painful compulsory 
state purchase of agricultural lands that should be handed back to 
those who return. In cases when this is impossible they ought to be 
allowed the choice to settle in another place in the larger area or 
if not possible in another area in Palestine. Compensation would be 
the last resort and would always be offered as a choice. This kind of 
moral claim of return would encompass all Palestine including Tel Aviv.

At no time, however, it would be on the cards to throw Israeli Jews 
from their land.An egalitarian and pragmatic realisation of the Right 
of Return constitutes an egalitarian legal revolution. As such it 
would be paramount to address Jews' worries about security and 
equality in any future arrangement in which they, or any other group, 
may become a minority. Jews national symbols and importance would be 
preserved. Equality of stake involves equality of symbolic ownership.

But it is important to emphasis that the Palestinian Right of Return 
would mean that what would cease to exist is the premise of a Jewish 
as well as indeed a Muslim state. A return without the removal of the 
constitutionally enshrined preferential stake is return to serfdom.

The upshot is that only by individuating cases of injustice, by 
extending claims for injustice to all historic Palestine, by fair 
address of them without creating another injustice for Jews and 
finally by ensuring the elimination of all racist laws that stems 
from the Jewish nature of the state including that nature itself, 
would justice be, and with it peace, possible. What we need is a 
spirit of generosity that is pragmatic but also morally 
uncompromising in terms of geographic ambit of the moral claims for 
repatriation and equality. This vision would propel the establishment 
of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But for all this to happen 
we must start by ceasing to recognize the right Israel to exist as a 
Jewish state. No spirit of generosity would be established without an 
egalitarian call for jettisoning the ethno-nationalistic notion upon 
which the Jewish state is based.

The path of two states is the path of separation.Its realisation 
would mean the entrenchment of exclusionary nationalism for many 
years. It would mean that the return of the dispossessed and the 
equality of those who return and those non-Jew-Arabs who are now 
there would have to be deferred indefinitely consigned to the dusty 
shelved of historical injustices.Such a scenario is sure to provoke 
more violence as it would establish the realisation and 
legitimisation of Zionist racism and imperialism.

Also, any bi-national arrangement ought to be subjected to a 
principle of equality of citizenship and not vice versa. The notion 
of separation and partition that can infect bi-nationalism, should be 
done away with and should not be tinkered with or rationalised in any 
way. Both spiritually and materially Jews and non-Jews can find 
national expression in a single egalitarian and non-sectarian state.

The non-recognition of the Jewish state is an egalitarian imperative 
that looks both at the past and to the future. It is the uncritical 
recognition of the right of Israel to exist at a Jewish state which 
is the core hindrance for this egalitarian premise to shape the 
ethical challenge that Palestine poses. A recognition of Israel's 
right to exist as a Jewish state means the silencing that would breed 
more and more violence and bloodshed.

The same moral intuition that brought so many people to condemn and 
sanction Apartheid South Africa ought also to prompt them to stop 
seeing a threat to existence of the Jewish state as the effect caused 
by the refugee 'problem" or by the "demographic threat" from the 
non-Jew-Arabs within it. It is rather the other way round. It is the 
non-egalitarian premise of a Jewish state and the lack of empathy and 
corruption of all those who make us uncritically accept the right of 
such a state to exist that is both the cause of the refugee problem 
and cause for the inability to implement their return and treating 
them as equals thereafter.

We must see that the uncritically accepted recognition of Israel 
right to exist is, as Joseph Massad so well puts it in Al-Ahram, to 
accept Israel claim to have the right to be racist or, to develop 
Massad's brilliant formulation, Israel's claim to have the right to 
occupy to dispossess and to discriminate. What is it, I wonder, that 
prevent Israelis and so many of world Jews to respond to the 
egalitarian challenge? What is it, I wonder, that oppresses the whole 
world to sing the song of a "peace process" that is destined to 
legitimise racism in Palestine?

To claim such a right to be racist must come from a being whose 
victim's face must hide very dark primordial aggression and hatred of 
all others.How can we find a connective tissue to that mentality that 
claims the legitimate right to harm other human beings? How can this 
aggression that is embedded in victim mentality be perturbed?

The Annapolis meeting is a con. As an egalitarian argument we should 
say loud and clear that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state.

Oren Ben-Dor grew up in Israel. He teaches Legal and Political 
Philosophy at the School of Law, University of Southampton, UK. He 
can be reached at: <mailto:okbendor at yahoo.com>okbendor at yahoo.com




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