Israel exists but I will never accept it as a Jewish state
October 12, 2010
Yet again, the 2010 version of the Peace talks between Israel and the
Palestinians are preconditioned upon the recognition by the Palestinian side of
the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. Indeed the so called ‘direct
talks” should lead to, and legitimize, once and for all, the right of such a
Jewish state to exist in definitive borders and in peace with its neighbors. 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. although much talked about, 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
The Jewish state, a supposedly potential haven for all the Jews in the world in
the case a second Holocaust comes about, should be recognized 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 destabilize the sacred status of that
premise that a Jewish state has a right to exist.
Notice, however, that Palestinian are not asked merely to recognize 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 recognize the assurance that any future
arrangement would recognize 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
recognize 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 center 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
cannot become the very tool that legitimate constitutional structures that
hinder de-colonization and the establishment of egalitarian constitution.
So let us boldly ask: What exactly is entailed by the requirement to recognize
Israel as a Jewish state? What do we recognize 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 legitimized 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, though, 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 recognize 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 a 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 recognize 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 neighboring 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
The Jewish state could only come into being in May 1948 by ethnically cleansing
most of the indigenous population--750000 of them. The judiaization 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 realization
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 the United States why cannot 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
apologizes 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 realization 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
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 realization 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 realization and legitimization
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 rationalized in any way. Both spiritually and materially
Jews and non-Jews can find national expression in a single egalitarian and
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 as 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
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 legitimize 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?