Ethnocracy: The true ‘core of the conflict’

Israel/Palestine
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Ari Shavit recently offered seven reasons to recognize Israel as a Jewish state in a Haaretz article entitled “The core of the conflict“. There are in fact seven reasons why his thinking forms the primary basis for conflict rather than offer any solution.

Here I address his hyper-nationalistic detritus one point at a time.

An (Exclusivist) National Home

The first argument he makes is that “the supreme goal of Zionism is that in the Land of Israel the people of Israel will have a national home recognized by the law of nations,” and goes on to say that not subscribing to this view entails racism.  For Jews to have a national home recognized in international law, however, has precisely nothing to do with Jews creating a state (conceived through law yet founded through extraordinary violence and extra-judicial, i.e. non-legal, territorial acquisition) that ensures Jewish domination over minority groups.  To wed Jewishness to state structures is only one possible form of creating a national home, and is of a form that does so by creating ethnocratic rule under which non-Jews suffer systematic de jure and de facto discrimination.  Legal systems that have ethnically differentiated rules on marriage, land administration, citizenship, budget allocations—that is racism.  Racism is not opposition to the ethnocracy, as Shavit appears to misunderstand.

Should Jews be able to have a state where they feel at home?  Absolutely.  So should Palestinians.  But the effort to create a Jewish home at the expense of the Palestinian home has established and fueled the conflict for over eighty years.  Shavit fails to characterize what a Palestinian national home means and requires from an accurate historical perspective, and so he is helping to ensure one side of the conflict never feels at home again.

Recognition and Rejectionism

When Jews (or hypocritical US politicians) argue that Jews recognized Palestinians’ right to exist but not the reverse, they are engaged either willfully or inadvertently in an easily disproved lie.  First, there is the historical fact of Jewish rejectionism, which has served to prevent, with other factors, the emergence of a Palestinian national home (see, for example, Avi Shlaim’s Iron Wall for details).  One of the earliest and most important rejections, for example, was of the 1937 Peel Commission Plan, about which the Twentieth Zionist Congress in Zurich stated: “The partition plan proposed by the Peel Commission is not to be accepted,” while also expressing the goal of securing more Palestinian land than the Commission offered.  A year later, Ben-Gurion expounded on this partition idea, which was still being floated on the international stage: “[I am] satisfied with part of the country, but on the basis of the assumption that after we build up a strong force following the establishment of the state—we will abolish the partition of the country and we will expand to the whole Land of Israel.”  Although the Zionist leadership was somewhat divided on this issue (and Ben-Gurion later expressed regret that six million Jews died because the Peel Commission plan was not accepted), those Zionist hardliners who favored rejection of Jewish statehood in the 1930s in favor of (later) extra-judicial territorial land grabs won the debate and thereby dictated subsequent Israeli and Palestinian history.

Another important moment of Jewish rejectionism was the UN Partition Plan (1947), which is of course precisely the type of “law of nations” that Shavit seems to crave (while disregarding it when it suits him, as when he advocated for war crimes in Lebanon 2006 and Gaza 2008/9).  The day after the UN Partition resolution was passed, Menachem Begin (a hardliner and leader of the Irgun, the critically important, pre-state terrorist militia, as well as a future Prime Minister of Israel) said: “The Partition of Palestine is illegal.  It will never be recognized. . . . Jerusalem was and will for ever be our capital.  Eretz Israel will be restored to the people of Israel.  All of it.  And forever.”  Ben-Gurion also made himself unambiguous by arguing that “to partition, according to the Oxford dictionary, means to divide a thing into two parts. Palestine is divided into three parts, and only in a small part are the Jews allowed to live. We are against that.“  Yet as a “moderate” compared to the other hardliners in his coalition, he did express mixed (racist) feelings: “In my heart, there was joy mixed with sadness: joy that the nations at last acknowledged that we are a nation with a state, and sadness that we lost half of the country, Judea and Samaria, and, in addition, that we have 400,000 [Palestinian] Arabs.”

Very concerned about allowing so many Palestinians to remain in their national home, he continued in this vein: “In the area allocated to the Jewish State there are not more than 520,000 Jews and about 350,000 non-Jews, mostly Arabs. Together with the Jews of Jerusalem, the total population of the Jewish State at the time of its establishment, will be about one million, including almost 40% non-Jews.  Such a composition does not provide a stable basis for a Jewish State. This [demographic] fact must be viewed in all its clarity and acuteness.  With such a composition, there cannot even be absolute certainty that control will remain in the hands of the Jewish majority. . . . There can be no stable and strong Jewish state so long as it has a Jewish majority of only 60 percent.” 

This Zionist preoccupation with allowing Palestinians to remain in their homes–with the constant canard of “demographic threat” posed by Palestinian human beings–was later reflected in the 1947/48 expulsion of Palestinians not only from land within the Israel defined by the partition plan, but also from areas the Zionist leadership considered critical to the state and therefore annexed during Israel’s War of Independence, such as Jerusalem and parts of the Galilee and Negev.  “The war will give us the land,” Ben-Gurion explained on Feb. 7th, 1948 before any Palestinian or Arab rejection of anything occurred, “the concept of ‘ours’ and ‘not ours’ are only concepts for peacetime, and during war they lose all their meaning.”  The next day, he characterized the foreseen ethnic cleansing in greater detail to the Mapai Council: “From your entry into Jerusalem, through Lifta, Romema [East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood]. . . there are no [Palestinian] Arabs.  One hundred percent Jews.  Since Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, it has not been Jewish as it is now.  In many [Palestinian] Arab neighborhoods in the west one sees not a single [Palestinian] Arab.  I do not assume that this will change. . . . What had happened in Jerusalem. . . . is likely to happen in many parts of the country. . .  in the six, eight, or ten months of the campaign there will certainly be great changes in the composition of the population in the country.”

And indeed there were: 416 Palestinian villages expunged of their 800,000 native inhabitants (87% of the Palestinian population).  This ethnic cleansing was subsequently codified in laws that prevented the return of Palestinian refugees to the land stolen from them, such as the Absentee Property Law (1950), which stipulated that land be considered abandoned and subject to Israel’s ownership if the Palestinian owners had been absent for even one day beginning in November 1947, when Jewish militia activity was rapidly increasing and refugees fled under the growing threat of violence.

As for Shavit’s claim that Palestinians still haven’t recognized Israel’s right to exist?  Fabrication.  On December 13th, 1988, for example, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat made a historic concession to Israel: full recognition of Israel’s right to exist and an offer of peace based on UN Resolution 242 and the pre-June 1967 borders, i.e. the 1949 armistice lines or Green Line.  This was formal recognition of Israel’s right to exist on 78% of historical Palestine; the Palestinians in return accepted a state based on 22% of their national home.

Then, in 1993, prior to signing the Oslo Accords, Arafat sent two official documents to then Israeli PM Rabin, which again recognized Israel’s right to exist and renouncing violence.  In return the Palestinians did not receive recognition of national rights to self-determination, but instead recognition by Israel only of the PLO only as the “legitimate representative of the Palestinian people,” a far lesser concession than a right to exist.

Finally, there is the historic Arab peace initiative of 2002, which Israel has categorically refused to discuss to this day, that has offered Israel not only the right to exist in peace but full normalization with the entire Arab world.  Israel’s response has been entirely absent for nearly a decade.

These are the historical facts of the matter, easily verified by anyone with a modicum of intellectual honesty and curiosity, either internet connection or library access, and motivation beyond Shavit’s narrow, self-serving jingoism.

A Settler’s Reverse Racism

In Shavit’s fantasy, Israel has recognized Palestinian rights while abrogating Jews right in the so-called Land of Israel.  He does not specify what he means by this bizarre assertion, but this unambiguously coded settler talk.  Among the Yesha faithful and their government supporters, impeding the construction of Jewish-only neighborhoods on stolen Palestinian land is tantamount to racism and a denial of historical Jewish rights to the land as decided during biblical times.  This is farce on a level unfit for publishing by any respectable outlet, and it is shocking that a former board member from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel can write such nonsense with a straight face.  And what Palestinian rights has Israel recognized?  I count one and one alone: recognition of the now thoroughly collaborationist PLO as the “true representative” of the Palestinian people sans pretext of democracy.

Jewishness, Ethnocracy, and the Right of Return

The demand for the right to return will be put to an end, Shavit argues.  Indeed!  At least Shavit says something honest!  The problem with this argument, however, is that it is racist to the core, a fundamental tenet of Israel’s ethnocracy that is unique in the world (where else are refugee rights so categorically dismissed while US congresspeople applaud?) as well as extraordinarily dangerous.  The desire to have Israel recognized in its Jewishness over and against the history of Palestinian suffering in their homeland is a ploy to deny Palestinian national claims as much as it is to affirm Jewish ones.

As for Ben-Gurion more than half a century before, like for generations of so-called liberal Israelis, for Moldovan FM Evet Lieberman, for Polish-born Israeli President Szymon Perski (alias Shimon Peres), for the pseudo-intellectuals like Shavit that give all of this abject racism conceptual cover, the Palestinians must be considered as a threat to Jewishness, stripped of rights granted every other group of refugees on earth, expelled from their land and homes and citizenship, and made to accustom themselves to the permanence of colonial servitude.   Ben-Gurion, as usual, was extremely clear about this: “If I was an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel.  That is natural: we have taken their country. Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs.  We come from Israel, it’s true, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-Semitism the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault?  They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country.  Why should they accept that?”

As long as Israel acts to make the wholesale theft complete by abrogating the basic rights of refugees to their national home, there will be no peace.  It is in this sense that the so-called two-state solution fails to provide a resolution to the core issue of the conflict, which is the expulsion of the Palestinians from their homes in 1947/8, 1967, and gradually yet continually, every single day since 1967 as Israel transfers ever-growing number of its citizens onto Palestinian land.

Arab Countries Have Already Recognized Israel

Shavit’s fifth point is about Arab recognition of Israel and, more than anything, reeks of that awkward, unpleasant combination of Israeli arrogance and insecurity.  Has it ever occurred to Shavit the contradiction of claiming that Arab countries don’t consider Israel legitimate without simultaneously discussing the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, the dozens of additional peace overtures made by to Israel, most notably the numerous Syrian approaches about the Golan Heights stolen from them through war (contra the approval by international law that Shavit claims to desire) and the Arab peace initiative of 2002?

The essential fact is that Israel could have had this legitimacy that it says it yearns for at dozens of points in the last couple decades, but instead chose a path of continued colonization of the West Bank and the Golan, which was made possible only through violence, the threat of violence, and the unconditional support of the most hypocritical country on earth—the US.

Whose Complex Exactly?

Has Europe not resolved its Jewish complex?  Or has Israel not resolved its Europe complex?  One wonders why, if Europe still feels so ambivalent about the Jews, ever increasing numbers of young Israelis are leaving their “national home” for Berlin, former of the capital of the Third Reich?  One also wonders how Shavit views the fact that it is a punishable crime in Germany to deny the Holocaust, or that Germany in 2003 elevated the status of Judaism in Germany to the same legal position as the Roman Catholic and Evangelical Church. Or that Rabbi Yitzhak Ehrenberg of Berlin’s orthodox community claims that “Orthodox Jewish life is alive in Berlin again.”  Or why so many Israelis have moved to England, where they enjoy disproportionately high standards of living?  Or why France’s highest court ruled in 2009 that France must accept moral responsibility for its role in the deportation of tens of thousands of Jews during WWII?  How in the world do these basic facts square with his insinuation that Europe has not yet accepted Jews “right to live”?  Shavit’s characterization is not only absurd at face value, but also at odds with all the evidence based on the revealed preferences of Jews all over Europe.

Excusing the Inexcusable

The worst argument of them all: “Explicit recognition that Israel is the Jewish people’s home will strengthen our willingness to take risks and leave the territories.”  Shavit has been spending far too much time with the Yesha Council.  For people who know something about the history of colonization of the West Bank and the mutually reinforcing relationship between ideological Zionist freaks, state authority, and military power, it is preposterous to suggest that somehow our own inner discomfort about being seen as the bad guys is associated with our inability to end the colonization project—nonsensical beyond words.  Yet Shavit feels comfortable writing in public that recognizing Israel as the state of one of its ethnic groups is going to provide the moral cover to extend a fake construction freeze, i.e. to comply with Israel’s already existing obligations under the Road Map, not to mention the Fourth Geneva Convention (a.k.a. “the law of nations”) and minimal ethical norms of conduct.

Is it really, truly too difficult for Shavit to wrap his proto-fascist brain around the idea that the theft of so much Palestinian land at the barrel of a gun, that the failure to leave the territories, to end a brutal 43 year military occupation, to cease the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the West Bank and Jerusalem, and moreover to institutionalize permanently all of these atrocities through an ethnocratic regime is the single most important reason why explicit recognition of Israel as the state of its majority group is not forthcoming?  That the only reason the ethnic group that now demands formal recognition as the dominant group is, in fact, the majority only because of all that theft, dispossession, ethnic cleansing, ongoing discrimination?  It is not a particularly esoteric or difficult-to-comprehend point, but what Shavit doesn’t get it: he puts the consequences forward as the causes of Israel’s intransigence.

This mindset is one of the principal driving forces of violence and conflict in Israel/Palestine.

In the Service of Ethnocracy

As a loyal servant to ethnic exclusivism, Shavit is forced into an anti-historical—indeed, anti-intellectual—set of arguments, which could easily be dismissed were it not for the fact that so many Jews assign a smidgen of credibility to them.  The worldview expressed in Shavit’s article, however, is the most succinct encapsulation of everything that is wrong with the Israeli mentality and therefore the Israeli side of the conflict.

It is a pathological worldview that is, at its core, a recipe for endless conflict.

Yaniv Reich is a half-American, half-Israeli writer, who has lived and worked in the US, Israel, and occupied Palestine, among many other places. In addition to his academic research related to international development issues, Reich maintains the Hybrid States blog, which provides critical commentary on Israel/Palestine, and an early version of this post appeared.

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