Consensus: Right wing govt minister says Israel is not a state of all its citizens; liberal Zionist icon calls for cantons to avoid bi-nationalism

Two recent statements — one from a right wing government minister and the other a liberal Zionist icon — reveal the staggering degree of racism in Israeli political discourse.

The first comes from Israeli Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, who is a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, who declared during a debate at Israel’s Tel-Hai Academic College yesterday, “Israel is a Jewish state. It’s certainly not created to be a state of all its citizens.”
 
When some of those attending the event responded negatively with booing and calling her a racist, Livnat appealed to – of all things – tolerance and respect for democracy, exploding, “I ask you to show me the same tolerance you evince toward the representative of the Balad party, otherwise you wreak havoc on democracy.”
 
Balad is an political party comprised primarily of Palestinian citizens of Israel and which seeks to “transform the state of Israel into a democracy for all its citizens, irrespective of national or ethnic identity.”
 
As a result, it has long faced discrimination and opposition, often in the form of attempting to ban party candidates from running in Israeli elections.
 
Such a statement is nothing new for Livnat.  During a radio interview back in 2002, when she was Ariel Sharon’s Education Minister, she said, “We’re involved here in a struggle for the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jews, as opposed to those who want to force us to be a state of all its citizens,” adding that Israel is not “just another state like all the other states. We are not just a state of all its citizens.”
 
Warning that the Galilee and Negev were becoming ”filled with Arab communities,” Livnat emphasized that Israel’s “special purpose is our character as a Jewish state, our desire to preserve a Jewish community and Jewish majority hereso that it does not become a state of all its citizens.”
 
She has expressed dismay at even the extremely limited power of non-Jewish politicians in Israel and, in 2008, championed a proposal that would rescind the status of the Arabic language as one of Israel’s official languages.  Perhaps most ironically, in 2005, after the Knesset “approved the transformation of Ariel’s College of Judea and Samaria and several colleges in the Galilee into universities…Livnat rejected the establishment of an Arab university out of hand, calling it racist.”
 
The second bit of news comes today from none other than the so-called “dovish” Israeli writer A.B. Yehoshua, who penned an opinion piece in Yedioth Ahronoth, warning of the drift toward a bi-national state in Israel/Palestine (which he’s been terrified about for a while now).
 
Opposing certain continuing colonization of the West Bank (which he calls “Judea and Samaria,” of course), Yehoshua suggests that “Palestinians, whose insistence on refusing to negotiate with Israel is seemingly inexplicable, are actually interested in dragging Israel into the trap of a bi-national state, which they believe will eventually become a Palestinian state from the river to the sea.”
 
His conclusion is that the “settlement enterprise” must stop, not for any legal, moral or humanitarian reasons, but rather because:

…today we are on the brink of a bi-national state, and many people who are familiar with what is currently happening on the ground claim the process cannot be stopped. But even if there is some truth to their claim, we can still soften the blow with a solution of cantons and agreements of dual citizenship.

Cantons and dual citizenship.  That’s how Yehoshua suggests Israel deal with Palestinians.  And he’s known as a “liberal Zionist.”
 
One could wonder how far off references to “liberal Apartheid” really are.
 
*****
 
Correction: This post originally stated Livnat’s recent comments were made during a Knesset hearing, to the boos of other Israeli ministers. Naturally, this was not the case.  The comments were made during a debate at an Israeli college in response to statements made by Balad minister Basel Rateb. The above post has been corrected. (h/t The Indefatigable David Samel)

About Nima Shirazi

Nima Shirazi is co-editor of the Iran, Iraq and Turkey pages for the online magazine Muftah. His political analysis can be found on his blog, WideAsleepinAmerica.com, where this post first appeared. Follow him on Twitter @WideAsleepNima.
Posted in Israel/Palestine, Israeli Government, One state/Two states

{ 9 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. David Samel says:

    While Nima’s point about the racist drift of public discourse is no doubt accurate, it looks like he has an important detail wrong – this was not a Knesset meeting but a debate at a university between Livnat and another MK, Basel Rateb. I was curious as to why MK’s would be upset with Livnat’s statement that Israel is not a state of its citizens. In fact, it’s not, and even Rateb would agree. After all, he is a member of a political party whose platform is to transform Israel to such a state. Where Livnat and Rateb disagree is on whether the status quo of a Jewish State, rather than a state of all its citizens, is good or bad. But her description of the current status is clearly accurate. In fact, it is the main complaint of anti-Zionists.

    • Shmuel says:

      David,

      What Livnat said was that Israel was never meant to be a state of all its citizens, and that Palestinian Israelis (“Israeli Arabs”) must simply accept that. Any truly democratic Israeli – Palestinian or Jewish – hearing such a statement from Livnat would not exactly be surprised, but would certainly be ticked off and protest (or “heckle” according to “The Times of Israel”). It was a refusal to countenance any political system other than the current, ethnocratic one. Had I been there I would have given Livnat a “heckle” or two myself.

      • David Samel says:

        Yes, Shmuel, I can see that a university audience might heckle Livnat’s arrogant, racist attitude. But isn’t it interesting that there is a fine line (if a line at all) between the simple truth of the statement and its sheer offensiveness? In any event, Nima’s point, that more and more radical discourse is becoming the norm, even among such “liberals” as Yehoshua, is unfortunately quite persuasive.

        • Shmuel says:

          But isn’t it interesting that there is a fine line (if a line at all) between the simple truth of the statement and its sheer offensiveness?

          The interesting part lies in its perception as offensive and refusal to let it slide. Livnat’s statement is not only reality, but it has always been the stated position of virtually all Zionist leaders. It is only over the past 20 years or so that publicly contesting it and striving for something else has become acceptable – among Israeli Palestinians (see Rabinowitz and Abu Baker’s Coffins on Our Shoulders – original Hebrew title The Stand Tall Generation ), and among “radical” Jews.

          In any event, Nima’s point, that more and more radical discourse is becoming the norm, even among such “liberals” as Yehoshua, is unfortunately quite persuasive.

          “Radical discourse”, in the sense of racist, ethnocentric discourse, has always been the bread and butter of Zionism – including and perhaps especially “liberal” or Labour Zionism (with a brief toning down during the early Oslo years). The right may be a little less self-conscious than it used to be, but that’s what comes with power. I think the real change has been in attitudes to dissent and practical measures against dissent, within Jewish Israeli society. I see no change in Yehoshua, who I find an amazingly brilliant and sensitive novelist, but a lousy political analyst and even lousier human being.

    • pabelmont says:

      Ahem, “main complaint of anti-Zionists” ? Maybe those within Israel.

      Perhaps the “not the state of all its citizens” catches the chief complaint of ALL anti-Zionists — but only if you assume that all the refugees/exiles of 1948 (plus progeny) ARE (as they ought to be) “citizens” of Israel.

      PS: these days, I’d have thought that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in occupied territories (and continued exclusion of exiles/refugees) would be the MAIN complaint of anti-Zionists world-wide, not the (by comparison) small matter of “democracy”. (As to “democracy”, who are we Americans to complain about Israel, what with our oligarchic government of big money? But, of course, Israel has its oligarchs, too, such as Adelson with his free far-right internal hasbara newspaper.)

      • David Samel says:

        Peter, should I have said “a” main complaint? In one sense, I think “the” main complaint is true. Lots of people who support Israel as a Jewish State complain about the occupation (the “liberal Zionists”), but anti-Zionists, while recognizing the occupation as an egregious and suffocating evil, have a more fundamental complaint about the nature of the Jewish State itself – that it’s the self-proclaimed state of the Jewish people rather than its own citizens.

    • Nima Shirazi says:

      Thanks so much for this catch, David! The piece will be corrected.

  2. Sin Nombre says:

    “The second bit of news comes today from none other than the so-called “dovish” Israeli writer A.B. Yehoshua….”

    “I prefer to live with jews.”

    *Reform* rabbi Eric Yoffie