The Contradictions of Ethnic Nationalism


It’s the last day before the Israeli elections, and there seems to be widespread agreement that Yisrael Beiteinu party chairman Avigdor Lieberman is going to win big – perhaps as much as 19-20 seats. They’ve already pulled ahead of the Labor party and by now it’s virtually a foregone conclusion that Lieberman will emerge from these elections with considerable political influence.

It’s also fair to say that those of us who cherish the values of liberal democracy are recoiling at the prospect of a politically ascendant Avigdor Lieberman, whose most notorious campaign promise is a requirement for all Arab citizens of Israel to sign a loyalty oath to the Jewish state:

(Lieberman’s) loyalty oath would require all Israelis to vow allegiance to Israel as a Jewish, democratic state, to accept its symbols, flag and anthem, and to commit to military service or some alternative service. Those who declined to sign such a pledge would be permitted to live here as residents but not as voting citizens.

Currently Israeli Arabs, who constitute 15 percent to 20 percent of the population, are excused from national service. Many would like to shift Israel’s identify from that of a Jewish state to one that is defined by all its citizens, arguing that only then would they feel fully equal.

Mr. Lieberman says that there is no room for such a move and that those who fail to grasp the centrality of Jewish identity to Israel have no real place in it.

These are disturbing ideas to be sure, and it’s even more troubling that they seem to finding traction with increasing numbers of the Israeli electorate.

And yet…

…and yet in the wee hours of the night, I just can’t shake the nagging feeling that the real reason Lieberman makes us squirm is that he shines a bright light on the logical contradictions of political Zionism: an ethnic nationalist movement that has always sought to create a Jewish state in a land that also happens to be populated by millions of non-Jewish inhabitants.

Take, for example, Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which refers specifically to Israel as a “Jewish state” committed to the “ingathering of the exiles” but also promises complete equality of political and social rights for all its citizens, irrespective of race, religion, or sex.  Therein lies the tension: the first principle emphasizes the creation of a state that privileges the Jewish people and the latter promises equal rights for all its citizens.

I don’t say this easily: I’m not sure this is a nut that Israel will ever fully be able to crack.  It is indeed notable that Israel has repeatedly tried and failed to create a constitution that legally guarantees equality for all citizens of this exclusively Jewish state. In the meantime, Israel’s Arab citizens suffer from what we Americans would consider significant institutional discrimination with only limited recourse to the rule of law.

So as a nice liberal American Jew fully prepared to voice my outrage at Lieberman’s likely Tuesday morning success, here are some questions I feel compelled to ponder:

– As proud citizens and beneficiaries of a secular multi-cultural nation, are we ready to face the deeper implications of Israel’s ethnic nationalism?

– Will it ever truly be possible, in a country defined as exclusively Jewish, for its Arab citizens to be considered as anything but second class citizens (or at worst, traitors)?

– If  it does indeed come down to a choice between a Jewish or a democratic state, which will we ultimately support?

I’d love to hear your responses…

17 thoughts on “The Contradictions of Ethnic Nationalism

  1. Stan

    Wow – you really opened up the big questions with this one….

    A few thoughts.
    1) I, personally remain appalled at any attempt in any democratic state to have people register a vow of allegiance. If there is not the faith in each other, then no vow will work, and will only promote an increasing “us” vs. “they” mentality. Institutional discrimination can be worked on. Traitor mentalities are bitter, hateful, divisive, and directly contrary to plurality and inclusiveness.

    2) I think, in the end, you set up a false dichotomy. The question is not whether you can be a religious democracy, but rather how do you work on it so that you can indeed be true to both. Any democracy can and should guarantee a voice and rights of protection to minority viewpoints. And yes, I believe it IS possible to allow all of it’s Arab citizens to be afforded full citizenship.

    3) I think the issue relates more strongly to the perpetual war mentality that both Jews and Arabs find themselves in. I remember before the pullout of settlements in Gaza a story I saw about a settler who had moved into Gaza some 30-40 years ago, and was welcomed by the surrounding Arab community, and until about 20 years ago had very good relations with her Arab neighbors. It is the fear mentality, the omnipresent sense that there are your people, and there are the other, that leads to the sense of making sure “they” are put in their place.

    4) The underlying question, which I take to be whether or not any society can be a religious democracy, depends largely on exactly your definition of democracy. Any organized society will have members who have less or more privileges – what’s more important is to insure that everyone can have a voice, and that everyone has equal rights to justice. These seem, at their best, to be inherently Jewish ideals and so don’t seem to contradict a Jewish state. Much of the early Israeli state philosophy was more along the lines of socialist ideals – you could also ask if a true socialist democracy is possible.

    5) Ultimately, as I said above, I believe the Jewish/democracy choice is a false choice. We have a secular democracy here – what we need is a Jewish state. We need to fight for a Jewish State that lives up to the ethical, practical, and compassionate behaviors so lacking in many of its recent leaders. We need to fight for a Jewish Democratic state that is Jewish in the best sense of our ideals, and not the worst sense of our self-righteousness, isolationist and nationalistic fear mongering, and dogmatism. We don’t have to accept the politics of fear in Israel any more than we do in the US, nor do we have to accept its practice as forcing us to choose between Israel being Jewish and being democratic.

    Thanks as always, for forcing us to open up our minds as well as our souls.

    – Stan –

  2. Lesley

    Stan, 2 questions: are we talking about “Jewish” as a religion or as an ethnic identity? Many of the most ardent Zionists and indeed a large portion of Israel’s Jewish population consider themselves more secular than religious.

    Second, whether it’s a religious or ethnically Jewish state, is it really possible to have a functioning democracy that privileges one group, that insists the country exists primarily for that group? Would you feel that you were a full citizen of a Christian democratic state, one that gave you legal rights but also stated its intent that you would always remain a minority? Isn’t that why a lot of us came to the US?

    “Any organized society will have members who have less or more privileges” Yes but all_citizens_ should have the same privileges, or at least the same hope of achieving them through work, education etc. In a democracy, privileges should not based on ethnicity.

    Would your ideal democratic Jewish state have a law of return? If so, how is it democratic to offer citizenship based on ethnicity or religion?

    If Israel is truly democratic, what is going to happen if the Arab population becomes a majority, which, given demographic trends, is a distinct possibility?

  3. Ron Edwards

    Hello and Shalom,

    I’m here by invitation from a member of the JRC, and I appreciate the opportunity, as well as being a little nervous, considering what I’m about to post.

    The key issue to me is not what a given nation-state (people or laws) considers itself to be, so much as who its laws are for. “For” both in the sense of whom they benefit and the sense of who is subject to their enforcement.

    For instance, Sweden’s official national religion is Lutheranism. Lutheran values may be found in details of its legal system and many details of historical policy. It is a “Lutheran state,” or hey, take away the quotation marks as they don’t need to be there.

    However, nothing about a person’s religion, or the way they practice it, has anything to do with civic life in Sweden. The laws apply to everyone, and every citizen is equal in participation. Over the past five years, Sweden has accepted many Iraqi refugees – many may well become citizens. Although some Swedes react with ethnic suspicion (call it what it is, prejudice), they also know that the laws of the land are not going to be two-tiered for those Muslim or eastern-church Christian citizens when the day comes.

    I suggest that the phrase Jewish state, as written in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, is straightforwardly interpreted in a completely different way from Sweden’s Lutheran state. It is two-tiered: for Jews, but against everyone else. Also, as I see it, that is unacceptable from the outset to my sensibilities – here speaking as a member of the citizenry who currently pays the lion’s share of Israel’s military and settlement policies without any political voice in that process.

    There isn’t any way ’round that. It could be called a Jewish state or not and the issue remains: either Israel’s policies are bigoted and discriminatory, or they aren’t. And the only way they wouldn’t be is if the laws applied to all, fairly and equally. In this, I strongly agree with Susan Nathan’s excellent book The Other Side of Israel, that the current laws and their practice are egregiously Jim Crow. If Israel were a Jewish state in the same sense that Sweden is a Lutheran one, that would be different, and quite reasonable. My chief conclusion is that the phrase “Jewish state” currently serves as a red herring, such that criticizing Israel’s discriminatory policies is shunted into challenging the Jewish character of its founding. This trap should be called out for what it is, a rhetorical trick, and defied.

    All right, perhaps there is a good place to stop, but I might as well nab the goat as well as the kid …

    I know of no substantial modern state (i.e. not a tiny island somewhere) which is characterized by a single ethnicity or way of life. In various literature regarding Israel, references are often made to “the French have France, the English have England,” and similar. It’s nonsense. All those nations are characterized by gradients and pockets of diverse ethnicities (or religious practices, or other distinct cultural tags), some very keenly felt. To go back to Sweden, there exists a smooth gradient of Swede-to-Finn across the islands and coastlines of both nations, including a substantial number of ethnically-Swedish Finnish citizens, despite strong stereotypes, prejudices, and a mild myth of separatism within each. Or, the very notion of “Switzerland for the Swiss!” should clarify the point: thinking of Swiss-ness in exclusive language, ethnic, or religious terms is silly to the point of outright laughter. Or, if you don’t mind being punched in the nose, ask a Welshman if he’s English.

    That one-people-one-state concept has been idealized as an entitlement by various splinter groups since the early 19th century, and it’s sadly entered (and tainted) the recognition of former colonial states since the inception of the UN, for instance in Africa. It is a chimera, and in addition, a recipe for oppression and bloodshed. It results in the current affairs in the Congo, or, in the case of a state propped up by a foreign superpower, the astonishingly cruel, spoiled, and ignorant culture of Saudia Arabia. Saudi Arabia perfectly illustrates what happens when a nation does privilege one group/religion as the nation’s reason for being. It is widely as well as domestically perceived as a single Arab community bound by a single application of Wahhabi religious law, but that is incorrect, because it overlooks the marginalized non-Wahhabi Sunni and Shi’a populations as well as the imported army of coolie labor. Saudi Arabia is not unified as a one-people-state; rather, its laws are brutally discriminatory and oppressive to preserve the illusion of “pure” national identity.

    Given that, the very notion of “the Jewish state” being associated with a Jewish-only population, and in lieu of that, being only for the benefit of the Jews there to the exclusion of anyone else there … it’s not emulating other nations such as Sweden. An Israel such as envisioned by Meher Kahane or Avigdor Lieberman, or as permitted by centrists who ally with them, would either implode under civil strife or come to resemble Saudi Arabia.

    Rabbi Rosen, I greatly appreciate your blog and the dynamic character of the discussion at the JRC. I hope my post may be regarded as a valid angle of critique to be brought to this topic.

    Best, Ron Edwards

  4. Carol

    Thank you all for raising many interesting questions. I believe that what underlies the appeal of Lieberman comes from the particular circumstances of Israeli society today.

    Israel has the highest income inequality of any country in the Western world. The powerlessness that poverty brings makes people more vulnerable to being manipulated, and clearly Arabs make an easy target. This “victimization” is exacerbated by the Israeli society’s use of Holocaust and Nazi references to keeps its citizens feeling like they are in a continual state of siege. Constant references to Hamas as Nazis has led many Israelis to believe that war is the only way they will be safe. The continual pressure on Israelis to always act “tough” in contrast to the Holocaust discourages any behavior that in the least gives the appearance of acting weak in the face of Hamas or Arabs in general.

    In this context, it is understandable how Lieberman has gained popularity. I think that the issue of Israel as a Jewish state or a state of its citizens is not the crux of the matter. Israelis badly need a hand to take in the reality of their situation without manipulation. They need to be able to break free of the institutionalized “victim” identity that Lieberman is so good at manipulating. We need to give them a loving hand in helping them to understand the places where they are presently function as “oppressors.”

    We in the U.S. also need to clean up our act. The U.S. is just behind Israel in income inequality. We need to get over the myth that all Americans have an equal shot at success in our secular democracy. We also can’t be smug just because we have elected a Black president. Racism remains rampant here in the U.S.–it just looks different than in Israel. One need only look at the prison population, poverty, gang violence, high school drop out rates, healthcare, etc. In the U.S. we liberals, like many Israelis, are good at distancing ourselves from the real substantive problems that continue to fester.

  5. Chaver Steve

    I may be ignorant, but Israel’s Arab population has had about 10 seats in the Israeli parliament. However the Arab parties that hold those seats do not seem to be using them to promote a progressive social and economic agenda for Israel’s Arab electorate.

    Is there a list of public works, health care or educational improvement projects put forth by the elected representatives of the Arab minority that repeatedly languishes in the Israeli budgeting process? If so, I haven’t heard of them.

    Can it be that despite living side by side with their Jewish brothers and sisters these past 65 years, the Arab electorate in Israel still has not developed the civic tools that allow them to be well represented in the Israeli political process?

    I can’t help but think that if there was, indeed, widespread institutionalized discrimination preventing the implementation of a progressive Arab-sector social and economic agenda, we’d be hearing much more about it from the all-too-vocal anti-Zionist left, if not from the leaders of the Israeli Arab electorate itself.

    Please don’t respond with platitudes about it being the responsibility of Israel’s Jews to care for the needs of its Arab citizens. Israel is a very open democracy, with each interest group – whether ethnic or age or religious or interest based – obliged to organize and represent their own interests. Ten Parliamentary seats is nothing to sneeze at in the context of Israeli political life – but only if that political platform is used to benefit its constituents.

    The social and economic culture of Israel’s Arab communities – vague and largely out of the spotlight as they have chosen to remain – still seem to mirror the undemocratic social and political structures of the neighboring Arab nations.

    Israel’s Jewish majority is not to blame for these cultural differences that result in significant differences in the allocation of public resources.

    We must expect Israel’s Arab electorate to speak for itself. They must play the Israeli political game. They must vote in greater numbers, increasing the number of seats in Parliament that represent their community’s (as yet uncrystalized?) social and economic goals.

    If Arab Israelis want to show Jewish Israelis that they see themselves as a productive part of Israeli society for the long haul, it would be easy for them to convincingly reject Palestinian and Arab-Muslim irredentism, vocally ally themselves with progressive forces in the Arab-Muslim world and with the Peace Camp in Israel, and take other equally convincing steps to ally themselves with their Jewish-Israeli neighbors, while working equally hard to advance their own domestic agenda for communal progress.

    Chaver Steve

  6. Ron Edwards

    Chaver Steve, I think you’ve answered your own question with the phrases you chose.

    1. They’ve “chosen” to remain out of the spotlight.
    2. the “Jewish majority is not to blame …”
    3. “… it would be easy for them …”

    Given those, I am not optimistic that my point will mean much to you, but at least I can provide a reference if you’re interested.

    The book The Other Side of Israel, by Susan Nathan, addresses this issue in extreme detail. It does not concern the West Bank or Gaza. Nathan is not an ideologue but an empiricist; as a Jewish immigrant from England and a life-long Zionist as well as impeccable rights activist in South Africa, she knew what she was looking at when she finally arrived. She provides such clear details on both trends and instances that her conclusion is inescapable: Israeli society is discriminatory to an onerous degree, refuting claims such as yours that the non-Jewish Arab citizens can’t seem to handle democracy. She also carefully documents how the activist Jewish groups in Israel focus on the occupied territories and ignore the Israeli Arabs just outside of town, which is itself discrimination as strong as any other.

    Israeli Arabs face quasi-legal, institutional discrimination similar to those faced by black Americans during the Jim Crow era. Few law books of that time actually explicitly forbade certain actions, property ownership, participation in elections, or other aspects of being American citizens. However, specific combinations of local statutes and practices, some authoritative (police, law) and some informal (habitual disinformation or lack of access), resulted in barriers that were simply too high to climb for most people’s circumstances. Also, many rights or opportunities that exist on paper are not practically available.

    One of her most important points is the distinction between citizens and nationals. The non-Jewish native citizens are not considered nationals, and a wide variety of services and access to resources are reserved for nationals alone.

    At the policy and representation level, I have heard many times, “the Arabs vote, so what excuse do they have,” and it does not stand up to critique based on what really happens. Arab parties (a bit of a misnomer, Jewish members are not barred and can be found there) are routinely excluded from coalitions. You may interpret this as “they’re not ready,” or “they don’t know how to participate,” or whatever you like, but U.S. history provides very clear lessons regarding statements of that kind. First among those lessons is that separate is not equal. A marginalized group cannot improve its circumstances via its (isolated) mainstream representation alone.

    I also recommend Uri Avneri’s latest article (, which in its second half corroborates Nathan’s point about the Israeli left. He states that to survive at all, it must reach out to include the Israeli Arabs.

    Best, Ron

  7. Gil Franco

    Ron, Israeli Arabs participate in Israeli politics outside of the Arab parties. As member of the Labor party and Likud they have participated and have even been ministers in Israeli governing coalitions.

    The formal and informal barriers to full equality largely stem from two factors. Preexisiting socio-economic differences (most of the Arabs that remained in Israel after 1948 were peasants and villagers, almost of the urban middle class left) which Israel has made great strides in reducing eg. educational attainment, infant mortality, life expectancy and secondly real security concerns. You completely ignore Israel has been in conflict with its Arab minority’s co-nationalists for the entirety of existence. Can you think of a single analogous situation where the minority has been treated better than the Arabs in Israel or do you hold Israel to standard that no one else is actually expected to meet?

    The comparison with Sweden is laughable. The average Israeli ten-year old has experienced more racial, ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity than the average Swede will in her lifetime. Israel has accepted thousands of non-Jewish and even muslim refugees just like Sweden. The Israeli Declaration of Independence isn’t “against everybody else” and it malicious of you to say so. And anyway the series of basic laws as interpreted by the Supreme Court not the Declaration of Independence govern civic life. The court is renowned for ensuring that discriminatory laws or government actions don’t stand.

    Finally while the Jim Crow analogy is novel, it is about as accurate as the more common apartheid and nazi libels Israel faces and disgraces those who utter and publish it.

  8. Chaver Steve

    Rabbi Brant & Ron, shalom

    Sorry I don’t have time to read Susan Nathan’s book. Thanks to you guys I will get to it. But I’ve looked at the reviews on Amazon and saw disturbing signs of bias on her part.

    I’m a city planner and work in all facets of the public sector. What I hear in the few concrete examples that I’ve heard here and in the reviews of Nathan’s book is that the Arab minority in Israel lives apart from their Jewish neighbors and have not really made anything resembling a comprehensive effort to integrate themselves into the larger Israeli (Jewish) society.

    An Israeli Arab who cannot get mail because their address isn’t “registered”? To me that sounds like a person who is either embroiled in a dispute with authorities over illegal building or a person who is just as happy living off the (address) grid as having easily accessible mail.

    Israel’s Arabs are fully free to advocate their case for what amounts to a much more comprehensive integration into Israeli social, economic and political life, yet I hear no such voice. Seriously, do you?

    Isn’t it possible that overall, Israel’s Arabs – of course because of the security situation and their empathy for “the Palestinian cause” – have chosen – have been extraordinarily unwilling – to organize themselves to radically change their living status in ISrael.

    There have been many half truths spoken in these responses about the status of ISrael’s Arab citizens. X may be true, but the reasons are not those implied or expressed in the telling.

    In any case, outside observers can paternalize the situation of Israel’s Arab citizens all they want, but it was not America’s whites who conducted the Civil rights movement and it was not those boycotting South Africa that won full citizenship rights for the black majority there. You can’t live your children’s lives and westerners can’t impose their values and political and social structures on non-western societies.

    Israel’s Arab citizens live lives much closer to what existed prior to 1948 than Israeli Jews do. That’s just the way it is. When Israel’s Arab citizens want to stand up non-violently and really advocate for a more integrated place in Israeli society they will. (And it MUST be a communal effort, not an individual effort to assimilate individually into the larger Israeli society, which already happens) And as 20% of the electorate, I can guarantee that they will be heard.

    Chaver Steve

  9. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author


    As the one who “disgraced himself” by publishing Ron’s comment, I feel compelled to respond to your final statement.

    As Ron pointed out, Jim Crow refers to institutional discrimination that undercuts formal rights “guaranteed” by a state. You are free to agree or disagree with his analysis, but you are crossing the line when you label his words (or my of publishing them) as “libel.” Moreover, your association of them with Nazism is profoundly offensive. This kind of incendiary rhetoric only contributes to the muzzling of honest debate that is so critical to this conflict.

    In the meantime, you’ve conveniently dodged my central questions about the contradictions inherent in Israel’s ethnic nationalism. As I understand your argument, since Israel has raised the standard of living of its Arab citizens, they shouldn’t complain about their status as second class citizens. And the reason for the socio-economic disparity between Arab and Jew in Israel is because Israel’s founding forced the more middle class Palestinians from their homes? I’d say that begs even more troubling questions.

    Finally, I strongly disagree with your assertion that the laws issued by Israel’s Supreme Court “govern its civil life.” As long as Israel has no Constitution upon which the Court can base its rulings, these laws exist in a legal vacuum – and there will never be a true foundation that guarantees equal rights for all its citizens.

  10. Chaver Steve

    Reading the Feb 27 Forward and I think I’ve spotted an article that supports my prior claims about Israeli Palestinians “choosing” (that word has many levels of meaning, but still we must not paternalize the Palestinians by not expecting that they can represent their own interests as any community must in a modern democracy) to distance themselves from some aspects of Israeli society’s benefits.

    True, this is an article that pertains to the West Bank, not those Palestinians living within the Green Line as ISraeli citizens, but…

    It”s the Nathan Jeffay article about the classified government data on West Bank settlements made public by Haaretz in late January.

    It shows how, even though these documents seem to show clearly how many Judaea and Samaria settlements were built on Palestinian-owned land rather than “public land”, Palestinians do not seem to be willing to act on the findings.

    It shows how Palestinians, given a clear tool for pressing their claims in the Israeli courts are showing clear reluctance to do so because in doing so, they would be legitimizing Israel’s existence, the jurisprudence of Israeli courts, “the occupation” and all that goes with that.

    In other words, this article begins to tell the hidden story of how Palestinians have a deep predisposition toward avoiding any actions which demonstrate an acceptance of Israeli authority or participation in the institutions of the state – even those that might benefit them personally. And it is my contention that this phenomenon extends beyond the Palestinians of Judaea and Samaria to the Palestinian citizens of ISrael itself.

    It’s like a solidarity thing. Even if an individual Palestinian-Israeli family might want to take certain actions to assimilate into Israeli institutions, they experience tremendous social pressure or worse against such actions.

    Written large, the overall impact of such strong social norms is to slow any Israeli-Palestinan assimilation into the larger Israeli society – with its legal protections, social safety nets, budgetary allocations for health, education, welafare and public works. No one is going to force them to play the game. No one need feel excessively sorry for their collective decision to rsist Israel’s existence.

    But it is important to see this reality with clear eyes and give the Palestinians credit, at least, for making a communal decision and enforcing it.

    Chaver Steve

  11. Ron Edwards

    Chaver Steve, your posting disbars itself from a reasonable discussion.

    It uses a bank of reviews to judge a book’s content. It provides your personal guarantee for how millions of people neither of us knows, far away, will act. It judges a civil rights case with a flip wave of a hand. It judges the Palestinian Israeli citizens’ political participation by examining political divestment by Palestinians in the West Bank, whose situation is not comparable. It describes the Palestinians as too politically primitive to engage with democracy yet capable of an organized political boycott. It implies that participants in Israeli politics are threatened with “social pressure or worse” without basis. Its conclusion is based on appealing to what might be possible. It challenges me (“seriously”) in a playground fashion.

    So, you called for seriousness, and you shall receive it: I don’t engage intellectually with posts that demonstrate no intellectual rigor. I have tried hard not to direct this post toward you as a person. I’m talking strictly about the construction of the reasoning in your posts.

    For others reading, Jeffay’s article ( does not present Chaver Steve’s conclusion as its thesis. In fact, it describes several instances of the discrimination I talked about. Also, the documents in question were made public three whole weeks ago, hardly a period long enough to characterize a community’s reaction to it.

    Best, Ron

  12. Ross

    While it might be true that “political” Zionism has always sought to create a Jewish state, this is not the case for all Zionisms of the past so it is not necessarily true of all Zionisms of the future.

    For an example of a Zionism that did not seek to create a Jewish state, consider the Zionism of Rabbi Judah Magnes.

    “Magnes considered himself to be a follower of Mahatma Gandhi and the prophet Jeremiah, and opposed all forms of nationalism that are based on military force. The Ihud (Unity) association he established with several others is seen as the flagship group of left-wing Zionists regarding all that pertains to Jewish-Arab relations. Its members were attacked by nearly all the political parties in the pre-state period, and were described as defeatists, ghetto-like and anti-patriotic.”

    Another advocate of Ihud nonviolent Zionism was Henreitta Szold, the founder of Hadassah.

    from the same article:

    Magnes predicted that even if we win the war, there would then be another war, and another one. It would never end.

  13. Chaver Steve

    “I don’t engage intellectually with posts that demonstrate no intellectual rigor.”

    Ron, Shalom

    Well well. I would posit that my posts were, at heart, hypotheses, that now require proof. And I’m open to evidence that goes both ways.

    Do you know of any evidence that supports choice by the ISraeli Palestinian community to “live apart” from much that we take for granted in ISraeli democratic political culture?

    Do you have evidence of concerted efforts by the Israeli Palestinian community to engage with the ISraeli democratic political culture that was systematically rebuffed and undercut?

    Evidence please.

    Chaver Steve

  14. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author

    Chaver Steve,

    From “The Other Side of Israel” by Susan Nathan – (keep in mind this was written well BEFORE the last election):

    “Israel has plenty of Jewish political parties in the Knesset, many of them small religious or extreme national parties which sit in government coalitions making outrageous demands, such as passing more powers to the rabbis or expelling Palestinians and the Arab minority from the country. Such language is considered entirely acceptable and nowadays is echoed even by senior members of the country’s biggest party, the Likud. By contrast, no Arab party has ever been allowed to sit in the government; instead, Arab Members of Knesset (MKs) are allowed only to shout from the sidelines of the parliamentary and public debate. The two small Arab parties, and the equally tiny Arab-Jewish Communist Party, are effectively outside the national consensus. Even the main platform of the Arab parties – that Israel should be transformed from a Jewish state into a state of all its citizens – contravenes basic legislation, which requires all candidates to the Knesset to swear allegiance to a “Jewish and democratic state.” In the 2003 general election, the three senior Arab MKs were disqualified by the Central Election Committee from standing on just such grounds, although the decision was overturned by the courts.

    Televised parliamentary debates on controversial issues in which Arab MKs speak invariably make for dismal viewing. As soon as the MK stands up to speak, he finds himself being howled down by the Jewish Members around him. If he shouts back, as Arab MKs too often do, the Speaker ejects him from the chamber. Arab MKs are regularly punished by the Knesset’s ethics committee or investigated for incitement by the attorney-general after delivering speeches in the Knesset; Jewish MKs never seem to face these sanctions. The Israeli media express a widespread animosity for the Arab political parties, a hostility only too readily accepted by the public and security officials. A report by the Arab Association for Human Rights in Nazareth in 2002 revealed that during the parliament, eight of the nine Arab MKs had been assaulted by the police or army at demonstrations, several on more than one occasion. In most cases the officers were fully aware of whom they were attacking.”

  15. Chaver Steve

    Rabbi Brant, Shalom

    I really feel I’m getting in over my head here because I simply have no resources to back up my hypothesis.

    But still, the quote you submitted from Susan Nathan’s book does not speak to a serious, long-term political agenda of Israel’s Palestinian citizens and how their 9-10 Knesset representatives have organized themselves to advance that agenda – or failed to do so. Education, social services, capital improvements, entitlements. What are the priorities? What are the proposals? When were they tabled in the Knesset? What deals were cut with which other parties to advance them?

    There clearly is much to be learned here, and the possibility exists that the truth really is such a shanda that it’s been covered up.

    Uncovering that cover-up requires much more substantive focus than is revealed in the Nathan quote you present, however.

    In a recent trip in Israel to visit the “illegal” bedouin villages, we passed the home of a Palestinian Knesset member and the Bedouins with us spoke of him with great distain. As though he was a complete sellout. We didn’t pursue it because we were after other issues. But it obviously registered with me.

    It just seems to me that there is so much pro-Palestinian and pro-peace sentiment among vocal elite Israeli groups that we’d be hearing more from them – from the inside – if there was substance to this claim of systematic suppression of political activity among Israeli Palestinians.

    I’m familiar with the kind of arguments (exposes) made to AMerican Jewish and gentile liberals about the “truth” about the Israeli occupation. They all reminded me of the kind of arguments I heard back in the early 60’s at Columbia before opposition to the Vietnam War was widespread. I was naive. Hearing about all the “things” the American government was doing were literally “unbelievable”. As I learned the truth of them, it simply turned me against “the establishment” who had lied to me for so long.

    Surely the classic rationale for supporting the State of Israel has been weakened by it’s clash with reality. And clearly many liberals hearing these stories were shocked into disbelieving everything about ISrael that was positive.

    But rather than make me lose my faith in the Jewish Zionist enterprise, it’s made me simply approach the possibility for peace in the middle east with a huge dose of reality and willingness to compromise. I just don’t see any Palestinian leader with whom my Israeli cousins can reach a deal. Palestinians (ISraeli, West Bank & Gaza) seem enamored of a dream of “winning” the long term war with ISrael and, thanks to billions in oil dollars in the hands of radical Muslim leaders spent scapegoating Israel for the lack of modernization and progress in the region, support leaders who are subsidized to simply refuse to bargain.

    And I can’t help but see the Nathan book and related efforts as just another front in the overall anti-ISrael campaign that looks so abnormally bloated, unbalanced and out of touch with reality.

    People who care about the Palestinians need to focus the bulk of their efforts at convincing the Palestinians to care more about their own future development and prosperity than about endlessly playing their front line role in the hoped-for Arab victory over ISrael. Sort of tough love. For a people that has acted too long like out of control teenagers.

    The plight of ISraeli Palestinians? Let’s hear their agenda for community, economic and cultural development. And their political strategy for implementing that agenda. That’s something positive and constructive we can discuss and get behind.

    Chaver Steve

  16. Ron Edwards

    “Evidence.” As in, physical evidence? Bagged and labeled, from my basement perhaps? I can only assume that you mean “information.”

    I have already provided a strong modern reference. If you want to educate yourself on the issue, reading the actual book is a good start.

    I’ll follow Rabbi Brant’s example and stay engaged for one more post.

    Here are some more references:

    Oz, In the Land of Israel – a series of revealing interviews regarding internal tensions in Israeli society in the early 1980s
    Carey & Shainin, The Other Israel (similar title, not the same book) – an introduction to current Jewish dissent in Israel, with many articles
    Kovel, Overcoming Zionism – especially the chapter The Only Democracy in the Middle East
    Abunimah, One Country – especially chapters 2 and 3
    Honig-Parnass & Haddad, Between the Lines – a collection of articles from the recent journal of that name

    One doesn’t have to agree with the various authors’ political aims in order to gain knowledge from their work. I chose them specifically because they are full of concrete information, and with one exception, present Jewish voices regarding the issues.

    My goal in posting in this thread does not include wrangling with you about Israeli discrimination. Here’s my answer to your questions: Armed with knowledge from these or whatever references you seek, you can make your own decision about whether Israel as currently constructed and conducted is discriminatory. You can decide what’s evidence and what’s not, and what that evidence means. I’m not here to read the books for you.

    Rabbi Brant, in the interest of this thread’s purpose, I’m going to focus on the topic you raised in the first post. Unfortunately, I think Lieberman’s repugnant views represent a predictable application of the historically in-practice concept of the Jewish state, rather than a deviation.

    I suggest that the historically in-practice concept of the Jewish state is itself discriminatory in essence, as opposed to the usual phrase of “the XYZ state” for many current nations, where XYZ is a religion. It is indistinguishable from privilege over others, in the forms of disenfranchisement, economic hardship, expulsion, containment, and legal distortion. Again, I speak here of the non-Jewish Palestinian Israelis specifically, as opposed to those in Gaza and the West Bank. (I also think the ethnic issues among Jews in Israel are implicated as well, but that’s not the current topic.)

    For Israel not to be discriminatory, the very meaning of “the Jewish state” would have to undergo serious revision. It would have to mean something like, “Judaic values are instrumental in the founding of this nation. They serve and benefit everyone who lives here.” Laws in practice would have to reflect that idea.

    I know that has little if anything to do with Theodore Herzl or David Ben-Gurion. It does have a lot to do with, among others, Albert Einstein.

    “The State idea is not according to my heart. I cannot understand why it is needed. It is connected with narrowmindedness and economic obstacles. I believe it is bad, I have always been against it.” (Testifying before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, replying to a specific question regarding a Jewish State in Palestine, 1946)

    “I should much rather see a reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together than the creation of a Jewish state. Apart from practical considerations, my awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power no matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain.” (Out of My Later Years, 1950)

    At this late date, since “Jewish state” as a term has gained international significance, and since U.S. policy and finances have become so deeply supportive of it, Einstein’s horse has left the barn. The question is whether it will generate yet more inner damage, especially in Israel itself, and especially since that inner damage (fear, hatred, bigotry) has such extensive consequences.

    The real tragedy, I think, lies in the missed opportunity of 1992-1994, in which the new Basic Laws failed to address this issue.

    For example, the ones called Human Dignity and Liberty, and Freedom of Occupation. Both use the phrase “Jewish and democratic state” without any reference there or anywhere about what that means.

    A law may ignore Freedom of Occupation if approved by a majority vote in the Knesset.

    In Human Dignity and Liberty, see #8: 8. “There shall be no violation of rights under this Basic Law except by a law befitting the values of the State of Israel, enacted for a proper purpose, and to an extent no greater than is required.”

    And what are those violation-permitting values? Again, the “Jewish and democratic” nature of the state. So if you’re not Jewish, violating your rights under this law (of Human Dignity and Liberty!) is arguably legal. That’s what Lieberman’s loyalty oath proposal is seeking to put into practice, laid out in plain language.

  17. Ron Edwards

    Oops, forgot: hello Ross, and yes, absolutely, I agree. One of the books I mentioned, The Other Israel, includes a strong statement that the dissenting views in the included articles have an equally valid claim to the term Zionism. And lest the scary title of Kovel’s book give the wrong impression, he is challenging the specific use of the term to represent political power, as he is careful to define.

    With varying success, I recommend to my Palestinian friends that the term “Zionist” ought to be retired from their arguments – specifically because it risks losing the inclusion of people who agree with those arguments at one level or another.


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