False Dichotomies

LITERATURE HIP-HOP ISRAEL INDIA LOVE MISCELLANY

“State for all its citizens” = Palestinian-Arab State Instead of Jewish One (I)

In his article ‘Israel’s definition as a ‘Jewish state’, Ben White belatedly addresses the main criticism of anti-anti-Zionism and BDS; namely, that through BDS anti-Zionists seek to replace a Jewish state with a Palestinian-Arab one, rather than the so-called “state where all have equal rights”, which White claims to be the movement’s goal.

He begins by reluctantly acknowledging the principle of national self-determination which underpins Zionism, before arguing that this “does not mean exclusive – and exclusionary – statehood only for members of one group”. There is the usual problem here of presumption and imprecision, but – based on his previous writings – it seems that White’s objection is to Israel defining itself as the State of the Jewish people and not of its citizens, at least 20 percent of whom do not consider themselves to be members of the Jewish people. As White knows, the result of this has been some de jure and far too much de facto discrimination against Israel’s Palestinian minority.

I have many objections to how White describes the situation faced by Israel’s Palestinian-Arab minority (those who favour Jim Crow/South African apartheid analogies might ask if a television program like Arab Labour would have been made under those regimes), but let’s pretend, for the sake of argument, that Israel’s current political arrangement necessitates the exclusion of non-Jews. What would be the best way to solve this problem? Well, to campaign to cancel discriminatory legislation, to guarantee funding for minorities, and perhaps to support positive discrimination. While even this would not make Israel “completely equal”, it would certainly be a significant improvement on the current status quo, and Israel would still be a Jewish state.

White’s solution, though, is to “unite” pre-1967 Israel, the occupied West Bank, and the half-occupied/half-autonomous Gaza Strip into one state, and then to invite back all the descendants of the Palestinian refugees displaced in 1948, numbering nearly five million (and presumably to annul the “racist” Law of Return), conveniently ensuring that there would be a permanent Palestinian majority and Jewish-Israeli minority. In other words, his prognosis is to replace the Jewish state with a Palestinian-Arab one, a strange form of equitable solution; the equivalent of amputating a leg when a plaster would suffice.

Next, White points out that the partition resolution “did not grant Jews and Arabs superior political and civil rights in their own states, nor did it extend the notion to encompass Jews and Arabs who were not already living there (that is, avoiding invoking an abstract right to self-determination of Jews as an extra-territorial group)”. He has a point here, although perhaps not the one he was trying to make (surely the GA had some goal in mind when it voted for creating a “Jewish” and “Arab” state). According to the anarchic international system which prevails, state sovereignty is supreme. This is one of the reasons why so many people – including Ben White – opposed the invasion of Iraq. And, although CAMERA cite General Assembly Resolution 181 as the source of Israel’s legitimacy, the truth is that the real source is Israel’s diplomatic relations with a majority of the states in the international system, each of whom have different positions regarding the contradictions at the heart of the Israeli polity, while at the same time recognizing that those who talk about an “equal” state are really talking about a Palestinian-Arab state in place of a Jewish one. It may or may not be true that “true equality” [a slogan which White never defines]…is only realisable in a state that is based on civic peoplehood”, but there are plenty of states in the world that even one as myopic as White would acknowledge are more “unequal” than Israel, and yet he does not think that their sovereignty should be revoked.

White then claims that the following sentence would be impossible if France was replaced with Israel and French with Jewish: “France is the state of the French, every French person is a citizen of France and all citizens of France are French.” What if Israel had been called Jewland? Would that solve the problem? The anomaly emerges because the Diaspora preceded the modern nation-state; it certain makes Israel rather unique. But being rather unique is not a crime; nor does Israeli exceptionalism justify its elimination.

Finally, this visionary of coexistence reveals his true animus: ‘Self-determination…does not give permission for an American Jew to go and live on the land of a Palestinian who is legally barred from returning home on the ground s/he is not Jewish.” If he’s referring to ‘Israel-proper’, this simply isn’t true. Ben White can say “international law” until the cows come home; the above statement remains merely an assertion based on his presumptions and whims. The international consensus continues to hold that there will be a “Jewish” state and a “Palestinian” state, side-by-side, that the societal culture of the Jewish state will be “Jewish” and the societal culture of the Palestinian state will be “Palestinian”, and that the descendants of Palestinian refugees who want to return will do so to land that stands between 10 and 100 miles from where their ancestral villages once stood. Mr. White is entitled, of course, to state his ideals, but it is disingenuous in the extreme to pretend that they are normative.

White devotes the tiniest of spaces to explaining how this utopia would work, relying on slogans and not explaining why the Palestinians, who, according to White, would have good reason to despise the Israelis, would want to share this glorious new homeland with them: “Within this framework, Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs can exercise their rights to cultural, linguistic and religious freedom and autonomy if they wish. It is about a future solution that protects the rights of the Palestinian people and Jewish Israelis, an understanding of “self-determination” that means both groups sharing a common homeland based on full group and individual equality.”

This is the crux of the matter. They do wish. Poll after poll shows that a solid majority of Israelis and Palestinians support the two-state-for-two-peoples principle, even if they disagree on the details. It may be that there has been a spike in support for a one-state solution amongst Palestinians recently, but this is surely the result of years of stagnation on the diplomatic front (and settlement expansion) and because they recognize a useful doomsday weapon when they see it, rather than any ideological shift. Why can’t the second part of White’s vague vision not be fulfilled in a two-state, or a federal model? Why the insistence on one state in which Palestinians are guaranteed to outnumber Jews? More importantly, given Jewish history (which White never acknowledges), and the justifiable fear of surrendering the sovereignty that was regained 2000 years after it was lost, why does he not offer some comfort, some qualification beyond the usual slogans? Why is he not interested in gaining the trust of those who – if he is to be believed – will be at the heart of this wonderful new state?

Only he can answer these questions. But the constant evasions, accompanied by the arguments outlined above, suggest that, whatever his denials, White’s commitment to “equal rights” is actually a commitment to replacing Israel with a Palestinian-Arab state after all.

6 comments

6 Comments so far

  1. Stuart Jennings April 18th, 2013 8:33 am

    I’m afraid this potential problem is one of Israel’s making arising from poor leadership and lack of joined up thinking. Seizing the occupied territories in the name of a defence barrier is one thing but once settlements were allowed and an attempt to colonise the new land overlooked, it not only ended any realistic two state solution but also brought into Israel a large indigenous population that would threaten the Jewishness of the original. Ethnic cleansing, genocide or removing the settlements and negotiating and supporting those Palestinian parties that will recognise the 1967 lines (Jerusalem even in 1948 was a different matter) is the only way forward. The problem will not go away , as the English have discovered in Ireland nearly a millennium after it first established its first colonies in that land. Is the Israeli government willing to commit its children and their children’s children to a further millennium of grief and pain?

  2. James April 18th, 2013 1:11 pm

    Great post, thanks

  3. zkharya April 18th, 2013 1:30 pm

    [Yet what the partition resolution did was define "Jewish" and "Arab" states based on prevailing population distribution in the country, at the time (1947). It did not grant Jews and Arabs superior political and civil rights in their own states, nor did it extend the notion to encompass Jews and Arabs who were not already living there (that is, avoiding invoking an abstract right to self-determination of Jews as an extra-territorial group).]

    That is simply incorrect. UNSCOP envisaged last scale Jewish immigration into the Jewish state on precisely that basis, even as UNGA Res. 181 was premised, like the League of Nations Mandate and Balfour Declaration, on the historically normative notion that the Jews were a people historically exiled and dispossessed. This last omission is especially odd in an Evangelical Anglican Christian like White, seeing that that the Jews’ being a peole exiled and dispossessed has been a/the normative Christian view from the beginning and most of Christian (and indeed Islamic) history.

    It is precisely this right to immigrate which UNSCOP envisaged, equivalent, I think, to a right of return, which White has never himself acknowledged.

  4. zkharya April 18th, 2013 1:42 pm

    *It is precisely this right to immigrate which UNSCOP envisaged, equivalent, I think, to a right of return, which White has never himself acknowledged.

    Nor did Palestinian Christians or Muslims (they historically chief among those seeing Jews exiled for their rejection of Jesus and the prophets) hence, arguably, the whole conflict to begin with.

    White cannot even bring himself to acknowledge, even if he would cancel the right of Jewish return +now+, that at least the Jews who had become Israeli by the time of the founding of his Palestinian Arab Muslim and Christian majority state had had some kind of right of return thither. This would at least assure them that they were in the land fundamentally as of right rather than merely on sufferance.

    But we already know that White’s response to Howard Jacobson’s idea that Jewish and Palestinian Arab diasporas had some analogy/equivalence, and so an equivalent desire for return and restoration, was “there is no comparison”.

    Which, again, coming from a Christian, with presumably at least a potential Christian ability to empathise with that people whom Christians have +said+ was exiled and dispossessed for most of the last 2000 years/Christian history, is odd, and suggests an a priori animus and prejudice. The same goes for Stephen Sizer.

  5. Joseph Finlay May 2nd, 2013 10:12 am

    There are a few points which I think are mistaken:

    1) You say that ‘his prognosis is to replace the Jewish state with a Palestinian-Arab one’. But of course that is the very opposite to what he is proposing – his piece is calling for a state for all its citizens – ‘a state where all have equal right’. You are a making an a priori assumption that the nature of a state is dependent on which group is in the majority – when jews are in the majority it is a Jewish state, when arabs are in the majority it is an arab state. But this is not necessarily so. In Britain, white anglo saxons are in the majority, but it is not a white anglo saxon state. A clearer example is northern Ireland – since it’s foundation it has had a protestant majority, and for years was run as a protestant state, where protestants held all the power and ran the state for protestant benefit. Since the good friday agreement and power sharing, northern ireland has become a state of all its citizens, where both communities share power, where the police force is mixed etc, despite their still being a protestant majority. The nature of a state is defined by its constitutional setup and legal practices, not purely by the ethnic balance of his citizenship. So I reject the claim that White is calling for a Palestinian-Arab state.

    2) You use the term ‘Israel-proper’. But Israel proper doesn’t exist. There is only Israel, which at present governs the entire land (except Gaza) with a very limited form of devolution in small islands of territory in the west bank. This is an important issue, you can’t talk as if there is a two state solution when the reality on the ground is a one state one in which a large number of people are denied the vote.

    3) In your section ‘What if Israel had been called Jewland? Would that solve the problem?’ you have missed the point. If Israel were called Jew-land (or more probably, Judea) then all its citizens would be called Jews. Which mainstream Zionism is not willing to tolerate as it would redefine Jew as meaning anyone who was governed by the Jewish state, and thus would be a state for all its citizens. Or you keep the name Israel, and be clear that everyone in the state is Israeli, that the term Jew will have no legal status/privilege within the state. Either option represents the reasonable norm of citizenship policy. But at present the two terms (Israel, Jewish state) mean that the state only really belongs to some of its inhabitants and not others and to a group of other people who may have never been to that state). It would be a bit like saying Britain must remain an anglo-saxon state, other groups can be tolerated as national minorities, but cannot expect equality, because that would damage the anglo-saxon nation nature of the state. But of course Britain doesn’t do that – it makes everyone who resides within its borders British (and everyone in England is english) regardless of background. That’s the crux of that matter, if you have to use two different words to describe the name of the state and it’s ‘nature’ it’s a sure sign that there’s a problem.

  6. zkharya June 8th, 2013 2:37 pm

    [You say that ‘his prognosis is to replace the Jewish state with a Palestinian-Arab one’. But of course that is the very opposite to what he is proposing – his piece is calling for a state for all its citizens – ‘a state where all have equal right’.]

    But he is proposing ending a Jewish right of return and implementing a Palestinian Arab Muslim and Christian one.

    [You are a making an a priori assumption that the nature of a state is dependent on which group is in the majority – when jews are in the majority it is a Jewish state, when arabs are in the majority it is an arab state. But this is not necessarily so.]

    Indeed. The fact that Palestinian Arab Muslims and Christians were the majority did not preclude the arrival of a large Jewish minority because the imperial power allowed and protected the arrival of the latter. Nor did it ultimately preclude the birth of a Jewish state, since the powers that be deemed it justice for an historically dispossessed people, despite the wishes of Palestinian Arab Muslims and Christians that they abide the majority or Palestinian Jews be reduced to their former small minority.

    Ben White wishes to somewhat belatedly to fulfill at least part of their wish, to halt Jewish immigration, but also to win a general recognition that the whole process whereby any Israel came to be was fundamentally unjust.

    That of course makes the fuller Palestinian Arab Muslim and Christian nationalist wish, to reverse Jewish immigration, more likely.

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