False Dichotomies

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Archive for May, 2013

Is the Law of Return Unjust?

“Occasionally, one sees a picture of an anti-Zionist Jewish and Palestinian protester side by side. With a smug look on their faces, as if they’ve discovered the secret that will solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, they hold two signs. In the picture accompanying Sam Bahour’s piece on the Law of Return, the Jew’s sign reads, “I’m from Austin TX. Israel would pay me to move to his land because I’m Jewish.” Next to her is a Palestinian whose sign reads, “I’m from Palestine. I cannot return to my land because I’m not Jewish.”

Without context, this may seem convincing. Once one understands the logic behind the Law of Return, though, the picture becomes much more blurred. The Law of Return was promulgated in 1951 to grant automatic Israeli citizenship to every Jew. There were two main reasons for this piece of legislation. First, it was an attempt to rectify the injustice whereby, since the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in 70 CE, Jews have never been guaranteed the right to visit (let alone live in) their ancestral homeland. Second, it was designed to provide a safe haven for Jews, based on the reality that majority non-Jewish states have consistently failed to guarantee the safety of their Jews.” Read on at Open Zion.

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“State for all its Citizens” = Palestinian-Arab State Instead of Jewish One (2)

A response to Joseph Finlay’s critique of my critique of Ben White. 

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 rights’. 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 its 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 there 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.”

First of all, this is not just a theoretical exercise. Clearly you are right in saying that ‘a state where all have equal rights’ could mean just that. To understand whether this is what the author is advocating, we have to examine his writings a bit more deeply in order to see what his motivations are. That’s why I wrote, “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 believed – will be at the heart of this wonderful new state?” Read more

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