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?”
That being said, I have met one or two (but only one or two) people who are sincere in their commitment to some kind of equitable bi-national model. Perhaps you’re the third. But all the good will in the world doesn’t stop this from being more than just a theoretical exercise. You are right that the constitutional setup and legal practices of a state play a role in determining its nature, as does its ethnic balance, but you err in implying that all that matters is the constitutional setup. Given this, one cannot avoid making comparisons to other states and conflict zones, with the aim of assessing whether attempting to implement such changes (including implementation of the Right of Return, a point you ignore) will likely lead to a more positive future, as in Northern Ireland (which remains firmly under British sovereignty, incidentally), or war as in the Balkans. Judith Butler, from the comfort of her California home, has written in favour of a “federated authority for Palestine-Israel that was actually governed by a strong constitution that guaranteed rights regardless of cultural background, religion, ethnicity, race and the rest”, to which a friend who spent nearly two years living in the (Palestinian) West Bank wrote: “[This] is just an expression of blind faith in the possibility of cosmopolitan relations; I could be much more harsh. I don’t see how anyone who has spent any time in either country [sic] could be so sanguine.”
It is absurd to suggest that you simply create a ‘state for all its citizens’ constitution and then everything will be OK. It is particularly absurd coming from someone, like Ben White, who, given the vitriol which characterizes his writing about Israeli-Jews, clearly lacks the blind faith in cosmopolitan relations that we could generously accredit to Butler. It is one of the strangest aspects of one-state discourse, and perhaps its most deadly give away. BDS activists both transparently despise Israeli-Jewish society and claim that all they want is to create a state where it will be equal with that of the Palestinians. And of course they do this without offering any sort of the comfort I have mentioned above.
Most of all, though, both Israelis and Palestinians have consistently rejected the ‘state for all its citizens’ model in favour of two-states, a point that is of little concern to someone like Ben White who is neither Israeli or Palestinian, and in even the most utopian of scenarios for the region would not be allowed to take up citizenship here. This shows an impressive commitment to democratic values.
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.
If the reality on the ground is one state today then it was one state in 1967; the fact that the occupation has gone on for so long does not necessarily make it into something it is not. And I reject the notion that there is one state today. One state is sovereign, yes, but this does not mean that there is one state. As you said, there are areas of the West Bank with what we might call the trappings of devolution, but not sovereignty. And I am not arguing that there is a two-state reality either; the reality is one of occupation, with the occupying people having more rights than the occupied people. Needless to say, one doesn’t have to be in favour of one state in either the Utopian or the replacing-Israel-with-a-Palestinian-Arab-state model to find this state of affairs intolerable.
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.
First of all, my preference is for a model whereby the state is Israel and that Jews will have no legal status/privilege within the state. I agree with Jabotinsky that the societal culture (which is what I’m concerned about, not ethnic discrimination) will be determined largely by the majority group. Second, you don’t deal with my core point: “The anomaly emerges because the Diaspora preceded the modern nation-state; it certainly makes Israel rather unique. But being rather unique is not a crime; nor does Israel’s exceptionalism justify its elimination.” I’m aware that Israel is substantively different to other liberal democracies; at this stage it would be impossible for it to be otherwise without it losing its raison d’etre. Hopefully, at some point in the future, it will be able to evolve more in the direction I would prefer. It is still relatively young and it is still surrounded by countries and entities devoted to its destruction. The fact that it doesn’t meet these western norms does not justify throwing out the baby with the bathwater and replacing it with a Palestinian-Arab state. I would also argue that Britain’s culture remains largely English, and this is of course connected to its Anglo-Saxon origins. In short, though, we would agree that there is a problem with how Israel is currently constituted: my solution is to fight the manifestations of discrimination (which are primarily de facto); Ben White’s is to replace Israel with a Palestinian-Arab state. Your goals may be more noble, but you are a committed Diasporist, and so I’m not sure we will see you coming here to implement them in the near future (although it would be awesome if you made aliyah).10 comments