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Israel—once Palestine, the holy land of three religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam—has been declared a mono-religious State with “Jewishness” and Hebrew as indispensible part of the cultural-state apparatus of the ultra-right Israeli regime. Having celebrated the 70th year of independence of the State of Israel, Knesset, the legislature of the state, passed the much-feared bill that officially declares Israel as the ‘national homeland of the Jewish people.’ The legislation also noted that “the realization of the right to national self-determination in Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” It generated widespread anxieties and anger among Israel’s Arab community as well as from the international community. The “Basic Law: Israel – The nation state of the Jewish people” also includes sections stating that a ‘united Jerusalem’ is the capital of Israel and that Hebrew is the country’s official language. It further states that “the state sees the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation” while it was passed with 62 votes in favour, in Israel’s Knesset, 55 voted against the legislation (The Jerusalem Post 2018; Haaretz 2018a).

Critics say that the new legislation is nothing short of legalizing a new Apartheid State. Progressive-liberal Jews consider the law as endangering “Israel’s future as a democratic state.” A group of 14 American Jewish organizations had expressed their deep concerns about the bill, they pointed out that such as move “would eliminate the defining characteristic of a modern democracy – protecting rights for all” (Haaretz 2018b). The the New Israel Fund said that it “is tribalism at its worst. Beginning with Israel’s Declaration of Independence, the Jewish value of human dignity and the principle of the equality of all people have formed the democratic foundation of the state. This law has betrayed those values.” They further said: “It is a slap in the face to Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel,” the statement continued. Legislation that identifies first- and second-class citizens has no place in a democracy. This law is a danger to Israel’s future” (Ibid).

In fact, at least on two major questions, the new ‘Basic Law’ defies the principles of the notion of ‘Jewish nation’ its own intellectual god father Theodor Herzl had put across, way back in 1896. Herzl wrote that in the Jewish nation envisaged, “every man will be as free and undisturbed in his faith or his disbelief as he is in his nationality. And if it should occur that men of other creeds and different nationalities come to live amongst us, we should accord them honorable protection and equality before the law” (Herzl 1896). On the question of language, he said:” …our want of a common current language would present difficulties. We cannot converse with one another in Hebrew. Who amongst us has a sufficient acquaintance with Hebrew to ask for a railway ticket in that language! Such a thing cannot be done. Yet the difficulty is very easily circumvented. Every man can preserve the language in which his thoughts are at home. Switzerland affords a conclusive proof of the possibility of a federation of tongues. We shall remain in the new country what we now are here, and we shall never cease to cherish with sadness the memory of the native land out of which we have been driven” (Herzl 1896). No wonder, many Jews within and across the world consider the law as an aberration of its own conceptual path of a ‘home land.’ Meanwhile there are others who see the new law as nothing of a departure from the traditional Israeli position.

Writing a foreword to Sabri Jiryis’s The Arabs in Israel 42 years ago, Noam Chomsky had noted that “Israel makes no pretence to being a secular state. Nor is it committed to equal rights for citizens. There is no such thing as ‘Israeli nationality’ in the state of Israel. There is a ‘Jewish nation’ but no ‘Israeli nation’ (Chomsky 1976: viii). Chomsky wrote that “in the ‘sovereign state of the Jewish people’ there is little hope that Arab citizens will gain equal citizens.” He said that Arabs had “no place in the Jewish state, except as a tolerated but essentially foreign element…. the discriminatory structure of the state of Israel is embedded in law and institutions…There is no substantial segment of Israeli society that opposes or seriously questions the fundamental principles of discrimination, nor is it an issue within World Zionism” (Ibid: x-xi). Chomsky wrote this within a short while after the United Nations passed a resolution stating Zionism as a form of racialism. However, he recognised that the “Palestinian people have already suffered a national disaster (Ibid: xvii). Four decades later, the Israeli state officially declared the polices it pursued through a law that has long-term implications for the country and the region.

The Palestinians living in Israel numbering as much as 1.8 million (about 20% of the nine million population) have now become second class citizens with the Arab language being deactivated from its official language status. Already more than five dozen regulations are in place to control the Palestinian population and the latest move is undeniably the worst one, from the point of view of their survival.  Ben White, the author of Cracks in the Wall: Beyond Apartheid in Palestine/Israel, noted that Israel’s trusted ally, the US, and several independent civil rights experts. This discrimination has already been widespread affecting many vital areas of life. According to White, one probable reason as to why Netanyahu played this game now is the election this year. He writes: “Thus far, his Likud party has looked strong in the polls, but Netanyahu wants to ensure there is no loss of votes even further to his right, such as to current coalition partner Jewish Home.” However, the genesis of the law goes further back, and reflects “something more fundamental: resistance to demands for equality from Palestinian citizens” (White 2018). It all began in 2011 by a Likud party man Avi Dichter who anticipated that “such a law would help thwart the aspirations of those seeking to establish a binational state here” (Ibid). After the passing of the bill, Dichter noted that the law was the ‘clearest answer’ to Palestinian legislators and explained: “We are enshrining this important bill into a law today to prevent even the slightest thought, let alone attempt, to transform Israel to a country of all its citizen [sic]” (Ibid).

The implications of the new law are far-reaching.  For the Palestinian population, it would be the beginning of a new regime of discrimination. An important Clause of the law is a case in point. It asserts that the state will “act to encourage and promote its [Jewish settlement] establishment and consolidation” (The Jerusalem Post 2018). As Ben White noted, already excluded from the “Israeli communities by residential admission committees, Palestinian citizens will rightly suspect this article–originally worded as a far cruder endorsement of segregation–can only intensify the discrimination they face over land and housing” (White 2018). Already, as part of the celebrations of the State of Israel’s 70th anniversary, the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration had initiated a program for encouraging Israelis who reside overseas to return home (Israel, Ministry of Aliyah and Integration 2018).

Plausibly, the new legislation has become a major obstacle to the roadmap of an open Two-State solution. The Palestinians had consistently opposed Israel’s demand to recognise Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ as a pre-condition for talks. The new law thus testifies their concerns and anxieties.

It seems the Zionist regime has not learnt from history—the history of backlashes emerging from such regime/state legitimacy tactics using religion and religious ideology. Wherever mono-religious and mono-cultural policies were superimposed on multicultural population, it brought with it the inevitable ground for mutual encounters and disastrous social conflicts. Sri Lanka, Pakistan etc are the nearest examples from South Asia.

Meanwhile, we may also recall the 1975 UN Resolution (3379) declaring Zionism as a form of ‘racism racial discrimination’, posing a great threat to humanity? (UN, General Assembly 1975). The resolution brought to light two other little-known measures passed by international organizations in the same year: the Assembly of the Heads of State and Government of the Organization of African Unity’s resolution 77, which ruled “that the racist regime in occupied Palestine and the racist regimes in Zimbabwe and South Africa have a common imperialist origin, forming a whole and having the same racist structure,” and the Political Declaration and Strategy to Strengthen International Peace and Security and to Intensify Solidarity and Mutual Assistance among Non-Aligned Countries, which called Zionism a “racist and imperialist ideology.” In 1991, the Resolution 3379 was revoked for two major reasons: the Soviet Union, which helped pass the resolution, had broken up; and Israel and the US demanded that it be revoked or they refused to participate in the Madrid Peace Conference (New York Times 1991).

However, observers view the present Israeli move as part of a larger game-plan of the right-wing regime that has been ‘worried’ about the demographic situation within the country. A Stratfor analysis noted that demographers had “long warned that the balance between Israeli Jews and Arab Palestinians would define Israel’s future.” On 25 March  the Israeli army presented  the Knesset  with census data showing  that “some 6.5 million to 6.7 million Arab Palestinians now live within the borders of the 1948 British-run mandate, a population equal to or larger than the area’s Jewish population.” The report apparently brought to light ‘concerns’ that “the expanding Palestinian population would fundamentally change Israel’s strategic situation, forcing it to either annex this population, allow a Palestinian state or develop an oppressive occupation regime that would result in its global diplomatic isolation” (Stratfor 2018). For the right-wing regime, such reports and analyses are enough to push for the long-pending measures to tighten its control over the Palestinians within and across the borders. The recent aggressive postures of the present Israeli regime, immensely supported by the Trump administration, are part of this larger game-plan betraying the cause of “honorable protection and equality before the law” which Theodor Herzl himself espoused for the ‘Jewish Nation.’

References

Chomsky, Noam (1974): “Foreword,” in Sabri Jiryis, The Arabs in Israel, New York:  Monthly Review Press.

Haaretz (2018a):  “Israel Passes Controversial Jewish Nation-state Bill After Stormy Debate,” 19 July, https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/israel-passes-controversial-nation-state-bill-1.6291048

Haaretz (2018b): “Progressive Jews Blast New Nation-state Law as ‘Danger to Israel’s Future,” 19 July, https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/progressive-jews-blast-israel-s-new-nation-state-law-1.6291909

Herzl, Theodor (1896): “Texts Concerning Zionism: “The Jewish State,” https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/quot-the-jewish-state-quot-theodor-herzl

Israel, Knesset (1950): “The Law of Return 5710 (1950), https://www.knesset.gov.il/laws/special/eng/return.htm

Israel, Ministry of Aliyah and Integration (2018): “Returning Home for Israel’s 70th Anniversary,” 18.07.2018, https://www.gov.il/en/Departments/news/returning_home_in_70

New York Times (1991): https://www.nytimes.com/1991/12/17/world/un-repeals-its-75-resolution-equating-zionism-with-racism.html

Stratfor (2018): “Israel Confronts Its Changing Demographics,” Stratfor 23 April, https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/israel-confronts-its-changing-demographics

The Jerusalem Post (2018): Basic Law: Israel – The nation state of the Jewish people, 19 July, https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Read-the-full-Jewish-Nation-State-Law-562923

UN, General Assembly (1975): “Resolutions Adopted by the General Assembly during its Thirtieth Session, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/000/92/IMG/NR000092.pdf?OpenElement

White, Ben (2018): “Why has Netanyahu pushed through the Jewish Nation State bill now?” The Independent, 20 July, https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/netanyahu-israel-jewish-nation-state-bill-law-palestine-election-a8454776.html

The author is Professor, School of International Relations and Politics, Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala. He can be reached at kmseethimgu@gmail.com

 

4 Comments

  1. Pingback: From the ‘Promised Land’ to the Land of Betrayals – KM Seethi

  2. Shame that the article did not remind us of the once influential Jewish Labor Bund and its ant-zionist politics

    • KM Seethi says:

      True, the write up did not mention the role and position of Jewish Labour Bund and other progressive forces fighting against Zionist policies. The focus of the article is somewhat on a specific question and there is also a limited space for discussing all aspects. I do acknowledge the role of progressive voices from within as well as across the world like Jewish Labour Bund .

  3. ” I do acknowledge the role of progressive voices from within ”

    I fully understand your dilemma.

    To stop accusations that anti-zionism is a cover for anti-semitism, critics have to demonstrate that zionists don’t and never have talked for all those in the Jewish community.