Mordechai Nisan. Israel Affairs. Volume 19, Issue 2. April 2013.
The role of nationality in politics has been subject to divergent views in modern times. The major difference in political conceptions pitted a ‘republican’ citizen polity, like the revolutionary French and American examples, against an ethnic national polity as reflected in the cases of, say, Poland, Ireland, and Japan. With the founding of Israel in 1948, a Jewish nation-state was constituted in the name of a historic people, bound and integrated by ancient Torah-faith and way of life, a shared experience and memory, around a land and a language, and the pervasive self-consciousness of uniqueness, perseverance, and persecution. Jewish nationality, and not an undifferentiated numerical democracy, was the self-declared ideological banner in the reconstitution of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel.
In these dark days of a de-legitimization campaign targeting Israel, when its political existence—no less significant than its precarious physical survival—is challenged by Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and more, it is necessary to go back to fundamentals. While countries like the Maldives and Micronesia, Barbados and Granada, Bahrain and Belgium enjoy international recognition and diplomatic legitimacy, Israel and Israel alone among the UN’s 196 states must deposit its affidavit of self-defence in the dock of the world tribunal of opinion and judgement.
Jewish Peoplehood: The Basis of Jewish Sovereignty
Before contending with the idea of a Jewish state, it is important to establish the essentials of Jewish peoplehood. This people’s longevity approximates 4000 years of history synthesizing, speaking metaphorically, Heaven and Earth from time immemorial in its Biblical origins, Torah premises, law and lore, and balancing life in the world between six mundane workdays with the sanctity of the Sabbath seventh day of rest. With a moderate spirit rooted in the Torah and Rabbinic tradition, the Jews knew the value of one day of Biblical fasting a year (unlike the 30-day Islamic fast), and the imperative of standing up to an enemy (rather than loving him according to the Christian doctrine). The conduct of life called for juxtaposing Torah study with responsible work, the norm of marriage and reproduction reflected a this-worldly outlook, while reward and punishment were allocated in the next world. So too was the structure of psychology and society intermeshed in a proportionate mix based on the Torah rule ‘to love your neighbour as yourself’ (Lev. 19:18). Reasonableness and revelation paralleled and complemented each other in this comprehensive Jewish understanding of things. While Plato had formulated the need for balance in the soul and society, the Torah and its teachers preceded and surpassed the Greek philosopher in the influence of the Jewish message until our days.
The philosophy of Judaism posited that faith in God was a cornerstone of an ethics of social goodness. In this regard, religion as the foundation of morality was joined by another touchstone of ordered civilization, through the role of law as the basis of society. Men were commanded in the Bible (Leviticus 18:4) to live by principled statutes, this buttressed by the provision that the world could not survive, as taught in the Ethics of the Fathers harkening to the Rabbinic Sages of yore, without ‘law and truth’ that would assure peace for mankind. It was not fortuitous on the broader international plane, that the sober and uplifting injunction transmitted by Isaiah the prophet of Israel was etched on the walls of the United Nations: ‘nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore’. At the root of ancient Israel’s identity and mission was the recognition, as formulated by Rabbi Abraham Yitzhak Ha-Cohen Kook (d. 1935), that ‘in this nation is embedded the fullest universalism to the depths of its soul’.
Here then is the penultimate feature guiding the feelings and actions of the Jewish people in the world: a coherent and proud community responsible for its welfare which at the same time is committed to the benefit of mankind as a whole. The patriarch Abraham was the father of the Hebrew people, but he was also the father of ‘many nations’ (Genesis: 17:4). The attribute of righteousness toward all, and not only justice in law, would mark the Jews over the ages, and their Israeli offspring in modern times.
The towering figures in Jewish history, like Abraham, Moses, and David, exemplified the sweep of iconic men and their universal attraction and stature for mankind. They have been memorialized in world literature and poetry, sculpture and cinema, as giants who demonstrated undaunted courage in fear of no man, while serving God alone. Here the Torah emblazoned ‘freedom of choice’ as a principle of moral responsibility alongside recognition of Divine providence, this equation discussed by the medieval polyvalent rabbi and scholar Maimonides.
The millennia of tragic Jewish suffering at the hands of wilful enemies and haters never dimmed the light of study and wisdom in the repository of the historic Jewish tradition and mission. The Talmud remains, since its codification approximately 1500 years ago, a composite of botany and biology, mathematics and astronomy, but foremost the ultimate textual source in Judaism of jurisprudence and homiletics. For the modern national poet of Israel, Haim Nahman Bialik (d. 1934), when speaking at the 1925 inauguration of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the core essence of Jewish survival lay in the people’s ‘eternal allegiance to the kingdom of the spirit’. This established learning and education as the cornerstone of the people’s values and goals, the key to overcoming and outliving the permanent precarious aspects of Jewish exilic history. And for Ahad Ha’am (d. 1927), a leading cultural Zionist, the fact that a ‘tiny nation in a corner of Asia produced a unique religious and ethical outlook’ did not detract from the singular fact that the Jews yet remained ‘foreign to the rest of the world’. Yet this was the Jewish choice to remain distinctively bound to ‘our Judaism’, while not taking the beaten path of the world.
The promised redemption of the Jewish people from rootlessness and powerlessness was a prophetic biblical vision of return to the Land of Israel ‘at the end of days’. This would constitute a dramatic historical shift, ending ‘enslavement to the kingdoms’ (Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin, 99a) and the launching of a renewal of Jewish freedom from the grip of the nations. Indeed, it came about that this new era was crowned with Zionism, a national reawakening of the Jewish people and a return to the homeland of the fathers and mothers of the Hebrew nation. That encapsulated the historic momentum that would culminate in re-establishing a Jewish state in the twentieth century. Surviving for 2000 years without a state did not signify that statehood would not be recovered, or that it was not a central feature in the normative structure of Jewish life.
Zionism and the Question of Statehood
In the precursor nineteenth-century period of Zionism, when Jews began to articulate and advocate a return to the Land of Israel (Eretz-Israel), the idea of a full-fledged Jewish state remained somewhat nebulous. With the political goal relatively latent in Jewish national consciousness, the focus pointed to aliya (immigration) and settlement, land purchases and linguistic renewal of Hebrew as a spoken language, with misty yearnings for some messianic breakthrough in the chronicles of the people’s fate. It would be a vexing problem whether any reasonable national enterprise could be sustained without the sovereignty and instrumentalities of statehood, left with the agencies for only cultural autonomy, religious privileges, and property rights, as proposed by concessionary Zionists such as of Judah Magnes (d. 1948) and Arthur Ruppin (d. 1943). But political Zionism, as Theodor Herzl (d. 1904) and Zeev Jabotinsky (d. 1940) understood it, was that variety of Zionism that could seriously impose its mark on Jewish history and the Land of Israel. Politics was about power, and lacking power in the harsh realities of the Muslim Middle East, and military power specifically, was a foreboding for a feeble and faltering existence.
With the appearance of Herzl’s tract The Jewish State in 1896, the explicit political goal of Zionism was given its full international exposure. British Prime Minister Lloyd George (December 1916-October 1922) affirmed that ‘he was very keen to a Jewish state’, while Foreign Minister Balfour, recognizing that the Jews have an ‘intense national consciousness’, authorized in the famous government declaration of November 1917—as British imperial forces headed for the conquest of the Holy Land—the establishment of a ‘National Home for the Jewish people’ in Palestine. In 1920 Winston Churchill and General Jan Smuts, among other British leaders, said that a Jewish state, not merely a nondescript ‘home’, would arise. Balfour and George agreed with this idea and prognosis.
The political atmosphere in the region and country after World War I was adrift with confusion and conflict on the question of Zionism’s status and future. Sharif Hussein of Mecca, perpetrator of the ‘Great Arab Revolt’ against the Ottoman Empire, welcomed the Jews ‘to all Arab lands’ but was opposed to a Jewish state. However his son Feisal, leader of the nascent pan-Arab movement, concluded an agreement with Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann on 3 January 1919 which undertook to facilitate the implementation of the Balfour Declaration. Jabotinsky demanded, certainly by 1931, that the Zionist movement declare a Jewish state to be the goal; while David Ben-Gurion proposed in a private conversation with Musa Alami, a local Arab interlocutor in 1934, ‘that Palestine would be an independent Jewish State connected with an Arab Federation’. But the Jewish state idea was unanimously rejected by the Arabs of Palestine and those from throughout the region.
Without a mutually agreed upon solution to the conflict and the absence of cooperation between the two peoples, the British Peel Commission proposed in 1937 a two-state solution (with the Arab part of western Palestine merged with Transjordan); and precisely a decade later the United Nations recommended the country’s partition into a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Arab side had never recognized the authority of the international community to dispose of Palestine, initially earmarked by the April 1920 San Remo Conference of the victorious Allied Powers for the Jewish National Home in line with the Balfour Declaration. In July 1922, the League of Nations appointed Britain the mandatory power in Palestine with the explicit purpose of fostering a Jewish National Home, without doing anything which ‘might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine’. That National Home indeed culminated in a Jewish state in 1948, and the process and significance of this piece of history was summarized by Professor Eugene Rostow, who served as Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs under President Johnson, in these cogent words:
Israel’s legitimacy as a state rests on much more than the usual criteria of international law—de facto statehood: membership in the United Nations; recognition; the success of its armed forces; the weight of history … In 1922, the organized international community of the day, the League of Nations, with the special concurrence of the United States, which was not a member, established the Palestinian Mandate. Through that Mandate, it invited Jews to come to live in Palestine as their national home. In reliance on that promise, the Jewish community in Palestine … with the approval of the Security Council and the General Assembly of the United Nations … became the state of Israel.
Rostow went on to imply that the rights of the Jewish people remained legally and internationally valid regarding civilian settlement and the disposition of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and the Gaza Strip after the 1967 Six Day War.
The De-legitimization of the State of Israel
Once articulated and virtually canonized, the Arab position towards Zionism and Israel never altered: not during the pre-1948 era, not after 1948, not after 1967. Zionism was considered a foreign colonialist movement, a European implant, a segregationist entity; moreover, the 1922 Mandate was deemed illegal and the 1947 Partition Plan a nullity. The right of Palestinian-Arab self-determination had been quashed, as the rights of the Arab majority population—before 1948—had been trampled on in favour a Jewish minority community—and no less by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The Arabs denounced Israel’s founding as an act of aggression, its essence as racism, its policy as that of expulsion; even before 1967 the Palestinians condemned Israel’s ‘occupation of Arab lands’ and its supposed policy of apartheid towards its Arab citizens. Israeli academic Yehoshafat Harkabi detailed the Arabs’ ideological rejection of Israel in his seminal Arab Attitudes to Israel, which meticulously recorded their outspoken commitment at all levels to Israel’s destruction. This was seen as a matter of justice: the partitioning of the ‘Arab Nation’ and its territorial integrity by the interloper Jewish entity was, considering also Israel’s technological potential and ties with the West, a grave threat to the foundations of Arab civilization in history. Therefore, annihilating Israel was an existential life-and-death necessity for the Arab peoples in the Middle East.
In 1975 the UN General Assembly passed resolution 3379 that equated Zionism with racism: the international Soviet-Arab-Third World diplomatic/ideological campaign against Israel had been crowned with sweeping success. Cultivating the Palestinian narrative of peoplehood and antiquity, the rage of refugee calamity and the ineluctable momentum of revolutionary struggle, the PLO was not to be dissuaded from its objective of ‘liberating Palestine from the Zionist occupation’ (from 1948). After all, the Palestinian covenant from 1964, amended in 1968, declared that the Jews were not a people but only a religious group (Article 20), and that their criminal record was stained with racism, fanaticism, and fascism. The Hamas covenant from 1988 would, in calling Islam its goal and jihad the way to liberate all of Palestine, deprecate ‘the Zionist invasion’ (Articles 28, 30, 32, and 35) which must and will with the help of Allah be overturned and eliminated from Palestine. Underpinning the Palestinian war against Israel, as ignited with the first intifada in 1987-92 and the ‘al-Aqsa intifada’ in 2000-2005, was the dense religious and cultural bedrock of popular Islamic anti-Semitism, inflaming passions and inspiring sacrifice in the holy war against the Jews and their state.
The unrelenting de-legitimization of Israel in world opinion was paralleled and propelled through the twists of fate by the Oslo Accord from September 1993 and the delusionary hopes for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Accommodation between the protagonists demanded Israeli territorial withdrawal; and with this in political motion, Israel’s image was of a faltering country, unsure of its rights while fulfilling those of the Palestinians. At the Durban Conference in September 2001 Israel suffered a severe bashing as a racist state, guilty of apartheid and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population. The calls to impose sanctions and embargoes on Israel, and urging all countries to sever any and all links with the Jewish state, basically represented the view that Israel had no right to exist; and this far-reaching accusation went beyond any criticism of Israeli presence or policies in the territories. For the Durban participants, Israel would have to be replaced by Palestine. Not just in Ramallah and Hebron, but in Tel Aviv and Haifa as well.
It could be suggested that the Muslim war against Israel was based on hatred, but no less on fear of the Jewish people. Here I am extrapolating from the morbid history of anti-Semitism, when religions and empires reviled the Jews out of jealousy and intimidation by the Jewish commitment to truth and the Jewish attributes of talent and expertise in a variety of fields. Some have found the Jews difficult to tolerate because of their stubborn capacity to retain their faith and identity in the face of universalizing ideologies and religions: Christianity, Islam, Nazism, and Communism were all in their origins and rationale dogmatically committed to overwhelm the Jewish people, supersede or destroy them, yet fell back in the face of Jewish resistance and survival. Contemporary radical/fundamentalist/terrorist Islam detests Jews, but dreads perhaps even more their tenacity, capacity, and determination to withstand and defeat the Muslim foes both near and far, within and at the gates of Israel. Modern Israel buoyed by Ancient Israel is an enemy too strong to push over.
In Defence of the Jewish State
In June 2009 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his Bar-Ilan University address declared his acceptance of the ‘two-state solution’ to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict provided the Palestinians recognized Israel as ‘a Jewish state’. In September, the prime minister repeated this point before the UN General Assembly. In fact, Netanyahu was virtually quoting Ben-Gurion from Israel’s Proclamation of Independence which declared ‘the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel to be known as the State of Israel’ in accordance with the UN Partition Resolution. Here was ‘romantic nationalism’ signifying a coherent and singular people, with its specific mythic account, that had miraculously returned to its homeland and reconstituted its national independence.
The Arabs are quick to vilify Jewish nationalism as Jewish racism. In an ironic historical twist, the Jews who have been the greatest victims of racism in history in both Christian Europe and the Muslim East are now being accused of becoming the great perpetrators of that ignoble crime. The new victims of Israeli racism, it is widely propagated, are the Palestinians. Their mournful fate, expelled and stateless since 1948, and then denied equality and full opportunities, under-budgeted and cut off from the main Jewish-dominated paths of power in the Hebrew-speaking Jewish state, is a result of Israeli racism. In May 2006, Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi levelled the charge that ‘racism has for a long time now become the central stream in Israeli society’. Then in March 2008, MK Muhammad Baraka sneered at fellow parliamentarian Avigdor Liberman, casting him as a ‘haughty racist’ who should return to where he came from—post-Soviet Moldavia. Tibi took a verbal swipe at Liberman, who became Israel’s foreign minister in 2009, dismissing him as ‘an immigrant who directs his racism against the native-born Arabs of the land’. The eminent British historian Arnold Toynbee, in his famous debate with Israeli ambassador Yaakov Herzog in 1961 at McGill University, had been even more libellous in equating the Israelis with the Nazis, in terms of the supposed Jewish crimes of murder, expulsion, and robbery carried out against the Arabs of Palestine in 1948. Toynbee’s audacity in comparing two incomparable and mismatched historic cases ignored even the minutiae concerning the incontrovertible fact that it was the Arabs who initiated armed warfare against the Jews on 30 November 1947, a day after the passing of the UN Partition Resolution; thus, baneful consequences flowed from their aggression.
The racist tirade requires clarification and a firm critique, and the following discussion touches on the variety of aspects relevant to the Israeli reality.
The Jewish state is the political repository of an ancient people who are enriched by powerful national features: scriptures abounding with a moral mission, legal tradition, and prophetic illumination; an organic community with a vision of return and redemption; a historic identity affixed to a divine covenant; land and language; and a drama that is ongoing. Zionism is a national enterprise of the Jewish people, united by a stirring memory and the tragedy of loss, alone among the nations. The ‘ingathering of the exiles’ in Israel began in the modern period of the nineteenth century and continues into the twenty-first century, of a disparate people reuniting its sons and daughters in national self-determination and political sovereignty. Israel’s Law of Return recognizes the right of every Jew in the world to come home to the land of Israel and to become a citizen of Israel, this being a striking proof of the special and unique Jewish national character of the state.
The People and the Land
Countries typically have evolved through a combination of accident, circumstance, and intention, but especially by conquest and colonization; peoples grabbed land not theirs, overran territories, massacred, expelled, and converted defeated weaker communities. There was no inherent justification in the drawing of borders. Nothing is sacrosanct, reality could have been different. Brazil could speak Spanish and Argentina Portuguese. Americans could have been French-speakers. The Franks conquered Gaul, the Normans conquered England. The Dutch crossed the seas to Java, the British travelled to Sudan, and the Belgians went to the Congo. Foreign lands and ports and resources attracted daring discoverers and covetous predators from afar. In earlier times, the Greeks invaded Syria, the Romans Arabia, the Arabs Spain, and the Turks the Balkans. The British took control of Hong Kong, and the Americans conquered the Philippines. The French reached Quebec and Louisiana. And modern-day Jews simply returned to their ancestral homeland.
Supra-historical Jewish exceptionalism is rooted in the Bible: one people, destined for one particular land, without a dose of a conquering impulse for foreign lands near or far. The Land of Israel is where the Hebrew patriarchs served God, the kings of Israel ruled, the prophets spoke. This people limited its geographic sights to one country; they can have no imperialist or colonialist ambitions elsewhere, and while other places were proposed—Argentina, Uganda, Australia, South America, Birobidzhan—they were all territorial non-starters.
The State and the Arabs
Israel was explicitly founded as a Jewish nation-state brandishing a mobilizing Zionist ethos. Yet from the beginning of statehood there were non-Jews among the total population, the Arabs in particular who were a veritable enemy population, numbering about 150,000, defeated and disoriented, undoubtedly embittered and hostile, yet granted citizenship in the new Jewish state of Israel. Could Israel’s ‘ethnic democracy’ accommodate this alien and alienated population, and could Israel be secure with them resident within the borders of the state? The Jews in Israel, broadly speaking, feel a collective responsibility and demonstrate a readiness to serve and sacrifice on behalf of the existence and prosperity of the country. They are loyal citizens of Israel and brave soldiers guarding its survival. A country in a permanent siege, not knowing one day of real peace and tranquillity, needs citizens who will do for the country more than they will demand from it. Aristotle likened a citizen to a sailor as one of a crew; and as all sailors have their particular function but with the common purpose of ‘the safe conduct of the voyage’, so all citizens, despite their dissimilar tasks, share the aim of ‘the safety of the community’. In this spirit, Hegel identified the special attribute of the state as a political entity with the unity of purpose and action of the agencies of the state. Certainly Israel, burdened by extraordinary problems that have not fundamentally diminished in its 65 years of history, is in special need of the clarity of its national idea, and the resolve and energy to fulfil it in conditions of critical adversity.
The integrative experience which citizenship both offers and demands in Israel does not naturally fit or incorporate the Arab minority population, now numbering over 1.5 million citizens, which historically opposes Zionism and a Jewish state. The absence of a complete correspondence between ‘state’ and ‘nation’ in Israel’s case is the source of the political problem. This lack of convergence characterizes the demographic-political reality in many countries of majority/minority cohabitation such as: Sinhalese/Tamils in Sri Lanka, Hindus/Muslims in India, Arabs/Kurds in Iraq, Arabs/Berbers in the Maghreb, Muslims/Serbs in Bosnia, and German-speakers/French-speakers in Switzerland. In Israel, the Jewish/Arab split follows national and religious lines, while the state is coloured in blue and white alone: the calendar, flag, anthem, language, and national ethos singularly reflect the Jewish people’s culture, history, and political sovereignty.
To balance group identities with allegiance to the state is a weighty and sensitive task. Certainly pluralistic states require domestic moderation, but no less they need resolute rule in the face of rift and competition, threats of anarchy and sedition, and the drift towards secession and irredentism. For the Arabs in Israel, primordial loyalties to family, village, religion (mainly Islam) as a political identification and (Palestinian) peoplehood as a collective solidarity, are essentially the axis of a far more compelling obligation—in their view—than the duties of citizenship to the state of Israel.
In 1975, the Arab minority local councils’ leadership submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Rabin that defined Israel as a bi-national Jewish-Arab state. Rabin’s forthright response was that Israel was a Jewish state with an Arab minority. A radical and militant spirit surged among the Arabs in Israel, whetted by the 1973 Yom Kippur War, international recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and the appearance of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Over the decades, opinion polls conducted by sociologist Sami Smooha of Haifa University indicated that a majority of the Arabs consistently refused to accept Israel as a Jewish state. In 1999, Arab political parties preparing for the general elections presented a list of demands to prime ministerial candidate Ehud Barak in which they called for a bi-national state and Arab veto power representation in a variety of state bodies. Using a victimized narrative presenting them as sufferers of discrimination and inequality by the dominant Jewish minority, the Arabs engaged in incessant complaining against Israel, joined by expressions of solidarity with Hamas and Fatah. The feeling spread within the Arab community in the Galilee that the Arabs of Israel were experiencing a national renaissance, solidifying their Palestinian identity, throwing off a cowering disposition toward the state, and stretching their demands to that of a national minority bent on undoing the Jewish state. Arab students at Israeli universities raised the Palestinian flag at campus demonstrations, confronting the Israeli flag unfurled by Jewish students. The Arabs would demand equal citizenship rights; however, their performance as citizens, aside from the general and unconvincing accommodation of the law of the land, was highly questionable. While the Arabs were granted an Arab language educational stream, and the rights as for other Israeli citizens of social welfare payments and benefits, they were overwhelmingly opposed to serving the state either in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) or through civilian national service.
In 2007 the Israeli Arabs issued two political documents to express their definitive rejection of Israel as a Jewish state. The ‘Haifa Declaration’ called for the implementation of the right of Palestinian refugee return to Israel (the standard Arab euphemism for Israel’s destruction through demographic subversion), while the ‘Democratic Constitution’ redefined Israel as a bi-lingual and multicultural state. The aliens in the house were Palestinian enemies rather than loyal and contributing Israeli citizens. And whatever grievances they voiced in allegedly receiving less funding for local government village projects, or of being kept out of certain security-related industrial jobs, all served to put in the shadows of the discourse the otherwise great strides the Arabs had made and the expansive scope of opportunities they enjoyed within Israeli society.
The presence of Arabs in Israel, who enjoy the right to vote and to be elected to the Knesset, does not in itself nullify Israel’s affirmation and identity as a Jewish state—or a state ofthe Jews. And while arguably the state was predominantly designed for the Jews, Israel is in its many facets a multi-religious state, a de facto bi-national state, a modern secular state—but again predominantly a Jewish state with legal and cultural components drawn from the Judaic tradition; and a state of the Jews who constitute about 80% of its population. Israel is not a racist state but a Jewish national state, with room for non-Jews. They can and do live in this state, fraternize with the Jews, participate in Israel’s media and institutional networks, and some defend its security without equivocation and with unlimited sacrifice. In its founding Israel became more than the Zionist entity of integral modern Jewish nationalism; it became the state of the Israelis, with non-Jews serving in the IDF and police forces, active in Israeli politics and forging bonds of trust and integration in the country. The Druze and the Circassians most predominantly, but also Bedouin in the north and south of the country, and a sprinkling of Muslims and Christians, chose to answer the call of citizenship and patriotism and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Jews in defending Israel from the Arab foe. These Israelis, some of whom have become senior military officers, diplomats, are members of parliament, and civil servants, feel absolute allegiance to the Jewish state of Israel.
As a sound and strong state Israel has been able to tolerate a dissident Arab minority that does not identify with the country’s national purpose. Indeed, Arab citizens as a rule publicly condemned the Israeli military for its handling of the Mavi Marmara flotilla in 2010, as it did the Pillar of Defence operation against Hamas-ruled Gaza two years later. When the idea of a Palestinian state is proposed as a political option, the Israeli Arabs prefer that it be an armed sovereign entity, while Israel’s Jews demand it be demilitarized. Yet that said, perhaps a certain balance has been struck between Jews and the Arabs in Israel, though at the same time calls for multiculturalism, political correctness, and a civil society could tip the balance in the direction of enfeebling the predominant Jewish spirit with nondescript individualist citizens rushing in different directions, and sharing nothing.
The Arab racial charge against Israel mocks and overlooks the diverse ‘racial’ elements that compose the entire Jewish people. Jews from Ethiopia, India, and China, Peru and Spain, Russia and America, Jews from birth and converts, fill the cultural and ethnic mosaic of Israeli society, all gathered back in the homeland. It is their common religious/national identity that is the basis of a single shared peoplehood. This diversified and rich Jewish human landscape is paralleled by the multiplicity of non-Jewish communities colouring the tapestry throughout Israeli society.
Who Is the True Racist?
The truly compelling charge of racism should be directed elsewhere: against the Arabs and Muslims of the Middle East who have massacred Kurds in Iraq, Iran, and Turkey, as well as Africans in Sudan and Libya, assaulted and murdered Christians in Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, and Iraq, among other places; discriminated against Berbers in North Africa and intimidated Christians in Israel who sense their future is exceedingly grim in coexisting with Muslims. Not least, the Arab rejection of Jewish statehood is itself inveterate racism. PA President Mahmoud Abbas, together with his Fatah colleagues, refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, indicating that a Palestinian state in the territories would be an insufficient yardstick to measure the full scope of Palestinian rights over the entire country. Only Palestine has a right to exist, but Israel does not. On Palestinian TV and radio, in school texts and the press, Israel does not appear on the map, terrorism is glorified, and ‘Death for the sake of Allah’ suicide bombing is a religious slogan for jihad against the Jews. Undoubtedly central to Palestinian thinking and their ‘phased strategy’ is the notion of refugee return from the likes of Lebanon and Jordan to the towns and villages where Arabs lived before 1948: this stupendous demographic revolution would potentially bring a million or two or more Palestinians to the Galilee, adjacent to Kfar Saba and Netanya, to Acre, Haifa, Jaffa, Lod, and Jerusalem. The outpouring of the Arab population would drown the Jewish state, and it is this scenario that Abbas holds dear for the future consummation of the Palestinian war against Zionism.
In the last few years, Israeli Arabs have moved into Jewish neighbourhoods which used to be monolithically Jewish in character. This is so in French Hill in Jerusalem and Upper Nazareth and Carmiel in the Galilee. In the case of Katzir, Arabs who wanted to purchase houses in this Jewish community were stymied. Yet Arabs inhabit the mixed towns in the country and enjoy the freedoms and rights of all the inhabitants. But the opposite population flow, were Jews to want to live in Arab villages, is inconceivable. Arabs are fundamentally intolerant of ‘others’, as the historical imposition of Islam on non-Muslims proved. Jewish society and public spaces are generally open to all people; no one is blocked or bothered in the byways of Israel. In Jerusalem, for example, Arabs who live in the eastern part of the city come to work and shop, enjoying the playgrounds and zoo in the western (Jewish) area of the capital. Israel is governed by a liberal attitude towards people of all stripes, colours, and religions. Muslim women wear the hijab head-covering without being subject to intimidation or insult. Arabs are not moved to feelings of insecurity by refraining to speak Arabic among themselves in Jewish public places. And the charge that, in the territories, Israel practises a policy of segregation against the Arabs is untenable, knowing the freedom of travel on the roads of Judea and Samaria. There is overall a healthy balance between security and liberty throughout Israeli society; and even the Jews are subject to a security check when they visit the Malha mall in Jerusalem, because precaution has been the bedrock of Israel’s existence since statehood. Vigilant against terrorism, which has decimated thousands of Israelis since 1948, as during the intifadas of 1987 and 2000, is the hallmark of Israeli national concerns every minute of every day of the year.
Israel as a Jewish state has not succumbed to any Arab veto on the historically dramatic restoration of national sovereignty after a lapse of 2000 years. This said, the Arabs have succeeded in writing the Palestinian subtext of a forlorn people, having lost land and dignity to an invading European gang of intruders. The high moral ground is up for grabs: will it be in the hands of the Jewish state or held by the Palestinians, to define and confine public thinking on this irreconcilable conflict in the Middle East?
At the core of Israel’s statehood are three exceptional values:
- The Jewish affirmation of lifeafter the destruction and trauma of the 6 million Jews who went to their ghastly deaths in the Holocaust. Unwilling to passively subscribe to a fate of immolation, the dynamic Zionist enterprise pushed on in adversity to declare a state, despite international abandonment and domestic warfare. The Israelis pay a heavy price for their independence and the assertion of their national honour, while yet remaining a bubbling cauldron of energy and creativity which enervates national life in all sectors of society.
- The celebration of truthembedded in the Bible and the trans-millennia corpus of Judaic literature. The prophets of Israel forecast the Jewish Return—the last one—as built into the chronology and eschatology of redemption, that for the Jews and the world. Isaiah (56:8) spoke of God gathering the dispersed of Israel, and Jeremiah (31:5) of the recovery of the land and its blossoming again, with the assurance that exilic life would be replaced by the people residing in its homeland. This is the Zionist Revolution and the fulfilment of a divine promise, the validation of Torah and the vindication of the ancient Hebrew people in history. No less, peoples from around the world, especially Christians of a strong biblical inclination, show affinity and solidarity with Israel, as expressed by the prophet Zecharia (8:23): ‘So says the God of Hosts in those days, ten people from among the gentile nations will grab and hold on to the corner of the Jew’s garment, saying—we will go with you because we have heard that the Lord is with you’. There is a powerful outpouring of support for Israel today from groups and individuals in the four corners of the globe, sensing that the Jewish miracle transcends religion and nationality, and carries meaning for all mankind, inspiring enthusiasm and faith worldwide.
- The affirmation of justicewith the foundation of a Jewish state after millennia of persecution at the hands of Jew-haters. Yet even this state, so tiny and threatened, is but a token gesture of justice, in recognition that nothing in the size of Israel could ever be proportionate to the scope of injustice inflicted on the Jewish people. But yet, a modicum of global contrition motivated some countries to support Israel’s re-founding; today, however, even that has dissipated with the wave of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism sweeping many countries, particularly though not only in the West. Still, the reconstitution of Israel in its homeland was a symbolic statement that justice was the moral ground of this historic renewal.
The Jewish people are home again: in Hebron—the city of the ‘founding fathers’; in Jerusalem—the city of the Temple and Kingdom; in Modiin—where the Maccabees fought the Greeks in 167 BCE; in Masada—where the zealot patriots fought the Romans in 70 CE; in Shiloh—the locus of the Tabernacle; in Tiberius—the town of the Mishnah Oral Code; and in Safed—the city of the Kabbala. Speaking the same Hebrew language and being guided by the same religion, matching people to land and the ancient and the modern, is a truly phenomenal human tale.
Lastly, Israel is a force of strength and a model of emulation in three areas of contemporary significance: (1) as a democratic country in the traditionally authoritarian Muslim Middle East Israel radiates liberty as a political principle for its neighbours to adopt; (2) as aJewish state, Israel is on the strategic frontlines of a global civilizational struggle against Islamic Jihad threatening all peoples and countries; and (3) as a modern ‘first-world’ country, Israel’s impressive economic, technological, agricultural, and medical achievements are a source of assistance to Third World countries and a light of hope for them to strive to improve their own lives.
The universal human spirit can find in Israel a hope glowing with the promise of better days ahead.