Forging Jewish nationalism in the age of Arab sectarianisation

Forging Jewish nationalism in the age of Arab sectarianisation
5 min read
02 Dec, 2014
Israel's proposed formalisation of apartheid exposes the contradiction at the heart of its 'democracy'.
Israel's cabinet is supporting the proposed law [Getty]
There have been several initiatives in the Israeli Knesset over the past two decades to promote "the Jewishness" of the state of Israel - above the country's democratic credentials - as the primary criterion for legislative and political legitimacy.

There is
 now a government initiative on the table to bring together several such proposals and articles in existing legislation in one law - to be known as the "Nation Law". If approved, it will become what is referred to in Hebrew as a "basic law", a fundamental principle of state known as a constitutional law in other languages.

Its first article states that Israel "is a national state for the Jewish people". It goes on to say that the right to self-determination within the state is exclusive to "the Jewish people".

Although the expression "equality" appears in Israel's so-called "Declaration of Independence", it has been dropped from this latest proposal - approved by the cabinet last week - emphasising the contradiction between the value of equality on the one hand and Israel's colonialist nature and its definition as a Jewish state on the other.

The proposed law ignores the concept of equality.

This confirms what we had previously established - that there is an implicit contradiction between equality and the structure of the Israeli state, in practice as well as in theory.

The word "equality" in the proposed law is substituted with a new phrase: "the guarantee of personal rights". The proposed law affirms that no national civic rights exist for non-Jews in Israel.
     There is an implicit contradiction between equality and the structure of the Israeli state.

Years ago, we dissected this very concept when we explained that the demands of Palestinian citizens of Israel include collective rights, and not individual rights.

The proposed law implicitly recognises the impossibility of equality by virtue of the fact that it makes no mention of equality, despite the fact that the "Declaration of Independence" gave it prominence when Israel was being born, coming kicking and screaming into the world and searching for international acceptance after occupying the land and expelling its original inhabitants - a process all Palestinians refer to as the Nakba.

It is no longer necessary to expose the contradiction between Israel and its "democracy", or between
 Israel and the notion of equality - either intellectually or in praxis. Israel itself declares this contradiction directly, and even adopts it constitutionally.

In the past, we confronted Israel with that very contradiction. Now, it affirms it itself by emphasising what
 it refers to as "Jewish nationalism", subjecting all other values to it. The achievement scored by the current Israeli government coalition is that once this law is passed, the allegedly liberal Israeli establishment - which is the description of the state's high court in the language of populist Israeli politicians - must not hesitate when a conflict arises between the democracy of Israel and its Jewishness, or when the Palestinians within Israel present it with such a contradiction.

The world will have to know, according to those same politicians, that "the right of return", under this Israeli law, is a right that is exclusive to Jews. As for the internationally recognised right of return for Palestinians, as stated in international resolutions, Israel will not merely see fit to reject it as foreign policy, but will constitutionally define itself in contradiction with it.

Hence, mere recognition by the Arabs and the rest of the world of Israel as it defines itself - as a "Jewish state" - will rule out other rights, established in international law, that are in contradiction with that definition - such as the equality for the indigenous people, and the right of return for Palestinians.
     Israel is bolstering the institutions of the state at the expense of Palestinian rights.

Those are the two pillars upon which this draft law is based.

Its spirit is an affirmation of the confluence between the nationalism of the state and its Jewishness. Israel
 is not very concerned about the fact that it is nationalising religion. From Israel's perspective, any such dilemma this brings up is merely a theoretical discussion that serves no useful purpose. It defines nationalism through actual practice, rather than words.

Such an isolationism is built by means of exclusive institutions, laws, language, the writing of history as a national narrative, national myths, a national army, and more. It is built and then reproduced.

Some states and leaders inherit peoples and credible attempts at establishing national projects, but turn them into political sects. Some have inherited sects and turned them into nations by building a state and its institutions.

Therein lies the difference between turning Judaism into nationalism and deconstructing Arabism. At a time when Israel affirms nationalism as a condition for democracy - democracy for Jews - we witness the fragmentation of sectarian Arab identity as one of the most important impediments to our democratic transformation.

Israel is bolstering the institutions of the state at the expense of Palestinian rights. Rights could turn into a mere slogan, if they are not exercised through struggle and through nation-building, the expression of this fact will, at very best, be limited to a pertinent protest.

Moreover, emphasising the injustice and unfairness of laws is not enough. A democratic struggle must be waged against that which is undemocratic, and a nationalist struggle must be waged against that which is colonialist. Such a struggle must be led by forces that are able to speak of democracy and equality with credibility.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.