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How is Zionism different from other forms of nationalism?

Nationalism is inherently illiberal in its distinction between citizens and non-citizens. But are all nationalisms equally illiberal? And should we hold Israel to different standards than other countries that claim to be liberal democracies?

By Sean Lee

Two of my colleagues make the point that it is not only Zionism, or Jewish nationalism, that is illiberal, but rather nationalism in and of itself. I think that there is a lot of truth in this, especially given that much modern nationalism is rooted in 19th century European nationalism, which was decidedly illiberal in the way we define liberalism today. What I take issue with, though, is the assumption that all nationalisms are equal, and equally illiberal.

It’s important to note here that I’m not interested in attacking the veracity of Zionist myths or the idea of Jewry as a nation, as opposed to a religion or an ethnicity. (For those who are interested in that question, though Shlomo Sand’s new book sounds fascinating, and the recent research of Nadia Abu El Haj is particularly interesting. There is also, Ernest Renan’s conference on “Judaism as race and as religion,” in which he discusses Judaism’s historical movement, from a local, national religion, to a proselytizing universal one, to a closed but no longer local religion whose adherents were of many races.) That debate isn’t an important one to me here, because national myths are ubiquitous and, well, mythological, and I’m inclined to believe that all nationalisms are socially constructed, or “imagined communities,” as Benedict Anderson calls them.

What is important to me, however, is analyzing the premise that there can be such a thing as liberal Zionism. Often the argument begins with the implementation of Zionism, which includes the war of 1948 and the dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Arabs, what the Palestinians call the Nakba, or catastrophe. While this is certainly important in terms of the legitimacy of a Jewish state in mandate Palestine, it doesn’t tell us much about the political philosophy of Zionism in and of itself. And for that matter, Zionism would not be the first nationalism to be implemented through ethnic cleansing and dispossession of an enemy Other. (Australian aborigines and the Choctaw on the Trail of Tears come immediately to mind.)

So let’s get to the root of the issue at hand. Nationalism, and even the “political” if we’re to believe Schmitt, implies an in-group and out-group; citizen and non-citizen; us and them. There is no way to avoid this, and I’m sympathetic to the idea that nationalism is inherently illiberal by the very act of creating this distinction. The hitch is that Western 21st century nationalism has come a long way from its 19th century origins. Today, American and French nationalism, despite the wishes of certain teabaggers and Jean-Marie Le Pen, are fundamentally political categories that no longer have an ethnic component. In the United States, the president is the grandson of a Muslim Kenyan goat herder; Miss America is a Shi’a Arab who immigrated as a child from Lebanon; and the Supreme Court will soon be one-third Jewish. America has made a lot of progress concerning religious and ethnic minorities.  This is not to say that the US is post-racial – it’s clearly not – but it does seem to be on the right track. Likewise, while France is behind the US in terms of racial integration, the state is officially secular and color blind. Much to the chagrin of neoconservative doomsayers stateside, Amadou and Amina are just as French as Jean-Luc and Julie.

Again, I stress that this does not mean that racism and discrimination have ceased to exist in these countries. They absolutely haven’t: people still talk about “real Americans” and “les français de souche,” but the point is that as far as the law of the land is concerned, the philosophy of the state, these are categories that have no meaning.

Israel, on the other hand, is explicitly a state for one category of its citizens: Jews. In both theory and practice, the Jewish state accords certain rights and privileges to Jews that it does not to non-Jews. This is seen most dramatically in the right of return, which states that anyone who has one Jewish grandparent (ironically the same criteria used in the Nuremberg laws) is automatically eligible for Israeli citizenship. Conversion is a little more complicated, but generally speaking, converts to Judaism are also accorded the right of “return.” On the flip side, a Palestinian citizen of Israel from Haifa or Jaffa, not only cannot give Israeli citizenship to his or her spouse in Ramallah or Bethlehem, but the latter cannot even enter Israel so they can live together.

In contrast, I cannot convert to American or French. And as an American or a Frenchman, no matter your race or creed, you have the same rights (at least in theory) as a citizen. The same cannot be said about Israel. Many of the inequalities (in education, for example) are not unique to Israel. If we look at education rates of young Arabs in France or Hispanics and Blacks in the US, we’ll find similar inequalities in situation and even opportunity. Likewise, for infrastructure. But citizenship, which is really the crux of a state, is the most glaring inequality. The state automatically gives citizenship to non-Israeli Jews but refuses to do so for non-Israeli Arabs. Military service is also sectarian, which wouldn’t be such a big deal if employment weren’t tied so tightly to military service in Israel. Jews are obliged to perform military service, whereas non-Jews (with the exception of the Druze, Circassians and some Bedouins) are discouraged from service.  Finally, Israel is defined as a state for all Jews, so one might imagine how frustrating it would feel to be a Palestinian from Nazareth who knows that Israel belongs more to a Polish Jew in Brooklyn who’s never left the state of New York than it does to you. (For more on Israeli Arabs, I highly recommend David Grossman’s touching book, Sleeping on a Wire.)

The long and the short of it is that a liberal democracy is a democracy for all of its citizens equally. It does not accord privileges or rights based on race or religion. Israel is not that kind of a democracy. Instead it is explicitly an ethno-religious democracy, which is a direct consequence of the logic of Zionism, the logic of a Jewish state, as opposed to that of a state of its citizens.

So while it’s true that Jewish nationalism has mirrored 19th century European nationalism. The difference is that most of the Western countries built on that logic have moved on to evolve into multi-cultural liberal democracies. And the horrors of the first half of the 20th century should be enough to show us why such has been so necessary. What’s frustrating is that when it comes to Israel, self-labeled liberal Zionists, especially in the United States, still aim for the roots of European nationalism instead of the more liberal multi-culturalism that it has given a painful birth to. Tony Judt put it best, when he wrote:

[T]he founders of the Jewish state had been influenced by the same concepts and categories as their fin-de-siècle contemporaries back in Warsaw, or Odessa, or Bucharest; not surprisingly, Israel’s ethno-religious self-definition, and its discrimination against internal “foreigners,” has always had more in common with, say, the practices of post-Habsburg Romania than either party might care to acknowledge.

The problem with Israel, in short, is not—as is sometimes suggested—that it is a European “enclave” in the Arab world; but rather that it arrived too late. It has imported a characteristically late-nineteenth-century separatist project into a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law. The very idea of a “Jewish state”—a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded—is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism.

Spencer Ackerman, for example, makes excuses for this anachronism by describing Israel’s faults as “the bellicosity that emerges when a culture is under constant outside danger.” As someone who reads Ackerman pretty much every day, I can safely say that these are not the same standards to which he holds American democracy. When Washington tries to use “outside danger” to justify torture, indefinite detention, illegal rendition or homophobia, Spencer, as a thoughtful and devoted liberal, consistently calls such justifications bullshit. And to his credit, he also does so when it comes to the more egregious illiberalism of Likud hawks and their American allies. But where he falls short, I’m afraid, is questioning the fundamental illiberalism of the tenets of Zionism – tenets he would never support in an American context.

In conclusion, I’d like to do an imperfect thought experiment. The US is roughly 79% Christian (in comparison to Israel, which is roughly 79% Jewish). Would Spencer or other liberal Zionists support the institutionalization of the United States as a Christian State, one in which Christians were granted privileges in attaining citizenship, buying land, etc. over non-Christians?

Neither would I.

Now one can say that the analogy doesn’t work because of Judaism’s unique history of persecution, and in particular, the Shoah, or Holocaust. But that line of reasoning directly contradicts the idea that Jewish nationalism is just like any other nationalism and leaves us to ask the question: should we hold Israel to different standards than other countries that claim to be liberal democracies? And if so, doesn’t that directly contradict the underpinnings of universal liberalism and lead us to a cultural relativism in which liberals can no longer decry the lack of women’s rights in Afghanistan or human rights in Zimbabwe? As liberals, we cannot have it both ways. And that, in a nutshell, is why I am for a one-state solution with equal rights for Jews and Arabs, Jews, Muslims, Christians and secularists.

Sean Lee is an American blogger and academic. He lives in Beirut. This is an edited version of a post he published on his blog.

Related posts on +972:
American Jews shocked as essence of Zionism is exposed
To solve the Zionism debate, create one state
Can one be a liberal and a Zionist without being a liberal Zionist?
The Zionism debate: When colonialism is embedded in liberalism
Response to Joseph Dana: A case for liberal Zionism
A sad commentary on the state of liberal Zionist discourse
+972 readers weigh in on Zionism debate

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  • COMMENTS

    1. A

      First, let me say I really enjoyed this analysis.
      However, I disagree in a number of points. The writer is not willing to consider the unique circumstances of the Jewish nation. The Jewish nation (no matter what you think of the way this nation is defined) lived in 1948 mainly in the diaspora. As such, it had to find a way to enable the gathering of Jews into Israel, and this gave way to the ‘racist’ law of return, with all it’s shortcomings and self-contradictions. It is a bit ironic, but I guess when a Palestinian state will be established, it will probably establish a similar law, since the Palestinian nation has also a big diaspora (will a person with onepalestinian grandparent will be entitled the right of return?). Will that be an illiberal law, or will it be considered ok, because of the need to build up the state? Is Israel enough on solid ground in order to establish a more liberal citizenship law? I think for some extent it is, but as long as the existence of Israel is not taken for granted by it neighbors and many people in the world, it is still a legitimate debate. All the rest, like the duality between the Jewish religion and Jewish nationality, is indeed problematic to an outsider (and many insiders..), but has no simple solution, and besides, the so-liberal right of self definition does not depend on the inclusion criteria..

      Reply to Comment
      • Akiva

        “the so-liberal right of self definition does not depend on the inclusion criteria…”

        Couldn’t have said it better.

        Reply to Comment
    2. directrob

      @A
      “First, let me say I really enjoyed this analysis. However, ”
      .
      Right idea but too crude. Proper Hasbara form is to first show compassion with the suffering of the Palestinians (preferably children), use the word peace ten times and then make your point. Your quotes around ‘racist’ do not work. ‘Racist’ between quotes still sounds like racist. Next time avoid the word racist altogether. Also the article is way to well written. I might be better to avoid a discussion altogether as that might attract readers.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Y.

      The argument is cute, but it has the problem of starting from a wrong assertion, and well, as some say in computer science: GIGO.
      .
      Neither America nor France or any other country are required to be a liberal democracy (or more accurately, the author’s sense of such). Even if some crazed dictator took over (which in France’s history happened multiple times), no one would follow and say “These countries/nationalisms shouldn’t exist”. Indeed, the formulation of self-determination excludes that non-requirement, and had we followed it, nearly none of decolonization would ever have happened, most of the world’s countries would be excluded, oh, and our would-be-Palestine would be so-completely-excluded…
      .
      As an aside, both America’s and France’s record when feeling under threat is often worse than Israel’s, I’d suggest avoiding the comparison. There’s always also the snappy “wait until Israel is at their age” reply as well.
      .
      P.S.: A., I’ve got the letter Y reserved. Stay off! :-)

      Reply to Comment
    4. directrob

      @Y
      Garbage in garbage out makes no sense in normal life :)
      .
      I do not understand the point you want to make, the writer does not attack the state Israel for existing as a state he faults the state Israel for not observing universal human rights.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Andrew

      Excellent piece. Well done, Sean.

      ‘The writer is not willing to consider the unique circumstances of the Jewish nation.’

      Every single theory of ethnic nationalism in history has claimed “unique circumstances” for their nation. And every single one has led to racism and discrimination. There is no reason to believe that this is or has been more or less true of Zionism than most other theories of ethnic nationalism.

      ‘…no one would follow and say “These countries/nationalisms shouldn’t exist”.’

      Sheer nonsense. If and when the nationalism is ethnic in character, plenty of people do and have said that the nationalism should not exist. In both France and the U.S.

      Ethnic nationalism is not tolerated in mainstream public discourse in France, and it is barely tolerated in mainstream public discourse in the U.S. Defenders of Zionism, like the single-letter commenters above, like to justify Jewish ethnic nationalism by pointing out the gap between mainstream public discourse and actual attitudes in France and the U.S. (I.e., they point out the existence of ethnic nationalism and racism among significant minorities in both countries.)

      But what defenders of Zionism forget is that a gap exists in Israel as well. Israel is more than half a century behind the democratic world in its acceptance of ethnic nationalism at the level of public discourse. It is more than half a century behind the world in its tolerance and promotion of ethnic discrimination as well.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Adrian

      Israel is not the only Western country to have an ethnic-based right of return. Likewise, there are several Western countries that grant special privileges to different religions (e.g. all of those with established churches). It seems then that a significant part of the West is not actually liberal?

      Furthermore, I found interesting to read this part of the article:

      “…On the flip side, a Palestinian citizen of Israel from Haifa or Jaffa, not only cannot give Israeli citizenship to his or her spouse in Ramallah or Bethlehem, but the latter cannot even enter Israel so they can live together.”

      …Which is interesting, because it forgets to mention that these provisions were introduced during the Intifada. If this a by-product of Zionism, why introduce it when the State of Israel was over 50 years old? Didn’t the security situation back then have to do with this?

      Reply to Comment
    7. sh

      I enjoyed this piece too.
      .
      I don’t know when it was written, but the Shlomo Sand book Sean Lee recommends is no longer new (and what was in it wasn’t that new in the first place). Even if Sand’s theories were proven beyond all doubt, it wouldn’t change a thing. The region, its climate, agricultural cycles have always been at the core of Jewish religious practice independently of where the Jews actually lived.

      Interesting that the Tony Judt quote contains nary a mention of Zionism and discusses Israel instead. Use of Zion and its ists and isms becomes counterproductive when each preacher has a different idea of what it constitutes and potential discussion of here and now is diverted yet again. Judt’s avoidance of the term kicks that obstacle out of the way.

      Observation: The Law of Return in Israel gives immigration rights to Jews, non-Jews with Jewish family ties and converts from all over the world; the Palestinian fight for the Right of Return challenges that Law, excluded from it as they are despite the fact that the State of Israel was founded on their heads as it were. Lately people seem to be jumbling the two. Just saying…
      .
      Lastly, whether it’s logical or not, a majority in Israel would likely, still today, choose the term Zionism over the term liberal to describe themselves and what they expect from this country. If we accept that the country is not liberal and we concur with the statement that nationalism is an anachronism, will that free us up to discuss trauma, violence, discrimination, fear, defensiveness, borders, a constitution, reconciliation, peaceful relations with our neighbors? Hope so.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Adrian

      It’s not like Sand’s theories were proven, in fact some DNA studies seem to point towards him being wrong.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Y.

      @Directrob,
      .
      You must have missed the ending where the author somehow infers a “one state” solution from his analysis. Yea, I guess some semantic word-games can link Israel to it, but c’mmon, it’s not linked.
      .
      @Andrew,
      .
      Actually, my point is the gap between the supposed rejection of “ethnic
      nationalism” and its complete acceptance in the international community, or for that matter, in the mouths of those that denounce Zionism (as long as we’re talking about Arabs or their own countries, of course). There’s also a gap between your (and the author’s) idealized picture of the US and France and the reality, but I care rather little for how these countries run their own affairs. Nor do I feel Israel has to measure to your criteria.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Michael W.

      ” … world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law.”
      .
      All of Africa, the Middle East, and much of Asia (hence the majority of the planet) would like to know which world you are talking about.
      .
      Suggestions, instead of “world”, state Western world. Much more accurate.
      .
      I know, I know. The words belongs to Judt.

      Reply to Comment
    11. A

      “Every single theory of ethnic nationalism in history has claimed “unique circumstances” for their nation. And every single one has led to racism and discrimination”
      Is the Palestinian national movement is liberal? Or does it have ‘special circumstances’? If you compare Zionism with Palestinian nationalism, who gets more liberal points?
      And for all of you hot blooded so called ‘human right’ people – yes, Zionism and liberalism contradict at some points. And yes, I am first of all a Zionist, and when ever I can, I also try to be as liberal as possible. I believe this is true for any nation and any state in the world. All the french examples are very nice, but can you tell an example of a people that chose liberal values when it was under threat for the integrity of the state or nation? I don’t believe liberalism really stood for test yet anywhere in the world. The u.s put liberalism aside after 9/11, and so whould every nation in the world.
      And if you are so kin to put liberalism over anything else, especially over nationalism, please require it from Palestinians also.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Bosko

      I too found the article thoughtful, well written and the majority of the pertinent issues were discussed. Having said that, I disagree with some of the writers conclusions, the following ones for the following reasons:
      .
      I disagree with his comparison of Israel’s situation to America’s or France’s or any other western democracy which has had over 60 years of peace. He he comparing apples to oranges. He should be comparing Israel to the behaviour of those Western democracies during their wars. Had he done that, he would have found that Israel’s behaviour would stack up quite favourably.
      .
      The second point that I disagree with is his seeming assumption that there is such a thing as a perfect idealized system. Personally I don’t think there is. Therefore, I for one would concede that the idea of gearing Jewish immigration policies towards maintaining a Jewish majority is not fair towards non Jewish citizens. But Israel is not pretending to be fair on that score and, as the author concedes, it has good historical reasons to justify that policy. At least in our times. Now let’s look at “other more perfect” democracies which don’t have such immigration policies, at least in theory. Let’s see how such policies would work out if the citizens of those countries would feel threatened to be swamped by some ‘other’ group. My bet is that practice will not live up to theory and the citizens of those democracies will push to amend the existing immigration laws. So my conclusion is that the writer is right in theory but is likely to end up being wrong in practice. There is already evidence of a backlash against the immigration policies in many of those western democracies.
      .
      Last but not least, I disagree with the authors own conclusion that the fairest thing to do would be to establish a single state for Jews and Arabs. Firstly, because although in theory, this sounds good, in practice it is not likely to work, at least not in our time. Rwanda, Lebanon, Sudan, Cyprus and the Balkans come to mind if someone asks why it would not work. Secondly, I don’t know what is so unfair about the two state solution? Why is that not BOTH fair and more practical? Thirdly, what is wrong with being a minority with full citizenship rights yet not having 100% of the priviliges of the majority? For example, Western democracies have minority Jewish and Muslim populations yet the public holidays which are observed by the state are based on the Christian holidays such as Chrismas and Easter, not Ramadan or Purim. And that’s the way it should be. As long as the Muslim and Jewish minorities can observe their own holidays in private. I don’t consider that to be discriminatory towards minorities. So why complain about it if A Jewish nation state has Jewish holidays as it’s public holidays?

      Reply to Comment
    13. Henry Weinstein

      To Adrian,
      Aleichem Shalom.
      .
      I post here my answer to you and not on the other thread, thinking it would be easier for you to spot it.
      I didn’t read yet all the new articles on Zionism.
      .
      Honestly when I read what you think I think I don’t understand what I think and I don’t have a clue what I said. Must be the side-effects of this infernal Debate On Zionism. Looks like the best way to get lost in ideology, nominalism, is to push the button Let’s Talk About Zionism.
      Sounds like an esoteric language, incantation words for a pagan ritual. I’m not even sure insiders have a clue what they said. But they have an idea on what it is, without a doubt.
      .
      Zionism nowadays is something to believe in. Being a deeply religious peson, I don’t believe in ideas, concepts. Moreover the problem is that it’s not only an ideology for insiders, it’s also an insider language. I don’t get it, too cryptic for me, The Da Zionist Code. I’m French after all, ultra-sceptical by culture: words must have a meaning, and their meaning must be reliable, open to discussion, open to questioning.
      Well, it seems Mission Impossible with contemporary Zionism. When Bosko wrote kindly that I always said I support “the idea of a state for the Jewish people”, I thought: “But I don’t support only the idea! Israel is not an idea”!
      .
      I’m not that stupid, even if I’m French. ‘Me understand Zionism meant the idea of a state for Jewish people Mister’. But nowadays Israel is a Jewish state with a 80% Jewish people, a country with a history, a culture. Looks like a nation, no?
      “No, No, No! It’s an idea! It’s an ideal!”, the Zionist Choir thunders.
      But folks, the idea was not only to build a state for the Jewish people, a homeland, a shelter, the idea was to build a Jewish democratic state, not only for the Jewish majority if I understand well Israel’s Declaration of Independence. And why this insistence to reject the words “Hebrew”, “Israeli”, another secret code I suppose.
      .
      So here we are now in 2011 debating on Zionism, an ideology, instead of debating on Israel, a nation.
      And me, I am like many others in the diaspora saying: “Please, careful with the paragdim “The Jewish people”, must be handle with great care, should never be abused in politics”.
      What we have in mind is antisemitism, and we are entitled to ask: “Why are you beginning to pass apartheid-like laws? Why are you doing this in the name of the Jewish people”?
      .
      What’s going on. If Zionism nowadays means self-idolatry, self-adoration, you can’t ask me to be at ease with this, because there is only one true Jewish religion, and its called Judaism.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Bosko

      ” And that, in a nutshell, is why I am for a one-state solution with equal rights for Jews and Arabs, Jews, Muslims, Christians and secularists”
      .
      There is another way to look at this, which makes the above proposition unjust and inequtable:
      .
      Right now, there are 22 Arab states and many more Muslim states all of which are unabashadly Arabic/Muslim states. There is only ONE Jewish state. Making that a multi ethnic multicultural state would leave the world without even one state where the Jewish people can exercise self determination. How is that just? How is that fair? When there are so many existing states which offer self determination to Arabs and Muslims but not a single Jewish state is allowed?

      Reply to Comment
    15. Bosko

      Henry Weinstein: ““Why are you beginning to pass apartheid-like laws? Why are you doing this in the name of the Jewish people”?”
      .
      Why indeed? I would like to discuss this with you please. So can you please mention which apartheid-like law/s are you referring to?

      Reply to Comment
    16. Bosko

      Henry Weinstein: “But nowadays Israel is a Jewish state with a 80% Jewish people, a country with a history, a culture. Looks like a nation, no?
      .
      Yes
      .
      “No, No, No! It’s an idea! It’s an ideal!”, the Zionist Choir thunders”
      .
      Then I am not part of the Zionist choir. I say Israel is a Jewish state with 80% Jewish population with a history, a culture. It is a real state with real problems. Some of it’s own making, some imposed on it from the outside.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Adrian

      @Henry Weinstein

      First of all I’m glad to see we might have gotten past our previous misunderstanding. As I said in the other thread, I apologize if I offended or hurt you in any way.
      .
      (God I wish we could space).
      .
      Now, back on topic: I agree with you in the sense that, in the end, ideologies are just an ideal with no bearing on the real world and that as such this debate on Zionism is, perhaps, a bit misguided. Yet since that’s what the debate has been about, I just felt I had to say what my vision of how Israel should be like and why I don’t think Liberal Zionism is an oxymoron.
      .
      As for your latter point, about the state of Israeli society right now, I think that one should first ask whether Zionism is by itself responsible of what’s going on or not. Yes, Israel is obviously a product of Zionism, but does it mean then that every Israeli action is motivated by it? Doesn’t context (economic, social, political, the security situation, and so on) influence the State of Israel’s policies as well, and that not everything Israel does is motivated by Zionism or whatever ideology one may think of? Because, for example, if we are to think that this is the case and we furthermore argue that Zionism is basically Jewish supremacism, Jewish theocracy or whatever extreme, exclusionary and intolerant equivalent you may like, then how could one explain the fact that Israel still keeps the Ottoman Millet system in place, that Israel left the Sinai for signing peace with Egypt, that there are still Arabs living in Israel (and why not, the West Bank and Gaza too) or any deviation from an extreme version of Zionism? Not that I’m saying that you believe that Zionism is the only thing Israeli policy-makers think about but I am just wondering, maybe many Israeli policies just have to do with, say, the security situation rather than being motivated by Zionism or an overall desire to oppress Palestinians? Or perhaps you think that both Zionism and the prevailing context work in tandem to justify all Israeli policies, even the ones (such as this Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law passed in 2003 that discriminates against Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza and if I recall correctly some later amendments discriminate against citizens from neighboring enemy states as well) that were started long after Israel’s independence and when context might have justified them in the eyes of a significant portion of the Israeli public (in this law’s case, the Second Intifada)? And if so, then perhaps Liberal Zionism is a somewhat viable agenda to follow for Israel to become a more “Westernized” society at least compared to outright repudiating Zionism (which I just don’t see as politically feasible, assuming that it is desirable)?
      .
      Of course, this is not to say that many Israeli policies I oppose are not mostly grounded on some version of Zionism I personally don’t like (for example, settling the West Bank). But then, perhaps what is needed to improve the current situation is a change within Zionism (as opposed to outright repudiating it) and, yes, a change in the prevailing context (like regional dynamics, which it seems are about to change given the Arab Revolutions though it remains to be seen what kind of change will it be) as well?

      Reply to Comment
    18. Ben Israel

      I find it odd that someone living in Beirut, Lebanon would think that a “single state with equal rights for Jews, Arabs, Muslims, Christians, etc” would work in Israel.
      Look at the recent election results in Egypt and Tunisia. Is the Middle East moving to the open, multiculturalist society that the author finds so attractive?

      Reply to Comment
    19. AT

      Mordehai Kaplan came up with the best definitions abouts Jews and Judaism decades ago. Judaism is a civilization (which like all ancient civilizations has what moderns call a religion at its core). A Jew is anyone who participates in and feels part of the Jewish civilization.

      While not perfect, this definition eliminates all claims about Jews being adherents of a particular race, ethnicity or religion. That is why you can be a black Jewish Arab atheist. You can’t be a Jewish Christian however, since historically Christianity set itself up against Jewish civilization.

      Zionism is the nationalist movement of the Jewish people (I.e. the people who participate in and feel part of Jewish civilization). In that sense it is NOT all that different than French nationalism or Chinese nationalism. The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares national self determination as a human right. Hence Jews have that right as much as any other people. For that reason, the truly liberal solution is not the one state solution, but the two state solution which allows both Jews and Palestinians the human right of self determination.

      Jewish and Arab minorities in either state should be given equal rights. But the fact that in one state they celebrate Rosh Hashana, in the other Ramadan, as official holidays, does not violate any citizen’s rights. BTW, as other people have noted, Xmas is a national holiday in the Christian-civilization based US. no human rights are violated thereby.

      Reply to Comment
    20. AT

      I forgot to point out: I do realize, that the author refers to other legal restrictions (such as land ownership) in his theoretical discussion of Christian US. I referred to holidays, because that is where religion plays out in US. However, there are many, many laws which differentiate between ethnicity and give different privileges depending on what ethnic group you belong to. Ask any Mexican-American about the ethnic-based laws in the West and South. To say that “as far as the law of the land is concerned, these distinctions have no meaning” in the US is utter rubbish. Not to mention, Republican candidates call for genocide against Mexicans and are cheered.

      The human race sucks, but Israel and Zionism, with all it’s mistreatment of Palestinian Arabs is far from the suckiest place on the planet, which is the gist of theauthor’s argument.

      Reply to Comment
    21. A

      You really don’t need to go far in history to find how liberalism was put aside even in western Europe when ethnically harmony was in stake. You just to read opinion columns of the most liberal columnists and editorials a few years ago when Turkey applied for joinining the EU, and threatened the christian hagmony in Europe. Suddenly, liberalism was put aside in favor of arguments like ‘cultural integrity’ and ‘cultural mismatch’ to name a few of the washed terms used to hide the fear of swamping Paris and Rome with millions of Muslim Turks.
      Funny thing, one of the official reasons for denying Turkey request was its consistent violation of human rights, especially towards the Kurd minority, and it’s occupation of north-Cyprus. But now, when it pulled its application, and stood in the front of the radical pro-Palestinian camp, it is suddenly human-right-washed..

      Reply to Comment
    22. Henry Weinstein

      Bosko,
      At the present time I’m under antibiotics and really down.
      Besides I’m afraid my english is far too limited to discuss politics deeper!

      Reply to Comment
    23. Michael W.

      Henry Weinstein, fill in with French words if you must. Luckily for you, many Jews and Israelis (like my family) have been “ethnically cleansed” from North African countries and moved to France and Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    24. Cortez

      “Zionism is the nationalist movement of the Jewish people (I.e. the people who participate in and feel part of Jewish civilization). In that sense it is NOT all that different than French nationalism or Chinese nationalism. The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares national self determination as a human right. Hence Jews have that right as much as any other people. For that reason, the truly liberal solution is not the one state solution, but the two state solution which allows both Jews and Palestinians the human right of self determination.”

      But its a nationalist movement built on the land of people who were not all formally part of the Jewish civilizations and who were forcibly expelled. In addition, it was built on explicit exclusionary goals. Its one thing if zionism included accepting Palestinians Arabs as part of the zionist destiny or even allowing Mizrahi jews from Yemen to maintain their dual cultures as Ashkenazi Jews have been able to but Zionism as applied took a very Eastern European Jewish stance that effectively shut out any of the cultural and political developments and changes of the last 1,000+ years and created a refugee crisis for people who have maternal and paternal linkages to the very same origins Zionism connects itself to.

      Zionism as a nationalist movement may not be that unusual in a basic sense but territorial aspirations combined with exclusionary goals and ignorance of history make it much different then Chinese and French nationalism which have at least existed on the same territory in the last few centuries in its dominant and a colonialist form. One should also note that despite the cultural nature of French nationalism….its very much an example of civic nationalism…where mostly anyone can be or feel French by participating in the government in principle.

      A truly liberal solution would not involve a two state solution because would infringe on the rights of the diverse people who actually belong to the land under different claims. It keeps ignoring the fact that other people were not invited to be part of the civilization and were explicitly excluded. Even extremist Iran despite being a fundamentalist state has an evolved “Iranian identity,” that is separate from the state religion…that Iranian Jews, Muslims, Christians and Zoroastrians can claim. Lebanon similarly despite all its horrendous problems has an evolved Lebanese nationalist identity. Egypt is another example. Clearly the Copts are in a very difficult situation as a minority ethno-religious group but Egyptian self-determination explicitly included them instead of excluding them in the national identity.

      Reply to Comment
    25. Mitchell Cohen

      “Besides I’m afraid my english is far too limited to discuss politics deeper!” [End of Henry Weinstein] Could have fooled me, man. Your English seems good enough to me. Most of the time, I can’t tell it’s not your first language. Even native English speakers make typos.

      Reply to Comment
    26. directrob

      @Ben Israel,
      I think it strange that someone from Israel point to Lebanon as an example of a failed multi ethnic state. Actually given the role Israel played in Lebanon I think it is a gotspe.

      Reply to Comment
    27. AT

      @cortez You ignore the fact that I mentioned in my post that at No time since Roman rule did the land belong to the indigenous people. The last imperial land holder, the British, asked the UN to address the conflict between the two sets of people, then indigenous, fighting over who “owned” the land. Partition was the agreed upon solution to allow both parties to express the human right of self determination. Israel’s later expansionist policies, which can and should be criticized, does not negate the legitimacy of Jewish nationalism. Moreover, the article criticizes Jewish nationalism as somehow being uniquely bad in that and other respects. I just wanted to point out the argument is sleight of hand, not defend (or condemn) specific Israeli policies.

      Finally, the “proof text ” of just how off the wall the article is in defending the US (and other Western countries) as a liberal democracy that does not use the law to take away rights of ethnic groups who are not part of the mainstream ethnicity, imay be seen in this powerful video:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gbd7JvN2blw&feature=youtube_gdata_player

      Reply to Comment
    28. directrob

      @AT
      Self determination is not part of the declaration of universal human rights it is part of international law (see: http://www.hrweb.org/legal/cpr.html ) and mainly the right of indigenous people to govern their land. To form a state of their own their is no need for them to own the land, living on the land is enough.
      .
      “Jewish Nationalism” was and is bad because it became denial of the rights of the Palestinians continue to live on their land. The article explains it quite eloquently.
      .
      Self determination has nothing to do with a one or two state solution. Once there is one state were human rights are observed there is no international right of secession.

      Reply to Comment
    29. Adrian

      @Directrob
      .
      “Self determination is not part of the declaration of universal human rights it is part of international law (see: http://www.hrweb.org/legal/cpr.html ) and mainly the right of indigenous people to govern their land. To form a state of their own their is no need for them to own the land, living on the land is enough.”
      .
      From your own link:
      .
      “Article 1
      .
      1. All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
      .
      2. All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic co-operation, based upon the principle of mutual benefit, and international law. In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.
      .
      3. The States Parties to the present Covenant, including those having responsibility for the administration of Non-Self-Governing and Trust Territories, shall promote the realization of the right of self-determination, and shall respect that right, in conformity with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations.”
      .
      Where does it say it is restricted to indigenous peoples only? Following your logic, the Canadian people (at least Anglo and French Canadians) would not have a right to self-determination.
      .
      This attempt to play the indigenous card seems like a thinly veiled attempt to justify the denial of a collective right based on ethnicity, which is racist by definition.

      Reply to Comment
    30. directrob

      @Adrian,
      I used the word “mainly” (as in for a group to have an own separate state).
      .
      In a recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, dealing with the Quebec question the issue of secession was considered at length, The Court listed three examples of a people’s right to secession.
      .
      a) “right of colonial peoples to exercise their right to self- determination by breaking away from the ‘imperial’ power is now undisputed.”
      .
      b) where a people “is subject to alien subjugation, domination or exploitation outside a colonial context,” there is a right to external self-determination.
      .
      c) “when a people is blocked from the meaningful exercise of its right to self-determination internally, it is entitled, as a last resort, to exercise it by secession,” although that proposition may not yet be “an established international law standard.”
      .
      I found it here: http://legalsutra.org/1170/right-to-self-determination-and-ethnic-conflict/
      .
      You wrote:
      “This attempt to play the indigenous card seems like a thinly veiled attempt to justify the denial of a collective right based on ethnicity, which is racist by definition.”
      .
      Being of a different ethnic group is on itself no reason to have an own state.

      Reply to Comment
    31. Cortez Moreno

      ” You ignore the fact that I mentioned in my post that at No time since Roman rule did the land belong to the indigenous people. The last imperial land holder, the British, asked the UN to address the conflict between the two sets of people, then indigenous, fighting over who “owned” the land. Partition was the agreed upon solution to allow both parties to express the human right of self determination. Israel’s later expansionist policies, which can and should be criticized, does not negate the legitimacy of Jewish nationalism.
      First….so the land didn’t belong to Jewish people exclusively as the preferred indigenous people? or to European Jewry or Middle Eastern Jewry or Jews turned Christian or Muslim?
      .
      Second you are citing the imperial land owner…without being critical of logic of such a plan and the lack of foresight considering the residents of the land. Partition was not the agreed upon solution by everyone. The partition wasn’t even a logical plan as we see from today.
      .
      Israel’s expansionist policies do negate the legitimacy of Jewish nationalism, if I am to believe that Zionism as it is today is the realization of Jewish nationalism. if Jewish nationalism can be personified in other ways outside of Zionism or self-determination then it can still have legitimacy. Zionism isn’t bad in of itself…but as applied as been atrocious. As it stands….Jewish nationalism in its current and majority for has nearly erased the history of Jews in the Middle East, 60-75% of the way there when it comes to Sephardic Jews…and as recently as last week tried to attack American Jews. This is nationalism gone wrong.

      because it is problematic for the people who are not Jewish and will not be invited or considered Jewish in any matter despite having Jewish ancestry, it is problematic because the territory on which it occurs has a variety of other ethnic groups.

      Reply to Comment
    32. Cortez

      When I saw “Jews in the Middle East,” I mean the rich history of mizrahi Jews in various countries…and successful history too in special instances like Egypt and Iraq at the turn of the century. If not for stupid laws from the Roman era deemphasizing conversion there might have been even a larger and stronger multi-cultural population of Jews.

      Reply to Comment
    33. Henry Weinstein

      Michael W,
      Be careful with preconceptions on the lives of others. I suppose you picture me as living in a Parisian Comfort Zone since my birth, and that accusing Israel and the Israelis is my favorite pass time, my hobby?
      Factually my Abba – deceased November 13 1999, he was 89 – was the only Jew – “Israélite”, my Mum would say – in my living family. My Mum is Catholic, my Abba married with her in 1949 in Chalon-sur-Saône, a small town in the French countryside. He came from Romania, became French in the 30s; his first language was German, his family moved to Paris in 1919 because of pogroms perpetuated in the wake of Russian Civil War. Irregulars from the Red Army came in his family’s house when he was a child. He grew up as a blond handsome young man with blue eyes, I don’t know much about him; he was too traumatized to tell explicitely his story, and he refused as hell self-pity. I’m born in 1959, his younger son, I grew up ignoring all these things in Burgundy, rural French countryside where in all small villages there is a monument dedicated to all the young French men who died in WW1, with thirty and more names each time. That’s where my Mum came from: a family decimated by the 1914-1919 carnage, almost all the sons killed in WW1. I grew up without knowing most of women in my living French family had lost their “fiancés” in 1914-1919. Thus my Dad found a safe home, in Burgundy. No need to talk, almost everyone had lost dear loved ones.
      In short, if you think I’m the lucky one you are only right in the sense I’m alive and writing these words, my Abba being one of the Last European Jews after WW2. And there are many people in this world who speak in the names of my slaugthered people who should shut up their big mouths, because they don’t have a clue what happened to us. I’m the son of one of The Only Few, it took me time to accept it, it wasn’t easy to grow up being Henry Charles Weinstein in the 1960s, in the French countryside.
      That’s where I come from, Michael W.
      That’s why I care also for Palestinians.

      Reply to Comment
    34. Henry Weinstein

      Mitchell Cohen,
      Thanks for the compliment. Truth is most of the time I write lyrics, the only way I feel confident to write in english.
      But I must confess the way I write French is not very French, and my handwriting looks like Hebrew.
      French allows me to write with a scalpel. Like German allowed Franz Kafka to write unspoken emotions.
      The good thing to write in English is it prevent me from being too intellectual,
      I am obliged to write like a child who asked himself why adults behave like lunatics, and tell lies and fairy tales to others.

      Reply to Comment
    35. Adrian

      @Directrob:
      .
      I don’t see how your answer is relevant to arguing against the right of self-determination for the Jewish People (or the Palestinian People for that matter), at least as far as International Law goes.
      .
      In fact, as stated by this ruling by Quebéc’s Supreme Court, this right is not by itself limited to indigenous peoples just as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is silent on whether this distinction should be made or not.
      .
      Of course let’s not enter on defining who are the indigenous in Israel/Palestine (or in other areas in the Middle East and Northern Africa) as I see it as a pointless debate.

      Reply to Comment
    36. directrob

      @Adrian,
      Everyone has the right of self determination. That includes Palestinians and Jews. That does not mean however that Palestinians and Jews cannot live in one state because that would violate their rights (as AT suggests). As long as the state would respect there rights they would all participate in the state and have “self determination”.

      Reply to Comment
    37. Piotr Berman

      “The human race sucks, but Israel and Zionism, with all it’s mistreatment of Palestinian Arabs is far from the suckiest place on the planet, which is the gist of the author’s argument.”

      This is definitely a large planet. To the chagrin of many liberals here, there exists a large number of “ethnocracies”, some even with their own ethno-centric religions, were non-members of the majority (or a minority ruling groups) are in some ways worse off than the members of the ruling ethnic group. Offhand, one may conjecture that Burundi and Zimbabwe are suckier.

      But if we try to step up from Africa and various dictatorships then it is hard to find equally bad treatment of minorities in the last 60 years.

      Reply to Comment
    38. Bosko

      Piotr Bergman: “But if we try to step up from Africa and various dictatorships then it is hard to find equally bad treatment of minorities in the last 60 years”
      .
      Really? Then let’s just look at one candidate.
      .
      “Saudi Arabian law does not recognize religious freedom, and the public practice of non-Muslim religions is actively prohibited.[31] No law specifically requires citizens to be Muslims, but article 12.4 of the Naturalization Law requires that applicants attest to their religious affiliation, and article 14.1 requires that applicants to get a certificate endorsed by their local cleric.[32] The Government has declared the Holy Quran and the Sunna (tradition) of the Prophet Muhammad to be the country’s constitution. Neither the Government nor society in general accepts the concepts of separation of religion and state, and such separation does not exist. The legal system is based on Sharia (Islamic law), with Shari’a courts basing their judgments largely on a code derived from the Quran and the Sunna. The Government permits Shi’a Muslims to use their own legal tradition to adjudicate noncriminal cases within their community.[32]”
      .
      http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_in_Saudi_Arabia
      .
      There are plenty of more candidates in the Middle East but I guess for some people, Israel always has to be put near the bottom of the list. Reality need not have anything to do with it.

      Reply to Comment
    39. Piotr Berman

      Welcome to Israel, the most liberal theocracy in the Middle East?

      The last time I checked, Saudi Arabia was an absolute monarchy, which to me fits the definition of a dictatorship. Yet, this is where Bosco looks for an example of an inferior treatment of minorities.

      How about India or Slovakia? I will grant that Kyrgyzstan is a serious contender for a democracy that sucks more — but with possibility of improvement. The case of Turkey can be debated back and forth. This is how I see Israel’s neighbors in “suckiness” ranking.

      Reply to Comment
    40. Bosko

      Piotr: “Offhand, one may conjecture that Burundi and Zimbabwe are suckier”
      .
      Piotr: “The last time I checked, Saudi Arabia was an absolute monarchy, which to me fits the definition of a dictatorship. Yet, this is where Bosco looks for an example of an inferior treatment of minorities”
      .
      Yea, right, i wasn’t aware that Burundi and Zimbabwe are shining democracies yet our Piotr compared Israel to those places and even was kind enough to rank Israel slightly ahead of them but no one else (unless I am mistaken about the word “suckier”?). But here I am, I went to a lot of trouble (NOT!!!) and found another suckier place in the Middle East. So now our Piotr is shifting the goal posts and she pretends that she was comparing Israel only to democracies. Oh well … :)

      Reply to Comment
    41. Piotr Berman

      I have set goal post precisely: a step above dictatorships. If Israel should be considered in the same league as Saudi Arabia, then indeed, women can drive! wow! and can board buses without male family members present, wow! a religious court dispenses a surprisingly mild penalty for witchcraft, wow! Then I can be very nicely impressed. If Israel should be considered in the same league as Kyrgyzstan, then we have to compare two records more thouroughly to be impressed or not. Government tries to relocate 30 thousands minority members from their dwellings for no other purpose but making forest and generally, improve aesthetic aspect of the territory (it looks kind of unseemly with all those minority types all over the place). Advantage: Kyrgzystan. Mobs murder tens of thousands of minority members during an unsettled period of government transition. Advantage: Israel. A radio station disliked by the government is shut down. Advantage: Kyrgyzstan. A valuable airport provided for the use of US airforce. Advantage: Kyrgyzstan. Government promises to close that base. Advantage: Israel. Official enter a bribery scheme to accept American money and do not close the base. Hm. Hard to evaluate. Government does not impose restrictions on NGOs like the ones in Uzbekistan and Belorus. So far, neutral, but perhaps, soon, advantage Kyrgyzstan. Etc.

      Reply to Comment
    42. Adam

      Piotr,
      Pakistan is technically a democracy, and there are different situations of minority ethnic rule, VERY comparable to apartheid, in some of its largest provinces . Some Latin American democracies have situations with various native groups which are not as bad as those Pakistani provinces, but are worse than Israel’s. African and Arab immigrants in several European democracies have greater inequality than exists in Israel between Arabs and Jews.

      BTW, did anyone notice that people getting moved 25 miles away from their original homes in the middle of a WAR is not the same as the genocidal trek that was the Trail of Tears? It’s not even the same as what happened to the Czechoslavakians of German heritage after WW2. Sean Lee clearly lacks basic intellectual curiosity.

      Reply to Comment
    43. Richard Witty

      I appreciate that you opened with nationalism itself exists in a tension with democracy.

      Actually, you didn’t use that term, tension.

      That is the accurate description. EVERY, and I mean every, national or any state formed on a specific concept (not just nation, race, ethnicity), excludes in some manner.

      In a capitalist society, net worth entitles you to vote (in the form of your spending), and defines power.

      In a religious society, association with the religion affords rights and power.

      In a nationally defined society, there are ALWAYS implied privileges to being a national, and by the terms of the national definition, which varies.

      The existence of the tension between democracy and nationality requires the emphasis of democracy, NOT the dissolution of the nationalism.

      Even in terms of political forms, our choice is from a menu, not from the pallette of might be on the menu.

      In Israel, is Palestinian nationalism less exclusive than Israeli? By current law, its not, as there are laws restricting the ownership or property by Jews in the West Bank even.

      Affirm the dignity of all is the point, even within a national setting. Make the best, not the perfect (that doesn’t and can’t exist).

      Reply to Comment
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