Sunday 24 March 2019

Israel: Nationalism and the State

"Israel is not the state of all its citizens.  According to the nation-state basic law that we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people - and of it alone."
- Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel and leader of the Likud Party

I do not intend to go into the contentious argument for a 'two-state' solution or 'the right to exist', Wars or annexations or to indulge in conspiracy theories that have proved time and again political impasse to peace.  Nor do I want to concern this essay with political implication of the growing new Anti-Iranian trend, and rapprochement between Israel and the Arab Gulf countries.  This endeavour is about Nationalism, in Israel's case ethnonationalism. Its primary focus would be an attempt to invalidate or at least assess the right of that claim; Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People.  And, to argue why in attempting to legitimise their new found name the country stops short from calling itself the Israel Nation.  As such, the state defines itself as a possible protector of rights but not a bearer of them so long as it refuses to recognise its heterogeneous makeup.  Surely, a democratic country, what Israel stresses to be, cannot claim to be for only a portion of its citizens.

Of course, Likud can claim Israel for the Jews they would be adopting a very narrow definition,  but to chose to declare an 'Israel Nation', segregated and exclusive for Jews would at best ring hollow, unrepresentative of secular Zionists, fragmented and anachronistic.  It can not go further than 'The State of Israel'.  The pity of it, that by their religious exclusiveness they deny social cohesion and the adamant refusal for civic liberal nationalism.  In my opinion, so long as only the Jews remain sovereign, they also deny themselves the status of a modern 'Israel Nation' and membership of the family of Nations.  This stands in complete contrast to the diasporic Jews who claim for themselves as the Jewish Nation. In their case, they dissociated their religion from their nationality, so borders and territorial references are, in a metaphysical sense, ignored mainly to preserve the purity of the race/religion.  They remained an internationalist race without an organic connection to the "soil of nationhood." For these purposes coupled with a strict custom of non-assimilation, they rightly claimed, as people, the Jewish Nation, to project their Jewish identity.  That notwithstanding, they are still in so far as loyalty is concerned, they remained bonded to the territory of their nationality.

Leading up to the forthcoming Israeli election there are increasing signs, for many Jewish Israelis, to use words 'Palestinians' and 'Arab' as derogatory terms; battering rams held up for insulting purposes.  The incessant hammering of the wedge the deeper the fractures would run in an already divided society.    Such inflammatory language by the Nationalist elite such as Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, and by Oren Hazan, are attention-grabbing that such populist anti-language propels them ahead of their rivals.  How far these racially charged abuses are a reflection of public sentiments conditioned by the present rightist divisional policies will show in the outcome of the election.

Israel and its ruling Likud party, in particular, is pushing hard against any criticism of its repressive and Arab hating policies.  Out of imagined ideas of political anxiety, they attempt to use world sympathy associated with the horrors of the Holocaust to their political advantage.  Forcing the notion that any criticism of its policies is deemed anti-semitic while ignoring the possible implication that such motives could easily backfire; interpreting the Holocaust a repressive tool.  By proclaiming the state of Israel as the Jewish Nation-State, therefore, aside from a propagandist ploy, is an inward, separatist and nationalistic step.  It is a defensive wall to ward off criticism and to protect its imagined legitimacy which fashions its rightist racist agenda.  The hope of combining 'Jewish with 'Israel' and for both to be identified with Zionism, is tantamount to a shield-forming label. A term that has hitherto has been universally levelled against derogatory remarks specifically pointed at Jewish people. In so far as concerning Zionism, its alliance of religion with nationalism and the imagined ancient state, this only appeals to nationalist historians and has no place in Jewish culture.

A Nation, nonetheless, is not dependent upon its religious makeup but has to originate from a multidimensional construct.  The same is true for those Arab countries that identify their republic with the word 'Islamic' which at times, dressed up in Islamic nationalism, used as a repressive tool against minority rights and marginalisation of non-Muslims. Language, ethnicity, historical homogeneity and of course, harmonising the present conflicting nationalistic politics, literacy and education combined are essential ingredients for the construction of a Nation. For our model, let us take a look at the first three starting with language.

The new Hebrew language is different from the old traditional ‘sacred’ Hebrew and differs more so in pronunciation. The new modern Hebrew spoken today in Israel is not the ancient Hebrew, as in the sacred text of the Jewish religion but an edition of it and for this argument, motivated by linguistic Nationalism, subjective, self-identifying purposes. Nothing more than an adaptation from the ancient Hebrew rather than the then widely spoken literate language especially among Ashkenazi Jews- The Yiddish language, which is no longer in use because its roots lie in the medieval German language.  Important to bear in mind, because one Wills it, or voluntarism, would not create a nation unless of course, by learning Hebrew they want to read themselves anachronistically into the past.

What about Ethnicity?   The ethnic conception is not a free-floating idea but needs to be socially, historically and locally rooted.  Proclaiming an ethnic Jewish nation with almost 2.5 million of its population Arab Israeli (Palestinian), mainly Muslim Arab or 21% of the total population is nonsense.  A need for the political and national to be united and harmonious and both must be congruent to satisfy the term Nation State.  Faced with the present conflict manifested in deep, painful divisions, that is not hard to see the opposite. Therefore, to claim a country is only to a particular and exclusive is invalid. According to Eric Hobsbawm, a prominent Jewish Historian, "for purposes of analysis Nationalism comes before Nation, not the other way round." It is all very well constructing it from above but must vitally essential to understand conditions from below - hopes, needs, and interests of its people's collective belonging are essential criteria.

As for religion, it is not a sufficient criterion for Nation building but merely for grouping identification.  In so far as the triumphalist attachment to the ancient land of Israel to present Israel; is a cultural appropriation of the past and atavistic, a distinct evolutionary fossil and has no place in modern culture.  And, the idea to group all Jews to have reserved the ancestral land of Israel for welcoming the return of the Messiah, enough reason to settle and proclaim it as their land, is akin to all Muslims on a pilgrimage to Mecca, decide to settle there and therefore claim Saudi Arabia as their ancestral land. As for the migratory Jew, European and Arab, out of a theoretical attachment to claim an intrinsic connection to this land justifies him or her called Israeli while denying it to a Palestinian, indigenous holder of the land, is disingenuous and immoral. To further defend their claim by denying him citizen rights where to live or a choice of school for his children is tantamount to racial discrimination.  The ethnicity of an American Jew is American, so is a Russian, a German, or Polish. As in the UK, a person is British before he or she is a Jew after all.  To that effect, the Israeli legislative council has taken a disparaging, and malevolent action "A Nation-State of the Jewish People" discrediting the Palestinians from their intrinsic values has lead to dire consequences.

To that end violence and intimidation used by the present ult-rightist authorities, in exercising their ethnocentric and egoistic nationalism, are causing hatred and divisions, creating ever-deeper fissures in an already divided society.  I have several books about the Nazi party war machines when it overrun its neighbouring borders and continued to overwhelm Europe, in the years between 1939 and 1945. One of them is ‘The Third Reich’.  In it,  Professor Sir Richard Evans describes the brutality exercised by the German occupying forces entering, the Sudentland,Czechoslovakia (following the infamous Munich Pact), Belgium, Poland and elsewhere that led to segregation of ethnic Germans, and be encircled under the protection of the German Reich, separated from the local inhabitants and finally the Third Reich annexations of their conquests.

To me, it clearly shows an analogy between then and now, as defined by the current leaning one-kind tribalist Likud led Israeli government. Equally, in our model, there is a substrate of political sidelining, economic marginalisation and racial alienation of the Palestinian people. Among the book's chapters, there is one that specifically deals with how the Gestapo secret police flushed out the Jewish populations from all areas under their control, rounded them up and sent them to concentration camps by an overcrowded, foul-smelling, rat-infested cattle trucks guided by the military forces, a more fitting synonym: instruments of terror. It's personnel trained out of manuals produced by the high command to achieve racial utopia. The manuals to train these Israeli soldiers and those used by Nazi concentration camps officers must have idioms which overlap.

We have here, not only harsh dominating imperialism at work but a settler colonialist State hell bent on power without compromise, their occupying forces riding roughshod, over mainly Muslim inhabitants. Whom incidentally increasingly seen as guests, therefore, must abide by the laws of hospitality.  Instead of badges, they are identified for incarceration by their level of resistance to authority and to state land confiscation, rather than their genetical makeup or ancestral belonging. A war of attrition between the heavily armed group insulated by State power while the other side feeling intimidated for complete lack of power, alone, abandoned and hostage-to-fortune. In most cases, dignity is all that remains of their nationality.

Yes, I agree this other side are no angels but be that as it may compromise and tolerance stands as a duty to each state institution to exercise its moral imperatives.  For permanent consolidation of peace, equality and justice, to prioritise its aim for a clear understanding of cultural values contained in Islamic ideology and its close link to national consciousness.  That said, it is also important to bear in mind, that large sections of Palestinian people taken up western education and values to a greater extent than other Arab groups.  But, their relationship to national consciousness grows closer the more sidelined they are; from minority ideology to a mass force. I also agree the mainly less educated Arabs are prone to emotional intoxication, an agency often mistakenly used for judgments.  Understanding the Arab psyche to flare up instinctively can also be a positive asset, an opportunity towards harmony.  Part of the aims is to resist the idea that advancing the notion of one Nationalism should entail the retreat of another.  Maybe an idealistic thought, but we are short of options, but with enough resilience, the human artefacts of the Israeli intelligentsia must be tuned to cross implanted artificial borders.

From a social point of view, the alternative of pulling up the draw-bridges and to let emotions become the driver is to head towards dystopia.  Nor, such dehumanisation as I point to above is an ideal way for a sophisticated and civilised society to propel it forward.  We have run out of this bumpy political road it is time to turn an imagined, mythical democracy into a reality.  Similarly, on the political side, a one-sided peace is not peace but submission.  Instead, allow a Palestinian to have Israeli rights just as a Jewish person has with British nationality.  Though these rights are formally equal according to Israeli law, they do not translate, in fact, but contradicted in the real world, much evidenced and confirmed by the Basic Law proclaiming Israel is for the Jews only.  To take heart from the proximity that existed for centuries between the two religions of the one race. And, staying with the nineteen century, the words of Massimo d'Azeglio, come to mind, the pioneer of Italy's unification. They ring true today as they did in 1865 - 1871, during the unity of the Italian state- The Risorgimento.  "we have made Italy; now we must make Italians." Well, now we have made Israel; let's make Israelis.

Nation = State = People

In compiling this essay, I have mined some of the best brains on the subject of Nationalism. Any mistakes in my narratives or argument are entirely mine.

Sources: They come from different backgrounds in the fields of Philosophy, History, Anthropology, and Sociology:
'Nations and Nationalism since 1780', Eric.J. Hobsbawm
'Nationalism', Elie Kedourie
'Imagined Communities', Benedict Anderson
'Nationalism and the State', John Breuilly
'Nations and Nationalism', Ernest Gellner

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