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Israel's permanent temporary

The old declaration of equality between citizens has been removed in Israel's urgent new law.


Our regular commentator Uri Avnery died last month, close to 95 years old, and we bring here his latest article. (We also recommend Robert Fisk's article "A Middle Eastern Hero" in the Class Fight on 22.8.) 

In a friendly discussion I had with Ariel Sharon many years ago, I told him, "First and foremost, I am an Israeli. Second, I am a Jew. "Sharon answered enthusiastically:" First of all, I am a Jew, and only after that, Israelis! "

This may seem like an abstract discussion – but in reality, this is the question that underlies all of our basic problems; the very essence of the crisis that is now causing Israel to break down.

The new law of the nation has clear semi-fascist features.

The immediate cause of the crisis is the law, which was passed in a hurry a few weeks ago, by the right-wing majority in the Knesset: It has been named "Basic Law: Israel, the Jewish State of the Jewish People." 

This is a constitutional law. When Israel was founded during the 1948 war, the country got no constitution; problems with the Orthodox religious made a unified formulation impossible. Instead, David Ben-Gurion read an "Declaration of Independence" announcing that "we are establishing the Jewish state, that is, the State of Israel."

The declaration became no law. The Supreme Court accepted the principles without legal basis. The new document, on the other hand, is a binding law.

Significant omissions

What is new in the new law, which at first glance looks like a copy of the 1948 Declaration? Yes – it contains two important omissions: Where the declaration spoke of a "Jewish and democratic" state and promised full equality among all its citizens, regardless of religion, ethnicity or gender, all this is omitted in the new law. No democracy. No similarity. A state of the Jews, for the Jews, of the Jews.

The first to complain loudly were the drusters. The Drusere are a small and closely related minority. They send their sons to serve in the Israeli army and police, and consider themselves "blood brothers." Suddenly, they have been deprived of all their legal rights and sense of belonging.

Are they Arabs or not? Muslims or not? It depends on who is speaking, where and why. The Druze are threatening to demonstrate, leave the army and generally revolt. Benjamin Netanyahu tries to bribe them, but they are a proud people.

The Arabs ignored

The Druze are still not the main issue. The new law completely overlooks the 1,8 million Arabs who are Israeli citizens, including the Bedouin and the Christians. (No one thinks at all of the hundreds of thousands of European Christians who have immigrated with their Jewish spouses and other relatives, mainly from Russia.) The magnificent Arabic language, which until recently was one of the official languages, has been degraded to "special status" , whatever that may mean. (All this applies to Israel itself, not the approximately five million Arabs in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, who have no rights at all.)

Is there a Jewish nation? Of course it does not.

Netanyahu is defending the law like a lion against growing criticism from within. He has publicly stated that all the Jewish critics of the law are left-wing and traitors (who are synonyms), "who have forgotten what it means to be Jewish." And the is in fact the point.

Before the Holocaust

Many years ago, my friends and I asked the Supreme Court to change the "nationality" box on our identity cards from "Jewish" to "Israeli." The court rejected, ruling that there is no Israeli nation. The public registry recognizes nearly a hundred nations, but not one Israeli. This strange situation began with the rise of Zionism in the late 1800th century. This was a Jewish movement, intended to solve the Jewish question. The settlers in Palestine were Jewish. The whole project was closely linked to Jewish tradition. 

But when a second generation of settlers grew up, they felt uncomfortable just being Jewish, like Jews in Brooklyn or Krakow. They felt like they were something new, different, special.

The most extreme were a small group of young poets and artists who in 1941 formed an organization nicknamed the "Canaanites". They proclaimed that they were a new Hebrew nation. In their enthusiasm, they went to extremes, stating that we had nothing to do with Jews in other countries and that there was no Arab nation either – Arabs were only Hebrews who had converted to Islam.

Then came the news of the Holocaust, and the Canaanites were forgotten, and all became repentant "super-Jews."

Israelis, not Jews

But not really. Without any conscious decision, the popular language of my generation began to operate with a clear distinction: Jewish diaspora and Hebrew agriculture, Jewish history and Hebrew battalions, Jewish religion and Hebrew language. When the British were here, I participated in dozens of demonstrations and shouted “Free immigration! Hebrew State! ». I do not remember a single demonstration where someone shouted "Jewish state!" 

So why is the Declaration of Independence talking about a "Jewish state"? It's simple: it alluded to the UN resolution ordering the division of Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state. The founders simply stated that we are now creating this Jewish state. Vladimir Jabotinsky, the legendary ancestor of Likud, wrote a hymn declaring that "a Hebrew is the son of a prince."

When the British were here, we demonstrated and shouted “Free immigration! Hebrew State! ». No one shouted "Jewish state!"

When the British settled in America, after a while they felt that they were different from the British they had left on their island. They became Americans. The British convicts who were sent to the Far East became Australians. In two world wars, they rushed to save Britain, but they are not British. They are a proud, new nation. The same is true of Canadians, New Zealanders and Argentines. And so are we.

Or could have been, if official ideology had allowed it. What happened?

Judaization and Orthodoxy

First of all, the great immigration from the Arab world and Eastern Europe in the early fifties. For every Hebrew, there were two, three, four new immigrants who considered themselves Jews. Then there was the need for money and political support from Jews abroad, especially the United States. At the same time as they see themselves fully as Americans (just try to say they are not, you damned anti-Semite!), They are proud to have a Jewish state somewhere. In addition, the authorities both pursued and pursue a strict Judaization policy – and the current government has reached new heights. Active – yes, frenetic – measures are now trying to Judaize education, culture and even sports. Orthodox Jews, who make up a small minority in Israel, exert a tremendous influence. Their votes in the Knesset are crucial for the Netanyahu government.

When the state of Israel was founded, the term "Hebrew" was replaced by the term "Israeli". Hebrew is now just a language.

The Semitic region

Is there then an Israeli nation? Of course it does. Is there a Jewish nation? Of course it does not.

Jews are members of an ethnic-religious people, spread all over the world, and they belong to many nations, with a strong sense of affinity for Israel. Those of us who live in this land belong to the nation of Israel, where the Hebrew members are part of the Jewish people.

It is crucial that we recognize this – because it determines how we look at things. Literally. Are we looking at Jewish centers like New York, London, Paris and Berlin, or are we looking at our neighbors, Damascus, Beirut and Cairo? Are we part of a region inhabited by Arabs? Do we realize that creating peace with these Arabs, and especially the Palestinians, is the most important task of this generation?

We are not temporary tenants in this country, ready to go to our brothers and sisters around the globe at any time. We belong to this country and will live here for many generations to come. That is why we must become peaceful neighbors in this area, which I called "the Semitic region" 75 years ago.

The new law on the nation, with its clear semi-fascist features, shows us how urgently important this debate is. We must decide who we are, what we want and where we belong. Otherwise we will be sentenced to a permanent state of temporality.

Avnery has thus ended his long career as an Israeli peace activist, member of the Knesset and a champion of equality.
We thank him for his contributions over the past three years. Red.
Commentator in Ny Tid. Avnery is a former member of the Knesset in Israel. Israeli journalist and peace activist (born 1923).

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