Racist by definition
Tony Greenstein explains why Israel’s government is introducing a Jewish nation-state law
The idea of a Jewish democratic state is a fiction much loved by the Zionist left. According to the 2013 Democracy Index, 74.8% of Israeli Jews believe that Israel can be both Jewish and democratic, whereas only one-third of Israeli Arabs believe this.1
This definition is implanted in the nearest equivalent to Israel’s constitution, the Basic Law 1985, which stipulates that an election list cannot participate in elections to the knesset if their goals or actions include “negation of the existence of the state of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state”.
According to a survey commissioned by the Jewish National Fund, in reaction to the decision of the supreme court that it was illegal to refuse to allocate land to someone because they are not Jewish, over 80% of Israeli Jews preferred the definition of Israel as a Jewish state, rather than as a state of all its citizens.2
This is the backdrop to the speech by Israel’s ‘justice’ minister, Ayelet Shaked, at the Congress on Judaism and Democracy in February. Shaked is a member of Habayit HaYehudi/Jewish Home - a far-right religious settlers party - and someone who has effectively advocated the genocide of the Palestinians.3 Shaked sees it as her mission to move the courts and Israeli society away from western notions of ‘universal values’ and ‘human rights’ and towards Zionist ideals. What matters are Jewish rights in a Jewish state.
Shaked articulated the case for the Jewish nation-state law, which spells out that Israel is a state of its Jewish citizens, not all its citizens. That is the foundation stone on which Israel as an apartheid society rests. An ethno-nationalist state represents a particular ethnicity, not all its citizens or those who reside within its borders. It is by definition a racist state.
Shaked raised the spectre of “a kind of creeping conquest from Africa”. This fear of hordes of non-Jewish migrants, posed in apocalyptic terms of “conquest” by a whole continent, represents the racist siege mentality of proponents of the racial state. Losing the Jewish demographic majority is the greatest fear of Israel’s rulers and the Zionist movement, because it lays bare the undemocratic reality lying at the heart of the Israeli state’s existence. That is why the ‘demographic question’ governs the policies and actions of Israel. The desire for racial purity and with it domination, is what ties Israel’s Jewish working class to its ruling class.
According to Shaked, Israel as a Jewish state must accord the Arabs civil, but not national, rights. In most states citizenship and national rights are coterminous, even when there are national minorities within an overarching nationality. So, for example, all residents in Spain are Spanish, although within Spain’s borders there are Spaniards, Catalans and Basques. All have equal rights individually, even though the rights of Catalans and Basques as distinct nationalities are circumscribed and subordinate to the greater Spanish nationality. But in Israel there is no overarching Israeli nationality. It is clear that one nationality - the Jewish nationality - is superior to and favoured over all others. There are many other nationalities, but none of them have full citizenship rights.
But what in practice does it mean to say, as Shaked does, that Arabs should have only civil rights? In fact it is a deliberate smokescreen. What are termed Israeli Jewish national rights are in fact the individual rights accorded to Jews in accordance with Jewish racial supremacy. The failure to recognise an Arab or Palestinian nationality on equal terms to a Jewish nationality means that the individual rights of Arabs and Palestinians are that much less.
Shaked’s aims and desires are nationalist, not national - in the same way as the Nazis were expressing German nationalist or Volk politics, not those of German nationalism. The same was true of Polish, Hungarian and Romanian nationalists. Their angst was directed against other nationalities on racial grounds. So it is too in Israel.
Jewish racial superiority in Israel results in segregation in most areas of life. It means that the individual rights of Israeli Arabs are inferior to those of Israeli Jews in almost every area of life. Israeli Jewish ‘national’ rights are therefore, by definition, racist.
This is expressed, for example, in the differing levels of poverty in Israel. Whilst 30.3% of children in Israel lived in poverty at the end of 2015, the difference between Arab and Jewish children was vast. One-fifth of Jewish children were poor, but the figure for Arab children was some two-thirds.4 Whilst poverty decreased between 2014 and 2015 for Israeli families overall, amongst Arab families the poverty rate increased from 52.6% in 2014 to 53.3% in 2015, while the rate among Arab children increased from 63.5% in 2014 to 65.6% in 2015.5
There is no end of justifications for Zionism’s racism. According to Shaked, it is not offensive to talk of “Judaising the Galilee”, or Negev or Jerusalem. What this means is seen in the demolition of the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in January 2017, where a schoolteacher was murdered during the eviction. It means the demolition of other ‘unrecognised’ villages in order to replace them with Jewish towns and villages. It means ensuring that any majority of Arabs in a given region is ‘thinned out’ by Jews. Judaisation is no different in principle from the Nazi deJewification.
Shaked complains that people in official circles are not being honest about the reason for the Jewish nation-state bill: “The state did not defend the law for national demographic reasons,” she said. “It claimed only security reasons.” One can understand why she is upset: Shaked wants the racism to be upfront, not hidden behind euphemisms. What she is saying is, ‘Let us not pretend that the reason for discrimination is security, when we know that is a lie. Let us be honest and say it is because a Jewish state means a Jewish majority and Jewish privilege.’
And just in case the meaning has not sunk in, she makes it crystal clear: “The state should say that there is place to maintain the Jewish majority even if it violates rights.” If the price of a Jewish majority means racism and an infringement of the rights of its minority Arab citizens, then so be it. In other words, Israel is the kind of democracy in which it is impossible for Jews to be anything other than a majority.
Shaked concedes that “there is an advantage to democracy”, but argues that “it must be balanced”. In other words, whilst ‘democracy’ is good for PR reasons, it has its limits. How can you ‘balance’ democracy? It is like pregnancy: you either have it or you do not. Shaked is saying that if Zionism and a Jewish state can be preserved democratically with a Jewish majority, then fine. But if maintaining a Jewish majority cannot be done democratically, then it must be done undemocratically.
We only need to look back to 1948, when Israel was created. The problem then was that, even when the United Nations recognised it as a Jewish state, there was rough parity in the population of Jews and Arabs - about 600,000 each. The solution that was chosen in order to create a Jewish state was to drive 85% of the Arabs out through the use of terror.
Shaked makes clear her worries that, although universal human rights are enshrined in Israel’s court judgements (in fact that is not true), what she terms “Jewish values” are not. For Shaked these “Jewish values” are the values of racial domination. In essence they are a euphemism for Jewish supremacy. What worries her is that the emphasis has been on universal, rather than on racial and ethnic Jewish, rights. I disagree that this is the case in Israel, but for a fascist any concession to the minority is one too many:
In our laws there are universal values, rights, already enshrined in a very serious way. But the national and the Jewish values are not enshrined. Over the past 20 years, there has been more of a focus on rulings over universal values and less over the Jewish character of the state.
Notice how Shaked contrasts universal values against what she calls the “Jewish character” of the state. Universal values apply regardless of colour, ethnicity, etc - for example, they would suggest that anyone, regardless of ethnicity, can rent a piece of land or property - whereas “Jewish values” by definition only apply to Jews.
Shaked is honest about equality. She does not like it, so it will not feature in the new Jewish nation-state bill. Why? Because:
Israel is a Jewish state. It isn’t a state of all its nations. That is, equal rights to all citizens, but not equal national rights.
That is because “the word ‘equality’ is very general” and courts could take it “very far” - god forbid. And she makes it crystal clear that there are limits to equality under the law, because “There are places where the character of the state of Israel as a Jewish state must be maintained and this sometimes comes at the expense of equality.” Of course, Shaked is too modest to spell out the areas where equality must be sacrificed to Jewish ethnic domination, but we can guess.
What she is arguing for makes absolutely clear the accuracy of what anti-Zionists have argued for years: Zionism is inherently racist, it is a form of Jewish supremacy and it is the ideology of racial exclusivity. Shaked, unlike her Israeli Labor Party opponents, is at least being honest. These arguments echo a speech Shaked made a year ago when she said: “Zionism should not - and I’m saying here that it will not - continue to bow its head to a system of individual rights interpreted in a universal manner.” Translated, this means that universal rights - such as equality before the law, equality between people of different racial or ethnic origin, and non-discrimination - must be sacrificed on the altar of the Jewish supremacy inherent in Zionism.
And, in case there were any doubt, Shaked refers specifically to the Kadan case in 2000, in which the supreme court ruled that the Jewish National Fund could not discriminate in selling or leasing land to non-Jews. This ruling was opposed not only by Likud, but also by much of the Israeli Labor Party. The reason, as Shaked freely admits, is “Whether it’s all right for a Jewish community to, by definition, be only Jewish - I want the answer to be, ‘Yes, it’s all right’.”
In other words, racially pure Jewish settlements inside Israel proper are perfectly acceptable to her. Again, if there were any doubt, she refers to the Family Unification Law (which like any Orwellian law stands for the exact opposite - it is really the Family Division Law). Non-Jews - ie, Arabs - do not have the right to bring in their marriage partner from, say, the West Bank or an Arab country, while a Jew can bring in whomsoever s/he wants. Shaked worries that the supreme court only upheld that by six votes to five and quotes approvingly the words of a former judge that Israel is “not a utopian state”. Well, racial equality in Israel might be utopian, but in most of the world it is taken for granted, at least on paper.
In conclusion, the Jewish nation-state bill is fundamentally racist. It removes recognition of Arabic as an official language and lays the basis for an open acknowledgement that Israel is a Jewish supremacist state. Yet despite this Israel describes itself as the only democracy in the Middle East.
We should at least welcome Shaked’s honesty. Unlike her hypocritical Labor Zionist opponents, she at least admits that Zionism and equality are incompatible and that a Jewish democratic state is an oxymoron.