The debate about the nature of the Israeli state is an important one. In the IHRA misdefinition of anti-Semitism anti-Semitism is held to be
‘Applying double standards by requiring of it [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.’
Leaving aside the absurd wording ‘democratic nation’ which implies some nations are not democratic, in itself a racist phrase, the IHRA assumes that Israel is a normal democratic state. Of course we all know that Israel may be democratic for Israeli Jews but it is Jewish for Arabs.
The question though is what type of state Israel is. It is now accepted that Israel is a settler-colonial state much like Apartheid South Africa and Algeria. But that doesn’t tell us the specific character of Israel.
Israel describes itself as a Jewish Democratic state which is an oxymoron. A state can either be democratic or Jewish but it cannot be both and in practice Israel promotes the Jewish over the democratic. But Israel as Jewish state isn’t a religious or theocratic state Jewish ethnically.
When Netanyahu’s government introduced the Jewish Nation State Law in 2018 it gave Israeli Jews only national rights. Although in theory Palestinian citizens of Israel had equal rights on an individual basis, in practice this could not but help impinge on those rights.
‘the state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value, and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.’
What this means is being played out currently in the Naqab and East Jerusalem where the Jewish National Fund and Jewish settlers are ethically cleansing the indigenous Palestinian population.
Because Israel defines itself as a ‘Jewish’ state it allows Israelis the right to tell Palestinians, even those who are nominal citizens, that they should be grateful they are allowed to live in a Jewish state.
In January 2019 Al Jazeera published an article by Yoav Litvin The Zionist fallacy of ‘Jewish supremacy’ which argued that ‘Framing Zionism as Jewish and not white supremacy is a dangerous proposition.’ This was because saying Israel is a Jewish Supremacist State would therefore mean all Jews are racial supremacists.
Where Yoav went wrong was when he argued that
‘To maintain this abusive, white supremacist dynamic, Zionist propagandists have promoted the anti-Semitic fallacy that Israel is a Jewish state, which represents Judaism and thus all Jews.
Unfortunately it is a fact, not a fallacy, that Israel IS a Jewish state. That is what it calls itself. The question is rather ‘what does it mean to say Israel is a Jewish state’.
Litvin went on to compound his error by saying that
If it is accepted, as it is by Zionists, that Israel indeed represents Judaism and all Jews – an expression of “Jewish supremacy” – then those who are pro-Palestinian must also reject Jews and Judaism.
This is a serious error. Israel does not claim to represent Judaism. Certainly it uses Judaism to legitimise itself, in the process transforming Judaism into an idolatrous religion that worships land and power, but Israel has never claimed to represent Judaism. Rather it argues that Zionism is rooted in Judaism and that the formation of a Jewish state is the culmination of 2,000 years of Jewish history.
Israel claims to represent the mythical ‘Jewish people’. Being Jewish in Israel is not a matter of religion but nationality. There are many nationalities in Israel, since there is no Israeli nationality, but there is only one nationality that matters, Jewish nationality. In the Population Registry of Israel you can define yourself as Jewish by nationality and leave religion blank.
Being Jewish in Israel entitles you to privileges that non-Jews do not possess. For example if you are Jewish your land is not liable to be confiscated because you or one of your family was resident in an ‘enemy’ i.e. Arab state. If you are Jewish you are expected to serve in the army, and consequently receive welfare and social security benefits, e.g. student grants, that non-Jews don’t receive.
Litvin argued that
the framing of Zionism as “white”, not “Jewish” supremacy enables and strengthens the formation of coalitions between all those opposed to Zionist settler colonialism in particular and white supremacy in general and hinders Zionist attempts at sabotage by lobbying cynical accusations of “anti-Semitism”.
It may well be that framing Zionismas ‘white’ and not ‘Jewish’ would make alliances with for example Black Lives Matter easier although I’m not convinced. However it would be deeply dishonest to construct an alliance on such a basis.
‘What Litvin is doing is substituting wishful thinking for reality and that is never a good basis on which to construct an argument.’
Yes Zionism is also racist towards Black people but that is secondary to its racism towards non-Jews and Palestinians in particular. I wrote:
It is of course true that within the Israeli Jewish population, there is discrimination against the Sephardi/Misrahi Jews and even more against the Falashas (Ethiopian) Jews. But while intra-Jewish racism exists, the major division within the Israeli society is not between black and white, but between Jewish and non-Jewish, and in particular between Israeli Jewish and Palestinian. That is inescapable.
Litvin made the cardinal mistake of saying that if Palestinians reject a Jewish state they reject Judaism. No they reject Jewish Supremacy. Irish Republicans have never rejected Protestantism as a religion. On the contrary some of the most famous Republicans were Protestant, such as Wolfe Tone and Sir Roger Casement, executed by the British in 1916 for treason.
Northern Ireland was, in the words of its first Prime Minister James Craig a ‘Protestant State for a Protestant People’. Did that mean that the opposition of Irish Republicans to the Protestant Supremacist nature of that state was anti-Protestant? Of course not. What they objected to was a state of affairs whereby being Protestant entitled you to privileges that Catholics did not have.
When we say that Israel is a Jewish Supremacist state what this means that Israel systematically discriminates against those of its inhabitants who are not Jewish. Zionism is a matter of race not religion as Max Nordau explained at the first Zionist Congress in 1897.
This is not an academic debate. Israel systematically discriminates against those whose only crime is not being Jewish. The Israeli rabbinate fulfil the same role as The Office for Race Classification in South Africa. They are the arbiters of who is and is not privileged.
That is why Rabbi Peretz, the head of the Israeli Conversion Authority, ‘rejects Palestinian applicants without review because of their ethnic origin’. This is how the Jewish religion has been perverted in order facilitate the requirements of a racist Jewish state.
Because Jews are more privileged than non-Jews it is essential to close a loophole whereby Palestinians might convert to become part of the privileged. There is no religious or halachic reason to refuse requests to convert by Palestinians. On the contrary in the Bible the Canaanites were often converted at the point of a sword. The Jewish religion has prostituted itself on the altar of Zionism.
B’Tselem, Israel’s main human rights group, which began life in 1989 as a liberal Zionist group, issued a report a year ago describing Israel as ‘A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid’
Why did B’Tselem describe Israel as a ‘Jewish supremacist’ state? Because in the work it does supporting Palestinians it is clear that being Jewish leads to different treatment by the Israeli authorities. Even Israeli anti-Zionists are treated more gently than Palestinians.
Of course within the Israeli Jewish community it is also true that White Jews discriminate against the Misrahi/Oriental and Ethiopian Jews. There is no doubt about this. African Jews have been barred from even entering Israel because they are not recognised as Jews.
In the case of the Abayudaya group of African Jews, the Jewish Agency, the arm of the World Zionist Organisation, had recognised them as Jews but the Israeli government nonetheless barred them from entry.
There is also the case of the Black Hebrews who came from the USA in the 1960s. Many of them were originally deported back to the USA. A group were allowed to live near Dimona in Southern Israel but earlier last year the Israeli government unveiled a plan to deport them back to the United States.
Zionism has always had considerable difficulty accepting that non-White people can be Jewish. Arthur Ruppin, the most important figure in the pre-state Yishuv, considered that Arab Jews were racially inferior to European Jews because they were Semitic! Ruppin was an ardent devotee of Eugenics and the racial sciences and he visited Professor Hans Gunther, who the Nazis had imposed as Professor of Racial Sciences at Jenna University to have a friendly chat about their shared topic of interest.
But here is the rub. Black Jews may complain bitterly about their treatment by White Jews but that does not make them express solidarity with the Palestinians. What they are fighting for is equality with White Jews in other words an equal role in the oppression of the Palestinians. They serve in the army, they are entitled to ‘Jewish national’ land (93% of all Israeli land) and other privileges that White Jews enjoy. What they don’t want is to be reduced to the status of Palestinians. They are the ‘poor white trash’ of Israel.
Ronnie Barkan, who was one of the founders of Israel’s Boycott from Within, appeared on Resistance TV last year and claimed, on the basis of my blog article that I had changed my position. He was wrong and on Wednesday we will be debating the issue.