“A state for some of its citizens”

Netanyahu inadvertently shows why a key IHRA “example” is false

Netanyahu’s disagreement with an Israeli actress has created something of a furore in the country. Rotem Sela committed the unpardonable sin of saying that “this is a state of all its citizens”. Netanyahu replied that “Israel isn’t a state of all its citizens.” He reminded her and anybody sharing the same sentiments that “According to the Basic Law on the nation-state that we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and it alone.” He went on to say that Arabs have “equal rights just like the rest of us,” a statement which is patently absurd. With the outcome of the Israel election in the balance Netanyahu warned that his opponents Gantz and Lapid have no way to form a government without the support of Arab parties; an unthinkable prospect for Netanyahu despite his assertion that they have “equal rights”. Any such government, he thundered “would undermine the security of the state and its citizens”. Obviously they are all “fifth columnists”. They should never be allowed into government despite their “equal rights”. Similar statements by the Minister of Culture, Miri Regev, about Likud’s opponents having to form a government with Arabs was what elicited the original response from Sela. Read on below or download a PDF here netanyahu

The liberal Israeli publication Haaretz, in an article, A state for some of its citizens, commented that

“Netanyahu’s response to actress Rotem Sela exposes the ugly, naked truth: The nation-state law was meant to make it clear to Israeli Arabs that the state views them as second-class citizens.”

Here is something which British supporters of the Israeli state, including Tom Watson, the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel, need to bear in mind when they seek to make acceptance of the IHRA definition 1 and all its “examples” obligatory 2 for all Labour Party members and organisations. Haaretz said that

“Even though nobody disputes that Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, Netanyahu has now admitted that the nation-state law enshrines Jewish supremacy in law and declares that the state belongs more to a Jew who’s an American or Belgian citizen than it does to an Arab citizen born in this country.”

This refers to the fact that “the right of return” applies to the “Jewish people” which includes Jews, wherever they live in the world, even if they have no connection with Israel.

Do you support “Jewish supremacy”?

The question we would pose to supporters of the Israeli state in Britain, and elsewhere, is do you support this “Jewish supremacy”? Haaretz’s editorial suggests that Netanyahu’s response to Sela constitutes a public admission that, thanks to the Basic Law on Israel as the Nation-state of the Jewish people,3 it has “ceased to be a democracy”.

If a Labour publication, a CLP or individual members expressed similar views they would most likely be the object of complaints from supporters of Israel in the Labour Party for being anti-Semitic under the terms of the IHRA definition and its famous “examples”. Yet if the Israeli state constitutes “Jewish supremacy” then it is hardly outrageous to describe it as a racist state. It is in fact a legitimate political opinion which is held by some Israeli Jews. The IHRA was described as “a working definition”. Does the passing of the “nation-state Law” not merit re-examining it?

As I have argued before, the crux of the argument about the nature of Israel is the very concept of it being a “Jewish and democratic state”. It can be one or the other but it cannot be both.4 In fact even before the passing of the “Basic Law on the Nation-state of the Jewish people” Israel has long had a Law which negated its claim to be “the only democracy in the Middle East”. A Basic Law enshrined as far back as 1958 bars candidates or party lists in elections to the Knesset “if the objects or actions of the list or actions of the person, expressly or by implication, include one of the following (my emphasis)”. It lists 3 points.

1. negation of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state;
2. incitement to racism;
3. support of armed struggle, by a hostile state or terrorist organisation, against the State of Israel.

Factually, Netanyahu is right and Sela is wrong. Indeed, the very idea of Israel being “a state of all its citizens” is a subject which cannot even be discussed in the Knesset. A recent draft bill calling for it to become such was blocked from from reaching the floor of the house.

This issue has been tested in the courts now. Netanyahu and others attempted to bar an Israeli Jew who is on the Hadash5 list on the grounds that he rejects the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. There was also an attempt to rule out the candidacies of Balad-United Arab List. Whilst the Attorney General Mandelblit opposed disqualification, the Central Elections Committee, composed largely of politicians, proposed to implement these bans. At the same time, showing their political colours, they were happy to permit the candidacies of Michael Ben Ari and Itamar Ben-Gvir, Kahanists6 from Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), vehement anti-Arab racists.
Mandelblit said of these ultra-nationalists

“Ben Ari calls for the violent denial of the rights of the Arab population, for the systematic and deliberate humiliation of the Arab population, which is identified on a national-ethnic basis as a ‘murderous nation,’ ‘with a treacherous and murderous character,’ people who ‘understand only force’ and the like.”

But this wasn’t a problem for the CEC. They wanted to ban the Arabs and the ‘traitorous’ Jew and give the Kahanists a free run.
Haaretz declared that

“The struggle for full civic equality, even if Israeli Zionists find it uncomfortable, is a legitimate political struggle that should take place in the legislature. By contrast, the racism of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s followers is not legitimate. One must reject any effort to draw a symmetry, a comparison of “the extremists on both sides” — between Cassif, who champions equality, opposes the occupation and calls for Jewish-Arab cooperation, and the Kahanists, who reject democratic values, hate Arabs and favour their expulsion, at best.”

The sword of Damocles

The Supreme Court, showing its independence, has just voted to overturn the proposed ban on Cassif and the Arab parties but to ban Ben Ari the Kahanist on the basis of his racist statements (less than 1% of Arabs are loyal, he declared, the rest are all “fifth columnists”). This has enraged many. However, the extent of liberalism in the Supreme Court is limited. It did not rule out the Nation-state Law which allows “self-determination” for the “Jewish people” alone. Whilst the 1958 Basic Law continues to define Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state” it hangs like a sword of Damocles over the heads of those who want Israel to be “a state of all its citizens”.

So long as Israel remains a “Jewish state” then “Jewish supremacy” is an inevitable consequence. If it is a state for Jews only it cannot be a state for Arabs as well. The struggle for democracy in Israel and the same rights for all regardless of ethnicity or religion, demands as its objective an end to the “Jewish state”. Jews and Arabs cannot be equal citizens in a “Jewish state”.

A false “example” of anti-Semitism

One of the key IHRA “examples” which has been used to witch hunt, amongst others, Jewish Labour Party members who cannot support a “Jewish state”, was the one which reads, “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour”. Netanyahu’s social media spat with an Israeli Jewish actress illustrates that this “example” is false. There is nothing inherently anti-Semitic about considering Israel to be a racist state, nor indeed, as many Jews do considering it to have been so from its inception. In any case the IHRA text clearly stated that the “examples” could be anti-Semitic but were not automatically so.
It is perfectly legitimate, as Haaretz says, to support “full civic equality”. The final step that Haaretz and other liberal Zionists have yet to take is to recognise that such equality demands an end to the “Jewish state”.

Those who support the Israeli state, as it is, and attempt to denounce Jewish and other Labour Party members who cannot support the “Jewish state”, as being anti-Semitic, want to outlaw debate on the very idea of Israel becoming “a state of all its citizens”. It is they who support the Israeli status quo who are supporting an anti-democratic and racist set-up. They are trying to turn reality on its head. Argue that Israel is not a racist state, if you must, but don’t slander as anti-Semitic those who, in common with some Israeli Jews, believe it is. If Israel is to become “a state of all its citizens” it must cease to be a “Jewish state”. Disagree with this view by all means but if so, then it is incumbent upon “proud defenders of Israel” to argue their opinion rather than to label as anti-Semites people who patently are not. Exactly why do JLM and LFI oppose Israel being transformed into “a state for all its citizens”? What is anti-Semitic about demanding that Arabs have the same rights as Jews?

Martin Wicks

March 18th 2019

1 https://martinwicks.org/2018/08/09/adoption-of-the-full-ihra-document-prelude-to-a-witch-hunt/

2. https://martinwicks.org/2019/03/09/witch-hunting-socialists-including-jewish-ones/

3. https://martinwicks.org/2018/07/25/defence-of-the-israeli-state-is-the-real-motive-for-the-campaign-against-labour-anti-Semitism/

4. https://martinwicks.org/2017/01/06/israel-cannot-be-both-a-jewish-state-and-a-democratic-one/

5. A left wing front including the Communist Party.

6. “Kahanism is an extremist Jewish ideology based on the views of Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League and the Kach party in Israel. Kahane maintained the view that the majority of Arabs living in Israel are enemies of Jews and Israel itself, and believed that a Jewish theocratic state, where non-Jews have no voting rights, should be created. The Kach party has been banned by the Israeli government and the U.S. State Department has labelled it a Foreign Terrorist Organization.” Kahanists hold a commemoration every year at the grave of Baruch Goldstein who murdered 29 Arabs in Hebron in 1994.

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