Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Jewish State Again

Michel Aflaq, Arab nationalist (Photo)

Before I wrote my post on A Jewish State, several weeks ago, a good friend of mine took objection to my lament that no one seems terribly concerned about the fact that there are many "Islamic States" in the world or that various countries in the region define themselves as "Arab states."

I cannot do justice to his entire argument here, and I anticipate that he will view whatever I post as a distortion of what he was saying. Furthermore, since he has not given me permission to do so, I cannot quote his words directly. Nevertheless, here is my attempt.

According to my friend, the comparison of "the Jewish state" with Islamic states lacks rigor. Islamic states such as the Islamic Republic of Iran are "Islamic," he argues, because they derive their laws from shari'ah (Islamic religious law). But Israel's laws are not derived from halakhah (Jewish religious law). Rather, the Jewishness of the state, according to him, is something that resides in people not texts. Citizenship is linked to blood in a way that citizenship in Islamic states and Arab nationalist ones was never conceived. That is, citizenship in Arab states was not a matter of "Arabness" - as evidence, he cites the Armenian citizens in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt, and the Kurdish citizens of Iraq.

I think my friend is confused and mistaken on several fronts, but I have a feeling that this argument resonates with some people. I would like to use this opportunity to resume the discussion we began in the last post, by subjecting the argument above to critique in the comments.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hazabani opinionated
We speak Hebrew. We do Nobel prize qualilty research and publish in Hebrew. The official Hollidys are Jewish. Sabath is the official rest day and people can be punished by the law if they do business on the Sabath. Jews are forced to marry in a Jewish ceremony, no civil ceremony accepted. On Yom Kipur the whole country is practically shut up. Probably more facts can be listed. Israel is Jewish and democratic therefore unlike the Arab countries, bar Lebanon, it does not have more Jewish laws incorporated into daily life.

Anonymous said...

Hazbani again.
If Sharia is the law all non muslim citizens are second class citizens by law. They can not carry weapons must pay special tax ect. It is a clear racial unequal system. When the price of oil is > 100$ it is not nice to talk about things like that so one invent all kind of special words and terms. If Israel was to enact an exclusive Jewish law like that [so called racial law] the whole world would scream.
As for Kurds, Nassar, Assad and Sadam Husein and the rest of the great rab leaders will tell you that Kurds are Arabs, just like the Christians Arameic speakers of Syria and Lebanon. Any Arabic only speaking Kurd is indeed realy an Arab or Turk for that matter, this blood thing is pure hog wash. The same will go for Arabic speaking Jews. They are Arabs "invalid, sick, unfinished Arabs" in Muslim countries and all of them are on the way of being cured of this disease in one way or the other.

eamonn said...

let's imagine large elements of halakah were incorporated into Israeli civil and criminal law making Israel more Jewish (and not just "for the Jews") in terms of your friends argument. that would make Israel much more acceptable to people who reject its legitimacy now, wouldn't it? ....wouldn't it?

Amos said...

Haha. No, of course not, Eamonn. I was also confused by this argument. I think his point was that the comparison I had made - between the Jewish state and "Arab states" or the members of the Organization of Islamic States - was illegitimate.

Redel said...

This was exactly the issue I was thinking of when I asked about a clearer definition of "jewish state" in comments on a previous post. In fact I agree with your friend that this is the distinction...and it is exactly why I am more comfortable with Israel than with the islamic states.

As far as what Hazbani writes as to israel following following jewish law, almost all those things can be said about Canada and christianity (or could have in my memory), and I would object to the claim that we are a Christian state.

In response to what Hazbani, I think the point he is making is that it is a religiously unequal system not a racially unequal system. I am curious how racial the system is, does someone who converts qualify as jewish under israeli law? Does someone of jewish descent who converts to another religion count?

Amos said...

Hey Redel,

Someone who converts to Judaism qualifies as Jewish under Israeli law and, if living outside the country and not yet a citizen, may become one through the "Law of Return." However, because of the monopoly over religious matters enjoyed by the Orthodox in Israel, the conversion has to be one carried out by an Orthodox rabbi and approved by a recognized religious court.

Someone of Jewish descent, even if s/he has converted to another religion, may also qualify for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return. The goal here is not to maintain "racial purity" but to make it possible for people who consider themselves or are considered by other states and societies as Jewish - even if they are not Jewish according to religious law - to immigrate to Israel.

Anonymous said...

Hazbani again
The problem is that everybody and his brother and sister like to mess with Israel and Jews and the questions asked about Israel are not asked about other countries. For example is Israel more or less Jewish than Irland is Catholic?
What about the role of the Church in Greece. How many Muslim Armenians are there? what is the role of the Armenian Church in Armenia. And one can continue all over the globe. As for the qustion, Yes Canada is more Christian than it is Jewish or Muslim and this is a dynamic situation. Ask any devoted Jew or Muslim about it. A devoted Christian will be more home in Canada than a devoted Muslim or Jew starting with pigs and going to the way people dress.

yaman said...

I think you are correct to challenge people who oppose Israeli state ideology but would support another form of apparent chauvinism. I think you also have made a good point in paying attention that to some for whom "Jewish state" is inoffensive the "difference" between it and an "Arab" or "Muslim" state is difficult to see, and vice versa. That is, "how can you criticize Israel for being a Jewish state when you support ___ being an Arab/Muslim state?" Of course, I always thought it was odd that this argument, supposedly critical or depreciative of the so-called "Arab/Muslim state" (see above comments), was supposed to legitimize Israel within a context of its "normalcy" (as M&W say, a little more on this later)--but I suppose that this is one of the unfortunate styles I see reproduced time and time again by Israel advocates regarding many different issues: "everyone else does it, therefore Israel is normal," as if normal were good.

I think however that this discussion about state-identity is missing something important which could explain why the state-identity has become so key in the discussion regarding Israel and not, say, Egypt. Israel as a Jewish state may not have been an issue were it not for the massive expulsion of Palestinians who still claim their right to return to their original homes and lands, but are legally prevented by the state (on grounds of preserving its identity) from doing so. Were it the case that Egypt had a proportionally sizable population of expelled or dispossessed Coptic Christians, and were it the case that Egyptian law prevented those populations from returning or re-claiming their lands, because of they might in their numbers spoil the sanctity of the name "Arab Republic of Egypt," (and thereby exceed their status as "minorities" [in the way Arendt uses the term, minority the institution, not the numerical fact]), then we might see a similar discussion about why the state identity is key to the Egyptian Coptic refugee problem.

That is not to say that the oppressive and discriminatory atmosphere that Egyptian Copts face today is justified, simply because fewer people suffer from it. Rather, it is only to point out that the nature of the discussion is totally different. Nobody argues against the Coptic population because they see it as alien, atypical, unwanted, or a threat to the state as an "Arab Republic." On the other hand, these themes are quite typical of the discussion regarding Palestinians as refugees, and as a population within Israel, (at least what I can read in English), where these folks are not necessarily a threat to Israelis, or to individual Jewish residents, but rather to Israel as a Jewish state.

That said, I find M&W's constant need to voice their discomfort with the way they think things are around the rest of the world (with ethnic national states) to be kind of amusing. It seems that part of staying sane and consistent from a liberal perspective requires a constant suppression and acceptance of what quite doesn't fit. And if America, because M&W don't think it's an ethnic national state, is liberal for that reason, then what does that make Japan and other such states? Are they illiberal? Are they claiming (and are those borrowing their arguments in order to legitimize "normalcy" within a supposedly international system) that Israel is an illiberal state?

I don't believe they are correct about that. I just think the problem is more pronounced there. If America is a melting pot, then those up top sure do a great job of limiting what the ingredients are according to their own preferences--a task which I don't think differs much from the cases of Israel and Japan except that it is not codified into law.

Amos said...

Thanks for writing such a detailed response, Yaman. For now, I just wanted to respond to your observation

"that part of staying sane and consistent from a liberal perspective requires a constant suppression and acceptance of what quite doesn't fit."

It seems to me that the above could just as easily be said of a post-colonial, Marxist, or fascist perspective. I would argue that in referring to the "suppression and acceptance" of ill-fitting things you are describing ideology.

yaman said...

Yes, I absolutely agree with that.

Anonymous said...

Hazbani again
Yaman should measure all nations especially in the ME and the Muslim nations with the same yard stick. And spend as much space and time in his blog according to such yard stick. Picking on one specific nation is racial. For some reason on this blog he talks about Japan, how much does he talk about Japan, or Island, or Norway, or Sweden that have similar restrictive and selective immigration politics on his own blog?
Normal is normal it is not bad or good. All nations should be expected to behave in a normal way and to be judged according to the norms of the nations.
Yaman in his blog constantly blames Israel for things that are normal in the ME and are not mentioned by him when talking about the Arab nations. Judging diffeent groups of people differently is a racial practice.
Generally Egyptian, Syrian, Lebanese, Iraqi and Libyan laws and general practice prevent all the Jews expelled from these states from appearing in court there and claiming their property.
If such practice generate certain conclusions same go for all.
India, Pakistan, Turkey, Greece, Poland, Checholovakia [now Checkia] have expelled millions of peoples without their property which reverted to these states. Same conclusions goes here as for Israel and the Arab states.
The copts in Egypt are accused of being aliens corrupting and unwanted, just read the relevant material.
Is Syria illegal because of the Arameic Christian people running away to Sweden?
No body claim that because this or that nation is practicing this or that evil other nations are free to do the same. I am claiming that most nations and people are by nature imperfect. I also claim that people should be critical of their own nation and culture before they stick their nose or rifle or missile into oter people affairs. I think that on this blog Yaman is kind of critical of the Arabs I think that he should practice this more in his own blog. As for quoting Arendth I suggest to Yaman to read what she said about the like of Nasralla, Hizballa, permanent war, exploding shaids, The Alawite dictatorship in Syria, Libya Dictatorship and the rest. Also the present situation in Lebanon would have remined her of armed militias in Europe in the first half of the previous century and the occupation of down town Beiruth would have remined her of the March on Rome.

yaman said...

Hazbani, I did not know that I had to attach a comprehensive and universal manifesto to any political statement I make. Given that the vast majority of my activist work has been around the subject of Israel and Palestine, I don't think it is odd that that is what has for a long time dominated the content of my blog. It's not ideal, but it's not sinister. I would rather devote more time to issues that I feel I can offer a competent argument about (going out on a limb here) than mindlessly ruminate on things which I am missing crucial information about.

Unfortunately given that I have only read a handful of short essays by Arendt, I am ill-equipped to discuss with you her thoughts on those things you mentioned. I knew she was a phenomenal woman, but I did not know she was prescient enough to write about Hizballah, which came together almost a decade after her death. I would love to read anything you say she wrote about the other topics though.

Anonymous said...

Hazbani Again.
Wise guys are a dime a score. Clever crooks can be obtained easily by mail. Arn. did not write about the Hizb. She did write about undemocratic, totalitarian, monolithic, death worshipping, murderous, fanatical organizations who see ethernal pemanent war as a cherished goal.

yaman said...

Hazbani, it's me, wise guy again. It is without a doubt a very re-assuring technique to frame Israel's confrontation with the Palestinians in terms of democracy, freedom, and a love for life versus totalitarianism and a cult of death. In this scenario, of course, there's not really any way to negotiate with death, or to take its grievances seriously. What's the point? No number of concessions or good-will gestures will satiate the blood-thirsty. The only way to teach them, to control them, and to protect yourself is through force. That one Golda Meier could have told you decades ago.

Nevermind, though, that it is Israel which has been killing Palestinians by the dozen over the past few days (specifically) and almost non-stop since 2000. Nevermind either that the Palestinian death toll overwhelmingly exceeds that of the Israeli death toll, both for militants and civilians--not to reduce this to a numbers game, but to place this into perspective, since of course it is the Palestinians who are obsessed with death and destruction, which explains why they are the ones being killed en masse.

I know that Israel had no choice but to carry out all these operations, because the enemy (the Palestinians, all of them) only knows the language of force, and the enemy's grievances are illegitimate, constructed in fact only as a pretext to justify their knack for violence.

These reasons and others all explain why it is necessary for Israel to engage in an "eternal permanent war" (oops?) not because it wants to, but because it is necessary and there are no alternatives.

The other choice would be dealing with totalitarian Hizballah and Hamas, which, as the good totalitarians they are, have voluntary membership, co-exist with other political organizations, and have no problem with Palestinians and Lebanese joining other groups like Amal, the LCP, Fatah, the PFLP, etc. With totalitarians like these, it's no wonder the Palestinians and Lebanese have to have elections every once in a while.

Nobody said...

yaman said

. . .

The other choice would be dealing with totalitarian Hizballah and Hamas, which, as the good totalitarians they are, have voluntary membership, co-exist with other political organizations, and have no problem with Palestinians and Lebanese joining other groups like Amal, the LCP, Fatah, the PFLP, etc. With totalitarians like these, it's no wonder the Palestinians and Lebanese have to have elections every once in a while.

i am very happy for you and your democracy, yaman ... i have only one small wish and this is that you arabs continue keeping your democrats from hezbollah, hamas, pflp and other shit to yourselves

Nobody said...

i am no longer surprised by the way to encounter yet another arab blogger coming up with questions such as: why you israelis insist on having a separate state when we arabs can create a perfect society for all of us ... with hamas and hezbollah fruitfully cooperating with other democrats from pflp/fatah/amal as well as with the anti totalitarians from tehran and damascus democracy seems to be about to take the arab world by storm ..

so what can i say ??? good luck

:D :D

Danny said...

Yaman, firstly a key component of the grouping who object to Israel's existence as a "Jewish state" - or full stop - are either from Arab/Muslim states or funded by them. Hence the slight whiff of hypocracy. I don't think any one in Israel thinks that Syrian Arab Republic is any less legitimate because of the (theoretically) pan-arab ethos that underwrites it. I don't think many people are pointing to the Islamic republic of Pakistan and saying if it is ok for them then it is ok for Israel.

As for your - as usual - hazy grasp of history, it was not the Yishuv that objected to the existance of Palestinians but rather the Palestinians who objected to the existance of Jews in their midst. I have yet to see a compelling reason why the Palestinian objection to Jewish refugees is any different from say the British National Parties objection to "darkies" coming to the UK or Le Pen in France.

Most Israelis objection to the "right of return" - which by the way 194 DOESN'T give in a blanket manner, hence why every single arab state rejected it - is based on the fact that they don't want a HOSTILE group inside their state and in fact the family reunification programme post-Oslo was specifically halted for this reason. I am personally unaware of a single Israeli Jew who believes that the Palestinian refugees want to come back and live in peace and harmony with Israeli Jews leaving them to live their lives as they do now.

It is also a fact that Israel has repeatedly tried to deal with the refugee problem by taking some back in - they took just under 8% back in immediately after a war that claimed more Israeli dead proportionally than Russia suffered in it's worst year fighting the Nazis - offering to "reunify" some families post Oslo - of which a number went on to commit suicide bombings - or try to arrange some compensation. As for this idea it is some sort of racist desire to keep Israel Jewish, Israel has handed out over the years over half a million citzenships to non-Jews (just over 7% of the population) and full citzenship to Israeli Arabs( just over 10% ). Weird that someone who is so keen on the topic is unaware of these facts.

The key difference is that the Egyptian Copts didn't vote in a government whose main platform is the destruction of the ARAB Republic of Egypt, that has killed thousands of Egyptian civilians nor does the covenant of the Egyptian Coptic Liberation Organisation demand that all non-Copts "go back home".

I think there are more things to find funny - or sad - about M&W, like the fact they comprehensively quote Morris in their book nearly a year to a day after he stated that they systematically misquoted, distorted, misrepresented and outright lied about what he wrote. No one is going to deny them their cahones in doing that.

Danny said...

Yaman, I think George Orwell would enjoy these discussions.

Hizbollah fires 4,000 rockets, one hits a military target and it is Israel that is targeting civilians. Hamas fires 3,000 rockets into Israel of which two hit a military target and it is Israel targeting civilians. Your claim that more Palestinian "civilians" have been killed than Israeli civilians is on fairly shaky ground. The number of Palestinians killed "whilst not actively participating in hostilities" is 1,300 and the number of Israel civilians is 800. A quick flick through the list of 1,300 Palestinians starts flagging active duty Hamas "naval officers", Hamas policemen, guards wondering about with guns - but not shooting them at time of death - Palestinians throwing molotovs etc. That's on the absolute scale. On the relative scale, the percentage of Palestinians killed "whilst not actively participating in hostilities" - aka your "civilians" - is around 40%. The percentage of Israel civilians killed is 70%. This is before you start the discussion about distinguishing Palestinian militants, deliberate killing/accidental/collateral damage etc. No wonder you don't wish to play the "numbers game".

As for "listening" to Palestinian grievances we have had no choice but to for 90 years. I was talking to a Taiwanese complaining about how a democracy - a true one - of 23 million is systematically marginalized in the world. I told maybe they should start blowing up cafes and hijacking planes. Maybe get some Koreans to fly said planes into buildings and then presumably you could dedicate the majority of "activist work" to the Taiwan problem.....

Anonymous said...

the muslim states treats the non muslim population a hell of alot better than the jews treat non jews. racism in israel is everywhere and on the rise. but when you really think about it the whole zionist concept is racist to the core.

Anonymous said...

hey danny i didn't see over 800 000 jews evicted from their home in 1948 to make way for the palestinians and made into refugees whose houses and belonging were taken over .. your history of palestine is wrong.
but history is written by the winners.
and do you think britian would have allowed more 'darkies' refugees into the country than the anglo population of the country.
your argument stink ,but then again the whole concept of zionism sinks.

Anonymous said...

danny, when did hamas get a navy or for that matter where is the palestinian navy.
you get your info from the IDF i bet