Sunday, May 11, 2008

Israel Turns 60

As you must expect, I could not be more gratified by Israel reaching its 60th anniversary, in spite of its bringing many unanswered questions and unresolved dangers to the celebration.

In contrast to the good will, an array of opposition masses in the middle distance. There is the soulful concern of the Tony Judt class of left-liberals, whose embarrassment by even the mildest Jewish particularism resounds in their rush to amplify Israeli Arabs' feelings of disenfranchisement. And there is the naked hatred of those who gleefully anticipate the destruction of the Jewish state, to borrow Oliver Kamm's apposite phrase.

Speaking of Kamm, here are two reactions to the anniversary, by him and the historian Marko Attila Hoare. Kamm's mostly communicates my own feelings (unlike him, I am concerned with the fortunes of Judaism, although this is unrelated to my concern for Israel). Hoare, who is no less celebratory than Kamm, shows concern about current Israeli nationalism, but with a view toward evolving the Jewish state rather than guiltily slouching toward its disintegration into a secular binational war zone.

Oliver Kamm:

My position on this is not complex. I have no interest in the fortunes of Judaism but a great interest in the resilience of persecuted peoples. There is no people more historically persecuted than the Jews, and a Jewish state is their guarantor. It also represents the intrusion of Western constitutional principles into a region where these are not widely observed. Though there are organised religious extremists in the Israeli political system, they have never attained power - unlike, say, their counterparts in Iran.

I am no uncritical supporter of Israeli government policies. Some - such as the attempt to implement regime change in Lebanon in the 1980s - I have strongly opposed. I hope for, without expecting any time soon, a pacific two-state territorial settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the fact and the independence -- not merely, in the demeaning phrase grudgingly advanced by her enemies, the "existence" -- of Israel, a Jewish state and a vibrant democracy, are causes for celebration.

Marko Attila Hoare:

So far as Israel is concerned, its record of democracy and human rights concerning its own citizens compares very favourably with most other Middle Eastern countries, but very badly with just about any West European country, because its stage of national development more closely resembles Turkey or Greece than France or the Netherlands. The two deformations resulting from the nature of Israel’s birth are, firstly, a failure to embrace the concept of a multi-ethnic citizenry and accord equal rights to all its citizens regardless of ethnicity, resulting in suffering and injustice for Israeli Arabs; and, secondly, a continued policy of colonisation in the West Bank, resulting in massive suffering for the occupied Palestinians. These deformations are, of course, linked to the behaviour of the Arab states and the refusal of most of them to recognise Israel, as well as to the Palestinians’ own behaviour - but this is not ultimately a question of apportioning blame. Like every nation-state, Israel needs to develop a post-nationalist national ideology if it is to complete its national and democratic development. This means becoming a genuinely Israeli nation-state, i.e. a state of the Israeli nation; a state of the citizens of Israel - rather than simply a Jewish state in which non-Jews are second-class citizens. Jews would still form a comfortable majority in Israel, thereby guaranteeing Jewish national self-determination. But a Jewish ethnic majority can comfortably exist with a concept of citizenship blind to ethnicity - as all concepts of citizenship should be, from the US and France to Israel and the Arab states. And as the American and French models show, a concept of citizenship blind to ethnicity rests upon identification with the state’s legal borders - hence no colonisation projects directed against neighbouring peoples.

Postscript: I wish neither to suggest that the Israeli Arab reaction is not newsworthy, nor to pass judgment on it. I am not an Israeli Arab living in Israel. It's just instructive what people choose to notice and when.