Jewish, “democratic”, and racist as a matter of habit

by Yaniv Reich on October 11, 2010

The big story at the moment is the forthcoming law that would require all non-Jews, who want to become Israeli citizens, to make a loyalty oath to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic” state. Although revealing in the insecurity of identity and purpose that motivates it, it really is just one more law (among at least 30) that forces the ideology and privilege of Jews, as an ethnic group, over (and very frequently against) the status of other ethnic groups in Israel.

This bill is a problem and I encourage readers to click through some of the following commentaries for important criticism (e.g. here, here, here, and here).

The loyalty oath will change nothing

But why such a fuss about this one bill, proto-fascist as it is? Ultimately, it changes absolutely nothing about the character of Israel, the nature of Israel’s treatment of its substantial (indigenous) minority, nor the non-apartheid future whose day is coming ever closer once we learn to reject the racism inherent to the ethnically exclusivist state of Israel.

To make the point that the bill changes nothing, I want to cite a prominent Israeli rightist and “leftist”. First, we have Dan Meridor, Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy, who makes precisely this argument in arguing against the bill on the grounds that is it “redundant. He says:

“There is no justification for the passing of this law now.

“We are a Jewish state, we are the state for the Jewish people, we wrote this in our basic laws. This is a known and a given fact – that is how we were established by the United Nations.

“Do we have to continue repeating these words in relation to every context, when we have already won the historical battle?

“Lately there has been suggestion, after suggestion, after suggestion meant to send messages to the Arab public – ‘this is not yours, this is not your country,’ and there are even those who say ‘we will soon transfer you to a Palestinian state.’ The Arab citizens are constantly reminded that they do not belong, and yet we demand loyalty from them.”

The construction of Meridor’s comments is telling. He is at once emphasizing that Jews are in current possession of extraordinary ethnic privilege, by design, following the win of the “historical battle” against the native inhabitants of Palestine, and also that this bill only serves to remind the losers of this battle about their inferior status. Note that he is not making an argument for dismantling the racist institutions that are the consequence of the “historical” win, but only that we stop rubbing Palestinians’ noses in it so much. In other words, the bill is a symbolic matter rather than one that reflects any substantive change from the ethnically exclusive status quo. This is also why, presumably, Ehud Barak felt like the only amendment needed to the oath would be that it references Israel’s Declaration of Independence, an idealized document that hides the inherent discrimination of Israel’s Basic Laws. His response too helps make the case that the loyalty oath bill reflects merely a continuation of Israel as currently institutionalized, i.e. as an apartheid state.

Israel’s ordinary racism

All of these laws, from the Basic Laws to land administration to the loyalty oath, which form the legal basis of Jewish apartheid over Israel’s Palestinian citizens, are made possible only through the mindboggling and revolting racism that is the norm among Israeli Jews.

To cite just two examples from today’s news, we have the chief rabbi of the settlers’ Yesha Council, Dov Lior, arguing for the right of Palestinian refugees to return… to the Arabian Peninsula rather than the homes and land stolen from them in 1947/48 and 1967. One wonders what Lior’s reaction might be if a non-Jew suggested that Jews exercise their right of return to Auschwitz or Buchenwald, places that Jews ended up involuntarily after another ethnic group’s state-building project. But that isn’t even the most offensive part. Lior goes on to express his wishes to that a Jewish settler in the audience become mayor of Nablus, which is one of the biggest and most important Palestinian cities in the occupied West Bank, adding:

“You will have to work hard to clean that place up [from its Palestinian occupants]” and that those cities will serve as great housing for US Jews because they have large houses—Palestinian> houses—and Jewish immigrants “are fond of large houses”.

How flippant and mundane, yet impregnated with meaning of the most important sort, can one’s racism be?

Another example comes from the floor of the Knesset, where Jewish Israeli parliamentarians recently argued with Palestinian Israeli parliamentarians about the vicious assault by vehicle of two Palestinian boys, who had been throwing rocks, by a leader of the settler movement in Jerusalem.

The Jews yelled at their Palestinian counterparts:

“Even a child, if he is endangering someone’s life, should be shot at.”

MK Ben Ari (National Union) called Palestinian Israeli MK Ahmed Tibi and “terrorist” and told him to “go wear a dress with [Libyan leader Moammar] Kaddafi.”

Of course, Ben-Ari would never suggest that the settler children that throw stones at Palestinians and internationals, such as those depicted in this video, one of very many just like it, should be shot at. Only Palestinian children who throw stones should be summarily executed for their transgressions.

Then there is the insouciance with which he ridicules the traditional dress of Arabs as he tells Tibi to go hang out with Kaddafi. Such comments, unfortunately, are all par for the course inside Israel.

Racism begets racism

Racist institutions, such as those Israel as a Jewish state is founded upon, necessarily require racist attitudes for their legitimacy. So it has been critical in Israel since its founding to inculcate racism through the educational curriculum, through military service, through a million tasteless jokes, through a manipulative political establishment. And then these racist attitudes, after growing in people and being reflected in a stream of daily interactions with like-minded racists, become the motivation and political base for the further entrenchment of racist institutions, like the loyalty oath we see today.

Only if we are racist as a matter of casual fact can we begin to consider such a bill that requires the subjugation of one ethnic group at the expense of another. And the same is true for such a state.

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