Writing The Canada Israel Nexus, I came across many ironies.
- Israel is a country, but without borders,
- it has created the largest refugee population in the world (6m Palestinians), rivaling its own diaspora (7m), both ‘exiles’ amounting to half their peoples. However, the Jewish diaspora is comfortably ensconced in the world economic elite or close to it, while the Palestinians mostly live in what amount to outdoor prison camps, or if lucky, snag a ‘landed immigrant’ status somewhere (there are 31,245 in Canada).
- Israel admits it is an occupying force, which implies that it will, according to international law, care for its victims, and leave, leaving behind the civilians and their homes intact. But the occupation is unending (70 years and counting), Israel has never paid to provide sustenance to its prisoners, the civilians persecuted daily, in full site, and eliciting world condemnation. The EU foots the bill, as Israelis regularly bomb their meagre donations. The result — permanent occupation, theft and all the time more refugees.
- Israel is a ‘nation’, but without a constitution. What?!
- That brings us to the biggest conundrum — the bright blue Israeli passport. As with all passports, the key box is ‘nationality’. So there is an Israeli nationality? Which means all Israelis are citizens of Israel, their nation? Right?
Not. The passport is a fraud, or if you prefer the more genteel term, a confidence trick.
Israelis, both Jewish and non-Jewish, when asked at borders what their nationality is, answer politely ‘Israeli’, with an ironic smile if they bother to think about what they’re saying. Inside they are saying ‘Israeli Jew’, ‘Muslim’, ‘Christian’, whatever.
The Jews can cavalierly throw around ‘Israeli’, but the non-Jews know it isn’t really referring to them. They are unwanted guests of the Jewish state. The passport is a lovely dream world, an act to trick the outside world into letting the inhabitants of the Holy Land travel abroad, but is more a laissez-passez, a proto-passport.
The holders returns to “the only democracy in the Middle East” or what was proposed in 2011 in the Basic Law, a “Jewish and democratic state”. They go about their lives, but they live in two different worlds. Their real identity is buried at the state registry, with the label ‘Jewish’ or ‘non-Jewish’, which appears only in your records and determines your civil rights.
- This brings us to the fact that there are two citizenship laws governing their lives, the famous Law of Return of 1950, which gives every Jew in the world the right to come to Israel and instantly receive citizenship. The much less known Citizenship Law, passed two years later, confers citizenship, in very restricted circumstances, to non-Jews.
“Nationality” Sleight of Hand
A constitutional committee was set up in 1949, but almost 70 years later, whatever rights there are for Arab Israelis are trumped by Jewish Israeli rights. Palestinians make up 20% of the population of Israel, 60% of overall population including the occupied territories. Those who reside in the occupied territories have no rights as citizens at all.
A constitution implies equal rights for all the nation’s citizens. To be a democratic nation, Israeli must be the nationality of Israel, with the Israeli state composed of ethnicities with equal rights. ‘Jewish’ is not even considered a distinct ethnicity anymore, at least according to the US census. Nationality in most cases more or less conforms to ethnicity, but if it differs, nationality trumps ethnicity as a signifier.
As of 2005, ethnicity is not printed on Identity Cards either; a line of eight asterisks appears instead. Sounds good. But the registry knows everyone’s ethnicity and their respective civil rights. Some major violations of civil rights result from this:
- A non-Jew can’t obtain citizenship unless married to a Jewish spouse who is a native Israeli. They must marry abroad or the non-Jewish spouse must convert under the supervision of the Orthodox rabbinate, very difficult. Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens cannot immigrate to join their spouses in Israel.
- Non-Jews, even relatives of Israelis, are not automatically allowed to immigrate to Israel, blocking relatives of Palestinian citizens from returning to join their families.
- The only Arabs who can be Israeli citizens are those born in Israel, i.e., the descendants of those Arabs who were not expelled in 1948 and 1967.
- The Jewish National Fund directly or indirectly controls 93% of the land in Israel, chartered to benefit Jews exclusively. The law claims that Arabs have equal rights, but only Jews are offered land for settlement, Jews do not have land confiscated as do Arabs, and disputes mostly go against Arabs.
- Many services and privileges are granted only to veterans, which means only Jews.
Even the US condemns Israel on these violations of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
Forward-looking Israelis have since the 1950s petitioned to be assigned an Israeli nationality and are denied. In the latest decision in October 2013, the Israeli Supreme Court again denied the request to recognize Israeli as a nationality. This would compel Jewish citizens of Israel to choose between being Israeli and Jewish. Most Israeli Jews would be forced into an impossible predicament, seeing themselves as both Jewish and Israeli. The implication would be that Judaism is not a nationality but solely a religion, as indeed it is.
This idea is antithetical to the fundamental doctrine of Zionism as the national movement of the Jewish ‘people’. If the nationality of Jewish Israelis is defined as Israeli rather than Jewish, then the national bond which binds together Jews in Israel and Jews in the Diaspora would be severed.
The supreme irony is that the only countries following international norms with respect to Israel are the Arab states that refuse to recognize Israeli passports, which claim a nationality that doesn’t exist. That is why Israeli governments feel it is so important to get these Arab countries and the stateless Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. That would supposedly legitimize Israel without worrying about declaring an Israeli nationality for all Israelis, Jew or Arab.
But that is why it is impossible to do, as that would automatically validate Israel’s de facto dispossession of its non- Jewish citizens. Unlike Canada with the native peoples, the Israelis are not seeking Arab assimilation into Judaism, nor do they want to assimilate them as Israelis with full citizenship. Were it not for the international acceptance of the duplicity of the Israeli passports, the Israeli Arabs would de facto be stateless. One can only marvel that Israel managed this confidence trick with most of the non-Arab world.
The West violated international law by recognizing Israel, a nation with no fixed borders, accepting without question its claim as a Jewish state. The requirement from 1948 onward was to recognize Israel as a normal state, abiding by international norms, without a formal demand on Israel’s part for recognition as a “Jewish state”, which is not an international norm. A clever deceit, but the Arabs saw through it. The latter became an issue only after the Oslo Accord in 1993, where the PLO recognized Israel as a normal state, but when asked to do so as a “Jewish state”, rightly balked. Israel ‘forgot’ to demand this from Jordan. “Why didn’t they present this demand to Jordan or Egypt when they signed a peace agreement with them?” PLO chair Mahmoud Abbas asked the Arab League when they too refused.
The contradiction in attempting to craft a democratic state based on the Jewish race is epitomized in the Kahane amendment to the Basic Law in 1985, which forbids “negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people, negation of the democratic character of the State, incitement to racism.” But limiting democracy to ‘Jews only’ is by definition both undemocratic and racist. Most Israeli Jews (79%) don’t see the contradiction, agreeing that Jews deserve preferential treatment in Israel. They do not see an inherent contradiction between a Jewish homeland and a functioning democracy providing equality before the law for non-Jews.
Irony of ironies: Israel as a religious state
The US census effectively undermines Israel’s claim as a Jewish state. As ‘races’, the US census shows White/ Black/ Asian/ Native/ Polynesian. For ethnic subdivisions, there is no Jewish ethnicity. Jews are considered members of some other ethnicity (European, Russian, Moroccan, etc.). Jewish is only a religious category and the census doesn’t do religion since the 1950s (a blowback from Nazism).
Ergo, a Jewish state can only be a religious state a la Iran/ Saudi Arabia, presumably with the titular head of state a chief rabbi, though with laws protecting all citizens equally. All ethnicities have equal rights, and the various confessions either abide by a generally agreed legal system or operate legally according to their religious laws.
Iran uses sharia but as interpreted by the elected government. Israel, in line with Saudi Arabia, uses religious law as issued by the religious establishment (though less and less, mostly limited to family issues), already admitting it is at least the pretense of a religious state, but still falling short of the ‘equal rights’ bit. Wait! Yet another irony: Rather than its enemy, Iran is in fact more a model for Israel as a viable religious state than, say, Saudi Arabia.
This does not please Rabbi Avi Shafran, a spokesman for Agudath Israel of America, “While Judaism is a religion, the Jewish people is a people. Peoplehood, at least Jewish peoplehood, transcends ethnicity and race.” (I’m not making that up.)
Sorry, Rabbi Shafran. The Zionist dream of a Jewish state was built on sand, and is still, 70 years after declaring independence, and fighting to gain international acceptance. Not a shred of “justice and hope” in sight. Almost all Jews wanted no part of this a century ago, when Zionism’s founding father Hertzl launched the Zionist Organization. Many Jews and non-Jews have continued to resist this “idea”, though until recently, Jews were cowed, too polite to protest, worried they would be perceived as traitors to their ‘race’, and be cast out of the tribe.
Any people who recognize the problem, especially Jews, are hounded as “antisemites”, the Jewish ones as “traitors” or “self-hating Jews”, including the ultra-Orthodox Jews who reject the very notion of a Jewish ‘state’.
Why this hysteria, 70 years after the state came into being? How will normality ever be established? In researching the history of Canada and the Zionist project, you find unremitting slander, the creation of ever growing mechanisms and institutions to defend the indefensible, avoiding the underlying catch-22.
Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s. He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.