Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Rabbis of the Dry Bones

"Racism surfaces when a society loses its self-confidence and turns to seeking ways to defend itself against what is different and perceived as increasingly threatening." ...

Salman Masalha

Rabbis of the Dry Bones

The rabbis’ letter in support of Safed’s Town Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu, the demonstrations against renting apartments to “foreigners” and slogans like “Jewish girls for the Jewish people” reveal only the very tip of the iceberg of sinister racism that had been dormant and wrapped in shabby feathers. This racism hid itself for many years behind barren discourse about a state with a formative “Declaration of Independence” in which there is civil equality and so on. All those who lauded the declaration have been in the forefront of those who have been trampling it early and late in the cabinet and the Knesset.

The despicable letter signed by dozens of rabbis is the peak of “the vision of the filthy dry bones” of the religious racism taking on flesh and sinew in Israel. This letter shows more than anything that the odious Kach movement was not a transient episode. It shows that Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of that movement, was not at all a loose cannon in the rabbinical world. He was a darling son of a racist monotheistic theology, like the other branches of this abominable tribal theology that arose in our region.

We are told Zionism aspired to liberate a religious group, to have it undergo a revolution of consciousness and to make it like all other nations. This, at least, is what is said by its disciples. So they say, as in the old joke about the rabbi and the harried husband who came to complain. However, a quick look at what is happening here makes it easy to see the deception. Indeed, see what a wonderful thing: From the moment the Jewish state arose it hastened to push aside civil secularity and adopted “Hatikvah” as its national anthem – an anthem the entire essence of which is religious.

You don’t need a weatherman to say which way the wind blows in words like “a Jewish soul yearns” or “an eye gazes toward Zion.” Thus a state was created in which at the base of its national anthem is a kid of religious prayer – Jewish and not Israeli. In other words, by means of the anthem Israel became a Shari’ah state – a Jewish country ruled by religious law and not a secular, modern, civilized country.

Not two decades elapsed after the establishment of “the Jewish state” and Israel found itself, with its yearning Jewish soul, not only yearning but also captive in the honey trap of the occupation of greater Zion. And thus the tribe with the religious anthem touched times and places laden with a mythical historical past. Thus, after the Six Day War of 1967 the Jewish-theocracy state removed the mask from its face and the Judeo-religious noose tightened around the slender neck of Israeli secularism.

The compound of tribalism and religion is a toxic compound that gives rise to fanatical murderers. This poisonous mixture led to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin because he tried to draw a line separating Israeli tribalism from Jewish tribalism. The right, which usually draws its strength from religious tribalism, took to the city squares. Before Rabin was assassinated, he was often accused of not having “a Jewish majority.” This charge is what ultimately led to his murder, in the context of secularization and desecration Jewish “tribal honor.”

Racism surfaces when a society loses its self-confidence and turns to seeking ways to defend itself against what is different and perceived as increasingly threatening. This defensiveness is sometimes manifested through an “Iron Dome” directed at a danger from outside. No one talks about the deep root from which are growing the branches of racism flourishing in the streets. The root of the problem lies deep in the minds of those wishing to restore racist monotheist beliefs to their former glory.
Published: Op-Ed, Haaretz, December 27, 2010
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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The media fanned the flames

Salman Masalha

The media fanned the flames

It wasn't only pinecones that burst, flew far from the trees and ignited more fires in the forests. The media also set up studios and sent out reporters who stoked another fire, on top of those that engulfed the Carmel.

Faced with the tragedy of the bus that went up in flames with its occupants, the evacuation of residents from their homes and the appeals for aid from other nations, their mission this time was to transmit, in live broadcasts, "information" received from anonymous sources about the existence of some kind of "conspiracy." The reporters were quick to report outbreaks of fire in various places and point to an alleged "guiding hand" behind the fires.

But the "guiding hand" was not a hand, but rather an anonymous arm of the government, which leaked this "information" to reporters on the scene in a desperate attempt to obscure the authorities' inability to deal with the fire and distract attention from their own negligence and failures by collectively accusing the residents of Isfiya and Daliat al-Carmel, and through them the entire Arab community, of responsibility for the fires. Facing off against these anonymous sources were "knowledgeable sources" in ultra-Orthodox circles who pulled out the default mantra of Sabbath desecration, which for the ignorant explains everything.

Against the background of general panic over the fire department's helplessness, broadcasters reported willingly for a kind of media reserve duty. Every reporter who had a chance to face the camera was quick to report, whether maliciously or innocently, the alleged information he was getting by text message from those anonymous sources.

The media, in all its forms and outlets, must do some thorough soul-searching. The irresponsible behavior we witnessed, in the form of transmitting "information" without bothering to check its veracity, is the type of ember that will continue to glow under the surface long after the flames die down. Such embers whip up the flame of hatred between Jews and Arabs, and they will ignite an even greater fire when the opportunity arises. And there is no lack of opportunities for an eruption in this security-conscious land.

On the other hand, the fire can serve as an opportunity for leaders of the Arab community to do some soul-searching and demonstrate wise civic leadership on behalf of the people they are supposed to represent and all the country's residents. The heads of Arab local councils often complain, justifiably, about the central government's failure to deal with the Arab sector's problems: the rising crime in Arab communities, the relatively high number of Arab drivers involved in car accidents and other ills that must be thoroughly addressed. Here is a chance to encourage young Arab men and women to volunteer for national service in the fire department. Because, as we just saw, evil flames of all kinds can devour everything good.

Volunteering for the fire brigades will send various civic messages: We're all in the same boat in the battle to preserve nature. We're all in the same boat in the battle to save life and stop the killing on our roads. Both nature and the roads belong to all of us, and it is our duty to safeguard them not only for ourselves, but for future generations.

National service in the fire department also has an educational aspect that is no less important: contributing to the general good regardless of petty, populist politics. Such national service could also open many fields of interest and study to young men and women later in life.

If everyone joins together to do some soul-searching, maybe there will be a silver lining in the cloud of smoke.
Published: Op-Ed, Haaretz, December 7, 2010

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Friday, November 26, 2010


Salman Masalha


............................ To Rumi

Beyond my door which faces west
Lives a woman who'll never rest.

She likes to tease my nomad soul
With words she keeps for gloomy fall.

But now she flies across the sky,
And tries to find a place too high

To paint it blue for me to look
And tie my heart like horse to hook.

I dive in blue or fly in beams.
Some say it's love. I say my dreams.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

An MK by any other name

How European Zionism

has corrupted 'Jewish Arabs'

Salman Masalha

An MK by any other name

Carmel Shama was fed up, so the lawmaker decided it was time to reconnect with his ethnic roots. Responding to all the confusion over his identity, he asked the Interior Ministry to add an appendage to his name so that he could officially become MK "Shama-Hacohen."

Many people had mistakenly taken him for a Druze. Indeed, when he visited Auschwitz, MKs praised him for showing "solidarity with the Jewish people." He has also frequently been asked to voice his opinion "on Arab matters as a member of that community." Apparently, that was a bit too much for him to handle.

Here, then, is a blatant example of how "Ashkenazi Zionism," from Europe, has corrupted the souls of those referred to as "members of the Mizrahi group," from the Middle East and North Africa.

It bears noting that the original reason Israelis were required to list their national ethno-religious identities on official documents was to help Ashkenazi institutions distinguish between Jews and Arabs, since many Jews who came from Arab countries had Arab names. At first there were only two categories listed: Jews and Arabs. At a later stage, "Druze" was added as a separate category.

Because Interior Minister Eli Yishai refused to implement a High Court ruling to list Israelis who have undergone Reform conversions as Jews, in recent years, information on nationality appears merely as a series of asterisks on identity cards. But other identifying marks that distinguish between "Jews" and Arabs are still there.

Take, for example, a name like "Yosef Hadad." Based on the name alone, it is impossible to know if the bearer of this name is an Arab or Jew. Trained policemen, however, can instantly spot the difference. To promote the "worthy" goal of separating Arab and Jewish citizens, officials at the Interior Ministry were willing to waive the requirement to list the name of the "Jewish grandfather." So supposing that this Yosef Hadad is a Jew, his grandfather's name will not appear on his identity card. But if he is an Arab, his grandfather's name will be displayed proudly. Isn't that a rather elegant form of apartheid registration?

As years went by, nationalist tensions motivated many "Jewish Arabs" to try to distance themselves from their ethnic identity. Yet how could they when their outward appearances, musical tastes, favorite foods and lifestyles were so much a part of the cultural milieu from which they emerged?

The only way for them to make this break was to adopt conspicuous Jewish religious identity markers, prominent among them skullcaps and Magen David pendants. Indeed, the extent to which Magen David chains dangle on their necks and skullcaps cover their heads corresponds directly to the extent that they deny their Arab ethno-nationality. The most grotesque expression of such denial is the Hasidic clothing and hats worn by Shas members. To put it another way, a hat burns on the head of every self-denier.

Ethnic separation has, and continues to be, alive and kicking among citizens of this country. MK Shama-Hacohen can take it easy though. We can even seize the opportunity to give him a gift of two Druze MKs, MK Ayoob Kara (Likud ) and MK Hamad Amar (Yisrael Beiteinu ) - who together sound more hard-line than Avigdor Lieberman and Rabbi Eliezer Shach put together. In fact, if they listed "Hacohen" next to their surnames, they could kill two birds with one stone: first, they would stop shaming the Druze; second, the name change would drive MK Shama-Hacohen crazy.
Published: Op-Ed, Haaretz, November 14, 2010

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Logic for Jews only

It seems Professor Avineri is cutting the very branches of logic he seeks to hold on to, one after the other.

Salman Masalha

Logic for Jews only

Professor Shlomo Avineri raises difficult questions and wishes to discuss them, adding: "Anyone who, like me, supports a solution of two states for two peoples and wants to see Arab citizens of Israel gain full civic equality can, and perhaps even must, pose them" ("The right questions," October 5 ).

The issues concerning the melange of tribes residing in this country are not at all simple. The definition of what a people is, in this context, is quite complicated as both peoples are still in formative stages. Throughout human history, nations have vanished and other peoples have awoken one morning, felt they were a nation and began to interact as such in cultural and political frameworks.

The questions Prof. Avineri seeks to raise are difficult ones. But this is only an apparent difficulty - because upon reading his arguments, it seems he is cutting the very branches he seeks to hold on to, one after the other.

Let's assume that it is indeed true that "a majority of Israel's Jewish citizens distinguish between 'the State of Israel' and 'the Land of Israel,'" as he claims. The question then becomes why he demands something different from the other side, in saying "it should be clear to us, and to them, that Acre and Jaffa and Be'er Sheva are not part of Palestine."

If this is the logic guiding him, the same logic should apply to the other side - which should thus distinguish between the State of Palestine and the Land of Palestine. There is no contradiction, therefore, in Acre, Haifa and Jaffa being part of the Land of Palestine, even if they will not be part of the State of Palestine - just as Hebron will simultaneously be part of the State of Palestine and the Land of Israel. That is how healthy logic works, and that is how healthy peoples act in the framework of international law.

The second question raised by Prof. Avineri is also problematic. "The second question is directed at Israel's Arab citizens. Some of their leaders prefer to refer to themselves as 'Palestinian citizens of Israel,' and that, of course, is their right. But it is impossible to ignore the fact that following the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, this definition is liable to seem problematic," he writes.

Let's continue along the lines of this logic, and put it this way: The question is directed at Jewish citizens of the nations of the world. Some of their leaders prefer to refer to themselves as Jewish citizens of the United States, France, Russia, etc, and that, of course, is their right. But it is impossible to ignore the fact that following the establishment of an independent Israeli state, this definition is liable to seem problematic. Does Prof. Avineri accept that this, too, is problematic?

And in the same context, it would be interesting to know to what nation Prof. Avineri would say figures like Benjamin Disraeli, Alphonse Ratisbonne and the composer Felix Mendelssohn belong. To the Jewish people? And if not, why? You could go so far as to say that if the most famous Jewish boy were to arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport a second time, seeking to immigrate, Prof. Avineri's representatives would, at best, send him off on the first flight back overseas. Just a reminder to Prof. Avineri - the name of that famous Jewish boy is Jesus.

It seems such questions are inconceivable from his perspective; that is why he won't even consider them. This whole entire debate demonstrates how Prof. Avineri repeatedly climbs the branches of the tree he himself planted and nurtured, but, astonishingly and repeatedly, cuts down the very same branches with his own hands, to the point that he has become a licensed tree cutter.

It's nice that Prof. Avineri wants to see "full civil equality for Israel's Arab citizens," but for that equality to be complete, it also has to exist logically. To this point, I have not been able to fathom the logic of his words.
Published: Op-Ed, Haaretz, November 4, 2010


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Friday, October 29, 2010

The War of Gog and Demagogue

Salman Masalha

The War of Gog and Demagogue

Here is a scenario: A devout Evangelical Christian is elected president of the United States. Fundamental to his ideology is the return of the Messiah and therefore he devotes all his efforts to bringing about the End Time and hastening the coming of that Messiah. Does this sound fantastical to you? Not entirely. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were not far from this outlook.

There is no need to cross the Atlantic to see how such processes are taking place before our very eyes. A president like this, though on a somewhat smaller scale, has already been chosen by the ayatollahs and the scenario is already playing out in our region. The president of Iran is an “Evangelical,” only this time a Shi’ite Muslim.

A single sentence from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech in southern Lebanon has not been given sufficient attention. He has repeated this sentence on a variety of occasions and it encapsulates his religious and political worldview. Ahmadinejad made a point of saying at Bint Jbeil that the Mahdi – the Hidden Imam, the Shi’ite equivalent of the Messiah – will come in the near future, in our own times, and bring justice. He also said that when the Mahdi comes, he will be accompanied by the Messiah as his supporter and disciple. As in some branches of Judaism and Christianity, the coming of the Mahdi is a cornerstone of the branch of the Shi’a dominant in Iran.

However, an examination of the Shi’ite literature concerning the coming of the Mahdi reveals something very interesting and surprising. It emerges from this literature that when the Mahdi reappears and sets out on his way from Iraq, he will be joined by 27 persons from the people of Moses (in Arabic qawm Musa) – that is to say, Jews. Among those joining the Mahdi’s retinue are figures like Joshua Ben Nun and King Solomon. Moreover, the Mahdi will pray and utter the ineffable name of God, in the Hebrew language: “When the Imam issues the call to prayer, he will offer a prayer to Allah under his Hebrew name,” we learn from a tradition cited by Al-Nu’mani, a 10th century Shi’ite scholar.

Often, the Hidden Imam’s high status in the Shi’ite literature is compared to the stature of Joshua and the reign and law he will institute will be “like the reign and law of David and Solomon,” according to another 10th-century scholar, Al-Kulayni. Apparently the representatives of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect Naturei Karta who visited Iran and met with Ahmadinejad are aware of some of these traditions.

Of course these and other traditions serve the Sunni Muslims to goad the Shi’ites. Often the Sunnis taunt the Shi’ites that their Mahdi is none other than “the Jewish Messiah,” who prays and utters Allah’s name in Hebrew. Shi’ite scholars see this as a point in his favor, as someone who “knows languages.”

In any case, the tension in our world today between the Arabs and Iran is very ancient tension. Echoes of this tension are heard in the Shi’ite traditions. When the day of the Mahdi’s coming arrives, according to the Shi’ite tradition, the fate of the Arabs will not be glorious, to put it mildly: “When the Mahdi comes, only the sword shall speak to the Arabs and to Quraysh (Muhammad’s tribe),” as we are are told by the scholar Al-Nu’mani. Another tradition says the Mahdi “will slaughter them the way the butcher slaughters a sheep.”

It is always possible to find such things, some of them entertaining and some of them less so, in every religion, in every place and at every time. However, in a part of the world where religious myths are the daily bread of ignorant masses and an elected government, messianic beliefs of this sort are liable to be extremely dangerous. This is because there will always be some reckless disciples, in every ethnic group and religion, who will want to hasten the end time by every means at their disposal. And this is especially so if these people, be they here or there, are leaders who have access to all kinds of dangerous buttons.
Published: Op-Ed, Haaretz, October 22, 2010

For Hebrew, press here

Saturday, October 2, 2010

All the professor’s cats

Salman Masalha

All the professor’s cats

For years a certain peddler roamed the streets with a laden sack on his back, declaring he has many good things. Every morning he set out to try to sell his wares. However, only the sharp-eyed knew what he kept in the bag.

One day, a “Canaanite slave” passed through the town and threw down a banana peel. The peddler, who was so engaged in concealing the contents of his bag of good, slipped and fell. However, he continued to hold on tight to the sack and its contents. This peddler had a fine reputation in the town and he is a very respected professor.

Recently Prof. Shlomo Avineri tried in every possible way to conceal his wares from everyone (“A Palestinian people yes, a Jewish people, no?” Haaretz English Edition, August 13, 2010). As a concerned Zionist he exalted the role of “the Zionist revolution” in transforming the Jews into a nation like all nations. He went so far as to make a ridiculous comparison between a Jewish nation and a French nation.

In a second article he published on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year (“Biladi, Biladi”, Haaretz English Edition, September 8, 2010), Prof. Avineri left no room for doubt as to his hidden intentions. Apparently a “sensitive Jewish nerve” under his Zionist skin has been damaged. This nerve is making him edgy and keeping him awake nights. Once again he limps to his desk, types his worst nightmare onto the screen and in on go spills out the contents of the “Zionist revolution” sack.

It is worth pausing first over the headline given to his article. “Biladi, Biladi” cries the Hebrew (and English) headline, in transliteration (of the title and opening words of the Egyptian national anthem), and this in order to pluck at the Hebrew readers’ most sensitive strings with the aim of injecting primordial fear into their world, as though this were another Arabic battle cry. It is important that the readers understand what this headline means and not stumble about in the fog. Indeed, translated into Hebrew the title will sound familiar to every man and woman in Israel. The Russian-born Hebrew poet Shaul Tchernikovsky (1875-1943) wrote the Zionist line “My country, my native land” – which is exactly what this headline says and this is a phrase often uttered by Prof. Avineri and many others. The transliterated title aims at arousing panic by means of using the savage sound, the Arab sound that is not understood.

From reading the article it also emerges that the bag Prof. Avineri carried on his back for years indeed contains many “good” things; a trick here and a trick there, a cat here and a cat there and all manner of goods including some Meir Kahane. Prof. Avineri sets forth for the readers an imaginary horror scenario by means of which the tried to warn of a “disaster” lying in wait for the state of Israel: “‘We're all Israelis, equal citizens in our common homeland," declared the Knesset speaker,’” he has the speaker of the Knesset declare in an imagined future session of Israel’s parliament.

Prof. Avineri’s Zionist lie is revealed in this last article. Here, his “Zionist revolution” that exalted belonging to the Jewish “nation” has vanished into thin air in favor of belonging to the Jewish religion.

It seems to me he deserves an Olympic medal for the impressive backwards somersault he executed in his return to the religious origins that shaped him. Indeed, in his second article he reveals in a single stroke everything he previously tried to hide. Suddenly, his main concern is “Jewish sovereignty.” Suddenly he returns to “the synagogue,” to “the Jewish people” and “the God of Israel.”

Equal citizens? A shared homeland? Democracy? Equality and things like that? You’re kidding. Forget it. It’s warmer and cozier in the bosom and in the laws of the Jewish shtetl, the backwards hamlet in the eastern European Pale of Settlement.

True, the “Canaanite slave” has a Canaanite soul and like the Jewish soul in the Israel’s national anthem “Hatikvah,” it too “throbs.” However, according to Avineri, who is familiar with his religious tradition, the law for a Canaanite slave or servant is not the same as for a Hebrew servitor.

Your faithful servant had naively believed that Shlomo Avineri is a professor of political science who propounds democracy, equality, the rule of law and an enlightened state. I was wrong. It turns out he is just another revered Jewish master teacher who lays down rabbinical rulings.

For Hebrew, press here

Salman Masalha, "A Jewish and democratic restaurant"
Shlomo Avineri, "A Palestinian people, yes, a Jewish people, no?"

Alexander Yakobson, "What's in the name?"
Uri Avnery, "Poisonous Mushrooms"
Lev Grinberg, "You can't be a Jewish Muslim"
B. Michael, "A Pravoslavic and republican tomato"

Monday, September 27, 2010

Arabs, speak Hebrew!

Salman Masalha

Arabs, speak Hebrew!

Many Arab eyebrows - those of politicians and populist education officials - will no doubt be raised when they read this headline. At the same time, we should discuss the issue of language with due seriousness and detached from the sensitivity connected to it.

The Education Ministry recently published data on achievement levels in the school system. One finding particularly caught my eye - on achievements of students examined in Hebrew, especially Arab pupils. The report spoke of the catastrophic situation in the Arab community and said Arab students had the lowest average grade in Hebrew language. The grade in Arabic for Arab Students was only slightly higher.

Recent research by Prof. Zohar Eviatar and Dr. Rafiq Ibrahim of the University of Haifa's psychology department explain the problem from another angle. The researchers compared the speed and accuracy of comprehending texts among Arabic speakers, Hebrew speakers and English speakers. They found that the right hemisphere of the brain is involved in learning to read in Hebrew and English but not at all in learning to read Arabic.

This stems from the graphic complexity of Arabic writing, they believe. Arabic letters are joined together and change shape according to their location in a word. In addition, many letters are distinguished from one another by minute graphic signs alone. Thus Arabic writing's graphic uniqueness becomes a heavy burden on children when they are learning to read.

The data explain the considerable gap between students at Arabic-language schools and those at schools where the language of instruction is Hebrew or English. The data also partially explain Israel's low standing compared with the developed countries in international tests of schoolchildren. This gap, linked to the language's sad situation, exists in the entire Arab world. It's not by chance that not one Arab university is among the world's best 500 universities. This finding has nothing to do with Zionism or Israel.

Everyone knows that the Arabic taught in schools is compared with Hebrew or any other foreign language, but it is not the language Arab children speak at home. The mother tongue they speak at home is totally different from the literary Arabic taught at school. This situation exists throughout the Arab world.

The Arab public in Israel is not isolated from the general Arabic linguistic arena. The Arabic-language media, especially radio and television, do not provide the linguistic richness of formal Arabic. The opposite is true: They perpetuate linguistic superficiality that leads to intellectual superficiality.

Despite all this, an educational revolution is possible here. The positive results of such a revolution would be felt in just a few years. To this end, we need the courage to put the ultimate educational demand on the table: The Arabic and Druze departments at the Education Ministry must be abolished immediately and all the syllabi must be united into one core syllabus for everyone. Some 80 percent of the syllabus should include the teaching materials required for a modern and advanced education. For the remainder, special emphasis on the cultural interests of a segment of the population should be permitted.

We can conduct yet another revolutionary experiment - choose from the Arab community one or more class and decide that the language of instruction there, from kindergarten through high school, will be Hebrew. If we carry out an experiment like this, I'm convinced the positive results will not be long in coming.
Published: Opinion-Haaretz, September 27, 2020

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

When Ovadia, or Abdullah, reigneth

Salman Masalha

When Ovadia, or Abdullah, reigneth

The Days of Awe lie ahead of us. Awful days in Hebrew and in Arabic. Every man will not sit under his vine nor will every senior citizen recline under his fig tree, but rather night and day they will study "Torat Hamelech: Laws of Life and Death between Israel and the Nations," the laws of hatred that are spreading through Israel.

We have already seen the rabbis mustering support for Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, the author of the book, which deals with the laws of life and death between Israel and everyone else and discusses the laws with regard to killing gentiles in times of peace or war.

And again, yes again, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the "spiritual" leader of Shas, delivers a sermon and smites us once again: "May our enemies and those who hate us die, Abu Mazen and all these evil people should perish from this world. God should smite them with a plague, the Ishmaelites, those Palestinians - evil, bitter enemies of Israel," as he is quoted as having said this week.

As the author of the Book of Proverbs might have written, there be many things which are too wonderful for me, yea, many that I know not. The way of the politicians from here and from there. The way of a politician, who like a fish fills his mouth with water upon hearing words of denunciation. The way of the man of religion, who creeps like a serpent upon a rock and ambushes easy prey with a sermon before the Days of Awe. The way of a racist politician who shuts his ears upon hearing these things here whilst hastening to quote from every stage similar things from the other side. The way of the man of religion who behaves like an adulterous woman, swallows the imprecations, wipes his mouth and says: I have heard no evil, or in other words: The rabbi's words have been taken out of context. About this sort of thing the author of the Book of Proverbs has already written of the land when the earth trembles: "A servant when he reigneth."

I hear these things and I read the reactions to them that haven't been tardy in coming, from here and from there. I don't know whether to laugh or to cry. As fate would have it, the words of the abusive rabbi sound very familiar to me in translation from the Arabic. As if the rabbi's name were not Ovadia but rather Abdullah, and as if it the sermon was not in Hebrew, but rather in Arabic.

From here the calls in Hebrew are repeated: "May those who hate us die and God should smite them with a plague, those Ishmaelites ..." And from there are heard, as though in a mirror, the same words of abuse in Arabic: "God, smite and destroy the Jews, descendents of monkeys and pigs, make their wives widows, make their children orphans..." - and other such pearls of pure Semitic.

"If heaven-forbid a Muslim cleric were to express himself against the Jews in those same words he would be arrested immediately," Balad MK Jamal Zahalka hastened to write to the attorney general, calling upon him to indict the rabbi. Apparently the energetic parliamentarian doesn't know anything at all about the heritage of Arabic imprecations.

If they were to arrest all the preachers of hatred in Hebrew and in Arabic, the Israeli, Palestinian and pan-Arab prison services would have their hands full. People, from here and from there, often wonder where all those rabid words come from. However, as is their habit, they always refuse to lay their finger on the root of the evil. They all prefer to bury their heads in the sand. And the sand in this Semitic expanse is quicksand, very much so.

Therefore, the time has come to tell it like it is. There is no need to go into contortions of strange and varied explanations. All the evil words, both in Hebrew and in Arabic, are nourished by the hatred from that same sewer, that same teat called monotheism. And when in this udder God and a tribal code mingle, only a toxic mix can emerge.

There is an antidote to this poison. Only courage is needed to use it. It is called separation of religion and state. Or in other words, if you will: taking the Holy One, blessed be He, away from the law.
Published: Opinion - Haaretz, September 1, 2010
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Friday, August 27, 2010

B. Michael: A Pravoslavic and republican tomato

B. Michael

A Pravoslavic and republican tomato

Prof. Shlomo Avineri (Haaretz, August 13, 2010) debates Salman Masalha, who ridiculed the expression “a Jewish and democratic state” and compared it to the expression “a Muslim and democratic state” (Haaretz, August 8, 2010).

Avineri decides to learn from this barb that Masalha has supposedly denied the existence of a Jewish people and its right to self-definition, and charges ahead full tilt to defend the people, the state and the expression “a Jewish and democratic state.”

But Avineri is making life easy for himself. With convenient and useful consistency he ignores one crucial and fundamental fact: The state of Israel is the only country in the world where the exclusive authority to determine who belongs to its people is in the hands of the clergy of some transcendental, mythical entity, which does not participate much in the public discourse and is not subordinate to any mortal (except those who serve it…).

Avineri also tries to compare the Jewish people in Israel to other peoples in the world. As he sees it, “a Jewish state” is like a Palestinian state, a Dutch state, a Polish state, an English state. Every state has its people. But this comparison is baseless. It’s not a qadi who decides who is Palestinian. It’s not the Archbishop of Canterbury who decides who is English. It’s not a cardinal in Warsaw who decides who is Polish and it isn’t the ayatollahs in Iran who decide who is Persian. Only here, only in Israel, have all the usual tests of ethnic and national affiliation been abolished. Not culture, not language, not birthplace, not historical background, not a common fate … none of these decide. Only the seal of the clerical bureaucrats determines whether or not a person belongs to the people and the nation.

The result is a rather absurd paradox: Instead of the state of Israel realizing the right of Jews to self-definition, it has become the only place in the universe that denies them their right to define themselves. Everywhere else in the world a person is allowed to define himself as a Jew, and Jewish communities are able to embrace him to their bosom in any way they choose. No law prevents them from doing this. Only in Israel has this right been outlawed.

And the paradox redoubles when we realize that while the Jewish people everywhere in the world is indeed a people in every respect, it is only in Israel that it has once again become solely a religious community, a cult the definition of which has been given over entirely to clerics and their certifications of ritual fitness.

It can be said this is the worst failure of what Avineri calls “the Zionist revolution.” It intended to transform a people into a nation and it has ended up turning part of that people into a religious community.

Therefore until such time as the state of Israel comes to its senses and takes away from the clerics the exclusive authority to decide who belongs to that people whose right to self-definition it purports to realize – Salman Masalha is right: “A Jewish and democratic state” is a ridiculous phrase, just like “a Muslim and democratic state.”

And if this comparison is insulting to Prof. Avineri, he is invited to ponder the following equation: “A Jewish and democratic state” is a logical and very meaningful concept much like “a Pravoslavic and republican tomato.”

Jerusalem, August 15, 2010
Salman Masalha, "A Jewish and democratic restaurant"
Shlomo Avineri, "A Palestinian people, yes, a Jewish people, no?"

Alexander Yakobson, "What's in the name?"
Uri Avnery, "Poisonous Mushrooms"
Lev Grinberg, "You can't be a Jewish Muslim"


Monday, August 23, 2010

Lev Grinberg: You can't be a Jewish Muslim

Lev Grinberg: "Instead of bringing about the secularization of Judaism, Zionism turned religion into the central element of the definition of national identity, and turned the State of Israel into a tool of the religious redemption project.".....

Lev Grinberg

You can't be a Jewish Muslim

Just like the story about the late Israeli politician Moshe Sneh, who raised the tone of his voice because his arguments were not persuasive, Professor Shlomo Avineri raises the tone in his reply to Salman Masalha, both of whose opinion pieces appeared on these pages earlier this month, and paints him as a racist. But Masalha did not claim that there is no Jewish people or that Jews do not have the right to self-determination. His argument is simple: If the state is defined by religion, it cannot treat all its citizens equally, as required of a democratic system of government.

Its true that from its inception, Zionism intended to turn the Jewish people from a religious community into a modern nation, but Avineri ignores the regrettable fact that the project of secularizing the Jewish people has failed. Israel has no legal definition for Judaism other than the religious definition, it does not recognize an Israeli national identity defined on the basis of citizenship, and it does not recognize a Hebrew nationality that is culturally defined.

The comparison to other countries where religion and nationality are linked is irrelevant, because those countries have a secular definition of the state and citizenship. You can be a Polish Jew or an Egyptian Jew, but you can't be a Jewish Muslim or a Jewish Christian.

In the attempt to make the Jewish people a nation like all others, Zionism strove to unite it through one language and concentrate it in one territory. There were arguments and struggles over this, and they were decided in favor of preserving the centrality of religion in the definition of the national collective. Instead of picking one of the languages that Jews spoke day in and day out, Hebrew, the holy tongue, was chosen.

Regarding territory as well, absolute secularists did indeed think that Jews could be settled in Uganda or Argentina, but the gravitational pull of the Land of Israel was decisive. The Bible was transformed from a religious text into Zionism's title deed, the justification for the demand for ownership of the territory. In other words, instead of bringing about the secularization of Judaism, Zionism turned religion into the central element of the definition of national identity, and turned the State of Israel into a tool of the religious redemption project, especially after the capture and settlement of biblical areas since 1967.

Defining the State of Israel solely as democratic and revoking the special privileges of Jews does not contradict Zionism, and certainly not Judaism. The connection to Judaism will remain in the calendar and the Hebrew language, in the name of the state and in the Jewish majority (if we manage to free ourselves from our rule over the Palestinians in the territories).

Democracy is based on universalist Jewish values, such as "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" and "Ye shall have one statute, both for the stranger, and for him that is born in the land." That requires separation of religion and state, something that will be good for both. Because in the current situation, not only does religion corrupt the state, but the state corrupts religion and pushes it toward nationalistic extremism.

Why isn't Israel a modern, democratic nation-state? I suspect that the secular Jews are not ready to relinquish the special privileges that the Jewish state grants them. With no other definition for Judaism, they are ready to accept the yoke of the religious establishment and give up democracy and equality. In my view, that is the meaning of the continued impossible defense of a Jewish and democratic state.

Woe to such Zionism: conservative and complacent, lacking imagination and vision. After such a bitter failure, we should start thinking of tikkun, of repair. Tikkun is a kosher concept; it's both Jewish and democratic.
Published: Opinion - Haaretz, August 23, 2010

For Hebrew, press here

Salman Masalha, "A Jewish and democratic restaurant"
Shlomo Avineri, "A Palestinian people, yes, a Jewish people, no?"

Alexander Yakobson, "What's in the name?"
>Uri Avnery, "Poisonous Mushrooms"

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Uri Avnery: Poisonous Mushrooms

Poisonous Mushrooms

BEFORE THE victory of feminism, there was a popular Israeli song in which the boy asks the girl: “When you say No, what do you mean?”

This question has already been answered. Now I am more and more tempted to ask: “When you say Zionism, what do you mean?”

That is also my answer when asked whether I am a Zionist.

When you say Zionist, what do you mean?

LATELY, ASSOCIATIONS for the defense of Zionism have been springing up like mushrooms after rain. Poisonous mushrooms.

All kinds of American Jewish multi-millionaires – many of them Casino kings, brothel moguls, money launderers and tax evaders - are financing “patriotic” Israeli groups in Israel, to fight the holy war for “Zionism”.

The assault takes place along all the fronts. Jewish organizations aim at cleansing the universities of post-Zionists. They threaten to induce other donors to withhold their donations, they terrorize presidents and rectors and frighten professors and students.

Americans may be reminded of the sinister era of Senator Joseph McCarthy, who blighted the life of thousands of intellectuals and artists, pushing many of them into exile or suicide. Europeans might be reminded of the days when “Aryan” professors informed on their treasonous colleagues, and students in brown shirts threw their Jewish colleagues out of the windows.

This is only one sector of the broad offensive. One group has proudly announced that it is teaching hundreds of professional Zionists how to cleanse Wikipedia, the on-line encyclopedia, of post-Zionist items and plant Zionist ones in their stead.

THE TERM “post-Zionism” is starring in the propaganda of all the dozens – and perhaps hundreds – of the associations financed by the Las Vegas multi-millionaires and their likes in the United States in order to restore the Zionist glory of old.

Why this term, of all others? They mean the leftists, but those who attack the “leftists” are liable to be called “rightists”. However, the members of the extreme right want to be seen as belonging to the patriotic center. Nor is it nice or enlightened to speak out against “liberal” or “progressive” professors. “Post-Zionists” is the Israeli equivalent of the “Reds” of Senator McCarthy or the “Jews” of his predecessors in Germany.

BUT WHAT is “post-Zionism”? Why not simply “anti-Zionism”?

As far as I know, I was the first to use this term. That was in 1976. I was testifying in a libel case that my friends and I had lodged against a publication that had accused the “Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace”, that we had just founded, of being “anti-Zionist”. In trying to explain my view to the judge, I said that Zionism was a historic movement, with both light and shadow, which had fulfilled its role with the establishment of the State of Israel. From then on, Israeli patriotism has taken its place. “Post-Zionism” means that with the founding of the state, a new historic era began. A “post-Zionist” can admire the achievements of Zionism or criticize them. He is not by definition an anti-Zionist.

The judge accepted my arguments and found in our favor. She awarded us handsome compensation. Now I am the only living Israeli who has a judicial confirmation that he is not an anti-Zionist – much as only a person released from a psychiatric hospital has an official confirmation that he is sane.

Since then, the term “post-Zionist” has acquired wide currency in academic circles. It has also acquired many shades of meaning, according to the people who use it.

But in the mouths of our new mini-McCarthys, it has become a simple denunciation. A post-Zionist is a traitor, an Arab-lover, a lackey of the enemy, an agent of the sinister world-wide conspiracy to destroy the Jewish State.

SHLOMO AVINERI, a respected professor of philosophy, recently published an article in which he fervently argued that Israel is a Jewish state and must remain so. The article has already stirred up a vivid debate.

I have received some protests from people who mistakenly thought that it was I who wrote the piece. That happens from time to time. Years ago the respected British weekly, The Economist, printed my name instead of his, and next week published “an apology to both”.

But the difference is considerable. Avineri is an eminent professor, a student of Hegel, an expert on Zionist history, a former Director General of the Israeli Foreign Office, and a devout Zionist. I, as is well-known, am not a professor, I never even finished elementary school, I never was a government spokesman and my attitude towards Zionism is very complex.

In his article, Avineri argued passionately that Israel is a Jewish state “as Poland is a Polish state and Greece is a Greek state”. He was responding to a Palestinian citizen of Israel, Salman Masalha, who had asserted that there cannot be a “Jewish state”, much as - he says - there cannot be a “Muslim state” or a “Catholic state”.

How can one compare, Avineri cried out. After all, the Jews are a people! Israel belongs to the Jewish people, whose religion is Judaism.

Logical, isn’t it?

BY NO means. The analogy does not fit.

If Poland belongs to the Poles and Greece to the Greeks, Israel belongs to the Israelis. But the Israeli government does not recognize the existence of an Israeli nation. (The courts have not yet decided upon the petition by some of us to be recognized as belonging to the Israeli nation.)

If Avineri had demanded the recognition that Israel belongs to the Israelis as Poland belongs to the Poles, I would have applauded. But he argues that Israel belongs to the Jews. This immediately raises some basic questions.

For example: Which Jews? Those who are Israeli citizens? Clearly, this is not what he means. He means the “Jewish people” dispersed all over the world, a people whose members belong to the American, French, Argentine nations – and, yes, also to the Polish and Greek nations.

How does a person become an American? By acquiring American citizenship. How does a person become French? By becoming a citizen of the French republic. How does a person become a Jew?

Ah, there’s the rub. According to the law of the State of Israel, a Jew is somebody whose mother is Jewish, or who has converted to the Jewish religion and not adopted any other religion. Ergo: the definition is purely religious, like that of a Muslim or a Catholic. Not at all like that of a Pole or a Greek. (In Jewish religion, it’s only the mother, not the father, who counts in this respect. Perhaps because one cannot be quite sure who the father is.)

There are in Israel hundreds of thousands of people who have immigrated from the former Soviet Union with their Jewish relatives, but are not Jewish according to the religious definition. They consider themselves Israelis in every respect, speak Hebrew, pay taxes, serve in the army. But they are not recognized as belonging to the Jewish people, to which, according to Avineri, the state belongs. Like the million and a half Israeli citizens who are Palestinian Arabs. The state does not belong to them, even though they enjoy – at least formally – full civil rights.

Simply put: the state belongs, according to Avineri, to millions of people who do not live here and who belong to other nations, but does not belong to millions of people who live here and vote for the Knesset.

WHO HAS decided that this is a Jewish state? Avineri and many others assert that the character of the state was decided upon by the resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations of November 29th, 1947, which partitioned the country between a “Jewish state” and an “Arab state”.

Not true.

The UN did not decide upon a state which belongs to all the Jews in the world, any more than upon a state that belongs to all the Arabs in the world. The UN commission which investigated the conflict between the Jews and the Arabs in the country then called Palestine decided (very sensibly) that the only possible solution was to allot to each of the two national communities a state of its own. Nothing more.

In short: the words “Jewish” and “Arab” in the UN resolution have nothing to do with the character of the two states, but only define the two communities in the country that were to establish their states. They have no other meaning.

BUT A professor who comes to this conclusion would be hounded as a “post-Zionist” who must be expelled from his university. According to our little McCarthys, even the debate is absolutely verboten. Verboten to think. Verboten to write. Strictly verboten to speak. In every university there would be Zionist overseers to receive reports about the lectures of professors, check their publications, report what they hear from students who inform on other students, and safeguard ideological purity. Much like the “politruks” – political commissars – in the Soviet Union. Much like the cadres of the “cultural revolution” in China, when thousands of professors and other intellectuals were sent to labor camps or remote villages.

But the results of their labors may be very different from what they expect. Instead of making the term “post-Zionism” a synonym for treason, they may make the term “Zionism” a synonym for fascism, gladdening the hearts of all those around the world who preach a boycott of the “Jewish state”. When the Israeli universities are cleansed of non-conformist thinkers, it will indeed be easy to boycott them.

When you say Zionism, do you mean the humanist vision of Theodor Herzl or Avigdor Lieberman’s Jewish fascism?

(Saturday, August 21, 2010)
source: Media Monitors

For Hebrew, press here
For German, press here

Salman Masalha, "A Jewish and democratic restaurant"
Shlomo Avineri, "A Palestinian people, yes, a Jewish people, no?"

Alexander Yakobson, "What's in the name?"

Friday, August 20, 2010

The poet's political correctness

Salman Masalha

The poet's political correctness

"Music from the Maghreb is poor, limited and unsophisticated," a Kurdish-Turkish musician whispered in my ear during a concert held in southern France last month, as part of the "Mediterranean Voices" festival. As I am not an expert on the secrets of music I tried, upon returning to Israel, to clarify the issue with a friend, who is a Palestinian musician.

"Indeed, that's the way it is," he resolutely confirmed, and went on to elaborate - comparing music of the Maghreb to work by a particular artist who numbers among the "national Palestinian poets," and whose writings he described as ornately hollow and devoid of content. Had such statements come from a critic of European origin, the foolish apostles of political correctness would, no doubt, have hastened to brand their spokesman a racist.

This brought to mind the "Mizrahi" storm that erupted in the wake of Natan Zach's remarks on Israeli culture, exposing the tension between backers of the East and upholders of the West. Epithets like "high culture," "low culture" and "racism" were immediately tossed around.

I have often found myself watching from the sidelines during such affairs, as though my role is to "let the Jews now arise, and play before us." Yet as it seems to me the topic does not belong to this region's "minority group" - that is, the Jews (both those from Arab and Western lands ) - it's time I cease being an amused, passive observer.

Human history, from its start to the present, has witnessed ups and downs in all spheres of life, including cultural affairs. People of all ethnicities, genders, colors and races created in the past, and continue to create today, both high and low culture. The fad of political correctness - which in recent decades has taken hold in cultural studies and public discourse - obstructs judgment seeking to distinguish between good and bad, beautiful and ugly, high and low.

This approach places anything presented as culture on the same normative scale, and even insists on paying respect to everything. But the obstruction of all criticism of what is exhibited publicly is actually responsible for the decline in human culture, not the opposite.

We can therefore say there is high culture and low culture; there is no need to avoid confronting such issues. Is it difficult, for example, to understand that racism and discrimination belong to low culture, while equality between all human beings falls under high culture? The fact that high culture is not the exclusive possession of the West, and low culture is not monopolized by the East, requires no elaboration: Both levels exist in all cultures.

The only parameter dividing between the two types of culture is the extent to which they refine the human soul. High culture refines the soul and sharpens wisdom, whereas low culture adds layers of insensitivity to the soul and mind.

More than anything, all of the cliches that have circulated following Zach's comments reflect a lack of any kind of serious discussion on the topic. The responses sound as if they've been ripped from a gut filled with sublimated cultural tensions that no one has the courage to expose, for fear they will be branded a racist.

The filth called political correctness - which gives cover to dark racism - should be uprooted. Not all criticism, not even criticism at its most blunt, stems from racism. It is permissible and even laudable for all subjects to be discussed. We have a duty to criticize, judge and even take clear positions, even when the views sound unpleasant.

Without being derided as a racist, one can say that the culture of ratings, Peeping Tomism and false expertise that is manufactured by the West belongs to the category of low culture.

One can also say, without being considered a racist, that much of what is deemed "Eastern" lyrics and song falls under low culture, both in terms of its music and its content.
Published: Opinion - Haaretz, August 20, 2010

For Hebrew, press here


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Alexander Yakobson: What's in a name?

Alexander Yakobson: "Masalha complains that in the Israeli reality, the expression "Jewish, democratic state" sometimes serves as a rationalization for discrimination and the exclusion of the Arab minority. Of course it does....", writes in Haaretz in response to "A Jewish and democratic restaurant"...

Alexander Yakobson

What's in a name?

At this advanced stage of the never-ending argument about "the Jewish, democratic state," there's no reason to expect major innovations. How can a state be both Jewish and democratic, someone (for instance, Salman Masalha in Haaretz, August 9 ) will predictably ask. How can a democrat deny the right of the Jewish people to a state, someone else will predictably reply.

Is the problem, perhaps, not the right to a state, but rather the term "Jewish state," which invites anti-democratic interpretations? Perhaps it would be better to find a new term that expresses the same principle? But more than any other formula, the "Jewish state" is a legitimate, internationally recognized term: The UN partition resolution stipulated in 1947 that the land should be divided into a "Jewish state" and an "Arab state" in order to confer independence on the two peoples living in it.

The resolution also required both states, Jewish and Arab, to establish democratic systems and guarantee minority rights. How, then, can one claim that the Jewish state, "by definition," cannot be democratic?

Masalha complains that in the Israeli reality, the expression "Jewish, democratic state" sometimes serves as a rationalization for discrimination and the exclusion of the Arab minority. Of course it does. The question is whether relinquishing the expression would do anything to impede discrimination. This is a total illusion.

Let's assume we were to erase the term "Jewish state." How would that affect the restaurant proprietor whom Masalha suspects of being on the verge of declaring his establishment to be "Jewish and democratic" (so as to justify the exclusion of Arab customers )? In that case, the restaurant owner would have no problem declaring his establishment to be "Israeli" and designed for real Israelis - those who belong to the people of Israel. What would stop him from interpreting the term "Israeli" in such a fashion?

Today, when the "Jewish state" is anchored in the official lexicon, proponents of ethnic discrimination and religious coercion are, of course, happy to make use of the term for their own purposes. But they would have no problem making the same exact use of terms such as "Israel," "Israeli" and even "the Israeli nation." The name "Israel" can easily convey the same legitimate meanings as the term "Jewish state," as well as the same illegitimate interpretations.

Perhaps, then, the root of the problem is the name "Israel" itself? Perhaps we should find a neutral name for the state, such as Switzerland on the Yarkon? Maybe. Meantime, it's worth having a look at what's happening in the original Switzerland.

The flag of that state bears the symbol of the cross, but that does not suffice for its citizens. They recently lined up at the ballot box, in their customary orderly fashion, and voted by a decisive majority for a law banning the construction of minarets in their beautiful country. That's how they preserve the Swiss character of their state. It turns out the name "Swiss Confederation" can indeed be interpreted in such an exclusionary fashion.

Whoever thinks this vote represents only a passing Swiss mood is mistaken: According to a series of surveys, the reason similar laws have not been approved in other West European countries is that in those countries, it is harder to initiate referenda. According to these surveys, large numbers of Europeans want to ban the construction of mosques - and not just minarets.

We are far from being Switzerland, that long-standing, well-established, placid and prosperous democracy in the heart of Europe. Of course, there are more than a few prejudiced people and outright racists here (be they restaurant owners or not ). But if we compare the situation facing Switzerland to that facing the State of Israel, we will find that we have no reason to be ashamed of the typical Israeli restaurant owner.
Published: Opinion - Haaretz, August 19, 2010

For Hebrew, press here

Salman Masalha, "A Jewish and democratic restaurant"
Shlomo Avineri, "A Palestinian people, yes, a Jewish people, no?"

Friday, August 13, 2010

Shlomo Avineri: A Palestinian people, yes, a Jewish people, no?

In response to "A Jewish and Democratic Restaurant,"
Shlomo Avineri Writes in Haaretz:

Just as Jews are not the ones who will determine whether the Palestinians are a people or not, Salman Masalha cannot determine whether the Jews are a people or not. It is a question of self-determination.

Shlomo Avineri

A Palestinian people, yes, a Jewish people, no?

Like many readers, I enjoyed the delicate irony, sharp wit and clever Arab tales featured in Salman Masalha's op-ed ("A Jewish and Democratic Restaurant," August 9 ). But these virtues cannot compensate for the fundamental misunderstanding that underlies his concluding declaration: "There is no such thing as a Jewish democratic state, just as there is no Muslim democratic state." That is where the dog is buried, to continue the animal metaphors.
A boy peering from under an Israeli flag

A boy peering out from under an Israeli flag in April, 2010.
Photo by: Reuters

At the root of this sentence lies a deep, tragic misunderstanding that characterizes many Arab positions on Israel's identity. In the standard Arab view, "Jews" are comparable to "Christians" or "Muslims." In other words, they are a religious group, not a nation. And it is not only Arabs who think this way: There is no doubt that for hundreds of years, Jewish identity was perceived by Jews and non-Jews alike primarily as a religious identity, and some still think so.

But the essence of the Zionist revolution is the view that the Jews are a nation, and as such, they have the right to national self-determination in a political framework. This principle was accepted by the United Nations on November 29, 1947, in its decision to partition British Mandatory Palestine into two states - Jewish and Arab (not Jewish and Muslim-Christian ).

Israel views itself as a Jewish nation-state, exactly as Poland views itself as a Polish nation-state and Greece as a Greek nation-state, or as the Palestinian state, when it arises, will view itself as a Palestinian nation-state.

To be sure, Jewish identity has a religious component, both historically and in our contemporary reality - just as there is a religious dimension to Polish national identity and a Muslim dimension to Arab national identity (Mohammed is not perceived exclusively as the prophet of Islam; Christian Arabs too view him as a hero of the Arab nation ).

One of the problems that complicates attempts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is this very issue - the fact that the Arab side has difficulty recognizing that Jews in the state of Israel view themselves as a nation. Identity is a matter of self-definition, not external definition. Just as Jews are not the ones who will determine whether the Palestinians are a people or not (there are more than a few of us who have yet to be reconciled with the existence of the Palestinian people ), Salman Masalha cannot determine whether the Jews are a people or not. It is a question of self-determination.

Anyone who rejects the Jews' right to define themselves as a nation denies them a fundamental human right, to which Jews, just like the Palestinians, are entitled. Arab refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state attests to something very deep and troubling: unwillingness to accept the Jewish people's right to self-determination.

Because what is at issue is national identity, not religious identity, there can indeed be a Jewish democratic state, just as there can be an Arab democratic state. That, incidentally, is what is written in the constitution of Lebanon, an Arab state that, for all its problems, maintains a political system based on elections and democratic principles.

Clause B of the Preamble to the Lebanese Constitution declares: "Lebanon is Arab in its identity and in its associations." Clause D stipulates: "The people are the source of authority and sovereignty." In other words, Lebanon views itself as an Arab, democratic state.

The constitutions of Syria and Egypt also define their countries' identities as Arab and their systems of government as democratic. While there are, to say the least, problems with the democratic aspect of these countries' regimes, it is nonetheless clear that the drafters of the Syrian and Egyptian constitutions believed that, in principle, there is no contradiction in a state being both Arab and democratic.

And so Arab and democratic is fine, but Jewish and democratic is not? In my dictionary, there is a whiff of racism in this distinction.
Published: Op-Ed, Haaretz, 13 August 2010


For Hebrew, press here.

See: Salman Masalha, "A Jewish and Democratic Restaurant".


Monday, August 9, 2010

A Jewish and democratic restaurant

Salman Masalha

A Jewish and democratic restaurant

Compared to other countries, Israel has been blessed with many scientific inventions. If that were all there were to it, we could stop at this point and simply give thanks.

The problem is that in recent decades we have witnessed Israeli ingenuity in the invention of political concepts. It begins and ends with the slogan "Jewish state and democracy." This is an invention that can be compared to Ya'akov Meridor's famous lightbulb of the 1980s, which was supposed to light up all of Ramat Gan. Just as nobody bought this magic lamp, no clear-minded person could possibly buy this unfounded political turn of phrase. Only in Israel, it appears, do the chivalrous proponents of "Jewish and democratic" try to hitch the ox of "Jewishness" to the ass of "democracy."

Just recently we witnessed the collision between the ox and the ass in the controversy surrounding the "Jewish and democratic" school at the West Bank settlement of Immanuel. If that's the way things are at a Jewish school, it's not hard to imagine what would happen if we examined the state of affairs between Jews and Arabs.

This invented political turn of phrase was not so visible and prevalent in Israeli public discourse before the Six-Day War. It reached monstrous proportions due to the long occupation, which put Israel in a niche where it came to resemble the fox that swallowed a sickle, in the popular Arab tale. Not only did the fox swallow the sickle, it swallowed the screwdriver of the Gaza Strip. The fox could neither digest nor get rid of what had gotten inside it.

Since the occupation did not end and demographic facts continued apace, someone decided to get rid of the Palestinian screwdriver that had gotten stuck in Israel's knee. This removal was called the "Gaza withdrawal." But the demographic sickle remains stuck in the soft underbelly of the Israeli fox.

What is called in the Israeli dialect "the left" fell consciously into a trap set by the right and adopted the mendacious slogan "Jewish and democratic" to win some middle-of-the-road votes and attain Jewish tribal legitimacy. At a critical juncture, a Jewish tribal transformation swept up the state, cresting in the assassination of a prime minister.

There is great significance in the sequence of the words "Jewish and democratic," a phrase that has turned into a mantra uttered in every public discussion. The right relates only to the first part of the slogan, and compels "the left" to discuss the definition of "Jewish." The right would prefer to defer discussion about the essence of the word "democratic" to a later stage of debate about "final-status agreements." Until such time, the right will persist with attempts to cripple steps by the Supreme Court and other branches of government beholden to democracy. It will do its utmost to remove all substance from the term.

Interviewed by the daily Maariv on July 2, Nazareth Illit Mayor Shimon Gafsou expressed consternation about the increasing number of Arab residents in his town. "It would be wrong to forget that Nazareth Illit is a microcosm of the State of Israel," Gafsou said. "It's a Jewish and democratic city, but most of all Jewish."

It seems the phrase is constantly bandied about because it has no weight. With all the rhetoric about "Jewish and democratic," it's hard to see anything Jewish or democratic in the country. The day is not far off when we hear about the establishment of a "Jewish and democratic restaurant," as well as "Jewish and democratic fashion."

What then should the confused, sickle-ridden Israel fox do? He should internalize what is written in the book of Deuteronomy: "Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together."

There is no such thing as a Jewish democratic state, just as there is no Muslim democratic state. Religion and democracy can never dwell under one roof.
Published: Opinion, Haaretz, 9 August 2010


Shlomo Avineri, "A Palestinian people, yes, a Jewish people, no?"
Alexander Yakobson, "What's in the name?"
Uri Avnery, "Poisonous Mushrooms"
Lev Grinberg, "You can't be a Jewish Muslim"

For Hebrew, press here

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Palestinians' chance to win a moral victory

Salman Masalha

The Palestinians' chance
to win a moral victory

In an era of political correctness, there are those who think it appropriate to adjust the message to the audience to which it is directed. I don't agree. In my view, political correctness is a defilement - sweet talk that obscures blatant racism. There is a universal morality that transcends religions, peoples and nations, and is binding on anyone who belongs to the community of humankind.

So when I speak about Gilad Shalit, for example, I call him "the captive Israeli soldier." That's right. Captive and not abducted, which is the term they try to feed the public here. In Israel, they prefer to forget, or deliberately try to make others forget, that Shalit was not abducted. He was taken captive as a soldier in a military operation carried out against an army, in the context of the Palestinian national struggle against the decades-long Israeli occupation. That basic fact turns the act into a legitimate one, carried out by a people fighting for its national liberation.

So far so good, but from this point forward there are other things that have to be said. I have already published them in Arabic for an Arab audience, because it's important for the Palestinians to hear that the Shalit case belongs to them too. It is appropriate that these things be heard in Hebrew as well, and read by all manner of brainwashed Hebrew speakers. The remarks also have to do with the Israeli Palestinians (yes, there are such creatures, who also read and speak Hebrew ).

There is no doubt - this I believe, this I want to believe - that Israeli captive Gilad Shalit is being treated humanely by his captors in Gaza. All of us hope a prisoner exchange deal is carried out quickly, and that the Israeli captive returns to his family and the Palestinian prisoners return to theirs.

Nonetheless, the silence by Palestinian intellectuals over the case is troubling. Hamas is demanding a large number of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit's release.

No one has asked himself what this means from a moral standpoint, in terms of the way the Arabs view the value of each individual Arab. How much is an Israeli prisoner worth compared to Arab or Palestinian prisoners?

The silence of Arab Knesset members is also conspicuous. They cry out, and rightly so, about the injustices of the Israeli occupation and the suffering it causes the Palestinian people, but not a word is heard from them taking a clear moral stand on Shalit. That is their duty. They must rise and wholeheartedly tell the Hamas government in Gaza and Khaled Meshal, who pulls the strings in Damascus, that there are things that are simply unacceptable. They can and must say that refusing to allow the Red Cross to visit the Israeli prisoner is a moral stain on the Palestinian struggle as a whole. If Shalit is a prisoner of war, and he is, then he is certainly entitled to all the rights accorded prisoners of war under international law.

The Palestinian side, which has suffered for decades from the Israeli occupation, can demonstrate moral superiority over the occupier by allowing Shalit's family to visit him, or at least by allowing Red Cross representatives to visit him, just as they visit Palestinian prisoners in Israel.

I have never understood why the Arab side is forsaking the moral arena, leaving it for others. It is acting as though matters of morality are none of its concern. Those who choose to abandon the moral arena should not be indignant over their poor image in the eyes of the world.

Published: Opinion - Haaretz, July 12, 2010

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hypocrisy begins at home

Salman Masalha

Hypocrisy begins at home

It may be that the whole world is dazzlingly two-faced, but we should nevertheless focus on the hypocrites in our own region, since after all, hypocrisy begins at home.

Some six months ago, while it was still licking the wounds caused by the barbs hurled at it from all sides because of the lead it cast in Gaza, Israel was given a chance to improve its image. It seized the opportunity presented by the horrendous earthquake that devastated Haiti and rapidly dispatched a relief delegation. Thus, while denying the children of Gaza pencils and notebooks, Israel poured aid into a country thousands of kilometers away.

Perhaps now, in the wake of the Turkish flotilla affair, there are specimens of the local breed of hypocrites who are silently praying for some natural disaster to strike somewhere in the world that will enable Israel to unsheathe this rusty propaganda weapon once again.

But hypocrisy is not confined to Israelis. It seems that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has learned a lesson from Israel: The Turkish flotilla to Gaza was in fact one big public relations exercise. Erdogan noticed that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was raking in the whole popular Arab jackpot called Palestine, and he also wanted to grab some of it. The Palestinian-Israeli jackpot is a photogenic one, and every home with a satellite dish on its roof watches what happens to it.

And now there's talk of another "humanitarian" flotilla in aid of Gaza. Another convoy of hypocrisy, well-covered by the media, is setting sail, this time from Lebanon, of all places. Now that the Lebanese have boosted their national pride by registering the world's biggest dish of hummus in the Guinness Book of Records, they are bidding for the record in hypocrisy, soon to be seen on television screens everywhere. For it is not humanitarian motives or concern for the Palestinians that are making all these hypocrites restless. All they want is spectacle, footage and headlines. Because as we have already said, the Israeli-Palestinian arena is the most photogenic arena in the world.

If they had any genuine humanitarian concern, the Lebanese would stage protests against the harsh blockade that has been imposed on the Palestinian refugee camps in their country for decades. You have to read Amnesty International's reports on the situation of the Palestinians in Lebanon to comprehend the humanitarian disaster there. This hypocrisy was best described by a European volunteer in those camps, who told the organizers of the new flotilla: "You love the Palestinians in Gaza and hate your own Palestinians."

Since 1948, the Palestinians have been a pawn in the hands of the Arab and Muslim regimes. The problem was exacerbated because the Palestinians themselves willingly accepted that role. And so we are witnessing a situation in which the Palestinian nation, even before it has taken on a coherent shape, has split into two: Gaza, backed by Iran and Syria, and the West Bank, backed by Egypt and Saudi Arabia. And then there are the "opsimists" (to use the oxymoron coined by the late Palestinian author Emil Habibi ) - the Israeli Palestinians sitting on the fence and trying to please everyone.

One reason for all this is the absence of a Palestinian leadership - political, social or cultural - worthy of the name. Six decades after the Nakba, the Palestinians have not even managed to turn themselves into a nation with a clear national agenda.

It looks as if this place, the cradle of monotheism, will continue to be a pawn in the hands of regional and international powers, a region so well covered by the media that all of the world's hypocrites rush over here to try to wipe away the moral stains that have tarnished them.
Published: Op-Ed, Haaretz, June 24, 2010

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

All in the Same Boat

Salman Masalha

All in The Same Boat

The analytic mind who holds the political security portfolio in the “didn’t know, didn’t hear, didn’t see” government of Israel has finally found the light at the end of the open sewer.

“The hasbara (public relations, propaganda) in the operation was flawed,” said Defense Minister Ehud Barak in the Labor Party cabinet ministers’ forum.


Now the very energetic and very catalytic spokesman for the pirate army is bombarding the media with immaculately edited films and cheap, colorful propaganda pictures. However, the more films and pictures the spokesman distributes, the more he sinks himself and those who send him, both the state and the government, in the pool of quicksand into which they have jumped.

The energetic spokesman has distributed a film in which supposedly a stun grenade explodes on the rubber dinghy of the naval commando soldiers who closed in on the Marmara. However, no edited film can launder the piratical crime committed by the Israel Defense Forces out in the Mediterranean Sea. The spokesman only forgot to mention one very simple fact: This grenade is an IDF grenade the soldiers lobbed in their attempt to get control of the huge uproar taking place on the deck. It can’t be helped that this is the stun grenade that fell on the rubber dinghy circling the Marmara to cut it off.

The more one watches the films and examines the pictures distributed by the hasbara captains, the clearer the pictures become and expose their wretchedness. Here is another photo distributed by the IDF spokesman. So, what do we see in this “incriminating” picture?

The analytical minds that sobered up looked for more and more incriminating findings and gathered together the objects in the previous picture. Thus in the new picture we see some more simple kitchen knives as well as the same knife with a curved blade from the previous picture.

After an exacting search two more “very incriminating” items were found in the ship’s toolbox. The analytic mind’s catalytic spokesman carefully added them and arranged them clearly in the foreground of the new color picture. It is easy to discern that there are two rusty saws, which had apparently been lying around in some crate without anyone having touched them or used them for a very long time.

I show this picture to a friend and explain my findings from the picture. Sarcastically, she replies: “Very evil people, those Turks. It was all planned. They knew that rusty tools can cause tetanus and other horrible diseases.”

In the caption under the pictures published on the Ynet site the IDF Spokesman says: “The activists on the deck were armed with knives,” and “No one is really talking about the knives that were found on the ship.”

About this we shall say: You are right. So here we are, talking about them.


See also: "A Picture Worth 190 Words"


published also in: Middle East Transparent

For Hebrew, press here

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