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"



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

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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"


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

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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?"


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



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?"


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".



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

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  • Welcome Back to History

    Islam, like other imperialist ideologies, still needs enemies to flourish. Enemies have served Islam in the past as fuel for its wagons. Without enemies Islam declines and stagnates...

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  • The pit and the pendulum

    In those days, we did not drink four goblets of wine, because everything that gladdens the human heart is not a part of our custom.

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  • Solomon’s Mosque

    Religion, every religion, is the No. 1 enemy of nationalism. But under conditions of tension, such as tribal warfare, these polar opposites combine into a toxic soup that consumes all common sense.

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  • Never-ending tragedy

    The Israeli right, in all its forms, wants exclusively Jewish control over all of the Land of Israel. To the Palestinians who live in this space, it promises residency – temporary, of course, on condition that they keep their heads down, accept their designated status and behave accordingly.

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  • Hamas in the service of Israel

    Hamas rule isn’t the enemy of the Israeli right. Au contraire, it’s the loyal servant of all the right-wing governments. Since the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the Six-Day War, all Israeli governments have devoted all their time and energy to fighting the Palestinian national movement


מיון החומרים


Selected Topics

  • Martin Niemöller

    First they came for the Communists
    And I did not speak out
    Because I was not a Communist.
    Then they came for the Socialist
    And I did not speak out
    Because I was not a Socialist.

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  • Salman Masalha

    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.
  • Balkrishna Sama

    He who loves flowers, has a tender heart.
    he who cannot pluck their blooms,
    has a heart that's noble.

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