By George Polley
Israel as a Jewish state is unworkable for one simple reason: non-Jews are treated differently than Jews, leaving non-Jews in a lesser-than position in which they have fewer rights than Jews, and are required to carry a special identification card that identifies them as non-Jews, and must be surrendered whenever requested by a Jewish authority.
“In a Jewish state,” writes Israeli journalist and leftist Larry Derfner, “a gentile has a lesser standing, a lesser share in the state, than a Jew” has. (1) One needn’t look far to discover why. In secular Zionist and religious thought, Jews are called by God to separate themselves from other nations as God’s special representatives on earth. The Zionist enterprise looked to create a modern Jewish state of Israel to be the homeland of and for Jews anywhere in the world, a nation in which they would feel free and safe in their Jewish identity. The message to Arabs living there was (and continues to be) that they were and are not welcome. The method used to deliver that message has from the beginning been violent, the violence excused because the Arabs fought back when attacked. What they should have done, the message is, is accept the Jewish invasion without complaint. The problem is that no self-respecting people will do that. The message is a simple one: The Jewish state does not care what you experience, think or feel. Obey or suffer the consequences.
Though the idea of a Jewish homeland sounded sound, especially after the murders of six million Jews and other “unacceptables” during Hitler’s mad regime, the reality has not been nice at all for Palestine’s indigenous Arab population. Nor has it created the safe haven for Jews that the founders of modern Israel hoped for. The reason is obvious: the system they created guarantees perpetual conflict between the privileged Jewish population and non-Jews living there. What the Zionists did was set up a system that guarantees continuous conflict and outbursts of violence. In other words, they set up a system that guarantees the failure of their initial plan and perpetuates the suffering and lack of security they say they do not want. It’s a classic case of victims guaranteeing their perpetual victimhood by mistreating others. It’s what happens when one group of people sets itself up as superior to other people. Do it and you shouldn’t complain when they fight back.
Founding a nation on a principle of specialness duplicates Hitler’s racist society in which one group is treated as “special” and everyone else as “outsiders”. In the modern state of Israel, non-Jews are called “goyim”, a word meaning non-Jew that also means “cattle.” (2) Cattle may be useful animals, but they are definitely not human. The message is a sinister one: Goyim living in a society where this dichotomy is the rule of law are treated as subhumans. And in Israel, this is exactly what has happened from the beginning. It’s the old “separate-but-equal” system in which separate means unequal, and everyone knows it. If you wish to perpetuate conflict, this is a wonderful way to do it.
Within the Jewish state, the Occupied Territories and Gaza, Arabs and other goyim are treated the way Hitler’s mad regime treated the Jews. About a year ago I read a description of a young, blond member of Israel’s Shin Bet brutally beating a young Palestinian journalist for having returned home with a journalism award he’d received in Europe. Here was a young Jewish man treating a young Palestinian man like a cockroach for daring to behave like a human being. The image that came immediately to my mind reading this was “He’s acting like a member of the Gestapo or SS.” When this kind of violence is repeated often enough, the mental association between “Jew” and “violence toward others” becomes is a natural one. But this is overlooked by people in Israel’s government and thousands of people like Larry Derfner who miss the obvious point that organizing a nation and a society based on “Us-Them” relationships ends in tragedy for everyone.
A democracy Israel is not, even though it defines itself as one, insists that it is one, and its chief benefactor says it is one. Even Larry Derfner knows that. “The principles of a ‘Jewish state’ and a ‘democratic state’”, he writes, “inherently clash.” He may not like it, but clash they do. Yet, like so many people, he tries to make it palatable: “I think it’s possible for the country’s gentiles — virtually all of them Israeli Arabs, who are 20% of the population — to be about as equal as they’d want to be (my emphasis) in a country where 80% of the people are Jews.” Does he have any curiosity about what this would be like? He doesn’t appear to have. Like most everyone else who practices such contradictory thinking, he justifies it by saying that it’s impossible for the Arab minority to become “fully Israeli because their loyalty will always be divided between the state and their people.” What he’s saying is that it is impossible for Jews to admit gentiles into their system on an equal basis, because that would mean giving up their Jewish identity as the primary way they identify themselves.
Though Larry Derfner admits the inequalities in the system, he and others like him see no contradiction in it. The system may be abusive, but he denies it by minimizing it. I guess imagining himself living as an Arab is too painful a thing for him to contemplate, so he ignores it. Besides, they’re not “special” like the Jews, so it doesn’t matter. That’s how denial works.
He concludes his post by thinking of the world during the first half of the 20th century, and asking himself this question: “Which was more undemocratic, Zionism to the Arabs of Palestine or anti-Semitism to the Jews of Europe and Russia and, to a lesser extent, the Middle East? [T]he answer,” he says, “is easy: anti-Semitism. And this, finally, is how I, as a democrat, justify the creation of the Jewish state – because it was more democratic than what it came to replace, which was anti-Semitism.” Which justifies everything that has happened since the first Zionists set foot in Palestine.
If I were Jewish, I would dissociate myself from Israel, its violence and its claims of chosenness. I would do it for two reasons: First, I believe that societies in which all people are treated with respect and have equal opportunity and worth as people are not only the best places to live, but are the hope of a viable future. Second, I fear a rise of a new wave of anti-Semitism if people begin to connect Israel’s violently abusive, arrogant behavior against non-Jews as “Jewish” behavior. This will not surprise me, as abusive systems create their own worst nightmares. Personally, I want nothing to do with such systems, and certainly do not want to live in or be associated with one.
If Israel wants to survive as a state, it has to become a state of all its citizens. For people like Larry Derfner, this will not be easy, because it means giving up being special and having exclusive rights to a land (all of Palestine, not just the land within Israel’s assigned borders) where Arabs have lived far longer than the Jews who invaded it and took it over, claiming God gave it to them over three thousand years ago. It means learning to live as members of that more inclusive tribe called human, while maintaining an identity as Jewish members of the human tribe. I am an American, but I see myself as a member of the wider human family, not just the narrow one bounded by U.S. borders and citizenship. Americans are not “special”, though we like to think we are.
If Israel fails in this enterprise, I fear for its future. Israel has made itself a pariah state in the eyes of many and, even though it maintains a powerful lobby in the US, the UK and other European states, the day may soon dawn when Israel has worn out its welcome with them and even with the world’s Jewry.
In case anyone reading this wonders if I support the right to call itself a Jewish state, here is my answer. It has the right to call itself a Jewish state, and even to try to continue existing as one. To continue following that course, however, is suicidal. It is also immoral and terribly, terribly foolish.
Do I support Israel as a Jewish state? No, I most definitely do not.
– George Polley is a Japan-based American writer. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.
(1) “Why I’m for a Jewish state” ( http://israelleft.com2011/05/13/why-im-for-a-jewish-state/ )
(2) Urban Dictionary.