What We’ve Lost

by zunguzungu

Defining a state in terms of its particular ethnic citizenry is, in really important ways, incompatible with also defining that state as a democracy: if being ethnically abnormal deprives you of your citizenry, you cannot really be living in democratic state, right? When it comes to Israel, an Israeli newspaper like Haaretz will allow this kind of observation to be made, and the American mainstream media never does.

Gideon Levy, for example, argued in Haaretz that “Defining Israel as a Jewish state condemns us to living in a racist state”:

Israel is not the only place where racism is on the rise. Europe and the United States are awash in a turbid wave of xenophobia; but in Israel, this racism is embedded in the state’s most fundamental values. There is no other state whose immigration laws are blatantly and unequivocally based on the candidates’ bloodlines. Jewish blood, whether authentic or dubious, is kosher. Other blood, from those of other creeds or nationalities, is unacceptable. No country throws its doors wide open to everyone, but while other states take social, economic and cultural considerations into account in Israel bloodline is the name of the game. How else are we to understand the fact that someone who was born here, who speaks the language, cherishes its values and even serves in the military, can be unceremoniously expelled while a member of the Bnei Menashe community in India or the grandson of a half-Jew from Kazakhstan are welcomed with open arms.

…One could understand the need after the Holocaust, the necessity in the first years of the state, but 62 years after the founding of the state the time has come to reexamine the long-obsolete concepts. Does anyone actually know the meaning of the term “Jewish state” that we bandy about so much? Does it mean a state for Jews only? Is it not a new kind of “racial purity”? Is the “demographic threat” greater than the danger of the state’s becoming a religious enthnocracy or an apartheid state? Wouldn’t it be better to live in a just democracy? And how is it even possible to speak about a state being both Jewish and democratic?

The late, great Tony Judt was born of a secular Jewish upbringing, educated in Hebrew schools, and was a sufficiently committed young Zionist to have volunteered on a kibbutz during the six day war in 1967. But when he dared to argue, in 2003, that Israel should extend full citizen rights to everyone its government claimed authority over — instead of having one law for its real citizens and another law for the people it had merely conquered and absorbed as second-class subjects — he was widely reviled and attacked as a self-hating Jew, targeted by the ADL, and was even kicked off the masthead and editorial board of the New Republic for his wrongthink.

A few years later, Judt wrote one of the better things I’ve ever read — in Haaratz, of course — about the six-day war and Israel, and it’s much to good for me to copy and paste an excerpt. I respect Tony Judt’s words too much to countenance anything but reading the whole thing, which I urge you to do.