21 August 2011

A Jewish State or a Democratic State? Kahane's Revenge

Avi Dichter of Kadimah Proposes to Cut the Gordonian Knot at the Heart of Zionist Politics -

The question of whether Israel could be both a Jewish and a Democratic state has been the conundrum at the heart of Israeli politics. The Declaration of Independence pledged that the Israeli Stated would ‘
be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.the equality of all who lived there.’

However this Declaration, fine words though it contained, has no force in law. Quite deliberately the Jewish People’s Council voted not to have a written constitution. This was quite unique for a newly independent country but it was necessary if the State was to avoid defining borders or the rights of the Arab minority. Although formally partition had been accepted, the Zionist movement intended to take more than the 54% of the land allocated to a Jewish State and of course it ended up with about 78%..

Since then this contradiction has been resolved, almost entirely, in favour of the Jewish at the expense of the democratic. Of course this was inevitable given that the State of Israel was founded on genocide and expulsion. Massacres, of which there were about 30, killed thousands and ¾ Palestinian Arabs fled the Zionist terror. But still there was a token commitment to the ‘democratic’ something which came to the fore in the 2005 decision of the Supreme Court in the Kadaan case that the Israeli Lands Authority in conjunction with the Jewish National Fund could not refuse to lease or rent land to Arabs. Ways have since been found round that by allowing existing communities to veto new residents on ‘community’ grounds. But still it left a nasty taste in the Zionist mouth.

In 1984 the overtly Nazi Rabbi Meir Kahane obtained twenty-five thousand votes and was elected to the Knesset on a programme of expelling the Arabs, making sexual relations between Jew and non-Jew a crime. He argued that that there is a conflict between a Jewish and a Democratic State. In 2005 following the Kadaan ruling the JNF’s site explicitly stated that Jews have not yearned for 2,000 years for a democratic state, it is a Jewish state that they wanted.

Today Avi Dichter, a member of the ‘left’ Zionist opposition in the Knesset and former head of the secret police, Shin Bet, introduced a law which states that in the event of a conflict between the Jewish and Democratic, the latter will give way and further that when the judiciary is in need of guidance it can draw on Jewish religious law (Halachah).

The argument is quite simply. If demographics are allowed to take their course then the Arabs, with their higher birthrate will eventually become the majority and in accordance with democratic norms will rule the state. Even worse. Given that the Occupied Territories are not going to be given back, then it may well be that their inhabitants have to be given the vote one day. End of Jewish State. Hence this law. Most democracies give special guarantees and rights to minorities. Not Israel. Its sole concern is the threat to the ‘Jewish’ character of the state.
But we should welcome this law. Certainly if I was a Knesset member I would vote in favour. Why? Because it makes explicit what has previously been implicit. Far better that there is honesty in law than that Israeli Apartheid should remain at the level of administrative and political and judicial practice. It is far better that these things are spelt out so that the next time the US Congress votes to support Israel we can see how many Black members are voting in favour of Apartheid and for that matter how many White members are prepared to support the openly Apartheid State of Israel.

This is despite Uri Avneri’s fulminations below (Avneri is one of the only genuine left-Zionists who has campaigned for an end to the occupation).

Below is also an article from Haaretz appropriately entitled 'Jewish Sharia'.

Tony Greenstein

August 13, 2011

“THE PEOPLE Demand Social Justice!” 250 thousand protesters chanted in unison in Tel Aviv last Saturday. But what they need – to quote an American artist - is “more unemployed politicians”.

Fortunately, the Knesset has gone on a prolonged vacation, three months. For as Mark Twain quipped: “No man’s life or property is safe while the legislature is in session.”

As if to prove this point, MK Avi Dichter submitted, on the very last day of the outgoing session, a bill so outrageous that it easily trumps all the many other racist laws lately adopted by this Knesset.

“DICHTER” IS A German name and means “poet”. But no poet he. He is the former chief of the secret police, the “General Security Service” (Shin-Bet or Shabak). (“Dichter also means “more dense”, but let’s not dwell on that.)

He proudly announced that he had spent a year and a half smoothening and sharpening this particular project, turning it into a legislative masterpiece.

And a masterpiece it is. No colleague in yesterday’s Germany or present-day Iran could have produced a more illustrious piece. The other members of the Knesset seem to feel so, too – no less than 20 of the 28 members of the Kadima faction, as well as all the other dyed-in-the-wool racist members of this august body, have proudly put their name to this bill as co-authors.

The very name - “Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People” - shows that this Dichter is neither a poet nor much of an intellectual. Secret police chiefs seldom are.

“Nation” and “People” are two different concepts. It is generally accepted that a people is an ethnic entity, and a nation is a political community. They exist on two different levels. But never mind.

It is the content of the bill that counts.

WHAT DICHTER proposes is to put an end to the official definition of Israel as a “Jewish and Democratic State”.

He proposes instead to set clear priorities: Israel is first and foremost the nation-state of the Jewish people, and only as a far second a democratic state. Wherever democracy clashes with the Jewishness of the state, Jewishness wins, democracy loses.

This makes him, by the way, the first right-wing Zionist (apart from Meir Kahane) who openly admits that there is a basic contradiction between a “Jewish” state and a “democratic” state. Since 1948, this has been strenuously denied by all Zionist factions, their phalanx of intellectuals and the Supreme Court.

What the new definition means is that the State of Israel belongs to all the Jews in the world – including Senators in Washington, drug-dealers in Mexico, oligarchs in Moscow and casino-owners in Macao, but not to the Arab citizens of Israel, who have been here for at least 1300 years since the Muslims entered Jerusalem. Christian Arabs trace their ancestry back to the crucifixion 1980 years ago, Samaritans were here 2500 years ago and many villagers are probably the descendents of the Canaanites, who were already here some 5000 years ago.

All these will become, once this bill is law, second-class citizens, not only in practice, as now, but also in official doctrine. Whenever their rights clash with what the majority of the Jews considers necessary for the preservation of the interests of the “nation-state of the Jewish people” – which may include everything from land ownership to criminal legislation –their rights will be ignored.

THE BILL itself does not leave much room for speculation. It spells things out.

The Arabic language will lose its status as an “official language” – a status it enjoyed in the Ottoman Empire, under the British Mandate and in Israel until now. The only official language in the Nation-State etc will be Hebrew.

No less typical is the paragraph that says that whenever there is a hole in Israeli law (called “lacuna”’ or lagoon), Jewish law will apply.

“Jewish law” is the Talmud and the Halakha, the Jewish equivalent of the Muslim Sharia. It means in practice that legal norms adopted 1500 years ago and more will trump the legal norms evolved over recent centuries in Britain and other European countries. Similar clauses exist in the laws of countries like Pakistan and Egypt. The similarity between Jewish and Islamic law is not accidental - Arabic-speaking Jewish sages, like Moses Maimonides (“the Rambam”) and their contemporary Muslim legal experts influenced each other.

The Halakha and the Sharia have much in common. They ban pork, practice circumcision, keep women in servitude, condemn homosexuals and fornicators to death and deny equality for infidels. (In practice, both religions have modified many of the harsher penalties. In the Jewish religion, for example, “an eye for an eye” now means compensation. Otherwise, as Gandhi so aptly said, we would all be blind by now.)

After enacting this law, Israel will be much nearer to Iran than to the USA. The “Only Democracy in the Middle East” will cease to be a democracy, but be very close in its character to some of the worst regimes in this region. “At long last, Israel is integrating itself in the region,” as an Arab writer mocked - alluding to a slogan I coined 65 years ago: “Integration in the Semitic Region”.

MOST OF the Knesset members who signed this bill fervently believe in “the Whole of Eretz-Israel” – meaning the official annexation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

They don’t mean the “One-State solution” that so many well-intentioned idealists dream about. In practice, the only One State that is feasible is one governed by Dichter’s law - the “Nation-State of the Jewish People” - with the Arabs relegated to the status of the Biblical “hewers of wood and drawers of water”.

Sure, the Arabs will be a majority in this state – but who cares? Since the Jewishness of the state will override democracy, their numbers will be irrelevant. Much as the number of blacks was in Apartheid South Africa.

LET’S HAVE a look at the party to which this poet of racism belongs: Kadima.

When I was in the army, I was always amused by the order: “the squad will retreat to the rear – forward march!”

This may sound absurd, but is really quite logical. The first part of the order relates to its direction, the second to its execution.

“Kadima” means “forward”, but its direction is backward.

Dichter is a prominent leader of Kadima. Since his only claim to distinction is his former role as chief of the secret police, this must be why he was elected. But he has been joined in this racist project by more than 80% of the Kadima Knesset faction – the largest in the present parliament.

What does this say about Kadima?

Kadima has been a dismal failure in practically every respect. As an opposition faction in parliament it is a sad joke – indeed, I dare say that when I was a one-man faction in the Knesset, I generated more opposition activity than this 28-headed colossus. It has not formulated any meaningful stand on peace and the occupation, not to mention social justice.

Its leader, Tzipi Livni, has proved herself a total failure. Her only achievement has been her ability to keep her party together – no mean feat, though, considering that it consists of refugees (some would say traitors) from other parties, who hitched their cart to Ariel Sharon’s surging horses when he left the Likud. Most Kadima leaders left the Likud with him, and – like Livni herself – are deeply steeped in Likud ideology. Some others came from the Labor Party, arm in arm with that unsavory political prostitute, Shimon Peres.

This haphazard collection of frustrated politicians has tried several times to outflank Binyamin Netanyahu on the right. Its members have co-signed almost all the racist bills introduced in recent months, including the infamous “Boycott Law” (though when public opinion rebelled, they withdrew their signature, and some of them even voted against.)

How did this party get to be the largest in the Knesset, with one more seat than Likud? For left-wing voters, who were disgusted by Ehud Barak’s Labor Party and who dismissed the tiny Meretz, it seemed the only chance to stop Netanyahu and Lieberman. But that may change very soon.

LAST SATURDAY’s huge protest demonstration was the largest in Israel’s history (including the legendary “400,000 demo” after the Sabra-Shatilah massacre, whose real numbers were slightly lower). It may be the beginning of a new era.

It is impossible to describe the sheer energy emanating from this crowd, consisting mostly of 20-30-year-olds. History, like a gigantic eagle, could be felt beating its wings above. It was a jubilant mass, conscious of its immense power.

The protesters were eager to shun “politics” – reminding me of the words of Pericles, some 2500 years ago, that “just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean that politics won’t take an interest in you!”

The demonstration was, of course, highly political – directed against Netanyahu, the government and the entire social order. Marching in the dense crowd, I looked around for kippa-wearing protesters and could not spot a single one. The whole religious sector, the right-wing support group of the settlers and Dichter’s Law, was conspicuously absent, while the Oriental Jewish sector, the traditional base of Likud, was amply represented.

This mass protest is changing the agenda of Israel. I hope that it will result in due course in the emergence of a new party, which will change the face of the Knesset beyond recognition. Even a new war or another “security emergency” may not avert this.

That will surely be the end of Kadima, and few will mourn it. It would also mean bye-bye to Dichter, the Secret Police poet.

'The National Home of the Jewish People' bill presumes to represent Diaspora Jews; they will have to decide whether they want to continue living abroad in a democratic country that lets them practice their faith as they wish, or in a Jewish state that robs the foundations of democracy from them.

The superfluous mask has finally been torn off. A Jewish state and a democratic state cannot exist under the same roof. One contradicts the other. In his explanations for the bill that he initiated with Kadima's Avi Dichter and Yisrael Beiteinu's David Rotem - this marvelous combination should be etched well in our memories - Likud's Zeev Elkin said that "the law is designed to give the courts reasoning that supports the state as the Jewish nation-state when ruling in situations in which the state's Jewish character clashes with the principles of democracy."

There was no need to wait for Elkin's explanations or to be angry about the support of the 20 MKs from that strange party, Kadima, which behaves like a car in which not only the headlights don't work, neither do the hazards. The Jewish sharia bill, which the MKs introduced furtively before fleeing for their long recess, will only make the existing situation official. It will make clear to any Jew in the world that a blend of democracy and Judaism is only possible in the Diaspora.

To "be a Jew in your tent and a man in the street," as in the poem by Yehuda Leib Gordon - which became the slogan of the Haskala, the Jewish Enlightenment - is possible only for an American, French or British Jew. In Jewish Israel, a Jew can be a Jew only - democracy will officially be defined as a luxury. It will be possible only in cases where religion permits it. And religion will permit it only when it does not contradict the word of God. Sovereignty is transferred from the citizen to the Holy One, blessed be He, and his interpreters on earth.

On the other hand, it's hard to oppose a bill that puts the State of Israel so near the other countries in the region and creates a foundation of understanding among the nations based on granting religion a higher priority than the state and government. For example, the Egyptian constitution states that "the Islamic principles of law are the main source for legislation." According to the Syrian constitution, "Muslim law is the source for legislation."

Actually, it seems the Iranian constitution could serve as an excellent inspiration for the country's commitment to promoting God as a main source of legislation. This constitution requires the country to create "the proper environment for the growth of ethical values based on faith, piety and a battle against corruption." This "proper environment" imposes the will of religion on art, science, the media and of course education.

The Israeli bill is not as far-reaching. It does not demand that "Jewish art" be an exclusive subject for study and does not prohibit the teaching of science that contradicts faith. Although it revokes Arabic's status as an official language, it still permits Arab citizens "the right to linguistic access to government services, as will be determined by law," unlike Turkey's approach to the Kurdish language. But there is no prohibition against passing a law that will prohibit this right as well.

The bill does not yet rule that Jewish law is the main source of authority for legislation, and for now makes do with the fact that Jewish law "will serve as a source of inspiration for the legislator." And when there is no solution in legislation, case law or "a clear analogy," the court will be required to decide according to the principles of "freedom, justice, integrity and peace in the Jewish heritage."

What exactly are those principles? "An eye for an eye"? Or "a stranger shalt thou not wrong"? And what are the principles of peace in the Jewish heritage? Those of Rotem, Aryeh Eldad (National Union ) and Yulia Shamalov Berkovich (Kadima), or those of Nachman Shai (Kadima ), Benjamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) and Meir Sheetrit (Kadima) - who are all signatories to the bill? Do "the principles of peace" permit territorial compromise or does the Promised Land, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, constitute the borders of the Jewish nation-state?

The bill, which is called "The National Home of the Jewish People," presumes to represent Diaspora Jews as well. But from now on they will have to decide whether they want to continue living abroad in a democratic country that lets them practice their faith as they wish, or in a Jewish state that robs the foundations of democracy from them. This is usually a silent Jewish community that is tolerant of its country of refuge, a refuge that is gradually becoming crammed with garbage that is liable to keep away any liberal Jew.

1 comment:

  1. Briliant analysis,Tony. I like the analogy between the Halakah and Sharia law. In their present form, they both have no place as part of the civil law of modern and democratic societies .

    Ruth Tenne


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