A movement is growing for the adoption of a “binational” form of government in Israel/Palestine. With the failure of the so-called Geneva Accords — signed on Dec. 1, 2003, in Switzerland — to promote the creation of a viable Palestinian state, equal rights activists are increasingly turning to the concept of a one-state solution that encompasses all of modern Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as the most practical and peaceful manner to improve the living conditions and security of all inhabitants in Israel/Palestine, no matter their ethnicity or religion.
Advocates of apartheid in Israel are concerned by the growing binational movement because they realize the country’s Jewish majority would no longer dominate civil affairs, as was enshrined in law with the creation of Israel in 1948, if the nation were to transform into a truly democratic state where no law favored one ethnic or religious group over another and where all ethnic groups and religions could flourish free of government control.
“[W]ith the current bloody stalemate and failure to negotiate a two-state solution, some observers have turned again to the binational option,” Yossi Klein Halevi observes in the Oct. 10, 2003, issue of the Los Angeles Times. Binationalism would not lead to coexistence, he writes. Rather, Klein Halevi, a contributing editor to the New Republic and an associate fellow at the Shalem Center, a think tank in Jerusalem, argues that the birthrate of the Arab residents “would exceed that of the Jews, and sooner rather than later the Jewish inhabitants would find themselves a discreet minority group subsumed in a hostile nation. ‘Binational state’ is a code word for eliminating Jewish sovereignty.”
Advocates of apartheid in Israel often describe the binational solution as leading to the destruction of the Jewish state. Melanie Phillips, a British journalist and winner of the Orwell prize for journalism in 1996, describes as “loathsome” the concept of a multicultural Israel and Palestine. She blasts New York University Professor Tony Judt for advocating in the Oct. 23, 2003, issue of the New York Review of Books the creation of a binational state in Israel. In that article, Judt argues that the “very idea of a ‘Jewish state’ — a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded — is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism.”
Phillips says that Judt makes no mention of Israel being “the only democracy in the Middle East.” She also calls “obscene” Judt’s representation that Israel’s policy of granting only Jews automatic citizenship as discriminatory.
The supporters of Israeli apartheid certainly make a valid point when they cite the despicable anti-Jewish policies of Israel’s neighboring countries in the Middle East. But, as Judt asks, in today’s “clash of cultures” between open, pluralist democracies and belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno-states, does Israel want to be in the “wrong camp?”
Would the “destruction” of an oppressive government apparatus that applies a generally benign set of laws to one group of people and a generally repressive set of laws to another be a bad thing? I don’t think so. Just as I don’t think the destruction of all of the oppressive Islamic governments around the world would be a bad thing.
When advocates of apartheid in Israel use the word “destruction” against their opponents, they are seeking to evoke the image of millenniums of suffering endured by Jews, culminating in European governments’ attempts to eradicate Jews throughout the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. There is, however, more than a subtle difference between, on the one hand, what happened when a powerful German government and its confederates across Europe sought to disappear an entire group of people in the 1930s and 1940s and, on the other, equal rights advocates working today toward dismantling an extremely oppressive and noxious governmental system in Israel/Palestine.
In the Oct. 9, 2003, issue of the Christian Science Monitor, Helena Cobban, the British-born American writer, makes an eloquent argument for a binational state in Israel/Palestine. The apparent demise of the so-called “roadmap” to peace between Israel and the Palestinians probably marked the end of the long-pursued concept of a two-state solution, she says. “For if a two-state solution were to provide the stability and security that both peoples so desperately crave, the resulting Palestinian state would have to be just as viable as the Israeli state with whose fate it would always be so closely entwined,” Cobban writes. “But continued implantation of Israeli settlers and all their supporting infrastructure into the West Bank has brought about a situation in which the establishment of a viable Palestinian state looks impossible.”
If the transformation from apartheid to democracy worked in South Africa, why can’t a similar process take place in Israel/Palestine? “If Israeli settlers want to stay in the West Bank — let them stay! But if they want to stay there and be part of a community built on long-term peace, then they cannot refuse to give equal rights within the whole of an expanded state of Israel/Palestine to all Palestinians who want to be a part of it,” Cobban argues.
Right on cue, the Israeli apartheid lobby here in the United States took Cobban to task for daring to compare Israeli government practices to South Africa’s apartheid regime. In an Oct. 17, 2003, letter to the editor, Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman tells readers of the Christian Science Monitor that there is “no basis of comparison between the political character of Israel today and South Africa’s apartheid.”
Foxman goes on to argue, without a shred of irony, that “Israel has always been a democracy where all citizens, regardless of religion, ethnicity, or color, are accorded full civil and political rights, and equal participation in all aspects of Israeli social, political, civic life.” In the very next sentence, however, Foxman says it’s unfortunate that Cobban “advocates the demise of the Jewish state when every state has a right to control its borders and maintain its fundamental identity.”
Since Israel’s creation in 1948, academics and activists have maintained that the concept of a “Jewish state” cannot coexist with democracy. Furthermore, maintaining a “fundamental identity,” as Foxman says is Israel’s right, is also what Hitler sought to accomplish in Germany, although Jewish citizens of Germany were the ones whose existence didn’t mesh with Hitler’s warped concept of a German identify just as Palestinians today are cast aside in the development of an Israeli identity.
Uri Strauss of the University of Massachusetts says that characterizing Israel as both Jewish and democratic is contradictory. “A state can either be democratic, or it can be Jewish, but not both,” Strauss argues.
Specifically, Strauss notes that the Israeli government can disqualify candidates for political office of any party that opposes the Jewish character of the state. “This law has been used to disqualify candidates for calling for a democratic state, in which all citizens have equal rights,” Strauss says.
There are also a number of laws in Israel, Strauss explains, that discriminate against Palestinians on the basis of race. “For example, 93% of the land in Israel is, by law, under the trusteeship of the Jewish National Fund. By the JNF’s constitution, this land is for the exclusive use of Jews — it may not be rented or leased by Palestinians.”
Uri Davis, an Israeli Jew and author of Israel: An Apartheid State, notes that, unlike the United States, which recognizes, under a democratic constitution, one universal citizenship for all U.S. citizens without distinction of nationality, religion, language, tribe, sex, sexual orientation or any other social status, Israel does not have one single universal citizenship for all of its citizens. “Rather, informed by the dominant ideology of political Zionism, the Israeli legislator (the Knesset) legislated a schedule of four classes of citizenship based on racial discrimination and representing blatant inequality in law, in other words, representing a new form of apartheid,” Davis said in a paper on the Geneva Accords submitted to the Institute of African and Arab Studies of the Russian Academy of Science in December 2003.
“During the heyday of the apartheid regime in South Africa the Dutch Reformed Church educated its constituents, almost exclusively classified as ‘White’ in the apartheid legal system, and their supporters in the West and beyond, that to oppose the political programme of apartheid, to be anti-apartheid, was somehow tantamount to being ‘anti-Christian,’ and thus, ‘pro-Devil,’ or worse, ‘pro-Communist,’” Davis writes. “In a similar way, under the dominance of political Zionist ideology and practice, Zionist and Israeli educational and information establishments educate their constituents, almost exclusively classified as ‘Jews’ in the Zionist legal system, and their supporters in the West and beyond, that to oppose the political programme of Zionism, to be anti-Zionist, is somehow tantamount to being ‘anti-Jewish,’ and thus, ‘anti-Semitic,’ or worse, ‘pro-Nazi.’”
The concept of a binational state in Israel/Palestine is beginning to gain wider acceptance around the world and inside Israel and the occupied territories. The movement is increasingly putting supporters of Israeli apartheid on the defensive, forcing them into the position of publicly advocating a contemptible system of governance similar to one that was officially discarded in South Africa 10 years ago.
The end to Israeli apartheid is not in sight. But positive developments could begin to unfold rapidly, as they did in the final years of South African apartheid, from which a true democracy can emerge in Israel/Palestine that could serve as a beacon of hope for change in all of the other Middle Eastern countries where oppressive governments reign.
By Mark Hand - Editor of Press Action