Monday, June 15, 2009

An unreasonable recognition demand

Said Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu in his Bar Ilan University speech on Sunday:

I turn to you, our Palestinian neighbors, led by the Palestinian Authority, and I say: Let's begin negotiations immediately without preconditions.


Wow, this is encouraging. Or it would be, if one were not aware that Israeli landmark statements always come with a caveat that in fact nullifies the supposed watershed. Torture is banned -- except in cases of national security danger (i.e., torture is as allowed as before). Illegal outposts will be removed -- but first an agreement will be sought with the settlers (i.e., the outposts will remain in place).

So that, in this case, one immediately begins a search for the caveat. Not a daunting task; a few paragraphs on, Netanyahu adds:

Therefore, a fundamental prerequisite for ending the conflict is a public, binding and unequivocal Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.


So that the negotiations without preconditions do have a precondition after all: the Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

This requirement has no precedent. Never in the history of diplomacy has a country been asked to recognize the official religion of another nation. (Although some fool will try to make you believe that it's not a religion, that it's more complicated than that, let's be clear: the ONLY way you can enter the Jewish people is through religion.) For instance, when Argentina and Britain resumed diplomatic ties after the Falklands war, the former did not recognize the latter as an Anglican country; nor did the latter recognize the former as a Catholic nation. A country's official faith is a strictly internal matter, and it's none of another country's business to act as a guarantor of that state religion.

The very reasonable Palestinian position has been that Israel has the right to define what it wants or doesn't want to be, but Palestine (or any other country, for that matter) should not be asked to participate in the formulation of that definition. Senior negotiator Saeb Erekat put it crystal-clear in a 16 Nov 2007 interview with the Jerusalem Post:

Erekat told the Post it was up to Israel to decide what to call itself, and that the Palestinians would recognize it accordingly. "Like the Islamic Republic of Iran," he said, "if you change your name to 'the Jewish state of Israel,' we'll call you that."

The road map and previous agreements had required the Palestinian leadership to unequivocally recognize Israel, Erekat said in a telephone interview. "We did it.... At the United Nations, you are called 'the state of Israel.' We recognize that."

What part of this recognition does Netanyahu not understand?

All Israel would have to do to satisfy its own ego is to adopt the name "Jewish State of Israel." The PA would immediately recognize it under that name. Why don't they adopt it?

The answer, of course, is that Israel does not want peace. All it wants is a status quo in which it can build ever more settlements (pardon!!!, "settlement extensions to accommodate natural growth"). If it wanted peace, it would not ask of the Palestinians what has never, ever, been asked of any other party to a diplomatic negotiation.

23 comments:

Yitzchak Goodman said...

Interesting rhetorical operation you're conducting there. You seek to trivialize Netanyahu's emphasis on acceptance of the legitimacy Jewish self-determination and then argue that if "Israel" (a entity that wants things) really wanted peace, it wouldn't insist on such a trivial demand.

Gert said...

Firstly, recognising Israel as the Jewish State will only strengthen the already quite clarion calls for Israeli Arabs to go and seek their fortunes elsewhere (as expressed also quite recently by the more 'centrist' Tzipi Livni, as well as other discriminatory proposals for law).

Secondly, how much more 'functionality' will Israel try to build in to this new recognition obstacle? Will the Palestinians later on also have to recognise the 'Democratic Jewish State of Israel' or the 'Democratic Jewish State of Israel Established since x,000 BC'? Etc, etc, all in a bid to create further obstacles to negotiations and thus de facto preconditions?

Anyone who still believes Israel wants peace is, after 42 years of Occupation and colonisation, either extremely naive or downright cynical.

It's rather paradoxical that Israel now requires recognition as a Jewish State when that state's borders remain largely undefined. This latter 'problem' is one Israel is willing to live with indefinitely as long as it can maintain about 500,000 settlers on land reserved for a Palestinian State(let). The more time passes, to more consensus will grow in Israel that the WB is really Israeli land (and always was, since Time Immemorial) and that these Palestinians are the real interlopers. Given enough time and consensus, transferist policies will become widely accepted (if they aren't already).

To paraphrase on the Afghan situation: the world has the watches but the Israelis have the time...

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

I don't understand your point, Yitzchak. When countries want their self-definition to be recognized, they make it part of their names. The Islamic Republic of Iran is Islamic, the Federal Republic of Germany is federal, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a kingdom, and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is Bolivarian, whatever that means.

However, other countries are not asked to make pronouncements on those states' character. Argentina has diplomatic ties with the Kingdom of Spain, but we have never said "we recognize Spain as a monarchy." Likewise, we don't recognize Pakistan as an Islamic state, or Russia as a federation. But we don't object to those countries making their character part of their name and we wouldn't object to Israel calling itself The Jewish State of Israel either.

And neither would the Palestinians.

edwin said...

Lawrence of Cyberia dug up something from Harry Truman.

He was asked to recognize a Jewish state. He refused, instead - recognizing the state of Israel.

http://lawrenceofcyberia.blogs.com/news/2007/12/recognizing-the.html

Ernie Halfdram said...

The issue really isn't recognition of Israel, as a Jewish state or otherwise. It's recognition of Israel's 'right to exist' as a Jewish state.

I guess I turn out to be the fool who has to tell you that it's not about religion. It's simpler than that. It's about race and ethnicity. Sure, the Zionists like to confuse the issue by allowing converts to make aliyah and the like. But I can't see what anyone who wants to bust hasbara would fall for their bullshit.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

Ernie, you talk as if both things were mutually exclusive. They're not. If Israel adheres to the Jewish religion, and the Jewish religion is racist, then by the transitive property Israel is racist.

But I was referring to what the "Jewish" in "Jewish state" formally means. And it formally means "belonging to the Jewish religion." There's no officially accepted definition of "Jewish" other than the religious one.

Ernie Halfdram said...

Israel doesn't 'adhere to the Jewish religion' - states don't and can't. I won't buy into whether the religion is racist, but it doesn't matter because your first premise is utterly false. What makes Israel a 'Jewish state' is that it priveleges ethnic Jews.

Here is the nonexistent officially recognised definition: 'For the purposes of this Law, "Jew" means a person who was born of a Jewish mother or has become converted to Judaism and who is not a member of another religion' http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/1950_1959/Law+of+Return+5710-1950.htm

edwin said...

Eisenstein said nationalism is an infantile disease. This has lead to a question of what is more powerful - religion or nationalism.

To some extent they can live in conflict with one another - or as religion being basically not important in the daily functioning of the state - as in present day Canada, or they can take a more traditional role - such as Israel. When they work in harmony, ultimately each bend to suit the other, but as Israel shows, ultimately it is nationalism that is more powerful.

When you say Israel doesn't 'adhere to the Jewish religion' - I think that is a mistake as Israel seeks to become the embodiment and expression of Jewish religion - an old style nationalism buttressed by the word of god. It is not Israel that adherers to Judaism, but the attempt is to make it the other way around.

The attempt is to transform Judaism to something at least partially new - a religion in the service of the state - a tool of the state to pacify and control dissent - to control daily life. In this new role, the Jewish religion will become whatever is needed of it at any point in time - and Jews who are willing to bend their faith to the will of the state will be privileged by the state - as those who originally started out believing that a Jewish state was a crime against god, but find the believing differently has better rewards whether in material goods, or in straight power.

When it comes to Judaism being racist, I don't think I would claim it as worse or better than - say - Islam or Christianity. The attempt to transform a region into a state religion also has a certain amount of traction in the US with Christians praying to a cardboard cutout of George Bush. Islam also has its theocracies.

Yitzchak Goodman said...

When countries want their self-definition to be recognized, they make it part of their names.

Do people outside of Venezuela actually call it the "Bolivarian Republic"? I don't exactly see how this could work for Israel. Let's say it started calling itself "The Judaic Republic of Israel." You might see some references to the "JRI," but I don't think the people who refer to the "Zionist Entity" would do anything differently. And I don't think that's the point anyway.

Ernie Halfdram said...

You had me going for a minute there, Edwin. Not that a physicist’s political bon mots are any more relevant than a film director’s.

I think your insight that Zionism adheres to Judaism in the sense that it has attached itself to the beliefs and practices of most Jewish sects is important and interesting. Ilearned to my horror a few years ago that it has found its way even into the liturgy, at least for my brother’s reform synagogue. But it’s not what I thought Ibrahim was talking about. I thought he meant that Israel was based on Judaism – practiced Judaism. In fact, I think what’s racist about the Jewish religion is specifically it’s adherence to Zionism. In other words, it’s not Judaism that makes Israel racist, it’s Israel that makes Judaism racist. But the existence of Neturei Karta and one or two other Chasidic sects that reject Zionism means that you can’t tar the whole religion with the racist label on that basis, although they may have other views that are racist, for all I know.

Nationalism and religion have much in common. They both rely on unexamined beliefs in strange origin myths, they are exclusive of outsiders, they inculcate the view that adherents are somehow privileged over others, and above all, they create the fiction of unity of interests across class lines. I think which is more powerful is largely an individual thing. There are settlers who are prepared to take up arms against the Israeli state if it tries to curtail their religious duty to ‘redeem Judea and samaria’ just as there are Israelis who will fight those settlers on behalf of the state. For a state to adopt a national religion may have advantages in terms of social control, but discrimination against those who practice unofficial religions or none deprives the state of talent and sows the seeds of dissention.

andrew r said...

Ernie, you talk as if both things were mutually exclusive. They're not. If Israel adheres to the Jewish religion, and the Jewish religion is racist, then by the transitive property Israel is racist.

Ibrahim, I'd say Israel does not adhere to the Jewish religion. It throws a few bones. Ben-Gurion et. al did not like orthodox Jews but it's pretty obvious they wanted the Zionist state have religious legitimacy and the Law of Return was written with that in mind. Even before it was amended I doubt being Jewish on your dad's side was an obstacle to making aliyah. That had to be a de facto situation before the actual amendment. Although the clerics have bureaucratic power, they don't make laws. That's not to say Israel isn't a theocracy. It's just not a Jewish one.

Of course there are mechanisms for devolving into one. There seems to be a power struggle among the state Rabbis according to this Radio 7 article. Some take this Jewish thing seriously and others just want a new oleh. And then you have the missionaries who've converted Peruvians and Indians and sent them directly to the West Bank. Even the behavior of some official clerics belies a subversion of piety to the state.

We also have to keep in mind that the founding fathers of Zionism were atheist but they saw assimilation as a failure and took the "Jewish Question" at face value. Many of them had an orthodox upbringing so they had plenty to draw from envisaging the return of the Jewish people to a God-given land, given by a God they didn't believe in.

To call Zionism a nationalist movement is too charitable. On a good day, Israel's Arab minority can't reproduce over a certain amount. Overt white supremacists like David Duke worry about becoming a minority in America and so do respectable ones like Pat Buchanan and Mitt Romney.

As to whether Judaism mandates Zionism, I think there are many passages in the Torah to make that questionable. Others could do a better job than me at this (if they hadn't gone over to Zionism... hi-o!) but here's an example from Deuteronomy 9:

"Hear O Israel; you are to pass over the Jordan this day, to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than yourselves, cities great and fortified up to heaven, a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim..."

How many Palestinian villages are great and fortified cities? But here's one that for me seals it:

"Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply and, if war befall us they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land."

Okay, escaping from the land isn't on the agenda (I'm not kooky enough to force an exact parallel with real life), but it shows Pharaoh maintaining population control and getting his just desserts.

Appendix: There might be a future HB post in here.

"The rabbis converted only those who said they were willing to emigrate to Israel immediately."
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/aug/07/israel1

"The officials say that del Conte did not meet one of the ministry's criteria for those undergoing conversion abroad: remaining for a year in the community in which the conversion was carried out."
http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasen/spages/939235.html

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

Gentlemen, let's not split hairs over what word to use. If you don't like "adhere" fill in the blank with another more suitable term, but the concrete fact is that Israel uses certain criteria to determine nationality and those criteria stem from the religious definition of who is a Jew.

In that regard, please take into account that the fact that Israel allows the son of a Russian Jewish man and an Orthodox Christian woman to immigrate to Israel and fight its wars against the Arabs doesn't by any means confer the Jewish nationality on that person.

As for the racist nature of the Jewish religion, I fully stand by my statement and believe political correctness shouldn't stop us from stating the obvious. Judaism is racist both in relation to the outside world and at the internal level. (I recall reading a funny story about a New York Jew of Syrian descent who couldn't get a shadchan (matchmaker) to arrange for him a meeting with an Ashkenazi woman. Silly and lazy me, I haven't kept the link.)

UPDATE: Googling for that story I stumbled upon this other one:

Kassin knows this from personal experience. His sister Anna ran off with a gentile. Naturally it was a great scandal in the community, but the chief rabbi didn’t bend the rules for his daughter. “We cut her off,” Jakie Kassin told me. “We didn’t see her for 25 years. But we never stopped hoping she’d come back. Finally, after all these years, she made contact. We told her she was welcome to come back, but not with her husband or kids. She’s not here yet, but we do talk on the telephone.”

I paste it here to keep the link, which I may sometime need.

edwin said...

Both Andrew r and you are falling into the same trap. The Torah/Bible contain racist documents. How Christianity and Judaism are practised varies from person to person and place to place. Some of these practitioners are racist, and some are not.

Christianity has been called a thousand religions all based on the same book. I think that there is some similarity with Judaism here.

You can't say Christianity is racist and you can't say Judaism is racist. You can say some practitioners of Christianity or Judaism are racist - you can go farther and say that the religion that they practise is racist. You can't say that Judaism or Christianity is racist.

People create god in their own image, and create religion to suit their needs. That includes all religions. There is not some abstract "Judaism" out there. It is all of human construction. Andrew r can quote religious passages tell the cows come home, and you can quote racist actions tell you are blue in the face. Religion is interpreted and changed to suit the needs of the synagogue/church/mosque and even the individual practitioner.

8th century Islam does not equally apply to 21st century Canada. To attempt to practise 8th century Islam would make you a racist in modern Canada. It does not make Islam racist.

andrew r said...

Israel doesn't adhere to the Jewish religion when it would be necessary to denationalize Israelis on the basis of breaking the Sabbath, for example. That's what I meant by throwing a few bones.

And while Israel does not allow civil marriages - a Jew and a gentile can't get married in Israel - it doesn't cut off Israeli Jews for marrying gentiles abroad. Consider how the SYs were too chauvinistic even for Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

The issue, though, is what makes Israel racist. The racism stems from secular Jews who happened to be white supremacists cherry picking Jewish law for state craft. Zionist racism in its secular form and Jewish racism are not the same thing. I've seen no evidence that an oleh with a Jewish mother is more privileged than one with a Russian Orthodox mother. There's nothing in Judaism that made Ben-Gurion see his fellow Jews from the Arab world as "human dust." Even Israel Shahak, foremost expert on Jewish chauvinism, only spoke of anti-gentile racism, not white supremacy vis a vis Jews, but that is one de facto character of the Israeli state.

If it's not already clear, I think decoupling Judaism from Zionism must be part of fighting the latter. Taking Israel's pretentions at face value only drags us back in that muck. No matter what you think about Judaism, it's not people like Jakie Kassin's grandfather who established Israel.

Let's just say I don't believe Judaism is essentially racist, either, and leave it at that.

andrew r said...

Actually Edwin, I'd say my interpretation is correct because for all the times you hear about God giving them they land, they don't seem to notice that the land should be theirs once the battle is over, yet Israel won the military victory and here we are.

Okay, okay, I agree with you.

andrew r said...

Oh right, more prima facie evidence that Israel only adheres to Judaism until it doesn't is the whole Oslo subterfuge.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

"How Christianity and Judaism are practised varies from person to person and place to place. Some of these practitioners are racist, and some are not."

The difference, I think, is that while not all Jews practice racism, it is accepted by the mainstream to an extent not found in Christianity. There is no outrage in the Jewish community over the idea that a family should refuse to see their daughter for 25 years because she married out. It is perfectly acceptable and "understood" even by those Jews who would accept a gentile son-in-law, and even by people who have themselves married out, who even feel guilty about their own decision.

The argument usually put forward is that, having been persecuted for 2,000 years, it is only logical that the Jews should turn to endogamy to strengthen their own communities. But racism is racism even if its root causes can be identified.

Of course, the SY community is an extreme case of racism in that they don't even accept converts. But even they are not disavowed by their co-religionists.

Ernie Halfdram said...

This is all very interesting, but ultimately, I think, a red herring. Whether Judaism is inherently racist or not, and if so, whether it is more or less racist than other religions, does not form part of an argument about whether Zionism is inherently racist.

It is anachronistic to apply modern interpretations to ‘’am segulah’. I think it is clear that the ‘chosen people’ were those who accepted Yahweh as their only deity rather than some fictive biologised race. Nowadays, however, the racist interpretation has prevailed and become hegemonic. In this sense, I would have to agree with Ibrahim that most modern Jewish sects are in fact racist, but not that there is anything inherently racist about Judaism. And as someone pointed out, there are other layers of racism, like among the SY community, or more significantly, against Mizrahim and Falasha in Israel. Jews are certainly not the only community that favours endogamy. I know of parents who object to their children marrying a Sunni, and Ismaili, or a Parsi... Whether this is strictly on religious grounds, or whether there is an element of racism involved, I just don’t know, but couldn’t rule the latter out.

Whatever racist elements may exist within the Jewish religion as practiced these days, as Andrew points out, it did not inform the racism of the founders of Zionism or of Israel, or indeed of most Israelis today. What makes Zionism an inherently racist ideology is, first and foremost, that it sought, and seeks, the dispossession of a racialised group – ‘the Arabs’. At the same time, it racialises Jews by effectively adopting the Nuremburg Laws’ definition.

andrew r said...

"no outrage in the Jewish community"

What are you looking for in terms of outrage? Actually, you might be interested in some quotes about Ashura in a book on Hezbollah by Augustus R. Norton (this isn't to put down Ashura; it's just something that Islamophobes like to use as fodder):

"public commemorations of 'Ashura are relatively recent phenomena of al-Dahiya (literally "the suburb, the usual term for the densely populated suburbs of Beirut), where they began less than fifty years ago."

"Although the rituals of 'Ashura commemoration are often debated vigorously among Shi'i, with religious leaders continually prescribing appropriate ways of remembering 'Ashura, local practices vary widely and popular customs blend in with Islamic traditions."

"Clerical disapproval has been strong. Like many of his colleagues, the popular and respected (and al-Najaf born) Ayatollah Muhammed Hussein Fadlallah argues that the blood rituals of Nabatiya are improper pragmatically, as they put Shi'i Muslims in a bad light of the non-Shi'a, but they also violate religious law that does not allow Muslims to harm or kill themselves."

"Similarly, Ayatollah Muhammed Mahdi Shams al-Din, who until his death in 2001 was one of the most respected clerical voices among the Shi'a, urged that Imam Hussein's sacrifice be understood ethically and normatively, not simply as an occasion for demonstrative tears or sensational rituals (Shams al-Din, 1985). Along similar lines the Iranian leader 'Ali Khamenei issued a 1994 fatwa condemning the shedding of blood during Muharram [month of Ashura] rituals and underlining the negative image these rituals project. He argued that these rituals were not Islamic but the product of tradition."

---

The point is that outrage is meaningless as a concept. There's debate within the religious community over one of its controversial practices and the condemnation by authoritative figures doesn't stop the practice of self flagellation. It's not an essential component of Shi'a Islam.

And the idea of disowning the SY community strikes me as downright bizarre, given the tensions between Reform and Orthodox Judaism. Call me Dr. Lozowick, but you know Reform Jews are often ignored by Orthodox, right? Making the suggestion to reciprocate in the Reform community is bad form.

Intermarriage without conversion does happen. That's about as good a repudiation as you can find.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

"The point is that outrage is meaningless as a concept."

I insist that refusing to see your children because they married out is a form of racism, and that this racism enjoys a remarkably normalized status within the Jewish community.

In any event, take into account that this is a blog devoted to show how the Zionists' arguments can be turned against them.

A Zionist will find antisemitism not only in an antisemite's isolated actions, but also in the failure of other members of his ethnic or religious group to utterly, totally and completely denounce, disavow, shun and ostracize him. Like the genius who concluded that Norway's finance minister was antisemitic because a person holding an anti-Israel banner stood near her at a rally.

By the same token, all Jews should disengage from those racist Jews who refuse to see their own children after they marry non-Jews.

(I expect all of you will understand the extent to which this is a reductio ad absurdum argument, rather than a position I truly hold.)

andrew r said...

I didn't twig you were still in character. And actually I wouldn't dispute that kind of racism exists. It's just that we hit close to home today and endorsing or disavowing the practice of Orthodox Jews is nonsensical to someone who belongs to a sect that essentially liberalizes Judaism from that sort of thing.

Now Zionism on the other hand...

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My Blog said...

Never in the history of diplomacy has a country been asked
to recognize the official religion of another nation.