Chutzpah par Excellence

Israel protestChutzpah is a Jewish word, and was rather neatly explained by Malcolm Turnbull a while ago as equivalent to murdering your parents, and then claiming sympathy because you are an orphan. So it is not entirely a surprise that the Jews are rather good at it, and appear to have entirely outmanoeuvred Jeremy Corbyn.

This is what has happened. A couple of months ago, Israel passed its nationality law, which is widely been condemned as racist.  Translated into English, it includes the following:

1a. The Land of Israel is the historical birthplace of the Jewish nation, and in it the State of Israel was founded.

1b. The State of Israel is the nation state of the Jewish nation, in which it realizes its natural, cultural, religious, and historical right to self-determination.

1c. The realization of the right to national self-determination in Israel is unique to the Jewish nation.

6a. The State will invest in ensuring the well-being of members of the Jewish nation, and its citizens who are undergoing difficulties or imprisonment due to their Jewishness or their citizenship.

6b. The State will work in the Diaspora to ensure the continued connection between the State and the Jewish nation.

7a. The State sees Jewish settlement as a national value and will work to ensure and advance its creation and establishment.

It is worth unpacking this a little. It is apparent from section 1(a) that the expression “Jewish nation” does not mean the State of Israel, but Jews collectively. By paragraph 1(c) the word “unique” makes clear that it is Jews, and only Jews, who are entitled to self-determination in Israel. Not the Arabs. Oh no. Just the Jews. Uniquely. By section 6 (a) the State of Israel invests in the well-being of Jews; there is no equality here for citizens of Israel who are not Jewish. The endorsement of the settlements at section 7 (a) not only discriminates in favour of Jews, it is plainly contrary to international law.

I do not ordinarily agree with very much that finds its way into the Socialist Worker, but the following comment on the Law is hardly very controversial:

The nation-state law defines the land of Israel as the historic homeland of the Jews, who alone have the right to self-determination within it. This, of course, runs counter to international laws protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples to self-determination.

Jewish settlement is thus defined as a “national value,” and the state pledges to cultivate its growth. The right of return is stipulated as Jewish, and the law further establishes the state’s commitment to the well-being of Jews internationally. The law also declares Jerusalem, undivided, as Israel’s capital; the official language as Hebrew (Arabic is given “special status”); the official calendar as Zionist and Jewish; the flag of Israel as the only flag; and Hatikvah as the state’s anthem.

In terms of the day-to-day functioning of Israeli society in the short run, this law changes very little. What it does do is codify into official law — and place in stark relief — the undemocratic character of the Israeli state and the second-class status of Palestinian citizens.

Unsurprisingly, there has been some criticism of the Nationality Law, both within Israel and around the world. But not nearly as much as one might expect. This is at least in part because of the work of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and its Working Definition of Antisemitism, which friends of Israel have been trying to get adopted all over the place, including by the Labour Party in the UK. The working definition includes examples, and in particular:

  • Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.
  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.

Understandably, the working definition has been subject to much criticism by those who are less than impressed by Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Inevitably, such criticism amounts to a targeting of the State of Israel. But what about the rider “conceived as a Jewish collectivity”? Well, Israel’s new Nationality Law makes quite clear that the State of Israel regards itself as a Jewish collectivity. And criticism of Israel in its treatment of the Palestinians can never be similar to criticism levelled against any other country, because no other country has passed a racist law such as the nationality law. And so, under the working definition, raising one’s voice against the racism of the state of Israel is classed as anti-Semitic!

Nice trick.

Indeed, this post would be regarded as anti-Semitic under the working definition, because the moment one observes that the State of Israel, as identified by its own nationality law, is a racist endeavour, then that is also classified as anti-Semitic.

Just as I do not agree much with the Socialist Worker, nor do I agree much with Jeremy Corbyn. I think his policies across a broad range of issues would be a complete and utter disaster if ever, heaven forbid, he became Prime Minister.  But he is not always wrong.  Under pressure to incorporate the whole of the working definition of anti-Semitism of the IHRA into the Labour Party rules, he not unreasonably wanted to add that:

“Nor should it be regarded as antisemitic to describe Israel, its policies or the circumstances around its foundation as racist because of their discriminatory impact, or to support another settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

He has been howled down on that.

And so the racists in power in Israel have done rather well. They have not only managed to get racism locked into the state of Israel as a matter of law, but they have managed to make it a chucking out offence for anybody in the Labour Party to complain about it.

The parallels with apartheid in South Africa are several. The “Jewish nation” (as the new law calls Jews) tends to occupy a position of relative wealth and privilege in Western countries, but they are fast being outnumbered by less prosperous Muslims. As time goes by, the power of Muslims at the ballot box is likely to prevail and, like apartheid, the belief of the Israeli government that it can mistreat Muslims in its own country just because it controls the government, the police and the Armed Forces will eventually fall.

That said, it will probably be quite some considerable time until people in Israel are treated equally, regardless of their race. There are many entirely honourable Jews, both within Israel and around the world, who regard this as a disgrace, and who have spoken of the need for Israel to behave better, not discriminating against the Palestinians and complying with international law. But their voices are not heard among the howls of the Zionists.

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