by Uri Avnery |
| December/ décembre 2002 | Copyright Uri Avery 2002. For fair use only/ pour usage
équitable seulement . the URL of this article is:
It sounds like a bad joke, but it really happened: A rabbi went from Israel
to Peru, converted a group of Native Americans to Judaism, brought them to this
country and put them in a settlement, on land taken away from its Palestinian
owners. There they receive, as all settlers do, generous government subsidies,
paid for with money taken away from thousands of Israelis living below the
poverty line. There they can live happily ever after (unless they leave the
settlement in an unarmored car, in which case they may be ambushed by the
original Palestinian owners.)
What causes a state to bring total strangers from another hemisphere in order
to displace the native people, who gave lived there for many centuries, at the
price of an eternal bloody conflict? The answer touches the foundations of
Since the founding of the state, its emissaries have been searching for
"Jews". In the former Soviet Union, Jews were discovered either by finding
Christians with remote Jewish family connections (the "Jewish grandmother") or
by simply forging documents. Nobody knows how many non-Jews were thus brought to
Israel by the Jewish Agency and other organizations - at least 200 thousand,
perhaps 400 thousand. According to the laws of Israel, they were automatically
A few days ago, the "National Demographic Council" was revived, after being
condemned to inactivity for some years. This is an institution that is supposed
to deal with what many Israelis consider the state's most important problem -
more important than the war with the Palestinians, Saddam's weapons of
annihilation, growing unemployment and the economic crisis.
The "demographic problem" is being pondered in universities, talked about in
the media, expounded by politicians and commentators.
"Experts" with computers are calculating what will be the percentage of Jews
in Israel in 10, 25, 50 or a hundred years time. Will they be less than 78%? Or
- God forbid! - only 75%? Will the womb of the orthodox Jewish woman, in
addition to expected immigration, balance the production of the Arab uterus?
And if not, what can be done? Some propose encouraging Jewish births while
resolutely discouraging Arab natural increase. Some suggest preventing Jewish
immigrants from Russia from bringing with them Christian family members (allowed
by the Law of Return in its present form.) Some demand the immediate expulsion
of all foreign workers, before they settle down and establish families. Some
pray for a wave of anti-Semitism in France or Argentina (but definitely not in
the United States), that will push multitudes of Jews towards Israel. Many,
including members of Sharon's government, support the simplest solution: driving
all Arabs out of the country. The "new historian", Benny Morris, recently hinted
that Ben-Gurion should have done this in 1948.
The attitude of the state to it Arab citizens, who now number 19% of the
population, reminds one of Pharaoh, who - according to the Bible - told his
people how to deal with another national minority: "Come on, let us deal wisely
with them, lest they multiply." And of the method employed: "They made their
lives bitter." (Exodus, 1)
According to the official definition, Israel is a "Jewish Democratic State".
This was enshrined in law and endorsed by the Supreme Court. In theory, there is
no contradiction between the two adschectives: The state is Jewish, but democracy
safeguards equality for non-Jews, too. Or, alternatively, the state is
democratic, but safeguards its Jewish character.
In reality, this is not a "Jewish democratic state" but a "Jewish demographic
state". Demography overcomes democracy in all fields of action. An Arab citizen
feels at every turn, since childhood, that he has no part in the state, that he
is, at most, a tolerated resident. In every government office, police station or
place of work, even in the Knesset, he is treated differently from a Jew, even
in times of quiet. True, apart from the Law of Return, which gives a "Jew" and
his family (but not to Arab refugees) the absolute right to come to Israel, no
law discriminates between a "Jew" and a non-Jew. But this is only make-believe:
numerous laws accord special privileges to persons "to whom the Law of Return
applies", without mentioning "Jews" specifically.
This is so self evident, that all state officials act accordingly without
even being aware of it. The "Israel Land Authority" distributes land to Jews,
not to Arabs. All state development projects include Jews only. Among the
hundreds of new towns and villages set up since the founding of Israel, not a
single one was established for Arabs. There is no Arab minister in the
Government, no Arab judge on the Supreme Court bench.
Usually, all these omissions are explained away by the ongoing
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After all, Israel's Arab citizens are
Palestinians, too. But the question is what causes what: does the conflict
create the anti-Arab attitude or does the anti-Arab attitude prolong the
Critics of Israel accuse it of practicing "Apartheid", the South African
racist doctrine. This analogy may be partly misleading. Unlike Apartheid,
Zionism is not based on race, but on a mixture of ghetto mentality and 19th
century European nationalism.
Ghetto mentality is the spirit of a persecuted, isolated community, which saw
the whole world as divided between Jews and Goyim (gentiles). European
nationalism strove for a homogeneous national-ethnic state. The Jewish
demographic state has absorbed both these elements: a homogeneous Jewish
national-ethnic state, with as few non-Jews as possible.
In Europe, where classical nationalism was born, it is giving way to the
modern American outlook, which considers that every holder of a US passport
belongs to the American nation, irrespective of race and ethnic origin. This has
helped it becoming the most powerful state in the world, culturally,
economically, and militarily. European nation-states are gradually ceding
sovereignty to the European Union, and their citizenship is accorded to foreign
immigrants, too, who contribute to their economy and safeguard their social
welfare system. In Germany, children of immigrants born in the country receive
citizenship, Britain and France are even more liberal.
Israel is faced with a historical choice: to go back to being a Jewish
ghetto, with demographic anxieties and state trappings, or to go forwards
towards a new national outlook, on the American-European model.
Zionism was the last European national movement. Israeli colonialism, too,
has come 200 years too late. So it is perhaps natural that the challenge of
adopting a new national outlook comes rather late. But in the end, I hope, the
Jewish Demographic State will be replaced by the Israeli Democratic Republic,
for the welfare and security of its citizens.