By Jerry Levin
Recently Prime Minister Netanyahu became the first Israeli Prime Minister to voice a demand that Palestinians must recognize “The Jewish State’s right to exist” before it will enter talks. Right up until he changed the tune, the lyrics were that Palestinians much recognize “Israel’s right to exist,” despite the fact that the PLO and the Palestine Authority have been doing specifically that since the late 1980s. Whether or not he might retreat from the demand now that it has been made, it is essential for the sake of clarity to examine exactly what the right of the Jewish State to exist means.
Specifically it means that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza must acknowledge and accept an undemocratic status quo not only in the territories until they say these mew magic words, but the same also applies for Palestinians in Israel who have been obliged to live under overtly undemocratic conditions since the founding of the Jewish State in 1948. Nevertheless, ardent apologists in the U.S. and Israel for both the idea and the reality of a Jewish State have worked exhaustively and successfully for decades to perpetuate the fiction that Israel is the “only democracy in the Middle East.” However, the politically pristine democratic identity they have given themselves does not square with the facts. The truth is there are no democracies in the Middle East: Islamic or Jewish.
Nevertheless Israel’s governments on the slightly left through to the extreme right have been terrifically adept at making the case for the Jewish State’s faux democratic credentials in the U. S. by disingenuously claiming that since non Jews in its midst are citizens, the Jewish State, despite the obvious contradictory label, is a democracy in the best sense of the word. But what their argument obscures is the demeaning fact that Jewish nationality counts for far more with respect to rights and privileges in the Jewish State than Israeli citizenship
In a nation where there is no constitution and no bill of rights, Jewish majority rule has mandated second class citizenship on Arabs and other nationalities living in their midst while reserving first class rights and perquisites for themselves. When it comes to civil rights, collective privileges such as the right to protest the treatment of their Palestinian neighbors in the West Bank and Gaza without fear of official or Jewish vigilante reprisal, as well as unequal access to public funds for education, health, infrastructure maintenance and improvement, and the ability to live anywhere they want Israel’s Arabs have a legal status inferior to Israel’s Jews. Think South Africa before Nelson Mandela, or the United States before Martin Luther King, Jr.
To continue to accept the self serving semantic fabrication that the Jewish State is a democracy in the Jeffersonian egalitarian inclusive inalienable rights sense means continuing to concur with a diminished concept of “democracy.” Nevertheless public recognition of the human and civil rights short comings of the Jewish State have been an elephant in the room that have been avoided or perhaps obfuscated in the United States for generations, from the time of the Lyndon Johnson presidency forward. Supporters of this legalized discriminatory status quo have found it amazingly easy to float the disingenuous notion that it is in our national interest to support the mythical Jewish Camelot even though they know very well that Israel’s pretend or at best limited confiscatory democracy is at the heart of Islamic discontent and an uneasiness in nations in the west and elsewhere in the world.
Of course Christian and Muslim Palestinians and their supporters have tried to raise the issue but with little effect. When they question the moral and ethical legitimacy of Israel’s current elitist Jewish political regime, when they challenge “Israel’s right to exist“ or when they talk of the “destruction of Israel” what they mean is radical nonviolent political reform from exclusion to inclusion, not the vindictive slaughter or expulsion of all of Israel’s Jews. It is true that militant Hamas leaders behind the reprehensible indiscriminate sometimes lethal rocket attacks on Israeli noncombatants seem to be calling for violent regime change, but most Palestinians including politically oriented Hamas leaders favor one achieved through peaceful internal reform.
As of now American and Israeli Jews and non Jews who support the modification of the exclusivist Jewish State to a truly democratic society that would not be prey to any sectarian, ethnic, gender, or racial interests have no political traction in Israel or in the U.S. But that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have it. Without the establishment of truly pluralist societies in one state or two states side by side, the political atmosphere will undoubtedly remain toxic.
- Jerry Levin is a former CNN Middle East reporter, who was kidnapped and held hostage by Hezbollah in 1984. He escaped after eleven and a half months in captivity due to the nonviolent behind the scene efforts of a group of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish friends and colleagues in the U.S. and Middle East, which was organized by his wife, Sis Levin. Since then, the Levins have been working for Palestinian absolute release from every aspect of Israeli domination, control, expropriation, and genocidal violence against noncombatants. Over the years they have worked with several violence reduction organizations in the West Bank (including CPT - Christian Peacemaker Teams) and Gaza, and with nonviolent peace and nonviolent justice organizations in the U.S. In April, at a ceremony in San Francisco, Mr. Levin and his wife were recognized by the Dali Lama as one of 2009’s “Unsung Heroes of Compassion.” He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: email@example.com.