Choni Davidowitz, a regularly correspondent of the SA Jewish Report wrote this very week: “the removal of all Arabs who refuse to accept the exclusive, unquestioned Jewish sovereignty over all of Israel is not only logical and normal for any Jew with a modicum of self-preservation; it is also the Jewish halachic obligation. The transfer of Arabs from Israel is not a political or personal view. It is a Jewish outlook based on Halacha. The Torah clearly commanded: ‘And you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the Land from before you… ’”.
Ominously this extreme view is supported by nearly half of Israelis according to a recent Pew survey. Glen Heneck’s call for Israel to be recognized as a Jewish State (Cape Times, March 24), differs from Davidowitz only in nuance. Heneck, a leader of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, attempts a more sophisticated argument – couching his views in liberal discourse and begging questions – but with the same refrain: an appeal to an essentialist and base identity politics coupled with a tired and predictable defence of Israel. The outcome of both positions is unmitigated justification for discrimination against, and/or ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Israel’s Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef endorses this when he decreed that Jewish law prohibits non-Jews from living in Israel and that non-Jews live to serve the Jewish population.
The idea of recognizing Israel as a Jewish State seems benign until one begins to deconstruct its meaning. Fundamentally it excludes non-Jews from nationhood and relegates them to second class citizenship. By its very definition it has to keep its populations separated in law so that it would reserve for itself the possibility of discriminating against a “sector” of the population on a quasi-religious-quasi-racial basis. It also has to ensure a constant Jewish majority which can only be sustained by discriminating against minorities – through immigration, citizenship and land ownership laws or through ethnic cleansing by various means. Fifty such laws which discriminate against non-Jews form part of Israel’s legal landscape (see http://www.adalah.org/en/content/view/7771). These laws give effect to the Zionist ideology of more land with fewer Palestinians. It explains why Israel claims to annex Palestinian East Jerusalem but does not grant its inhabitants Israeli citizenship. Thus the notion of a Jewish State creates a herrenvolk democracy.
Heneck, in keeping with his commitment to ethnic states, supports this idea of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity in Israel, as he supports a ‘Boerestaat’ for Afrikaners (and consequently discrimination against non-Afrikaners in such a state). The arbitrariness of his argument is exposed on the question as to where exactly his ethnic division of South Africa would stop – a state for Zulus, Xhosas, Khoi-San, Coloureds, Pedis?
Creating an ethnic state in an area historically inhabited by a majority indigenous population for centuries, may at a stretch be tolerated; however attempting to do so on colonised land with European settlers, as in South Africa, makes it egregious. Heneck accepts this colonial thesis when acknowledging Palestinian pain at land loss due to “European settlements”, but then forces Palestinians to accept not only a Jewish majority state but one defined by Jewishness and buttressed by force of law. Needless to say this Jewish majority was achieved through violent ethnic cleansing of indigenous Palestinians. The only difference between Davidowitz and Heneck is that one couches his racism in religious idiom and the other in its secular reincarnation. Heneck has this message for those who have been ethnically cleansed and live in squalid refugee camps: ‘get over it’ and accept the Jewish State! Justice, restitution or fairness seem foreign in his quest for ethnic purity. Would one dare to say the same to Holocaust survivors? Dispossessed Black South African’s are painfully aware of this discourse from white liberals who expect black people to move on from Apartheid without acknowledging its evil, its impact and its multi-generational consequences. For them power and military might should be rewarded rather than contained and held to account.
The problem with identity politics, as supported by Heneck is that it is simplistic, parochial, undialectical and often racist, particularly when discriminating against others. It treats Jewish identity as a reified static entity – a historical and genetic given rather than a constructed identity that is contested. It then attempts to define a state on this arbitrariness. It would more honest to define Jewishness as a confessional entity, which it actually is. But one can but only be surprised, or perhaps not, when a White South African asks why accepting eligibility for citizenship based on ethnicity is problematic? The problem with Heneck and his ilk is that their connection to Zionism is grounded in identity politics that only elites like him, who live in comfort, can indulge in; it is not located in facts on the ground in Israel-Palestine which is a lived nightmare of the colonized. When this identity is challenged by his colonial subjects his pretense to enlightenment and liberalism disappear much like Phil Orch’s song ‘Love Me I’m a Liberal’: “Ten degrees to the left of centre in good times, ten degrees to the right of centre if it affects them personally’.
But Heneck opens himself up to the tu quoque retort. He accepts that the ‘settlements are deeply problematic’, not to say illegal, at the same time denying that the IDF is ‘aggressive or expansionist’. How then does he explain Israel’s continuous confiscation of large chunks of Palestinian land? In 2014 the Israeli government confiscated 988 acres of Palestinian land in the Bethlehem area of the West Bank and continued to do so in 2015 when it dislocated Bedouins from the Negev. Just a few weeks ago over 300 hectares of Palestinian land in an area of Jericho and Nablus were confiscated. If this is not evidence of an expansionist state then what is? The occupation, settlements, land confiscations, the apartheid wall, are all part of the strategy of territorial expansion done under various guises and gives lie to Israel’s so-called commitment to a peaceful settlement.
To disabuse him of the fallacy of Israel’s moral army I implore him to read reports from the Christian Peacemaker Teams who monitor the checkpoints and be outraged by the gratuitous daily humiliation of Palestinians; or of Breaking the Silence where ex-IDF soldiers confess about the systematic atrocities committed by the IDF. These are not isolated incidents but part of a systematic strategy to break the Palestinian spirit. The recent executions by the IDF of helpless Palestinians is further evidence of the mentality that derives from toxic ethnic politics.
While he accuses Shannon Ebrahim of being ahistorical, he is guilty of the same offence in bringing up the tired canard of Hamas’ odious charter. If one considers Hamas as a recent phenomenon, what about the nearly fifty years of Occupation where the Palestinian resistance was led in the vast majority by secular and leftists (with a significant Christian component). The truth is that both the secular and religious Zionists find common ground in not ending the Occupation for entirely different reasons. Interestingly many prominent Zionist leaders sought withdrawal soon after 1967 because they saw continued Occupation as the death of their idealist Zionist dream – which has now become a nightmare. The truth is that Israel has no intention to withdraw from the Occupied Territories as unequivocally stated by its current Prime Minster, Netanyahu. Israel’s smokescreen excuses for not committing to peace with Palestinians changes constantly based on the currency of the time. His examples of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia are also spurious and false since he lacks an understanding of their historical genesis – which is vastly different from the Palestinian reality.
Heneck’s discourse is a stark reflection of the utter failure of liberal Zionism to continue to justify the racial project. Its innovative distractions, hasbara echoes, and cognitive dissonance have become unsustainable in the face of a brutal reality of apartheid and Palestinian dispossession. Thus upon reflection Davidovitz’s discourse and that of Heneck are perversely the same. Heneck in attempting to play a liberal card and taking regular digs at the left continues to defend apartheid and Palestinians dispossession in a discourse lacks truth or any notion of peace based on justice. In Heneck’s worldview as a privileged Jew and White South African he claims more rights to citizenship in Israel and to occupy a house in Jaffa than a Palestinian from a refugee camp who still holds the key to that house and who was ethnically cleansed at the barrel of a gun. That is preposterous and one can only be indignant at such foolishness.
Published 30 March 2016 in the Cape Times