Is criticism of Israel on issues of rights, pluralism, equality and minorities justified given the historic and regional context of the state?
Essay 2006 12 Pages
I s criticism of Israel on issues of rights, pluralism, equality and minorities justified given the historic and regional context of the state?
When we look at the contemporary discussion on issues of rights, pluralism, equality and minorities in Israel, we see that many scholars, e.g. Pappe[i], Morris[ii], Shafir[iii] or Segev[iv] criticise Israel for not being a democratic state for all its citizens but upholding Jewish nationalism which is according to these authors discriminating minorities. It is questioned e.g., if the existence of a Jewish state is still justified, demanded that textbooks should avoid Zionist terms and narratives and that state and religion should be separated completely. Topics like the 1948-war, the abuse of holocaust survivors, the situation of Arab Israelis or Misrachi Jews, are reviewed by the “New Historians”. After the historical archives were opened during the 80-ies, these scholars found out that the official Zionist narrative was simplified and idealised in order to strengthen Israeli society.
The disappointment after reading the concealed facts in Israeli history, the 67-war and the Israeli occupation of Palestinians in the Westbank as well as studies abroad made these scholars not only criticise the writing of history but demand a change in Israeli society and some call Israel undemocratic. Silberstein claims that these scholars are accused of examining Israel with methods and standards imported from the West, without paying regard to its special historical and regional context.[v]
This special context can be understood in two different ways: First we have to examine if the contemporary regional situation and the historical context of Israel justifies these criticism to be discussed in public. Greenspan stresses that Israel, after loosing its “victim-status” after the 67-war, has become an extraordinary target of accusation in the world media.[vi] She stresses that the Islamist demonization of Jews as the infidel is paralleled by the delegitimization of Israel by anti-Zionists and claims that due to the fact that “Israel is still – it had never stopped – fighting for its life”[vii] these critics are dangerous. Similar critics are also presented en masse by Arab and Western scholars, who question the right of a so-called “fascist”, “oppressive” and “colonial” state like Israel to exist in the Middle East and will use any criticism from inside to manipulate the world opinion by backing up their own narrative with Israeli voices.
Secondly we have to examine the special historic and regional context of Israel related to the main points of criticism. Reviewing the criticism that Israel is a racist, colonial country that ignores the rights of the Arabs and expelled them intentionally during the 48-war, we will prove that although the Zionist narrative concealed some dark points of Israeli history, most of the actions were necessary in order to survive and can not be judged according to general values of the 21st century imported from the West. Nevertheless it is not justified to call Israel racist or colonialist and claim that Israeli Arabs are discriminated.
Reviewing the situation of the Misrachi, we will prove that they were used in order to solve Israel’s problems and regarded as inferior by the Ashkenazi elite and are still discriminated. Given the historical context of a newborn state that had to be built, however, it is not justified to criticise Israel for abusing them intentionally but justified to demand additional measures for equality between both segments of society.
This essay aims to prove that most of the criticism is justified in its content, because it points out facts that were hidden by the Zionist narrative, partly justified in its conclusion that Israel was “born in sin” and “(ab-) using Arabs and Misrachi Jews” but concomitantly dangerous in its aims to abolish the right of Israel as a Jewish state to exist, weakening the societal cohesion and is furthermore abused by external forces (European and Arab) in order to demonise Israel.
Sometimes it seems that Israeli postZionists are not aware of the fact that their audience does not know the Zionist narrative or the history of Israel, but is well aware of the Palestinian narrative, that also conceals part of the facts. Greenspan points out this problem when she stresses that “a partial history becomes a dangerous myth”[viii]and both of these narratives leave out the most obvious fact: That the story is one of two competing, equally valid nationalisms.[ix] The post-Zionist or non-Zionist criticism is an answer to the Zionist narrative, the step of criticism that follows every ideology in a democratic debate , but its result, when presented to an ignorant audience abroad is the conclusion of students of Islamic sciences after a lecture of Dan Bar-On on Hamburg University in 25.1.2005. Their conclusion was, that even the Israelis commit now that they were oppressive and colonialist, and that Israeli society will break down soon, because they see that all their history was a violation of the rights of the Palestinians.[x]
Some authors like Pappe[xi] or Kimmerling[xii] are aware of this problem and claim that historians of one group or nation must include in their narrative the narrative of the others. But if an audience knows only one narrative it is not useful to underline this narrative but tell the other, hence what is a fruitful discussion inside Israel, which grew up with Zionism has no place outside of Israel. Compared with the ideology of feminism, we can see that post-feminism, e.g. the right of a women to use her attractiveness in order to reach something, does not destroy the feministic aims but modernise it, but when presented to an audience of men who never heard about feminism or in a society where women are still regarded as inferior, this criticism will be suicidal for the native women who are still in the first phase of liberation.
We will now have a closer look at two main points of criticism and examine if this criticism is justified, re-visited in the correct historical and regional context of the state.
[i] Pappe,I.(2004), A History of Modern Palestine; Pappe,I.(1999), The Israel/Palestine Question
[ii]. Morris,B.(2001), Righteous Victims; Morris,B.(1987), The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem 1947-1949
[iii] Shafir, G., Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1882-1914
[iv] Segev,T., 1949:The First Israelis; Segev,T., The Seventh Million
[v] Silberstein,L., The PostZionism Debates, p.118
[vi] Greenspan,M., The new Anti-Semitism, pp. 39/40
[vii] ibid, p.40
[viii] ibid, p. 38
[ix] ibid, p. 38
[x] Hand notes of the author after a seminar discussion on “Arab Nationalism”, fall semester 2005, Hamburg University, Asia-Africa Institute
[xi] Pappe,I.(2004), A History of Modern Palestine
[xii] Kimmerling, e.g. in the book :”Palestinians – the making of a people”