Zionist Ideology, the Non-Jews and the State of Israel
Report by Ur Shlonsky
Based on a talk given at the round table "Politico-religious overlaps
in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: views from different vantage points".
University of Geneva, June 10, 2002.
Israel Shahak once remarked that for at least the last 200 years, Jews
have demanded equal rights in every country in which they've lived - with
the remarkable exception of Israel, the Jewish state. Israel has always
founded its institutions on the denial of equality to non-Jews. From the
beginning, a good half a century before 1948 when the state of Israel was
established, Zionist ideology has held strict opposition to equality for
non-Jews as a fundamental principle.
The principle of inequality for non-Jews requires, first of all, that
the relevant population groups be defined. It is therefore not surprising
that the dichotomy Jew/non-Jew cuts across nearly all the social, demographic,
juridical and cultural institutions of Israeli life. Consider, as an instructive
example, how the requirement of this opposition affects the tables of vital
statistics in the Israeli Annual Statistical Abstract. Vital statistics
include demographic information on such matters as population growth, the
regional distribution of the population, immigration, household size etc.
The figures are, in general, cross classified by familiar parameters such
as sex and age. However, the cross-classification into religious categories
in virtually every table is quite striking.
Every modern country is, of course, concerned with demographic data
and every country has a national statistical office that collects data
on births, deaths, immigration, etc. What is unique in the case of Israel,
however, is the omnipresence of religious categories.
In 1995, the Israeli statistical bureau introduced the parameter 'population
group', a category with two values: 'Jews and Others' and 'Arabs'. The
former includes Jews, non-Arab Christians (Many immigrants from the former
Soviet Union fall into this sub-category) and those unclassified by religion,
and the latter includes Moslems, Arab Christians and Druze. Careful reading
of the definitions that come along with these categories reveals the emergence,
for the first time in Israeli history, of an ethnic definition of Jew (Arabs
were always defined ethnically.)
We find a troubling parallel between the Israeli preoccupation with
demographic data on ethnicity and religion and that of Rwanda before the
ethnic cleansing of 1994, as described by Alison Des Forges. Des Forges
argues that the existence of relatively precise data on the demographic
distribution of Tutsis was a factor that facilitated "the most rapid genocide
in modern history."
One is also led to think of the Wannsee protocols, recently studied
by William Selzer. These infamous minutes of the Nazi conference held
in Berlin in January 1942 - brought to light during the postwar Nuremberg
trials, contained a table detailing the number of Jews in each of the 35
European countries. The table was accompanied by detailed explanations
on the impact that differences between each country's definition of "Jew"
would have on the count.
What is the purpose of the opposition Jew/non-Jew? In the first place,
it serves as the basis of a broad discriminatory legislation. For instance,
the Israeli Land Authority, which is the executive organ of the Jewish
National Fund, forbids the sale of land under its control (92% of Israel's
land belong to the Jewish National Fund) to non-Jews. Constraints of the
same order are imposed on non-Jewish access to water for agriculture, to
eligibility for government financial assistance. In effect, a large part
of the latter are granted solely to citizens who've performed their military
service or to those who would have performed it had they not been exempt
as Orthodox Jews.
In addition, when it comes to naturalization, Israel practices the
jus sanguinus, where blood or ethnicity is the defining elements. Thus,
automatic Israeli citizenship is granted to 'Jews and Other Christians'
(see note 5,) but not to non-Jews.
It is precisely this non-territorial concept of citizenship that underpinned
the exclusion of Jews in pre-modern Europe. "By its very nature," wrote
the commentator Aharon Barnea in Ha'aretz on April 11, 1991, "such a version
of nationality engenders intolerance toward foreigners, giving rise to
the idea that religious or ethnic groups living in such a country can't
be integrated into the spirit or the constitutive substance of the country,
even if their ancestors lived there for centuries."
Barnea concludes his exposé by stating that "the character of
the state of Israel which wishes to be democratic on the one hand, and
on the other hand to be the state of the Jewish people... gives rise to
a contradiction which can only end in calamity."
The principal and explicit aim of the Zionist program and practice
is to increase the number of Jews in Eretz Israel and shrink the number
of non-Jews, i.e. the Arabs living there. The idea of expelling the Palestinians,
called "transfer" in Israeli political language, is woven into Zionist
discourse from its early beginnings. Recently, however, it has fully entered
public debate. There is a hard-core or aggressive version of 'transfer',
like that of ex-Minister Avigdor Lieberman. In the tradition of Orthodox
Rabbi Meir Kahane, Lieberman proposed the physical expulsion of the Palestinians
beyond the frontiers of Greater Israel, stretching from Jordan to the Mediterranean,
if they refuse to sign a loyalty oath to Israel as a Jewish state. Then
there is a soft-core version called 'voluntary transfer' proposed by the
recently assassinated Rehavam Zeevi. Finally, one comes across Minister
Efi Eitam's transfer 'under necessity'.
Questioned on his conception of the 'voluntary transfer' of the Palestinians,
Minister of Tourism Rabbi Benny Eylon compared the 'voluntary' aspect of
transfer with that of a Jewish husband who refuses to grant a divorce to
his wife. Since the rabbinical court doesn't have the authority to untie
a marriage without the husband's consent, the religious authority must
use force: excommunicate the obstinate husband, beat him, and imprison
him until he 'voluntarily' repudiates his wife. That's the way to make
the Palestinians leave 'voluntarily', he explained.
The program of the Likud-Labor government presently in power is to
carry the Zionist enterprise to its conclusion by transforming all of Eretz
Israel into a Jewish state with a minimum of non-Jewish inhabitants. The
public debate centers on what 'minimum' means, in 'left' labor-party dominated
research institutions, the consensus is that a proportion of 8/2 in the
favor of Jews is 'something we can live with.'
The consensual view of the political majority in Israel and that of
the Sharon government was summarized succinctly by Israeli peace activist
Uri Avneri: "The 1948 war isn't over: only 78% of Palestine has been liberated."
In effect, Shahak reminds us, the term used in Hebrew isn't 'liberate'
mechuxrar but 'redeem'. The Hebrew word for redemption is ge'ula. It is
borrowed from Jewish theology where it refers to redemption of the individual
soul and of the Jewish people, which will be achieved with the arrival
of the Messiah, once Jews govern the entire world. According to Zionist
doctrine, 'redemption of the land' simply means that if a morsel of land
is possessed collectively or individually by Jews, it's 'redeemed'.
The 1948 war left 22% of the land in non-Jewish hands and the nation's
essential task now is to redeem that part of Eretz Israel. A window of
opportunity recently opened. Russia and Europe have effectively been eliminated
as world powers, and the single remaining power, America, provides Israel
with virtually unlimited political, economic and military support. It can
be safely assumed according to Israeli analysts, that this support will
continue even if some extreme measures are deployed. Besides, experience
shows that even if some American government circles are occasionally troubled
by Israeli actions, they end up keeping quiet. This seems to be a fairly
precise evaluation of American policy.
Three conditions must be satisfied in order to guarantee the success
of Israel's program.
1. The Palestinian resistance must be broken.
2. Public support must be ensured and the active participation by at
least a section of Israeli society needs to be counted on operationally.
3. International criticism must be silenced.
In regard to the first condition, Avneri identifies four means.
a. Continuous military operations. The entire army must be involved
in operations targeting the whole of Palestinian society. No distinction
should be made between the movements and the political parties. Hamas,
Fatah etc. should all be equally attacked. The civilian population must
be terrorized, assuring maximal destruction of property and cultural treasures.
b. Massive expulsions like in 1948 can only be carried out under exceptional
conditions, i.e., war. Action should therefore be taken to destabilize
the regimes and societies of the region, to create conditions for a much
wider war. In parallel, the daily life of the Palestinians must be rendered
unbearable: They should be locked up in the cities and towns, prevented
from exercising normal economic life, cut off from work places, schools
and hospitals. This will encourage immigration and weaken the resistance
to future expulsions.
c. The Palestinian political class must be eliminated: either by direct
assassinations, by detentions or by expulsions.
d. Finally, it's necessary to continue and expand the settlement activity
and 'redemption' of land. After all, wasn't it Nobel Prize winner Yitzhak
Rabin, who proclaimed that "every Jew has an inalienable right to live
anywhere in Eretz Israel"? (Interview in Ma'ariv on the eve of the 1995
It is patently clear that such 'sociocide' can only increase the terrorists'
motivation for launching suicide attacks. These should be encouraged. Terrorism
poses no threat to the State, its army or its institutions and constitutes
an investment with high returns: Arbitrary violence against civil society
sows immense panic, feeds fear and hatred of the Arabs. It forms a central
ingredient in the construction of an image of Israelis and Jews as persecuted
victims. "We are besieged. We're again fighting a battle of life and death,"
proclaims Avi Shavit in an article in Ha'aretz. In short, the human
bombs in the cafes and buses assure ever broader and deeper support for
a project of ethnic cleansing. Israeli civil society is authorized and
encouraged to use force that becomes justified as a means of self-defense.
All the elements are put in place for what Des Forges, in another context,
called 'the genocidal campaign'. Further, continued kamikaze actions and
the media coverage they elicit furnish a central element in the struggle
to rally world public opinion to the Zionist cause.
Finally, let's consider the Israeli strategy for facing up to the indignation
its program provokes in the West. One of the principal weapons of the Zionist
movement for silencing growing criticism consists of mobilizing the Jewish
communities. In this context it becomes necessary to utilize and in the
long run to encourage, the hatred of Jews in Europe and elsewhere in order
to create Jewish solidarity with the Zionist project. And so the self-proclaimed
leadership of these communities has as an essential task: to convey and
sustain a Jewish identity centered on total identification with Israel
and to denigrate and marginalize all other forms of Jewish identity. One
might quote in this regard the recent words of Alfred Donath, President
of the Swiss Federation of Jewish communities:
"The only real ally of Israel is the Jewish people. We must sustain
it and its democratically elected leaders, whoever they may be, with their
qualities and their faults, their firmness and their errors, their bravery
and their faux pas. Whether we agree with their politics or whether we
do not understand all the decisions of government. Today it is indecent
to mingle our voices with those of its detractors."
The official Jewish community marginalizes and casts aside an entire
tradition of a European minority, very involved in the construction of
the culture of modern secular Europe at least since the 18th century Enlightenment,
a universalistic, working class, socialist tradition but also a language,
a literature and a community network which was at the same time both European
and Jewish. A leader of the Neturei Karta community, ultra-orthodox but
anti-Zionist, Rabbi Leibele Weisfisch, who died about 10 years ago, once
said to me: "Nazism destroyed Judaism physically, Zionism destroyed it
spiritually." By calling on "all Jews" to form a bloc behind Israel, by
identifying the whole Diaspora with the Jewish state and all Jews with
Zionism, the Zionists add to 'classic' Anti-Semitism - never totally defeated,
a new Anti-Semitism, carefully constructed and nourished by the amalgam
of Jew/Zionist. As Daniel Bensaid says so well, "after having been 'the
socialism of imbeciles', Anti-Semitism could become the 'anti-imperialism
1. Israel Shahak, Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three
Thousand Years. Pluto Press, 1994.
2. Statistical Abstract of Israel, 2000. http://www.cbs.gov.il/shnaton51/st_eng02.pdf
3. Religious affiliation is an imposed status in Israel and never a
matter of personal choice. All identity cards issued to residents include
a religious affiliation (called 'nationality'), which is extremely difficult
to challenge legally. Judaism differs from Islam or Christianity, however,
in that it is also a racial category, like skin color, although, unlike
skin color, its transmission is not genetic but metaphysical.
4. Compare the classification categories used in the United Kingdom
(including Northern Ireland) census: Population and Vital Statistics by
area of Usual Residence in the United Kingdom 2000.
5. "Starting with the 1995 Census, due to the arrival of many immigrants
not listed as Jews in the Ministry of the Interior, the definitions of
religion and population group were altered in the population estimates
tables. The Christian group was divided in two - Arab Christians and Other
Christians, according to several criteria: locality of residence, nationality
and country of birth. An Arab Christian is defined as anyone living in
an Arab Locality or anyone who lives in another locality, but is listed
as having an Arab nationality in the Ministry of the Interior. If these
details were missing whoever was born in an Arab country or in Israel,
but to a father born in an Arab country, was included in the Arab Christians
group. The rest of the Christians are defined as Other Christians (not
Arabs). Another group presented separately since 1995 is the group unclassified
by religion in the Ministry of the Interior. The persons in this group
are usually family members of Jewish immigrants, as is usually the case
with other Christians.".. http://www.cbs.gov.il/shnaton51/st_eng02.pdf
6. Des Forges, Alison. No Witness Shall Survive: The Genocide in Rwanda.
Human Rights Watch, International Federation of Leagues of Rights of Man,
Karthala, 1999. http://www.hrw.org/reports/1999/rwanda/
7. Seltzer, William. 'Population statistics, the holocaust and the
Nuremberg trials. ' Population and Development Review,24:3.1998.
8. A recent example of Apartheid-style discrimination can be found
in a Zionist Council proposal to cut the National Insurance Institute's
child allowances, starting from the fifth child, in order to limit the
birth rate. Lili Galili comments ('A Jewish demographic state'. Ha'aretz,
June,28 2002.) "As it is clear to everyone that the ultra-Orthodox who
have large families will find some arrangement, especially in the age of
the demographic struggle, this is obviously an attempt to limit the birth
rate in the Arab sector."
9. Galili writes: "The new interest in demography touches the core
of the state's being - its definition as a Jewish state. For the first
time in the history of public discourse here, even the most devout leftists
are being required to confront their inner truth. It is no longer possible
to seek refuge in banal statements like "there is no contradiction between
a Jewish and a democratic state," or hollow slogans about coexistence.
Anyone who clings to the concept of a Jewish state cannot ignore the demographic
figures laid out in black and white in dozens of publications on the subject.
The character of the state, its identity card, now depends on the definitions
derived from these figures. The fact that the vast majority of Jewish citizens
cling to the definition of Israel as a "Jewish state" leaves no way out."
10. "Put an end to the Oslo ecstasy!" Reprinted in Le Courrier International,
Number 520, October 19, 2000.