Uri Ram is a professor of behavioral science, Ben-Gurion University
Post–Zionism is a counter–hegemonic political culture that emerged in Israel during the 1990s. It exposed the inherent tension between the Jewish domination over the state and the latter’s democratic pretensions. While since the beginning of the current decade post-Zionism was declared to have exhausted itself with no tangible achievements, it turns out that in 2007 a second wave of post-Zionism is unfolding, albeit with noticeable changes from the first wave, yet with an even more invigorated impetus.
In the 1990s post–Zionism emerged in association with the individualist culture and the privatized economy that took hold in the country, which underwent a neo-liberal restructuring. The transition from national capitalism to global capitalism involved state contraction, economic marketization and the commoditization of culture. The "Oslo" Peace Process was part of this overall scheme. It was intended to pacify hostilities and make the region safer for investors. Another component of this shift was what was termed the Constitutional Revolution of civil rights, led by the Supreme Court under the presidency of Judge Aharon Bark.
First–wave post–Zionism was the accompanying shift in left-wing
intellectual and political culture. It was expressed audaciously in critical sociology, the new history, and other branches of Israel studies and was circulated in the wider public discourse through the media.
Yet as the 1990s waned and the Jewish settlement in the Palestinian territories continued unimpeded and the “Peace Process” faltered, post Zionism subsided. Since 2000, this process was aggravated by the second Palestinian intifada, and since 2001, by the worldwide change in political atmosphere in the wake of the Al Qaeda terrorist attack on New York and Washington, D.C.
But the implicit contradiction in the core of the Israeli polity that post-Zionism made explicit did not disappear. In fact, it was quite to the contrary. In 2001 Israeli security forces—under the premiership of Ehud Barak—shot to death twelve Palestinian citizens of Israel who were participating in demonstrations. This was a sign of the descending spiral in the relations between the state and 20 percent of its citizens, who are Arab Palestinians. The result of the combined failure of “Oslo” and the continuous structural discrimination and systematic exclusion of the Palestinian citizens in Israel led to the outbreak of the second wave of post-Zionism, this time in the shape of the public demand of the Arab citizens of Israel for a constitutional reform that will genuinely democratize Israel and make it an equal political home for all its citizens, regardless of identity differences.
Second wave post-Zionism is engendered from an array of Arab demands to democratize Israel, which include the following publicized documents:
The “Future Vision for the Palestinian Arabs in Israel”, issued by the High Follow-up Committee of the Heads of Arab Municipalities in Israel. The Democratic Constitution proposal of Adallah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel
A judicial position document that was produced by the Moussawa Center (NGO) in conjunction with a United Nations agency.
An initiative by the Ibn Khaldun Center to create a separate elective representative body for the Palestinian citizens of Israel.
The “Haifa Declaration” document, issued by Mada al-Carmel Arab Center for Applied Social Research, located in Haifa.
Let there be no mistake—the demand of the Arab citizens of Israel for equal citizenship preceded post-Zionism and is independent of it. Since 1948, Arab politics in Israel has been defined by this demand, and the Communist Party has expressed it throughout its history. The Balad Party joined this demand in the 1990s with a more lucid but also more
nationalist twist. Yet in hindsight, the current wave of Arab demands for equal citizenship gives now amplified significance to the post–Zionism of the 1990s and it picks up where the liberal constitutional revolution failed. Thus from a historical perspective, the present campaign is one more link in a chain of demands to democratize Israel.
Second–wave post–Zionism tackles head-on exactly what remained unresolved in the constitutional enactments of the 1990s, i.e., the status of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel, or in other words the Jewish nature of the state. The judicial democratization of Israel in the 1990s left intact the ethnic domination of the Jewish community over the state and even
re-incorporated it. The Supreme Court has maneuvered uncomfortably in order to bridge the gulf between the Jewish and democratic sides of the “Jewish and Democratic” equation. Furthermore, the Supreme Court— exactly because it was self-portrayed as champion of liberal rights— “balanced” itself by serving as a rubber stamp for the regime of military occupation in the Palestinian territories.
The maxim “Jewish and Democratic” came to be one of the most salient bones of political contention over the nature of the Israeli state. While the political center cherishes the transition to a (neo)liberal regime accompanied by a moderate version of Jewish ethnic domination, the nationalist and religious Right considers this orientation as “too democratic” and endangering the “Jewishness” of Israel, whereas the (dismally small) Left considers this orientation as “too Jewish” and endangering the further democratization of Israel.
The great achievement of first wave post-Zionism was the ushering in of the counter–hegemonic concept “a state of all its citizens” into the public discourse, as against the dominant concept of “the Jewish and Democratic State”. Second–wave post-Zionism now further politicizes this concept and mobilizes citizens under its banner. One can say that the center of gravity of post–Zionism has began to shift now from the
intellectual “bubble” of Tel Aviv into the Arab cities and villages of the Galilee, from aloof university intellectuals to public activists, from the Jewish sector to the Arab sector, and from the judicial arena to the political arena. With all these shifts, it is to be expected that
post-Zionism will also shift its appellation. It will probably be called a struggle for a “free state” or as a campaign for constitutional reform.
An analysis of the substance of the demands for constitutional reform goes beyond this brief trend report. The documents mentioned touch upon issues of national identity, colonialist history, civil rights, equal citizenship and power sharing. It is not entirely clear at this point whether the main demand is for a “state of citizens” (i.e., “nation” blind state; or a state that will eventuality generate a new common nationality), or whether the main demand is for a “bi-national state” and power sharing between the two national communities (and in the latter case, what would be the pertinent institutional structure). The impression of this writer is that the latter orientation predominates, but that only the former—post national—orientation may provide a genuine remedy (rather then fixing the two “nations” as the sole arbiters of the new polity). The documents relate to Israel in its 1948-1967 “green line”, and thus refrain from calling to the equalization of citizenship rights in one state under all the territories reigned by Israel; but if Israel will not relinquish soon all the Palestinian Occupied Territories this demand will become the order of the day.
It is beyond doubt that the new wave of struggle for a constitutional reform in Israel has two radical implications: First, it gives new voice to the Palestinian citizens of Israel and makes true the promise of the “upright generation” to stand firmly upon its rights. Second, this new wave of struggle will compel a “reality check” upon the state of Israel and the Jewish sector at large. Exposed to the new challenge, Israel will be forced to dispose of with the untenable hypocritical stance of being both Jewish and Democratic, and to make an open and clear choice – either Jewish or democratic. Israeli public opinion is thus expected to bifurcate between those who will prioritize a “Jewish state” and those who will prioritize a democratic state.
Unfortunately, it seems that the initial reaction of the majority in Israel is to entrench the “Jewishness” of the state and to discard the democratic décor whenever and wherever it threats to temper with this. And so, just as post–Zionism enters a new phase, so does also it opposite trend: the neo–Zionist nationalistic backlash. There is an immanent danger that under the new pressure the state will shed any guise of democracy and will turn overtly into apartheid policies of separation and repression. Even before the ink has dried on the constitutional–reform documents, a poisonous backlash started in Israeli media and from various state agencies, foremost of them is the notorious Shabak, the General Security Service. The head of the latter published an official threat—on a Prime Minister’s letterhead—claiming that the Service will persecute and curb any demand to change the “Jewish character” of Israel, even if such demands are pursued in legal and peaceful manners. The scandalous
harassment by the Shabak of Knesset Member Azmi Bishara—one of the most important political and intellectual leaders of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel—is yet another case in point. Bishara is being persecuted not because he passed information to the Hezbollah in a time of war, as the Shabak alleges, but precisely because he became a relentless symbol of the demand for a “state of its citizens.”
There is concern that the retirement of Aharon Barak from the Presidency of the Supreme Court in 2006 will be remembered as a historic turning point in which the torch of justice in Israel, as feeble as it is, has passed not from one liberal President to his successor (Judge Dorit Beinish), but rather from the hands of judicial liberals to the hands of judicial nationalists (of the likes of Prof. Ruth Gavison, who is
repeatedly mentioned as a candidate to the Supreme Court), who advocate the supremacy of the Jewish state over basic democratic principles. In such a case, the face Israel will see in the mirror will be an uglier one.
Uri Ram is a sociologist at Ben Gurion University in Israel and at currently a visiting professor at the New School for Social Research in New York. His most recent book is The Globalization of Israel: McWorld in Tel Aviv, Jihad in Jerusalem (Routledge, 2007).
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