Text of address by Henry Lowi* to the first public forum of the group Not in Our Name, Toronto, 15 March 2007
Henry Lowi says that Israeli anti-Zionists are against Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state because it is predicated upon settler-colonialism, ethnic cleansing and racist discriminations, and because it is “the main engine of anti-Semitism in the world today”.
I want to thank “NOT IN OUR NAME” for inviting me to speak this evening. I also want to thank all of you for coming to this meeting.
My topic is: Why Israeli anti-Zionists do NOT “recognize the right of the state of Israel to exist as a Jewish state”.
In recent times, the demand has been raised, by representatives of the state of Israel, and by its supporters abroad, to recognize the state of Israel’s "right to exist as a Jewish state". I am told that this demand is a debater's trick that was invented by Henry Kissinger several years ago.
Be that as it may, what, if anything, is wrong with this demand?
Let me start with an example: In Canada, the aboriginal First Nations have never been asked to recognize the legitimacy of the government of Canada, or the “right to exist” of the Canadian state, and, in fact, in general, they deny that legitimacy. The First Nations say repeatedly that they are the ongoing victims of colonialism, and genocide. Representatives of First Nations negotiate as de facto parties to contract, and they sign treaties, and then they demand that the treaties be performed in good faith.
Unlike the First Nations of North America, the Palestinian people are asked to recognize the legitimacy, the “right to exist” of the state of Israel, “as a Jewish state”.
If the goal is a negotiated peace agreement, or treaty, there is no need for recognition of "the right of the state of Israel to exist as a Jewish state". If the goal is to sabotage the possibility of a negotiated agreement, this demand has been placed front and centre.
A couple of other examples, just to illustrate the preposterous nature of the demand.
Has anyone ever asked the Catholics of Ireland to recognize the right of Ulster, or Northern Ireland, to exist as a “Protestant state”?
Would we recognize the right of any state to exist as a “Hindu state”? As a “Muslim state”?
Just to pose the question is to expose its nature.
But, maybe we are not talking about “Jewish state” as a state affiliated to the Jewish religion. Maybe we are talking about a state that is defined by the dominant ethnicity. In that case, the position does not get any better.
Michael Neumann said it well in his article on the “Case against Zionism” (Counterpunch):
When a state is described in relation to the territory it controls, its ethnic character is open. The French state is not necessarily a state for some ethnic group called Frenchmen, just as the Belgian or Yugoslav or Jamaican state weren't states for ethnic groups of that name. But a Catholic state would be a state run by Catholics; a black state would be a state run by blacks; a heterosexual state would be run by heterosexuals. This could hardly be clearer: what would be Catholic or black or heterosexual about a state not run by at least some members of those groups?”
A Jewish state would, therefore, be a state run by and for Jews. In such a state, Jews would be sovereign. The state would be run in their interests.
So far – Michael Neumann.
Let us recall that Theodor Herzl’s book was called Der Judenstaat, or the State of the Jews. That might have sounded not so terrible at the end of the 19th century.
But since then, we have had our fill of states whose raison d’etre is to preserve ethnic superiority and domination. One does not have to refer to the late unlamented “Aryan state”. Within recent memory, we had white-supremacist Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa. Whatever limits there are to analogies from and to these white supremacist regimes, we have learned that states that define themselves with reference to the domination of one ethnic group cannot claim legitimacy.
Now, I would be the first to recognize the undeniable fact of Jewish religious, cultural, and spiritual ties to the Holy Land - Eretz Yisrael, or Palestine.
And I would have been the first to recognize the undeniable need to rescue Jewish people from the Holocaust.
And I would certainly be the first to recognize the undeniable right of Jewish people to live anywhere - anywhere on this planet - and enjoy human rights.
But from all of that does not follow recognition of the “right to exist” of a supremacist regime akin to that in Rhodesia.
Israel and its allies insist that the Palestinian victims of Zionism must “recognize Israel as a Jewish state with a Jewish majority”.
No one seems concerned about the fact that this ultimatum flies in the face of elementary democratic values regarding human equality and human rights.
Israel’s backers seek to legitimize a state that defines itself constitutionally as one in which Jewish people have privileges that are denied to non-Jews, a state that can constitutionally maintain a demographic majority of Jewish people, and a state that constitutionally denies the right of return of the indigenous Palestinian Arab inhabitants.
Israel’s backers seek to legitimize that which is illegitimate by any standard of democracy.
This dispute is not about borders.
In Ilan Pappe’s recent book – The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine - he describes the events in a process of “ethnic cleansing” conducted by the forces under David Ben-Gurion’s leadership, from December 1947 to December 1948.
An older book, by Sabri Jiryis - The Arabs in Israel - describes a reality of racist segregation and racist discrimination.
I have often said that the Israeli policy of “Judaization of Galilee” was a continuation of the 1947-48 policy of “ethnic cleansing”. So are the home demolitions policy, the land confiscation policy, the Wall policy, the family unification policy – and all the Israeli policies calculated to harass Palestinians so that they get up and leave, and open up new room for settler-colonialism.
Fundamentally, Zionism would prefer more land and less Palestinians. Zionism never wanted a Palestinian underclass. But, since the ethnic cleansing of 1947-48 was incomplete, there is much still to be done to achieve the goals of Zionism, and therefore much conflict and much oppression.
So, the State of Israel demands a priori recognition of the irreversibility of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the legitimacy of a racist regime.
To summarize, the State of Israel is characterized by three essential features:
ethnic cleansing; and
Anti-Zionist Israelis fight to reverse, to overturn, those three essential features of the state of Israel.
Just as Zionism is predicated on taking Jewish people from our countries of origin, in which our families have lived for generations, and ingathering us to the Promised Land – the state of Israel is predicated on keeping Palestinians out of their country of origin, in which their families have lived for generations. The essence of a “Jewish state” in Palestine has always been: Jews in; Palestinians out. This is a central, permanent feature of the “Jewish State”, one that links Herzl’s theories with Israeli practice, and one that cannot be changed by adding the adjective “democratic” to “Jewish State”.
Imagine what it would be like to add the adjective “democratic” to “Aryan state” or “Hindu state” or “Protestant state” or “Islamic republic”!
It just doesn’t work that way.
So, there can be no “right to exist” of the State of Israel as a "Jewish state", whether we are referring to the dominance of a religious group or of an ethnic group.
Add to that the fact that the state of Israel is the main engine of anti-Semitism in the world today, as Lord Montagu predicted in 1917.
And that is why anti-Zionist Israelis do NOT “recognize the right of the State of Israel to exist as a Jewish State”.
P.S. There are two new websites that are worthy of your attention:
The Israeli left-wing discussion site of “Hagada Hasmalit”, now also in English.
The online archive of the Socialist Organization in Israel – Matzpen, that was the first explicitly anti-Zionist formation in the State of Israel.
*Henry Lowi lived in Israel from 1971 to 1988. He is an Israeli armed forces veteran, and a veteran of the peace movement, and of Palestine solidarity.