Peacemaking Raises Identity Fears
By Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler
JERUSALEM, Oct 5, 2010 (IPS) - The fate of the just resumed Palestinian-Israeli peace-building efforts is being kept under a tight wrap by all parties. So far, so good.
(Second half of the article)
World-renowned political scientist Prof. Shlomo Avineri of Hebrew University in Jerusalem paints an almost apocalyptic future for Israel. In a parable-like article he insists that Israel must continue to cling to its fundamental Jewish character and traditional Jewish symbols, and to resist demands from some Arab Israeli intellectuals for amending the "Jewishness" of Israel, and creating instead but one national "Israeli" identity that would be neither Jewish nor Arab.
If Jewish Israelis agree to go down what he sees as a slippery slope, Avineri predicts that Israel would inevitably slide into becoming a second "Palestine".
In substance, the Avineri warning is that Arab Israelis are abusing their democratic rights as full citizens by trying to deny the majority's right for self-determination as Jews. Should his fellow Jewish Israelis acquiesce in that, argues Avineri, they would in essence be agreeing to give up on the reason their state was established in the first place - -self-determination for the Jewish people in their "national homeland".
The Avineri thesis is vehemently opposed by two University of Haifa lecturers, Dr. Asad Ghanem and Dr. Ilan Saban. They say Avineri's arguments "faithfully represent a pattern of thought among Israelis that is causing Israel to bring itself to the brink of an abyss."
Sarcastically, they write: "For Avineri, the major threat faced by Israel is not at all the growth of anti-democratic forces within it, nor what Israel has been doing during its 43-year occupation and colonisation. Nor is it the harsh discrimination and exclusionary policies of the state against its Arab citizens. No, the major threat he sees is Israeli Jews committing themselves to full equal rights for their fellow Arab citizens.
"How logical is it for the majority to be frightened of itself?" Ghanem and Saban continue. "How can the Majority, which has in its hands the social, economic, cultural and military power, the political and legal authority, seriously justify its fear of losing control of its own destiny?"
The conundrum of how to confront the conflicting demands of ethnic affiliation, national identity, equality, mutual acceptance and democracy has been with Israel ever since its creation more than 60 years ago. What is becoming patently clear is that even if successful, peace between the state of Israel and the Palestinian state, may paradoxically not actually solve that testing conundrum. It may simply complicate the old-new identity problems even further. (END)