Monday, July 29, 2013

Pretending democracy: Israel, an ethnocratic state

This review was first published in Middle East Monitor here.

Editor: Na'eem Jeenah
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Afro-Middle East Centre; First edition
Language: English ISBN-10: 0620540427

Public space in the state of Israel remains a contentious issue. The purported Jewish and democratic nature of the state – a political bargaining tool in order to obtain the coveted legitimacy from other significant countries, entrenches the reality of a settler and ethnocentric state. Pretending democracy: Israel, an ethnocratic State (AMEC, 2012), a collection of academic papers examining the reality and consequences for Palestinians, exposes an ethnocracy which has sought to promote an illusion of democracy to conceal a 'selective openness' which facilitates marginalisation of the indigenous population.

The book is an invaluable treatise which delves into the importance of recognising Palestinian legitimacy in order to achieve 'political and constitutional claim'. Deriving both similarities and contrasts from the apartheid in South Africa, it is observed that South Africa was more explicit in implementing apartheid. Israel continues to avail itself of democracy rhetoric in an attempt to distance itself from unofficial apartheid policy, despite ample proof with regard to dispossession, massacres, settler violence and deprivation of socio-economic rights. An overview of Israel's 1992 Basic Law ascertains Israel's ethnocratic nature, containing legal provisions allegedly safeguarding Israeli citizens, while enshrining the state's values within the banner of 'Jewish and democratic', thus promoting a Jewish cultural hegemony.

Through a comprehensive discussion of various complications, including Israel's distinction between citizenship and nationality, incongruous borders, the subjugation of ethnic groups, alleged biological historiography and the legitimate right to oppress, the authors reveal the foundations of a state based upon selective fragments of history which are manipulated in accordance with Zionist ideology. Shlomo Sand's contribution discusses how Jewish acknowledgment of subjugation to greater powers shifted the dynamics of group solidarity to ethnic dominance. "Zionism from its inception was an ethnocentric nationalist movement that firmly enclosed the historical people of its own invention, and banned any voluntary civil entry into the nation its platform began to design."

Through this chronological fragmentation, the absence of nationhood promoted the conquest of the 'imaginary homeland', marked by the Palestinian Nakba and the incessant onslaught of violations. Jewish self-determination could only be supported by European colonialism, hence the settler culture of European Jews in Palestinian territory. As Ze'ev Jabotisnsky had asserted, Israel's expansionist programme was based upon 'a permanent alliance with European colonies against all the Arabs in the Mediterranean'. The use of force became a necessary strategy to ensure a weakened resolve of Palestinian, also portraying Israel's condescending attitude towards colonialism an apartheid, which it deems a 'legitimate right'. Oren Yiftachel's paper discusses the manner in which Israel, together with globalisation, have exacerbated inequality and the contradictions within Zionist discourse in stressing the need for 'peace' and agreements while implementing measures which further Israel's expansion into Palestinian territory, thus justifying the occupying power's rhetoric of security concerns. The geographical fragmentation of Palestinian villages, the deprivation of rights for Bedouin in the Negev, and the insistence of invoking militant rhetoric as proof of anti-Semitism are described as 'calculated changes' by Yiftachel, who elaborates further upon Israel's self-portrayal of democracy as a means to legitimise ethnocracy. The extraction of the Jewish state from Palestinian history also distances the occupying power from geography – an approach taken by intellectuals sympathetic to Zionism which allows a negotiating space for overlooking the ramifications of colonialism. The allegedly 'temporary' characteristic of Israel's occupation, reinforced by security concerns, has proven vital to retain a constant manipulation of international law.

Israel's 'settler democracy', represented by the occupation and its allies as a 'representative democracy', thrives upon an artificial majority. The illegal hegemony clearly demonstrates a demographic reality. Recognising the right of return for Palestinians would propel the sustained Jewish majority into a minority group. Daryl Glaser argues that settlers have availed themselves of a rejectionist approach by enforcing a control system. Having 'persuaded' the West of democracy, Israeli narrative ensures colonial survival by expounding upon civil rights in the region, in turn shifting attention to the Jewish state's internal and selective democracy. As Glaser states, "Another way to think about Israel's 'at least we're democratic' defence is that it implies that democratic rule over one's self legitimates non-democratic rule over others. In effect, democracy legitimates dictatorship."

The transformation wrought by a misrepresentation of democracy transforms the masses into 'collective tyrants'. In the case of Israel, the reluctance to define territorial borders as well as Zionist adherents has ensured the improbability of stability, aided by imperial interests and guilt in manufacturing an acceptance of apartheid by playing upon the history of the Holocaust as justification for atrocities committed against Palestinians. The alleged vulnerability of Israel, warranting defence by extreme militarisation, has convinced a considerable percentage of the Jewish population that Zionism provides protection against a repetition of Holocaust crimes, according to Daniel Boyarin exhibiting their inability to survive without the reality of state violence in order to ensure continuity of their identity. This tendency is contrasted with the fact that migration from Israel surpasses the influx of new settlers, thus invalidating the argument of state protection as a necessity.

"A new Palestinian-Israeli nation cannot be imagined if it implies the legitimation of land theft as is the case in various parts of the West Bank and Israel, or of the deliberate disadvantaging and humiliation suffered by Palestinians for decades." The Zionist 'ownership' of Judaism has resulted into a settler usurpation of land, a concept which frames the Hamas struggle against Zionist legitimacy. Expansion has encompassed Palestinian land, with adjustments being carried out in order to enforce isolation and possible displacement of the indigenous population. Reconciliation remains distant if Israel consolidates the historic denial of Palestinians, which hinders any possibility of constructing the ideology of a nation if the homeland of Palestine remains occupied within a physical and philosophical context.

No comments: