Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sheridan in Love 2

"This question of language is of the first order of importance. The ancient Chinese sage Confucius, when asked what would be the main political reform he would carry out if he achieved state power, replied: 'It would certainly be to rectify the names'." (Israeli leaders mislabelled by foes, Greg Sheridan, The Australian, 9/4/09)

Greg (Jerusalem Prize) Sheridan, foreign editor of The Australian and Israel's number one spruiker in the Australian mainstream media, is long on quoting Confucius, but short on following his advice. Sheridan is adamant that his beloved Israel, warts & all, is a 'democracy' as we know it: "The Israel I know is a Western democracy... Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East... the only society in the Middle East with all the institutions of democracy: a media that reveals all its secrets, a free parliament, independent courts, independent universities and the rest." (Israel still looks good, warts & all, The Australian Literary Review, 6/5/09)

Contemporary Israeli sage, Jeff Halper, begs to differ. Here's his rectification: "Israel presents itself as a Western democracy (the 'only democracy in the Middle East') and, on the surface, it resembles one. In fact, it is something quite different, an ethnocracy based on an Eastern European tribal nationalism. An ethnocracy is the opposite of a democracy, although it might incorporate some elements of democracy such as universal citizenship and elections. It arises when one particular group... seizes control of the government and armed forces in order to enforce a regime of exclusive privilege over other groups in what is in fact a multi-ethnic or multi-religious society. Ethnocracy, or ethno-nationalism, privileges ethnos over demos, whereby one's ethnic affiliation, be it defined by race, descent, religion, language or national origin, takes precedence over citizenship in determining to whom a country actually 'belongs'. Israel is referred to explicitly by its political leaders as a 'Jewish democracy'... If the dominant group constitutes as large a majority* as do the Jews of Israel (between 70% and 75%), there is little need for repressive measures to enforce ethnic domination, so a democratic facade can be maintained. Hence the formal rights of citizenship bestowed upon the 'Israeli Arabs'... But in every aspect of Israeli life, the ethnos takes precedence over the state or civil society. Most obvious are the symbols that represent the state. The very name of the country denotes its belonging to the Jews, as do the exclusively Jewish motifs on our flag and the exclusively Jewish content of our national anthem... The 'story' of Israel is that of the official Zionist narrative, with no other viewpoints permitted or legitimized... More serious, however, are the structural inequalities inherent in any ethnocracy. Arabs may sit in the parliament but no government decision is considered legitimate unless it enjoys a 'Jewish majority' - that is, the support of the majority of Jews in the Parliament rather than a parliamentary majority that requires Arab votes... The Law of Return that determines who can immigrate to Israel applies only to Jews. I immigrated from Minnesota and received citizenship automatically; a Palestinian who was born here but lived for an extensive time outside is denied citizenship and the right to return. And then there is the land issue**, discrimination in housing and education which are strictly segregated... There is not even a civil mechanism by which Jewish, Christian and Muslim citizens of Israel can marry each other, since personal staus - citizenship, marriage, death, inheritance - is regulated by religious and not civil law." (An Israeli in Palestine, 2008, pp 75-76)

[*As I've pointed out before, the only reason why Israel enjoys this large Jewish majority is because the then non-Jewish majority was driven out in 1948. Their return, resisted tooth and nail by all Israeli governments since, would create a whole new ball-game. **Israel's so-called Israeli Arabs, the remnant who managed to avoid being driven out in 1948, are denied access to the 93% of the land area of pre-67 Israel which is reserved exclusively for Israeli Jews.]

Stay tuned for Sheridan in Love 3.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What would Jeff Halper know. He hasn't had the advantage of a Rambam fellowship to Israel.