Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Shlomo Sand: To Be a Jew in Israel

Essential reading from Shlomo Sand's whistle-blowing must-read How I Stopped Being a Jew (2014):

"To be a Jew in the State of Israel does not mean that you have to respect the commandments or believe in the God of the Jews. You are allowed, like David Ben-Gurion, to dabble in Buddhist beliefs. You may, like Ariel Sharon, eat locusts while keeping a kosher household. You may keep your head uncovered, as do the majority of Israeli political and military leaders. In most Israeli towns, public transport does not operate on the Shabbat, but you should feel free to use your own car as much as you like. You may gesticulate and hurl insults at a football stadium on the sacred day of rest, and no religious politician will dare protest. Even on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, children freely play on their bicycles in every courtyard in the city. As long as they do not come from Arabs, anti-Jewish abominations remain legitimate in the state of the Jews.

"What is the meaning, then, of being 'Jewish' in the State of Israel? There is no doubt about it: being Jewish in Israel means, first and foremost, being a privileged citizen who enjoys prerogatives refused to those who are not Jews, and particularly those who are Arabs. If you are a Jew, you are able to identify with the state that proclaims itself the expression of the Jewish essence. If you are a Jew, you can buy land that a non-Jewish citizen is not allowed to acquire. If you are a Jew, even if you speak only a stumbling Hebrew and envisage staying in Israel only temporarily, you can be governor of the Bank of Israel, which employs only four Israeli Arabs in subordinate positions out of a staff of seven hundred. If you are a Jew, you can be minister of foreign affairs and live permanently in a settlement located outside the legal borders of the state, alongside Palestinian neighbours deprived of all civic rights as well as sovereignty over themselves. If you are a Jew, you can not only establish colonies on land that does not belong to you, but can also travel through Judea and Samaria on roads that the local inhabitants, living in their own country, do not have the right to use. If you are a Jew, you will not be stopped at roadblocks, you will not be tortured, you will not have your house searched in the middle of the night, you will not be targeted nor will you see your house demolished by mistake. These actions, which have continued for close to fifty years, are designed and reserved solely for Arabs.

"In the State of Israel in the early twenty-first century, does it not appear that being a Jew corresponds to being a white in the southern United States in the 1950s or a French person in Algeria before 1962? Does not the status of Jews in Israel resemble that of the Afrikaners in South Africa before 1994? And is it possible that it might soon resemble the status of the Aryan in Germany in the 1930s? (Resemblance has its limits, however: I utterly reject the least comparison with Germany in the 1940s.)

"How, in these conditions, can individuals who are not religious believers but are simply humanists, democrats and liberals, and endowed with a minimum of honesty, continue to define themselves as Jews? In these conditions, can the descendants of the persecuted let themselves be embraced in the tribe of new secular Jews who see Israel as their exclusive property? Is not the very fact of defining oneself as a Jew within the State of Israel an act of affiliation to a privileged caste which creates intolerable injustices around itself?" (pp 85-7)

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