Nationalism and Democracy: Another View (Epilogue)

[Read the introduction before continuing. Also see: Part One, Part Two and Part Three of this article]

But perhaps I have erred here as well regarding the authors’ intentions? Maybe they didn’t mean to refer to the distinction between ethnic and civilian nationalism? Maybe they recognize that most nationalisms have an ethnic aspect, and agree that there are types of ethnic nationalism which belong to ‘enlightened’ politics? How else can one interpret the following sentence: ‘The UN and the international community understood that the Jews have a right to a state that would be their homeland, in which they could fulfill their need for national self-determination’? Surely it is clear that the right of Jews to a homeland involves something more concrete than the meager outlook of civilian nationalism?

If this is the case, then the distinction needs to be between an ethnic nationalism (‘enlightened’) which grants citizenship and individual freedoms to individuals belonging to ethnic minorities in the state and an ethnic nationalism (‘romantic’) which denies these rights to their minorities. In the former case the state exists on the basis of a social contract in which the majority recognizes all the individual rights of all the citizens, and the ethnic minorities on their part suffice with these freedoms and do not challenge the national public character of the state as determined by the majority.

However if this is the position of the authors, it comes into conflict with their scathing critical rhetoric. After all, it seems that such a position reflects the Israeli political concensus stretching from Meretz to Likud. Only Moshe Feiglin’s ‘Manhigut Yehudit’ negates this outlook on a declarative level, to which we can add the ‘Ichud Hale’umi’ and the Balad party. Even ‘Israel Beiteinu’ and ‘Im Tirtzu’, in spite of the tremendous damage they are causing to inter-ethnic relations in the state, support this ‘enlightened’ position at least on the declarative level. If the authors are referring to the settlers who wish to hold onto all of the land of Israel (as is hinted at times throughout the article), then that right is not new but rather old, and in recent years its power has not increased – it has shrunk. The disengagement from Gaza will suffice to demonstrate its helplessness.

Towards the end of the article this line of argument starts to sound more and more dominant. It is not the ethnicity of the Jewish state that bothers the authors, but the question of the occupation. This is what turns the policy of the Israeli right into a ‘romantic’ one. This interpretation can be deduced from the following passage:

‘The reason Israel is so isolated is not that the world doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of its existence, but that it doesn’t accept Israel’s violations of international law and the ongoing Israeli occupation, which denies the Palestinians rights which are perceived in the world as self-evident to everyone.’

It is difficult to conceive a sentence which would be as removed from reality as the one quoted above. It uses clichés without trying to see if they have a foundation (such as the rhetorical argument that Israel is violating international law), and as in the in case of [the] ‘anachronism’ [argument] the authors uncritically accept the the routine justifications of critics of Israel. A more critical article would pose questions. For instance, why is it that as the size of the territory and number of residents without Israeli citizenship under Israeli occupation shrinks, the isolation of the state of Israel actually increases? An even deeper article would deal with the fact that most of the forces on the Israeli right (such as Likud, Shas and ‘Israel Beiteinu’) are actually trying to create a situation in which Israel will not control a population without Israeli citizenship. In other words, they are striving to the very goal the international community ostensibly laid down (if we believe the authors that the world completely accepts the legitimacy of the existence of the state of Israel as a Jewish state). It may be that their desire that Israel retain part of the [post-’67] territories is not wise or just, but there is no contradiction between the Israeli attempt to shift the border and enlightened politics, as long as those borders do not include a population which will not be given Israeli citizenship. Furthermore, if according to enlightened politics, there are no sacred territories, then that principle applies to the Palestinians as well.

So what did we get out of this long discussion? Was it really necessary to discuss one short article in such depth? After all, the arguments I attributed to the authors was an analytical deconstruction, and the story is actually much simpler. It seems to me, that authors are motivated by the desire to promote a moderate Zionist world-view. They blame the right (which adheres to ‘the land’) in that it weakens the standing of Zionism. However they adopt a slanted terminology and historical analysis which leads the article to the very direction they wished to avoid. This is because in the end instead of being an example of moderation and careful thought, the article degenerates and uses clichés which characterize the extreme position which sees Israel and Jewish nationalism as the parties responsible for the Middle East conflict.

In my analysis, I wished to uncover the internal dynamic which is pushing the moderate left to the sphere of the extreme left, even when its intentions are the opposite. This dynamic is made possible by intellectual vagueness hiding behind ostensibly simple schematics, a vagueness which is caused among other things from an intellectual flight from the complex reality, or by uncritical acceptance of problematic patterns of thought and slanted historical analyses offered by those with anti-Israel agenda. Only when our discourse frees itself from these clichés will it be possible to discuss the problems facing the state of Israel in a rational and responsible manner.



Hi, my name is Avi Woolf. I'm an American-Israeli MO Jew living in Israel. I have a background in Israeli (as in Land of Israel) and Jewish History and an insatiable need for knowledge. I also have professional experience as an editor, translator and indexer. Enjoy the ride! If you are interested in using my services or just want to drop me a line, contact me at:
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