Many (too many) years ago, Sari Nusseibeh and I debated in the studio of Israel’s television Channel 1, before there was a Channel 2. We even shared the same shaving razor in the make-up room just before going on air.
And many years later, despite his reputation as a “moderate,” Nusseibeh, a professor of philosophy at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem—scion to one of the elite or noble, even aristocratic families of the Arabs of Palestine—would not free himself from the corrosive and vindication-seeking ideology of Palestinianism.
For him, writing on Al Jazeera in 2011, Israel’s “demand to be recognised as a ‘Jewish state’ by the Palestinians is an inherently problematic concept.” With the election victory of the Joint Arab List, with its 14 Arab and one Jewish Knesset members, and their demand to rescind the Jewish Nation-State Law, this issue merits a review. The review is necessary for MK Ahmad Tibi provided an even more strident tone to the argument over Israel as a Jewish state in an interview on March 9 on Radio 103FM by Ben Caspit and Yinon Magal.
Answering a question, Tibi declared that “the term Eretz-Yisrael [the Land of Israel] is a colonialist term and not only do I not accept it, I oppose it. Is that clear?”
He continued, “I reject with full contempt the term Judea and Samaria. That refers to the Palestinian West Bank, Palestinian territories that were conquered.” For extra measure, he added, “I detest settlers in the settlements.”
Benny Begin, currently a MEMRI researcher, published an article reviewing the inability of any of the Palestinian Authority’s leaders to accept the concept of a “Jewish state.” He ended thus: “We must not close our eyes to the simple fact that, for the PLO, the core issue is the hundred-year-old ‘injustice’ embedded in the very existence of Jewish sovereignty in any part of Palestine.”
Interestingly, that Haaretz English-language edition version dropped a section contained in the original Hebrew [I was informed that Begin was limited to 1,500-words in English, less than half the original Hebrew]. Begin was quoting Shlomo Ben-Ami’s observations that at Camp David II and afterwards, the Palestinian Arab negotiators “couldn’t free themselves from their gibes, from the need for vindication, from their victimization.” Moreover, Ben-Ami recalled the moments when he reached “the conclusion that the Palestinians always leave some loose ends, not because of some malicious master plan but to leave open the possibility that somebody in the future will gather these unraveled ends in order to unravel the Jewish state.”
But let’s return to Nusseibeh’s “Why Israel can’t be a ‘Jewish state.’ ”
No matter how academic or intellectual they are—or project themselves as being—those promoting a pro-Palestinian agenda always engage in not only historic revisionism and fallacies but in complete misrepresentation of facts. Right at the beginning, Nusseibeh asserts that the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry concluded in 1946 that the demand for a “Jewish state” was not part of the obligations of the Balfour Declaration or the British Mandate.
That declaration includes, however, the phrases “sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations” and “a national home for the Jewish people.” Yes, the word “state” is missing, but everything else is there.
For Nusseibeh, however, “even in the First Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897, when Zionists sought to “establish a home for the Jewish people,” there was no reference of a “Jewish state.” As support, he notes that Judah Magnes and Martin Buber—two of the most political minimalists who carried no responsibility of elected office in the Yishuv—avoided the clear and explicit term “Jewish state,” as if that means anything.
No non-Jew is discriminated against by law, except, of course, for the Law of Return, which is what makes Israel the Jewish state.
Of course, he ignores the League of Nations 1922 Mandate decision, one approved by 50 nations, based on the Balfour Declaration, which reads quite forthrightly that “recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.” The whole purpose of the Mandate was to “secure the establishment of the Jewish national home,” not an Arab one. The British Mandate sought “the co-operation of all Jews who are willing to assist in the establishment of the Jewish national home.” “Jewish immigration” was to be facilitated and “close settlement by Jews on the land” was to be encouraged. A “Jewish Agency,” representing the Zionist movement and world Jewry, was to be a full partner in the recreation of the Jewish national home.
And Nusseibeh is a “philosopher”?
He is also an expert on Jews, Jewish nationalism and Judaism.
He asserts that the term “Jewish” can apply “both to the ancient race [?] of Israelites and their descendants, as well as to those who believe in and practice the religion of Judaism.” But he has a problem as “some ethnic Jews are atheists and there are converts to Judaism … .” There we have it: non-Jews telling us Jews who we are. He is also upset because defining a modern nation-state, he posits, “by one ethnicity or one religion is problematic in itself.” Why? For him, “no state in the world is—or can be in practice—ethnically or religiously homogenous.” But Israel it not such a state, and non-Jews—whether of a different religion, nationality or ethnicity—can be and are full citizens. We now have those 15 Arabs (including one Jew) as members of Israel’s parliament.
Nusseibeh then takes his stridency up to another level claiming “recognition of Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ implies that Israel is, or should be, either a theocracy (if we take the word ‘Jewish’ to apply to the religion of Judaism) or an apartheid state (if we take the word ‘Jewish’ ” to apply to the ethnicity of Jews), or both.” But for the past 73 years, Israel as the Jewish state has not been that and need not be, and most probably will not be. And no non-Jew is discriminated against by law, except, of course, for the Law of Return, which is what makes Israel the Jewish state.
Another problem for him are the rights of “about 7 million Palestinians in the diaspora to repatriation or compensation … who were driven off their land through war, violent eviction or fear.” Besides that figure being questionable, he ignores that their current status is that which they intended should be that of the Jews who resided in Mandate Palestine in 1948, if not dead. Tens of thousands of Jews were ethnically cleansed between the years 1920-1948 by Arab terror from Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Some 60,000 became, temporarily, internal refugees as a result of the War of Independence in 1948-49. This Nusseibeh ignores.
He then indulges us with the claim that in Jerusalem, especially, Judaism would be privileged “above the religions of Christianity and Islam.” Jerusalem, where Jews cannot pray on the Temple Mount, their most sacred site, where, on occasion, Jews are pelted by stones at the Western Wall, thrown from above from the Haram compound, where Jews residing in the Old City are regularly attacked, injured and killed for the crime of living there, where any archaeological excavation is being protested for harming “Palestinian heritage.”
Nusseibeh then proclaims that “no responsible person can morally recognise Israel as a ”Jewish state” as such” because of the “very Covenant of God in the Bible with Ancient Israelites of the promise of a homeland for Jews” And why? Because we Jews are commanded to kill all non-Jews as is recorded in the Bible, because “God commands the Jewish state in the land of Israel to come into being through warfare and violent dispossession of the original inhabitants.” This despite the founders of the state purposely excluding any direct mention of God in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
He then, quite generously, offers this suggestion: that “Israeli leaders ask … that Palestinians recognise Israel (proper) as a civil, democratic and pluralistic state whose official religion is Judaism, and whose majority is Jewish.” But it is exactly that.
We must ask ourselves if Nusseibeh is cynical or underhanded when he neglects to mention that while he maligns the idea of a Jewish state, he ignores the reality: that the Palestinian Authority has a draft constitution for its future State of Palestine. It states that Palestine is “the state of the “Arab Palestinian people,” a state that “is part of the larger Arab world, and the Palestinian people are part of the Arab nation.”
According to Article 4, “Islam is the official religion in Palestine. Respect for the sanctity of all other divine religions shall be maintained, the principles of Islamic Shari’a shall be a principal source of legislation,” and “Arabic shall be the official language.”
While Nusseibeh published this nine years ago, with the Blue and White Faction entering into negotiations with the Joint Arab List to establish a governing coalition, at this writing, MKs Benny Gantz and his fellow “cockpit” crew need be reminded into what ideological bog they are stepping, as we all need to be reminded.
The philosophical assault on Zionism—on Israel as the authentic expression of Jewish political rights—has revved itself up, and we cannot but be vigilant as to its nefarious purposes.
Yisrael Medad is an America-born Israeli journalist and political commentator.