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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Israel: national identity « Previous | |Next »
May 2, 2004

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s “Disengagement Plan” represents a shift in the Israeli-Palestinian political balance. In that plan Israel will affect a complete withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and from several outlying posts in the West Bank, but will retain “eternal” control over East Jerusalem and four principal West Bank settlements. The right of return for Palestinian refugees whose ancestral lands lie inside Israel’s borders is perpetually refused.

The plan was endorsed by the Bush White House, and it has now to be voted on by the 200,000 registered members of Sharon's Likud Party. It appears that the settlers will defeat the plan. They--(the settler public?)---appear to be unwilling to accept the removal of Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip and the end of the settlement project in Gaza in return for a great deal of the Land of Israel in the West Bank. They--the settler movement--- want the Israeli bloc of settlements in the Gaza Strip to continue.

Whatever happens around the disengagement plan--and it looks as if it will be rejected by Likud---Israeli political-military hegemony in the Middle East will continue. It is the only established nuclear power in the Middle East. It does not have weapon-inspections despite the current pressure being placed on Iran to agree to weapon-inspections. The old double standard in the Middle East continues.

So what happens to the Gaza strip, if and when Sharon pulls out in the name of security for the Israeli people? Presumably, Gaza will become an autonomous Palestinian island with no state authority. Those living there will struggle to find enough bread to eat. How will Gaza maintain itself? Foreign aid? Gaza will become hell.

And Israel after disengagement? What will happen to its national unity? This interesting article that links up to this earlier post gives an indication.

The article contrasts two Jewish figures. Mordecai Vanunu who told the "Sunday Times" what every average citizen knew: that Israel had built the Dimona atomic reactor. The other figure is Yigal Amir, the assassin of Prime Minister Rabin.

One is reviled, the other is punished but not reviled. In Israel Vanunu has been described as a traitor, a spy and an apostate, though did he did not sell his story and he was not spying for another country. The article says Yigal Amir was punished in order to preserve unity but Israelis are not repulsed or revolted by him because he threatened Israeli democracy and not the Jewish identity of the state. He affirmed the Jewish identity of the Israeli state in response to those who threatened it, such as Prime Minister Rabin.

Mordecai Vanunu is repulsed or revolted because he threatened the Jewish identity of the Israeli state. He changed his religion.

This implies that the Israeli state is both Jewish and democratic. The state of Israel depends on a Jewish nation with religion binding the people and giving them their identity. The Israeli left can then be attacked by the Likud right for being cut off from the Jewish nation. This Jewish identity does not bode well for the Palestinian/Israeli citizens living in the Israeli state.

The settler movement/Likud, which sees disengagement from the occupation of Gaza as the destruction of a part of Israel, continues to define its conception of Jewish identity as a national identity. Should that not be questioned and rejected? The right wing supporters of the settler movement in Australia are opposed to "Sharon’s plan to pull out of territory and remove settlements [since it is] a disastrous major turnaround which would virtually destroy all hope of a peaceful resolution." Are the rightwing Israeli-Australians also opposed to the two state solution? Do they also reject helping those Palestinians working for a two state solution?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:18 PM | | Comments (7)


Gary, your sources of information are in dire need of a radical rebalancing. Yes, Mordechai Vanunu is reviled in Israel, and justifiably so. He betrayed the oath he signed when he went to work at the Dimona reactor, and he SOLD.... yes, that's right SOLD highly sensitive information that would deleteriously effect Israel's national security. The price of his treason was $100,000 American, quite a tidy sum.

And, I thought "whistleblowers" were in it for the principle, not pecuniary gain. Silly me.

Vanunu was duly convicted of treason and espionage, and sentenced to 18 years imprisonment. Yigal Amir, who is just as widely reviled in mainstream Israeli society, got life for the henious crime of murdering Yitzhak Rabin. He'll never see the outside of a prison again, and justly so.

It would be difficult to say which of these two miscreants is more profoundly despised in Israel. In either case, you have a small coterie at the either fringe of the political spectrum that supports these criminals. In Vanunu's case it is the loony lefty anti-Zionist fringe, while in Amir's case it is the radical rightwing fringe. Both of these groups are miniscule in number and are to be found at the tips of the political continuum. And, In the eyes of the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews, both of these polar extremes are equally crazy, unrepresentative and worthy of contempt.

Your abortive attempt to provide some sort of faux contrast between these two as a means of indicting Israeli society falls flat on its face before the fact that both men are profoundly repugnant to 90+ percent of Israeli Jews.

As for your purported double standard between Israel and Iran, you appear to be factually challenged on this point, as well. The statutory difference between Israel and Iran on the issue of nuclear weapons is simple and unequivocal. While many nations throughout the world have become signatories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the Jewish state never affixed its signature to that document. Thus, as opposed to both Iran and Iraq, there is no prohibition in international jurisprudence against the acquisition of nuclear arms by Israel.

You are quite the stickler for the letter of international law when it suits you, Gary. But, you never let such legalisms get in the way of a perceived opportunity to bash Israel.

Before you next spout off about purported double standards being applied to Israel, perhaps you should take a long, hard look in the mirror and examine your attitudes towards the Jewish state.

You bring to mind Ralph Waldo Emerson's famous dictum about a "foolish consistency being the hobgoblin of little minds, beloved of little statesmen, philosophers and divines."

Sound familar?

You are probably right about the payment to Vanunu for his whistle blowing. Other sources I came across after I'd written the blog implied some sort of payment. You have put a finger on it.

However, whistleblowing to the Sunday Times in England is not the action of a traitor. That involves selling/giving secrets to a foreign power. As far as I know Vanunu did not do that.

You misinterpret one strand of the post: the attempt to explore why the figure of Vanunu had been treated differently to the figure of Yigal Amir in a cultural sense. I suggested it was because Vanunu also questioned the Jewish identity of the Israeli nation state.

How is that answer in terms of the Jewish nation an indictment of Israeli society? Nation and society are different things. You reduce one to the other.

Most of the links on this came from opinion pieces in an Israeli newspaper----Hareetz--as you well know.

That means you are implying that Hareetz bashes Israel society. That further implies that the identity of Jewish identity with national identity of the Israeli state should not be questioned. It is to be equated with what the Israeli right says it is.

Is that what you are defending?

My critical questioning in the post about the actions of Israeli state is addressed to the settler movement and the rightwing of the Likud Party.

These are the political forces who have rejected Sharon's disengagement proposal because they want the settlements to stay, if not increase, in Gaza and the West Bank terrorities.

These political forces are not to be identified with the Israeli state. Sharon, by all acccounts, is going to ignore their rejection of his dis-engagement plan.

It's hardly bashing the Israel state when I support part of Sharon's disengagement and the two state solution.

The movement in your comments are intersting. You identfy the right wing view of the nation with society and the state, and see any criticism of that conception of the nation and the state as an attack on Israel.

What is left unsaid by you is the identification of the right's conception of Israel with Israel.Hence to criticize the right is to criticize Israel.

It is that identification assumed by the Israeli right that I am questioning.

Sorry Gary... the former posting t'was I. I neglected to fill out the name line.

I don't think that there is anything particularly "right wing" about thinking that national sovereignty is respectable concept. After all, isn't that the Palestinian desideratum, something that all you lefties so passionatly support?

So why is Zionism a presumably pejorative "right wing view of the nation with society and the state," while Palestinian nationalism is pristine, legit and pure as the driven snow?

Moreover, I don't equate "the right" with Israel. Israel is a vibrant democracy with a plethora of opinions that run the political gamut from right to left and beyond. And, that's a helluva lot more than you can say for any of the 22 Arab nations in that region.

While I would find myself in disagreement with many leftwing Israeli Zionists on a variety of issues, I certainly wouldn't malign their perspective.

As far as Ha'aretz goes, while its news side is pretty good, its editorial and opinion sections are pretty solidly on the left. In fact, several of their columinists, like Amira Haas and Gideon Levy, are so far to the left that their views are reflective only of a small anti-Zionist fringe element amongst Israeli Jews. Hardly the stuff of mainstream Israel.

You claim to find some of my positions "interesting." Fair enough. But, what I find fascinating about yours is this propensity you have to hang your hat on any far left Israeli voice as if it represents a serious political constituency in Israel. Like Australians or Americans, most Israelis are solidly mainstream and they eschew either political extreme.

I don't know what those Likudnicks were thinking when they voted down the Gaza withdrawal proposal. But Sharon will go ahead and try to get it through the Cabinet and Knesset. I think that he will be successful, although perhaps only with Labor party support. The Israeli rumor mill is already abuzz with news that Shimon Peres has already been offered the Foreign Ministry in a coalition government of national unity.

So, I expect the Gaza withdrawal will take place. And, it's a good thing, too.

One final word on Vanunu. You say he's not a traitor, but he was convicted of precisely that in an Israeli court of law.

Moreover, I wonder where you came up with that definition of treason? The US Constitution provides a much more plausible defintion. Even though US law doesn't apply in Israel, the constitution creates a reasonable standard that I think can be applied to the Vanunu case:

"Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort."

Now, it is undeniable that Vanunu both adhere's to Israel's enemies because he has stated that the Jewish state has no right to exist and that it should be given, en bloc, to the Arabs. Moreover, it is similarly undeniable that Vanunu provided aid and comfort to Israel's enemies by selling precious defence secrets to a newspaper.

Sorry, but he's guilty as sin on both counts.

yoy write "sovereignty is respectable concept. After all, isn't that the Palestinian desideratum, something that all you lefties so passionatly support?"

There is nothing wrong with national sovereignty. The two state solution implies it.(By the way Some lefties are all about global capitalism knocking down nation-states.)

You write: "So why is Zionism a presumably pejorative "right wing view of the nation with society and the state," while Palestinian nationalism is pristine, legit and pure as the driven snow?"

I have never said that Palestinian nationalism is pristine, legit and pure as the driven snow. I would be critical of a non-democratic nationalism; one that does not accept the two state solution; and one that collapses politics into militarism; and one that is theocratic.

I would suggest that there are diverse voices within Palestinian natinalism.

I never said that Zionism per se was right wing. I connected it to the political right in Israel, which I identified as the setter movement and then said their conception of Jewish identity. I did this to suggest that there are other conceptions of the nation as Jewish.

More radically, I have implied that some of these conceptions may are not Jewish as they could be based on citizenship and rights.

If you say that my sources (Ha'aretz) are far left---hardly the stuff of mainstream Israel---then I suggest you direct me to mainstream commentary (not new) so that I can see what is being said and engage with them on this blog.


I didn't say Ha'aretz, per se, was far left, I said that some of the most strident voices in its opinion section are anti-Zionist radical lefties. The editorial line of the paper is left, but well within the Zionist fold.

For a more representative view of the Israeli mainstream, I would commend to you Ma'ariv International, the English online edition of the much bigger circulation afternoon daily.

It is easily googleable.

Far more horrible than Mordecai and his assassin counterpart is the "right of return".

Now it is true that 700,000 people were expelled when Israel was created (or fled in fear). As Israel was created in 1948, that would mean that substantially less than 700,000 people could lay any claim to Israeli territory.

Indeed, if I could guess Palestinian life expectancies, I'd say the number of right of return "refugees" was close to zero.

And yet the number of people claiming the "right of return" is anywhere between 3.5 million and 5 million.

This implies that you are a refugee if you are descended from refugees.

As a Celt, I'll be right on the next steamer to England to reclaim any property that I suspect was stolen by Anglo-Saxons.

That people could support a policy that:

-will reduce wages in Israel to less than half of their current value
-will abolish anything approaching secular democracy in the Middle East
-will result in the violent overthrow of an established government
-has nothing to do with refugees


-ignoring any compensation claims of the 900,000 Jews expelled from the various descendents of Arabia in 1948

Is very worrying indeed.

The recent news, regarding the Abu Ghraib prisoner sickens me, when I see the two guards, a man and woman, smiling as they watch those prisoners being tortured and humiliated. Now I hear, a few may plea bargain because, they were just carrying out orders. Well, if they were carrying out orders, they must have been enjoying it, by their sadistic smiles. The media exposure on this will more than likely stir up a big hornets nest.
I understand the anger after seeing the way Saddam treated his prisoners, but i hoped we would never sink to his Primitive, Barbaric level.
There was always hope we would evolve to be a intelligent, civilized race, but, by looking at the torture and destruction at Abu Ghraib, that shows a step "backwards" for mankind!