By Afro-Middle East Centre
The Afro-Middle East Centre (AMEC) is boasting big names for an international conference on Israel that it will host in April in Pretoria. Foreign speakers include Avi Shlaim, Azzam Tamimi, Ali Abunimah, Ilan Pappe and Shlomo Sand, while local speakers include former minister Ronnie Kasrils, former deputy minister Aziz Pahad, and current Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Ebrahim Ebrahim.
The conference, supported by the Al-Jazeera Centre for Studies, will take place from the 12 to the 14 April at the Colosseum Hotel in the capital city. The choice of location is indicative of AMEC's intention to aim the conference at government and the diplomatic corps. Other speakers include South African academics Adam Habib, Steven Friedman, Ran Greenstein, and Daryl Glaser.
The international gathering will explore the place of Israel, as a Jewish state, under the theme "Locating ethnic states in a cosmopolitan world: the case of Israel". It will examine issues such as Israel's exclusive ethnic citizenship rights, with a view to debating future options for the state – with reference to its international standing as well as its relationship with the Palestinians.
The conference hopes to interrogate the appropriateness of ethnicity in determining citizenship and nationhood, particularly in light of recent events concerning Israel. The idea that states seek to differentiate between citizens and foreigners is not uncommon. However the fact that particular understandings of ethnicity inform citizenship rights in Israel creates a controversial division between "insiders" and "outsiders", a theme both the Israeli and Palestinian scholars at the conference will focus on. The question participants will grapple with is: in an era in which states seek to define their national identity beyond the narrow parameters of ethnicity, how does an ethnic state such as Israel locate itself within the international arena?
In an increasingly interdependent world, societies seek to define statehood, citizenship and nationhood in inclusive rather than exclusive terms as a result of nuanced understandings of individual human rights. The conference will question whether a state founded on an exclusivist notion of Jewishness can persist within a strengthening culture of individual human rights and inclusivity, or whether the ideological tenets on which such a state is founded are misguided. In exploring questions of nationhood, ethnicity, inclusion and exclusion, the conference will address what lies in store for Israel's national identity in the future, in terms of prevailing and emerging global political cultures.
Deputy Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim is billed to deliver the opening address at the conference, while his predecessor, Aziz Pahad, will discuss the question of nationalisms and ethnicisms. Some of the sub-themes of what promises to be an exciting conference include: "Israel and its mythologies", "Comparative ethnic nationalisms: Israel and South Africa", and "Beyond ethnic nationalism: what possibilities for Israel".
Conference participants from around the world include scholars spanning the disciplines of history, political science, international affairs, journalism and geography.
While AMEC has said that the main target audience for the conference is government and th