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Can a state be both democratic and ethnically self-defined? The Afro-Middle East Centre’s (AMEC) latest publication Pretending democracy: Israel, an ethnocratic state unpacks this issue by using Israel as a case study. Based on papers presented at AMEC’s 2010 conference themed  ‘Locating ethnic states in a cosmopolitan world: The case of Israel’, the book interrogates concepts such as ‘cosmopolitanism’, ‘nationalism’, ‘ethnocracy’ and ‘citizenship’.

Comprising eighteen chapters and divided into four themes over 416 pages, the book presents a comprehensive and lucid analysis of the Israeli state from its founding and the myths that enabled its establishment to the 2008/09 Gaza war and its consequences. The thematic areas covered are: ‘Israel and its founding myths’, ‘The ethnic state and its victims’, ‘Comparative ethnic nationalisms’ and ‘Beyond ethnic nationalism’.

One section elaborates on comparisons between Israel, apartheid South Africa and pre-Good Friday Northern Ireland. Also tackled is the thorny issue of forms of statehood and rich debate takes place in the book between those advocating a South Africa-style single state solution and those promoting a binational state as the most just solution to the inherent contradictions between Israel’s claims of being both a Jewish and a democratic state and its discrimination against Palestinian citizens and occupation of Palestinian lands.

The concluding chapter, by assessing post-apartheid South Africa, looks beyond the conditions and stipulations that would result in a single state wherein Jews and Arabs enjoy the same rights, to teasing out the steps that need to be taken to ensure that these rights are substantive.

Contributors to this volume include award-winning author Shlomo Sands, whose piece debunks the notion that Jews form a genealogical ethnicity; South Africa’s former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils, whose chapter uses the South African Communist Party’s ‘colonialism of a special type’ framework to assess and explain the behaviour of Israel. The foreword was penned by South Africa’s deputy minister of international relations and co-operation, Ebrahim Ebrahim, who opened the conference.

The book is edited by AMEC’s executive director Na’eem Jeenah. His introductory and concluding chapters (the latter co-authored with educationist Salim Vally) do not merely summarise the collection, but present clear and concise arguments which deepen and entrench the statehood debate. 

The book brings together a range of viewpoints, from Israeli revisionist historian Avi Shlaim to Islamist Azzam Tamimi who proposes a hudna (peace pact) between Palestinians and Israelis whilst a final solution is being worked out.

Unpacking both Jewish and Palestinian nationalisms, the nation-state and ethnic nationalism, this fascinating collection offers new insights into one of the world’s most intractable conflicts. It will appeal not only to scholars and teachers, but to anyone interested in the history, politics, anthropology and legal standing of Palestine-Israel.

Publisher: Afro-Middle East Centre

Editor: Na'eem Jeenah

Contributors: Ali Abunimah, Neville Alexander, Max du Plessis, Steven Friedman, Daryl Glaser, Ran Greenstein, Heidi Grunebaum, Adam Habib, Na'eem Jeenah, Ronnie Kasrils, Smadar Lavie, Fouad Moughrabi, Nadim N Rouhana, Shlomo Sand, Avi Shlaim, Azzam Tamimi, Salim Vally, Oren Yiftachel and Andre Zaaiman.

The book can be ordered from AMEC and costs R280. Email your order to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Click here to download an extract from the book which includes the Table of Contents, Foreword, Preface and Introduction.

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