By Rod Such, The Electronic Intifada

retending Democracy: Israel, an Ethnocratic State is a collection of essays by Israeli, Palestinian and South African intellectuals dissecting the nature of the Israeli state and proposing how to get beyond the ethnic nationalism that characterizes Zionism and Israeli apartheid.

The book follows a conference held in Pretoria in 2010 by the Afro-Middle East Centre, a South African think-tank.

The argument that Israel cannot be both “Jewish and democratic,” especially when 20 percent of its citizens are Palestinian, is one that is finally beginning to resonate among US intellectuals who have long given the ideology of political Zionism a free pass because of the Holocaust.


Most recently, Joseph Levine, a philosophy professor at the University of Massachusetts, wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times challenging the idea that a state can belong to one ethnic group without, as Levine put it, “violating the core democratic principle of equality” (“Om questioning the Jewish state,” 9 March 2013).

A majority of Americans have soundly rejected its corollary — “a white, Christian and democratic country” — as a result of the struggles waged by blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans and other people of color against a long-standing system of white supremacy.

So if not a democracy, then what kind of state is Israel? In this volume, several authors find common ground, though each has a slightly different emphasis.

Oren Yiftachel writes that Israel is more properly defined as an ethnocracy because the organizing principle around which the state is structured is based on what ethnic group one belongs to, rather than on citizenship.

Nakba Denial

In another essay, Nadim N. Rouhana expands on the notion of ethnocracy. Rouhana notes that the Israeli state links equality of opportunity — a concept central to a liberal democracy — to ethnic affiliation, rather than citizenship. Yiftachel and others argue that the Nakba — the 1948 ethnic cleansing of more than 750,000 Palestinians from lands in present-day Israel — is “the cornerstone of Israeli ethnocracy.” And Rouhana suggests that the only way to end the conflict is “to attack and expose” Israel’s denial of the Nakba.

South African political scientist Daryl Glaser calls Israel a “settler-minority democracy” (SMiD). A SMiD, he writes, is a democracy for the European or European-sponsored settlers who established colonies in circumstances where they were outnumbered by the indigenous people but still managed to dominate them.

Glaser argues that Israel was at one point a “settler-majority democracy” from 1948 to 1967 but managed to once again become a SMiD by occupying the West Bank and Gaza. It is therefore “a democracy for some and a dictatorship for others, its ethnic oligarchy beset by permanent demographic panic.”

Ronnie Kasrils believes that Israel fits the definition of “colonialism of a special type.” For Kasrils, “it is essential to grasp the colonial factor” to understand that the Palestinian struggle “is a national liberation struggle … against a colonial-settler project” that claims “democratic rights exclusively for its own group. It is the settlers’ racist, colonialist agenda that is the fundamental cause of the conflict,” he writes, “as was the case in South Africa.”

Valuable ideas

Pretending Democracy goes beyond simply examining the nature of the Israeli state. It offers valuable ideas for ending Israeli apartheid and the denial of Palestinians’ right to self-determination.

Ran Greenstein proposes an alliance between Palestinian and progressive Jewish Israelis that could acquire the leverage needed to help start changing the Israeli regime from within. Along these lines, Fouad Moughrabi finds hope in an emerging Israeli “new left” that speaks a “dramatically different” language: “The old slogans for peace have been replaced with a call for an end to injustice.” He even envisions a third intifada that might be a joint Jewish-Palestinian uprising.

Ali Abunimah, in his essay, “Towards a One-State Solution in Palestine/Israel,” addresses the argument that Jewish Israelis will never agree to renounce an ethnic state and give up their privileges. He notes that polls of white South Africans showed entrenched opposition to the concept of one person, one vote even up to the eve of the dismantling of apartheid.

What was key, Abunimah argues, was the apartheid state’s loss of legitimacy in the international arena, a process that is also beginning to weaken Israel. “Zionism,” he writes, “will never be able to bomb, kidnap, assassinate, expel, demolish, settle and lie its way to legitimacy and acceptance.”

Pretending Democracy is unique in addressing the national question as it relates to Palestine and Israel. Zionists have long argued that Jews have simply exercised their right to self-determination in establishing the State of Israel and that the concept of a Jewish state has international legitimacy by virtue of the 1947 United Nations resolution partitioning Mandate Palestine.

The latter argument suffers many flaws, including the circumstances surrounding the UN vote, the fact that the resolution created a state for Jews “residing” in Palestine, not for Jews throughout the world, and the fact that Israel violated most of the provisions of the partition resolution regarding the rights of Arabs in the new Israeli state.

Perpetual struggle

But many people concur that Jews in Palestine deserved the right of self-determination as understood in international law. By including a chapter from Shlomo Sand’s The Invention of the Jewish People and an essay by Na’eem Jeenah and Salim Vally, Pretending Democracy raises the question, albeit indirectly, of whether Jews represent an oppressed nation or a persecuted people.

Sand’s research has challenged the Zionist historiography that attempts to re-imagine the history of the Jewish people as a centuries-long struggle for nationhood, rather than as a struggle against racist and religious persecution.

As Jeenah and Vally show, the question is not just academic. No one envisions a solution — whether two states, one state, or a bi-national state — that denies rights to Jewish Israelis. Nevertheless, they argue that a bi-national state, which assumes the existence of two nations, will ultimately subvert the creation of a democratic, secular state by reinforcing division.

The Zionist argument that only state power can protect Jews from persecution has long since proved morally and politically bankrupt. The logical consequence of a Jewish state was the racist dispossession of the indigenous Palestinian Arab majority and the creation of a militaristic, ethnic supremacist state.

There is probably no such thing as a safe refuge. There is only perpetual struggle against racism and inequality, a struggle that is most likely to be won in a society that values diversity and democracy.

* Rod Such is a freelance writer and former editor for World Book and Encarta encyclopedias. He is a member of the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign and Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights.

by Ramona Wadi, Middle East Monitor

Editor: Na'eem Jeenah
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Afro-Middle East Centre; First edition
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0620540427

Public space in the state of Israel remains a contentious issue. The purported Jewish and democratic nature of the state – a political bargaining tool in order to obtain the coveted legitimacy from other significant countries, entrenches the reality of a settler and ethnocentric state. Pretending democracy: Israel, an ethnocratic State (AMEC, 2012), a collection of academic papers examining the reality and consequences for Palestinians, exposes an ethnocracy which has sought to promote an illusion of democracy to conceal a 'selective openness' which facilitates marginalisation of the indigenous population.


The book is an invaluable treatise which delves into the importance of recognising Palestinian legitimacy in order to achieve 'political and constitutional claim'. Deriving both similarities and contrasts from the apartheid in South Africa, it is observed that South Africa was more explicit in implementing apartheid. Israel continues to avail itself of democracy rhetoric in an attempt to distance itself from unofficial apartheid policy, despite ample proof with regard to dispossession, massacres, settler violence and deprivation of socio-economic rights. An overview of Israel's 1992 Basic Law ascertains Israel's ethnocratic nature, containing legal provisions allegedly safeguarding Israeli citizens, while enshrining the state's values within the banner of 'Jewish and democratic', thus promoting a Jewish cultural hegemony.

Through a comprehensive discussion of various complications, including Israel's distinction between citizenship and nationality, incongruous borders, the subjugation of ethnic groups, alleged biological historiography and the legitimate right to oppress, the authors reveal the foundations of a state based upon selective fragments of history which are manipulated in accordance with Zionist ideology. Shlomo Sand's contribution discusses how Jewish acknowledgment of subjugation to greater powers shifted the dynamics of group solidarity to ethnic dominance. "Zionism from its inception was an ethnocentric nationalist movement that firmly enclosed the historical people of its own invention, and banned any voluntary civil entry into the nation its platform began to design."

Through this chronological fragmentation, the absence of nationhood promoted the conquest of the 'imaginary homeland', marked by the Palestinian Nakba and the incessant onslaught of violations. Jewish self-determination could only be supported by European colonialism, hence the settler culture of European Jews in Palestinian territory. As Ze'ev Jabotisnsky had asserted, Israel's expansionist programme was based upon 'a permanent alliance with European colonies against all the Arabs in the Mediterranean'. The use of force became a necessary strategy to ensure a weakened resolve of Palestinian, also portraying Israel's condescending attitude towards colonialism an apartheid, which it deems a 'legitimate right'. Oren Yiftachel's paper discusses the manner in which Israel, together with globalisation, have exacerbated inequality and the contradictions within Zionist discourse in stressing the need for 'peace' and agreements while implementing measures which further Israel's expansion into Palestinian territory, thus justifying the occupying power's rhetoric of security concerns. The geographical fragmentation of Palestinian villages, the deprivation of rights for Bedouin in the Negev, and the insistence of invoking militant rhetoric as proof of anti-Semitism are described as 'calculated changes' by Yiftachel, who elaborates further upon Israel's self-portrayal of democracy as a means to legitimise ethnocracy. The extraction of the Jewish state from Palestinian history also distances the occupying power from geography – an approach taken by intellectuals sympathetic to Zionism which allows a negotiating space for overlooking the ramifications of colonialism. The allegedly 'temporary' characteristic of Israel's occupation, reinforced by security concerns, has proven vital to retain a constant manipulation of international law.

Israel's 'settler democracy', represented by the occupation and its allies as a 'representative democracy', thrives upon an artificial majority. The illegal hegemony clearly demonstrates a demographic reality. Recognising the right of return for Palestinians would propel the sustained Jewish majority into a minority group. Daryl Glaser argues that settlers have availed themselves of a rejectionist approach by enforcing a control system. Having 'persuaded' the West of democracy, Israeli narrative ensures colonial survival by expounding upon civil rights in the region, in turn shifting attention to the Jewish state's internal and selective democracy. As Glaser states, "Another way to think about Israel's 'at least we're democratic' defence is that it implies that democratic rule over one's self legitimates non-democratic rule over others. In effect, democracy legitimates dictatorship."

The transformation wrought by a misrepresentation of democracy transforms the masses into 'collective tyrants'. In the case of Israel, the reluctance to define territorial borders as well as Zionist adherents has ensured the improbability of stability, aided by imperial interests and guilt in manufacturing an acceptance of apartheid by playing upon the history of the Holocaust as justification for atrocities committed against Palestinians. The alleged vulnerability of Israel, warranting defence by extreme militarisation, has convinced a considerable percentage of the Jewish population that Zionism provides protection against a repetition of Holocaust crimes, according to Daniel Boyarin exhibiting their inability to survive without the reality of state violence in order to ensure continuity of their identity. This tendency is contrasted with the fact that migration from Israel surpasses the influx of new settlers, thus invalidating the argument of state protection as a necessity.

"A new Palestinian-Israeli nation cannot be imagined if it implies the legitimation of land theft as is the case in various parts of the West Bank and Israel, or of the deliberate disadvantaging and humiliation suffered by Palestinians for decades." The Zionist 'ownership' of Judaism has resulted into a settler usurpation of land, a concept which frames the Hamas struggle against Zionist legitimacy. Expansion has encompassed Palestinian land, with adjustments being carried out in order to enforce isolation and possible displacement of the indigenous population. Reconciliation remains distant if Israel consolidates the historic denial of Palestinians, which hinders any possibility of constructing the ideology of a nation if the homeland of Palestine remains occupied within a physical and philosophical context.

- See more at: http://www.middleeastmonitor.com/media-review/book-review/6369-pretending-democracy-israel-an-ethnocratic-state#sthash.5rCeQgv3.dpuf

itor: Na'eem Jeenah
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Afro-Middle East Centre; First edition
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0620540427

Book review by Ramona Wadi

Public space in the state of Israel remains a contentious issue. The purported Jewish and democratic nature of the state – a political bargaining tool in order to obtain the coveted legitimacy from other significant countries, entrenches the reality of a settler and ethnocentric state. Pretending democracy: Israel, an ethnocratic State (AMEC, 2012), a collection of academic papers examining the reality and consequences for Palestinians, exposes an ethnocracy which has sought to promote an illusion of democracy to conceal a 'selective openness' which facilitates marginalisation of the indigenous population.

The book is an invaluable treatise which delves into the importance of recognising Palestinian legitimacy in order to achieve 'political and constitutional claim'. Deriving both similarities and contrasts from the apartheid in South Africa, it is observed that South Africa was more explicit in implementing apartheid. Israel continues to avail itself of democracy rhetoric in an attempt to distance itself from unofficial apartheid policy, despite ample proof with regard to dispossession, massacres, settler violence and deprivation of socio-economic rights. An overview of Israel's 1992 Basic Law ascertains Israel's ethnocratic nature, containing legal provisions allegedly safeguarding Israeli citizens, while enshrining the state's values within the banner of 'Jewish and democratic', thus promoting a Jewish cultural hegemony.

Through a comprehensive discussion of various complications, including Israel's distinction between citizenship and nationality, incongruous borders, the subjugation of ethnic groups, alleged biological historiography and the legitimate right to oppress, the authors reveal the foundations of a state based upon selective fragments of history which are manipulated in accordance with Zionist ideology. Shlomo Sand's contribution discusses how Jewish acknowledgment of subjugation to greater powers shifted the dynamics of group solidarity to ethnic dominance. "Zionism from its inception was an ethnocentric nationalist movement that firmly enclosed the historical people of its own invention, and banned any voluntary civil entry into the nation its platform began to design."

Through this chronological fragmentation, the absence of nationhood promoted the conquest of the 'imaginary homeland', marked by the Palestinian Nakba and the incessant onslaught of violations. Jewish self-determination could only be supported by European colonialism, hence the settler culture of European Jews in Palestinian territory. As Ze'ev Jabotisnsky had asserted, Israel's expansionist programme was based upon 'a permanent alliance with European colonies against all the Arabs in the Mediterranean'. The use of force became a necessary strategy to ensure a weakened resolve of Palestinian, also portraying Israel's condescending attitude towards colonialism an apartheid, which it deems a 'legitimate right'. Oren Yiftachel's paper discusses the manner in which Israel, together with globalisation, have exacerbated inequality and the contradictions within Zionist discourse in stressing the need for 'peace' and agreements while implementing measures which further Israel's expansion into Palestinian territory, thus justifying the occupying power's rhetoric of security concerns. The geographical fragmentation of Palestinian villages, the deprivation of rights for Bedouin in the Negev, and the insistence of invoking militant rhetoric as proof of anti-Semitism are described as 'calculated changes' by Yiftachel, who elaborates further upon Israel's self-portrayal of democracy as a means to legitimise ethnocracy. The extraction of the Jewish state from Palestinian history also distances the occupying power from geography – an approach taken by intellectuals sympathetic to Zionism which allows a negotiating space for overlooking the ramifications of colonialism. The allegedly 'temporary' characteristic of Israel's occupation, reinforced by security concerns, has proven vital to retain a constant manipulation of international law.

Israel's 'settler democracy', represented by the occupation and its allies as a 'representative democracy', thrives upon an artificial majority. The illegal hegemony clearly demonstrates a demographic reality. Recognising the right of return for Palestinians would propel the sustained Jewish majority into a minority group. Daryl Glaser argues that settlers have availed themselves of a rejectionist approach by enforcing a control system. Having 'persuaded' the West of democracy, Israeli narrative ensures colonial survival by expounding upon civil rights in the region, in turn shifting attention to the Jewish state's internal and selective democracy. As Glaser states, "Another way to think about Israel's 'at least we're democratic' defence is that it implies that democratic rule over one's self legitimates non-democratic rule over others. In effect, democracy legitimates dictatorship."

The transformation wrought by a misrepresentation of democracy transforms the masses into 'collective tyrants'. In the case of Israel, the reluctance to define territorial borders as well as Zionist adherents has ensured the improbability of stability, aided by imperial interests and guilt in manufacturing an acceptance of apartheid by playing upon the history of the Holocaust as justification for atrocities committed against Palestinians. The alleged vulnerability of Israel, warranting defence by extreme militarisation, has convinced a considerable percentage of the Jewish population that Zionism provides protection against a repetition of Holocaust crimes, according to Daniel Boyarin exhibiting their inability to survive without the reality of state violence in order to ensure continuity of their identity. This tendency is contrasted with the fact that migration from Israel surpasses the influx of new settlers, thus invalidating the argument of state protection as a necessity.

"A new Palestinian-Israeli nation cannot be imagined if it implies the legitimation of land theft as is the case in various parts of the West Bank and Israel, or of the deliberate disadvantaging and humiliation suffered by Palestinians for decades." The Zionist 'ownership' of Judaism has resulted into a settler usurpation of land, a concept which frames the Hamas struggle against Zionist legitimacy. Expansion has encompassed Palestinian land, with adjustments being carried out in order to enforce isolation and possible displacement of the indigenous population. Reconciliation remains distant if Israel consolidates the historic denial of Palestinians, which hinders any possibility of constructing the ideology of a nation if the homeland of Palestine remains occupied within a physical and philosophical context.

- See more at: http://www.middleeastmonitor.com/media-review/book-review/6369-pretending-democracy-israel-an-ethnocratic-state#sthash.5rCeQgv3.dpuf

itor: Na'eem Jeenah
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Afro-Middle East Centre; First edition
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0620540427

Book review by Ramona Wadi

Public space in the state of Israel remains a contentious issue. The purported Jewish and democratic nature of the state – a political bargaining tool in order to obtain the coveted legitimacy from other significant countries, entrenches the reality of a settler and ethnocentric state. Pretending democracy: Israel, an ethnocratic State (AMEC, 2012), a collection of academic papers examining the reality and consequences for Palestinians, exposes an ethnocracy which has sought to promote an illusion of democracy to conceal a 'selective openness' which facilitates marginalisation of the indigenous population.

The book is an invaluable treatise which delves into the importance of recognising Palestinian legitimacy in order to achieve 'political and constitutional claim'. Deriving both similarities and contrasts from the apartheid in South Africa, it is observed that South Africa was more explicit in implementing apartheid. Israel continues to avail itself of democracy rhetoric in an attempt to distance itself from unofficial apartheid policy, despite ample proof with regard to dispossession, massacres, settler violence and deprivation of socio-economic rights. An overview of Israel's 1992 Basic Law ascertains Israel's ethnocratic nature, containing legal provisions allegedly safeguarding Israeli citizens, while enshrining the state's values within the banner of 'Jewish and democratic', thus promoting a Jewish cultural hegemony.

Through a comprehensive discussion of various complications, including Israel's distinction between citizenship and nationality, incongruous borders, the subjugation of ethnic groups, alleged biological historiography and the legitimate right to oppress, the authors reveal the foundations of a state based upon selective fragments of history which are manipulated in accordance with Zionist ideology. Shlomo Sand's contribution discusses how Jewish acknowledgment of subjugation to greater powers shifted the dynamics of group solidarity to ethnic dominance. "Zionism from its inception was an ethnocentric nationalist movement that firmly enclosed the historical people of its own invention, and banned any voluntary civil entry into the nation its platform began to design."

Through this chronological fragmentation, the absence of nationhood promoted the conquest of the 'imaginary homeland', marked by the Palestinian Nakba and the incessant onslaught of violations. Jewish self-determination could only be supported by European colonialism, hence the settler culture of European Jews in Palestinian territory. As Ze'ev Jabotisnsky had asserted, Israel's expansionist programme was based upon 'a permanent alliance with European colonies against all the Arabs in the Mediterranean'. The use of force became a necessary strategy to ensure a weakened resolve of Palestinian, also portraying Israel's condescending attitude towards colonialism an apartheid, which it deems a 'legitimate right'. Oren Yiftachel's paper discusses the manner in which Israel, together with globalisation, have exacerbated inequality and the contradictions within Zionist discourse in stressing the need for 'peace' and agreements while implementing measures which further Israel's expansion into Palestinian territory, thus justifying the occupying power's rhetoric of security concerns. The geographical fragmentation of Palestinian villages, the deprivation of rights for Bedouin in the Negev, and the insistence of invoking militant rhetoric as proof of anti-Semitism are described as 'calculated changes' by Yiftachel, who elaborates further upon Israel's self-portrayal of democracy as a means to legitimise ethnocracy. The extraction of the Jewish state from Palestinian history also distances the occupying power from geography – an approach taken by intellectuals sympathetic to Zionism which allows a negotiating space for overlooking the ramifications of colonialism. The allegedly 'temporary' characteristic of Israel's occupation, reinforced by security concerns, has proven vital to retain a constant manipulation of international law.

Israel's 'settler democracy', represented by the occupation and its allies as a 'representative democracy', thrives upon an artificial majority. The illegal hegemony clearly demonstrates a demographic reality. Recognising the right of return for Palestinians would propel the sustained Jewish majority into a minority group. Daryl Glaser argues that settlers have availed themselves of a rejectionist approach by enforcing a control system. Having 'persuaded' the West of democracy, Israeli narrative ensures colonial survival by expounding upon civil rights in the region, in turn shifting attention to the Jewish state's internal and selective democracy. As Glaser states, "Another way to think about Israel's 'at least we're democratic' defence is that it implies that democratic rule over one's self legitimates non-democratic rule over others. In effect, democracy legitimates dictatorship."

The transformation wrought by a misrepresentation of democracy transforms the masses into 'collective tyrants'. In the case of Israel, the reluctance to define territorial borders as well as Zionist adherents has ensured the improbability of stability, aided by imperial interests and guilt in manufacturing an acceptance of apartheid by playing upon the history of the Holocaust as justification for atrocities committed against Palestinians. The alleged vulnerability of Israel, warranting defence by extreme militarisation, has convinced a considerable percentage of the Jewish population that Zionism provides protection against a repetition of Holocaust crimes, according to Daniel Boyarin exhibiting their inability to survive without the reality of state violence in order to ensure continuity of their identity. This tendency is contrasted with the fact that migration from Israel surpasses the influx of new settlers, thus invalidating the argument of state protection as a necessity.

"A new Palestinian-Israeli nation cannot be imagined if it implies the legitimation of land theft as is the case in various parts of the West Bank and Israel, or of the deliberate disadvantaging and humiliation suffered by Palestinians for decades." The Zionist 'ownership' of Judaism has resulted into a settler usurpation of land, a concept which frames the Hamas struggle against Zionist legitimacy. Expansion has encompassed Palestinian land, with adjustments being carried out in order to enforce isolation and possible displacement of the indigenous population. Reconciliation remains distant if Israel consolidates the historic denial of Palestinians, which hinders any possibility of constructing the ideology of a nation if the homeland of Palestine remains occupied within a physical and philosophical context.

- See more at: http://www.middleeastmonitor.com/media-review/book-review/6369-pretending-democracy-israel-an-ethnocratic-state#sthash.5rCeQgv3.dpuf

itor: Na'eem Jeenah
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Afro-Middle East Centre; First edition
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0620540427

Book review by Ramona Wadi

Public space in the state of Israel remains a contentious issue. The purported Jewish and democratic nature of the state – a political bargaining tool in order to obtain the coveted legitimacy from other significant countries, entrenches the reality of a settler and ethnocentric state. Pretending democracy: Israel, an ethnocratic State (AMEC, 2012), a collection of academic papers examining the reality and consequences for Palestinians, exposes an ethnocracy which has sought to promote an illusion of democracy to conceal a 'selective openness' which facilitates marginalisation of the indigenous population.

The book is an invaluable treatise which delves into the importance of recognising Palestinian legitimacy in order to achieve 'political and constitutional claim'. Deriving both similarities and contrasts from the apartheid in South Africa, it is observed that South Africa was more explicit in implementing apartheid. Israel continues to avail itself of democracy rhetoric in an attempt to distance itself from unofficial apartheid policy, despite ample proof with regard to dispossession, massacres, settler violence and deprivation of socio-economic rights. An overview of Israel's 1992 Basic Law ascertains Israel's ethnocratic nature, containing legal provisions allegedly safeguarding Israeli citizens, while enshrining the state's values within the banner of 'Jewish and democratic', thus promoting a Jewish cultural hegemony.

Through a comprehensive discussion of various complications, including Israel's distinction between citizenship and nationality, incongruous borders, the subjugation of ethnic groups, alleged biological historiography and the legitimate right to oppress, the authors reveal the foundations of a state based upon selective fragments of history which are manipulated in accordance with Zionist ideology. Shlomo Sand's contribution discusses how Jewish acknowledgment of subjugation to greater powers shifted the dynamics of group solidarity to ethnic dominance. "Zionism from its inception was an ethnocentric nationalist movement that firmly enclosed the historical people of its own invention, and banned any voluntary civil entry into the nation its platform began to design."

Through this chronological fragmentation, the absence of nationhood promoted the conquest of the 'imaginary homeland', marked by the Palestinian Nakba and the incessant onslaught of violations. Jewish self-determination could only be supported by European colonialism, hence the settler culture of European Jews in Palestinian territory. As Ze'ev Jabotisnsky had asserted, Israel's expansionist programme was based upon 'a permanent alliance with European colonies against all the Arabs in the Mediterranean'. The use of force became a necessary strategy to ensure a weakened resolve of Palestinian, also portraying Israel's condescending attitude towards colonialism an apartheid, which it deems a 'legitimate right'. Oren Yiftachel's paper discusses the manner in which Israel, together with globalisation, have exacerbated inequality and the contradictions within Zionist discourse in stressing the need for 'peace' and agreements while implementing measures which further Israel's expansion into Palestinian territory, thus justifying the occupying power's rhetoric of security concerns. The geographical fragmentation of Palestinian villages, the deprivation of rights for Bedouin in the Negev, and the insistence of invoking militant rhetoric as proof of anti-Semitism are described as 'calculated changes' by Yiftachel, who elaborates further upon Israel's self-portrayal of democracy as a means to legitimise ethnocracy. The extraction of the Jewish state from Palestinian history also distances the occupying power from geography – an approach taken by intellectuals sympathetic to Zionism which allows a negotiating space for overlooking the ramifications of colonialism. The allegedly 'temporary' characteristic of Israel's occupation, reinforced by security concerns, has proven vital to retain a constant manipulation of international law.

Israel's 'settler democracy', represented by the occupation and its allies as a 'representative democracy', thrives upon an artificial majority. The illegal hegemony clearly demonstrates a demographic reality. Recognising the right of return for Palestinians would propel the sustained Jewish majority into a minority group. Daryl Glaser argues that settlers have availed themselves of a rejectionist approach by enforcing a control system. Having 'persuaded' the West of democracy, Israeli narrative ensures colonial survival by expounding upon civil rights in the region, in turn shifting attention to the Jewish state's internal and selective democracy. As Glaser states, "Another way to think about Israel's 'at least we're democratic' defence is that it implies that democratic rule over one's self legitimates non-democratic rule over others. In effect, democracy legitimates dictatorship."

The transformation wrought by a misrepresentation of democracy transforms the masses into 'collective tyrants'. In the case of Israel, the reluctance to define territorial borders as well as Zionist adherents has ensured the improbability of stability, aided by imperial interests and guilt in manufacturing an acceptance of apartheid by playing upon the history of the Holocaust as justification for atrocities committed against Palestinians. The alleged vulnerability of Israel, warranting defence by extreme militarisation, has convinced a considerable percentage of the Jewish population that Zionism provides protection against a repetition of Holocaust crimes, according to Daniel Boyarin exhibiting their inability to survive without the reality of state violence in order to ensure continuity of their identity. This tendency is contrasted with the fact that migration from Israel surpasses the influx of new settlers, thus invalidating the argument of state protection as a necessity.

"A new Palestinian-Israeli nation cannot be imagined if it implies the legitimation of land theft as is the case in various parts of the West Bank and Israel, or of the deliberate disadvantaging and humiliation suffered by Palestinians for decades." The Zionist 'ownership' of Judaism has resulted into a settler usurpation of land, a concept which frames the Hamas struggle against Zionist legitimacy. Expansion has encompassed Palestinian land, with adjustments being carried out in order to enforce isolation and possible displacement of the indigenous population. Reconciliation remains distant if Israel consolidates the historic denial of Palestinians, which hinders any possibility of constructing the ideology of a nation if the homeland of Palestine remains occupied within a physical and philosophical context.

- See more at: http://www.middleeastmonitor.com/media-review/book-review/6369-pretending-democracy-israel-an-ethnocratic-state#sthash.5rCeQgv3.dpuf

By Jadaliyya

Na’eem Jeenah, editor, Pretending Democracy: Israel, An Ethnocratic State. Johannesburg: Afro-Middle East Centre, 2012.

Jadaliyya (J): What made you publish this book?

Na’eem Jeenah (NJ): The book emerged out of a conference organized by the Afro-Middle East Centre and which was held in Pretoria, South Africa. The conference brought together important scholars who have being thinking and writing about the issue of the nature of the Israeli state, those who are affected by this, and also ways in which to move beyond the ethnocratic state that Israel is towards a future that can address the injustices that have been heaped on Palestinians by Israel’s Zionist policies and practices. In conceptualizing the conference we were determined that the critical ideas emerging from it should be collected into a book. The book is really an attempt by the Afro-Middle East Centre to provide some fresh thinking on what the Israeli state is, what it pretends to be, and how that can be changed.


J: Who are the contributors to the book?

NJ: 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.

J: What particular themes and issues does it address?

NJ: The book is divided into four parts: “Israel and its Founding Myths”; “The Ethnic State and its Victims”; “Comparative Ethnic Nationalisms”; and “Beyond Ethnic Nationalism.”

The first part includes chapters by Shlomo Sand and Avi Shlaim, which lay the basis for the following chapters, about Jewish nationhood, nationalism, and Israeli statehood. Sand critically examines the notion that Jews belong to a single nation with a common ancestry. He suggests that the “Jewish nation” is, in fact, a recent invention created for political purposes. Shlaim examines some of the issues that characterized debates among early Zionists and concludes that on matters of principle, strategy, and tactics there were few significant differences between the “right” and the “left.”

Part Two covers issues related to the victims of the Israeli state, their plight, and ways of progressing beyond the situation of victimhood. Ran Greenstein explores the meaning and implications of the notion that Israel is an ethnic state; Oren Yiftachel builds on his contention in earlier writings that Israel is an ethnocracy; Max du Plessis, who was a member of a research team that investigated Israel’s actions from the perspective of international law, writes about the findings of that study and its conclusion that Israel’s actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory constitute occupation, colonialism, and apartheid. He argues that a case should be made against Israel in the International Court of Justice. Nadim Rouhana’s chapter about Palestinian citizens of Israel argues for reconciliation—including redress for past injustices—between Jewish and Palestinian citizens. The final chapter in this part, by Smadar Lavie, looks at Jewish victims of Zionism—particularly Mizrahi Jews.

Part Three compares Jewish nationalism in Israel with other forms of nationalism. Neville Alexander discusses the national question, particularly in South Africa, providing food for thought for those trying to succeed where South Africa seems to be failing. Andre Zaaiman writes about his personal experience of growing up with Afrikaner nationalism and compares that to Jewish nationalism. Daryl Glaser discusses Israel, South Africa, and Ulster as “settler democracies.” Adam Habib reflects on the role of the international community in South Africa and Israel, arguing that ethnic states are unsustainable. Heidi Grunebaum examines South African Zionism through the Jewish National Fund. In his chapter, Ronnie Kasrils applies the lens of “colonialism of a special type”—previously employed by the South African Communist Party—to analyze the Palestinian-Israeli situation.

The last part of the book looks at the theme “Beyond Ethnic Nationalism,” and points to possible future solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli question. Azzam Tamimi presents a Palestinian Islamist perspective on future possibilities, focusing particularly on Hamas. Steven Friedman argues that the notion of Jews living as a minority in a future single state with a Palestinian majority is not a shocking prospect. Jewish survival, he asserts, does not hinge on a “Jewish state.” Fouad Moughrabi suggests that there is “radical hope” in the cultural activities of young Palestinians. Ali Abunimah suggests that the South African experience of ending apartheid might be useful in pointing towards a resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli question and argues for a peaceful transition to a single democratic state in Palestine-Israel. Finally, Salim Vally and I take the one-state argument of Ali and Steven a little further, arguing that a major part of making such a solution work successfully for all its people will be a careful and thorough resolution of the national question. We suggest that the project of building a new nation may be more important for Palestinians and Israelis than resolving the question of statehood.

The book includes a foreword by South African deputy minister of international relations, Ebrahim Ebrahim.

J: Who do you hope will read this book, and what sort of impact would you like it to have?

NJ: While the book is aimed at academics and those involved in the question of Palestine and Israel, we were determined to produce a book that will be accessible to anyone that wants to unpack what the Israel state is all about.

We hope that it will help enhance scholarly debate around the nature of the Israeli state and the question of the place of ethnocracies in our world today. We also believe that the book raises debates that can contribute towards the process of finding solutions for the future of Palestinians and Israeli Jews.

J: What other projects are you working on now?

NJ: Two projects will come together early in 2013. The first is the re-publication of a book by Azzam Tamimi on the life of the leader of the Tunisian Ennahda movement / party, Rachid al-Ghannouchi. The book is called A Democrat Within Islamism. It’s a very timely re-publication and will include a new afterword by the author and a foreword by me.

The second project is a book on the PLO, with contributions from a range of Palestinian activists and scholars. In a sense, this book is an “internal” conversation between Palestinians, which we are allowing readers to be voyeurs to. The book was originally published in Arabic and we have translated it for an English-speaking audience.

J: What kinds of insights does your book present for Israel regarding alternative state models to an ethnocracy?

NJ: Well, to be honest, the book has not been too creative in providing a range of alternative models. There is a strong argument that the best way forward is a single democratic state whose citizens will include all Palestinians and Jewish citizens of Israel. There are also some suggestions for a binational state. In either case, the overriding idea is a democratic state where all citizens have equal rights and where there will be determined attempts at redressing the injustices of the past.

Excerpts from Pretending Democracy: Israel, An Ethnocratic State:

[There is] a duality in the Israeli state between a democratic facade and a deeper undemocratic regime logic, which facilitates the dispossession, control, and peripheralization of groups that do not belong to the dominant ethno-class. Thus the very nature of the settling ethnocracy, which combines expansion, settlement, segregation, and ethno-class stratification, militates against the effectiveness of challenges emanating from peripheral groups. The selective openness of the regime, which allows for public protest, free speech, and periodic elections, is largely an illusion: the ethnocratic regime has arranged itself politically, culturally, and geographically so as to absorb, contain, or ignore the challenge emerging from its peripheries, thereby trapping them in their respective predicaments. – Oren Yiftachel

Most Jewish Israelis and the Zionist movement across the world like to insist that Israel is what they call a “Jewish and democratic state.” Without realizing the irony or contradiction in this, they insist that both epithets—Jewish and democratic—equally apply to the Israeli state. Further, while other states define themselves for themselves and their citizens, Israelis go beyond that and insist that others recognize their state’s “Jewish and democratic” character too. The refusal of the Palestinian Authority (PA), for example, to agree to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” has been a sticking point in negotiations between the PA and the Israelis.

Israel is, in fact, as much a Jewish state and a democratic state as apartheid South Africa was a white state and a democratic state. Israel is not exclusively Jewish, and Israel is certainly not democratic. Both are pretenses upheld for political purposes—for the sake of obtaining legitimacy for the Israeli state and as an attempt to mask a form of ethnic cleansing. The truth is that Israel is an ethnocratic state; perhaps a more accurate description would be “a Jewish and ethnocratic state.”

The notion of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state” requires some interrogation. The defenders of this notion go to great lengths to attempt to show that the terms “Jewish” and “democratic” are not contradictory and that a state can be ethnically based and still be democratic. It is a difficult argument to sustain.

Even though the notion of Israel being “Jewish and democratic” has been used by certain Israelis since the late 1960s (mostly by the Israeli “left”), the official use of this phrase is just two decades old. Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence mentions its Jewish character but makes no mention of democracy. It does, however, claim that the state will “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex” and that it would “guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education, and culture”—stipulations which, in themselves, convey a sense of democratic values—except that they have not been implemented in reality

[...]

In 1992, Israel discussed and then adopted two new Basic Laws after which the term “Jewish and democratic” entered official discourse. Known as Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty and Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation, these basic laws—especially the first—ostensibly provide for the human rights of Israeli citizens. Thus, for example, retired president of the Israeli supreme court and professor of law, Aharon Barak, argues that the two laws “serve as the Israeli equivalent of the Bill of Rights.” The first clause of the Human Dignity and Liberty Law states: “The purpose of this Basic Law is to protect human dignity and liberty, in order to establish in a Basic Law the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state” (emphasis added). The oxymoronic phrase was introduced in order to satisfy both the Jewish religious parties (which insisted on “Jewish” being explicit) and the Jewish secular parties (which insisted that “democratic” be explicit)...

[…]

If conventional wisdom is to be believed, the idea that Jews might survive culturally and physically as a minority in a Palestinian state is a dangerous fantasy. But if Jewish tradition and experience is to be believed, there is nothing odd—let alone fantastic—about the possibility.

A core Zionist assumption is that Jewish survival hinges on Jews maintaining a specifically Jewish state; without this, it is claimed, Jews face the constant threat of the genocidal violence unleashed by Nazism—or, at least, of constant persecution.

[…]

While this claim that a state is the only plausible antidote to the threat of extinction is by far the dominant Zionist concern, an ethno-nationalist state is also often held to be essential for the maintenance and expression of an authentic Jewish identity: political Zionism has, therefore, been described by some of its academic adherents as the “national liberation movement of the Jewish people.” These assumptions are a core obstacle to a just and democratic resolution of the Palestinian conflict. Not only do they reject the notion of a single, democratic polity shared by Jews and Palestinians, they also make more limited attempts at accommodation impossible by constantly reinforcing a sense of threat within the Jewish Israeli mainstream and, as a consequence, a demand for “security” at virtually any cost to ward off the danger. This has enabled successive Israeli governments to pass off virtually any measure inimical to Palestinian interests as a “security” precaution, which may at least partly explain the continuing rightward shift in Jewish Israeli politics. Continued Palestinian resistance is portrayed as an existential threat (and its failure to disappear is seen to demand ever more extreme measures to eliminate it). While critics of a single democratic state often cite this Israeli assumption as an argument for a “two-state solution” on the grounds that Jewish Israelis will never relinquish the protection of an ethnic state, it increasingly presents itself as an abiding obstacle to any sort of solution.

As long as Jewish survival is equated with the maintenance of an ethnic state, no resolution that might win sustained Palestinian loyalty is possible. The rigidity of the Jewish Israeli equation of ethnic statehood with safety, often cited as an eternal obstacle to a single state, is in reality also a powerful argument against the viability of a “two-state solution.” As long as this equation persists, it seems highly implausible that a separate Palestinian state will appear to mainstream Israeli opinion as a viable guarantor of the security of the Israeli state. And if the view that ethnic statehood is integral to Jewish survival begins to erode, then so does much of the rationale for two separate states. The insistence that without a state of their own Jews are in constant peril is thus an obstacle to any settlement, even one which concedes the principle of Jewish ethnic statehood. This means that accepting the principle of Jewish ethnic statehood on pragmatic grounds, arguing that only this scenario offers any prospect of a settlement, is a strategy doomed to fail. Prospects for justice and peace rest, then, on positing a future in which Jewish statehood will no longer be seen as essential to Jewish survival and in which minority status in a democratic state will be seen as an appropriate means of achieving Jewish security.

An obvious objection to this approach is that it seems to deny Palestinian agency by making Jewish opinion a precondition for a just and peaceful end to the suppression of Palestinian rights. It is therefore important to stress that the analysis presented here assumes that changes in Jewish opinion are likely only if there is a fundamental challenge to the prevailing balance of power and that this requires an effective Palestinian campaign to deprive Zionism of its legitimacy. This is not the place to discuss the strategies which might achieve that, save to say that the emergence of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement holds out the prospect of a new Palestinian politics that can offer more effective resistance to ethnic domination and might well generate the secular democratic political organization required for that domination to end. But change in Palestine, as was the case in South Africa, is not purely a matter of the victims of ethnic domination mustering enough strength to defeat the system—it depends also on the emergence of divisions within the dominating group. In Palestine, as in South Africa, pressure is required to force the dominant group to reassess its options. But the military strength of the Israeli state means that this pressure is unlikely to overthrow the system of domination: its purpose is thus to force those who preside over it to reconsider their options and to negotiate a settlement with Palestinian leadership. It follows clearly from this that change will require a reassessment of Zionist options. The question of whether mainstream Jewish understandings of identity and security are capable of adjusting to the possibility of a shared state with a Palestinian majority is crucial to prospects for a settlement.

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The Battle for Justice in Palestine

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AMEC insights Volume 1 - 2014

October 06, 2015

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What is AMEC?

What is AMEC?

Established in 1998, the Afro-Middle East Centre (AMEC) aims to foster, produce and disseminate the highest quality of research on the Middle East, to maintain public discussion and to help shape the public discourse on issues related to the Middle East. Amec's research includes relations between Africa and the Middle East.

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