Another Theocracy in the Muslim World

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Uri Avnery

I am fed up with all this nonsense about recognizing Israel as the Jewish state.

It is based on a collection of hollow phrases and vague definitions, devoid of any real content. It serves many different purposes, almost all of them malign.

Benjamin Netanyahu uses it as a trick to obstruct the establishment of the Palestinian state. This week he declared that the conflict just has no solution. Why? Because the Palestinians do not agree to recognize, etc., etc.

Four rightist members of the Knesset have just submitted a bill empowering the government to refuse to register new NGOs and to dissolve existing ones if they deny the Jewish character of the state.
This new bill is only one of a series designed to curtail the civil rights of Arab citizens, as well as those of leftists.

If the late Dr. Samuel Johnson were living in present-day Israel, he would phrase his famous dictum about patriotism differently: Recognition of the Jewish character of the state is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

In Israeli parlance, denying the Jewish character of the state is tantamount to the worst of all political felonies: to claim that Israel is a state of all its citizens.

To a foreigner, this may sound a bit weird. In a democracy, the state clearly belongs to all its citizens. Mention this in the United States, and you are stating the obvious. Mention this in Israel, and you are treading dangerously close to treason. (So much for our much-vaunted common values.)

As a matter of fact, Israel is indeed a state of all its citizens. All adult Israeli citizens-and only they-have the right to vote for the Knesset. The Knesset appoints the government and determines the laws.

It has enacted many laws declaring that Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. In ten or in a hundred years, the Knesset could hoist the flag of Catholicism, Buddhism, or Islam. In a democracy, it is the citizens who are sovereign, not a verbal formula.

What formula? one may well ask.

The courts favor the words Jewish and democratic state. But that is far from being the only definition around.

The most widely used is just Jewish state. But that is not enough for Netanyahu and Co., who speak about the nation-state of the Jewish people, which has a nice 19th-century ring. The state of the Jewish people is also quite popular.

The one thing that all these brand -names have in common is that they are perfectly imprecise. What does Jewish mean? A nationality, a religion, a tribe? Who are the Jewish people? Or, even more vague, the Jewish nation? Does this include the congressmen who enact the laws of the United States? Or the cohorts of Jews who are in charge of U.S. Middle East policy? Which country does the Jewish ambassador of the UK in Tel Aviv represent?

The courts have been wrestling with the question: where is the border between Jewish and democratic? What does democratic mean in this context? Can a Jewish state really be democratic, or, for that matter, can a democratic state really be Jewish? All the answers given by learned judges and renowned professors are contrived, or, as we say in Hebrew, they stand on chickens legs.

Lets go back to the beginning: the book written in German by Theodor Herzl, the founding father of Zionism, and published in 1896. He called it Der Judenstaat.

Unfortunately, this is a typical German word that is untranslatable. It is generally rendered in English as The Jewish State or The State of the Jews. Both are quite false. The nearest approximation would be The Jewstate.

If this sounds slightly anti-Semitic, this is not by accident. It may come as a shock to many, but the word was not invented by Herzl. It was first used by a Prussian nobleman with an impressive name Friedrich August Ludwig von der Marwitzwho died 23 years before Herzl was even born. He was a dedicated anti-Semite long before another German invented the term anti-Semitism as an expression of the healthy German spirit.

Marwitz, an ultra-conservative general, objected to the liberal reforms proposed at the time. In 1811 he warned that these reforms would turn Prussia into a Judenstaat, a Jewstate. He did not mean that Jews were about to become a majority in Prussia, God forbid, but that moneylenders and other shady Jewish dealers would corrupt the character of the country and wipe out the good old Prussian virtues.

Herzl himself did not dream of a state that belongs to all the Jews in the world. Quite the contrary-his vision was that all real Jews would go to the Judenstaat (whether in Argentina or Palestine, he had not yet decided). They-and only they-would thenceforth remain Jews. All the others would become assimilated in their host nations and cease altogether to be Jews.

Far, far indeed from the notion of a nation-state of the Jewish people as envisioned by many of today’s Zionists, including those millions who do not dream of immigrating to Israel.

When I was a boy, I took part in dozens of demonstrations against the British government of Palestine. In all of them, we chanted in unison Free immigration! Hebrew state! I dont remember a single demonstration with the slogan Jewish state.

That was quite natural. Without anyone decreeing it, we made a clear distinction between us Hebrew-speaking people in Palestine and the Jews in the Diaspora. Some of us turned this into an ideology, but for most people it was just a natural expression of reality: Hebrew agriculture and Jewish tradition, Hebrew underground and Jewish religion, Hebrew kibbutz and Jewish shtetl. Hebrew Yishuv (the new community in the country) and Jewish Diaspora. To be called a Diaspora Jew was the ultimate insult.

For us this was not anti-Zionist by any means. Quite the contrary:

Zionism wanted to create an old-new nation in Eretz Israel (as Palestine is called in Hebrew), and this nation was of course quite distinct from the Jews elsewhere. It was only the Holocaust, with its huge emotional impact, that changed the verbal rules.

So how did the formula Jewish state creep in? In 1917, in the middle of World War I, the British government issued the so-called Balfour Declaration, which proclaimed that His Majestys Government views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.

Every word was carefully chosen, after months of negotiations with Zionist leaders. One of the main British objects was to win American and Russian Jews for the Allied cause. Revolutionary Russia was about to get out of the war, and the entry of isolationist America was essential.

(By the way, the British rejected the words the turning of Palestine into a national home for the Jewish people, insisting on in Palestine-thus foreshadowing the partition of the country.)

In 1947 the UN did decide to partition Palestine between its Arab and Jewish populations. This said nothing about the character of the two future states-it just used the current definitions of the two warring parties. About 40 percent of the population in the territory allocated to the Jewish state was Arab.

The advocates of the Jewish state make much of the sentence in the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel (generally called the Declaration of Independence) which indeed includes the words Jewish state. After quoting the UN resolution which called for a Jewish and an Arab state, the declaration continues: Accordingly we on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel, to be known as the state of Israel.

This sentence says nothing at all about the character of the new state, and the context is purely formal.

One of the paragraphs of the declaration (in its original Hebrew version) speaks about the Hebrew people: We extend our hands to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the independent Hebrew people in its land. This sentence is blatantly falsified in the official English translation, which changed the last words into the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land.

As a matter of fact, it would have been quite impossible to reach agreement on any ideological formula, since the declaration was signed by the leaders of all factions, from the anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox to the Moscow-oriented Communist Party.

Any talk about the Jewish state leads inevitably to the question: What are the Jews-a nation or a religion?

Official Israeli doctrine says that Jewish is both a national and a religious definition. The Jewish collective, unlike any other, is both national and religious. With us, nation and religion are one and the same.

The only door of entry to this collective is religious. There is no national door.

Hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish Russian immigrants have come to Israel under the Law of Return with their Jewish relatives. This law is very broad. In order to attract the Jews, it allows even distant non-Jewish relatives to come with them, including the spouse of the grandchild of a Jew. Many of these non-Jews want to be Jews in order to be considered full Israelis, but have tried in vain to be accepted.

Under Israeli law, a Jew is a person born to a Jewish mother or converted, who has not adopted another religion. This is a purely religious definition. Jewish religious law says that for this purpose, only the mother, not the father, counts.

It is extremely difficult to be converted in Israel. The rabbis demand that the convert fulfill all 613 commandments of the Jewish religion-which only very few recognized Israelis do. But one cannot become an official member of the stipulated Jewish nation by any other door. One becomes a part of the American nation by accepting U.S. citizenship. Nothing like that exists here.

We have an ongoing battle about this in Israel. Some of us want Israel to be an Israeli state, belonging to the Israeli people, indeed a state of all its citizens. Some want to impose on us the religious law supposedly fixed by God for all times on Mount Sinai some 3,200 years ago and abolish all contrary laws of the democratically elected Knesset. Many don’t want any change at all.

But how, in Gods name (sorry), does this concern the Palestinians? Or the Icelanders, for that matter?

The demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state or as the nation-state of the Jewish people is preposterous.

As the British would put it, its none of their bloody business. It would be tantamount to an intervention in the internal affairs of another country.

But a friend of mine has suggested a simple way out: the Knesset can simply resolve to change the name of the state into something like The Jewish Republic of Israel, so that any peace agreement between Israel and the Arab State of Palestine will automatically include the demanded recognition.

This would also bring Israel into line with the state it most resembles: The Islamic Republic of Pakistan, which came into being almost at the same time, after the partition of India, after a gruesome mutual massacre, after the creation of a huge refugee problem, and with a perpetual border war in Kashmir. And the nuclear bomb, of course.

Many Israelis would be shocked by the comparison. What, us? Similar to a theocratic state? Are we getting closer to the Pakistani model and further from the American one?

What the hell, lets simply deny it!

13-27

Saudi Arabia: Difficult Choices

June 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Khalid Alnowaiser

We must keep our country safe and united at a time of regional upheaval

I realize that Saudi Arabia has many challenges and issues of concern in light of recent political upheavals in the region. Yemen is next door and remains a troublesome neighbor; Bahrain has significant domestic challenges which cannot be ignored, given its strategic importance to the Kingdom; and Syria and Lebanon have always been a source of worry. The events in Egypt erupted like a volcano that no one was expecting and it needs more time to recover after the fall of Mubarak. Tunisia is another unexpected development and Libya seems to be on the verge of a difficult political transition. Iran poses a threat not only for Saudi Arabia and the region but for the entire world.

As the undisputed leader of the Islamic world, Saudi Arabia has a great responsibility, especially with its strategic location, oil and other natural resources. Saudi Arabia is not a Zaire or Myanmar, but a country of immense size and importance. Yet, the Kingdom’s internal situation is very complicated and demands that we examine the choices facing the country. The religious establishment still lives in the past, but its powerful role cannot be disregarded or underestimated. Further, our young people have numerous concerns including jobs and more personal freedom. The issues of terrorism and the need to maintain safety and security in such a huge and important country require serious attention.

Now, I am fully aware that theory is one thing, but reality is quite different.

As we consider these challenges, we must always put ourselves in the shoes of the political decision-makers and the pressures they face daily. So, what can be done to maintain and advance Saudi Arabia’s unity and stability while it exists in such an explosive region that is experiencing extraordinary and unprecedented turmoil? It seems that there are only three possible options.

First Option: Count fully on the United States to support Saudi Arabia in the event of any crisis that may erupt in the country regardless of its cause or nature. This option may have merit if the danger were external, but let’s be clear: America will not intervene to protect our country or any other nation if the threat is internal. The proof of this is how quickly America abandoned its closest allies such as Iran under the Shah, the Philippines during the regime of Ferdinand Marcos, and now Mubarak in Egypt. This should not come as any surprise since all nations focus solely on their own interests and strategic goals. Therefore, it is not realistic for Saudi Arabia to rely on the United States, in spite of the special relationship that currently exists between our two countries.

Second Option: Try to enhance the power of the religious establishment and depend upon its support and influence on all aspects of the life of the Saudi people to protect the country from all challenges. Certainly, this option has legitimacy for two reasons: First, Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and the nation was born out of the Muslim religion. Secondly, there are political, legal and ethical commitments toward the religious establishment that can never be disregarded or ignored which exist since the first day of the country’s foundation. However, although this option may be appropriate in the near future, it will pose a major danger to Saudi Arabia in the long run because of the following:

1. The religious establishment is outmoded and soon is expected to lose its control and domination over the lives of Saudi citizens, especially in light of modern technology and unprecedented international media openness. It is obvious that its approach is based on custodianship, creatorship, suppression of personal and social freedom, and infringement of the rights of women and young. The young will likely explode one day and reject the pressure on them. With time, such an attitude will engender more resentment toward religious authorities, especially among young people. Given the rapid pace of modern life, this failure to change and be flexible will harm rather than help our country.

2. The religious establishment also is likely to become too powerful, and the only goal for it is to seek more political power. Islamic history is full of evidence where power corrupts absolutely. Osama Bin Laden, for example, started as an individual who had a noble religious message but as time passed on, his political ambition was so obvious and he used (and indeed abused) Islam to try and further his political objectives.

3. If the level of religious doctrines and dosages imposed for certain purposes in everyday life increases in any society beyond the normal mental and spiritual capacity of human beings in modern life, which seems to be the case in the Kingdom, it will certainly backfire such as what happened in the 1980s during the call for jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

Third Option: Rely on openness, transparency, democracy, human rights, and personal freedom in building the civil and political institutions for Saudi Arabia and speak to the new generation in truth about what is facing them today and not sometime in the past. We must also continue to maintain positive international relations with all nations, including the United States and developed nations, and de-emphasize the influence of the religious establishment over the lives of Saudi citizens so they can breathe normally and live a healthy and productive life. This can happen only if religious authorities are challenged by the Saudi government to moderate their role in society and not simply control the people. Of course, the religious establishment should be treated with respect, but it has to realize this is the 21st century, not the Dark Ages.

There is no question that the Saudi people fully support and are loyal to the royal family from the great founder, King Abdulaziz, to the age of King Abdullah. However, our country must search for alternative ways of planning to implement this third and final strategic option in order to keep the country safe, secure, stable and united while the region is going through such drastic political changes.

I sincerely hope that Saudi Arabia is ready to embrace this choice even if it takes many years.

— Dr. Khalid Alnowaiser is a columnist and a Saudi attorney with offices in Riyadh and Jeddah. He can be reached at: Khalid@lfkan.com and/or Twitter (kalnowaiser)

13-26

Pakistan Lashes Back at Clinton

November 7, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Farhan Bokhari

The controversy could overshadow Clinton’s first visit to the country as Secretary of State, especially as her remarks will be seen questioning the sincerity of the influential military, Pakistani officials said.

“If we are going to have a mature partnership where we work together” then “there are issues that not just the United States but others have with your government and with your military security establishment,” Clinton was quoted telling senior Pakistani journalists in Lahore. “I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they (al Qaeda leaders) are and couldn’t get them if they really wanted to,” she said.

Pakistani officials said Clinton’s remarks on the “military security establishment” probably referred to the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the counterespionage agency.

In the past, Western officials, including U.S. officials, have claimed that the ISI has nurtured Islamic militants to stage proxy insurgency campaigns on the country’s behalf in India’s mountainous Kashmir region and in Afghanistan.

A senior Pakistani government official who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity late Thursday night said, Clinton’s remarks will likely provoke some reaction from key military leaders who increasingly see the U.S. as insensitive to the army’s ongoing campaign against Taliban militants in the south Waziristan region.

“How can the U.S. at this time be so insensitive for Mrs. Clinton to speak out in public in this way,” asked the Pakistani government official. “These remarks suggest a very high degree of insensitivity.” However, Western diplomats said Clinton’s trip following the recent Kerry-Lugar bill passed by the U.S. Congress which triples U.S. aid to Pakistan to an annual of $1.5 billion over the next five years, was likely to enhance U.S. influence in the country.

“The U.S. position will become stronger if the money begins flowing in. While there will be heart-burning among segments of the Pakistani government, the U.S. will remain a very influential country,” a Western diplomat in Islamabad told CBS News.

11-46