It’s official: Israel, an entity long diseased by the unchecked pathologies of racism and colonialist hubris, has finally come round to admitting to the world, via a law legislated in parliament last week, that it is an apartheid state.
The law, branded the ‘Nation-State Bill’, asserts that Jewish citizens effectively have exultant rights that are denied to non-Jews, that Hebrew is the official language — thus downgrading Arabic, spoken by 22 per cent of non-Jews, to one with a minor “special status” — that “Jewish settlement [colony]” is a “national value”, and that “the Jewish character of the state” should be advanced on all fronts, clearly at the expense of democratic norms. All this amounts not only to a declaration that Israel has decided to slide into the abyss of ethnocracy, but that Israel is now indeed an apartheid state.
In short, the gap between Israel’s assertions about itself and the reality of its society is now so wide that the lie no longer holds.
This is a turn of events, you will recall, that was predicted in April 2014, after the collapse of the nine-month peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, by the then American secretary of state, John Kerry, in a closed-door meeting of the Trilateral Commission — a non-governmental organisation of experts and officials from the United States, Western Europe, Russia and Japan — in Washington. Though Kerry’s suggestion, that Israel was sliding towards a system of apartheid, angered right-wing American Jews at the time, it elicited weary yawns from progressive ones. Here’s one case in point. In an op-ed column in the Hill — a newspaper published in Washington, whose coverage includes the United States Congress, the presidency and election campaigns — author and political analyst Josh Ruebner wryly wrote: “Kerry is wrong to suggest that Israel will reach this pariah-hood tipping point in the indeterminate future. Since its inception in 1948, Israel has maintained a regime of differentiated rights that privileges Jews and discriminates against Palestinians.”
It’s a mystery as to why it all came to this; why Zionism, an ideology that informs the soul of the Israeli entity in Palestine, has morphed into a fascist movement that now openly enshrines a supremacist platform as its view of the world? For consider how throughout their modern history, Jews in Western and Central Europe always represented the vanguard of liberal thought, a community without whose contribution the western intellectual tradition would have been greatly diminished. Their quests and queries, as Reform Jews will tell you, were forever rooted in a deep and meaningful engagement not only with Jewish texts, values and culture, but with a cosmopolitan ideal, a belief in forging a common human consciousness that removes barricades of language, ethnicity and nationality among people.
Diaspora Jewish thinkers, all the way from Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud and Claude Levi Strauss to Issac Deutscher, Noam Chomsky and I.F. Stone, along with countless others, have served as proponents of a lofty human, and genuinely humane ideal in our world. Rarely had the Euro-American civilisation known such a rich burst of creativity as that which has flowed directly from these folks. And that was so only because Jewish self-identity had developed through an inclusive dialogue with the surrounding cultures, not in antagonistic isolation from it.
Sure, these intellectuals were part of “the negative tradition” in society, irritants to the mainstream, as it were, but their sensibility was shaped more by their experiences as the alienated ‘other’ than by their traditions as Jews.
All the pity, for parochial Jews are today in fashion, and you get to see them in Israel’s parliament, wrangling among themselves and passing, with impressive ease, racist laws eccentric to the humane liberal traditions that Jewish thinkers, intellectuals, theoreticians, ideologues and others took two centuries to create.
Israel was built as a putative “haven” for Jews, true, but only freakish, venal and self-destructive Jews lead it, Jews with a penchant for the vulgarisms of apartheid. Oh, yes, those progressive Jews from Western and Central Europe, along with those from North America, who preached the liberal dream of a just and egalitarian order, must now be turning in their graves.
Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.