Ted Belman. I think that Berdishevsky is promoting Israel as a state of all its citizens rather than the nation state of the Jews. His arguments are not convincing at all. He espouses the opposite of what Martin Sherman espouses.
By Norman Berdichevsky
Many observers of the Israeli scene are convinced that the extreme views of the elected Arab Knesset members are a true measure of the community’s rejection of any accommodation of living peacefully and harmoniously with the Jewish majority. To do so is a common error in the mistaken and often ignorant understanding of Arab culture and the realities of Middle Eastern politics that characterize almost all of the so called “pundits” and reporters working in the field for major news gathering agencies. This includes the BBC at the top of the list with a huge staff of competent professionals and many years residence in the region. This short-sighted view has been put into dramatic relief by the universal praise accorded to the so called “Arab Spring” as a huge progressive step towards “democracy” and the recipient of extravagant praise from President Obama. He cavalierly abandoned his strongest ally. Egyptian President Husni Mubarak. in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood and its leader Muhammad Morsi only to see the Egyptian people rise in defiance against the islamists in what has been called the largest mass political demonstration in history.
How can one explain the apparent massive shift in sympathies and the ignorance of our State Department that continues to repeat the same mistake? Ignorance of Arab culture, language and mentality lie at the bottom of all these turnabouts.
George Deek is a young Christian Arab from Jaffa and Israel’s vice ambassador to Norway who addressed a gathering hosted by the Norwegian group “With Israel for Peace” in Oslo on October 27, 2014. His speech is being characterized as “the best speech an Israeli diplomat ever delivered” and made waves for many people who had no idea that Israel has had several prominent non-Jews in its diplomatic corps.
Most observers who are aware of the unrelenting hostility of Arab Knesset members do not give sufficient recognition to the prevailing opportunism that characterizes the political culture in the region of the Muslim Middle East embracing Arabs, Iranians and Turks. This means there are no real political parties, no free press or independent judiciary—hence the expression “The Arab Street,” i.e., the opinion shaped by the inability to confront the power of intimidation exercised by the prevailing majority and conventional wisdom.
There is an untapped potential among the non-Jews in Israel for participation in an Israeli Nation-state with a Jeish majority in which the minority shares equal rights and responsibilites and is able to cultivate its own sense of individuality much like the Wlesh or Scots in the U.K.
Language has played a central role in the nationalist movements of many peoples who realized that it, together with a common territory is the basis for a nation. In Israel, this realization has been long delayed but is slowly emerging as memories of the Holocaust and Jewish homelessness fades and has been facilitated by two converging forces.
The first is the inability of a modern nation-state such as Israel to continue to rely on an outmoded religious definition of “Who is a Jew”, an intractable religious controversy and one that has already produced enormous frustrations among the hundreds of thousands of new Israeli citizens from Russia and the former USSR who are “not Jewish” according to halacha (Jewish rabbinic law). The second is a growing realization among many “Arabs” in Israel that like the Druze and Circassians, there is no realistic alternative to full integration and equal rights as well as responsibilities.
Israel has long been defined and simply regarded as a “Jewish state”. Its national anthem ha-Tikvah (The Hope) sings of the “Jewish soul” (Nefesh yehudi) yearning to return to “Zion”. Israel’s Arab citizens are between a rock and a hard place and “damned if they do and damned if they don’t.” Another dozen such aphorisms accurately describe the dilemma of non-Jewish citizens, among who are many vociferous critics, some who are nothing less than a disloyal “Fifth Column” and others who cannot express their loyalties and sentiments openly for fear of being targeted by extremists and sympathizers of the two recent uprisings (“intifadas”). Many observers sympathetic to Israel (let alone those who are hostile) commonly despair that any meaningful formula can be found to integrate the Arab minority.
There is also a growing realization that those who have cast stones at Israel live in an even more fragile glass house in which there was never an authentic “Syrian”, or “Iraqi”, “Libyan” “Afghan”, “Palestinian” or even Egyptian nation but only a mosaic of sectarian, religious, tribal communities at each other’s throats and subject to the whim of shifting mafia-like coalitions of families.
Maronites, Druze, Greek Catholics in Lebanon and Syria, Coptic Christians in Egypt, Chaldo-Assyrian Christians and Kurds in Iraq, Armenians, Turcomans, Marsh Arabs, Berbers throughout North Africa, the minority communities of Shi’ites in Saudi Arabia and Sunnis in Iran all currently have less chance of being treated as fully equal members of their homelands than the Israeli Arabs.
Would a Hebrew Republic Necessarily Be “Less Jewish?”
Opposing any separation of the religious character and official state supported Rabbinate in Israel is the frequent and emotional use of the straw man argument made by many politicians who argue that the Palestinians must recognize the “Jewish character” of the State of Israel as a pre-condition of peace negotiations.
Even if a Hebrew Republic were established along the lines of the United States with a clear separation of “church and state” formally expressed in a constitution, it would not sever the deep emotional connection still felt by those in Israel and abroad who would continue to view it as a historic continuation of three thousand years of Jewish history. No other state would continue to view its heroes as those who fought in the Warsaw Uprising, at Masada and the Bar-Kochba Revolt nor emblazon the symbols of the Star of David and Menorah (the seven branched candelabrum) on its institutions and flag. No other state would seek to glorify the armed uprising and heroism of the Haganah , Irgun and Le?i ( a.k.a. The Stern Gang ) against the British mandate that put an end to colonialism.
A nation, said the French philosopher Ernest Renan is two things, “a group of people united by a mistaken view about the past and a hatred of their neighbors; It is a daily referendum.”
Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Cyprus, Sudan, Lebanon and Pakistan all failed as nations that broke apart into their original ethnic and confessional fragments. They never could call on a common sense of nationhood. Elsewhere in Europe in countries like England and France, diverse peoples of different tribal origins and speaking mutually unintelligible dialects eventually achieved a higher sense of community by generations of rule under a royal authority that imposed national standards – weights, measures, currency, educational systems, devotion to a flag and the cultivation of a myth that they shared a primordial link with a common past and aspirations for the future.
Sixty years after its founding, Israel has become an outcast among the nations and the Jews a pariah people once again. How did this occur? From “Darling of the Left to Pariah State” (see NER May 2012), subject to continual venomous attacks coming from those who call themselves “liberal” and consider themselves “progressive“ and “morally sensitive,“ i.e. the mainline churches, university faculties clamoring to boycott and “disinvest“ from Israeli owned companies, the media elite and those on the Left side of the political spectrum who equate Israel with apartheid and cannot think outside the box of “identity politics” – i.e. your views must conform to the ethnic, racial, religious, gender or class of your ancestors (see “George Deek and his Rejection of the Arab Culture of Intimidation, Intolerance, and Intransigence,” NER, Dec. 2014,). Of course, they and the media pundits and journalists know nothing and care less about the history of Arab-Jewish relations either during the Mandate or today that departs from the conventional wisdom of confrontation or portrays those responsible for the Arab victims as other Arabs.
Strange, illogical and utterly incomprehensible is the zero-sum “them and us” game played by the media and swallowed mostly whole by the public. In our own Civil War, the facts on the ground contradict the simplistic division of North vs. South. On each side there were significant numbers of dissidents and sympathizers with the “enemy.” Northern “Copperheads” sympathetic to the South launched the 1863 uprising against the draft and continuation of the war in the heart of New York City. This resulted in the use of federal troops to put down what amounted to an uprising; estimates of fatalities run from one thousand to two thousand demonstrators killed. The riots remain the largest civil and racial insurrection in American history, aside from the Civil War itself.
On the other hand, throughout the Border States and in the upland areas of Appalachia and extending throughout Alabama and even Louisiana were yeoman farmers who detested the wealthy planters’ plantations and slave-economy and thus opposed secession. Statistics make this abundantly clear.
In his masterful treatise, The South vs. the South, Kentucky university professor William W. Freehling argues that 450,000 Union troops from the South (200,000 from the Border States of Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky and Missouri; 150,000 African-Americans who fled from the Confederacy and volunteered and 100,000 whites from the Deep South) – helped cost the Confederacy the war.
What does all this have to do with the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs? It puts into the starkest relief for anyone intent on pursuing the facts, that the media has shown a persistent and determined bias in portraying one side (the Arabs) as the victims and neglecting any opposing voices among them. If any recognition is given at all to dissidents, it is the media’s infatuation with extremist Jewish ultra-Orthodox sects such as Naturei Karta who are not only anti-Zionist but have openly identified with the PLO and even Hamas in their hatred for what others call “The Jewish State.”
Most recently, the international media continued its policy of highlighting civilian casualties among the Arabs of Gaza used as human shields by Hamas and the violent demonstrations among Arab citizens of Israel (predominantly teenagers) egged on by Arab Knesset members (who have the most to fear in any day of reckoning with the Palestinian terror organizations) demonstrating against their government while totally ignoring the condemnations and many appeals for calm, restraint and a return to normalcy issued by the mayors almost all Israeli Arab and “mixed” towns. Only anti-Israel violence is newsworthy for the media that casually ignores the distinction between “the Palestinian Arabs” in the territories and “Arabs” who have been Israeli citizens since 1948.
What makes the split within Palestinian society qualitatively different from the divisions among Americans at the time of the Revolution or the Civil War is the enormous gap between words and deeds. Although almost always strenuously denied, Arabs agreeing to cooperate with the Zionist program during the British Mandate (1920-48) made rational decisions based on inter-clan rivalries, the prospect of increased economic wellbeing and deeply valued motives of revenge and pride. The frequent official denunciations against ‘traitors’ was a central and persistent feature of the Palestinian Arab press and public meetings where frequent use of extremist religious rhetoric damned all those cooperating with the Jews. Violence, blackmail and threats of beatings, deportation, the denial of religious burial in Muslim cemeteries and even calls for wives to abandon their husbands were all used with only mixed results (see book reviews by Norman Berdichevsky, “Palestine Betrayed (by the Palestinians),” Efraim Karsh and Army of Shadows – “Arab Support for Zionism, 1917-1948,” Hillel Cohen, ).
Prominent Arab personalities with little sense of a nationalist identity saw in the growing strength of the Zionist movement, a potential ally, the traditional recourse to the enemy of my enemy is my friend. This was proven time and time again even during the major riots of 1929 and the general Arab uprising of 1936-1939, as well as in Israel’s war of Independence and the two intifadas that have captured world headlines. It is true today, in the continued inter-Arab violence and competition for power between the Fatah and Hamas movements. In all of these struggles, the number of Arabs killed and wounded by other Arabs, exceeds the count of Jewish victims.
From the very beginning of the Mandate, the Zionist movement sought out Arab leaders willing to cooperate. The Zionist leadership made vain efforts to offer a variety of rewards that would tempt collaborationists, running the gambit from bribery, raising the general standard of living, manipulating inter-clan rivalries and providing convincing arguments that Zionism could not be extirpated and that an accommodation would be a much more farsighted policy than the eternal confrontation offered by the Mufti.
No “moderate” Arab segment of public opinion could openly confront the extremists for whom terror, blackmail and threats rather than elections or policy debates were the established way of dealing with an opposition. The only hope lay rather in convincing extreme Arab nationalist currents that confrontation would ultimately lead to an Arab defeat. Among those Arabs who did openly express opposition to the Mufti, many eventually had to flee the country and felt abandoned by their Jewish allies.
The legacy of almost thirty years of coexistence within the British Mandate left considerable ties between Jews and Arabs in areas that brought tangible benefits to many Arabs in technical and agricultural assistance, trade union activity, transportation, medical treatment and employment. These were not simply jettisoned to satisfy the demands of the power hungry and corrupt leadership of the Palestinian Nationalist movement. As early as July, 1921, no less an authoritative Arab political figure than the mayor of Haifa and head of the traditional Muslim National Association, Hasan Shukri sent a telegram to the British government as a reaction to a Palestinian delegation setting out for London to protest the implementation of the Balfour Declaration:
“We strongly protest against the attitude of the said delegation concerning the Zionist question. We do not consider the Jewish people as an enemy whose wish is to crush us. On the contrary, we consider the Jews as a brotherly people sharing our joys and troubles and helping us in the construction of our common country.”
Shukri’s fate was sealed from that moment and although he enjoyed immense local prestige and authority among the Arab population of Haifa, he was the target of a failed assassination attempt in May 1936 just weeks after a successful one ended the life of his brother-in-law and former mayor of Haifa, Ibraham Bey Khalil, a member of one of the richest families in the city.
Shukri was born in 1876 in Jerusalem to a family in the highest levels of the Ottoman bureaucracy. His family moved to Haifa when he was young, and was appointed mayor in 1914. Throughout his tenure, Shukri displayed a positive and conciliatory attitude toward the Jewish community in the city, and gave them senior posts in the municipality. One of his first decisions after Jews began taking part in local politics was to add Hebrew to the Arabic of the city’s documents in 1927. In 1933 he opened up city tenders to Jewish contractors as well as Arab ones. Shukri and other moderates were the major opposition element among Palestinian notables who feared the Grand Mufti, al-Husseini and were labeled “The Nashshibi faction.” They were continually frustrated by the British policy of supporting the most reactionary and extremist Muslim religious segment of Palestinian society.