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Is a genuine Israeli nationality taking shape?

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For long, Israelis have despised diaspora Jews as weaklings, fraidy cats, too lazy to come to live (and fight) in the Jewish Homeland. But, imperialism -- Israel is the last of that dying breed -- needs constant growth, more bodies to exploit, to fight the enemy, to prove itself. It also needs to exploit other countries financially, and terrorize its enemies, to prosper. So Israel will never disown the traitors, the 'expats'. They provide a trickle of recruits (‘antisemitism’ ensures that) and are useful to squeeze billions of dollars out of the US (don’t forget Germany).


But imperialism also demands a fanatical, chauvinistic national identity, to psychologically arm its killing machine. That's what made Britain British, the US American, Germany German in the 19--20th centuries.


We are all pale postmodern states now. Dutch, Belgian, Canadian, Luxembourgian ... who cares? But American, Israeli ... that sends a shiver down backs, either of dread or excitement. Israel has no real nationality, only Jew and Arab ethnicities within a Jewish state. No room for 'nationality'.


The whole point of ‘Jew’ taking the place of an Israeli nationality is to mimic the warrior nationalism of the 20th century, to keep the killing machine primed. The Jewish nation by definition excludes the Arab Christians and Muslims, and logically demands some kind of 'final solution', to scrub the Jewish State clean of all non-Jews. But that is incompatible with modern international norms.



For the Israeli Shlomo Sand, the Jewish "national" identity is a fraud (an Israeli identity is fine); the only viable Jewish identity is a religious one, and as a nonbeliever, he logically concludes,  "Cogito, ergo non sum." Anyway, most Israelis are secular, even atheist, so the religious label is not viable.


What to do? It takes no mental gymnastics to realize that the racial state definition must be resisted to the end. While there are no gas chambers for Arabs, the Zionist agenda -- the planned ethnic cleansing of Israel -- is on the books, just waiting for some ‘crisis’.


In the meantime, the world flails as it tries to pressure Israel to smarten up, stymied as the US steps in to prevent any real pressure against Israel. The world worries that it will sit idle while Israel enacts a modern day ‘holocaust’ in the name of ‘the Holocaust’.


But the answer may be staring us in the face. It comes from within the Israeli mainstream, though it is the despised part of the Jewish Israeli population, the Arab Jewish Israelis, just a step above the despised 'Arabs' (i.e., the non-Jewish Israelis).


Mizrahi


The Arab Jews are primarily from north Africa and Iraq, though a handful were actually living in Palestine along with a few European Jews who ‘made aliyah’ long before the invasion in the 20th century. Yes! Jewish Palestinians. The ‘real thing’.


They and their cousins from north Africa and Iraq are pejoratively called Mizrahi (oriental), considered second class citizens by the ‘white’ secular European Jews in Israel. As Arabs, they expose the anti-semitism schtick, and the lack of credentials of the European Jews who invaded Palestine in the 20th century. Yet now they are the Jewish majority (3.2m out of 6.2m Jewish Israelis), and a political force, best exemplified by ‘Miri’, the feisty minister of culture.


Many are reluctant to give up their beloved Arabic (there are Persian speakers too), forced to use the only official language, an invented colloquial Hebrew, as opposed to prayer Hebrew. They were the only Jewish Semites until Hebrew was revived as a lingua franca in Israel, making all Israelis de facto Semites (though there are clearly Semites and Semites). They descended from local Jewish communities of the Middle East from biblical times into modern era. Most Jews are of European descent since at least the 17th century, and in the diaspora, are mostly not Semitic speakers.


What more elegant solution to the strife Israel has caused, than to embrace the Semites among them, learn Arabic, rediscover the beauty of the medieval Orient, the land of the Thousand and One Nights, which apart from the invasions of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane, was quite possibly the height of human civilization? Where Jews were respected and flourished?


Given the regional chaos caused by Zionism, it is safer just about anywhere but Israel for Jews, especially North America. Most Jews there are not much concerned with Israel, take it for granted, living primarily as Americans or Canadians. And avoid talking about Israel with non-Jews. Only the Jewish elite there are not afraid to push Israel’s agenda in government circles, confident in the power of the Israel lobby, the power of money and their control of the media and government officials.


In Israel, it is only Zionism, a disembodied artificial nationalism, that binds together (poorly) completely different ethnic groups —Ashkenazi, Russian, Mizrahi, Sephardi,* Arab, and many competing Jewish religious groups (ultra-Orthodox, Haredi, Hasid), along with the majority of Jews who are secular, half of them atheists.


US, Canada, Israel - birds of a feather


The world, and increasing numbers of diaspora Jews, don’t want or need this hornets' nest. The increase in anti-Jewish sentiment these days is a direct result of identifying Jews with Israel and Zionism. Only a genuine nationalism --  multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, under a secular state -- will change this impasse. Israel can look to North America (and South Africa, Australia ...) for parallels -- dispossession of the natives, colonial prosperity, remorse and restitution (Truth and Reconciliation). As in these other ex-British colonies, there is much baggage in Israel that must be sorted out. It never goes away.


Israel itself conducted Dr. Mengele-type experiments on its north African and Ethiopian Jews, who swallowed the Zionist propaganda and, helped by Mossad terrorist attacks (primarily in Egypt, Iraq and Morocco) fled their traditional homes and cultures to live in the ‘Jewish state’. Yemeni children were whisked to Israel (really, kidnapped) and deposited in orphanages or to work in white kibbutzim, forced to speak Hebrew, torn from parents and denied their childhood.


According to the documentary “100,000 Radiation” shown on Israeli TV in 2003, starting in 1951, the American army paid the Israeli Health Ministry to radiate children to test for side effects of radiation. An entire generation of Mizrahi youths were unwittingly used as guinea pigs. Yet another Israeli TV documentary aired in 2012 revealed that until recently, Ethiopian Jews were forcibly injected with Depo-Provera, a drug to make them sterile, before they were allowed to immigrate to Israel.


This (reminiscent of the treatment of natives in North America) all goes to show that the Israeli ruling elite is deeply racist, not a nebulous ‘Jewish’ one, but a white Zionist one, which includes the millions of American Christian Zionists, who are welcomed as honoured guests, a new version of Righteous Among the Nations, though they are happy remaining on the outside looking in (as they await Armageddon).


The Mizrahi tried to integrate, but Zionism didn’t offer them normal citizenship. Leaving aside the Mengele stuff, they have witnessed discrimination daily, and seen their children denied access to good schools, even the ultra-Orthodox ones. So they were forced to defend themselves. They even had to build their own religious schools.


Parties no party


The Mizrachi party traditionally represented Mizrahi, but as an Orthodox religious Zionist party, participating in most coalition governments. It did nothing to address the latent racism Mizrahi experience. It is now the Jewish Home, headed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the son of Ashkenazi immigrants from the US, and strongly supports the settler movement. It rejects the notion of an independent Palestinian state.


The ultra-Orthodox religious Shas was set up in 1984 to increase the representation of specifically Sephardi Jews in the Knesset. It works to end prejudice against the Sephardi community and highlights economic issues and social justice. During the election, Shas used the campaign slogan "We're for those who have not."


Both parties are part of Netanyahu's government coalition. They are an example of how the oppressed often are coopted by their oppressor, outdoing him in the ruling beliefs, due to their own lack of self-respect, but Shas did make a dent in discrimination against nonwhite Jews. And many Mizrahi remember their life in Morocco, Egypt, Yemen or Iraq fondly and still speak Arabic at home.


The most prominent Mizrahi voice is that of Miri Regev, a Likud member and Minister of Culture and Sport. Regev is in Likud but solidly and proudly Sephardi. She is called Likud's "attack dog", an "outspoken politician who embodies a flag-waving, gung-ho brand of Zionism, a folksy, sneering attitude towards the Israeli Left and the country’s media elites", and "the closest thing Israel has to Sarah Palin". She has proposed legislation making "support for a cultural institution dependent on its loyalty to the state of Israel".


Revolution?


Regev may be a loud Zionist, but she has also pushed for more recognition of Mizrahi culture, including the (optional) inclusion of important Mizrahi figures in literature and poetry in the school curriculum. This is part of Bennett's “Mizrahi revolution”. Bennett’s decision is important, if only for the fact that the Ministry of Education, i.e., the State of Israel, is admitting that there is discrimination and that “there are glaring gaps in the literature and history curricula when it comes to the Mizrahi narrative.


“In other words, an entire, important heritage that is an integral part of Jewish history and literature was concealed for years, methodically and structurally.” Artist Lilach Ben Yaakov of Kiryat Tivon, mother of four children, told AlMonitor, “Overall, I’d be glad if they took this opportunity to teach the history and heritage of eastern Europe and the Arab states from other perspectives as well, such as culture, the arts, the family and demographic shifts. They should move away from wars and conquests and incorporate materials that are both broad and deep.”


There is little room for ‘Arabs’ in Bennett’s educational ‘revolution’. Before the 2018 adoption of the Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People, the Arabic language was one of the two official languages in the State of Israel,and is used in official documents by law. In 2018, it was demoted to an "auxiliary language".

In 2000 the supreme court ruled that although second to Hebrew, the use of Arabic should be much more extensive. Since then, all road signs, food labels, and messages published or posted by the government were translated, unless being issued by the local authority of an exclusively Hebrew-speaking community. But in 2009, the transport minister announced that signs on all major roads in Israel, East Jerusalem and possibly parts of the West Bank would be amended, replacing English and Arabic place names with straight transliterations of the Hebrew name. Optional Misrahi literature, signs in Hebrew transliteration -- every tiny step towards equality met by subterfuge. So far.


An Arabic Language Academy similar to the Academy of the Hebrew Language was established in 2008 in Haifa. The most hopeful sign of a desire to address white Jewish chauvinism is prompted by the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow Coalition, a social justice organization among Mizrahi Jews founded in 1996 whose goal is to "implement values of democracy, human rights, social justice, equality and multiculturalism. Mizrahi in its goals, universal in its beliefs and open to all those who identify with its values."


It attempts to reach out to Arab Israelis through its project Developing The Missing Link-Mizrahi Jews and Palestinian Arab Citizens in Israel as Builders of Democracy, Peace and Justice. But its successes have been limited to helping poor Jews gain some housing improvements. Apart from the Arab political parties, the communist Hadash is the only party which welcomes both Arab and Jewish support and has representation in parliament. They all are forced to pledge allegiance to Israel as the Jewish state.

The communists highlight another parallel with North America, where  the communists were the only pre-WWII political party with a clear anti-racist platform, which changed only after WWII. Israeli communists and such ngos as the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow Coalition are the harbingers of some future settlement without more ‘settlements’.


New definition of ‘best friend’


This politics of reconciliation is a threat to Israel as an imperialist state, but that stage of brutal colonization has to end. As with Britain, the imperial ‘centre’ (Israel) has to accommodate its ‘collateral damage’ from its imperialist past -- the ‘browns’, both Jewish and non-Jewish. This hasn’t been easy for Britain (the US is a different matter, still in self-denial as an empire, the chauvinism still strong), but it works.


Canada, is largely populated by fallout from imperialism -- Irish, Indian, Pakistani, Arab are the biggest immigrant ethnicities here, and there are no concentration camps, or jails filled with thousands of political prisoners. That is why so many Jewish Israelis flock to Canada, Israel’s eternally ‘best friend’.


They are proof that Israelis are looking for a real sense of community, easy to find in Toronto, fanatically multicultural, possible in Haifa only for Jews, all the time surrounded by anger, hatred, kept in check by daily arrests and murder of non-Jews. An Arab proverb says it all: Choose your neighbour before your house.


Canada and Israel have a lot in common as British colonies, but their post-colonial positions have diverged sharply, even as Canada slavishly supports Israel. Canada has its anti-apartheid style Truth and Reconciliation process, however feeble. The crimes perpetrated by white colonists and British officials in the past are highlighted at formal public meetings where the natives who lived on the land are thanked for letting 'us' use it. Palestinian lawyer Jonathan Kuttab, speaking at the United Jewish People’s Order in Toronto in 2017, told the audience that when he first heard this ritual greeting at a meeting in Toronto, he wept, thinking how grateful Palestinians would be to have even this recognition.


For Israel, Canada as a multicultural federation, supporting civil rights in both Canada and Israel, would be a much better ‘best friend’ to Israel, than what we’ve been to date.

xxx


*Sephardic Jews are descendants of the Spanish Jews of Al-Andalus (Spain) and are generally lumped together with the ‘orientals’.


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Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

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Eric's latest book The Canada Israel Nexus is available here http://www.claritypress.com/WalbergIV.html