By Yossi Klein Halevi, Globe and Mail, October 6, 2011
Yossi Klein Halevi is a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, and a contributing editor of The New Republic.
In the current atmosphere, the Israeli demand that Palestinians recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state has assumed a new urgency. On the face of it, that expectation should hardly pose a dilemma for Palestinian leaders committed to peace. A two-state solution, after all, means that each state has the right to define itself by its majority culture.
Yet Mr. Abbas, along with other Palestinian leaders, insists he will never accept a Jewish state. In opposing the right of the Jewish people to self-determination, Palestinian leaders have exposed the real obstacle to Middle East peace: not the creation of a Palestinian state, which most Israelis support, but the existence of a Jewish state, which most Palestinians reject.
The root of Palestinian rejectionism is the perception – widespread in the Arab world – that the Jews are not a nation at all but a religion. After all, many Arabs argue, the Jews lived for centuries as a religious minority under Islamic rule. Only in the 20th century did they reinvent themselves as a nation.
In fact, the Jews perceived their exile as a temporary aberration, and never stopped dreaming of renewed sovereignty in their homeland. Since ancient times, Jews have identified themselves as a people practising a particular faith. The centrality of peoplehood in Judaism even allows the seeming anomaly of Jewish atheists, so long as they identify with Jewish history and values.
The Arab world’s insistence on defining the Jews out of their own national identity isn’t only insulting: It prolongs the conflict by encouraging rejection of Israel’s legitimacy.
If the Jews have contrived their national identity, what, then, is the meaning of their history and attachment to their homeland? The Palestinian solution is to turn Jewish history, too, into a lie. Palestinian media routinely dismiss the Jewish narrative: There was no ancient Jewish presence in the land of Israel, there was no temple on the Temple Mount, and the Holocaust has been exaggerated or entirely invented.
The denial of Jewish history and identity – widespread in the Arab world – is ultimately the greatest threat to peace. Settlements can be dismantled, as Israel proved during its withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. But an insidious educational process of delegitimizing the other can’t so easily be uprooted.
The fear of another has many roots. However, one of the most threatening experiences is to have one's truth, one's experience, and therefore one's identity threatened by the beliefs, attitudes and actions of another.
I recall a conversation, after years of separation, with a former supervisor who, when we worked together, had betrayed me in his dealings with other professional colleagues. I had called him out on his betrayal at the time, bitter and resentful as I was, I thought legitimately. Years later, after he had betrayed me again in a completely unprofessional reference, I confronted him, and reminded him of his earlier betrayal. His response was an unequivocal, "It never happened!"
To which comment, I immediately climbed into my vehicle, and drove away, as he banged on the driver's door window, desperate to continue a pointless conversation. We were and are of the same Caucasian ethnicity, both raised protestants, both affiliated with the same political party, and both allegedly proud Canadians. However, the denial of my reality was and remains totally unacceptable, and irreconcilable. We will not likely encounter each other again unless and until the breach of denial and thereby legitimacy has been healed.
When a race of people, the Palestinians, the Arabs, are raised to believe that Israel is the enemy, that Israel is not a legitimate homeland for the Jewish people, that Israel must be blown off the map of the world, that the Holocaust never happened, that the Jewish people are a scourge to humanity....these are not like settlements, nor are they like missiles, nor are they like "religious differences". They are a denial of the legitimate existence of the Jewish people and the state of Israel. This belief, perception and attitude is one that it is the responsibility of the rest of the world to eliminate. It is not congruent with the facts of history; it is not congruent with the history of the Jewish people; it is not congruent with any attempt, now or in the future, to bring peace to the Middle East. It is not some technicality of the location of a boundary line between two autonomous states. It is an existential threat to the people of Israel, something no other state has to endure. And it is rooted in the culture, the religion and the history of the Palestinian and Muslim people. It is first and foremost the responsibility of the people of that culture and that religion and that history to eliminate such teachings from their "curricula" and from their conversations, and from their pulpits.
And if one state and one people are deemed illegitimate anywhere in the world, then how can the rest of the world be safe from a similar declaration. Put simply, we can't.
Consequently, it is the business of the world leaders, of the world's various organizations, of the various academic and cultural institutions everywhere to work to remove this lie, this distortion, this insidious threat from the consciousness of the world's people. And to state that is not pathological altruism. It is, in essence, a need of all people living on the planet. If one group of people is so anathema that its very existence as a people, and as a state, is the target of others for total annihilation, then when will it be "our" turn for a similar targeting?
This is not simply an Israeli problem, nor is it an American problem, nor is it a Christian problem, nor can it be reduced to a Middle East, or a Quartet problem. It is a cancer within the conversations everywhere between and among world leaders that can and will only grow, dependent as it is on the dark side of human nature, the Shadow, denied, unrecognized and unwrapped into public consciousness. Another potential gift is the unwrapping of a new and perhaps novel approach to life: that a people and their religion are inseparable, just as their history and their culture and their people are inseparable. And perhaps, once and for all, this bogeyman of the "separation of state and church" so sacred in the American context, can be finally removed from the consciousness of that nation.
There is another potential gift from the removal of this cancerous tumour. It is a full airing of a new and liberating TRUTH for all people: that the world can deal effectively with the agreed facts of our shared history. It was Senator Moynahan (D) from New York, who reminded his political adversaries that they were entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts.
This is one singular instance when his poignant observation applies, and must be made to apply, by any and all those responsible for the future of the planet, and the race.
Denying the legitimacy of Israel and of the Jewish people simply does not fit with any picture of a world even working toward peace, without expecting its full accomplishment.
From Letters to the Editor, Globe and Mail, October 7, 2011
Any reasonable person would have at least two problems agreeing that Israel should be recognized as a “Jewish State.” (The Real Obstacle To Palestinian Statehood – Oct. 6): The first is what does that mean? There can be no difficulty advocating that Israel be recognized as a civil, democratic, pluralist state whose official religion is Judaism and whose population is majority Jewish.
But that is exactly not what Israel is demanding. Instead it appears to seek a recognition that, unlike every other democratic state, somehow its citizenship is defined by religion or ethnicity. Among other things, where does that leave the millions of non-Jewish inhabitants of Israel?
The second problem is what is meant by “Israel?” Could Mr. Halevi point out the boundaries on a map? He cannot, because among Israelis themselves are deeply divided over what, exactly, the boundaries should be. Indeed, the boundary issue is inseparable from the current dispute with the Palestinians.
So recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, far from being a reasonable request, is merely a political slogan to marshal international support.
Larry MacDonald, Victoria