Eli Aminov on “A State of Mind; Why Israel should become Secular and Democratic”
First published in Haoketz 23/10/11
The New book by Ofra Yeshua-Lyth deals with the basic nature of Israeli society as one that had deprived, rejected and pushed away the natives of the land, and built an apartheid state on the basis of religion and ethnicity. It is impossible to solve this problem by “exiting from the territories” that nobody really knows what they are. A book review by Eli Aminov
My excitement over Ofra Yeshua-Lyth’s book Eretz, Brith (“A State of Mind; Why Israel should become Secular and Democratic”), was not generated by any new and surprising revelations about Israeli society, its history and the politics of its leaders. It was rather due to my acquaintance with most of the facts described in this book. The fact that Israel is an apartheid statebecame clear to us back in MATZPEN in the 1960s, when we started looking at the ways the regime was treating the Arab population of the land. The burning issue at the time was the expropriation of lands belonging to four Arab villages in the Galilee in order to build the city of Carmiel. The Military Governor expropriated land from the villages Ba’ana, Dir El-Asad, Nahef and Camane. The blunt injustice drove hundreds of Israeli Jews to join the demonstrations in what was then known as Area 9.
This was the beginning of my own political involvement, and I was soon to discover more information about discrimination against Israel’s Arab citizens. It was only then that I heard of the massacre in Kafr Kassem that had taken place ten years earlier.
“Peace Peace but there is no Peace”, a collection of articles by two of MATZPEN’s founders, Akiva (Aki) Or and Moshe Machover (1962), accurately documented the non-democratic nature of Israel and its government’s politics. This book was instrumental in exposing many of the lies that comprised the official history dictated through the Israeli educational system. It also exposed the nature of political parties and organizations belonging to the Zionist Left that were publicly presented as socialists, e.g. the Histadrut labor union. In fact, the were nationalistic, apartheid-supporting organizations. As an active participant in the great seamen strike in 1951 Aki Or was stunned to discover that the Histadrut, supposedly the representative body of the workers in Israel, sided with the government against the rights of the seamen and actively participated in the brutal suppression of the strike. Following Aki’s critique motivated me to read the Histadrut’s regulating code which made no secret of its core vision: to support the interests of Hebrew Workers (meaning the Jews) against the native workers, as well as serving the needs of the colonial settlement that was building here an all exclusive Jewish society (“Hebrew” as it was then called).
A typical poster: “buy the product of the land” – meaning, non Jews do not belong in the “land”
The need to stop any attempt to create a workers’ union that would include the majority of the laborers in the land was the nucleus of the apartheid society – a society that from its very first steps planned the removal of Arabs from its chosen habitat. Zionism in its entirety was built on such basic assumptions. The transfer of lands from Arab to Jewish hands was defined as “land redemption“. Taking livelihood away from Arabs for the benefit of Jews was called “the struggle for Hebrew Labor“, and the economic boycott of Arab products – which involved young Jews pouring gasoline on tomatoes that had originated in Arab villages – was described as “the duty to buy the product of the land“. Non Jews, in other words, did not belong in the “land”.
Winston Churchill, a distinct supporter of the Jewish community in the Land of Israel, had dreamed of a Jewish State, and was one of the few who diagnosed this community’s basic problem. Testifying for the Royal Inquiry Committee known as the Peel Committee, Churchill did not hide his criticism of Zionist activities with regards to “land redemption”: “When they purchase land, they might perhaps offer the Arab another piece of land more suitable for his needs. This is how they should act“.On the subject of “Hebrew Labor” and the exclusion of Arabs from the labor union and from liaisons with Jews, he said: “They made a mistake when they said they will only employ their own people. This was not the intention. The intention was that the two races will mix with one another“
A further analysis of the nationality issue that we in MATZPEN dealt with in those long ago days in the mid sixties exposed further false claims on which we had been raised and educated. This included the story that “Arab Armies” had invaded the state of Israel in 1948 while in fact, these armies arrived first to the territory that according to the Partition Plan was intended to be Arab. Their actual aim was not just preventing the establishment of a Jewish State but also blocking any attempt to establish a Palestinian State (a goal they indeed achieved). During the same period, “Haolam Haze” [Uri Avneri’s news weekly] exposed for the first time the sinister details of what was nicknamed the “Affair” [Parasha], a collection of official lies aimed to cover up the responsibility of top officials who initiated scandalous terror acts by the State of Israel in the early fifties. These acts included the planting of bombs in the American Embassy and in the British Library in Cairo.
The Six Day War introduced a new and frightful dimension to Israeli politics. It included occupyinglarge regions and subjecting their inhabitants to military rule. The occupation, the nationalistic wave that followed it and the settlement movement focused the attention of various Israeli left wing movements and international public opinion on what the Israeli mini-superpower was up to in the areas under its control. There is extensive literature dealing with and criticizing every aspect of the injustice of the occupation, but hardly anyone ever discusses nowadays the most basic nature of Israeli society as a settler society that had been usurping, rejecting and dispossessing the natives of the land from the very first years of its establishment.
Refugee camp in Gaza, 1968. From “Constituent Violence”, treasurer Ariella Azoulay
Ofra Yeshua-Lyth offers an original response to the question she presents in the title of her book. She does it by combining a detailed cultural analysis with many real life test cases – her own life and family experiences, as well as her encounters during an impressive journalistic career. This book was not generated by radical political activity; on the contrary, it comes from the very heart of the Zionist enterprise, that the writer’s grandparents were part of its very beginnings, nearly a hundred years ago. t iseven respectful ( too much in my opinion) of the achievement of this enterprise.
Yeshua-Lyth accurately identifies the state she lives in as an apartheid state – based on religious apartheid but with a clear preference for “Europeans” who are accepted here even if they are not Jewish. To quote from the back cover of the book: “In the nineteen-fifties and sixties the State of Israel had made a tremendous effort to drag masses of Arabs into its territory, because they were Jews. In the nineteen-nineties and in the first years of the new millennium it exercised a mass import of non-Jews, because they were not Arabs“.
Reuven Rubin, Shiech Muanis, 1923-4 (The picture is on the book cover)
As a direct descendant of those Arab Jews who arrived in this country from Yemen, Yeshua-Lyth identifies the ethnic preferences of the Israelis but focuses on the legal and governmental preferences that make Israel into a non-secular, and therefore a non-democratic state, based on permanent discrimination between its citizens. She proves that even should the occupation be over and Israel should retreat from all the occupied territories, dismantle settlements and return to its 1967 borders – a totally unrealistic “plan” with no slight chance of materializing – it will still be an apartheid state. And indeed this trend is only becoming more powerful.
The present Israeli government is exercising enormous pressure on the Palestinians to recognize the state of Israel as a “Jewish State” or “The State of the Jewish People” – in other words, a fully fictional creation legitimizing wild nationalism against non-Jews. More or less territories is hardly the question. Because the “Jewish State” is first and foremost the enemy of normal citizenship. It oppresses first and foremost its own nationals – those who are interested in a life free of religious restrictions and unfair matrimonial rules.
These very nationals, while often objecting to the injustice committed by their own state, find it hard to recognize its fundamental problematic nature. As Yeshua-Lyth sadly points out: “Both right and left of the political spectrum are united in their earnest zeal to continue fighting over ‘preserving a Jewish majority’ in the State of Israel. The disagreements between the opposite political systems are merely about the means by which to achieve this Jewish majority: should we get all Jews out of regions heavily populated by non-Jews, as the enlightened Left dearly hopes; or should non-Jews simply get their marching orders to quit all lands that Jews desire for themselves, as the nationalistic Right expects?”
The clear wording as well as to the well written narratives leave no room for doubting the fact that this writer sees no scope for the Two State solution if one of these states continues to be an apartheid state, allowing rabbinical formulations to mark its citizens according to their religious and ethnic origins: “Who should be united into the nation, why must some people be forever excluded from the making up process? No state should take it upon itself to determine the identity of its citizens….This is why “Getting Out” of territories or being symbolically “disengaged” is relatively unimportant. Nobody can truly define where the “Territories” are these days, where the land is “ours”. …If you want to save Israel, you might as well just declare it a normal state, and turn the Israeli people into a regular group or citizens living in one territory. It is not such an impossible mission. The world is full of such states and of such peoples”.
This goal may be achieved only if a constituent assembly is at long last assembled, with fully equal representation to everybody living today under the rule of the present Israeli state. The last attempt to start such an assembly ended in a kind of putsch, out of which the present Knesset was established; the one that so zealously upheld the Apartheid regime.
A State of Mind; Why Israel should become Secular and Democratic [Hebrew]
Maariv Publishers, 330 pages
 Martin Gilbert, Churchill and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship