(this is the full version of the letter which was published – with some cuts – in the latest edition of Haaretz weekend supplement, Dec. 20, 2013)
Oren Yiftachel (Haaretz Dec. 6, 2013) disagrees with Eva Illouz and rejects her “religious explanation” which in his view “focuses on the symptoms and not the roots of the disease” and “attributing inordinate importance to what is occurring within the Jewish ‘bubble‘”. Yiftachel claims that “Illouz, like most Jews, ignores the question of Palestine, without which it is impossible to understand many of the traits of Israeli society”… He thus displays a deep internal contradiction in his own argument, describing “Jews” as having the tendency to ignore their neighbors, which is exactly the attribute Illouz focuses on.
The Yiftachel-Illouz debate touches on the most critical issue of the Israeli existence: Is the source of the Israeli Apartheid policy a product of the Jewish Halacha or the colonization of Historical Palestine? Understanding the origin of this policy is of course vital if one wishes to act in order to eradicate and give a chance to a human and lively society in our area.
Unfortunately Yiftachel, one of the most worthy veterans of human rights for non-Jews in Israel, displays a perspective afflicted with excuses for the Jewish colonization project in Palestine. His claim that the Jews were “expelled to their homeland” from both Europe and the Islamic lands is unintelligible as well as false. The Jews are a product of the Rabbinical Halacha, not a product of Palestine, where Jews used to live 2000 years ago, but so did also the believers of other religions – certainly Christians – and such logic would make it their “historic homeland” too. The Zionist movement decided to import Jews into Palestine mainly after it received the sponsorship of colonial Britain, which became the supporting empire of the Jewish colonizers in a critical period.
The racist principles of orthodox rabbinical Judaism cannot be disputed following the publication (2009) of the book Torat Hamelech (“The Laws Pertaining to Relations between Jews and non-Jews In Matters of Life and Death”) by rabbis Shapira and Elitzur, and the support it received from hundreds of other rabbis. Yiftachel insists that the reason for the hatred in Israel to Palestine indigenous natives is a result of the colonization process rather than a product of Zionism’s Jewish origins. The Zionist movement, he accepts, has indeed adopted “the ethno-religious vision of redemption” and it “used the religious establishment as the gatekeeper of Israeli citizenship“. He describes how Israeli Zionism is constantly affected by “anti-liberal religious forces” that are “intensifying their messianic and racist rhetoric” – but all this does not alter his description of the movement as basically “secular”(!).
Colonization, as Yiftachel analyzes, certainly is a major factor in the creation of Israeli and Zionist racism. It was a necessary and sufficient condition for the development and the enforcement of the historical luggage that has its distinct origin in the Jewish Halacha. When Zionism was faced with the challenge of creating a nation from a variety of ethnic groups, including those whose “ethnicity” was very similar to the local ethnicity of the Arab Palestinians, it found only one factor that could be used as a common denominator – the Jewish religion. It was the necessity to create a “nation” out of nothing that encouraged the blossom of the racist ancient Halachic Judaism in the land of historical Palestine. It was effectively used as a major tool in the process of the colonization, the exclusion and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.
Yiftachel’s claim that the post 1967 settlement process “is creating an apartheid regime in the territories, which is increasingly creeping gradually into Israel and threatening the character of the entire regime” is also inexplicable and denotes a denial which must have its roots in the limits of the writer’s politics. Apartheid has characterized the state of Israel from day one, starting by the dispossession of the Palestinian refugees and the immediate legislation that banned their return to their homes, through a legal system that openly discriminates between Jews and others (as Yiftachel found out in our common failed “Israeli nationality” case). The Law of Return, all nationalization regulations, and a vicious system of land laws –so reminiscent of the South African laws that were legislated in the very year Israel was established – all preceded the settlements movement in the occupied territories. The 40 years rampant, aggressive settlement activity merely exposes the basic rules of the Jews vs. non-Jews game. For some reason the Zionist Left prefers to believe that this phenomena is typical to the “territories” alone and waxes nostalgia over the “Good little Eretz Israel”. Oren Yiftachel, clinging to the notion that “a Palestinian state…could provide an answer, partial but significant, to the question of the refugees and Palestinian sovereignty” voices in fact a similar viewpoint.
Eva Illouz, well familiar with Orthodox Jewry and its communities in the countries where Jews make part of other nations, as in France, the UK or the US, have not experienced a collision between her own universal values and the cherished Jewish values. This only happened to her in Israel, where the universal has become synonymous with “anti-Israeli”. The only reason for this is the nutty Zionist idea that Jews are a national unity, and that the necessary glue for the manufacturing of such a nation is the Jewish religion, complete with its archaic, racist principles.
The solution for the existential problem of the inhabitants of this land is, first and foremost, the declaring of religion a private matter of all citizens and its complete eradication from of the public domain. This solution was chosen by ex-colonies, all the way from the United States of America to South Africa. It seems that without the dismissal of religious ideology there will be no way out of the colonial situation that Oren Yiftachel correctly laments while declining to deal with its fundamental origins.
Eli Aminov, Jerusalem
Ofra Yeshua-Lyth, Tel Aviv
Members of the Committee for One Secular Democratic State in Palestine-Israel