An interesting characteristic of Israel-haters is that they tend to critically ‘analyse’ Israel in a dedicated ‘logical space’ – created ad-hoc and populated almost exclusively by theoretical constructs – rather than examining it in the context of other real-world modern states.
Take for instance the ‘analysis’ performed by Simon Reynolds and published by Mondoweiss, the Palestinian organisation Badil and a plethora of other anti-Israel outfits. Entitled ‘Israel’s Identity Crisis: The practical difficulties of a Jewish and democratic state’, Reynolds’ piece asserts that, by defining itself as ‘Jewish’, Israel simply cannot be democratic. Moreover, claims Reynolds, Israel’s definition as ‘Jewish’ is the root cause of her committing ‘the crime of apartheid’.
Reynolds concludes that
“the two components of Israel’s self-applied split personality [i.e., ‘Jewish’ and ‘democratic’] – though both are essential to the state’s diplomatic legitimacy and economic survival – are impossible to reconcile with one another.”
The wording of that conclusion is telling: in Reynold’s view, not only are Israel’s two attributes ‘impossible to reconcile’, but as a result the state is illegitimate and cannot or should not survive.
Assuming that Reynolds speaks out of genuine belief, rather than anti-Jewish prejudice, this should equally apply to any state claiming both a particular ethnic character and a democratic regime. The problem is that Reynolds does not even attempt to seek evidence for his assertion in the real world, but in an imaginary world of abstract theoretical constructs. Israel, he claims, “has effectively established a de facto global Jewish nationality”. That ‘nationality’ is in his a priori view irredeemably at odds with the concept of ‘Israeli citizenship’ and inevitably leads to the status of ‘Jewish nationals’ being advanced at the expense of non-Jewish Israeli citizens.
As long as we remain in the realm of theoretical flight of fancy, it may seem that Reynolds and his ilk are right. Israel does define herself as ‘Jewish’, a definition with which its ethnically Arab citizens – for instance – cannot be expected to identify. Nor can they, seemingly, fully identify with the Jewish symbols of the state: Israel’s flag displaying the (Jewish) ‘Star of David’; the official seal showing a 7-branch Jewish Menorah (the ritual lamp used in Jerusalem’s ancient Jewish Temple); the national anthem speaking of ‘Jewish soul’, etc. Even the name of the state would seem to be problematic: after all, ‘Israel’ is the endonym equivalent to the exonym ‘Jewish people’. So all this amounts to inherent discrimination against non-Jewish citizens. Doesn’t it?
But let’s climb down from the ivory tower of anti-Israel ‘intellectual pursuit’ and glance at the real world surrounding us.
As her name proudly proclaims, Finland is the ‘land’ or ‘country’ of the Finns, the ‘Finnish state’. It is, in other words, that geographic space in which the Finnish people (‘nation’ or ‘ethnos’) exercises its right of national self-determination. But Finland is also home to a significant minority of ethnic Swedes, as well as to the indigenous Sami people. They differ from ethnic Finns not just in terms of ethnic origin, but (more importantly) in terms of language and cultural identity. Yet they are all Finnish citizens entitled to equal rights under the law. Is calling the country ‘Fin-land’ inherently discriminatory towards the Swedish and Sami minorities? It may be argued that ethnic Swedes might favour a ‘Finland’ united with Sweden, forming ‘one state’, ‘a state of all its citizens’. But that would make ethnic Finns a minority in that state – thus denying them the right to national self-determination. (BTW: ‘Finn’ and ‘Finland’ are exonyms; the ‘Finns’ call themselves ‘suomalaiset’ and their country ‘Suomi’).
Practically every modern state has ethnic, religious, linguistic and cultural minorities. Just as there are ethnic Swedes in Finland, there are also around half a million ethnic Finns in Sweden. Slovakia (the ‘Slovak state’) includes among its citizenry some 10% ethnic Magyars, the same ethnicity that constitutes the bulk of citizenry in nearby Hungary. (‘Hungary’ and ‘Hungarian’ are also exonyms; those people call themselves ‘Magyars’ and their country ‘Magyarorszag’).
To understand how Slovakia defines itself, let’s look at the Constitution of the Slovak Republic. Its Preamble proclaims:
“We, the Slovak nation, mindful of the political and cultural heritage of our forebears, and of the centuries of experience from the struggle for national existence and our own statehood, in the sense of the spiritual heritage of Cyril and Methodius and the historical legacy of the Great Moravian Empire, proceeding from the natural right of nations to self-determination, together with members of national minorities and ethnic groups living on the territory of the Slovak Republic, in the interest of lasting peaceful cooperation with other democratic states, seeking the application of the democratic form of government and the guarantees of a free life and the development of spiritual culture and economic prosperity, that is, we, citizens of the Slovak Republic, adopt through our representatives the following Constitution”.
So the Constitution postulates a ‘Slovak nation’ which, “together with members of national minorities and ethnic groups” forms the citizenry of the Slovak Republic. References to ‘the spiritual heritage of Cyril and Methodius and the historical legacy of the Great Moravian Empire” are no doubt very meaningful to the (West-Slavic) ‘Slovak nation’; but the (non-Slavic) Magyar minority may find it hard to identify with such symbols of Slavic character. They may be decidedly underwhelmed by “the historical legacy of the Great Moravian Empire” (830-907 CE) and prefer to remember the Kingdom of Hungary, which – from circa 1000 CE until after World War I – included the territory of modern-day Slovakia.
Furthermore, it is clear from the Preamble that “the natural right of nations to self determination” accrues in Slovakia to ‘the Slovak nation’, rather than to “members of national minorities and ethnic groups living on the territory of the Slovak Republic”. The latter are, however, entitled to Slovak citizenship, as well as “guarantees of a free life and the development of spiritual culture and economic prosperity”. In other words, it is ‘the Slovak nation’ which holds the ‘national rights’ in the country (which is presumably also why the state is called ‘Slovakia’, rather than ‘Hungary-2’ or ‘Slovungary’), even while ethnic minorities are entitled to equal civil, cultural, religious, political and economic rights. This assignment of rights is almost a carbon copy of that made by the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, which recognised ‘Palestine’ as the “Jewish national home”, while calling for respect of the “civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities”. This is also the view of Zionism – and always has been.
If that view amounts to Apartheid, it is rather odd that the European Union bureaucrats and politicians failed to raise any objections towards Slovakia’s accession to the Union. After all, the thorough audit of a country’s legislative framework is an essential component of the accession process.
Now, Simon Reynolds does not have to agree with all this. He can opine that endowing a state with particular ethnic character is fundamentally wrong. But, if so, he needs to urgently petition Finland and Slovakia and warn them that they risk committing ‘the crime of Apartheid’. Otherwise, if he persists in singling out Israel, he may himself stand accused of crass discrimination and persecution.