Identity is our sense of self and it provides us with continuity and comfort in our everyday lives. It is our belief system as well as the physical and psychological familiarity with which we approach everything. A self-defined identity is an inalienable human right. The active right to a separate identity is denied by fascists and dictatorships, particularly within the global Muslim community.
The war being waged internationally against Israel and its supporters is largely focused on the denial of a Jewish right to a self-defined identity. That, on its own merits makes it anti-Semitic. Part of this war of ideas is an attempt to justify a Palestinians right of full return and thus, the elimination of the stain on Arab honor of a separate non-Arab national group regaining independence from the Arab conqueror of old.
In a previous blog post (Benjamin Netanyahu and the failure of Leadership) I tried to explain the failures within Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership, primarily in the area of identity. Identity is of pivotal importance if we want to create a healthy society. It governs our self-image. We grow, according to the attributes that we collect along our life’s journey. Our sense of comforting familiarity provides the continuity we mostly crave in our everyday life. So while different facets define us, in their overlapping layers they create us in terms of personal, group and national identity.
Your religion is your heritage, or your faith, or both these things. Because it is central to the identity of most people it is a deeply personal and highly sensitive area of identification. No-one has the right to define who is a Jew, or by the same logic, no-one can tell me that yearning for either a spiritual or a physical Jerusalem is at best misplaced or at worse, geographically invalidated because of some theologically Supersessionist, racist ideology.
No-one has the right to attempt to delegitimize my history by relocating it or by deciding that only a non-Jew has the right to define for Jews, the location of their biblical temple. It is however, a common tactic of Palestinians and their widening circle of supporters throughout the world.
We can argue and scream over the top of each other without ever truly listening to what the other person says. Legitimacy, accuracy, validity – theological arguments are endowed with emotion but they do not come to us endowed with verifiable facts. So in the final analysis, all historical debate is meaningless when it comes to discussing issues of faith because faith is belief; it is not based on physical evidence. It follows on from this that if there are red lines, no single faith can define them for everyone else otherwise all religious dogma is open to debate on its authenticity, irrespective of time-line.
Religion, defined as cultural or ritual, is part of our identity, whether it is in opposition to religious ritual or defined by it. It makes arguments against legitimacy put forward by Jews themselves, Presbyterian Churches, Muslims, and ‘progressives’ wholly illegitimate, by virtue of their prototypical, prejudiced reasoning.
In a secular state, national identity is limited by its secular borders. In Israel the ultra-Orthodox establishment defines who is a Jew. That is contrary to the health of the secular nation. The US Presbyterian Assembly (the largest Presbyterian denomination in the U.S.) declared when it signed the hateful Kairos Palestine document that Judaism was superseded. To logically extend this argument, Judaism is not a legitimate faith — which means that Jewish faith communities are likewise illegitimate. The intent was to identify any Jewish aspirations for living in the Land of Israel as wholly insupportable. But its global genocidal potential can not have been missed by Israel’s enemies. In both of these cases organized communities arrogated to themselves the right to deny others an identity of their choosing; a human right they denied to no other community.
The Arab world view is based on an exclusive Arab identity. As Lee Smith explains in his book, The Strong Horse: Power, Politics and the Clash of Arab Civilizations, “Arab nationalism is secular in the sense that it does not derive its political legitimacy from divine revelation, but it is an absolutism nevertheless.” Absolutism thrives because the Arab nation is unencumbered by Western concepts of free will and the will of the people. There are no physical borders to define it. Arab exceptionalism has no noble message for humanity. The nation’s task is to fulfill Arab destiny; it is colonialism through conquest and morality has no place in the methodology to be employed. As an identity it thrives on subjugation.
Edward Said delighted in the idea that Islam was something all ‘Arab’ people shared. It meant that secular Arab nationalism could be embraced by non-Muslims if they recognized the supremacy of Islam. The logical follow through that derived from this was to disempower minority faith and non-Arab ethnic communities throughout the Arab world, justifying their often institutionalized and inhered inferior status.
The Islamic theological underpinnings of this philosophy creates fault lines between Muslim and non-Muslim national entities. The religious or ‘secular’ Arab national will has no geographical limits. Israeli self determination and any other legitimate Jewish aspirations are an unacceptable challenge to Arab hegemony. According to Arab religious theology and Arab secular dogma Jewish identity is narrowly permissible but only through renunciation of an identifiable, tangible homeland which also eviscerates the spiritual. Christians, Kurds and every other minority are similarly, ruthlessly offered limited, conditional acceptance.
Jerusalem has relevance to a Jewish identity because it is mentioned in the Jewish Bible as well as in countless Jewish prayers. There is good reason it is not mentioned in the Koran. Arab identity defines Mecca and Medina as being central to Islamic faith however the Muslim Brotherhood was founded in twentieth century Egypt. It focused attention towards Jerusalem in order to shift the regional center of political power away from the Arabian Peninsular.
If identity is what defines us then arguments over rights take on extra significance for people who express an affiliation for secular institutions because the physical borders of their state constrains them. It makes the arguments about Jerusalem crucial on almost every level of consciousness, at least for Jews and to a lesser but still important extent, for Christians.
Religion is faith not fact. Those people, organizations or nations trying to take away our rights by rewriting our ‘history’ or by denying us our religious heritage have no right to do so. Informing us that ‘Jerusalem’ is unconnected to us is part of the propaganda war persistently waged against us. It is an assault on our right to define our own identity.
Those people that therefore try to deny me my rights are guilty of cultural ethnic cleansing. The incessant incitement is incitement to cultural genocide, which precedes the physical act. We should demand that the world acknowledges this fact and highlight the corruption of our enemies at every opportunity but instead our silence is interpreted as acceptance of a hateful Muslim narrative that denies us our past, rewrites our history and conditions our existence on subservience.
Crucially, at a time in human history when we should all be enjoying unparalleled intellectual and social freedom, that conditional approval has growing Western acceptance. That prejudice represents the strongest argument for anti-Zionism being quintessentially anti-Semitism.
Jewish Israel must be able to assert its rights in its own homeland without threat of denigration, denial or delegitimization (all of which was beautifully summed up by Abu Mazen’s pithy little quote about filthy Jewish feet having no right to step out onto the Temple Mount).
If Israel decides to create a formal constitution the first statement of principles should declare that Israel is the original homeland of the Jewish nation and this fact is our inalienable right. It is part of our identity.
A homeland shared with others means that Israel’s minorities must be able to share in the benefits of participation in the Israeli journey. If Jerusalem is central to Palestinian-Muslim identity it is recent but no less valid than the centrality of Jerusalem to Jewish identity, with one exception: There is no fork in the road leading away from the belligerent denial of my nations past, towards a benevolent future. History must be our teacher. Delegitimization precedes extermination. De-escalation starts with rhetorical de-escalation, on both sides; within government and outside it.
Those who do not accept the legitimacy of our identity do not want peace. They must be marginalized. Only then will we successfully muzzle the anti-Semitic racist, President Mahmoud Abbas and his ilk. Only then will peace be possible.