1. It has taken Israel seventy years to speak the truth about itself. At such a venerable age, the nation has at last acknowledged that it is the “Nation-State of the Jewish People” through a homonymous law passed by the Knesset on July 19th. A triumph of the obvious?
Not at all. There is nothing less taken for granted than what is evident. This self-certification of Israel’s Judaic stigma has caused an uproar within the country itself as well as all over the world.
Let us address three factors.
First. Seven years of feverish diatribes were required to amend the original project drafted by the former director of domestic intelligence, Avi Dichter, as well as subsequent versions proposed by right-wing MPs.
The law was passed with only one vote more than the indispensible majority and did not manage to totally unite even Premier Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. The country’s president, Reuven Rivlin, a member of the same party, labelled it as “bad for Israel and bad for the Jews” (1). He also threatened to sign it in Arabic. (2)
Second. Israeli public opinion is divided almost in half along ethno-political and religious lines. In the Zionist Jewish camp, the nationalist and religious right-wing parties are generally in favour of this law, while the centre is divided and the remaining left-wing movements oppose it.
There is predictable opposition from the Arabs – who in parliament line up a formation ranging from communists to radical Islamists – while the very faithful Druses and other non-Jewish minorities (Bedouins, Circassians, Arameans etc) that feel neglected, all protest for different reasons.
Furthermore, only 45% of Israelis consider this law necessary, with the figure rising to 52% when only taking Jews into account. (3)
Third. The diaspora, which now accounts for the majority of Jews – 8.1 million, compared to the 6.6 million living in Israel out of a population of almost 9 million – is in turmoil.
This is happening above all among American Jews, dominant due their numbers (5.7 million) and with marked liberal tendencies, already irritated by the central rabbinate’s claim to exclusive rights in controlling conversions and because of the homophobic rules concerning surrogate motherhood approved by the Knesset.
The “Israeli complex”, according to which the Jewish state cannot be criticized in public, has fallen by the wayside, especially among the young.
The new Basic Law has added fuel to the flames. This because those rejecting the aliyah may feel implicitly delegitimized now that Israel has formalized its status as the nation-state of the Jews, exalting its vocation as the kibbutz galyot (gatherer of the Diasporas); if you are Jewish, why do you not come to the homeland?
Those most critical oppose the law’s very structure. The president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald S. Lauder, formerly very close to Netanyahu, branded it as “destructive” because it repudiates the universalist values of Jewish culture and questions Israel’s primacy as the “only democracy in the Middle East”.
All this to the point that the bond between the Diaspora (not only North American) and the nation-state of the Jews now risks being broken and therefore “may not provide it with the strategic rear guard that Israel so needs.” (4)
2. But what is it that is so explosive in a law that, to the naïve seems, at worst, annoyingly redundant? Political analysis is not enough for understanding this. Of course, “Bibi” Netanyahu, besieged by judicial investigations, wanted to wield that law to solidify his fragile coalition and ensure his aspiring successors who are all champing at the bit with an eye on the next elections. would toe the line, especially Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home Party.
En passant, he also wanted to warn the Supreme Court that is should cast off the liberal inclinations that for years have made it a political counterweight to right-wing governments. Should the high courts decide to disqualify the law or propose drastic amendments, the result would be an unprecedented institutional crisis.
This, however, is not a trivial election manifesto, nor is it an outright challenge to the Supreme Court’s perceived derailment. It is an identity statement. A format in which the ordinary rules of semantics do not apply. The intention is not to simply communicate.
Here one is in the kingdom of the “magic word”, a powerful weapon in its polysemous ambiguity; it does not describe, it transforms, resorting to a myth and to the mesmerism of its symbols.
As the German Jewish philosopher Ernst Cassirer warned, quoting Virgil: “By magic songs and incantations even the moon can be dragged down from the heavens.” (5)
In this case, the magic consists in baptizing the identity of the “nation-state of the Jewish people”, hence of four geopolitically and semantically fluid words. In fact, the state in question has no determined borders, if anything they are challenged; in Judaism, the relationship between nation (le’om, broadly equivalent to the Arabic umma’), people (‘am) and religion, is the object of disagreements; as far as who is and who is not Jewish is concerned, the diatribe has always and will forever divide rabbis as well as lay people. And so in the end it is the persecutors who decide.
Every state has its own founding myth. In Israel, however, with its four-thousand-year-old mainly diasporal tradition, it is more decisive and disputed than elsewhere.
The Zionist home is structurally unfinished. Here lies its damnation and its power. So much so that it still cannot (or does not wish to?) equip itself with a constitution that sounds harmonious to its many souls, to its proliferating tribes. The Basic Law is a surrogate of this and in this last case revocable in parliament by a simple majority.
The nation’s law is strategic. Its logic is the pre-emptive strike; in nuclear doctrine, the first and definitive attack that preventively liquidates the threat of an enemy attack assessed as imminent.
According to Netanyahu and his associates, it is necessary to establish that the state is, and will under all circumstance remain Jewish, whatever its future territorial expansion or demographic status might be. This principle is regulated in this law by two affirmations and as many omissions (6).
Comma c) of Article 1 states for the first time that “The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” The Jews, three quarters of the population, are the title holders of the state, while this privilege is denied to the Arabs (over one fifth) and other minorities (just below one twentieth).
Consequently, the right to return there is reserved implicitly only to the Jewish diaspora. This destroys the albeit unrealistic dream, untiringly repeated by Palestinian propaganda, of a return home – to Israel – for the descendents of refugees forced to flee by the 1948-49 war, when Arab states tried in vain to kill off the newborn Zionist subject.
It is a privilege reinforced by Article 7, according to which “The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.”
It does not take a genius to deduct the legislator’s intentions even if the Jewish word used here for “settlement” is the neutral hityashvut – not hitnachlut, which evokes Jewish colonies in Gaza (abandoned in 2005), in Judea and Samaria.
It is a green light for the expansion of territories having exclusively Jewish influence in areas nowadays inhabited by Palestinian Arabs. All this on both sides of the Green Line (to mitigate excessive Arab presence in areas of Galilee) established by the 1949 armistice and crossed in 1967 with the Six-Day War victory.
Both regulations must be interpreted against the backdrop of Article 1 comma a) according to which “The land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people.”
Here we enter the biblical aspects. One cannot, however, expect God to provide clear and definitive words establishing the meaning of the words Land of Israel. Verses on this subject in the Numbers and Genesis spark irreconcilable geopolitical interpretations.
The most exorbitant sets the Promised Land between the Nile and the Euphrates, which according to a mischievous anti-Zionist interpretation is the area outlined by the two blue lines on the state’s flag.
More modern and modest is the one that traces the area spoken of in God’s pact with Abraham, to the area between Dan and Be’er Sheva’, hence between Mount Lebanon and the Negev, along the north-south axis, with the Jordan and the Mediterranean as east-west water borders.
Nothing whatsoever to do with the Green Line, which in any case is not mentioned in the Book. (7) Furthermore, the project for Eretz Israel changes when compared to the May 14th, 1948 Declaration of Independence.
That pre-constitutional text adopted the United Nations plan dated November 29th 1947 for the partitioning of the former British Mandate into an Arab state and a Jewish state – the first inhabited almost exclusively by Palestinians (99%), while in the second there were more or less as many Jews as there were Arabs, Bedouins included – committed to “take steps to bring about the economic union of the whole of Eretz-Israel.” .
As far as omissions are concerned, in the law of the nation-state, in this case coherent with the Declaration of Independence, there is no trace of the word democracy.
This is an interesting omission for a country that, at least in the West, bases its narrative, and part of its soft power, on defining itself as the only democracy in the region. But if those who drafted this text had baptised Israel “the Democratic Nation-State of the Jewish People” it would have been based on the permanence of a clear Jewish majority.
This would also have meant giving up on the idea of annexing the Territories – or rather disputed territories, according to Jerusalem – occupied in 1967, increasingly openly spoken of by the national-religious front, starting with the Likud, in which the influence of settlers is pervasive.
This to the extent that on December 21st, 2017, on the 50th anniversary of the “liberation of Judea and Samaria”, its central committee unanimously approved a resolution that exhorts its elected officials to “apply Israeli sovereignty.” (8)
The other omission concerns equality, proclaimed instead in the Declaration of Independence with specific reference to the “Arab citizens of the State of Israel” – whose language is now subordinated to Hebrew in the new law – so that they may “participate” in its “building” in “full and equal citizenship.”
Confirming the stringent logic it is based on, the law of the nation avoids quoting it. Justice Minister Mrs. Ayelet Shaked explains that, “There are places where the character of the State of Israel as a Jewish state must be maintained and this sometimes comes at the expense of equality.” (9)
According to the analyst Evelyn Gordon, if the egalitarian principle had been expressed in the law of the nation, the result would have been that in Israel, the democratic identity, based on the equality of all citizens, would have prevailed over the a “subordinated” Jewish one.
“There would be no reason to have made the effort of establishing and sustaining Israel in the teeth of regional and, often, international hostility in order to have just one more democracy, indistinguishable from all the others. Israel’s raison d’être is that it’s the world’s only Jewish state.” (10)
In order to fully understand what is at stake, it is best to compare this law to the alternative proposal presented by three MPs from the United Arab List, part of the Balad Party, which supports a bi-national state. This proposal was not placed on the Knesset’s agenda as it was considered incompatible with current Israeli legislation.
The title is explicit: “A state for all citizens”. The name of the state is omitted. There is no trace of Israel. We are faced with the unicum of a nameless state, unless one might wish to call it “State”, which would assign to its representatives a place between Sri Lanka and Sudan at international conferences. Article 4 refers to another law for the definition of the state’s symbols and the national anthem.
Someone very geo-religiously correct had the idea of pairing the crescent moon and the Star of David on the blue and white flag. Others work on verses dedicated to religious minorities – mainly the Muslims – to be added to the Ha Tikvah. Perhaps the verse stating that “one eye looks to Zion” could be followed by “and the other to Mecca”?
The project’s objective is to sanction the principle of equality among all citizens “simultaneously acknowledging the existence and the rights of two groups belonging to the nation, Arabs and Jews, living within the borders of the state that are recognised by international law.”
Since the proposal comes from Israeli MPs – even if the name is disliked – this means that their unnamed (unnameable?) bi-national state excludes the Occupied Territories, where Arabs still remain a robust majority. And they obviously consider these territories as being fully part of Palestine.
There are four hypotheses: a) this was an oversight, it happens; b) the honourable gentlemen presenting the bill, later rejected, believe that the fertility index of Arab Israeli women will return to the glorious heights of the past; c) all in all, one can be content in the “State” even as a minority; d) cousinship with Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza is not enough to push them into state reunification. Should we place a bet, we would choose the algebraic sum of the last two options.
3. “There is no solution! Between Arabs and Jews there is a gulf, and nothing can bridge it.” (11) David Ben-Gurion’s statement dates back to 1919. A century later its importance remains unchanged.
Proto-Zionist utopias concerning a vague agreement between the two peoples, with the Palestinian Arabs ready to allow themselves to be civilised by the Jews in a brotherly way, have remained such.
The litany of diplomacies that for seventy years have been churning out “peace plans” they officially pretend to believe in, simply confirms the sentence issued by Israel’s founder.
The “two states for two peoples” mantra, unearthed of all people by Donald Trump just after he acknowledged Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved his embassy there, clashes with facts on the ground. First of all, with Israeli military control over the area in which, in theory, the Palestinian statelet should be created, between the Green Line and the Jordan.
With vitriolic humour, Netanyahu warns that at best he could allow for a Middle Eastern Costa Rica, hence an unarmed embryo subjugated to Israel. At very best, the permanent tension between Palestinians and Israelis around Gaza and in the West Bank could be managed on the basis of power relations – not discounting cycles of violence of varying intensity.
Trying to resolve an unsolvable problem is worse than stupid. It is dangerous. This because the “solution” may turn out to be a final one; the destruction of the “Third Israel”, with Jewish survivors rejected in a diaspora, or, more realistically, a Greater Israel going from the Mediterranean to the Jordan and perhaps beyond, after having banished the Arab masses, and restricting the remaining Palestinians in Indian reservations.
Both outcomes are conceivable only following a war that could perhaps involve major powers and would also risk being fought deploying non-conventional weapons.
The law of the nation has the merit of having clarified, for those wishing to understand, that Israel belongs to the Jews. Others come later, by degrees, ranging from the Druses – an “elected” community permitted to serve in the Jewish state’s armed forces and now disappointed by not having this rank acknowledged by the new law – to the Bedouins, including most Arab Israelis.
The most bitter opponents of the law have for the moment gone as far as allegations of racism. Adam Shatz, a contributor to the austere London Review of Books, has stated that “Israel has officially become what it has always been in practice: a herrenvolk democracy.” (12). Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak has spoken of a “segregationist law”. (13) Eliyahu Mazda, a former Supreme Court judge, of an “apartheid state par excellence.” (14)
One is now in the field of political-ideological controversy, which is not ours. In geopolitics, all comparisons between entities distant in time and space, such as the South Africa of four decades ago and Israel, do not make sense, because they explain nothing at all.
Understanding what is at stake, means concentrating on specific geopolitical factors that help establish whether the state of the Jews can expand to include territories with a powerful presence of Arabs and Muslims, and remain such. A squaring of the circle?
Let us first of all consider the regional context. Zionism is the last European-styled national project. In fact, it is the product of European Jews and especially central-eastern ones (Germans, Poles, Russians). The Zionist bond imposes centring the Jewish nation-state on Jerusalem.
The pioneers of Zionism insisted that just as the French had France, the Italians Italy and the Germans have Germany, Jews should equip themselves with their own state. But Jerusalem is not Paris, nor Rome, nor Berlin. We are here in the Levant, the Mediterranean section of the Middle East, a region that has does not have and has never had real national states.
In that undetermined area, overloaded with unreconciled cultures, narratives and religions, nominally national states – some of them broken up by war (Iraq, Syria, Yemen…) – reveal themselves as the theatres of competitions between communities, tribes, sects and militias.
There is a mix of clan-like particularisms and religious universalisms (dreams of a caliphate) or ethnic ones (pan-Arabism, pan-Kurdism). Formal borders? Not very binding conventions. Existing ones are questioned and therefore mobile and do not mark classical borders, but rather thresholds between cousins, the expression of more or less related identity myths and hybrid cultures. A geopolitical millefeuille. (15)
In the modern era, following the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the ruinous British and French colonial partitioning experiments – which imploded because they imposed arbitrary borders where one can only set lines in the sand – leaving Israel aside, only Turkey and Iran vaunt state-like substance. They are the nuclei of two empires that have not stopped considering themselves as such.
As far as Saudi Arabia is concerned, it is neither a nation-state nor an empire. It is the property of a family undermined by internal rivalries and by the deterioration of energy revenue, rather like its more or less unreliable satellites in the Gulf.
This with this greatest of “external” powers (the United States relatively disengaged, Russia making a comeback, China hunting resources and bases for the new silk roads) all for the moment indirectly competing in areas that are inviting, due to their absence of decent institutions and stable elements of power, but rich in material (hydrocarbon) and symbolic resources (the holy places of the three universalist monotheisms).
For Israel, inventing itself as a nation-state in such a chaotic context, in the name of a community that is mainly in diaspora, has meant running the risk of a transplant constantly in danger of rejection. Israeli Jews are aware that they will always be living with a gun by their sides.
Religious obligations aside, militarisation imposes restrictions on the exercising of freedoms and democracy. The Herzlian ideal, according to which rabbis in the Jewish state would be assigned to synagogues and soldiers to barracks, was destined to remain just that.
However, since history and geopolitics inform that the only powers in the region have been empires, why not try and become one? Seen from a different perspective, the law of the nation can reveal imperial rationales in miniature.
While Jewish ownership of the state sanctions the inferiority of its Arabs – also humiliating the proud Druze warriors – it also conjures the precondition for any empire; a founding, dominant lineage, which, at great expense, controls peripheral areas and peoples from the metropolis, all for its own greater glory.
There is more. Israel’s strategic parabola speaks of its search for imperial allies, the symptom of elective affinities. The Soviet Union was among the founders of the Jewish State. And Putin’s Russia has established special relations with Jerusalem, which have so far proved capable of resisting what have at times have been even very serious incidents, such as Israel’s shooting down of a Russian plane in the crowded Syrian skies.
Furthermore, in the late Fifties, an alliance of the peripheries was created, definitively sunk by the Khomeinist revolution, while informal agreements with Turkey, Iran and Ethiopia completed an external ring created to defend Israel from the encirclement of neighbouring Arabs. Aversion for the Arabs and an imperial attitude coexist in the genetic code of these countries.
A past that (almost) never end. Finally there is the axis with the United States, created after two decades of diffidence and reciprocal wrong-footing, the echoes of which at times are heard in American military-intelligence abysses. But without the umbrella provided by the American empire, perhaps Israel would already have vanished.
So as to create an empire worthy of that name one needs space and populations, and here lie the deficits that condition all the Jewish state’s strategies. A post-Golen Greater Israel incorporating the whole of Jerusalem, as well as Judea and Samaria, with its circa 27,000 sq. km. would be just a little larger than Sicily.
The sum of the internationally recognised over 20,000 sq. km. (one thousand more than Puglia) but already enlarged thanks to the settlements in the so-called Palestinian Territories (the Liguria region plus Monte Carlo), under strict Israeli control. In this manner Israel’s minimum strategic depth – especially along the “wasp-waist” between Netanyahu and Tel Aviv, distant 15-18 km from the West Bank – would be more than doubled. It would, however, remain extremely small, also considering the length of its borders (1,282 km, coasts included).
As far as the population of a Greater Israel without Gaza is concerned, estimated in a variety of ways at times conditioned by geopolitical preferences, it would amount to around 12 million. It would not be far from a draw between Arabs and Israelis, with the first increasing in numbers.
The miniature empire would therefore have to be founded exclusively on Israel’s power and its decision to use it without hesitation or humanitarian inhibitions. It would not be founded on a liberal-democracy. Defence Minister Moshe Dayan had predicted this after his victory in the Six-Day War, when he said that if one day he would be obliged to choose by whom he should be occupied, he would not have chosen Israel. (16)
For this reason too, Israel cannot afford the luxury of limits. It fortifies its borders in spite of considering them temporary. Mobile.
The Wall in the West Bank – a “separation barrier” in official Israeli slang – built to protect the country from Palestinian terrorist infiltrations, was not thought of to start the annexation of Judea and Samaria. It was wanted by the Left to leave open the idea of Two States – in the meantime reducing the size of Palestine.
While right-wing parties that have never abandoned the idea of a Greater Israel – their dream is to move Palestinians to Trans-Jordan, annexing Judea and Samaria – opposed it precisely because of its duality; yes to protection but also from a full “recovery” of the Territories.
Israel’s security does not, however, depend on the fencing in of its uncertain borders, nor on its now reassuring, but never taken-for-granted, relations with Jordan and Egypt. Nor does it depend only on the life insurance provided by the United States – it is not a given that in Washington they will always and in any event be prepared to die for Jerusalem.
Military superiority over neighbours and potential attackers, with Iran at the top of the list, is decisive. It is guaranteed by a substantial nuclear arsenal also capable of firing a second shot, thanks to nuclear war heads mounted on missiles in the German-made Dolphin submarines constantly moving between the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and beyond.
Tzahal scenarios do not contemplate the risk of an attack by an Arab coalition over the short and medium-term. Evidence lies in the tactical deployment of the Israeli Defence Force along the Jordan border, as counter-guerrilla warfare and not to ward off a grand style invasion as in 1948 or in 1973.
From this perspective, one senses the meaning of the informal proposal outlined by Trump’s emissaries to Abu Mazen, the tragic figure that is the Palestinian camp’s “leader” plagued by the rivalries between gangs and broken by the conflict between Hamas and al-Fatah.
This proposal stated that, seeing that Palestine adding up all the bits of the West Bank and the ghetto of Gaza is impossible , they should form a federation with Jordan. Considering that the Hashemite kingdom depends on Jerusalem, this would formalise an Israeli sphere of influence neighbouring the Jewish state and under American supervision.
Such an area (Israel included) would be the size of two fifths of Italy and with the Palestinians caught between the Jews and the Bedouins. Abu Mazen rejected the proposal and counter-proposed an equal Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian confederation. Readers may decide which of the two ideas is less improbable.
Over forty years have passed since the “cursed victory” in the Six-Day War. The apologue from Levi Eshkol, prime minister at the time, remains valid.
One day his wife Miriam asked him why he had got into the habit of exhibiting in public his index and middle fingers in a Churchillian “V”: “What are you doing? Have you gone mad?” “No, this is not a British V. It is a Yiddish V. Vi krishen aroys?”. Translation: “How do we get out of this one?” (17)
4. “Arab hatred is for Zionism. When they are convinced that we are not Zionists, they will treat us well.” (18) Thus spoke Amram Blau, the rabbi who in 1938 founded the Neturei Karta (Aramaic for Guardians of the City), a small community but one inexorably opposed to Zionism in the name of an interpretation of the Talmud that entrusts to the Messiah, not to mankind, to decree the end of exile and therefore the (re)birth of the Jewish state.
On July 18th, 1949, when Israel had just saved itself from an Arab invasion, Blau sent a petition to the Secretary General of the United Nations requesting that the whole of Jerusalem – especially the Holy City – should be placed under international protection. He intended to settle there to escape “fanatical Zionists” who “attack the foundations of the faith.” (19)
Blau foresaw the clash of cultures that still now racks Jewish Israel, the conflict between the haredim (God fearing), or ultra-Orthodox, which in turn spread to various groups that are in any case anti-Zionist, and other elements of the Israeli mosaic having different ideas about the state and its ideology if followers of Judaism, or prepared to coexist if Arabs.
The Neturei Karta are nowadays a few thousand, but in Israel alone there are over one million haredim. Demographic projections by the Central Statistics Office envisage that, if their women continue to bear about six children, by 2059, they will amount to 27% of Israel’s population, with the Arabs at 23% (20). In less than fifty years time, the nation-state of the Jewish people might therefore have fewer Zionists than anti-Zionists. T
he anti-Zionists historically belong to the poorer and less-educated classes and since the haredim and the Arabs are exempt from military service, the already not unassailable credibility of the Tzahal would also be undermined. The waning of Israeli deterrence?
In the course of one hundred years, the image of the Enemy, essential for strengthening a multicultural society, has thus changed three times; first the Arab states and militant Palestinians, then Iran and finally domestic anti-Zionists. From the threat of a foreign attack to the risk of a civil war.
On June 7th, 2015, President Rivlin spoke of this ghost in his famous “Four Tribes Speech”. Observing the division of students in the primary school system, Rivlin distinguished “four” main ‘tribes’, one differing radically from the others and numerically increasingly similar: secular Jews (38% of pupils in grade one), ultra-Orthodox Jews (25%), Arabs (25%), religious Jews (15%). “In the state of Israel the basic systems that form people's consciousness are tribal and separate, and will most likely remain so.”
The outcome is that the state’s tree has not one root, but at least four – not counting Russian speakers, the sub-groups intrinsic to each tribe and new intermediate communities (masorti for a start), not to mention the reform brigade. Each tribe has its own “capital”, which Rivlin identified as Tel Aviv (secular Jews), Bnen Braq (haredim), Umm al-Fahm (Arabs) and Efrat (religious Jews). (21)
No country in the world can develop without a cultural-identity barycentre, let alone if it is really or perceived to be under siege. It was for this reason that the president outlined the inevitability of a “new Israeli order”, a shared citizenship. An Israel belonging to Israelis. And it was for this reason that he spoke out against the nation-state law.
Having come to a crossroads of the neo-Israeli option – harmonisation of different and increasingly divergent if not hostile populations – and safeguarding Zionist Jewishness, the Israeli parliament voted for the second option, choosing the most feasible path. This because forming the Israeli citizen depicted in proto-Zionist oleographies nowadays seems a generous – or rash - utopia.
However, is openly stating the primacy of Zionist Jews over the rest of Israelis a guarantee for security and progress? Is it bearable for the tribes of Israel to lead parallel lives, with the ultra-orthodox self-segregated and others compartmentalised? Is it normal that in the nation-state of the Jews the most used name for newborn males is Muhammad? (22)
This is a total paradox.
Depending on how one observes the Israeli prism, one discovers a country that is on the whole advanced, well-educated and vibrant – especially in the westernising coastal conurbation between Tel Aviv and Haifa – very wealthy by Middle Eastern standards, avant-garde in new technologies, the regional monopolist of the Bomb, with attractive prospects on the energy front following the discovery of significant amounts of gas in the south-eastern Mediterranean; or, an ensemble, a disorderly multiethnic and pluri-denominational patchwork, animated by theocratically self-centred or secularly solipsist tribes, each with their own schools, their more or less fenced-in areas and their own ideas or anti-ideas regarding Israel.
The original fear that worried the post-Shoah Ashkenazi avant-gardes, concerned about the excess of Sephardic immigrants, pales in comparison. So much so that it induced Ben-Gurion to exorcise the spirit of a Levantine state in Eretz Ysrael - “God forbid!” – a danger “more serious than all the threats made by ‘Abd-en Nasser and Qāsim (leaders of Egypt and Iraq, editor’s note) to destroy Israel.” (23)
Translated into geopolitics this means the following; it is difficult to advance in hostile lands from tribal bases. The go ahead for the expansion of settlements in the West Bank envisaged by the state-nation law is in conflict with the domestic front’s fragmentation. Building settlements able to stand the test of time does not mean fighting a lightening war in which only military superiority matters.
It is, if anything, the opposite, because it means subjugating or assimilating those conquered. But how can this be done by those who have still not yet formed a finite society after seventy years, but are instead proceeding towards extreme tribalisation – Levantinism cube? It will not therefore be painless to take possession of and digest other portions of Arab-Muslim lands, with populations rendered intractable by the harshness and roughness of decades of occupation, as well as by the thievery of their own freeloading “leaders”.
These are places in which children are still taught to destroy the “Zionist entity”, following the strategy victoriously applied by Saladin against the crusaders, from whom he retook Jerusalem and internal Palestine (24).
Many are not prepared to wait for a new Saladin. One third of Palestinians – among them 50% of those in Gaza – wish to emigrate, because they no longer place their trust in the future. Three quarters of them remember with nostalgia the times that preceded the Oslo agreement (1993), when they were totally at the mercy of the occupiers. (25)
If immediately after the Six-Day conquest the dilemma of more adventurous Israeli strategists was the manner in which they could keep the territorial “dowry” while freeing themselves of the demographic “bride”, the new hawks now hope that it will be the Palestinians who resolve the dilemma, opting en masse for self-exile.
It remains to be understood why, having for some time reduced the effects of the Palestinian issue and the vain ambitions of so-called Arab states, Israel then provided free global publicity to its desperate enemy by approving a law destined to stir up a hornet’s nest in the Jewish camp and spark explicit or latent anti-Semitism everywhere, as if a few square kilometre added in Judea and Samaria could make the nation-state of the Jews any safer.
Half a century later, Eshkol’s distressed question has perhaps been answered: to colonise unredeemed lands, Israel has been colonised by settlers.
5. Any identity-linked definition results in strategic consequences. Establishing who one is, implies deciding what one wants. The first subject interested in assessing the strategic backdrop for the law that seals and exalts Israel’s Jewishness is its current chosen enemy: Iran.
There is a sombre atmosphere now in the labyrinths of the Iranian Deep states. With a new avalanche of U.S. sanctions expected for November 5th, the pressure applied on Iran by the Washington-Jerusalem-Riyadh triangle is about to reach its highest level. Beyond that all that remains is war or the regime’s fall. Perhaps both, Never has the Islamic Republic felt less secure since the massacres with Iraq.
Rivalries between factions are red-hot, the suffering experienced by the population and its intolerance for those governing is evident, with rumours of a coup d’état rife. If Trump’s, Netanhayu’s and the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s aim was to wear out the enemy also through psychological warfare – the last stage of “Project Iranophobia”, as defined by Persian strategists – it appears to be working.
In Tehran the dominant thesis is that the nation-state law expresses the victory of radicalised “religious Zionism”, based on the Likud, the strategic objective of which is the destruction of the Islamic Republic.
In the eyes of the Persians, the compacting of the Zionist front’s most aggressive elements, represented by this law, preludes to the final attack on its own informal empire. How else is it possible to explain Netanyahu’s warning, when speaking from the United Nations podium on September 27th, he presented new alleged evidence of “Iran’s secret nuclear programme” to then directly address the “tyrants of Tehran” saying, “Israel knows what you are doing and where you are doing it.”
And then warned them that the Jewish state will act against them everywhere: in Lebanon, in Syria, a Gaza, in Iraq. (26)
This does not remotely exclude air, missile and cyber attacks on Iran itself, because now, thanks to Trump’s decision to ditch the nuclear agreement, Netanyahu feels he can rely on unprecedented support in Washington, something he could only dream of during the Obama administration.
This in spite of the fact that important sectors of America’s Deep State, linked to their Israeli counterparts, are pouring water into the wine of their own hawks as well as those of others.
Some Israeli strategists are looking ahead to the day after victory. A new Iran, suitably weakened, denuclearised but not destroyed, could return to play its historical role as an anti-Arab bastion.
This is a position perfectly compatible with American geopolitics, which sees its ideal Greater Middle East in a less demanding and less expensive possible balance of power for the United States’ supervising role.
In Tehran, obsessive propaganda that plays on fear of an American-Israeli-Saudi attack, corresponds to “Project Iranophobia”. Iranian analysts discuss the “collation of the triumvirate” that works like the paddle wheel on cruising boats along the Mississippi: “The United States acts as the wheel and axel of the coalition, the Arabs and Israel are, together with it, the paddles.” (27)
Israel and Iran are reflected in their opposing fears. One fuelling and legitimising the other. In Jerusalem the hawks reprimand Netanyahu for having allowed himself to be curbed by his generals and directors of intelligence, in cahoots with the Pentagon and the CIA. The window of opportunity opened by Trump and his intimates (with Jared Kushner reconnoitring) must be exploited before it is, perhaps abruptly, closed.
It is necessary to hit hard and hit soon; starting with putting an end to the doctrine of nuclear ambiguity, displaying one’s own arsenal and proclaiming a readiness to implement a pre-emptive attack. This because when what is at stake is the existence of a nation, it is rational to show one is irrational. To quote Dayan, “Israel must be seen as a mad dog; too dangerous to bother.” (28)
In Tehran, the Pasdaran who have so far taken advantage of sanctions for their own devious affairs, accuse Rouhani of not having understood that Israel’s hostility is not rational but messianic, thus fanatical, unpredictable.
The strategists who in the chaos of emotions try to apply analytical reasoning, explain that the cycle of phobias, fuelled initially by the Israelis, is the child of religious-identity impulses that Khomeini himself has quietened in Iran, without, however, eradicating them.
They remind one, as do their Israeli counterparts, that Iran and Israel are not natural enemies. They criticise the fact that the imperial overexposure of Beirut-Damascus-Baghdad-Teheran-Herat, devised as a profound defensive strategy against Israeli-American superiority, is perceived or sold by the enemy as an offensive posture.
Some seem resigned to a dual escalation. And they support this quoting a historical parallel; the paradoxical cross between Risikotheorie (theory of risk) of Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, according to whom German naval rearmament started in 1899 would have persuaded the British to get along with the Reich so as to avoid a clash, and the Crowe memorandum with which, in 1907, the Deep British Empire warned that the development of the German Navy would make preventive war inevitable.
Adapted to the Israel-Iran clash, with the first in the role of the British and the second in that of the Germans, this means that the Jewish state will sooner or later choose a pre-emptive attack, persuaded that Tehran is about to possess nuclear weapons or even just interpreting Persian penetration into Syria as an intolerable threat.
This would be a war in which Iran would be destined to succumb; Iranian rhetoric regards to the destruction of Israel does not have teeth for biting, while the Jewish state has the ultimate weapon. One to be initially deployed.
Never has the Islamic Republic been so insecure and never the Jewish state better protected. Dividing Israel and the diaspora, sparking predictable accusations of racism coming even from the heart of the Jewish world, codifying all that is extremely well-known in a precarious law, certifies the prevalence of identity over all other values and interests.
However, when self-applied religion degenerates into applied geopolitics and collides with equally enlarged egos, each in an elected relationship with their own God, a ceasefire is the greatest possible outcome. Peace starts off as a loser and searching for it excessively leads to war.
(translated by Francesca Simmons)
- “Israel’s president: Nation-State law is ‘bad for Israel and bad for the Jews’”, The Times of Israel, 6/9/2018.
- “Rivlin said to vow he will sign the law in Arabic”, The Times of Israel, 31/7/2018.
- SCHENDLIN, “Who needs a Nation-State law? What Israelis really think”, +972 Magazine, 3/8/2018.
- S. LAUDER, “Israel, This Is Not Who We Are”, The New York Times, 13/8/2018.
- E. CASSIRER, The Myth of the State, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, pp. 282-283. Who quotes Virgil, Bucolics, Ecloga VIII, vv. 69-71: “Carmina vel coelo possunt deducere lunam”, mistakenly attributing these verses to Ovid.
- References that follow the nation-state law, such as those to the Declaration of Independence and the counter-proposed law presented by Arab Members of Parliament, are contained in the appendix that follows this editorial providing all three documents with explanatory notes.
- P. PINCHAS PUNTURELLO, “I confini di Israel secondo la Bibbia”, Limes, n. 10/2015, “Israel e il Libro”, pp. 69-76.
- R. SKOLNIK, “Israel’s Nationality Law lays ground for West Bank annexation”, Al-Monitor, 9/8/2018.
- B. AVISHAI, “Israel Passes a Law Stating What’s Jewish About a ‘Jewish Democratic State’”, The New Yorker, 30/7/2018.
- E. GORDON, “Why equality doesn’t belong in the nation-state law”, Jewish News Syndicate, 12/9/2018.
- in A. M. LESCH, “Zionism And Its Impact”, Palestine Remembered, 13.8.2001, http:/www.palestineremembered.com/Acre/Palestine-Remembered/Storv452.html
- A. SHATZ, “The sea is the same sea”, London Review of Books, vol. 40, n. 16, 30/8/2018.
- E. ORKIBI, “Left is scared of its own demagoguery”, Israel Hayom, 29.8.2018.
- SKOLNIK, op. cit.
- Su questo tema vedi O. HANNE, Les seuils du Moyen Orient. Histoire des frontières et des territoires, Monaco 2017, Groupe Elidia - Editions du Rocher, specie pp. 15-16.
- in A. BREGMAN, La vittoria maledetta. Storia di Israel e dei territori occupati, Torino 2017, Einaudi, p. 300.
- Ivi, p. XXX.
- in V. VACCA, “Appunti su alcuni aspetti dell’immigrazione ebraica in Israel”, Oriente Moderno, anno XLI, n. 5, p. 310.
- “Letter by Rabbi Amram Blau and Rabbi Aharon Katzenellenbogen, July 1949”, http://www.truetorahjews.org/amramblau2un
- A. SCHECHTER, “Reuven Rivlin Has Proven That He Is the President of the Real Israel”, Haaretz, 9/6/2015.
- The full text of the speech mad by R. RIVLIN at the Fifteen Yearly Conference of Herzliya was published by Limes with the title “The four Tribes of Israel” in n. 10/2015, “Israel and the Book”, pp. 161-166.
- As reported by the Authority for the Population and Immigration for the year 5777 of the Jewish calendaro, cfr. “Muhammad most popular baby name in Israel”, https:///www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/235620
- V. VACCA, op. cit., p. 309.
- See the investigation concerning text books written for children and youngsters in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem by the Palestinian Authority and curated by E. J. PARDO, “The New Palestinian Curriculum. 2018-19 Update-Grades 1-12,” September 2018, on the website impact-se.org
- B. KERSTEIN, “Poll: One Third of Palestinians, Half of Gazans, Want to Emigrate; Three-Quarters Say Life Was Better Before Oslo Accords”, The Algemeiner, 13/9/2018. Le cifre sono rivelate dal Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.
- “Full Text: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2018 UN General Assembly Speech”, Haaretz, 27/9/2018.
- MOLLAJAN – S. SEFIDGARI, “Confronting Iran Phobia: Foundations and Solutions”, Jurnal Fikrah, Jilid 8, Special Issue 1/2017, pp. 82-97, www.jurnalfikrah.org
- L. R. BERES, “Surviving Donald Trump: Israel’s Strategic Options”, Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, 2/2/2018