Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Being a Hebrew in the Jewish State

All Israeli Jews have their IDs marked with the word "Jew". Prof. Uzi Ornan's says "Hebrew." Due to a loose bureaucracy back in 1948, Uzi Ornan succeeded in getting himself by nationality, as he interprets it, rather than religion. Makes sense. Prof Ornan is a Hebrew linguist and member of Israel's Academy for the Hebrew Language.
Following in the footsteps of author Yoram Kaniuk, Ornan wants to get the church out of the Israeli state. He wants his legal status to be defined in secular terms, not religious.

His petition was denied. Ironically, since Ornan was born in Jerusalem before the founding of the State of Israel, his right of abode in the State of Israel is granted to him only under Israel's Law of Return.

This should become part of Israel's Hasbara spiel: Israel does not discriminate against non-Jews! All indigenous peoples, Jewish or Palestinian are denied citizenship rights by virtue of having been born in Palestine!

The Haifa court ruled that Ornan is an Israeli citizen because his mother is Jewish, not because he was born in the country. So, even a Jew, who was born in Palestine can be a citizen only because he is as Jewish as an American Jew.

The Law of Return applies to Jews. A "Jew" is someone whose mother was Jewish. According to the Haifa court, the Israeli authorities must deny an individual's desire to declare his own identity. Otherwise, per the court, the non-religious, or non-identifying child of a Jewish mother in the U.S. would not be allowed to enter Israel under the Right of Return. This is much more than an issue of church and state. This is about the state imposing religious status on citizens.

This is a bizarre ruling. Seems to me that it is born of a fear that Israel will run out of Jews. In its endless battle to achieve demographic superiority, Israel needs every weapon it can use: including importing Jews from overseas. Any dilution of that reservoir is a matter of national security. So, the state must enact laws to preserve the Jewish character of the state even if the Hebrew object.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Jewish Identity and American Loyalty

This post was written by Bruce Wolman over at Mondoweiss. I am copying it here in full because I found it so thought-provoking. As a Jewish educator, this post brings home to me the challenge progressive Jews are forced to deal with: what is Jewish identity without an outside enemy, without anti-Semitism?
More importantly, Mr. Wolman's post challenges American Jews. If being Jewish means supporting the State of Israel's agenda, what happens when the Israeli agenda is at odds with American concerns, including the safety of American soldiers? This problem is as old as Zionism itself and, will undoubtedly,  continue to bedevil American Jewish Zionists.

The costs to the USA in pushing so hard to defend Israeli interests was beginning to seriously deplete our hard-power and soft-power assets (as defined by Joseph Nye). This analysis is not based on assuming Zionist control of US foreign policy. It only needs to posit that in negotiations if you want something – and the other side knows you want something – then expect to have to give up something in return. As a negotiator, if I insist on fulfillment of one of my demands, I understand that I am going to have to ease up on other demands. This is just the nature of negotiations. This dynamic is even stronger if negotiations are on-going rather than one-off.

For whatever reasons, the US has decided to make the Iranian nuclear program its number one foreign policy concern. Diplomatically maintaining that policy has its costs. The Chinese may prefer not to see Iran have nuclear weapons, but it is not a major issue for them, while access to Iranian oil is a major objective of the Chinese. The US has in place a policy to increase economic, political and military pressure on Iran to suspend its enrichment program and curtail other aspects of its nuclear program. This pressure cannot be made operational without international cooperation. The Chinese could easily undo US efforts if it wanted. What is the price that the US has paid to get Chinese acquiescence? My assertion is that part of the deal with China is that the US will not demand tougher economic concessions from China, that the US will continue to accept large deficits in its Chinese trade and maintain US openness to Chinese goods, and in return that China will let the US continue with its Mideast policies. (Frankly, I believe China must be laughing at this trade-off, as it considers the US Mideast strategy self-defeating.)

The connection with Israel is this. The US concern over Iran is as intense as it is due to Israeli policies and the pro-Israel lobby’s insistence that Israeli interests are one and the same as America’s, and should be given the same priority by the US as by Israel. If we did some reasonable polling of Americans and the US foreign policy elites, I am certain we would find that those polled would give a much higher priority to dealing with our economic relations with China and a lowering of priority to dealing with a possible Iranian nuclear weapon’s program than is now in fact the case. Why the disconnect? I would argue on account of US domestic politics. The Democratic Party is heavily dependent on Jewish funding. To what extent does not get into print, but you can be certain that the Party heads and leading politicians know. Otherwise, you would have to argue that the Parties have researched every demographic aspect of their donors except religion, especially the Jewish religion. You only have to listen to the craven speeches of Congresswoman Pelosi and Congressman Hoyer last week at AIPAC to see how servile the Democratic leadership has become to the Israeli narrative and pro-Israeli interests.

Republicans line up with Israel for slightly different reasons. Although less dependent on Jewish donors, they still receive sizable amounts. In this election cycle Sheldon Adelson has made everyone aware of that. Moreover, Republicans have tried to put a wedge between Jewish donors and the Democratic Party by arguing they are the more reliable supporters of Israel. The Republicans also have the Christian Zionists as part of their base, and in some ways the Christian Zionists are more extreme about Eretz Israel than the Israelis. Supporting Israeli expansion and unpeopling the Palestinians is throwing this part of the base some red meat. Right-wing nationalism always needs an enemy to fight, and Islamization is the current enemy. Iran-Israel is the front line for these people, whom comfortably sit well behind the lines. Finally, well-funded neo-Conservative institutions are part of the Israeli-lobby and important players in the mass media. Republicans want to keep the criticism from these circles to a minimum.

In an attempt to appease these domestic political dynamics, the Obama administration keeps spending its diplomatic capital defending Israel. While each decision by itself may have been considered a small price to pay for re-election, cumulatively, these decisions add up. Putting at risk our relationship with Turkey in order to take Israel’s side in the flotilla incident and then to continue to insist that Turkey make-up with Israel is not in America’s interests. Being only concerned whether the new ruling forces in Egypt maintain the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty (and not the part of the treaty relating to solving the Palestinian question) does not further US interests in the Arab Middle East.

There is no conspiracy. It is all out in the open for all to see. Israelis are just taking advantage of the situation with the assistance of their pro-Zionist allies and the American Jewish community. An alternative domestic political strategy was also there for all to see last week. When Israel went too far and so threatened American interests that even Obama was forced to act, the President came out on top. All he had to do was say that he was not willing to put the lives of American soldiers at risk to meet Israeli demands and it was game Obama. Of course it helped that the risk-averse Obama had a fresh polling of American opinions about war with Iran and that the US military is heavily opposed to another war in the Middle East.

Friday, March 9, 2012

A National Anthem for Two Nations

Al eyes were on the lips of the Supreme Court justice. What would he say?
He kept his lips sealed and said nothing. This set off a media firestorm  in Israel that made it to the New York Times.
Salim Joubran's silence was not on judicial matters but on a matter of national identity. Justice Joubran did not sing the national anthem along with his eight fellow justices, the Israeli President and Prime Minister.
Here's why:

As long as the Jewish spirit is yearning deep in the heart,
With eyes turned toward the East, looking toward Zion,
Then our hope - the two-thousand-year-old hope - will not be lost:
To be a free people in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

Not much to celebrate here for a Palestinian Christian from Haifa.

All Palestinian Israelis who achieve national and international prominence face this problem. There are periodic discussions in Israel about non-Jewish athletes and their response to Israel's national anthem at international sporting events.

BDS and the debate over a one state solution has brought greater media focus to this issue. BDS is gaining increased credibility even in the Jewish community. Today, the center-right Jewish newspaper The Forward, published a mostly favorable article on Ali Abunima and his BDS campaign.

Back to the question of a national anthem - what would the anthem of one-state Israel/Palestine be?

Uzi Arnon has come up with a proposal which you can hear on You Tube. Here is my rough translation:

A Song for the Motherland

Text: Uzi Arnon
Melody: Yaron Livneh

Let us rise, children of our native country
Every religion and ethnicity together we stand ready
O Land - native land - how beautiful you are
You, the land, are our mother, our nationality, all are equal before you.

Children of the Motherland, let us rise together to you we swear allegiance
Men and women together we are called
See the whispering yearning of peace descend upon us -
Extend a hand of respect to each other

We are all citizens – we reap the benefits and share the burden
Respect and equality for all, we hold dear in our hearts
Just and robust laws for each citizen
This is our truth, supreme over all religions!

My brothers in destiny, be ready at all times
To confront the appearance of evil and wrath
Our covenant is stronger than any threat
This is our oath of fealty to our common Motherland

Children of the Motherland, raise up your eyes
On the horizon do you see the blue-hued hills?
The sun bursting through with golden rays
To light up the sky with royal purple

We are citizens – we share in good times and in our duties
Respect and equality for all we hold dear in our hearts
Just and robust laws for each citizen
This is our truth, supreme over all religions!

The anthem has some significant issues. For instance, "motherland" is bad enough in fascist anthems. IMHO, a progressive anthem should just drop the concept.
Also, proclaiming a "truth supreme over all religions!" is bound to get any number of Jews, Christians and Muslims mad.

Monarchies don't have this problem. The people just sing an anthem in praise of the sovereign wishing him good health (the Austro-Hungarian Kaiser for example) or long life (Queen Elizabeth II). In multi-ethnic empires you can sing the same words and same melody in whatever language you please. That's the beauty of not having nationalism. The Austro-Hungarian anthem was sung in 12 languages.

But I don't see that working for Israel/Palestine. Better to have two versions of the anthem. Some general sentiments along the lines of Uzi Arnon's. Cut "the Motherland", instead each side could insert some favorite heroes and themes. Both sides will set their text to the same melody. If, on the one hand, the Jordanian anthem can use bagpipes and, on the other, the Israelis love Middle Eastern music, then there must be some middle musical ground that could work for both Jews and Palestinians.  Perhaps some Paul Ben-Haim Mitteleuropa take on a Middle Eastern maqam. The same melody for both sides will solve lots of problems because the anthem is often played as an instrumental piece.