Friday, August 13, 2010

Jewish and Democratic

On Monday, poet and translator Salman Masalha, an Arab citizen of Israel, wrote an opinion piece in Ha'aretz where he wrote that a "Jewish and Democratic" state cannot exist:

"There is no such thing as a Jewish democratic state, just as there is no Muslim democratic state. Religion and democracy can never dwell under one roof." (Read the whole article here in English or in Hebrew)

This prompted lots of angry letters to the editor, and today political science professor Shlomo Avineri, a regular Ha'aretz contributor, wrote his own rebuttal:

"In the standard Arab view, "Jews" are comparable to "Christians" or "Muslims." In other words, they are a religious group, not a nation. And it is not only Arabs who think this way: There is no doubt that for hundreds of years, Jewish identity was perceived by Jews and non-Jews alike primarily as a religious identity, and some still think so.

But the essence of the Zionist revolution is the view that the Jews are a nation, and as such, they have the right to national self-determination in a political framework. This principle was accepted by the United Nations on November 29, 1947, in its decision to partition British Mandatory Palestine into two states - Jewish and Arab (not Jewish and Muslim-Christian )."

Later in the article he writes:

"One of the problems that complicates attempts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is this very issue - the fact that the Arab side has difficulty recognizing that Jews in the state of Israel view themselves as a nation. Identity is a matter of self-definition, not external definition. Just as Jews are not the ones who will determine whether the Palestinians are a people or not (there are more than a few of us who have yet to be reconciled with the existence of the Palestinian people ), Salman Masalha cannot determine whether the Jews are a people or not. It is a question of self-determination." (Read the whole article in English or the original Hebrew)

Needless to say, I'm on Avineri's side here.

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