Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Jewish State

You can hear some strange opinions in Israel. Among the stranger that I’ve heard recently is the theory of the mixed multitude, as follows: When the Israelites fled Egypt, it is believed that certain Egyptians and others were amongst them. This “mixed multitude” thus contained non-Jews, and it is held by some that the descendents of these non-Jews are still living amongst the Jewish people – an infiltration of Goyim has polluted the purity of the Jewish nation. Which means that some of the world’s Jews are – God forbid! – not Jewish. Oi vay! Shame, shame, shame upon them.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, there are certain right wing religious groups who suggest that any of the secular and left wing Jews in Israel are part of this mixed multitude and so are, in fact, not Jewish at all. This, of course, is to discredit their views on Judaism, Israel, and anything that relates to them. As leftish seculish Jews, Seth and I were warned to keep our heads down at the next settlement we were visiting, as the theory of the “mixed multitude” was one advocated amongst some of the yishuv’s more extreme members.

To be honest, we found the theory quite funny. On a rare night off from the quiet West Bank settlements, in the bustling bars of Jerusalem’s winding side streets, I shared this joke with a woman I’d just met – an Israeli human rights worker with the UN. To my surprise, she agreed with this fanatical religious view. “At last – a group that’s prepared to acknowledge that I am not Jewish – I’m Israeli!” She exclaimed. Of course she was joking, inasmuch as there is surely little ground that this secular Israeli UN Palestinian rights worker shares with right wing Jewish fundamentalists settling in Occupied Palestine. Nevertheless, her point was significant: some Israeli Jews see themselves as Israeli only, and Judaism – religiously, culturally, ethnically or otherwise - is not of interest to them.

Once on the settlement, we started to see the flip side of this view. There we encountered religious American Jews who feel detached from and uninterested in the political state of Israel. They talk about the Jewish state and speak of their love of the land of Israel, but not for the state or the government. Our hosts’ Hebrew was poor, their knowledge of politics limited and their physical location was remote, detached from the bulk of Israeli society. Most of their friends were American. But they were religious people – strictly observant of Jewish halacha – and were well versed in their Biblical narrative, paying particular attention to why the land on which they settled belonged to the Jewish people. Here then, were Jews: not Israelis.

Since the disengagement from Gaza, settlers such as these have distanced themselves from the government. Instead, they place faith in their Rabbis, their leaders and their own solidarity, to ensure that they remain on “Jewish land” and that the Jewish state includes the West Bank.

But the more that settler groups such as these define themselves as Jews in a Jewish state, the more they distance themselves from the Israeli mainstream. The secularists in Tel Aviv and Haifa see them as an obstruction to peace and react to their perceived monopoly of Israel’s political fate. In turn, these settlers become more isolated. This split is significant, because the more vocal the settlers are in distancing themselves from the government, that state and the army, the more they distance the concept of a Jewish state from that of an Israeli state.

On the other hand, we have met many settlers who claim to act purely in the interest of the state of Israel, though they believe that the state should include the West Bank. Such settlers object to those more extreme settlers who resist the state and the government.

So far the settlers that have seemed more loyal to the state have been Israeli, while those who talk about loyalty to Jewish land have been foreign – mostly American. It would seem that the latter seek a Jewish state and have less deep rooted attachment to Israel as a political entity than their Israeli counterparts, who believe that the state of Israel is the most important thing.

The irony is that in advocating a Jewish state on the West Bank, while failing to adopt an Israeli-nationalist set of values, the more extreme proponents of a Jewish rather an Israeli state in fact undermine their cause. They push themselves away from the state of Israel. Their nationalism becomes Jewish and not Israeli, and the majority of Israelis begin to see the concept of a Jewish nation as different to that of an Israeli nation. The more this happens, the more likely we are to see people like the UN worker define Israel as Israeli and not Jewish.

In this way, the extreme settlers risk driving the state of Israel away from their cause – to the point that they no longer have a monopoly over the country’s fate, but are increasingly viewed as an idiosyncratic pariah – an entity to be ignored and overcome.

The Israeli settlers who advocate a strong state of Israel that includes the West Bank appear to be aware of this. They continue to espouse their settlement project in the name of the state of Israel, rather than solely in the name of religion. It would seem they know where the real power lies – and know how to use it to their own ends.


deb said...

Hi. Your trip makes interesting reading. I found this post confusing, though.

"Their nationalism becomes Jewish and not Israeli, and the majority of Israelis begin to see the concept of a Jewish nation as different to that of an Israeli nation."

Are you saying that most Israelis think the state of Israel simply means whoever happens to live here, and as not necessarily Jewish? What on earth is this whole conflict about, in that case??? I am not really understanding your distinction.

Josh said...

Yeah i can see it's a bit muddy. What I mean is, the more small groups emphasise the Jewish state over the Israeli state, the more they polarise the two concepts. On the other hand, Israelis in general are more likely to think of an Israeli state as inclsuive of the Jewish state - i.e. that they're not two separate entities, but one unified one.
However, the more that groups such as those mentioned emphasise a distinction, the more Jewish state in land of Israel, and Israeli state of Israel become separate. If they emphasise this difference, then more people such as the UN worker will feel it too. I don't think the majority feel that Israel is not a Jewish state - but that more will do so as long as Jewish immigrant groups emphasise the Jewish state over and above the Israeli state.
I don't think that's any clearer is it?

dat boy lefal bee said...

josh - "I don't think that's any clearer is it?"

no. mug. you put the bliqu in oblique.

how seth puts up with you i have no idea. that boy deserves a cbe for savlanut.

fix up. look shark.

ellerveira said...

The US and the UK are engaged in neo-colonial attempts to establish their imperium over the Muslim Middle East. Any Muslim nation not under their thumb is destroyed or in danger of being destroyed. The core of Western imperialism in the region is the state of Israel that was created under the auspices of the British Empire and the USA right after WWII. As long as Israel exists, the US will attempt to control the region for its benefit. The "war on terror" is simply a war for the liberation of Islam seen from the West that wants to claim "they are attacking us" when in reality it is the West that has been attacking and attempting to re-colonize the Islamic world. Zionist don't want Americans or Brits to understand this for fear they might decide to give up their neo-colonial attempts as the Brits finally gave up their colonies in Africa, in India, and the US in the Philippines, and later the US abandoned its attempt to keep Vietnam in colonial subjection.