Israel’s fear of boycott movement behind obsession with recognition as Jewish state
|Saturday, October 23,2010 19:40|
Lawrence Davidson unpicks the subtext behind the current emphasis by Zionists on recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, which he says is aimed primarily “at undermining the growing boycott movement that seeks to isolate Israel and call into serious question the legitimacy of a state designed exclusively for one ethnic or religious group”.
Michael Oren is the Israeli ambassador to the United States. This means he stands in a line of foreign diplomats who are often quite out of the ordinary. For one thing, they may well be ex-Americans.
All of this might appear as something of a mystery. Doesn’t the entire world already know that Israel is a "Jewish state"? Oren, however, expresses profound insecurity over the issue. "The core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the refusal to recognize Jews as a people, indigenous to the region and endowed with right of self-government." Here Oren, who is certainly not "indigenous to the region", is practising a bit of plagiarism by taking a longstanding Palestinian argument and asserting it as an Israeli one. Thus, for 62 years the Palestinians have claimed that the core of the conflict is the refusal of Israel to recognize them as indigenous to the region and endowed with the right of self-government.
No doubt the first part of this sentence is a reference to the Oslo accords, which the Israelis have spent at least the last 10 years describing as dead and buried. So are we to believe that the ambassador now takes this pledge seriously? Hardly. The assertion of recognition of Palestinian rights is but a weak red herring. The only way the Israelis recognize the existence of the Palestinian people is by evicting them daily so as to clear the way for their illegal colonization of conquered land.
Finally, why should millions of Palestinian refugees buy into the ambassador’s insistence that "Jewish right to statehood is a tenet of international law”? Every one of Israel’s governments has made a profession of violating international laws such as those embodied in the Geneva Conventions. So, this claim is simply hypocritical. Why should anyone give credence to Israel’s assertion that it be accorded rights it has systematically denied others?
So, what is going on here? Why, at this particular time, do we get an evidently improvised emphasis on Israel as a "Jewish state"? Perhaps we should see it as a negotiation tactic. If you can get the Palestinian Authority to buy into this recognition you automatically negate, at least in prospective treaty terms, the right of return. And indeed, the Israelis have come pretty close to pulling off this gambit. Thus, Mahmoud Abbas stated on 17 October that once the Palestinians have a state of their own in the lands occupied by Israel after 1967, they will "end all historic claims against Israel" within the 1967 borders. One would think that if the Israeli government is serious about the Jewish recognition issue, they would take Abbas up on this offer and negotiate non-stop to close the not very large gap between the two positions. To date there has been no move in that direction. That certainly undermines the negotiating tactic argument and supports those who say the demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state is not designed to shape negotiations, but to end them.
That last interpretation might have some truth to it, but I do not think it tells the whole story. There is still another way of interpreting the recognition theme that is presently being promoted. A suggestion of this alternative motivation comes in the Shavit piece mentioned above. Shavit offers "seven reasons why the demand to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people is a legitimate one". None of them is any more convincing than Oren’s arguments, but one does stand out as revealing. Shavit claims that the recognition being demanded will cause a halt to the assault on the legitimacy of Israel. It will stop a process that has caused "Ehud Olmert’s Israel" to be seen as less legitimate than "Yitzhak Shamir’s Israel". Shavit describes this process as an "avalanche", implying that he sees the attack on legitimacy as getting worse as time goes by.
What this means is that the present emphasis on Israel as the Jewish state is aimed not only at complicating negotiations with the Palestinians, but also at undermining the growing boycott movement that seeks to isolate Israel and call into serious question the legitimacy of a state designed exclusively for one ethnic or religious group. The efforts of Oren, Shavit and others are testimony to the fact that the boycott movement is working, and the Israeli government knows it.