2010-06-03

Does Israel have a right to exist?

Lest anything that I am about to say be misinterpreted, I should like to lay my cards on the table and reveal that:

A) I do not believe in any god or gods and I should be disinclined to worship a god even if I had been satisfied by some kind of evidence as to the god in question's existence. I am also of the opinion that the world would be a much better place without religion.

B) I find racism (in all its forms) not just morally repugnant but intellectually incoherent.

C) I do not believe that violence should be used to solve any of the conflicts in the Middle East.

Since ethnicity and religion are at the heart of the conflict in the Middle East (which has been brought into sharp focus once again by the recent deadly Israeli attack on the aid flotilla for Gaza - or, as the journalist Melanie Phillips prefers, the "Turkish terrorist flotilla attack on Israeli naval commandoes[sic]" ref) I think it is worth stressing that my opinions here (unlike, say, those of Melanie Phillips) do not flow from the fact that my religion or perceived ethnicity are different to those of any of the participants in this conflict.

It is virtually impossible to even begin to discuss the history of the Middle East or the legality of any actions taken during the conflict because every facet of that conflict is contested by the various parties. Even the terminology used to refer to the participants or the key historical events or the various patches of ground they are fighting over are loaded with assumptions and cannot be used without already entering into the debate about who is right or wrong.

It’s rather like it was trying to discuss freedom of travel from the former German Democratic Republic (or "East Germany") with someone who insisted on calling the Berlin Wall “The Anti-Fascist Protection Barrier”.

So let's try to ignore history and the question of who did what when and focus on one aspect of the situation now:

A key phrase that recurs in discussions of the Middle East is “Israel’s right to exist”. Search www.melaniephillips.com for "right to exist" and you get 50 hits.

I am always puzzled by this.

Israel does exist - it is internationally recognized (not that it shows any inclination to stick to the borders of the country that is internationally recognized) – but does it have a right to exist? Does the UK have a right to exist? I have absolutely no idea what such questions mean.

Like nearly all nations, including the UK, Israel was founded on the back of a good deal of theft, violence, and murder - by no means all of it emanating from the winning side. I don’t think any reasonable person would suggest that any good would come of subjecting the people who now live in the patch of land called "Israel" to the sort of treatment that the people who used to live there were subjected to. Of course, I willingly concede that there is no shortage of unreasonable people in this world. It is a characteristic of these unreasonable people that they tend not share my views on religion and ethnicity.

Since the Israeli government shows no inclination to negotiate any kind of settlement even with their more reasonable enemies, I wonder what on earth they are going to do?

They certainly have the military might to lay claim to the entire territory between Jordan and the Mediterranean and supporters of the Zionist cause (e.g. Melanie Phillips again) often do assert such a claim and insist that "Jews" have an inalienable right to set up home anywhere in this territory. But what on earth is to be done with the people who do not meet Israel's exacting ethnic/religious standards?

Should the Israeli army shoot them all? Drive them over the borders into the surrounding countries? Wall them all off in lots of little pockets and occasionally throw food over the walls?

While, there are clearly some who would applaud any or all of such measures (again people who tend not to share my my views on religion and ethnicity) I think even the US government (not to mention a substantial body of opinion within Israel itself) would baulk at this. But what are they going to do in their “democracy” where (as in the original “democracy”) everyone can vote - as long as they have the right credentials? I don’t think they know themselves – which I why, I suppose, they resort to repeating phrases such as "Israel's right to exist" than engaging in rational debate.

As it happens, about half my remaining extended family have the right credentials to go and live anywhere in Israel proper and lots of places outside Israel proper (the "settlements" in the occupied territories and the areas that Israel has "annexed") while still retaining the full rights of Israeli citizens – such as the right to vote in their “democratic” elections. None of my family believe in any kind of god, so their qualifications to enter Israel and settle there (a qualification not met by large numbers of people who were actually born there and who have been displaced or have fled) would be based purely on their supposed ethnicity (or marriage to someone with the right ethnicity).

This “ethnicity” is conferred by maternal inheritance – so through mitochondrial DNA I suppose. Except that genetic analysis of “Jewish” populations has shown that whereas Y chromosomal DNA (passed more or less unchanged from father to son) tends to point to Middle Eastern ancestry for “Jewish” men, mitochondrial DNA (passed more or less unchanged from mother to son or daughter) tends to point to disparate ancestry for “Jewish” women. Normal autosomal DNA points all over the place of course – just as it does for all of us.

In other words, there is no reliable genetic test the Israelis could apply to distinguish between ”Jews” and “non-Jews” – especially if the non-Jews are Palestinian men and thus fellow “Semites”.

So how do they know that my family members have the right credentials? Well my sister in law’s mother escaped from the Nazis on the Kindertransport. Her mother came to a grisly end. Though she does not seem to have been religious either, the Nazis just “knew” she was “Jewish” and categorized her as such under the N├╝rnberger Gesetze. This fact is the only verifiable criterion of her Jewishness and is, funnily enough, the very criterion that would be applied by the Israelis if they granted citizenship to one of my female family members.

Given that allowing Palestinian refugees to return to their former towns and villages in Israel would, we are often told, "threaten Israel’s right to exist” we can, I suggest, only conclude that the "right to exist” is really a euphemism for the “right to use Nazi laws to decide who gets to live in the area between Jordan and the Mediterranean with the full 'democratic' rights of an Israeli citizen, and who doesn’t".

I apologize to anyone who finds this statement offensive, but I'm afraid that I find the notion that citizenship of a country should depend on someone's ethnic or religious origins offensive. I think this needs to be said.

Remember: God was NEVER on your side!