We tend to remember the danger of nationalism, but to forget that it has a central role in supporting the democratic structure. The sense of ‘we’, as in ‘we the people’, is what makes each citizen use the vote with a view to the public good. So the connection runs both ways: democracy allows national sentiments and national sentiments are functionally necessary for the well being of democracy.
The question is how to prevent national chauvinism, and Herzl believed – quite rightly, I think – that national chauvinism comes about when national sentiments are stifled by force. Zionism followed this path, in anchoring the right of Jews to self-determination in a vision of universal democracy. The Jews, explains our Declaration of Independence, have this right because they are a people, and all peoples do. This is why Zionism cannot be reconciled with an occupation. You cannot demand a right for yourself based on its universality, while denying it to others. By the same token, if someone believes in the right of all peoples to self-determination, it makes little sense to say that all, except Jews, have it.
A look at Gaza, where the differences between Hamas and Fatah were settled by the use of arms, should help us all wake up from imaginary schemes of peaceful bi-nationalism. I don’t see how Gaza would have turned into a liberal democracy if only there was a Jewish faction added to the mix. What the one-statists are promoting is going to be a chronic Lebanon style civil war. And the odd thing is, how little the London Review has drifted from old colonial habits of mind. The natives – we Jews and Arabs – aspire to national self-determination. But the good ol’ Brits, never tired of carrying the White Man’s Burden, know that the natives are too barbaric to understand what the right form of self-determination should be for them. So until they grow up, we, Western intellectuals, will serve as their political parents, and impose on them the state we know they should want. Because it is Western and enlightened, of course.
Though there are very shrill chauvinistic tones in Israel’s public sphere, and many anti-democratic forces, in many ways we are far more open than other democracies. I can only imagine what would have happened to an American legislator had he or she participated in a flotilla in which American Navy Seals were beaten with iron rods. Not only would that person not have returned to Congress, he or she would not have returned home, but gone straight to prison.
Israel let [Arab Knesset Member] Hanin Zuabi back to parliament, and I think it did well. Israel also does not outlaw a political party (named Ballad) despite its explicit support of the enemy at a time of war (in this case the Hezbollah in the last Lebanon war). This is illegal in Israel as it is in most democracies, but I don’t see any other state which would turn a blind eye to it as Israel did. So, despite the shrill tones, which should be and are denounced, we are not yet on the road to lose our democratic institutions.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Gadi Taub's Levelheaded Views
Still by way of contradicting what I wrote yesterday here, about how Israel's Left has lost it, see this fascinating interview with Gadi Taub, a secular lefty Tel Aviv fellow who writes books about dens of iniquity (not available in English), and a fine and thoughtful book about The Settlers: And the Struggle over the Meaning of Zionism. The interview, done by Michael Weiss of Just Journalism, deserves to be read in its entirety, but here are some nice sections: