On July 19, the Israeli legislature, the Knesset, passed a law defining Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, prompting criticism in the US mainstream media that it represents a departure from the democratic principles Israel was founded upon.
The reality is that the Jewish Nation State Law can’t represent a departure from democratic principles for the simple reason that Israel owes its very existence to a fundamental rejection of democracy.
The “Jewish State” of Israel was established through two profound manifestations of that rejectionism: the League of Nations’ Palestine Mandate and the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
A brief review of the historical record shows how, if Israel practiced democracy, it would be called Palestine. Hence the necessity for the Jewish Nation State Law.
The Zionist Mandate for Palestine
During the First World War, Great Britain came to militarily occupy Palestine and promised the Arabs their independence in exchange for a commitment to join in the war effort against the Ottoman Empire. Although they did not rise up en masse against their Ottoman rulers, Arabs from Palestine were among the first to volunteer to fight with the British in order to gain their freedom from Turkish rule.
However, the British government never had any intention of honoring its promise to support independence for the Arab inhabitants of Palestine. Instead, their aim was to prevent the Palestinians from exercising their right to self-determination in service to the Zionist leadership in Europe, a quid pro quo for Jewish support for the war effort.
The infamous Balfour Declaration of 1917, delivered in the form of a private letter from Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour Lord Lionel Walter Rothschild, a representative of the Zionist movement and member of the renowned banking family, was a propaganda document designed for the purpose of acquiring Jewish support for the war.
It promised British support “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” while paying meaningless lip service to “the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” in order to ensure that the Declaration did not undermine the government’s need to also acquire support from Arab rulers.
Established in the wake of the war, the League of Nations issued its “Mandate” for Palestine, which incorporated the Balfour Declaration and was drafted by organized Zionists to further the aim of reconstituting Arab Palestine into a “Jewish state”.
The purpose of the Mandate, enforced by British guns, was to deny democratic self-governance to the inhabitants of Palestine until the Jews had through mass immigration managed to establish a numerical majority.
However, by the end of the Mandate, Jews still remained a minority, comprising about a third of the population. Moreover, despite the best efforts of the Zionist leadership, the Jewish community had only managed to purchase about 7 percent of the land in Palestine. Arabs owned more land than Jews in every single district in Palestine, including Jaffa, which included the main Jewish population center of Tel Aviv.
The reality of demographics and land ownership posed a problem for the Zionist leadership. The Arabs rejected the Mandate and were giving the British trouble. They recognized that the Zionists envisioned their political disenfranchisement and eventual displacement from the land.
Initially, the means by which Arabs were displaced was through land purchases exploiting feudalistic Ottoman land laws that deprived Arab peasants of their property rights. But the failure to acquire more than 7 percent of the land meant that other means would need to be employed to gain control over the area envisioned for the “Jewish state”.
The Arabs naturally rejected the Mandate, and they also understood that the implementation of the Zionist project meant their subjugation to foreign powers. (Indeed, the British acknowledged that the Arabs of Palestine exercised a greater measure of self-governance under Ottoman rule!)
While Zionist propagandists like Elan Journo in his new hoax book What Justice Demands are fond of claiming that it was the Arabs who rejected Jewish self-determination in Palestine, the truth is that the Mandate itself constituted a rejection of this right of the land’s Arab inhabitants.
Moreover, the Arab leadership was insistent in their demand that the independence of Palestine be recognized under a constitution guaranteeing representative democracy and minority rights. The Zionist leadership tellingly rejected the democratic solution, as did the British (who described Arabs demanding that their right to self-determination be respected as “extremists”, whereas those who were willing to collaborate with the Zionist occupation regime were dubbed “moderate”).
Democracy simply was not a solution for the Zionists—it was rather an obstacle to be overcome to achieve their aims. In the view of the Zionists, the Palestinians had to be prevented from being able to exercise their right to self-determination, and so British guns were employed to that end.
But British guns only took the Zionists so far. They’d have to get the rest of the way toward establishment of their “Jewish state” on their own.
The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine
The solution favored by Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion, who would become Israel’s first prime minister and is known as the father of the country, was the “compulsory transfer” of Arabs outside of the area of the envisioned “Jewish state”.
Ben-Gurion was borrowing the term from the British, who proposed the idea of a forcible transfer of populations in order to partition Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states in the 1937 Peel Commission Report. And while Ben-Gurion initially felt the ethnic cleansing would have to be undertaken by the British, the Zionists eventually built their own formidable military force, the Haganah, enabling them to implement the “compulsory transfer” on their own.
When the UN, which replaced the defunct League of Nations following World War II, resurrected the stillborn partition plan, the Zionists recognized it as their opportunity to forcibly implement the “compulsory transfer” and land-grabbing necessary for their “Jewish state” to be established.
On May 14, 1948, the Zionist leadership unilaterally declared the existence of the state of Israel, citing as legal authority the UN “partition plan” resolution, General Assembly Resolution 181 of November 29, 1947. However, this resolution neither partitioned Palestine nor conferred any legal authority to the Zionists for their unilateral declaration.
Furthermore, the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), the body appointed by the General Assembly to come up with a solution and whose majority members recommended partition, explicitly acknowledged in its report that the goal of the Mandate to establish a “Jewish state” constituted a rejection of the right of the Arab Palestinians to self-determination.
This explains the grossly inequitable nature of the partition plan. Jews comprised about a third of the population and owned less than 7 percent of the land, whereas UNSCOP acknowledged that the Arabs were in “in possession of approximately 85 percent of the land”. Yet it nevertheless proposed that the Arabs should remain in possession of about 45 percent of the land for their state, whereas Jews should have about 55 percent of the land for theirs (with Jerusalem placed under international trusteeship).
Furthermore, when the Bedouin population was counted, Arabs constituted a majority even in the area of the proposed Jewish state, where Arabs also owned more land than Jews.
The majority recommendation, premised as it was on the rejection of self-determination as it applied to the Arab majority, constituted a violation of the very Charter under which the the General Assembly purported to be operating.
The minority recommendation of the UNSCOP report, by contrast, joined with the Arabs in favoring the democratic solution, proposing that the independence of Palestine be recognized, the same as had happened with every other Mandated territory, and a democratic government established respecting the rights of minorities.
Contrary to the popular myth that the UN created Israel, the partition plan was forwarded by the General Assembly to the Security Council, where it died. The US representative rightly pointed out that the only way to implement the plan was through force and that the UN had no authority to forcibly partition Palestine against the will of the majority of its inhabitants.
But the UN had provided political cover enough for the Zionists to implement the plan on their own. Already by the time they announced Israel’s existence and the neighboring Arab states responded by sending their armed forces into Palestine, a quarter of a million Arabs had been ethnically cleansed from their homes, and hundreds of Arab villages had been destroyed.
By the time it was over and armistice treaties were signed, more than 700,000 Arabs had fled or been expelled, never allowed to return, despite the recognition under international law that refugees of war have a right to return to their homeland.
The Jewish Nation State Law
The US mainstream media serve to manufacture consent for the US policy of supporting Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians. The nature of the coverage about Israel’s new “Nation State” law is no different. While the media may not be trying to defend such a blatantly racist law, the criticisms of the law fall within a very narrow spectrum and serves to propagandize the public with the false belief that Israel was established on democratic principles.
The Jewish Nation State Law was enacted as a “Basic Law”, which body of laws essentially serves as the supreme law of the land in the absence of an Israeli constitution. It states that Israel “is the national home of the Jewish people, in which it fulfills its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination.”
Moreover, it states that “The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared after the law’s enactment that it represented “a defining moment in the annals of Zionism and the annals of the state of Israel”. Meaninglessly and falsely adding that Israel “respects the rights of all its citizens”, Netanyahu described it as having “determined in law the founding principle of our existence” that “Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people”.
Indeed, the law does represent a manifestation of the founding principle of Israel’s existence; namely, the rejection of the right of the land’s Arab inhabitants to self-determination.
In its coverage of the law’s passage, the New York Times commented that critics are calling it “a betrayal of Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence, which ensured ‘complete equality of social and political rights’ for ‘all its inhabitants’ no matter their religion, race or sex.”
Of course, this lofty rhetoric in the Zionists’ unilateral declaration of Israel’s existence on May 14, 1948—euphemistically referred to by the thought-controlling Times as a “Declaration of Independence”—was belied by the actual means by which the “Jewish state” came into being, which was not through any kind of legitimate political process, but by ethnically cleansing most of the Arab inhabitants of Palestine from their homes and systematically wiping hundreds of Palestinian villages off the map.
Time magazine similarly reported on the Jewish Nation State Law under the headline “A New Law Shifts Israel Away from Democracy”, describing it contradicting the equal rights for all inhabitants promised in the “Declaration of Independence”—thus likewise maintaining the delusion that Israel was established on democratic principles.
Time also commented that the law should be understood within the context of the so-called “peace process” that the Trump administration has been vainly trying to revive. Indeed, the law is simply a reiteration of the propaganda talking point that Israel has a “right to exist” as a “Jewish state”, a well as Israel’s longstanding demand that the Palestinians recognize it as such.
In other words, Israel has long maintained as a prerequisite for any kind of peace agreement that the Palestinians must surrender their rights. They must surrender their property rights, their right to self-determination, and their right to return to their homeland by acceding that the means by which Israel came into being was legitimate.
The use of force, however, to prevent a people from achieving their freedom is anathema to the lofty rhetoric about Arabs’ rights contained in propaganda instruments like Britain’s Balfour Declaration and the Zionists’ legally null declaration of Israel’s existence, which was not a declaration of independence, but was announced while ethnic cleansing operations were underway in order to deny independence to the lands’ majority inhabitants.
The very idea of a state having a “right to exist” is nonsensical propaganda. No state has a “right to exist”. Abstract political entities don’t have rights; individuals do. The proper framework for approaching the issue is rather the universal right to self-determination, which is a right not being denied to Israelis by the Palestinians, but vice versa.
The Palestinians’ right to self-governance has always been rejected by the Zionist leadership. This rejection of both Arabs’ rights and democratic principles was manifest in the actual means by which the “Jewish state” came into being, from the rejectionist Mandate to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine that the British helped facilitate with the Balfour policy.
The Jewish Nation State Law doesn’t move Israel further away from democratic principles. It can’t. This isn’t logically possible when the very existence of the “Jewish state” is dependent upon ensuring that millions of rightful inhabitants are prevented from exercising their right to self-determination.
This article was originally published at Foreign Policy Journal.