Two States Are Not a Solution

When recently having read, with growing admiration, Shlomo Sand’s sober and, in essence, scientific analysis of ‘The Invention of the Jewish People,’ in which he reduces Jewish, largely ethnocentric, nationalism, or Zionism, to a great misconception and anachronism, I became rather worried when getting to his last and apparently most important chapter, ‘The Distinctions: Identity Politics in Israel.’

I am afraid the current peace talks in Washington will not lead to any solution of the main Middle Eastern conflict. They won’t lead anywhere. There is no new vision, weak Mahmoud Abbas does not represent all Palestinians, stubborn and hawkish Netanyahu has proved not to be a responsible respondent. Yesterday, four Israeli civilian settlers have been shot on the West Bank after years of relative calm, a bad omen for the talks.

But let’s return to Shlomo Sand’s largely pessimistic views and utopian vision which is so different from any suggestion made in the past 60 years.

That the Christian, deeply anti-Semitic, cliché of the ‘Wandering People,’ after having been exiled from the Holy Land in 135 CE, had frankly been adopted by Zionist Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries; that the concept of race, which had been pushed on among Nazi German racists to its apogee, is now being utilized by the ‘Chosen People’ to distinguish them from others; that well-known facts of proselytism and surges of mass conversion to Judaism during the long centuries after the Second Temple with Jewish populations emerging in Russia and Central Asia, North Africa, or Spain, which cannot be traced to ancestors in Palestine, are being ignored by contemporary Jewish historians; none of this is enjoyable to read, since the mere truth may imply that the State of Israel is founded on a big lie. Its basic arguments for legitimization are in fact shattered with considerable rigor by Sand, a Jewish Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Tel Aviv. It has earned him the attribute of a self-hating Jew. Current Jewish nationalism is trying hard to conceal the facts and silence wholehearted and honest scholars by labeling them anti-Semites. Some of Sand’s disconcerting conclusions (see below) are in part based on older and very recent, highly controversial, genetic studies trying to prove the ‘otherness’ of Jews not only from a religious point of view but also genetically, a typically racist standpoint.

A Jewish Gene?

Biology and, in particular, heredity, or genetics had been (mis)used for defining the complexity of a ‘nation’ since the beginning of emerging nationalism in the late 18th and 19th centuries. The racist pseudoscience which “flourished in all of Europe’s laboratories of learning during the imperialist era of the late nineteenth century percolated through ethnocentric nationalism into the central public arenas and became part of the ideological texture of the new political parties. Among them was the young Zionist movement.”

“The concept of the nation as an ethnic entity was upheld, with varying intensity, by all different Zionist camps, which was why the new biological science captivated so many. The idea of heredity helped justify the claim to Palestine – that ancient Judea that the Zionists ceased to view as a sacred center from which deliverance would come, and by a bold paradigmatic shift revamped as a destined national homeland of all the Jews in the world. The historical myth required the appropriate ‘scientific’ ideology – for if the Jews of modern times were not the direct descendants of the first exiles, how would they legitimize their settlement in the Holy Land, which was ‘exclusive homeland of Israel?’ The divine promise would not have sufficed for nationalism’s secular subjects, who had revolted against the passive tradition that left the conduct of history to the Almighty. If justice was not to be found in religious metaphysics, it had to be found, if only partially, in biology.[1] (Emphasis added.)

Sand mentions, as one of several examples, that leftist Zionist and Darwinist Arthur Ruppin, author of ‘The Sociology of the Jews’ and a lecturer at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem maintained, until the outbreak of WWII, “academic ties with the eugenicist thinkers who were thriving in Germany. Amazingly, the victory of Nazism did not entirely curtail these contacts. After Hitler’s rise to power, the Jerusalem lecturer traveled to Germany to visit Hans Günther, the ‘pope’ of racial theory, who joined the Nazi party in 1932, was architect of the extermination of the Gypsies, and remained a Holocaust denier to his dying day.” [2]

Jewish blood theory, Jewish heredity, even eugenics “were popular,” according to Sand, “in all currents of the Zionist movement, and its imprint can be found in almost all its publications, congresses and conferences. Young intellectuals of the movement’s second rank copied and distributed it among the activists and supporters, and it became a kind of axiom that inspired dreams and imaginings of the ancient Jewish people.” [3]

However, while after WWII, from a scientific point of view, the concept of ‘race’ among humans has more or less vanished (although the term has frequently been replaced by the politically more correct term of ‘ethnicity’), the modern State of Israel still seems to need a sort of, well,  ‘blood and soil’ ideology just to justify its existence.

“The Zionist idea of the Jewish nation-race materialized (after WWII) as a solid life science, and a new discipline was born: ‘Jewish genetics.’ What could be more convincing than publication in respected journals in the Anglo-Saxon world? The gates of Western canonical science – mainly in the United States – opened to the industrious Israeli researchers, who regularly blended historical mythologies and sociological assumptions with dubious and scanty genetic findings. Despite the limited resources available in Israel for academic research, it became a world leader in the ‘investigation of the origins of populations.’ In 1981 Israel hosted the sixth international conference on human heredity, … . From that time on, Israeli researchers received generous funds from government and private foundations, and the scientific results soon followed. Over the next twenty years, interest in Jewish genetics spread to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, and the Technion in Haifa. No less significant was that, in contrast to the cautious 1950s, the findings were now trumpeted in the public arena. Toward the end of the twentieth century, the average Israeli knew that he or she belonged to a definitive genetic group of fairly homogenous ancient origin.” [4]

Needless to say that most modern Palestinians today are descendants of Christian and Jewish people who had had inhabited the Holy Land and converted to Islam after the Arab conquest of the 7th century [5]. They share genetic similarities but may differ from descendants from Khazar Jews, semi-nomadic Turkic people of Russia and Central Asia who had converted to Judaism in the 8th century. [6]

“Like the field of physical anthropology in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which released dubious scientific discoveries to the race-hungry public, the science of molecular genetics at the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first century feeds fragmentary findings and half-truths to the identity-seeking media. Yet so far, no research had found unique and unifying characteristics of Jewish hereditary based on a random sampling of genetic material whose ethnic origin is not known in advance. By and large, what little is known about the methods of selecting test subjects seems very questionable. Moreover, the hasty findings are all too often constructed and supported by historical rhetoric unconnected to the research laboratories. The bottom line is that, after all the costly ‘scientific’ endeavors, a Jewish individual cannot be defined by any biological criteria whatsoever.

“This is not to preclude the potential contribution of genetic anthropology in uncovering important aspects of human history, and importantly in the fight against disease. Most probably, the investigation of DNA, a relatively young science, has a brilliant future. But in a state in which law prevents marriage between a ‘Jew’ and a ‘non-Jew,’ we should be very wary about research that seeks genetic markers common to the ‘chosen people.’ Like similar investigations carried out by Mecedonian racists, Lebanese Phalangists, Lapps in northern Scandinavia, and so on, such Jewish-Israeli research cannot be entirely free from crude and dangerous racism.” [7]

An Ethnos State

After the Holocaust of European Jews in Nazi Germany, Israel’s fate is based on the 1947 United Nations General Assembly vote to establish two states, a “Jewish” and an “Arab.” Apparently, the victorious powers after WWII preferred the Zionist idea rather than taking the few remaining European Jews in.

“[M]any thousands of displaced Jewish persons were wandering in Europe, and the small community that had been created by the Zionist settlement enterprise was supposed to take them in. The United States, which before 1924 had taken in many of the Yiddish Jews, now refused to open its gates to the broken remnants of the great Nazi massacre. So did the other rich countries. In the end, it was easier for these countries to solve the troublesome Jewish problem by offering a faraway land that was not theirs.” [8]

Israel’s foundation was based on ethnic cleansing from the beginning. As Sand writes, the stubborn response of the Arab states which declared war on Israel on the day (May 15, 1948) the British Mandate of Palestine had expired and the Jewish Agency proclaimed the name Israel for the land helped the young state to consolidate. Of the 900’000 Palestinians, some 730’000 fled or were expelled; more than the total number of Jews in the country at that time (630’000), as Sand remarks.

Few people outside Israel may be aware of the troubles when choosing the name Israel for the new state. As Sand explains, the ancient kingdom of Israel under the Omride dynasty (Omrid, Ahab et al.) of the 9th century BCE did not have a good reputation in religious terms. Supporters of a State of Judea (direct successors of the House of David, late 11th century BCE; note that there is no archeological proof that these dynasties ever existed) realized that then all citizens would be called Judeans, or Jews, even Arab citizens, implying all civil rights. Another suggestion, Zion, would make all citizens ‘Zionists.’ So, Israel was the only realistic choice.

Likewise, claims of being the sole democracy in the Middle East are frequently considered self-evident, but Sand holds a strong position here. One may start with the strange decision that, in a mainly secular state, civil marriage was barred in Israel, “a first demonstration of the state’s cynical exploitation of the Jewish religion to accomplish the aims of Zionism.”

“The law defining legal status of the rabbinical courts determined that they would have exclusive jurisdiction over marriage and divorce of Jews in Israel. By this means, the dominant socialist Zionism harnessed the principles of the traditional rabbinate as an alibi for its fearful imaginary that was terrified of assimilation and ‘mixed marriage.’” [9]

The lack of separation between the religion and the secular state is one of the main lasting, persisting problems of Israel. Others include its inability to decide on its territorial borders, that it does not manage to draw boundaries of its national identity. Hence, anybody who considers him- or herself a Jew would be a potential citizen of Israel. “In 1950, newborn children were registered on a separate page without reference to nationality and religion – but there were two such forms, one in Hebrew and one in Arabic, and whoever filled out a Hebrew form was assumed to be a Jew.” The “Law of Return”, passed by Knesset in 1950 and implemented in 1952, declared that “Every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh (immigrant)” unless he “(1) is engaged in an activity directed against the Jewish people; or (2) is likely to endanger public health or the security of the State.” Thus, Israel is not a haven for persecuted refugees only but, as its first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion declared, “This is not a Jewish state only because most of its inhabitants are Jews. It is a state for the Jews wherever they may be, and for any Jew who wishes to be here.”

Claims For a One-state Solution

Hundreds of thousands Palestinians who have been born into Israel, in which they constitute one-fifth of the population, face the situation that they are formally full citizens but that it was not their state but “belong[ed] to a different people, most of whom remained overseas.”

There had been early voices by Palestinians calling for a multicultural Israel, which were rejected by the Zionists, who feared the idea of becoming a Jewish-Israeli. An ‘ethnic democracy’ such as Israel ranks very low as compared to, according to Smooha, Professor at Haifa University, liberal, republican, consociational (such as Switzerland), and multicultural democracies (such as Great Britain or the Netherlands). Israel may not belong to any of the above since it does not see itself as a political embodiment of a civil society within its boundaries [10]. Sand writes that, according to Smooha,

“Not only was Zionism the official ideology that dominated the Jewish state at its birth, but its citizens are expected to continue to fulfill its particularist aims till the end of time. While a kind of democracy does exist within the pre-1967 boundaries of Israel – with civil rights, freedom of expression and political association, and periodic free elections – the absence of a basic and political equality sets it apart from the flourishing democracies of the West.” [11]

Smooha suggests,

“The best solution for the Arabs of Israel would, of course, be a ‘consociational,’ namely, a binational, state; but the opposition of the Jews to such an option, which would eliminate the Jewish state, would be total, so that its implementation would be a terrible injustice to most of the population.” [12]

It is worth reading Sand’s assembled views of numerous scholars about ‘Democracy’ (an utopian concept anyway) in Israel. Most are highly apologetic, consisting of ambiguities and illogical assumptions. As a matter of fact being a Jewish state and a (liberal) democracy might in fact be an oxymoron, as Sand claims. Civil rights violations are commonplace in Israel. There is, for instance, no civil marriage, no civil burial in public cemeteries, no public transportation on the Sabbath and other Jewish holidays. Most serious is “the trampling of the land-ownership rights of the Arab citizens.”

“Moreover, the more than forty-year domination of a whole nation (the Palestinians) depriving it of all rights, in the territories occupied since 1967 has prevented the consolidation and expansion of genuine liberalism within Israel’s jurisdiction. Nevertheless, despite the serious flaws in the area of individual rights, basic liberties are maintained, as well as the main democratic principle of periodic general elections, and the government is elected by all the citizens. May Israel not, therefore, qualify as a classic democracy, ruling – albeit belatedly – over a colonial region, as European powers did in the past?

“The peculiar character of Israel’s supra-identity, whose primeval code was inherent in Zionism from the start, is what makes it doubtful that a ‘Jewish’ state can also be democratic.

“The Jewish nationalism that dominates Israeli society is not an open, inclusive identity that invites others to become part of it, or coexist with it on a basis of equality and in symbiosis. On the contrary, it explicitly and culturally segregates the majority from the minority, and repeatedly asserts that the state belongs only to the majority; moreover, as noted earlier, it promises eternal proprietary rights to an even greater human mass that does not chose to live in it. In this way, it excludes the minority from active and harmonious participation in the sovereignty and practices of democracy, and prevents that minority from identifying with it politically.

“Democracy need not be culturally neutral, but if there is a state supra-identity that directs the national culture, it must be open to all or at least seek to be so, even if the minority insists on staying out of the hegemonic national bear-hug. In all the existing kinds of democracy, it is the cultural minority that seeks to preserve its distinction and identity vis-à-vis the mighty majority. Its smaller size also entitles it to certain privileges.

“In Israel the situation is reversed: the privileges are reversed for the Jewish majority and its ‘kinfolk who are still wandering in exile.’” [13]

According to Sand, this occurs through several mechanisms, namely the law of absentee properties, the law of land purchase, the Law of Return, the law of marriage and divorce, “ex-militaries” (Arab-Israelis are not conscripted), etc. pp. Thus, Israel is far from being a liberal democracy according to Sand who coins the term ethnocracy for Israel, based on the myth of the historical claim of Eretz Israel. Its ethnocentric foundation remains an obstacle to the development of stronger liberal features.

“The complacement assumption that this growing and strengtheneing populace (Arab-, or Palestino-Israelis) will always accept its exclusion from the political and cultural heart is a dangerous illusion, similar to the blindness of Israeli society to the colonialist domination in Gaza and the West Bank before the First Intifada. But whereas the two Palestinian uprisings that broke out in 1987 and 2000 exposed the weakness of Israel’s control over its apartheid territories, their threat to the existence of the state is negligible compared with the potential threat posed by the frustrated Palestinians living within its borders. The catastrophic scenario of an uprising in the Arab Galilee, followed by iron-fisted repression, may not be too far-fetched. Such a development could be a turning-point for the existence of Israel in the Near East.

No Jew who lives today in a liberal Western democracy would tolerate the discrimination and exclusion experienced by the Palestino-Israelis, who live in a state that proclaims it is not theirs. But Zionist supporters among the Jews around the world, like most Israelis, are quite unconcerned, or do not wish to know, that the ‘Jewish state’, because of its undemocratic laws, could never have been part of the European Union or one of America’s fifty states. This flawed reality does not stop them from expressing solidarity with Israel, and even regarding it as their reserve home. Not that this solidarity impels them to abandon their national homelands and emigrate to Israel. And why should they, seeing that they are not subjected to daily discrimination and alienation of the kind that Palestino-Israelis experience daily in their native country?” [14] (Emphasis added.)

On the eve of new peace talks in Washington, which will, as so often, fail of course, it is worth reading Sand’s final remarks in which he warns against the illusion of a two-state solution:

“ [T]he peace camp must consider that a compromise accord with a Palestinian state, if achieved, may not only end a long and painful process, but start a new one, no less complex, inside Israel itself. The morning after may be no less painful than the long nightmare preceding it. Should a Kosovo erupt in Galilee, neither Israel’s conventional military might, nor its nuclear arsenal, nor even the great concrete wall with which it has girdled itself will be of much use. To save Israel from the black hole that is opening inside it, and to improve the fragile tolerance toward it in the surrounding Arab world, Jewish identity politics would have to change completely, as would the fabric of relations in the Palestino-Israeli sphere.

The ideal project for solving the century-long conflict and sustaining the closely woven existence of Jews and Arabs would be the creation of a democratic binational state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. To ask the Jewish Israeli people, after such a long and bloody conflict, and in view of the tragedy experienced by many of its immigrant founders in the twentieth century, to become overnight a minority in its own state may not be the smartest thing to do. But if it is senseless to expect the Jewish Israelis to dismantle their own state, the least that can be demanded of them is to stop reserving it for themselves as a polity that segregates, excludes, and discriminates against a large number of its citizens, whom it views as undesirable aliens.” [15]

According to Sand, it is too late to transform Israel with its Jewish supra-identity into a uniform, homogenous nation-state. “It will have to undergo a process of Israelization, open to all citizens.” When he demands democratic multiculturalism, it may immediately come to one’s mind that, in European societies, multiculturalism has largely failed mainly due to the incapability of in particular Muslims to integrate. However, in Israel/Palestine, Muslim Arab-Israelis are rightful citizens and must not ‘integrate.’ There is no “chosen people,” no “wandering people”. Biblical myths have nothing to do with History. Those, who had moved in two, three or more generations ago, the Jews of the Diaspora, cannot dictate the features of a society.


[1] Shlomo Sand. The Invention of the Jewish People. Verso: London, New York 2009, p. 257.

[2] Ibid., p. 265. Sand concedes that “This bizarre association with the National Socialists must not been misunderstood. The juxtaposition of ethnocentric nationalism and biology would give rise to a monstrous perversion in the first half of the twentieth century, but most Zionists did not think in terms of blood and purity nor did they seek such purification. The project of systematically expelling ‘aliens’ from their midst never came up, because it was hardly needed, especially since the traditional Jewish religion, though no longer a hegemonic religious belief, was still useful in part as the confirmation of a Jewish identity. The secular Zionists continued to recognize, though not to celebrate, religious conversion.”

[3] Ibid., p. 266. Eminent physician and biologist, and British Zionist Redcliffe Nathan Salaman even saw the Zionist project’s main purpose to improve the Jewish race, an idea he elaborated in an article entitled “The Heredity of the Jews” which was published in the first (1911) issue of the pioneering Journal of Genetics. Sand writes, on p.268, “Were it not for the tragic consequences of the twentieth-century eugenics, and had Salaman been a marginal figure in the early days of the Jewish science in the land of Israel, this text would merely make us smile.”

[4] Ibid., p. 275. Interestingly, former Berlin’s Finance Senator and a current member of German Federal Bank’s Board of Directors Thilo Sarrazin, clearly a Muslim hating populist agitator, recently sparked a storm of protest in Germany when ranting about a Jewish (and another Basque) gene. In Germany, unlike in Israel, pointing to genetic differences (implying races) seems to be deeply politically incorrect, even racist, thinking.

[5] Juan Cole has recently enlightened his readers and basically deconstructed common beliefs about the indigenous people living in the State of Israel and occupied territories, which are held not only by Israeli hardliners but, due to century-long disinformation and propaganda, also in parts of the West. See his top ten reasons why East Jerusalem does not belong to Jewish Israelis here.

[6] When asked by Israeli newspaper Haaretz about new scientific results (Nebel et al. American Society of Human Genetics  2001, 69: 1095-1112) regarding the genetic origins of the Khazars, Sand’s most convincing argument of mass conversions to Judaism among people unrelated to the Holy Land (there were other regions, such as Spain, North Africa, etc.),  respected scientists Professor Marc Feldman of Stanford University calmed down the reporter  “that there was no need to reach an extreme conclusion – the particular mutation in the Y chromosome of the Kurds, Armenians and Jews was also found in other peoples in the region of the Fertile Crescent, not necessarily in the Khazars, people forgotten by God and history.” Sand 2009, p. 277, emphasis added.

[7] Ibid., p. 279.

[8] Ibid., p. 280. The explosive effect of these sentences is in particular revealing when recalling the Iranian’s presidents, or Palestine Hamas and Lebanese Hizbullah leaders’ tirades, uttered time and again, on the Holocaust, or Israel’s geography or history.

[9] Ibid., pp. 283f.

[10] Smooha S. Minority status in an ethnic democracy: The status of the Arab minority in Israel. Ethnic and Racial Studies 1990; 13: 389-413.

[11] Sand, p. 296.

[12] Smooha S. The regime of the state of Israel: Civic democracy, non-democracy or an ethnic democracy? Israeli Sociology 2000; 2: 2.

[13] Sand, pp. 305f.

[14] Ibid., p. 309.

[15] Ibid., pp. 311f.

Last update September 2, 2010.

This entry was posted in Book Review, Israel, Palestine and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Two States Are Not a Solution

  1. Pingback: Palestine Demilitarized « Freelance

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s