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On “Israel’s Right to Exist”


When I posted Sharmine Narwani’s provocative article Excuse Me, But Israel Has No Right to Exist on Facebook, I got an inappropriate reaction from libertarians. It was summed up by one comment this way:

No territorial State has the right to exist. They are all organisations against individual rights and liberties.

This answer is true but inappropriate. Why?

Narwani was not tendering a general proposition in political philosophy. She had no intention of operating in the realm of abstraction on this occasion. Rather, she was making a point that seems to elude people, including many (most?) libertarians. Narwani was drawing attention to the fact that invocation of the Jewish State of Israel’s “right to exis” is intended to derail any effort to focus on the right of Palestinian individuals to live on and work the land they and their families have inhabited for more than a thousand years (and perhaps much further back.) Changing the subject to the State of Israel’s alleged right to exist—and that’s what this move is, a change of subject—is designed to make sure that the rights of Palestinians are never discussed.

Imagine you caught a burglar in your home pilfering your silverware. Now imagine that when you demanded he put your property down, he responded, “Wait. Before we talk about that, I demand that you first acknowledge my right to exist in this spot with these things in my hands.” You would not regard that demand as legitimate.

To proclaim Israel’s right exist is to proclaim that a political entity founded by a group of individuals on an ideology of ethno-racial chauvinism has a moral right to land it obtained through brutal ethnical cleansing. The Zionist movement had (and has) as its premise that Palestine is “Jewish land” and that the non-Jews are unfit for it. Thus it had (has) to be “redeemed.” The outcome was what the Palestinians call the nakba, or catastrophe. The political entity known as Israel thus occupies land stolen from the Palestinian people.

That is the context from which to judge all that goes on in Palestine/Israel today. This is no “dispute” or “conflict” in the sense that two sides have roughly equal claims to the same land and resources. The claims are no more equal than those of my hypothetical homeowner and burglar. (‎”Why should the Arabs make peace? If I was an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country…. We have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?” —David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, quoted in Nahum Goldman, The Jewish Paradox.) Contrition therefore belongs on the Jewish, not the Palestinian, side. (I hope no one will say that a UN General Assembly vote made this all morally acceptable.)

(For details see Jeremy Hammond’s excellent brief introduction, The Rejection of Palestinian Self-Determination. For a close examination of the Zionists’ alleged purchases of land see Stephen P. Halbrook’s “The Alienation of a Homeland.” On the systematic efforts to cleanse the nakba from history see Neve Gordon’s “Erasing the Nakba.” For the Jewish case against Zionism, rooted in the Prophetic tradition, see Jack Ross’s biography, Rabbi Outcast: Elmer Berger and American Jewish Anti-Zionism. But you need not take their word for it. Consult an Israeli historian, Benny Morris, who thinks ethnic cleansing was a good thing but did not go far enough.)

We may put it another way: Israel is the only country I can think of that, de jure, does not belong to all its citizens. (I am not saying that other countries actually operate as though they belonged to their citizens.) As the self-proclaimed “Jewish State,” Israel is said to belong not to its citizens but to the Jewish People worldwide. Under the “Law of Return,” anyone who qualifies as a Jew (that is, has a Jewish mother and hasn’t converted to another religion or was converted to Judaism by an approved rabbi) may become a full citizen merely by moving to Israel. Note the word “return.” A Jewish person who “makes aliyah” need not have ever lived in Israel, so she would not literally be returning. (It’s merely assumed, despite reasons for assuming otherwise, that her ancient ancestors might have once lived in Palestine.)

On the other hand, a Palestinian who was one of the million-plus Arabs driven from their villages in 1948 (or even earlier) or 1967 and who could therefore actually return to her home is prohibited from doing so. Her home has long been confiscated, perhaps demolished. In fact her entire village may have been leveled to make way for an exclusively Jewish town. (More than 500 such villages were destroyed during the period of Israeli independence.)

Yes, the Muslim, Christian, and secular Arabs who were not among the 750,000 who fled what became Israel in 1948 were allowed to become citizens of the Jewish State, with the vote and representation in the Knesset. But there’s less here than meets the eye. Non-Jews are second (third?)-class citizens who get inferior government services and who have no power to change Israel’s official designation as the state of the Jewish People. Indeed, any political party that aspires to change that designation is outlawed. A recent law requires new non-Jewish citizens to pledge allegiance to Israel as a “Jewish, democratic [sic] state.” In 2010 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposed, as a condition for progress in negotiations, that Palestinian leaders acknowledge Israel as “the national state of the Jewish People.” It is worth noting that until a 2005 legal challenge, the Israeli identity card identified citizens not as Israeli but as Jewish, Arab, Druze and Circassian, and so on. Citizens are still so designated in government records.

Thus, in this context, when libertarians say “all states are illegitimate,” they blur a critical distinction and give those who occupy Palestinian property and otherwise oppress Palestinian individuals an undeserved pass. I imagine that an ardent Zionist would much rather hear that response than one that perceives and exposes the real intent behind the proclamation of Israel’s right to exist: the negation of the rights of Palestinians.

I shouldn’t have to mention this but I will: To say that the state of Israel has no right to exist is not to say that the individuals living in Israel have no right to exist—quite the contrary–and the Palestinians would agree. That raises the question of how best to proceed in achieving justice for the long-suffering Palestinians. This is a complicated question to which there is no easy answer. But here’s one thing advocates of universal freedom and justice can say: The rights of the Palestinians must not be plastered over by irrelevant claims about the Jewish State’s right to exist.


32 Responses to On “Israel’s Right to Exist”

  1. Cosmo May 21, 2012 at 3:23 pm #

    Why is the Negev desert Palestinian on your maps?
    Hardly any of it was privately owned by Palestinians.
    When Israel tries to evict Bedouins the claims are always it is their land simply because they claim so, despite the fact they chose not to register ownership of any land. So why aren’t parts of the Negev registered as Bedouin and not Palestinian? Or are the Bedouin Palestinians only when it suits you?

    • Blake May 24, 2012 at 12:39 am #

      The British Mandate records affirm that 12,600,000 Dunums of Negev land belonged to the Bedouins. (Mandate records 1937. See Penny Maddrell, The Beduin of the Negev, Minority Rights Group, Report no.81 (1990) p.5)

      According to this U.N. document, paragraph 15: the link shows that although only around 2 million dunums of the Negev was considered fit for cultivation, the other unfit for cultivation 10 million dunums was owned by arabs.

      • Ariadna Theokopoulos May 24, 2012 at 1:08 am #

        It seems that the Palestinians are undifferentiated “Arabs” who should go to live in “the many other Arab countries” when the script requires it but split into completely different and virtually unrelated groups (bedouins, etc) when convenient.

  2. Chester May 21, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

    Anarchists are fond of abstractions that have some philosophical merit but lose meaning in any material context.

    And yes, this is helpful to states that are based on a particular injustice, notably Israel. A better burglar metaphor would have ended with the burglar asserting that “all property is theft”.

    Reminds me of the old joke:

    Why do anarchists drink herbal tea?
    Becase proper tea is theft.

  3. Ariadna Theokopoulos May 21, 2012 at 4:45 pm #

    Excellent article, which brings to the fore an issue that needed to be examined– the claim of “Israel’s right to exist”– and does so with great clarity and fairness.
    “Do you believe Israel has a right to exist?” has become an official litmus test that anyone who doesn’t answer with an unequivocal and enthusiastic “Yes,” no equivocation, no hesitation, is immediately labeled anti-….. everything that’s good and noble.

    • Sheldon Richman May 21, 2012 at 4:50 pm #

      Exactly. That is the point. The only point.

  4. who_me May 21, 2012 at 7:22 pm #

    israel has no right to exist and the sooner it ceases to exist, the better off all of the world will be.

  5. searching May 22, 2012 at 2:02 am #

    Interesting news.
    “On Sunday Israel celebrated 45 years of occupying East Jerusalem with thousands of jubilant right-wingers hurling racial epithets in a parade through the Old City and Muslim Quarter during “Jerusalem Day,” a state holiday embracing the 1967 capture of the city.
    Nationalist ministers of Knesset lent legitimacy to the anti-Muslim/anti-Palestinian chants by praying at the Temple Mount and declaring the holy site under Israeli sovereignty.

    And, although annexing of East Jerusalem is a violation of international law, Israel also released a commemorative coin for “Jerusalem Day.”

    “The Temple Mount is in our hands!” said minister Uri Ariel in a statement yesterday.
    He, along with minister Michael Ben Ari, led a group of extremists from the parade to the religious site, which prohibits Jewish visitors from public prayer. “The site is under Israeli sovereignty and therefore the Israeli government must allow every Jew to realize his autonomous rights and to go up to pray on the Temple Mount…..
    At the mosque, Israeli police detained Ariel,
    Ben Ari, and one other for VIOLATING agreements made with the Muslim religious leaders regarding the use of the sacred site.
    However, Ben Ari brushed off police, saying his position with the Knesset gave him IMMUNITY from the statute…”

  6. searching May 22, 2012 at 2:04 am #

    “….Meanwhile en route to the Western Wall,
    by way of the Damascus Gate, extremist Israelis shouted, “the Temple will be REBUILT, the mosque will be BURNED,” “Mohammed is dead,” “sons of whores,” and “death to the leftists”.
    When the right-wing marchers entered Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter, protests were sparked amongst the Palestinian residents of the city and left-wing Israelis…”

  7. Anthem May 22, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    The question is not “does Israel have a right to exist”, it is “does any group have a right to take land or wealth from another group by force”.

    Palestine is nothing more than the most recent high profile land conquest in human history. It is worthy of discussion as an example of the wrongs committed by the use of government power and to further the liberal ideas of limiting any government’s power in relation to the power retained by individuals to protect their natural rights.

    It is not about Jews, per se, as any cursory examination of patrimonial power used to pursue conquest throughout the history of mankind will show. The unfortunate truth is that until the majority of mankind learns to reason well enough to apply justice and mercy writ large we will wallow in the emotional battlefields of identity and loyalty to patrimonial power. Given that only 25% of Americans recognize the value of Ron Paul’s message, the outlook isn’t good. The majority can’t even reason well enough to protect their own rights, much less the rights of others living halfway around the world.

    • Ariadna Theokopoulos May 22, 2012 at 4:06 pm #

      Could not disagree more.

      “The question is not “does Israel have a right to exist”, it is “does any group have a right to take land or wealth from another group by force”.

      The pressing current issue is Palestine/Israel, not some general consideration of “human history.”

      “It is not about Jews, per se…” It happens to be darned per se in The Jewish State, it is not at all about “conquest throughout the history of mankind.”

      “The majority [of Americans] can’t even reason well enough to protect their own rights, much less the rights of others living halfway around the world.”

      You might say that when talking about Aborigines in Australia, but the rights of the Palestinians are trampled under foot by those we SUBSIDIZE, ARM and SHIELD diplomatically. Our money–in the billions of dollars– go “half way around the world” to do all that when we badly need it at home.
      Clearly the Jewish lobby in the US does not view Israel as just some country “half way around the world.”

      • Anthem May 23, 2012 at 2:32 am #

        The Israeli / Palestinian issue is about conquest for land, is it not? The “Jewish lobby” is not a mere handful of people in this country, so good luck tackling it with identity politics.

        Patrimony / identity has much deeper roots in the human psyche than the theories of socialism or libertarianism. Those who have emotional bonds as Jews or the Jewish influenced Christian sects are legion and financially successful (for the most part), with enormous media and social influence. The patrimony for Palestinian Muslims and Christians is whom?

        The Catholic Church has some patrimonial influence among its faithful and occasionally grumbles about the issue, but has not taken a committed leading role in opposing the conquest of Palestine by Israel. Political parties have a weaker patrimonial structure, as they are more mutable on the issues they support. Both socialist and libertarian ideologues have supported Israel, and many still do, depending upon their emotional ties to a religious and / or cultural identity.

        So the point is: There is no deep-rooted patrimonial structure for the Palestinians in the US. Until the issue can be fully discussed as an issue of right and wrong — in the context of the evolving reformation of government from patrimonial power (and loyalties) to equal individuals with natural rights being governed by consent — then it will be addressed in the age old “might is right” paradigm, and brother the Palestinians and their political sympathizers have very little “might”. Making an issue of the military spending has gained some traction, but whether that is able to cover any real political (Realpolitik) ground remains to be seen.

        The bottom line is that it is an issue of how the majority sees government and the natural rights of people, which is best understood in the context of the historical development of rights. In that context the issue can be peeled away from its patrimonial ties and seen as a broader issue that demands a more enlightened approach than force. When people understand that the ideas of liberty better protect their own families, then they will see identify themselves with the ideas and oppose the patrimonial force of fascism rather that their current acquiescence to it “for security”.

        • Ariadna Theokopoulos May 23, 2012 at 4:19 am #

          Libertarian claptrap fills me with endless ennui and I do not share the vision of Ron Paula as the new White Hope. All else derives from that.

          • who_me May 23, 2012 at 4:56 am #

            “All else derives from that.”

            all else?

          • Sheldon Richman May 23, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

            I would take Ron Paul’s noninterventionist foreign policy in a heartbeat. And what’s claptrap about declaring that other people are not your property?

          • Ariadna Theokopoulos May 23, 2012 at 5:15 pm #

            “I would take Ron Paul’s noninterventionist foreign policy in a heartbeat.”

            That is just about all I would take from his platform.

            ” And what’s claptrap about declaring that other people are not your property?”
            It sounds very nice indeed but it has a not-so-nice corollary. His state that does not have any rights over you (good idea) is also the state that has no obligations whatsoever, other than perhaps defending you from foreign invaders. Everyone on his own, god for all, as the French proverb says.
            The “freedom” advocated by libertarians is also the freedom from regulation of businesses–the freedom to pollute, poison and destroy the environment.

          • Sheldon Richman May 23, 2012 at 6:34 pm #

            It is we who have obligations to each other, not states. When you surrender those obligations to the state, you get the horrors we’ve seen throughout history. As for regulation, who do you think ends up controlling the regulators? That’s right. Those who are theoretically regulated.

          • Ariadna Theokopoulos May 23, 2012 at 7:03 pm #

            The “we” of the romantically ‘free’ Wild West of yesteryear in which the next-door neighbors might have been counted on not only to help you lift your cow from the ditch but also to take a bowl of soup and a pinch of snuff to Jimmy The Gimp who broke his spine in the last round-up and can no longer earn a living and in which people just gave Jimmy Stewart a sheriff star to pin on and keep the peace, that “we” can not handle life today, esp. in large urban centers and across the land.
            There is a need for a government–therefore a state–that, ideally, provides and defends some of the rights that American workers used to have but have rapidly and progressively lost since Reagan, as well as a free education at all levels (which less developed South American states somehow manage to have), and low-cost universal health care.
            There is a need for a state that reinstates the anti-trust laws that Clinton emasculated and rubbished and a fully dentured EPA that ironically Nixon created. A government that regulates banking and prints it own money, and one that accounts for its balance sheet every year, in detail.
            There is a need for mandatory civic education alongside the three Rs to make sure it all functions as intended.

          • Sheldon Richman May 23, 2012 at 7:36 pm #

            If you are concerned about workers, we need to get rid of the corporate state, which remains unchanged regardless of whether Reagan, Clinton, Bush, or Obama is in power.

          • Ariadna Theokopoulos May 23, 2012 at 7:46 pm #

            Sign me on

          • who_me May 23, 2012 at 9:53 pm #

            while paul, and libertarianism, have deep faults, the demican-repulicrat alternative is really not much different. obama’s regime has been just as busy whittling away at corporate regulations as any of the previous 4 regimes and romney would probably make paul’s deregulation ideas seem like nothing. it’s a false security thinking what we got now is something more attuned to our needs than what paul would try. it’s also a false security thinking we have some sort of environmental protection. we don’t, as what happened with the bp gulf disaster clearly shows. on these realities alone, i’d rather go with something potentially new, than stick with the total shite we got.

            besides paul’s war and foreign policy stances, there is also his views on constitutional law, something you guys didn’t mention. he is the only one who has some sort of principled views, and he has been consistent on this. the removal of government business and environmental regulations under the last american 5 regimes is only part of the problem. their consistent destruction of american constitutional rights and laws is another large problem. perhaps even a greater part, since without those, we will be left with violent revolution as the only way to combat the tightning of the fascists noose that’s around our necks. of the 3 presidential contenders, only paul gives even a ghost of a hope that he will take individual and civil rights seriously.

            then there is the zionist reaction. they hate paul. right now, that can only be good. 🙂

          • Ariadna Theokopoulos May 23, 2012 at 11:17 pm #

            who_me: “while paul, and libertarianism, have deep faults, the demican-repulicrat alternative is really not much different.”

            I don’t think anyone around here spoke up for them; that goes without saying.
            You are right about Paul’s stance on the Constitution (now in tatters); that is a plus sign for him.

            who_me: “the zionist reaction. they hate paul. right now, that can only be good”

            Not enough. The zionist “sentiment factor” is not sufficient for me. I am not going to give someone–anyone, not just Paul– a pass just because the zios hate him. They might hate him/her for reasons that I don’t care about.

          • who_me May 24, 2012 at 12:16 am #

            “Not enough. The zionist “sentiment factor” is not sufficient for me. I am not going to give someone–anyone, not just Paul– a pass just because the zios hate him. They might hate him/her for reasons that I don’t care about.”

            there is more to it than that. the paul hate, which is across the board among the zios, from the phoney left to the far right, means it is highly probable they don’t own him and he is independent of the zpc. that makes zionist paul hate a more important factor than one might suppose on the surface.

            the necessary first step to breaking the rightwing direction of the usa will be dismantling the zpc and their strangleholds on left thought and action. the zios are the glue that holds the fascist establishment together and they are also the dam that prevents real opposition to it. if the zpc lose control of the american presidency, that will be a significant opening to unravel zpc control.

            put this aspect of paul with his non-interventionist and constitutional stances, and the opportunity for putting a break on the current fascism in the usa is a real prospect. a break in that inceasing of the heat on the pot of water is very much needed before the frog boils to death. there is no prospect of such a break on fascism with either obama or romney, but instead, a further entrenchment of it that will make dismantling fascism even more elusive and difficult.

          • Ariadna Theokopoulos May 24, 2012 at 1:01 am #

            “if the zpc lose control of the american presidency, that will be a significant opening to unravel zpc control”

            You may overrate the importance of the presidency just a tad. Breaking its control over Congress, that would be significant and wishful thinking about the mass media, that’s another dream.

            “dismantling the zpc and their strangleholds on left thought and action.”

            What is there is no Left left? I don’t know if it fell into disrepair because the Jews moved out or they moved out because they saw the boat leaking but I don’t see any Left. Not any credible, loud voice.
            Furthermore, unlike Europeans, Americans always mistrusted the Left (“pinkos,” and “commies”). It would be a herculean task to undo a century of indoctrination.
            Perhaps a better strategy for those who think “left” would be to start speaking more to the right, try to mobilize the tea party and the NASCAR crowd–they are many and they are unhappy.

          • who_me May 24, 2012 at 5:18 am #

            Ariadna Theokopoulos

            “You may overrate the importance of the presidency just a tad….”

            no i don’t. the president determines policy and congress either goes along or opposes (i know, the handlers do, but it goes through the president). currently congress has much lower approval ratings than the president and that is usually the way. people think congress more corrupt. against a popular president, they stand little chance.

            i didn’t mentioned the corporate media, but they will never be helping us, anyway. they also are losing their influence. it’s likely they may lose it faster going overboard, attacking paul. like the azz crowd did with atzmon. these people are arrogant, not very creative and very popular or credible with most people.

            “What is there is no Left left? I don’t know if it fell into disrepair because the Jews moved out or they moved out because they saw the boat leaking but I don’t see any Left. Not any credible, loud voice.”

            the jews moved out? i didn’t know that. i thought the left was corrupted by zionist jews (and loyal sabbath goys). having the jews move out of the left would probably be a good thing since it would remove the zionist corruption of the left. it’s mostly jewish people speaking for the left in the usa now. you are right about the usa not being left, but many people there think in terms of left wing ideals on many subjects. when polls are done asking people their views, their is a pretty consistent approval for left concepts, provided the questions aren’t phrased in a left or right manner. example: would you be in favour of single payer health coverage provided by the government? most say yes. word it: would you favour socialised medicine. most say no. the problem with the left is it run by zionist capitalists, who work to see the left fail, not that leftwing ideals are dead. the only reason there seem so few credible voices in the left is because of the zionist take over. they did to credible leftism what they tried to do to atzmon.

            and that brings me back to why i’d rather see paul than obama/romney elected. i have no delusions about paul. the main reason i want to see him elected is he will bring some positive change. probably not much, but that is a whole lot better than obama/romney, who will bring only further negative changes. change offers a possibility of more change. it opens doors that are otherwise shut. and who knows, the zionists may overplay their cards opposing him. their arrogance often leads them down that path.

            regardless, the constant wars and interventions have got to stop and paul is the only one who says he would do that.

          • Anthem May 24, 2012 at 7:05 pm #

            I agree that there is not only a need for government, and I would go further to say that there is no such thing as an absence of government. There will always be some personalities with the ability to control others through force or productive ability, or both. They are the strong who gather followers who want to be on the side that’s winning.

            That said, it is the form of government that determines if a society is free, enslaved, or somewhere in between. The development of the rule of law — which means those in the seats of government are subject to the same law as the rest of us — was the advance that gave the people a powerful rallying point by which they could challenge unjust leadership. It is law which governs the behavior of people in a society, not personalities, and the law must be by consent rather than imposed if we are to be a free people.

            Regulations imposed by bureaucracies have a poor track record because they are too far removed from the people. The FDA approves poisons and bans raw milk, the EPA tiptoes around giant oil spills and harasses small businesses and landowners. The SEC ignores wall street perfidies and makes it all but impossible for small business to raise capital. The anarchist movement is just plain ignorant, but so too is the belief that regulation bureaucracies will be accountable to the people.

            The answer is not more regulations and regulators, the answer is simpler laws and enabling the people to (once again) make criminal charges against lawbreakers.

    • Sheldon Richman May 23, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

      I agree with the spirit of this; Palestine is hardly the first case of grand land theft, occupation, and oppression. However, a la Atzmon and Shahak, I see characteristics in classical Jewish ideology (as opposed to the prophetic tradition) that make such violation of individual rights unsurprising, perhaps even predictable.

      • Anthem May 24, 2012 at 7:35 pm #

        I understand and appreciate their criticisms of the Jewish culture. I just don’t see it as unique to the Jews. Conquest and enslavement, or even genocide, has been part of the human experience for thousands of years. I believe it is far more effective to condemn the behavior in concept rather than generalizing it upon a social identity.

        The behavior needs to be identified, certainly, and the truth exposed, too; including accurate contrasts between ancient and modern beliefs regarding conquest. However, I find it counter-productive to generalize a condemnation on the Jewish culture as a whole. In fact it is more productive to promote the Jews who are engaged in pointing out the archaic beliefs in their own culture that are used to justify the Zionist conquest. We are then in a better position to expose the attempts at world conquest by those who are not strictly Zionists or Jewish.

  8. searching May 22, 2012 at 4:01 pm #

    here is a very interesting video about 1933 Zionists deal with Hitler–transfer Agreement.
    Worth watching.

  9. searching May 22, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

    here is like the”chosen “race celebrates “their” Jerusalem.

  10. Blake May 24, 2012 at 12:36 am #

    Very good article now if only your namesake could see the light. Ahem Adelson Ahem.

  11. Anthem May 24, 2012 at 7:50 pm #

    Ariadna Theokopoulos

    May 23, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    I don’t think anyone around here spoke up for them; that goes without saying.
    You are right about Paul’s stance on the Constitution (now in tatters); that is a plus sign for him.

    who_me: “the zionist reaction. they hate paul. right now, that can only be good”

    Not enough. The zionist “sentiment factor” is not sufficient for me. I am not going to give someone–anyone, not just Paul– a pass just because the zios hate him. They might hate him/her for reasons that I don’t care about.

    Theokopoulos, I I I, there are a lot of I’s in your post. If just want to complain then vote for Ed Begely or whoever, but if you sincerely want to strike a blow against the corporate/militarist state then you might consider cooperation as a better strategy.

    Ron Paul is the only candidate with a chance to win who has been promoting an end to the wars, an end to the banker’s control of the economy, an end to corporate welfare, and reinstating respect for the rule of law. He has also been leading the struggle to put like minded people in Congress.