Democracy versus demography

From the archive (legacy material)

Lev Greenberg | Haaretz Daily | 9 February 2005

Yitzhak Laor argued that the demand for a referendum is not democratic but meant to consolidate an ethnocentric regime (“Referendum means apartheid,” Haaretz, February 3). He also called on “doves” who support the disengagement to stop the formalist-legalist discussion and raise democratic arguments about the rights of the Palestinians. I agree with his criticism but the question is, why is there no real democratic discourse in Israel?
The position of strength of the Yesha zealots in Israeli politics is not numerical. They do not have a coherent strategy for the future of the country. Their strength is in the discourse, language and myths that grant legitimacy to the regime, and the “doves” of Labor and Yahad share that with the messianic zealots.
Disengagement opponents use everything that “works” in the public discourse: the Jews as victims, Holocaust, democracy.
They know very well that a discourse about civil rights and democracy is “leftist,” so therefore they demand a referendum. The amazing thing is that the messianic zealots’ discourse is seemingly “democratic” while the “left’s” is “demographic.”
The difference between the opponents and supporters of the disengagement is in the measure of transparency of their hostility toward the Arabs and mastery over them. The discourse of the disengagement supporters presents the Arabs as a threat and tries to frighten the listener by speaking of the “demographic danger.” The disengagement opponents simply ignore the human existence of the Palestinians.
But in the debate between democracy and demography the zealots of Yesha have the upper hand, and it is possible that in a “democratic” struggle they will win a majority in the referendum, especially if only the votes of the Jews are counted. After all, if everyone agrees that it is the Jews who will decide on the lives of the Palestinians, then there is no ” demographic danger.”
That is the power of the Yesha Council and the messianic zealots in the public debate, despite their numerical weakness: the agreement between “doves” and “hawks” that the Land belongs to “us,” the Jews, and the only relevant nation to decide on the fate of the Land is the Jewish nation. According to that approach, the Palestinian residents of Gaza need not be asked what the fate of Gaza will be. It’s up to the “nation in Zion,” Israelis living inside the 1967 borders and the Jews living in Gaza and the West Bank, to decide. That is the approach of a “master nation”: The Jews will decide what is best for the Palestinians. The consensus between the Yesha zealots and the “dovish left” is called “a democratic Jewish state.” See the Kinneret Covenant for proof.
That is not a democratic state with a Jewish character and culture, but a discriminatory regime that grants more rights to Jews, and denies equal rights to Arabs. No democracy in the world has one nation deciding what is good for another nation. Such a regime has been called by Prof. Oren Yiftahel an “Ethnocracy” and it is the wish of “the nation in Zion”: to be the masters of the entire land.
Every discussion of the Palestinians as equal human beings born in the image of God is termed “treasonous,” the language of “Arab lovers.” Therefore, there is no language or democratic discourse that supports disengagement and rejects a referendum.
The racist view that ignores the existence of occupied peoples or represents them as inferior, wild and dangerous emerged in Europe of past centuries to justify the white man’s takeover of land and natural resources he did not own in Africa, America and Asia. That’s how they sought to legitimize their acts of plunder, looting, repression and killing. In Europe, that racist approach was applied to “the Semitic” nations “invading” Europe, starting with the Jews. We were the victims of that racism, and history – or divine intervention – has now given us a difficult test.
In the attempt to escape anti-Semitism, we built a colonialist reality in the Promised Land that negates the humanity of the “natives.” After the occupation in 1967, that view became the exclusive discourse, so much so that it was frightening to dispute it in public.
I am aware that it is difficult to change a discourse, especially when its protectors are so violent. Yitzhak Rabin (may he rest in peace) paid for it with his life. A week before the murder he was asked on TV how he would conduct the withdrawal if he did not have a Jewish majority. The question infuriated him, and he termed it a racist question. The delegitimization of Oslo was based on the argument that it was based on “Arab votes.” It is difficult to change a discourse, but the problem is that it is even more difficult to dismantle an occupation’s apparatus without dismantling the discourse, the language and myths that justify and perpetuate it.
The writer is a political sociologist at Ben-Gurion University.