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The case against the Jewish State Part I: Israel's ethnocentric experiment

Israel's ethnocentric experiment

By Jamal Kanj
May 2, 2013

Israeli leaders are masters at muddling the international community with trivial issues while turning the peace negotiations into a temporising process "to end all peace."

Assured by US subservient backing, and for more than 15 years prior to current Sisyphean process, Israel rejected Palestinian's peace overtures insisting on impossible chameleon terms to be fulfilled even before agreeing to talk with Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). The first - which became later a US law - was to renounce "terrorism" and recognise Israel without reciprocity. The PLO submitted to the American demand to start the current peace marathon in 1988.

After the signing of the Oslo Accord between the PLO and the Labour party government of Isaac Rabin, rightwing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the Palestinian recognition as incomplete insisting on the PLO to annul its charter, specifically sections calling for establishing a bi-national nonsectarian democratic state on all of historical Palestine.

Again the PLO acquiesced and invited then president Bill Clinton in December 1998 to christen a meeting of the Palestine National Council annulling the provisions demanded by the new Israeli government.

There have been at least five internationally supervised peace milestones and countless schemes negotiated directly between the two parties in the last 20 years. Sequentially they were: Oslo accord, Wye River agreement, Road Map, Annapolis conference, Quartet Peace Plan... etc.

All were initiated at the behest of various American administrations to allay succeeding Israeli governments' "conditional approval" of the preceding understanding. In fact, US secretary of state John Kerry is leading fresh efforts to customise the 2002 Arab Peace initiative to suit Israel's reservations.

Out of their magic tricks to throw off the international community, the current Israeli Prime Minister conjured a new condition demanding Palestinians to recognise Israel as an ethnocentric Jewish state.

Keeping in mind, Israel does not have a constitution defining its character or even an official demarcated national borders.

To ascribe national identity for a country is an internal matter. But to mandate on Palestinians to recognise an ethnocentric character for Israel is akin to asking the Pan African Congress to recognise South Africa as a white nation during apartheid.

Ethnocentrism was defined by William Graham Summer, American professor of Sociology at Yale University in 1906 "as having a view of things in which one's own group is the centre of everything and the feeling that one's own culture is better than all others."

Building on Summer's earlier studies, psychologist Donald Campbell and his associates described ethnocentrism in the late 60s and mid 70s "as a psychological construct," whereby the individual propensity is "to identify strongly with her own in-group and culture, the tendency to reject out-groups or the tendency to view any economic, political, or social event only from the point of the in-group."

Ethnocentrism is typified by the in-group proclivity to uphold its own values as being superior and the values of other cultures as inferior. This develops into a groupthink collective behaviour by members of the in-group rationalising the demonisation and rejection of the out-groups.

Israel is a classic ethnocentric example of the in-group vs. the out-groups. In a 2012 survey, it was found that 59 per cent of the Jewish in-group believed that Jews should be given preference over non-Jewish natives in admission to jobs in government ministries, and 49pc wanted the state to treat Jews better than Palestinians.

Unlike Machiavellian Israeli leaders, the late Knesset member Rabbi Meir Kahane was more candid in articulating the ethnocentric state's vision in his 1981 book They Must Go. He wrote that in a "Jewish state," Arabs will suffer from discrimination. In such case they will become alienated and antagonistic; therefore the only sensible solution is to "get rid of them."

"Get rid" of the out-group was an expensive European experiment not taken seriously until it was too late.


Jamal Kanj ( writes weekly newspaper column and publishes on several websites on Arab world issues. He is the author of “Children of Catastrophe,” Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America. A version of this article was first published by the Gulf Daily News newspaper.

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