Friday, April 05, 2013

Ethic Nationalism vs Civic Nationalism

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poster: 1930

Ethic Nationalism is the nationalism that demands loyalty to and tries - or at least claims to try -  to serve the interests of a particular ethnic group: e.g. Serbs, Quebecois, Germans, or Jews, regardless of state boundaries and place of residence. Some states are explicitly ethno-nationalist e.g. Serbia and Israel. Some movements in some states wish to make their states ethno-nationalist; e.g. the Arrow Cross in 1930s and 40's Hungary, the Fidesz Party in today's Hungary, the various "Nativist" parties in 19th century America (e.g. The No Nothing Party, and the American Party - Millard Filmore ran on the American Party ticket in 1856), and, it can be argued, certain factions of the PQ in today's Quebec.

Civic Nationalism is the nationalism that demands loyalty to a state and tries - or at least claims to try - to serve the interests of all the citizens of that state. America is the prime example of such a nationalism and such a state: other examples include Canada, France, and Britain.

I recently participates in a conversation on an email list as to why, and how, and when Israel became an ethno-national state and Zionism a movement that advocated for such a nationalism and state. As part of the ongoing discussion I wrote
... [Person X] states correctly that modern European States grew out of ethno-nationalism. Yes they did. And that trend reached its apogee with the ethno-nationalism of the Nazi's. Since then, Western European states, at least, have moved away from ethno-nationalism and towards civic nationalism. Despite all the problems of integrating minorities into the fabric of Britain, France, Italy, Spain etc - they are allowed a path to full citizenship, and legally they are guaranteed full rights and equality once they do. There are currently three black cabinet ministers in the French government. How many Palestinian Arab cabinet ministers have there been in the history of the State of Israel? (Answer - 1; two if you include Druze.) ...
Another person responded:
The struggle between what you call ethno-nationalism and civic nationalism in Israel has been going on since the establishment of the state. I believe that the upsurge of ethno-nationalism and dearth of minorities in Israel's governments stem from the unconcluded business of the state of Israel and its neighbors. So long as many Israeli Arabs are conflicted between their Israeli citizenship and loyalty to their fellow Palestinians, Jewish Israelis, still the majority group in Israel, will regard their Arab citizens with suspicion and feel inhibited to accept the Arabs as equal citizens.
And I responded to that with this:

I respectfully disagree. The struggle between ethno-nationalism and civic nationalism in Israel (and Zionism) has been going on since much before the establishment of the state. Many - perhaps most - of the late 19th century European Zionist and Jewish colonists in Ertez Yisrael were already disdainful of the Arabs, and were not interested in integrating with them. At best they wished to ignore them; at worst to exploit them.

Ahad Haam - the leading Zionist intellectual of his day - noted this in his 1891 essay The Truth from Etez Yisrael: "From abroad we are accustom to believing that the Arabs are all desert savages or like donkeys ... This is a big mistake." Writing of the agents and colonists of Hovevi Zion who had been active in Palestine, by then for over 10 years, he writes: "We still do not have one reliable person who can at least read Arabic fluently."

Writing of the relationship of the Jewish colonists to the local Arabs he writes: "... in all things it is our custom to learn nothing from the past for the future. There is certainly one think we could have learned from our past and present: how careful we must be not to arouse the anger of other people against ourselves by reprehensible conduct. How much more careful must we be then in our conduct to a foreign people among whom we live once again, to walk together in love and respect, and needless to say in justice and righteousness. And what do our brethren in Ertez Yisrael do? Quite the opposite! They were slaves in their land of exile, and they suddenly find themselves with unlimited freedom, the kind of wild freedom that can only be found in a country like Turkey. This sudden change has engendered in them an impulse to despotism, as always happens when "the slave becomes king," and behold they walk with the Arabs in hostility and cruelty, unjustly encroaching on them, shamefully beating them for no good reason, and even bragging about what the do, and there is no one to stand in the breach and to call a halt to this dangerous and despicable behaviour. [plus ça change... ! sn ] ... [The Arab] even if he restrains himself ... the rage will remain in his heart, and he is unrivaled in bearing a grudge.


Writing later - in 1912 - about the Zionist strategy of "separate development" (e.g "Avodah Ivrit", "Kneh Ivri" see http://www.palestineposterproject.org/special-collection/historical-figures-and-themes/buy-hebrew-campaignhebrew-laborconquest-of-labor for some bitter-sweet historical posters) Ahad Ha'am wrote: "Apart from the political danger, I can't put up with the idea that our brethren are morally capable of behaving in such a way … the thought comes to mind: if it is so now, what will be or relationship to the others if in truth we will achieve someday power in Eretz Yisreal. If this be the Messiah, I do not wish to see his coming."

Yitzhak Epstein, writing in his 1907 essay The Hidden Question, also warned that land acquisition practices that removed the Arab "felachim" from their land would inevitable lead to hostility. He called for cooperative projects with the Arabs, where Jews would become partners with them in the land - bringing advanced farming techniques, labour and cash to the joint ventures. He called for admitting Arab children to Jewish schools. Sadly virtually none of this came to pass. Writing of the Zionist practice in his time he writes: "It is time to open our eyes to our methods! ... This means we must distance ourselves from the ugly ... from every deed tainted with plunder ... we must uproot every thought of conquest and expropriation. ... This is not a dream ... if instead of uprooting the Arabs of Metullah we would divide the land with them, then we would not spend even half of what we now spend on bribes to the wicked, expulsion of indigent families, court cases, and untenable compromises."

Some Zionist factions - notably those intellectuals around Judah Magnes and Martin Buber, as well as the left wing Hashomer Hatzair kept alive the idea of a bi-national Jewish Arab Commonwealth right up to 1948. But long before then, most had fallen into the etho-nationalist/chauvanists visions that Ahad Haam and Epstein had warned against. Jabotinsky's Iron Wall might have been the most extreme enunciation of "separate development", but for practical purposes most of the Zionist movement was behaving that way, at least from 1930 onward.

Indeed, as soon as Herzll declared the goal of the Zionist Movement to be a Jewish State - as opposed to a Jewish Homeland in Eretz Yisrael, the Zionist Movement was on an inevitable collision course with the native population. The Zionist Movement - after all was declaring in advance - who would be the lords of the new state and in whose interests it would function. Why would the indigenous Arabs agree to such a plan? Had Ahad Ha'am's or Epstein's or Magnes' or Buber's visions won the day, perhaps things would have turned out differently. But they didn't.

Simply put, the Arabs never figured seriously in any mainstream Zionist plan - except as obstacles. There was never a mainstream Zionist vision of multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-national state. In short there was never a serious mainstream vision of civic nationalism that included the Arabs. It was ethno-centric all the way down.

I one sense, the mainstream Zionist Movement cannot be blamed for this. It was in synch with the times: taking lessons both from the embers of imperialism and the fresh fires of European ethno-nationalism. And its most ardent supporters, certainly the source of most aliyah, were mostly Eastern European Jews who had never experienced anything like ethnic integration. But that is all cold comfort. By taking that path, we are lead almost inevitably to today. Voices did call - and are still calling - for another way. But they were - and are - being ignored.

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10 Comments:

Blogger YMedad said...

You yourself, writing "Palestinian Arab cabinet ministers" permit the Arab population to identify ethnically, even while you call for a civic nationalism. And given the separatist tendencies of the Arabs in Israel, they seek ethnicism.

So, if Jews pursue civic nationalism, we undermine our polity.

1:48 am  
Blogger YMedad said...

Oh, and even if we accept the rational for civic nationalism for any peace to set in, we have to undo the past two decades of education in the Palestinian authority.

1:49 am  
Blogger Sydney Nestel said...

YM - you misunderstand my point. I ma not saying that ethnic nationalism does nor exist, I am warning about its consequences. And I am not saying that people should give up their ethnic identities (that's a different question) but that the State should not identify with any one ethnic group.

8:35 am  
Blogger YMedad said...

I understand that and appreciate your thinking. However, I was pointing out the reality. For example, Rawabi, the new Arab city north of Ramallah is for Arabs only as their sales literature advertises amentitied suchas mosques and churches for each neighborhood - but no synagogues. Imagine what would happen - and does - if that happens in Israel. Of course, even if we move geographically, ask the Scandinavians how they are doing with their Muslim population (the Jews, we know, are moving out after anti-Semitic attacks like in Malmo). Why do you think Jews desired an ethnic nationalist state in the first place? Do we have to repeat history over and over again for some people to realize that fantisizing about theory doens't work?

10:17 am  
Blogger Sydney Nestel said...

(1) That some (or even many) Palestinians discriminate against Jews does not prove anything one way or the other.
(2) There are many "States of All Citizens" in the world that work well - I don't see this a fantasy.

11:34 am  
Blogger Sydney Nestel said...

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11:34 am  
Blogger Sydney Nestel said...

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11:35 am  
Blogger Sydney Nestel said...

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11:35 am  
Blogger Sydney Nestel said...

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11:35 am  
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