Israel redefines itself as a nation and decides who will be supreme and who won’t.
After the Knesset’s passage of a new law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people,” Ayman Odeh, speaking in the name of the Arab Joint List, an alliance of four predominantly Arab parties, commented: “It has passed a law of Jewish supremacy and told us that we will always be second-class citizens.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
The conviction that one group of people, defined by ethnic criteria, represents the supreme expression of evolved humanity, making it unnecessary to take into account the needs of people visibly different from that group
White supremacy made 500 years of European colonialism possible. It also permitted the young American nation, the United States of America, to maintain and even intensify the practice of slavery of African men, women and children. This is despite the fact that America was originally a European colony subsequently transformed into a republic and, in theory, committed to the principle that “all men are created equal” in the “land of the free and home of the brave.”
Of course, the Israeli government refutes the idea that this law reflects an attitude of racial or ethnic supremacy. Haaretz quotes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as saying, in “the Middle East, only Israel respects [rights].” He carefully avoids saying whose rights. And when accused of instituting apartheid he responded, “How dare you talk this way about the only democracy in the Middle East?”
The meme “the only democracy” isn’t even technically true, since most countries in the Middle East hold elections. What it really means is that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East run according to the principles and cultural values shared by most white people and that it is governed by white people.
According to Haaretz, the “law stipulates that Israel is the Jewish nation’s historic homeland and that this nation has the singular right to national self-determination in it.” The deliberate ambiguity of the word “nation” reveals the central paradox and underlying problem this law represents. The “Jewish nation” clearly refers to people who are identified as Jewish (in itself ambiguous because it wavers between genealogy and religious conviction) and, therefore, excludes Arabs while including Jewish citizens of all other nations.
A clearer version of the sentence should read: “Israel is the historic homeland of all people who are Jewish and that this group of people, wherever they live, has the singular right to national self-determination within Israel’s boundaries.”
That is certainly not how democracy works in any other nation in the world. Calling a people defined by their religion a “nation” and in the same sentence implying that the political entity of Israel is also a “nation” underlines the terrifying ambiguity of this political vision.
With the advent of European colonialism, the practice of basing the principles of governing and social organization on a foundation of racial supremacy became a largely accepted norm for Europeans. The system and the culture it created thrived for hundreds of years. In its early decades and centuries, European colonialism sought an ethical justification. The idea emerged that Europeans were bringing civilization to the “savages,” whether it was through religious conversion or the reorganization of their economy.
Somewhat later, as the age of science and industry progressed through the 19th century, the crux of the argument took on a new pseudo-scientific character to justify slavery, colonial brutality, domination and economic exploitation. The supposed scientific truths of Social Darwinism enabled colonial masters to transform the idea of “survival of the fittest” into “justified domination by the fittest.”
The fact that Europeans were white and most of the world’s population displayed a different phenotype, especially with regard to skin color, made the new doctrine of scientifically founded supremacy easier to apply. Then in the 20th century, thanks to the new racial pseudoscience, something else happened. Adolf Hitler managed to invent the idea of Aryan supremacy (assumed to be the racial basis of the German population). This allowed him to cast the Jews, who were white and hardly distinguishable from Germans, in the role of sub-supreme people. And he didn’t just discriminate against them and enslave them. Drawing on technological progress, he “scientifically” slaughtered them.
To make amends for Hitler’s crimes, the victorious West granted the victims of Hitler’s terror a land inhabited mainly by darker people. With white on white supremacy discredited, the old formula of white supremacy over non-whites could re-emerge as a cultural meme, as it appears to have done in Donald Trump’s America and Netanyahu’s Israel that has now redefined the political nation as an ethnic nation.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
For more than 10 years, Fair Observer has been free, fair and independent. No billionaire owns us, no advertisers control us. We are a reader-supported nonprofit. Unlike many other publications, we keep our content free for readers regardless of where they live or whether they can afford to pay. We have no paywalls and no ads.
In the post-truth era of fake news, echo chambers and filter bubbles, we publish a plurality of perspectives from around the world. Anyone can publish with us, but everyone goes through a rigorous editorial process. So, you get fact-checked, well-reasoned content instead of noise.
We publish 2,500+ voices from 90+ countries. We also conduct education and training programs on subjects ranging from digital media and journalism to writing and critical thinking. This doesn’t come cheap. Servers, editors, trainers and web developers cost money. Please consider supporting us on a regular basis as a recurring donor or a sustaining member.