The Daily Devil’s Dictionary: Israel’s “Natural” Right

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In most of the world politics is a human invention. Israel claims its politics is a feature of nature. 

The newly passed law that radically modifies the political and sociological landscape of Israel, according to Al Jazeera, contains this bold claim: “The state of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, in which it fulfils its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination.”

Here is today’s 3D definition:

Natural:

Existing in or derived from nature before being subjected to or transformed by any human activity, the only exceptions being nations occupied by groups of people who deem themselves to be the product of nature or exceptionally blessed by nature. Examples: “manifest destiny” (presumed to derive from the nature of the land and the people) in the United States and the “national home of the Jewish people” in Israel

Contextual note

The language of this text would pose a number of problems to any serious philosopher or linguist attempting to deconstruct it.

Let’s begin with “the state of Israel is the national home.” The term “state” refers to a recognized territory with a single government. As everyone will be aware, the status of the state of Israel and of its authority over the territories it comprises remains an object of permanent contention. The working hypothesis of recent decades has been the famous “two-state solution” (to be negotiated) that has been increasingly discredited but not replaced by any internationally accepted alternative.

Identifying the state with “the home of the Jewish people” violates the standard notion of what a state is. The notion of a state includes government and territory, but legally cannot be designated as a “home” to anything. The fact that some people consider a particular state as their home expresses a cultural sentiment but certainly not political reality.

The next problem is “the Jewish people.” Does this mean the Jewish people in Israel or the Jewish people anywhere in the world? It is deliberately ambiguous but meant to be inclusive. All Jews everywhere in the world may consider that they have their “home” in Israel, which solves the “democratic” problem because counting the global Jewish population as citizens of Israel would give the Jews a clear majority over Arab Israelis. The only problem is they do not have any direct attachment or connection to the state and under no circumstances, by international standards, could be allowed to vote in elections.

Then there is the problem posed by the phrase “it fulfils … its right to self-determination”. Here, fulfils appears to have a theological rather than a legal connotation, the fulfilment of a divine promise. But the real problem is with “it” and “its.” The “it” can only refer to “the Jewish people,” although it is worded in such a way that it appears to be referring to the state. Fulfilling the requirements of the law would be legitimate, but fulfilling the hopes of a specific group of people — even a majority — cannot be the purpose of a democratic state.

And then there is the problem of “natural.” Suffice it to say that there is a deliberate confusion here between the notion of natural law and positive law.

Historical note

Although it’s too early to predict the consequences of this law, it can legitimately be seen as a historical turning-point in a global context of turning-points (Brexit, Donald Trump’s foreign policy, the rise of alt-right populism). As with everything to do with Israel, this will not simply evolve as a local, internal problem. It spills over into geopolitics even before it spreads its effects locally.

The most serious contradiction, likely to produce unintended consequences, can be found in the declaration of independence, the foundational document of the Israeli state. It explicitly states that Israel “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”

Arabs are not the only ones to be alarmed by this law. T’ruah, the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, judges that the law “endangers Israeli democracy, legalizes discrimination against 20 percent of Israeli citizens, threatens religious pluralism and threatens the very future of Israel.”

History has taught the world (and one would expect no one more than the leaders of Israel) that the push toward ethnic domination always results in tragedy and ultimately undermines the very institutions that put it into practice.

*[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.

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