Friday, April 20, 2007

[wvns] Toufic Haddad: Dangerous Politics

The Dangerous Politics of "A State for All Its Citizens"
by Toufic Haddad

Murmurings of a political tsunami are emerging with
regards to Israel's policies towards the "non-Jewish"
citizens of the "Jewish democratic state." Azmi
Bishara, perhaps the most prominent political leader
of the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, was in the
midst of engaging in his routine activities of
propagating the rights of the Palestinian Arab
citizens of Israel in various Arab and international
fora, when leaks began to circulate in the Israeli
media. It was rumored that the Israeli political
establishment was drawing up a list of major charges
against him during his absence from the country, and
that he would be served with them upon his return, or
in coming days. Although Bishara has faced and
survived repeated previous attacks against him and the
National Democratic Assembly (NDA) -- the political
party he leads -- the nature of the new charges appear
to be so severe that they may force Bishara into the
precarious position of having to choose between
serving a long jail sentence and being forced into
political exile. Because Bishara has major health
issues and was the recipient of a kidney transplant
from his brother, serving an extended Israeli jail
sentence would be akin to a death sentence for him.
At the same time, his political exile would severely
set back the movement he leads for advancing the
legitimate demands of Palestinian Arab citizens of

The Israeli media has been served a gag order
preventing open discussion as to the nature of the
charges themselves. But according to an interview
Bishara conducted on 12 April with the Ashams radio
station in Nazareth, the charges far surpass anything
raised against him previously, and appear to revolve
around his conduct during the Israeli war against
Lebanon in July/August 2006. Bishara survived several
attempts to suppress him previously, including charges
that he was undermining the "Jewish nature of the
state," "supporting terrorism," and arranging contacts
with "enemy states." In all cases, Bishara was able
to successfully defend himself and have the charges
dropped. But the Israeli military and secret services
always promised to get him, including a remarkably
frank letter recently sent from the Israeli Prime
Minister's office to an NDA paper, declaring they
would combat the activity of any group or individual
seeking to harm Israel's "Jewish or democratic
character," even if that activity was carried out
through legal means.

Irrespective of the details of the current unpublished
charges, the nature of the latest prosecution against
Bishara is entirely politically motivated. The
Israeli political establishment has identified Bishara
as enemy number one for years now, and repeatedly
incited against him and his movement. Their "sin" has
been nothing more and nothing less than the content of
their political demands. Ever since NDA raised the
slogan that Israel should be defined as "a state of
its citizens" -- as opposed to "the state of the
Jewish people throughout the world," as Israel is
currently defined -- the Israeli establishment has not
wavered from attempting to crush it, to prevent the
"infectious" advancement of this political line within
the Palestinian Arab citizenry and leadership, and
also internationally.

Israel has given such strategic significance to this
campaign because it understands only too well that the
NDA has placed its finger upon the very contradiction
that Zionism cannot resolve. And it has done so not
through armed struggle, or calling for "throwing Jews
into the sea," but through practicing their democratic
civil rights to institution building, party building,
and eloquent and impassioned liberal humanist and
democratic discourse. Moreover, NDA demands have not
only called for full equality of the Palestinian Arab
citizenry, but have also included the demand for the
state to recognize its Arab citizens as a national
minority living in its homeland. This is intolerable
for Zionism because it subverts the current Zionist
narrative of exclusive Jewish rights to historical
Palestine, and affirms that Palestinians were not just
"non-Jews" living in Eretz Yisrael before it was
"redeemed," but were a people who were repeatedly and
systematically forced off their land throughout the
years to create the "Jewish democratic state" in the
first place.

NDA's discourse has been so successful within the
Palestinian public sphere that it has been adopted by
virtually all major Arab political parties and
institutions of civil society. This was recently
manifested in the publication of four documents
prepared by the major Arab political organs in Israel
(including Knesset members, NGOs, and the local Arab
leadership, known as the Follow-Up Committee), which
articulate demands calling for the full
democratization of the state.

NDA's work thus has essentially laid the ground for a
major civil rights struggle inside Israel that poses a
"threat" to political Zionism which it cannot emerge
from unscathed. Either Israel would be forced to
expose its explicit commitment to a "Jewish state," or
it would have to implement full equality before the
law and the recognition of Palestinians as a national
minority with respective cultural rights, and most
importantly, land rights. It cannot have both. Nor
can it continue to hide from the reality that it is
practicing forms of institutional apartheid, not only
in the 1967 Occupied Territories, but also within the
pre-1967 borders of the state.

Israel's choice of timing is also not inconsequential.
It understands that the longer it is unable to stem
these political tides both locally and
internationally, the worse its strategic positioning
will be. Israel essentially fears that if it does not
try and root out these trends now, Zionism will
increasingly follow the historical path of South
African Apartheid. Israel's brutal suppression of the
Al Aqsa Intifada (killing more than 4,000 Palestinians
and displacing thousands others); its crackdown upon
the uprising of the Palestinian citizens of Israel in
the first weeks of the Intifada, killing 13 Arab
citizens; the building of the Apartheid Wall in the
West Bank; the war Israel launched against Lebanon
last summer; and Israel's role in the US war and
occupation of Iraq have all begun to raise serious
questions as to the role Israel plays in the Middle
East, and the nature of the state itself.

Progressive analysts as well as international forces
in solidarity with the Palestinian people have been
slow to recognize that the plight and oppression of
1948 Palestinians is not an isolated "internal Israeli
matter" but rather the extension of its policies
against the Palestinian people overall. Upon the
eruption of the Al Aqsa Intifada in September 2000,
Israel led a systematic campaign against the entire
Palestinian national movement and people, and made
great advances in destroying the PLO and Palestinian
Authority, killed or imprisoned its major political
leaders, and actively worked to erode the fabric of
Palestinian social and economic well being --
essentially attempting to extirpate their rootedness
to their land. The attacks against NDA (as well as
other Arab political leaders in Israel, particularly
the Islamic movement, led by Sheikh Raed Salah) must
therefore be seen within this context.

Moreover these trends gain added significance in the
context of two other developments lurking on the
horizon. One is what a military strike against Iran
might facilitate as a smokescreen for advancing
Israeli policies vis-à-vis the Palestinian community
inside Israel. Would Israeli prosecution of Azmi
Bishara raise many eyebrows internationally if the
Middle East is yet more thoroughly destabilized in the
wake of a US (US/Israel?) attack against Iran?

Second, and possibly simultaneously with this first
scenario, is the question of Israel's remarkably open
preparations for a massive assault against the
Palestinian national movement in Gaza. The new unity
government recently formed there represents, in
Israel's opinion, an intolerable situation because the
Palestinians may be able to reconstitute their
fragmented political project, end the international
boycott against them, and wage a more sustained and
organized resistance campaign which could attract
serious forces of support to the international
campaign to end the occupation. As the tides of
domestic support for the US occupation of Iraq wane,
and as the accompanying tides of intolerance towards
occupation rise, Israel is only too conscious that
this trend does not bode well for its occupation of
the West Bank and Gaza Strip. As far as Israel is
concerned, therefore, the window is closing upon their
political future, and it is imperative for the future
of political Zionism to push the window back open.

Azmi Bishara's head is therefore on the chopping block
with all the political and moral signification this
has for the future of the Palestinian community inside
Israel. Now is the time to raise awareness of these
issues and demand "Hands off Azmi!" and support for
the Palestinian citizen's legitimate demand for "A
State of All Its Citizens"

Toufic Haddad is the co-editor (with Tikva
Honig-Parnass) of Between the Lines: Readings in
Israel, the Palestinians and the U.S War Against
Terror, forthcoming from Haymarket Books (Summer
2007). The book contains five essays and interviews
with Azmi Bishara, head of the National Democratic
Assembly -- Tajamu'/ Balad.
He can be reached at tawfiq_haddad @



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