Israel’s ethnocentric experiment

Jewish settler racist graffiti

By Jamal Kanj

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

Assured by subservient US backing, and for more than 15 years prior to the current pointless and interminable process, Israel rejected peace overtures from the Palestinians by insisting on impossible and ever-changing terms to be fulfilled even before agreeing to talk with Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Israeli preconditions, Palestinian concessions

The first precondition – which later became a US law – was to renounce “terrorism” and recognize Israel without reciprocity. The PLO gave in to the American demand in order to start the current peace marathon in 1988.

After the signing of the Oslo accord between the PLO and the Labour party government of Yitzhak Rabin, right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu rejected the Palestinian recognition as incomplete, insisting that the PLO annul its charter, specifically sections calling for establishing a bi-national non-sectarian 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: the Oslo accord, the Wye River agreement, the Road Map, the Annapolis conference and the Quartet Peace Plan.

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 customize the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative to suit Israel’s reservations.

Recognizing Israel as ethnocentric state

Out of Israel’s magic tricks to throw off the international community, the current Israeli prime minister conjured a new condition: demanding that the Palestinians recognize Israel as an ethnocentric Jewish state.

This is despite the fact that Israel does not have a constitution defining its character or even official demarcated national borders.

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

Ethnocentrism was defined in 1906 by William Graham Summer, an American professor of Sociology at Yale University, “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 1960s and mid-1970s “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 proclivity of an in-group to uphold its own values as being superior and the values of other cultures as inferior. This develops into groupthink collective behaviour by members of the in-group, rationalizing the deionization and rejection of the out-groups.

Spectre of ethnic cleansing

Israel is a classic ethnocentric example of the in-group versus 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 49 per cent wanted the state to treat Jews better than Palestinians.

In contract to Israel’s Machiavellian 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.


A version of this article was first published in the Gulf Daily News. The version here is published by permission of Jamal Kanj.

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