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Tzipi's Nation-State
by Gush Shalom
2008-12-16 10:03:41
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IT SOUNDS like an invented story. And indeed it is.

In this tale, an American politician gets up and declares: The United States was founded by British Protestants who were persecuted in Europe for their Puritan beliefs. Therefore, the United States is an Anglo-Saxon Protestant state.

And he goes on: the United States is also a democratic state. Therefore, people with another background – such as Native Americans, Africans, Latinos, Asians and Jews – enjoy full equality. But they must know that the United States is an Anglo-Saxon nation-state, while they belong to other nation-states.

Sounds far-fetched? Indeed it is. No American politician would dream of uttering such a statement, even if he might feel it in his heart.

Here in Israel one can say such a thing, and nobody gets excited.

THIS WEEK Tzipi Livni did just that. She was speaking to high-school pupils – the audience preferred by our politicians, who know that the great majority of them are conformists who will listen to anything without protest. Standing in front of these pupils, boys and girls, who will be called up by the army in a year or two, Tzipi disclosed her inner convictions.

Israel, she said, is a Jewish and democratic state. The Arab citizens enjoy full civil rights. But they must know that this is the Jewish nation-state, while they belong to another nation, and their nation-state will be the putative Palestinian state.

This statement did not arouse a storm, not on the spot and not in the media. It does not contradict the convictions of most Israelis. The public accepts the view that Israel is a Jewish state, and that its Arab citizens are, at most, a tolerated minority.

What is special about Tzipi Livni is her emphasis on the two words “nation state”. She has made them into her trademark and repeats them at every opportunity. They give her statements a certain respectability, the halo of a thought-out world-view, which makes her sound different from Ehud Olmert, Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, who, of course, think exactly the same.

NO ONE denies that the world is divided into nation-states. The nearest thing we have to a world parliament is called the “United Nations”, meaning “United Nation-States”. The question is only: what is a nation-state?

In historical terms, the nation-state is a relatively recent phenomenon. Only a hundred years ago, large parts of Europe belonged to multi-national empires. It was the dynasty that united the empire, not the national identity of the subjects. The Austrian Empire included people of more than a dozen nationalities, and so did the empire of the Russian Czar.

Actually, the national idea crystallized only in the 18th century. More and more thinkers adopted the view that a society with a common origin, a common cultural identity, a common language (mostly), a common territory and (usually) a common religion should be united in a state of its own, which should belong to them alone, and enjoy national independence.

The timing was not accidental. All over Europe, mass education systems sprang up and all the peoples developed a national consciousness. Slovaks and Slovenes began to wonder why they should be subject to the Austrian crown, Lithuanians and Latvians no longer found it natural that they should be oppressed by the Russian Czar. At the same time, economic and technological advances demanded states big enough to sustain a modern economy and a large enough army to defend its citizens (and perhaps to attack neighboring countries).

The classic nation-state was France. It developed a French nation with a nationalist world-view and a national pride, and that imposed its language and culture on the peoples that became part of France either by agreement or by force – Alsatians in the East, Corsicans in the South, Basques in the West, Bretons in the North. British nationalism absorbed the Scots, the Welsh and some of the Irish. The people that were swallowed up by the big nations generally accepted this and developed a pride in their new nations. The Corsican Napoleon Bonaparte was the Frenchman par excellence, and the Jew Benjamin Disraeli created the British Empire.

That was the heyday of the classical nation-state: a national state, homogenous as far as possible, which at most tolerated its minorities or persecuted them outright, that demanded national conformism within and made little pretense of morality in its dealing with other nation-states.

It seems that Tzipi Livni takes such a nation-state as her ideal. But developments have long since left that stage behind.

The nation-state has not died, but it has changed almost beyond recognition.

THE UNITED STATES, too, is a nation-state. But that nation is very different from the one Tzipi Livni is dreaming about.

The American nation is composed of all the citizens of the United States. Lithuanians, Argentinians and Vietnamese become members of the American nation the moment they receive their citizenship. The heritage of Washington and Lincoln is conferred on them together with their passport. They are not required to change their religion or skin-color.

The ultimate confirmation of the success of this system has been given by the election of Barack Obama, the grandson of a Muslim from Kenya. Throughout the stormy election campaign, no one seriously claimed that he was not a complete American.

The American flag and the American constitution unite this modern nation. The President does not swear loyalty to the Fatherland, but to the constitution. Not the skin-color is important, not the ethnic origin, nor religion or language. Only citizenship. Even the requirement that the citizen should know at least basic English is not enforced as strictly as it once was.

The term WASP – White Anglo-Saxon Protestant – has long since been reduced to a half-jocular appellation. Demographic experts predict that in not so many years, the Whites of European origin will be a minority in the American nation-state. But it seems that this piece of news did not arouse a storm of alarm and anger.

Everybody understands that the future and robustness of the US-American nation do not depend on the religion and race of the American people. Therefore, there is no “demographic problem” in America. Neurotic demographers like our Arnon Sofer would be considered cranks over there.

AS IN several other areas, the United States is a model for the rest of the world in this respect, too.

In Europe, the old nation-states persist. Even after World War II, when the Europeans woke up from their fatal nationalist intoxication and came to the conclusion that they had to create a united Europe, they rejected the idea of a unified European nation on the American model. They did not establish the “United States of Europe”, but rather a “European Union”, which is composed of a large number of nation-states. Yet a German or a Frenchman of 200 years ago would not believe their eyes if they were to walk down Unter den Linden or the Champs Elisee today.

The European nations are changing. They are opening up to the world. The idea of a homogenous nation, based on a common origin, is fading. Slowly, perhaps too slowly, tolerance towards “the stranger in our midst” is growing, and citizenship is granted to inhabitants with a different ethnic origin and religion, like Turks in Germany and Africans in France. It is a difficult process that does not always advance smoothly, but that is the direction.

It is also necessary for the very survival of the European nations. Their birth-rate is decreasing, there are fewer and fewer local workers to sustain the economy and pay the taxes to cover the pensions of an aging population. Europe needs a steady stream of new immigrants, and these will join the European nations.

Angela Merkel will not tell her Turkish citizens: “You can enjoy equality here, but you belong to the Turkish nation-state”. One can hardly imagine Gordon Brown telling the British citizens of Pakistani extraction: “Your nation-state is Pakistan.”

The Arab citizens of Israel can be compared to the Swedish citizens of Finland. These constitute about 6% of the population, but they play an important role in the economy and other spheres of life. All signs in Finland are bilingual. Finland belongs to all its citizens. Ariel Sharon’s advisor, Dov Weisglas, once said that “peace will come only when the Palestinians become Finns”. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that peace will come only when we ourselves “become Finns”.

The Israeli Arab citizens in Kafr Kassem and Um-al-Fahm, near the Green Line, can be compared to the Alsatians in France, who have been living there for untold generations. Several times in history they have belonged to Germany. The last time was when Adolf Hitler annexed them to the Third Reich. Nowadays, the Alsatians are as French as any, with equal rights and obligations, and other aspects do not interest anybody. Would the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, the son of a Hungarian nobleman, declare that “the nation-state of the Alsatians is Germany?”

I KNOW, I know, all these examples do not apply to us. We Jews are special. Fact is, God chose us.

But with all due respect to God and Tzipi Livni, I must tell the Kadima candidate: ”Madam, what you are saying is already a little obsolete.” Since Vladimir Jabotinsky was born 128 years ago into the Jewish minority in Odessa, much water has flown down the Dniester river, and I am not sure that even he would have signed Tzipi’s statement. When he wrote that in our future state “the son of the Arab, the son of Nazareth and my son” would live happily together, did he mean that the Jewish state he was dreaming about would not be the state of its Arab citizens, too?

I believe that nation-states will continue to exist for a long time to come. It seems that this is the social structure contemporary people prefer for the time being. A person feels a need for national identity.

But it will not be a narrow, closed nation-state, compulsively homogenous, based on nationalist-religious-linguistic conformity, hostile to its neighbors. The new nation-state will be open and cosmopolitan, respectful of minorities, a state of all its citizens, integrated in a regional partnership, a part of the global economy, a partner in the joint struggle for the preservation of this little planet.

That may be the future. And when does the future begins if not today?

permlink:  http://zope.gush-shalom.org/home/en/channels/avnery/1229205376/

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Emanuel Paparella2008-12-16 14:20:12
Actually there were exceptions to the nation-state even in imperialistic Europe of the post-Renaissance. Two such were Italy and Germany who did not become nation-states till way past the middle of the 19th century. Before that there existed in both countres little kingdoms and city states. In Italy there is still one such, independent of Italy: San Marino. What gave Italians their identity was not political power, long gone with the fall of the Roman Empire (Guicciardini told Machiavelli that to compare the present Italians to the ancient Romans is like comparing a donkey to a noble horse…) but cultural power, specifically the common language of all Italians to which Dante provided a great literature in the 13th century. So, the moral of the story is that one can give up political raw power and still retain cultural soft power. The latter is much preferable. Aristotle in his political tracts makes the important point that a city-state will only be as virtuous and viable as its citizens are virtuous. Indeed Aristotle was no Machiavelli and he had it on target.

Sand2008-12-16 17:35:05
Virtue is defined as acting morally. When morality is investigated it proves to be almost totally elusive since it changes, not only from culture to culture but over time even within a culture. So one must accept that virtue is merely virtual, one of those words so beloved of Paparella because they are made of smoke and mirrors and he can breathe on them and sniff them off into any direction that momentarily fulfills whatever purpose captures him momentarily.

Emanuel Paparella2008-12-16 19:03:13
I guess we can safely consign the ancient concept of virtue and even morality to the bonfire too since we know so much more and are by far superior than the ancients on morality and ethics with our relativism: it is all relative to one's culture: if a culture likes to make lampshades with human skin, and burn books and people too, what the eck, it is moral. That mind-set is considered superior nowadays, but in reality "by their fruits you shall know them" as a wise man in Palestine said some two thousand years ago. The fruits of good old nationalism are there to contemplate in the modern Germany of only sixty years ago. Modern Italy, never comfortable in the nationalistic suit, since it had universal cultural experiences such as the Roman Empire, the Catholic (which means universal) Church and the Renaissance, fare a little better, they never burned people by the millions, but not that much better to tell the truth. In other words, nationalism often confused with patriotism and love of country has been a curse on all the countries that have uncritically embraced it. Shalom has it on target!

Emanuel Paparella2008-12-16 19:07:52
P.S. I guess I need to add here that what I said on relativism above is ironic. I can just see the Grand Inquisitor of Political Correctness in this forum place those ironical statements out of context to distort them while preparing the instruments of torture. That too, alas, is part of te relativism of truth and ethics.

Sand2008-12-16 19:23:09
Paparella, you really should curb those pyromaniac tendencies.
The incessant delight that the Catholic Church burned only a few people is something I find rather creepy. The Nazis didn't burn.
The USA burnt people with atomic bombs. Don't you know ANY history?

Emanuel Paparella2008-12-16 20:07:58
“The Nazis didn't burn. The USA burnt people with atomic bombs. Don't you know ANY history?” (Sand)

And there it is, if we needed a confirmation. History is what I, the Grand Inquisitor of Political Correctness say it is. The Inquisition burned people, the Nazis did not. Two and two is five if I say so. The USA did burn people with their atomic bomb, Japan at Pearl Harbor and Germany in the London Blitz never burned anybody intentionally, their intention was to win the war and the burning was unintentional, so the argument goes. What the cultural philistine and the moral relativist myopically miss is that the burning of bodies that the Nazis did in crematoria at the tune of 11 million innocent men, women and children did not occur on the battle field but was in fact intentional and cold-bloodedly and rationally planned in one hour and a half at a conference in a villa outside Berlin by a dozen or so men, several of them with Ph.D.s after their names. People like that and those who don’t see the sheer monstrosity of that scene would have been better off never going to school, be it a liberal arts college or a university or a school of industrial design. They would have done less damage and created less evil.

Emanuel Paparella2008-12-16 20:11:55
The fact that some people do not find that scene of the planning of the Holocaust creepy is a creepy thing indeed. Derrida had it on target: beware of naming your monsters, or they'll become your pets.

Sand2008-12-16 20:29:37
I wondered how long it would take you to get back to the seven dwarfs with PhDs who planned the Holocaust purely out of thin air with absolutely no knowledge that the Catholic church had seen to it for centuries to keep antisemitism alive and vicious throughout Europe. How ever did they think of that odd move?

But of course, any article about Israel, about horseflies, about micro-organisms, about exploring Mars, about art, about making firecrackers or crackerjacks or jack o-lanterns or whatever always leads us back to the Nazis and the Holocaust and how the Catholic Church had nothing whatsoever to do with persecuting Jews or burning Bruno or a few books or torturing people during the Inquisition. Nothing at all if you ask Paparella. Absolutely positively nothing at all. Just ask any pope.

Emanuel Paparella2008-12-16 21:12:29
And here you have it in all its utter shamelessness: the Holocaust made into some kind of fantasy event with the 7 dwarfs and Snow-white frolicking at a party in a cottage some place in lala land outside Berlin, nothing to get too excited about, because what Mr. S. is really interested in establishing is the conspiracy between Hitler and the Pope and the Catholic Church, and in fact reaching even further, a la Nietzsche, between Hitler the Uberman and Christ. As I said, this is the newest cultural monstrosity of which Derrida speaks: the substitution of anti-Catholicism for anti-semitism as a politically correct cutting edge cultural and political stance, all in the name of the “enlightenment” and sweet reason. Shameful slanderous allegations are simply cherry picked, brought forth and asserted more often than not ignoring the whole contextual picture. In a relativistic nihilistic brave new world with no conception of virtue or sin or final judgment on history, just about anything convenient for the moment can be asserted and proclaimed as the truth but in reality there is no belief in truth, only in expediency. The worst fallacy of all is that what arrives at the end of a temporal process is deterministically considered better than what came before. Indeed, had the Nazis won the war they would have conducted the Nuremberg trials against the allies and would have considered their crimes virtues to be exalted. After all, in that kind of bizarre world “might is always right.” For shame.

Sand2008-12-16 21:31:16
There you go.

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