Into the fray: Nakba nonsense

Only in topsy-turvy world of Carroll’s ‘Wonderland’ can elected leader suggest the establishment of his state is a crime.

Palestinians at the Damascus Gate on 'Nakba Day' 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Palestinians at the Damascus Gate on 'Nakba Day' 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Alice: It would be so nice if something would make sense for a change. – From Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

The denial of the Nakba is as much a crime as the Nakba itself. Israel has a duty to recognize the Nakba.... The Nakba is equivalent to the Destruction of the First and Second Temples. – MK Taleb a-Sana

A neurological condition where a person experiences a complete distortion of perceptual reality. – Symptoms of Alice-in-Wonderland (AIWS) syndrome
The notion that there is any reasonable basis for the demand by Israeli citizens for official commemoration of the “Nakba” is grotesquely absurd. The fact that such a ludicrous notion is not only being seriously debated, but endorsed, in some of the country’s mainstream media is a deeply worrying indication of just how frayed the nation’s cohesiveness around the idea of Jewish political sovereignty has become.
Drive to deconstruct
This should cause grave concern for the future of Israel as the nation-state of the Jews. Just like attempts to de-Judaize the national anthem, along with other state symbols, so too the drive to inculcate the commemoration of the Nakba, as an official element into Israeli public life, is part of the anti- Zionist endeavor to deconstruct the national ethos upon which the state was founded.
Citizens of sane democracies do not grieve over the establishment of their state, nor lament its survival as a “catastrophe.” Indeed, where – other than in a topsy-turvy reality akin to Alice’s Wonderland, the creation of Lewis Carroll’s fevered imagination – could an elected parliamentarian publicly characterize the creation of the state he allegedly serves as a “crime” – with total impunity?
Well, in Israel. For that is exactly what MK Taleb a-Sana is doing when he proclaims that the Nakba (i.e. the Arab defeat/Jewish victory that precipitated the establishment of the State of Israel) is a crime.
Breathtaking hypocrisy
It should be recalled that when Sana was sworn in as an MK, he took an oath of allegiance to the State of Israel – the existing State of Israel, not some desired future non- Zionist entity – whose genesis he considers a criminal act.
Several questions arise from this sort of conduct, which is generic to almost all the Arab MKs: Why would he want to swear allegiance to a state for which he clearly feels such aversion, – unless sinister motives are assumed? Why is such overtly hypocritical – or surreptitiously seditious – conduct considered societally acceptable? Why does it incur no repercussions of any kind? Why should individuals, who clearly strive to undermine the nation-state, continue to serve in its legislature, and to enjoy the benefits of their position?
The flipside of the exploitative hypocrisy of Sana et al is the display of Israeli impotence and imbecility, without which the former could not exist, much less flourish.
This reticence to respond robustly reflects a grave misunderstanding of the nature of democracy and the duties its maintenance entails.
Anarchic abandon or balkanized bloodbath?
This inertness does not serve the interests of Israeli democracy. Adherence to the doctrine of democratic governance is not a suicide pact. Neither is it an obligation to self-destruct by means of terminal stupidity. Belief in democratic principles does not require one to forgo the distinction between friend and foe. Nor does it require one to jettison any trace of survival instinct or common sense.
This is not a prescription for fascism. Quite the contrary. It is an approach embedded in the thinking of many prominent figures in the United States regarding the practical administration of democratic governance – from the founding fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson, through Abraham Lincoln and Supreme Court justices such as Arthur Goldberg and Robert Jackson, the chief American prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, to present-day jurists such as Richard Posner in his 2006 book, Not a Suicide Pact.
Sustainable democracy, therefore, is not a system of unconstrained political permissiveness, devoid of any differentiation between the inimical and the amicable, between the admissibly critical and the inadmissibly corrosive.
It cannot embrace an undiscerning, unregulated all-inclusiveness of anything and everything – lest it collapse, at best, into anarchic abandon, at worst into a balkanized bloodbath.
National, not personal
Make no mistake, the attempt by Israeli Arabs to institutionalize public commemoration of the Nakba has nothing to do with the exercise of legitimate freedom of expression in a democracy.
The demand for commemoration of the Nakba is not motivated by a desire to mark any sense of personal loss, but by a sentiment of national loss; not by a feeling of grief on a private level, but by identification with “tragedy” at a national level; not by a desire to restore respect at an individual level but for restitution of “honor” at a national level.
For, as much as it is a ceremonial manifestation of mourning over the consequences of Arab defeat, it is also – ipso facto – a ceremonial manifestation of disappointment at Jewish survival. These are inseparable sides of the same coin.
It is a collective declaration of sorrow that the Jews were not wiped out as a national entity. For if there had not been an Arab Nakba (catastrophe), there would have been a Jewish Mad'bha (slaughter).
Accordingly, demands for commemoration of the Arab “disaster” cannot be likened to individuals or groups protesting some (real or imagined) evil/defect in their society, which should be removed or repaired. It is not a demand to right a wrong that society or the state allegedly inflicts on particular categories of citizens.
Rather, it is a rejection – in their entirety – of the state and society in which the aggrieved party resides; a collective refusal to come to terms with their existence, with their intrinsic nature, and with the most elemental foundations upon which they are based.
This is a grievance that can only be redressed by the obliteration – or at least the negation – of Israel as the Jewish nation-state.
Clearly, no nation-state – liberal democracies included – is under any obligation to restructure the conduct of its public life to accommodate the demands of an adversarial nationality.
Victims of integration?
It must not be forgotten that anyone who was personally touched by the events that comprised the Nakba would today be close to 70 at the very least. They certainly do not make up the bulk of those demanding public display of sorrow over the Arab military debacle.
In Israel, the clamor for commemoration does not arise from dispossessed, deprived refugees but from fully enfranchised citizens who are neither impoverished nor persecuted, nor homeless – as the ample homesteads found in abundance throughout most Arab villages in Israel clearly testify.
Indeed, had there been no Nakba, the personal socioeconomic conditions of most Israeli Arabs would be far worse than they are today – as comparison with the surrounding Arab countries irrefutably shows.
Yet consider the remarkable declaration by Arab MK Jamal Zahalka: “The Jews’ Independence Day is our Nakba Day.... Independence Day is a national day of mourning for the Palestinian people, and on this day we remember the victims of dispossession, expulsion and integration.”
Note, “a national(!) day of mourning!” And one commemorated not only by those directly affected by the events of 1948 but across the Arab and Muslim world, where expression of identification with the Palestinians is invariably accompanied by expression of hatred for Israel.
Of particular interest is Zahalka’s use of the phrase “victims of integration.” Victims of integration? Really? So not only the Arabs who were expelled from Israel have a grievance, so do those who were integrated in to its society?
The conclusion to be drawn from this is unavoidable: If the Arab defeat, which gave rise to the Nakba, was an undesirable event – both for those Palestinians who left and those who didn’t – then clearly for them it would been desirable for it to have been avoided, which could only have been achieved by an Arab victory, i.e. by the annihilation of the nascent Jewish state.
This is something the self-proclaimed champions of democracy, who mindlessly prattle on about freedom of speech, should mull over before they argue for unbridled political permissiveness, condone political promiscuity and in effect approve political perfidy.
Nationhood and Nakba
Much nonsense has been written recently by Nakba apologists, who seem to be woefully uninformed as to the nature of nations, not as set out in any treatise on tyranny or dissertation on despotism, but in the works of stalwart supporters of democracy, representative government and liberalism the over the past two centuries.
From the seminal works of John Stuart Mill and Ernest Renan in the 19th century to modern-day scholars such as Francis Fukuyama, a clear convergence of opinion emerges.
Democratic governance is a largely consensual system of administering the affairs of the nation, i.e. an amalgam of human beings who may differ in many aspects but are bound together by some basic affiliation to a number of fundamental core values, without which that nation would lose its identity – even its very raison d’être.
Without such rudimentary cohesiveness, no collective identity – and hence no collective, non-coercive governance – is possible. The very word “democracy” derives from the Greek dhmokrat (demokratía is “popular government”). But if the “demos” (people) become too nebulous, if there is no dominant ethos around which to coalesce, if the bonds between its members are too tenuous or adversarial, if the divisions between them become too deep, if disagreements are too irreconcilable, then no form of consensual administration of communal affairs is possible.
In such situations, anarchy and civil war begin to bubble to the surface. In such situations the only form of kratos (rule) that will be able to effect any semblance of governance will be the autocratic version, the one that brooks no diversity of opinion, but coercively imposes order and uniformity.
Imposing a choice
The Arab citizens of Israel must choose. They must decide whether they wish to be part of a developed, industrial society in which they enjoy the civic freedoms and benefits it bestows on them or whether they wish to give expression to a national identity which is inherently inimical to their country of residence. They cannot do both.
It must be clear that they cannot make demands to replace the founding ethos of the state with a competing ethos of its enemies; they cannot supplant the existing edifice of national symbolism and ceremony with one that conforms to that of states that strive to undermine their own.
They must either throw their lot in with their county of residence or seek residence elsewhere. If they feel the fabric of life in Israel is incompatible with their national identity, they can act in exactly the same manner as many Jewish citizens of Israel did when they decided to make this country their home because they felt stronger affiliation to it than to their countries of residence or birth.
In an age in which more than a quarter-billion people migrate each year – mainly for economic reasons – there would be nothing remarkable in this proposal. Moreover, there is nothing “racist” or “fascist” in it. It merely reflects the eminently reasonable notion that the Jews too have a right to self-determination.
The lessons of Europe
This is in line with the increasingly prevalent mood across many, if not most, Western democracies today where attitudes are stiffening against the erosion of the founding values of the state by discordant cultures.
Harsh and explicit declarations have come from the leaders of nearly all major European countries, acknowledging the failure of multi-culturalism and warning that those who cannot integrate will have to leave.
Thus France’s president Nicolas Sarkozy declared, “If you come to France, you accept to melt into a single community, which is the national community, and if you do not want to accept that, you cannot be welcome in France.”
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel lamented: “The tendency had been to say, ‘let’s adopt the multicultural concept and live happily side by side.’ But this concept has failed, and failed utterly.”
UK Labor’s former prime minister Tony Blair, in a speech titled “The Duty to Integrate: Shared British Values,” concluded: “Our tolerance is part of what makes Britain, Britain. So conform to it; or don’t come here.” These are sentiments which parallel those recently uttered by his Tory successor, David Cameron.
And in democracies as far-flung as Australia and Canada, the media have begun to publish expressions of exasperation and frustration at the deleterious effects of cultures incompatible with the host culture, accompanied by calls for “repatriation” of those who cannot integrate.
Silly or seditious?
The calls for official commemoration of the Nakba in Israel are silly or seditious. But whatever the origins, they are deeply damaging.
There is clearly something profoundly flawed in a society that permits a significant segment within it to express grief at its success in preventing its destruction.
Israel, as any other country – perhaps more than any other county – cannot condone widespread, organized political activism aimed at negating the founding values of the state, lamenting the defeat of its enemies and perpetuating the adversarial narrative of “return.”
Those who insist in persisting with such activity should know that they face a tangible risk of being stripped of their Israeli citizenship. Of course, this should not constitute a great hardship for them. After all, why should they object to being relieved of membership of a collective they obviously find so objectionable they consider its creation a “catastrophe”?