Interview from Qantara, German Dialogue with the Arab World.
I was just “enjoying” an article in Israel Insider, condemning the “radical left” scholars at Ben Gurion University, some of whom are excellent resources, kind and thoughtful people, important activists and outstanding analysts. (Lev Grinberg, Jeff Halper, Oren Yiftachel,Michael Dahan, Neve Gordon, just to name a few). I then remembered this very good interview I had read not too long ago, and want to post it here so that others can read it.
Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin is a lecturer in Jewish History at the Ben Gurion University, Israel. In this interview with Youssef Hijazi he talks about binationalism, the victims of Zionism as well as about alternatives for the “Zionist myth”.
Youssef Hijazi: Prof. Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin you were working as a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin (Wissenschaftskolleg Berlin) for one year. The name of the project was “Project Group Islamic and Jewish Hermeneutics as Cultural Critique”. What was your project about?
Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin: My main project was a study dedicated to the critical analysis of Zionist perception of history. In this book, that I hope to complete soon, I demonstrate the messianic-theological and colonial-orientalistic dimensions inherent in the Zionist myth. I try to show the way the Zionist historical consciousness is based on suppression and the erasure of history: the history of the land, and particularly the Nakba, the transfer of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in 1948 – but also the various histories of the Jews.
At the same time I try to demonstrate the way Zionist discourse employed the same European values and concepts that enabled the exclusion of the Jews in order to define a Jewish entity: Jews, who were considered in Europe as “Orientals” came to the Middle East in order to create a European society, based on the negation of the “Orient”, of the Arab existence. At the same time I also try to suggest an alternative discourse based on the concept of binationalism, but not necessarily as referring to one state solution, but as a critical position of the present Israeli consciousness. This aspect is more political, and I elaborate on it in a different book, entitled “Exile and Binationalism” that will soon appear in French.
I think that the critique of Zionism remains irrelevant if we do not try to find alternatives. I am writing from an Israeli point of view, and as an Israeli I feel responsible for the victims of Zionism.
The question I ask is how we can define an Israeli-Jewish collectivity which is based on the recognition of Palestinian rights, including the rights of the refugees. I still believe that at least for the moment the two states solution is the only alternative, but it cannot be reached under the principles that continue to direct the peace process, from the Israeli point of view.
The establishment of a Palestinian state can be considered as a reasonable way to solve the question of the occupation, but it leaves many questions unsolved. My main critique is directed against “secular Zionism” and the so-called “secular Zionist myth”. Consequently, on the political level my criticism is directed against the perception of the so-called “peace camp” in Israel.
Where are they secular or not? And where is the relevance for the current politics?
Raz-Krakotzkin: You are right. This definition is very problematic. They are called “secular” because they reject or abandon the Halakha, the Jewish law, but the myth that define the so-called national-secular is itself based on an interpretation of the theological myth, according to which the present Jewish existence in Palestine is the return of the Jews to their homeland (considered to be empty!) the fulfillment of Jewish history and of the prayers of the Jews.
Nationalism is not a replacement of the theological myth but an interpretation of the myth. Therefore the very distinction between “secular” and “religious” identities in Israel is problematic. I do not want to undermine the differences, or to ignore the real danger of religious-nationalistic groups.
But I argue that the origins of these radical right-wing groups are not to be found in Jewish religion, but in the secular interpretation of the myth. Therefore, without understanding these aspects, one cannot suggest a real alternative to the ideology of the right-wing settlers.
Also for secular Zionists, the Bible is a source of authority. One can summarize “secular” Zionism as follows: God does not exist but he promised the land to us. It does not mean that Zionism follows traditional Jewish thought.
Israel is not a secular state and not a nation state. It is considered as the “state of the Jewish people” to include citizens of other countries, but through the exclusion of its Arab citizens, and their systematic dispossession.
What are the political significances of this attitude?
Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin: Let me remind you the simple facts: the (second) Intifada started after the killing of seven people in the Mosque, the day after the provocative visit of Ariel Sharon. In the beginning, it was mainly expressed in mass demonstrations, with shooting against settlers – but at this stage there were no terror attacks from the kind we knew later, with the suicide bombers.
The sense of depression and disappointment among the Palestinian people were well known. The peace process provided minimal autonomy to certain parts of the Palestinians in the occupied territories. Everybody knew about the massive building in the settlements during Barak administration (much more than Netanyahu), yet they remain silent.The policy of assassination of Palestinian leaders, of settlement and house demolition, of closure and destruction – all these were done by the Israeli left, and thus were accepted by the European governments. Now they continue to support the same groups.
Which role does Europe take? What can and what should Europe do?
Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin: Europe in general accepts this line of the Israeli left, and participates in these virtual negotiations. The problem is that Europe accepted almost uncritically the Israeli version. For the moment, Europe lost its post, and had no significant contribution to the peace process.
In principle, Europe accepts the American policies, although sometimes they express some criticism, without any practical meaning. Europe has no independent policy with respect to the question of Israel/Palestine. They accept the American formulas, like “the roadmap” even if with some criticism.But this direction leads to nowhere. On the contrary, on the practical level, it serves for the legitimation of the occupation, and Israel “right to fight against terror” is interpreted as legitimating the brutal policy of destruction. All Israeli actions, that destroy the infra-structure of the Palestinian society, are accepted without serious criticism, not to say any effective pressure. I think Europe should be aware of its responsibility to the present catastrophe. That is because when they signed the Oslo Accords, the Palestinians could trust that the EU and each of the European countries, will take a more neutral stand, and will support the Palestinian elementary demand for a sovereign state in 22% of Historical Palestine.
It was very clear that the United States would always be on Israel’s side. But Europe did not play any significant role, and therefore is responsible for the collapse of the talks, and particularly for the escalation. Violation of fundamental human rights is accepted in a way we couldn’t think about five years ago. Everything is justified in the name of the “war against terror”, although it brings nothing but the escalation of violence.
Today, Europe continues to support the line of the Israeli left, now in the opposition, to encourage irrelevant “dialogues” and initiatives. But all these initiatives are virtual, and at the same time the oppression of the Palestinians is accepted without any criticism.
Not for the first time, the world is silent.
But what can Europe do in terms of actual political steps?
Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin: The main thing that should be understood is that the very logic of the present negotiations cannot, by definition, bring the end of the conflict. Unless we recognize that this is an illusion, we cannot think of any change. The virtual agreements create the illusion of a possible “solution”, as if the only problem is the ‘details”. For the moment, it is difficult to think about any change without an international intervention, and in that sense European intervention. And I mean an international force that will protect the Palestinians, but will be responsible also to prevent terror attacks (that should be condemned). This is the only way to try to bring an end of the violence, and a step towards the end of occupation.
I am well aware of the difficulties of that idea, but I can’t see an alternative. Under the present state of destruction, including the destruction of the Palestinian Authority, a kind of intervention is necessary.
But one can’t ask Europe to take responsibility without trying to change Israeli public opinion. As an Israeli, this is still my main responsibility. We have to offer a comprehensive alternative, a new way of thinking. For the long run, this is not only the way to fulfill Palestinian rights, but also to protect the Jewish existence.
How should this be realized?
Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin: I am very pessimistic, but we try to advance today new ideas, new perspectives – a new vision that includes both Israeli-Jews and Palestinians. We need a new vision, vision of co-existence to replace the concept of separation. We have to struggle against the state of Apartheid that is gradually established. A binational vision can be realized in different ways, and in several stages. But that is the only option for both peoples.
Interview: Youssef Hijazi, © Qantara.de 2004
Institute for Advanced Studies, Berlin