“We’re talking about illegal infiltrators, not refugees,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a visit to south Tel Aviv this week. This denial of their being refugees is meant to evade the moral necessity of absorbing them in Israel. After all, Jews evidently can’t be indifferent to refugees, since “our people experienced the world’s silence on its own flesh.”
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But this refusal to recognize that they are refugees is fundamental: Those blacks aren’t actually refugees, because they aren’t full human beings in the white sense of the term. The lies told by Netanyahu and his cabinet colleagues aren’t challenging the “facts,” but the attempt to place “lesser” human beings in the same category with rational people like the Jews, who were exiled and murdered. The refugees aren’t wanted here, just as Arabs aren’t wanted here.
Demographic paranoia, i.e., the fear of losing our Jewish majority, runs deep and is shared by most Jewish Israelis, regardless of their political affiliation – to the point that the thought of a few tens of thousands of refugees being integrated/absorbed in Israel is seen not, in the worst case, as just as another economic blow to disadvantaged residents of poor neighborhoods, but as a threat to the identity of the Jewish environment and the Jewish soul.
The rhetoric of those who call for Israel to extend its hand to the refugees appeals to the Jewish conscience and seeks to awaken solidarity with those who are now in the position the Jews were once in. But they miss an important point that is far more relevant to Jewish life today, in which Jews have sovereignty over their own state and constitute a majority in it: What matters now isn’t what their people experienced on their own flesh, but what those who seek to preserve the purity of their people’s physical and mental geography have experienced on their flesh, the depths to which they have descended with Germanic logic and consistency, and what remained of the German body, soul and intelligence after Germany waged a war of annihilation against the “other.”
Dmitry Shumsky (Haaretz in Hebrew, September 4) wrote that Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s desire to turn the Israeli state into a Jewish community, and in the name of Zionism yet, is “a crude and false distortion of the ideological and political truth” of the Zionist project, whose goal was to “turn the Jews from an introverted ethno-religious community into a modern political, land-based nation – a nation, incidentally, of which one of the most fundamental characteristics is the ability to integrate those who are foreign or different into its country.” Zionism sought to effect a political and societal revolution, not to create a ghetto with nuclear bombs. And it succeeded in doing so in its early years, getting “the Israelis” on their feet.
The Israelis’ retreat in the face of Jewish nationalists’ aggression won’t stop until the former return to thinking of themselves as “Israelis.” The “Jewish state,” as Shaked and Netanyahu call it, or the “Jewish and democratic” one, as MK Tzipi Livni and others do, are nothing but conceptual errors. This isn’t because they are disloyal to the “instructions” left by Theodore Herzl, but because they tempt Israelis to follow them into their logical dead ends.
The relationship between the “majority” and minorities is the air the state breathes, just as the tension between the “I” and the “other” is what creates the vital energies that drive humanity. It’s no accident that in Israel, intellectual energy has been channeled almost entirely into the ethno-communal discourse, the only place that permits (comparative) tension between people who are different.
The Jewish state they imagine will be as vital as the Maccabiah Games, and its global achievements will carry the same weight in the world as the Maccabiah’s achievements do in the world of sports – a celebration of mediocrity, in which the grand prize, as we all saw at this year’s opening ceremony, is a grotesque marriage within the family.