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Home > English > Alternatives International Journal > 2014 > April 2014 > Israel’s Nation-State Talk Means the Return of The Yellow Star

Israel’s Nation-State Talk Means the Return of The Yellow Star

Tuesday 1 April 2014, by Gideon Levy

Israelis are judging people by their ancestors and withdrawing into a ghetto-state whose nature will be determined by its purity.

This kind of talk could only take place in darkness; in beer cellars, at violent fringe demonstrations or at the headquarters of outlawed organizations. Only the extreme, fascist, neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic and xenophobic right would dare to breathe a word of it. Only skinheads and their masters would dare to speak of national purity and of defining their country based on ethnicity, religion, race, nationality or heredity.

No one would dare to say France for the French, America is all-American, Germany is a German state or Italy is a Catholic one. Anyone who did so wouldn’t be considered credible. These countries are democracies of all their citizens; their character is determined by the components of the entire population. Living in each are minorities, their numbers growing in this era of globalization and migration. No one speaks of a nation-state, of a state of one religion, of one racial group.

But this kind of talk is fashionable in Israel. It’s legitimate and even Zionist: a Jewish state. Only in Israel are individual rights and the character of the state determined by origin, like having a Jewish great-grandmother. The hell with members of minority groups – most of whom were born here.

This kind of talk has also become a basic condition for the negotiations with the Palestinians. It’s just a cheap excuse, of course – one more obstacle on the road to reaching a peace agreement, heaven forfend. But the disease’s malignant symptoms are deeply encoded in Israel’s DNA.

Israel is returning to the ghetto, building its own neo-ghetto with its own two hands. Welcome to the Israel Ghetto; it built the walls and fences that surround it long ago, and the mental and cultural walls are on the way. What was done to the Jews for generations, the Jews are now doing to themselves: judging people by their ancestors and withdrawing into a ghetto-state whose nature will be determined by its degree of purity.

This time it’s not the goyim’s fault, it’s Israel that yearns to live in a ghetto. It’s an old-new obsession, and history laughs its bitter laugh. The new Jews, the Israelis, embrace the methods and the standards of the Nazis, may their name and memory be erased. The Israelis check their bloodlines and then put them in a ghetto.

The only thing missing is the yellow star; maybe it will come back, too. After all, how will we know who’s Jewish in the Jewish state? There has to be a way to identify who is (and more importantly, who isn’t) a Jew. The most obvious identifier is the bad old yellow Star of David sewn on your clothes.

Yes, it’s a new yellow time in which the Jews are withdrawing back into the ghetto. Israel is doing its best not to be accepted into its neighborhood – the “villa in the jungle” as Ehud Barak called it – and the effort goes beyond security and politics.

It’s “no entry” to Middle Eastern culture, to Arab art and history, to African asylum seekers, to anyone who isn’t a Jew. Every Israeli knows the mantra “a Jewish state,” but it’s doubtful anyone knows what it means. Is it a halakha state run in accordance with Jewish law? Is it a theocracy with no civil marriages, no public transportation on the Sabbath and a mezuzah on nearly every doorpost?

That’s a Jewish state. And would Israel be non-Jewish without these traditions? Would it be non-Jewish with 50,000 asylum seekers and Jewish without them? We haven’t yet decided whether Judaism is a religion or a nationality, or even who is a Jew. The main thing is that we want a Jewish state, the kind Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will recognize forever.

But Israel’s character will be determined in other ways – not by the blood that flows in its inhabitants’ veins, but by its system of government, culture and society. An Arab from Taibeh is no less Israeli than a member of Bnei Menashe, a community from Burma and India, who was brought to the settlement of Kiryat Arba near Hebron.

The child of African refugees who was born and raised in Israel, whose language is Hebrew, whose favorite singer is Eyal Golan and whose soccer team is Hapoel (or Maccabi) Tel Aviv is no less Israeli than a student at an Ateret Cohanim yeshiva. If there’s to be a yellow star, it must be for everyone. For all Israelis.