Online talk given in February 2022
Bashir Bashir is associate professor in the department of sociology, political science and communication at the Open University of Israel and a senior research fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. His primary research interests are nationalism and citizenship studies, liberalism, democratic theory, decolonization and the politics of reconciliation. Among other numerous publications, he is the co-editor of The Holocaust and Nakba: A New Grammar of Trauma and History (Columbia University Press, 2018); and The Arab and Jewish Questions: Geographies of Engagement in Palestine and Beyond (Columbia University Press, 2020). His writings have appeared in English, Hebrew, Arabic, Italian, and German.
Interrogating Modernity and Egalitarian Binationalism in Palestine/Israel
The Holocaust and the Nakba: A New Grammar of Trauma and History
The Arab and Jewish Questions: Geographies of Engagement in Palestine and Beyond
Thank you everyone for coming to this. So let me just, upfront, tell you what I am going to basically defend in here. And I am going to defend egalitarian binationalism. And in very simplistic terms, I am going to defend equality, which in this very specific context of Israel and Palestine, seems to be, for some at least, a crime or an invitation for serious accusations.
So, the main argument that I am trying to do here is say that, actually, egalitarian binationalism is a defensible and appropriate frame of analysis, as well as something that promises also a prospect about how we can move forward.
What I am going to do is actually put in context this egalitarian binationalism. And then, after I put it in a context, then I want to delve into it and try to unpack it and explain some of the most fundamental features of it. Under no circumstances this is going to be exhaustive because I don’t have enough time but I am definitely happy to elaborate further during the discussion time.
So, part of this argument about egalitarian binationalism is part and parcel of, what I call, a new moral and political grammar for Israel / Palestine. I mean by that, that in the past two decades there has been this strong trend, feeling and need to go into new language, new terminologies, new vocabularies. I call it a new political and moral grammar, others call it a new paradigm, others call it a new approach. But whatever is the term that we are using here, there is an agreement that the existing dominant terms that have dominated our imagination, political discourse and language about the way we approach the question of Israel / Palestine, and the Palestinian quest for justice and freedom are outdated, inappropriate or fail to capture the changing realities.
Many of these terms, many of these constants, many of these vocabularies that we use have lost a great deal of their credibility and surely their ability to capture, understand and be in touch with the ongoing colonisation of Palestine and the realities that have been emerging in the context of the Palestinians, between the river and the sea. So therefore, this is the context within which the new terms and the concepts that are emerging, binationalism, the way I am going to explain it shortly, comes in to populate this new space that is being crafted and created to suggest that there is a new language, new concept. And we need new tools, new approaches to understand what happened and is happening and how we can make sense of the colonial realities that are becoming way much more prominent than any time before. So this is one part of the context of my talk.
Let me just go into another form of an important context. It’s not only about the language. And I want very specifically to relate to part of this dominant language that dominated the Palestinian-Israeli discourse related to the Palestinian-Israeli question, fashioned in different forms and different modalities. But some of the most important discourses that we encounter, even until today that they seem to be very powerful, is discourse such as the peace-making discourse, which is this whole discourse about the peace process which basically is a very flawed discourse because it’s premised on drawing symmetry between strikingly two unequal parties and asymmetric realities. It overlooks the colonial reality. It equalises between the oppressed and the oppressor, the colonised and the coloniser, et cetera.
Again, one of these major flaws is basically depicting a reality of equality when there are serious brutal discrepancies in power and colonial relations.
Another discourse which is extremely important is this discourse of state-building, that the Palestinians have bought into very heavily in the past 30 years, about the need to build national institutions, which I think is a Palestinian national interest. But it became basically a smoke screen for running away and escaping from really what needs to be done after the establishment of these national institutions and good governance and all of these requirements.
I think this has become now, or for the past decade, a very problematic discourse because it also doesn’t capture really what is the Palestinian quest about, which is basically about freedom, independence, and many other things that relate to the basic rights of the Palestinians.
Another discourse which is really very problematic is this discourse of economic peace or economic growth and development. As if the question of Palestine can be reduced to questions of wellbeing and improving the quality of lives of Palestinians, where it basically neutralises and doesn’t bring into the equation the political reality and the Palestinian basic question about Palestinian cause being a political cause about very basic rights of freedom, equality, emancipation and justice.
And the last one that I want to relate to is the humanitarian discourse, which basically treats the Palestinian case as if it is conditions of a misery and the result of an earthquake and therefore the need to intervene heavily with charity and philanthropy. Which is very problematic, also, because it depoliticises the Palestinian question because the Palestinian question was created in the first place as a result of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, creating the issue of the Palestinian refugees and the whole things that related to the Palestinian Nakba. It’s an ongoing reality for the Palestinians until today.
And in that sense, I am not saying that these discourses are entirely useless, but I’m saying when they are used exclusively and when they’re used the way they are used, they are very problematic and they are very flawed. And they are part of this old grammar that speaks about territorial partition, that speaks about seemingly an alleged type of equality and symmetry between equal parts who have equal and valid concerns. Or when we are using these discourses we assume a post-conflict reality when Israel is leading very brutal conflictual, colonial practices and policies that shape and influence the lives of Palestinians on a daily basis. While they are talking peace, actually they are making every single step possible to make this peace impossible on the ground.
So this is basically the context within which I want to say that there is a need for a different discourse, for a different frame, for a different paradigm, for different concepts, terminologies. And my contribution for today, without being exhaustive, is to suggest that, actually, egalitarian binationalism is a promising way to try and think about how we can come up with a new/ old concepts to navigate our way through this and why this is useful. But let me just say, very briefly, what I mean by egalitarian binationalism on a very brief, non-exhaustive, simplistic way. And egalitarian binationalism is the reference to the existence of two national groups who are entitled to national self-determination, where the relationship that governs these two groups or two nationalities is premised on basic principles of parity, reciprocity, mutual legitimacy, recognition and equality.
Now, to define it in this way is obviously in a very abstract way, as if it is detached from the context of Israel / Palestine has very serious limits and issues. But I will shortly try to unpack this in the very specific context of Israel / Palestine, which means that we need more qualifications. And I have here five points that I want to share with you before we come to the sessions of the Q & A. But before I go into my five points, I wanted, nevertheless, to say that egalitarian binationalism, the way I described it briefly now, i.e. the existence of two national groups in the same bounded political territory under which the relationship between these national groups is premised on the principle of reciprocity, mutual legitimacy, parity, and recognition and equality, is something that we need to bear in mind as something that is a principle that I am presenting. It’s not necessarily a political solution.
For sure there could be political solutions that can come up from egalitarian binationalism, but egalitarian binationalism, the way that I am presenting it here, is basically more of an ethical guiding principle rather than just a solution. Because this principle can be cashed out in multiple ways and in different institutions and modalities, this is an extremely important thing.
But one of the things that I want to say about egalitarian binationalism, that egalitarian binationalism is a prescriptive type of principle, meaning that it is not only interpretive, it’s something that actually also says how we can move forward. It’s more also future-oriented and forward-looking rather than just saying what it diagnoses. And this is an extremely important complementary term.
Egalitarian binationalism, when we take it seriously, extremely very important to other concepts, which is settler colonialism and apartheid as an extremely important other two concepts that populate this space that is emerging as a new grammar. But settler colonialism and apartheid are extremely important, useful terms. I’m making a very bold reductionist claim here. They are largely remaining at the level of, basically, let us call it interpretive diagnosis. They tell us how we can understand reality, what are the meanings that we attached to the realities because the old grammar twists our understanding and perception of these realities. These are extremely bold in bringing to the equation what has been eliminated and that is the settler colonial practices and policies that depict these colonial domination and the relationship of control.
However, what I am suggesting is that it’s not enough to come up with these terms, i.e. it’s not enough to suggest that it’s a reality of apartheid and settler colonialism with all the differences between these terms and the overlap between them. It’s also extremely important to go further and say how you can move and undo these colonial relations. And what I am suggesting that one of the possible and more promising ways of undoing these colonial relations and dismantling apartheid reality, is egalitarian binationalism. So this is why I see this, in a way, as a complimentary form of relation.
So, let me just go and say few things about egalitarian binationalism and why egalitarian binationalism is important. The first point regarding the egalitarian binationalism is that, actually, it insists on the national entry to the equation. And that’s an extremely important point. That is to say that, actually, egalitarian binationalism is an important intervention in the political and the conceptual scene, that is being populated with different terms, in the sense that it insists on the national entry to the equation. And the national entry into the equation is extremely important for various reasons. It’s extremely important conceptually, but it’s also extremely important historically for the very specificities of the Palestinians and the Israeli Jews.
Conceptually, it’s extremely important because it clearly says that the entry of engaging, with the question of Israel / Palestine, about prospects of forward looking and trying to dismantle and decolonise, needs to also take into account the collective national feature of the engagement of both groups. Meaning the Israeli Jews – and I am making very clear distinctions here. I’m not saying all the Jews, I’m talking about Israeli Jews and the Palestinian Arabs, which makes egalitarian binationalism distinct from liberalism, that insists only on individual rights. And in that sense, this is an extremely important analytical distinction that I think is an extremely important issue to distinguish here.
Now, why national entry is an extremely important thing, not only conceptually which insists on the right to national determination for two national groups. That’s one of the most important basic features of recognising nationalism as an entry to that. That is because historically, also, to try and strip the Palestinians from their identity is extremely problematic into understanding the history of Palestinian nationalism prior to the Nakba and after the Nakba. Because I think insisting on the national entry is very emancipatory for the Palestinians.
And why is that? In a very alarming way speaking about Balfour. This is the Balfour Project. I believe that this is also coming to the Balfour Declaration. And one of the most important colonial, imperial dimension of the Balfour Declaration was precisely the negation of the Palestinian identity. And this process of negation and negating the Palestinians continues until today with different magnitudes, but definitely was a very robust, very powerful thing by the Israelis, Western powers and some Arab regimes all the way through the sixties, the seventies and the eighties. In that sense, negation and negating the Palestinian identity and nationalism is something that has been very powerful.
Probably the most important achievement of Palestinian nationalism, with its revolution and the PLO and the different types of Palestinian fight and Palestinian struggle, has been re-inscribing Palestinian nationalism back on the stage as an extremely important bold national group that is entitled to national self-determination. And once you are treated as a national group, you are entitled to sets of rights. These sets of rights are collective rights, chiefly among them the right to national self-determination.
If you are having the right to national self-determination, the question is where is your homeland for that to exercise your national determination. The question of that is Palestine. This is why insisting on Palestinian national entry has been a nightmare for Israel and Zionism and many other colonial powers and imperial power, including the British Empire and the British Mandate that actually negated Palestinian nationalism. Therefore, insisting on the national entry is an extremely important thing, as opposed to liberal discourse that speaks about actually post-national civic type of identity that are premised on the individual rights.
So this is an extremely important thing. For the Israeli Jews, it’s an extremely important entry, not because of normalising the lives of the Israeli Jews as a settler colonial project that, in shortly, I will speak about that. But it’s also because it’s extremely important as an entry because under certain qualifications, and I’m insisting, under certain qualifications and conditions, which I will shortly elaborate, egalitarian binationalism makes the space for national self-determination for Israeli Jews. Again, Israeli Jews, not Jews. Israeli Jews. With certain conditions and qualifications, meaning also showing some very important sensitivities to the modern history of Jews, of anti-Semitism and the way Christian Europe has been actually discriminating against the Jews with anti-Semitism, pogroms and culminating in the disastrous catastrophe of the industry of the Holocaust.
And therefore, egalitarian binationalism, as problematic as the national entry for the Israeli Jews is … And I think it is problematic. It also gives a very serious space for a very serious conversation once you also recognise intertwined condition the entry of having some form of Jewish Israeli nationalism of some sort accommodated in the frame of egalitarian binationalism.
And this is why I think it’s very hard to come and suggest for different reason, different motivations, different concerns from the Palestinians to strip and transcend their national identity and come to the political scene as individuals. And for the Israeli Jews, for very different reasons and other sensitivities where actually most of these sensitivities have nothing to do with the Palestinians, which is basically the persecution of the Jews at the hand of Christian Europe and the failure of European nationalism to accommodate the Jews on equal rights, which raises very serious issues concerning European nationalism.
But the main point here is that the entry for some various sensitivities. This is an extremely important entry, meaning accommodating some form of Jewish Israeli nationalism under this umbrella. And by the way, this is why the work that I cannot allude to, which started with the Bruno Kreisky Forum in Vienna and continued in different magnitudes and came and culminated in a book that I co-edited with my friend and colleague Amos Goldberg on the Holocaust and the Nakba; and the Arab and the Jewish Question, are an extremely important entries for understanding these types of new moral grammar that I’m speaking about. But I don’t have time here, really, to elaborate on that.
The second point that I want to speak about in egalitarian binationalism, that actually egalitarian binationalism would be misunderstood if we were to remain at seeing the relationship between the Palestinian Arabs and the Israeli Jews, between the river and the sea, to be governed by the values of equality or egalitarianism, which comes within under it parity, reciprocity, mutually legitimacy, recognition and equality. It would be very troubling to leave that at that level because it might buy into this illusionary symmetry or to the equal validity of concerns and claims, historical and territorial, which is very problematic. And this is why I think part and parcel of understanding egalitarian binationalism, and the insistence of equality between the Arabs and the Jews, between the river and the sea, has to be integrated constitutively by definition, inevitably, to a very profound process of decolonisation.
I don’t have much time to elaborate on it, but at the core of that process of decolonisation is dismantling any – and I am insisting 10 times about “any”- any form of Jewish supremacy and privilege or exclusivity.
Under the rubric of egalitarian binationalism, Israeli Jews are not entitled for any form of exclusivity, privilege or supremacy of any sort. In that sense, egalitarian binationalism mandates a process of decolonisation.
At the core of this process of decolonisation is dismantling any form of Jewish exclusivity, privilege and superiority. And simultaneously, decolonisation is also mandating a process of historical reconciliation. At the core of this historical reconciliation is the issue of coming to terms with the Nakba, the ongoing consequences of the Nakba, and surely coming to terms with the basic rights of the Palestinian. In addition to all of that, is basically the right of Palestinian refugees to return. So, extremely important – decolonisation and historical reconciliation.
The third point that I want to mention, in this respect, is that egalitarian binationalism is an extremely important one because I think it is the condition for achieving something that the Israelis, despite their might, despite the successes of the enterprise of settler colonialism in Palestine, despite the fact that Zionism has revolutionised the modern Jewish lives, despite all of these achievements that the Zionism and the state of Israel has achieved for Israeli Jews and for the Jews at large, but surely for the Israeli Jews.
Israeli Jews, despite the Abraham Accords and all of this industry of normalisation around it, they lack two very fundamental things. Zionism has revolutionised and achieved a great deal of achievements for Israeli Jews but it failed in two respects. And these two respects are normalisation and legitimacy. And most importantly, normalisation and legitimacy in the eyes of the victims of Zionism, namely the Palestinian Arabs. Until today, Israel is insisting to be recognised by the Palestinian National Movement as a Jewish State. And after 80 years of establishment, Israel continues to suffer from a very serious deficit of legitimacy in the eyes of its victims, meaning the Palestinians. And Israel will never be, as an enterprise, in the eyes of the Palestinians, a legitimate enterprise as far as the Palestinians are not having their full rights. And Israel will never receive normalisation in the eyes of its own victims without the Palestinians achieving their own national rights including the right of Palestinian refugees to return.
So, this is an extremely important part of the equation and I think egalitarian binationalism promises a very interesting entry into also being sensitive to some of the specificities and some of the concerns and modern experiences of Jews, definitely Israeli Jews. And I think without these things met, meaning the Palestinian rights the way I understand them and I present them within the frame of egalitarian binationalism, I don’t think there is any serious hope, as much as Israel normalises with Arab regimes, in the eyes of the Palestinians. And this is why whenever there is a Palestinian that meeting an Israeli, there is a disruption and destabilisation in the gaze, meaning in the sight of the Israelis, whenever they hear Arabic or see Palestinians or when the Palestinians claim the history of the land and the indigeneity of their own existence in there.
The last point that I want to say here, and by this I conclude and finish, is basically for a very long time Israel and Zionism got away with their insistence to be a defensible project. And not only even defensible project, but a defensible project by parties and circles and quarters that identified themselves to be liberal and progressive, whether these are the Greens, the Social Democrats, the Labour in Britain, if we are speaking about that, and many other progressive liberal things, including in the US and many other places. And the claim was that, actually, you basically perceive yourself as a party or as a political entity that is committed to values such as actually equality, freedom, justice, fighting racism and supporting basically the struggles of those who are marginalised and oppressed.
And at the same time, you have Israel as an exception with that flavor, with that flirt with the kibbutz and the Labour. Many of it is also motivated by guilt. I’m not going to dig deep into the reasons of that.
But I think for a very long time, for decades, many of those parties, it sounded to them that these two positions are compatible and we can reconcile between them. I think, given that what we have heard and what we are populating, this is a new discourse. Definitely, with credible international NGOs and institutions that are extremely active in the context of human rights such as lately Amnesty International, before that Human Rights Watch and before that B’Tselem, and [inaudible 00:26:49], and other groups. Which they don’t break any news to the Palestinians. The Palestinians have been saying this for a very long time about settler colonialism and about that but nevertheless these are extremely welcomed developments, in the sense of that we need to get our terms right. We need our vocabularies and our concepts right in understanding how we can perceive Israel/Palestine. I think those who have maintained this position of seemingly suggesting that it is compatible to be committed to these values of equality, liberty and fighting racism, and being committed to justice and equally and support the Israelis and sympathise with the state of Israel’s policies and the practices have no credibility whatsoever anymore to sustain and remain in that position. Because that position is flawed, inconsistent and the compatibility of apartheid with commitment to values of equality and justice is a very problematic thing to hold.
And this is why I think, and by this I finish, egalitarian binationalism armed with the commitment to equality, justice, freedom and emancipatory politics, the way at least I advocated here in a nutshell and very briefly within the frame of egalitarian binationalism, is an extremely important entry into interrogating hypocrisy, interrogating Western universalism and normativity. And it is the test today to be committed to human rights irrespective whether that is Israeli or Palestinian.
And in that sense, I think this is a very serious opening today for a new conversation on Israel / Palestine. Opening For different types of alliances, coalitions and configurations where the commitment to these values needs to precede any commitment to any political solution of any particular type that you can entertain. This is why I insist this is a guiding principle for a joint dwelling for Arabs and Jews, between the river and the sea, premised on partnership, equality and the conditions of decolonisation and historical reconciliation. I stop here and I’m very happy to take your questions.
Thank you so much. From Heather Formaimi says, “This is such an important meeting. Thank you, Bashir. Terrific and forward-looking.” And then we’ve got from Ronald Mendel, “A concise, clear and well organised presentation.” And I’m going to start with his question. “Does egalitarian binationalism imply two parallel states, Palestine and Israel, or a single state in which the collective political, civic and cultural rights are embedded in the states’ institution?”
I think again, as far as we are committed to the principles and to the values that I elaborated as to be constitutive and at the core of what egalitarian binationalism is, I think I am very happy to live with many solutions, meaning it could be tolerated within the frame of the two-state solution, it could be tolerated within the frame of a confederation figuration. However, egalitarian binationalism cannot be accommodated within the frame of two-state solution the way it has been entertained today. But it actually requires a completely different configurations of two-state solution.
And I think as far as the Palestinians are concerned from the perspective of their values and their commitments to rights, I think we can cash out these rights in multiple modalities and in institutional configurations.
So yes, egalitarian binationalism can be cashed out in different modalities, including the two-state solution, but the two-state solution needs to be revised. Not the two-state solution that Israel speaks or the US speaks. It needs to be, actually, two-state solution that is very close to confederation than anything else because two-state solution and territorial partition, the way it has been premised on the principle of segregation and racial supremacy, is something that cannot be tolerated within the frame of egalitarian binationalism. And surely, egalitarian binationalism takes the Nakba ’48, and before, that very seriously. And therefore, issues of redistribution of land and rights need to be accommodated even within the frame of the two-state solution. But it shouldn’t be only solution, it could be also tolerated within multiple frames of things.
And we’ve got a couple of questions on the setup and the logistics of this. So, from Peter Brain, an interesting question and point, “In this United Kingdom, we have people claiming different national identities, such as Welsh and Scottish. When asked, many people identify as Welsh or Scottish or English, rather than British or ahead of being British. This allows present UK citizens to affirm bi-national identity. Might this be a model for multinational egalitarianism?”
I think so. Yeah, definitely. I think Israel / Palestine can inspire other cases if we were to go in that direction. And also, these types of modalities, they do inspire. I often being challenged by my Israeli interlocutors, intellectuals or scholars saying, “Where are these other examples?” There are many examples. The British could be an example, the Swiss could be example, Germany could be an example. Not Germany because there is some homogeneity of some sort, but at least Belgium. There are many examples. The overwhelming majority of modern democracies in the world. There are consociational democracies that are premised on multi-nationalism of some sort. Yes, definitely. The Palestinians, in this respect, and the Israelis can definitely be in this joint frame.
However, this joint frame demands a form of an overarching “we” of some sort if we were to go beyond territorial partition. And this is even challenging, not necessarily for only those who are siding with binationalism, but those who are even going for even more than binationalism, and that is liberalism. They seem to suggest that people can abstract, strip their own identities and move into this post-national civic identity. But even for post-national civic identity, you need a glue, you need a cement for a political community to operate. And that is, what is that ‘we’?
And my argument with those who are going for that liberal trend, that I think that ‘we’ is going to be way much more demanding to achieve than the ‘we’ that can be workable within overarching two national groups and overarching institutional frame that can bridge.
That is much more promising and I think that way much more practical, if you ask me, as a form of proceeding with form of politics. But yes, we can get inspired, without romanticising the British. But definitely, we are talking about these types of relationship between two national groups that can exist in different modalities.
Well, that is such an interesting perspective. We’ve got a couple of questions on the same theme and mainly around what kind of traction this theory and this approach has within Israel itself, and amongst Israelis. So we’ve got, for example, from Johnny Risq a question on that. From Peter Blackwood, “Are there any parts of the Israeli state that are starting to engage with this new language or paradigm of egalitarian binationalism?” And from Steve France, “How are you able to teach this way of thinking within Israel?”
Okay. Very good question. Actually, I have been leading a course at the Hebrew University, which I am going to teach for the last time this time because I need to be devoted fully to the Open University when I am fully tenured. But I have been teaching about this for more than a decade now. And I can see the differences, not only for Israeli students but also for the diplomatic community, when I started talking about this more than a decade ago people were saying, “You are a political theorist, political philosopher. These things that you speak about non-statist interpretations of self-determination, post-Westphalian notions of sovereignties.” I don’t want to complicate here conceptual thing. I don’t want to bombard the audience now with philosophical content. But nevertheless, people were doubtful about these types of promises, but I think now things have changed.
But let me just elaborate a little bit about the Israeli context. The Israeli context has moved to this direction, but motivated by Jewish racial supremacy and by apartheid and by Jewish type of vulgar form of ethno-nationalism. Why? Because the state of Israel is not willing to accept the Green Line as its demarcations of political arbitration. And therefore, actually, the majority of Israeli politicians from the centre, to the right, have been talking about annexation, whether deliberately or undeliberately, publicly or not publicly. The difference between Netanyahu and Gantz is, Gantz was saying, “We do it anyway, so why you are going to declare it? So let us do it anyway.” So the issue is that Israel is moving gradually into treating the territory between the river and the sea as one thing, and giving the Palestinian bantustans. This is why this increasing reports are reading this reality in a much more sensitive way.
Now, the challenge that I am saying today is not to the Israeli right, that can go all the spectrum from fascist right, exclusionary, to more moderate right of some sort, that actually can accommodate Palestinian rights in the form of subordinated Palestinian constitutionally to third, fourth class citizens, residents that we have all of these categories. East Jerusalemites are residents, they are not citizens. By saying, we are moving to that, but we are moving on by vulgar Jewish supremacy, vulgar Jewish ethno-nationalism that prioritises the Jews and the rights and grant exclusivity and privileges.
Now, the challenge is for the Israeli Zionist left and non-Zionist left, which basically has to step out of its zone of comfort and start revising these type of terminologies of partition and segregation by suggesting that there has to be an introduction to a very basic term.
And that basic term is not a crime and needs not to be criminalised and not need to be as accused as anti-Semite. And that’s a commitment to a basic concept in any left-leaning politics and that’s equality. Equality is not a crime. It’s not an evil to fight. And this is why egalitarianism is an extremely important entry here. And in that sense, I think that, and by this I finish, by insisting not only equality but on binationalism, it might have the potential, the issue of traction, it might have more potential to appeal to Israeli Jews who have their own sensitivities and whole specificities about the history and the importance of their national attachment to be an entry for a conversation. Because it respects and it accommodates, under certain circumstances of decolonisation and historical reconciliation, the right to national self-determination to the Israeli Jews. Within the frame of egalitarian binationalism, there is a right to national self-determination for Israeli Jews, but that needs to be qualified. That’s not a principled point, but needs to be qualified in the very specific historical context of Palestinians, meaning coming to terms with the Palestinian rights, including the right of the return decolonisation, et cetera.
So in terms of traction, I think this is way much more promising as an entry to the conversation than coming and asking the Israelis Jews to abandon their identity for the sake of post-national civic entry to the conversation. This is why I think these types of conversation has much more potential to appeal to Israeli Jews than the other form competing one that is premised on notions of justice as far as justice and equality and inclusions are the terms that we are operating rather than racism, belligerence and Jewish supremacy and vulgar Jewish ethno-nationalism that actually is clear where it is heading. Clearly it’s heading to settler colonialism in a very aggressive way, which has been from day one, but it’s now becoming bolder as a form of racial segregation and Jewish supremacist form of politics.
Thank you for answering that. Caroline Salinger and Baroness Jenny Tonge, both asked questions along those lines too, so hopefully that’s answered that as well. We’ve got so many questions coming in, as always. From Megan Singodia, “Can you please identify the different groups of Jews, as you mentioned a few times Israeli Jews? Just to clarify.”
Well, Israeli Jews, meaning those who are citizens of Israel. I don’t speak about Jews who live in the US, for that matter, for any other where in the world. When I speak about egalitarian binationalism, I refer exclusively to Israeli Jews, not to Jews. Next week I’m going to be talking to a very interesting bunch, some leaders from the US and students that are coming from the US, Israeli, Jewish. There is this equating Jewish identity with Zionism and Jewish Israeli nationalism is very problematic, even on the terms of the Jews themselves. And I think this has become a very serious issue unfortunately, less in Europe.
And in that sense, I think in Britain, it’s very problematic and that way needs further encouragement. In the US, there is a very serious advancement and progress on that front where there is a serious decoupling that is becoming, within the new generation, between that heavy equation between Zionism and Jewish identity. I think one of the most interesting things that happened to Jews, and now I’m criticising Zionism, is that Zionism actually narrowed the possibilities of what it means to be a Jew in modern time. To be attached to this, if not vulgar, form of Jewish nationalism that is very heavily informed by central and East European things where Zionism actually comes from. That since Zionism is a European phenomenon, answering a European question, that is the book that I co-edited with Leila, The Arab and the Jewish Question, the Jewish question is not a Mediterranean question, it’s not a Palestinian Arab question. It’s actually a Christian Europe question and it’s failure (Europe) to adopting that. So in that sense, what I’m talking about here, I’m talking exclusively about Jewish Israeli, rather than about the Jews. And obviously, if you want me to elaborate further than that in a different question I am happy to elaborate in that. I am not ruling out that Jews, who are under certain stress and threat globally, have no special arrangement that might be arranged in the future arrangement that might be informed by the egalitarian binationalism that I’m presenting. For sure there is, but there is no law of return whatsoever under these circumstances.
Egalitarian binationalism eliminates that form of exclusivity with Jews to come back to the state of Palestine because that means, immediately at the expense of the Palestinians, meaning de-Arabising the land, meaning settler colonial further and meaning eliminating the Palestinians. And that’s definitely something that egalitarian binationalism, the way I advocated, together with some other friends, such as Amos Goldberg, and me separately, is something that cannot tolerate that form of engagement. At least the way I understand it myself.
Thank you for that. You’ve actually answered my next question as well. I had a question from Rick Mansel about understanding the differences between Jews and the Jewish religion and Zionists, so the followers of Zionism. So, thank you for that. I’ve got a question from Ifsan Abualrob. “In a realist world system mandated by power, how feasible is it for Palestinians to advance egalitarian binationalism?”
I think it’s very feasible. I think the main strength of Palestinian cause has been that they have a just cause and part of their just cause is committed to values. And some of these core values is equality. The Palestinians are demanding equality. Now, obviously, the Palestinians are not demanding equality in abstraction, they are demanding equality in a very specific context. That context is a very clear context of settler colonialism, of Zionism and the state of Israel. And therefore, the issue of asymmetry and the colonial domination comes in. The issue is that, I think, that the Palestinians can live with multiple forms of solutions. The Palestinian can live, as far as the basic rights of the Palestinians are achieved. And here, I want to introduce another argument that I didn’t have time to introduce simply because we didn’t have time.
I have been arguing that Palestinian nationalism, for the past two decades, has been undergoing a very serious process of rethinking and reconsideration, were also reduced the Palestinians in political sense to be 1967. Palestine, now, is being re-conceptualised imaginatively and politically and geographically as to be the whole entire thing between the river and the sea. Thanks, mainly, to Israeli settler colonialism, greed and expansion that Israel insisting on. And therefore, what I am trying to say, the Palestinian cause is about rights, it’s not about one particular solution. To understand Palestinian nationalism within the frame of statism, meaning to reduce the Palestinian case to be about state, is definitely a misreading of Palestinian nationalism. Palestinian nationalism devolved and emerged shortly after the Nakba, but also can be attached to that before the Nakba in relation to the Imperial presence of the British Mandate.
The Palestinians are about rights. Most chiefly among these rights are self-determination, independence and, after the Nakba, the right of return. Any political arrangement that respects and comes to terms with the ongoing consequences of the Nakba, the Palestinian can live with.
The trouble is that it is the Israeli Jews and Zionism that cannot live with many of these things. It’s not their insistence on this exclusivity and this vulgar form of ethno-nationalism that cannot be defined, now after the nationality law. I am a citizen of Israel. Israel has degraded me already long time ago, since I was born, including my parents, from the day it was established. But now, constitutionally, more than before to a very downgraded form of citizenship.
So again, I think these types of questions are extremely critical. They cannot be solved in closed rooms of engineering of solutions. But can be emerging from conversation, alliances with Israeli Jews, with the global solidarity movements, with the stakeholders of diplomats and with those who are interested to see some form of solution in Israel / Palestine that is committed to basic principles.
And this is why I think the case of Palestine and the question of Palestine is today, like many other times before as well, but more than any time before, is a test for these types of commitment. If you are committed to equality, justice and freedom, and fighting racism and anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, you need to be very clear and not mumbling. And not being hypocratic about where you stand in relation to these values, and to the relation of the emancipation and the freedom of the Palestinians. And a future of a form of a joint dwelling for Arab and Jewish partnership and Arab-Jewish life in Israel and Palestine.
Thank you. We have a question from Michael Green. Let me put this question to you. “You used the term ethnic cleansing during your presentation? This was seen differently in the Palestine-Jordanian newspaper, February 19, 1949, which reported that the Arab states encouraged Palestinian Arabs to leave their homes temporarily in order to be out of the way of the Arab invasion armies. Also, the Arabs who remained constitute 20% of the population of Israel. Can you please comment?”
Yeah. This is an important question because this is one of the very typical questions that emerge every time. I think today, any decent histographic accounts, I think we have moved with this debate. Now, there is an almost overwhelming majority today among very serious historians, including Israeli Jewish historians, including international Palestinian and Arab and non-Arab and non-Jewish historians about the fact that, actually, what has happened in ’48 is just an ethnic cleansing. And it’s actually still ongoing, by the way, in different magnitude that since the Nakba is not over, it’s not a historical event, it’s an ongoing reality. You can go and read many respected historians all the way from Alon Confino, to Avi Shlaim, to even Benny Morris in his earlier writings.
And surely, what the Palestinians have been doing, Nur Masalha and many others, have been pioneering way long before any of these new historians came to things. Tantura would be a very exemplary thing when the Palestinians have for ages been saying that there was a massacre in Tantura. It’s a Palestinian village on the coast. I don’t know if you have been following this, it’s a very fascinating thing to follow and heartbreaking, that there was a massacre. And now, when this master student that proposed the thesis, they criminalised his findings. And now, with this new Israeli movie which has now become that there was a very serious massacre and there were dozens of massacres, as well as ethnic cleansing. The Palestinians we dispossessed and ethnic cleansed in Palestine due to different factors all the way from massacres, to shooting, to looting, to dispossessing, to fear, to terror, as well as from serious engagement and responsibilities from some Arab troops. These are not Arab armies, they were troops sent by Arab armies.
So again, I don’t want to get into that type of debate. I think this is a very bold ethnic cleansing. There’s a very serious historical work now around this and I think it’s a very bold, clear form of ethnic cleansing of some sort and magnitude.
Thank you for answering that so thoroughly. I’ve got a question/lovely comment so I’m going to read it. From Hafida Bencheheda, “Thanks a lot, Dr. Bashir. I’m Algerian. I want to know if your work has been translated into Arabic or French for Algerian readers, not me. I love and duly respect the Balfour Project for their endeavors to make known this sad and disastrous reality of Palestinians in the form of colonialism and apartheid.”
My book with Amos Goldberg, on the Holocaust and the Nakba, in English because we had something else also in Hebrew back at the time. It’s completely two different books, they carry the same title. The Hebrew book is very different with different contribution. The English book was sold out within a three weeks and a half entirely. All copies were entirely sold out within three weeks and a half. And they reprinted it already several times. I think five times already reprinted.
We translated the major contribution that Amos Goldberg and I did. And Amos Goldberg is a very dear friend and a colleague that I have learned a great deal from his insights, wisdom and expertise on the Holocaust at the Hebrew University. We wrote multiple pieces, but the introduction of this book that I and Amos, with very hard work tried to bring together, wrote a very long extensive introduction, which represents the most advanced form of our thinking jointly. And luckily, this introduction of the book is self-standing. It doesn’t really, except in the last few pages, start talking about the book. It’s a self-standing piece. We translated it into Arabic and, luckily enough, Elias Khoury and the editorial board of the Journal of Palestine Studies were generous enough and they published it entirely in the Journal of Palestine Studies.
So if you Google in Arabic the Holocaust and the Nakba, Bashir Bashir and Amos Goldberg, you will find this piece published and available in Arabic, the whole full text.
Otherwise, you go to my Academia.edu profile, you will find it there. And I did present my work also in Jordan and some friends, I think I saw links earlier here invited me to speak to some Palestinian young professionals as well, and lawyers where I presented some of this work. So yes, the work has been translated into Arabic. The book is being translated at the moment into Italian. And recently, there was a very major article in the Frankfurter, in Germany, which is a breakthrough after more than three years of the publication of the book. Germany finally woke up and somebody in Germany is interested in this and we are very pleased that there is an interesting exposure to that.
But Algeria is an inspirational case and has been very inspirational for our work. And definitely, Algeria has been a serious inspiration for the Palestinian during the sixties and the seventies and continues to be, although we have a completely different setting and we need to be aware also of the very major differences between the Algerian context and the Palestinian context.
I just want to say that as much of a credit that might be attached to me about this “Nakba is an ongoing …” This is a common view by many scholars and I have learned a great deal from many scholars and I have been inspired. This conversation is taking place all the time. Again, I cannot name many of them but has been ongoing. It’s not copyrights of Bashir. I might probably put it in this specific terms, but many of these ideas that have presented this way have been very much in conversation inspired by very important people who I have learned great deal from all the way through. So, I want to put things into the right proportions.
I just want to finish on a comment and question from Sir Vincent Fean, who is our chair of the Balfour Project. He says, “Thank you for your very punchy presentation. Equal rights are the ambition of the Balfour Project Charity. You live in Jerusalem, what changes can you see around you or what changes do you need to see around you to make your, and our, aspiration a reality? Where do you find hope?”
Okay, thank you. I’m very grateful, for this question. There is no other place in the whole entire land, between the river and the sea, more than Jerusalem that represents this potentiality that I’m speaking. Jerusalem is a bi-national city, but very much trapped by a colonial reality of the Jewish supremacy control operation that we witness on a daily basis. Last week, I was in Sheikh Jarrah. I participated also, previously, in May. In many of these demonstrations, there some of my friends were injured during these demonstrations that we participated. So actually, Jerusalem is the microcosmos of historic Palestine. The Arab and the Jews have become much more intertwined and inseparable than any time before in their history between the river and the sea. However, what have made them inseparable and interconnected is the proof today that Israel is trying to make all that it can in order to make segregation, bypass roads, checkpoints, wire, permit system and to make this segregationist politics that is manifested today in this apartheid reality.
There is no future for this city that I live in, that is tormented by colonial reality and oppression on a daily basis, without this city becoming a shared bi-national city premised on equality and restoring the historical injustices that the Palestinians have been experiencing firsthand until this very particular day, including coming to terms to the consequences of the Nakba. I think in that sense, Jerusalem is a source of inspiration.
Jerusalem can be a source of inspiration where the whole entire land between the river and the sea needs to be informed by the reality that we know that the microcosmos of historic Palestine, that is Jerusalem, is a bi-national reality that is premised on very twisted bi-national reality. It’s one that is premised on domination, Jewish supremacy, racism, hatred, fear, and violence, and colonial practices that are premised on demolishing houses, dispossessing people, withdrawing IDs. We can revert that into the direction of where we can see a bi-national city shared, and where the whole entire land can be inspiration and for this principle. And I think we seek a lot of inspiration, Amos and I, from the very specific case of here, but without deceiving ourselves that this is a very brutal reality where the Palestinians are suffering miserably at the hand of the Israeli colonial policies, whether by the state or the city hall or the municipal policies.
And by this, I finish. The hope that I seek and inspire from that, that we are going in a very bad direction and this bad direction we were eluded and were deceived, if you wish, if I may use this term with the qualifications, that partition was very huge compromise. That the Palestinians have given up more than 78% of their land in exchange of 22% of their land, is not working because of colonial greed and because of expansion and because of further vulgar ethno-nationalism that doesn’t want to accommodate, but rules out, eliminates and oppresses. If we are going to that, and while we are getting our terms right, we are not deceived anymore by the lovely, Laborish, dovish type of language of we want peace, but equally doing everything they can, including the Labors and the left in Israel designated in order to eliminate any possibility of peace.
Since we are getting our terms right, since we are starting to populate that space with the new terminologies, with the right, adequate terms to capture this twisted colonial oppression, I think this is a beginning of starting to say, “This is problematic.” Now the political theorist of me is coming. Once you start saying that this is problematic, then you are starting to deploy normative judgements, meaning how things ought to be. My contribution tonight of how things ought to be is egalitarian binationalism. And I invite your director and everyone else to start saying, “If this is the reality, then how things ought to be?” Things ought to be when we are consistent, coherent and loyal committers to equality, freedom and justice, and anti-racism. And I think this is the way forward.
That’s a really strong point to end on. Thank you so much, Bashir, for speaking to us today.