Tag Archives: nationalism

A state for everybody who needs one

I think I’ve made a startling discovery: The eminent political philosopher and public intellectual Michael Walzer is a Revisionist like Jabotinsky – at least when it comes to his views about the rights of a people to have a state of their own.

Writing in the Huffington Post series “Liberal Zionists Speak Out,” Walzer describes the central tenets of his own Zionism under the title “The State of Righteousness.”

“It is first of all the emotion-laden belief of someone who grew up during World War Two that the Jews need a state, and that this need is so critical and so urgent that it overrides whatever injustices statehood has brought. We still have to oppose the injustices with all the resources we can muster, but we can’t give up the State. So I participate vicariously in Israeli politics by supporting my social-democratic and peacenik friends. I want the state to be as good as it can be, but above all I want it to be.

My Zionism is also a universal statism. I think that everybody who needs a state should have one, not only the Jews but also the Armenians, the Kurds, the Tibetans, the South Sudanese — and the Palestinians. The modern state is the only effective agency for physical protection, economic management and welfare provision. What the most oppressed and impoverished people in the world today most need is a state of their own, a decent state acting on their behalf. I feel some hostility, therefore, toward people who want to ‘transcend’ the state — and I am especially hostile toward those who insist that the transcendence has to begin with the Jews.”

By coincidence, I came across Walzer’s piece on the same day I read an article by Oren Kessler who explored the legacy of Benzion Netanyahu’s political views for his son Binyamin Netanyahu. Since the elder Netanyahu was a follower of the Revisionist leader Zeev Jabotinsky, Kessler outlined Jabotinsky’s views and quoted from his famous “Iron Wall” article published in 1923:

“To Jabotinsky, a Jewish home in Palestine was justified by events past and present. The Romans had expelled the Jews from their homeland two millennia prior, condemning them to an eternity of wandering and depending on the sufferance of other peoples. Virtually every inhabitable corner of the globe was populated by someone, he wrote, and the Jews had historical, spiritual, and emotional ties to one land alone.

‘[S]elf-determination does not mean that if someone has seized a stretch of land it must remain in his possession for all time, and that he who was forcibly ejected from his land must always remain homeless,’ Jabotinsky wrote in his best-known work, the 1923 essay ‘The Iron Wall,’ which remains central to Revisionists’ ideas about Israeli defense policy to this day. ‘Self-determination means revision — such a revision of the distribution of the earth among the nations that those nations who have too much should have to give up some of it to those nations who have not enough or who have none, so that all should have some place on which to exercise their right of self-determination.’”

While Jabotinsky’s Revisionism is nowadays usually described as promoting hardline right-wing positions, his idea that there should be “a revision of the distribution of the earth among the nations” arguably reflects solid left-wing principles of fairness: those who have plenty “should have to give up some of it to those nations who have not enough or who have none, so that all should have some place on which to exercise their right of self-determination.”

One noteworthy aspect of the kind of national self-determination advocated by Jabotinsky here is that he obviously has no sympathy for the blood-and-soil nationalism that became so devastatingly popular among right-wing and fascist groups and that, unfortunately, is also a dominant theme in Palestinian nationalism. Instead, Jabotinsky’s call for a “revision of the distribution of the earth among the nations” ultimately reflects the same principle as Walzer’s liberal “universal statism” which envisages a world where “everybody who needs a state should have one.”

That the Jews needed a state should hardly be controversial given the long history of antisemitism in Europe and the Christian world. Similarly, Jews who lived in the Muslim world usually had to accept the second-class status of dhimmitude, and there are plenty of examples that document arbitrary persecution and anti-Jewish violence throughout the centuries. Eventually, it was the Arab League that provided yet more proof that the Jews did indeed need a state of their own when the organization proceeded in early 1948 to draft laws that, by singling out Jews for discriminatory measures, were reminiscent of the infamous anti-Jewish Nuremberg laws of the Nazis.

It is important to realize that the Jews who felt they needed a state – that is to say, the Zionists – wanted a state mainly for the reasons Walzer lists when he says:

“The modern state is the only effective agency for physical protection, economic management and welfare provision. What the most oppressed and impoverished people in the world today most need is a state of their own, a decent state acting on their behalf.”

By contrast, most Palestinians had, and continue to have, markedly different ideas about why they would like to have a state. The Arabs rejected the UN partition plan in 1947 because for them, a state alongside a Jewish state in Palestine was not worth having – in other words, for them, territorial demands and notions of basically feudalistic ties to land took precedence over all other considerations.

While this understanding would usually be thought of as right-wing, Palestinian demands are nowadays most ardently championed by the left – even if Palestinians openly describe their hardly progressive views. One of the most striking examples is an article by Ahmed Khalidi – a Senior Associate Member of St Antony’s College, Oxford, and former advisor for the Palestinian peace negotiators – who explained the Palestinian ambivalence about statehood in a 2007 Guardian article aptly entitled “Thanks, but no thanks”:

“But statehood as such is a relatively recent addition to Palestinian aspirations. The main Palestinian impetus after the disaster of 1948 was that of ‘return’; it was more about reversing the loss of Arab land and patrimony, than the fulfilment of classical post-colonial self-determination, via statehood.

Driven into national concussion by the catastrophic forced displacement of 1948 and up until the mid-1960s, the sense of a separate ‘Palestinian’ national identity all but disappeared. This ‘lost consciousness’ was only reversed by the emergence of Fatah under Yasser Arafat in the Arab diaspora in the late 1950s.

It was only after the 1967 debacle that a new Palestinian national identity began to take shape. At its core was the notion of the armed struggle as a galvanising force. Armed struggle, according to Fatah, restored Palestinian dignity and gave the Palestinians a say in determining their future.

Statehood and state building had no real place in this scheme. Indeed, the first tentative proposals to establish a state in Palestine (ie the West Bank) were rejected as defeatist and a betrayal of the national cause. This was certainly not an exercise in institution building, land acquisition and state building by stealth, as in the Zionist movement before 1948. After the 1973 war, Fatah’s leaders turned to the notion again. This was largely the result of a realistic reading of the balance of power and a recognition of the limits of what force, on the part of the Arab states or Palestinian irregulars, was likely to achieve. Eventually, in 1988, Arafat himself backed the idea of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders as a historic compromise […]

Today, the Palestinian state is largely a punitive construct devised by the Palestinian’s worst historical enemies; Israel and its implacable ally, the US. The intention behind the state today is to constrain Palestinian aspirations territorially, to force them to give up on their moral rights, renege on their history and submit to Israel’s diktats on fundamental issues of sovereignty.”

Khalidi concludes his piece by arguing that “Palestinians could simply continue to say no to a state that does nothing to address its [sic] basic needs. Either way, it’s hard to see how Israel can win this struggle in the long term.”

For Khalidi, the idea to prevent Israel from “winning” is apparently still crucial, and when he mentions Palestinian rights, territorial “aspirations” remain a central consideration. Khalidi also suggests that the Palestinians might be best off “by demanding equal civil rights to those of the Jews themselves” – not from the government of a state of their own, but from Israel, which, by granting those rights to millions of Palestinians, would of course cease to exist as a Jewish state.

The tasks of a modern state listed by Walzer don’t seem to figure much in Khalidi’s thinking and in the way he views Palestinian aspirations.

It is also noteworthy that the views and positions expressed by Khalidi are widely shared by most of the so-called pro-Palestinian activists campaigning for the Palestinian “cause” in the West – which means that most of them don’t campaign for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, but focus instead on delegitimizing Israel as a Jewish state and on insisting that the Palestinians should have “equal civil rights to those of the Jews themselves” in a state that would do away with Israel as a Jewish state.

Palestinian ambivalence about a state of their own is rarely taken into account when pundits ponder the reasons for the failure of the peace process. Arguably, this is not only because it is always easy and popular to blame Israel, but also because it is fairly awkward to acknowledge that there is little that can be done about this ambivalence:  the price of a Palestinian state alongside Israel would indeed mean giving up the “anti-Zionist” struggle that Khalidi rightly describes as so central for Palestinian national identity; at the same time, Palestinians have little reason to believe that they would then get “a decent state acting on their behalf,” because unfortunately, neither the Palestinian experience with Fatah or Hamas nor the experience in other Arab states encourages such hopes.


Not only on Land Day: the Palestinian blood and soil fixation

“Palestinian blood, Palestinian flesh, the Palestinian national anthem on Palestinian territory. It’s good. It makes me feel proud.”

This is a statement by Jibril Rajoub, president of the Palestinian football federation, quoted in a BBC report about a World Cup qualification game from July last year.

Given the fact that soccer often brings out fierce nationalistic sentiments, this statement by the president of the Palestinian football federation is perhaps not particularly noteworthy.

However, the theme of blood and soil is unfortunately quite dominant in Palestinian nationalism – though the vast army of activists who agitate for the Palestinian “cause” online in English are doing their dedicated best to create a “narrative” tailored to politically correct Western sensibilities.

The image below – used as an illustration in the Wikipedia article on the Palestinian Land Day – perfectly visualizes both the blood and soil fixation of Palestinian nationalism and the carefully constructed message of the supposedly peaceful character of Palestinian activism: In the colors of the Palestinian flag, this poster for Land Day includes a beautiful flower sitting on a layer of green, rooted in black soil, fed by a blood-red river, releasing a blood-red tear or a drop of blood.

Land Day goes back to events in 1976, when Israeli government plans to develop the Galilee required the expropriation of land. Some 30 percent of the land was Arab-owned, but Arab communities were also among the intended beneficiaries of the development plan. Yet, there were violent protests and riots, and in the ensuing confrontations with Israeli security forces, six Israeli-Arab citizens were killed.

As a Jerusalem Post editorial on the 25th anniversary of Land Day in 2001 noted, “much of the annual tension surrounding Land Day results from the all-too-familiar phenomenon of history being mixed with myth.” A short BBC story from the same year nicely illustrates this point. Under the headline “Remembering Land Day,” the BBC claims: “Land Day is the day when Israeli Arabs hold demonstrations to mark the loss of their land to Israel in 1948.” Unsurprisingly, the BBC also claims that all of the expropriated land was owned by Arabs.

It is arguably very instructive to look back at some of the events of Land Day 2001 as described by the Jerusalem Post:

“The culmination of the day’s events was a mass rally held in Sakhnin, where thousands of protesters, including Peace Now members, gathered after taking part in local marches in their home communities. Participants chanted anti-government slogans, but were also seen waving PLO and Syrian flags. This came just days after the Syrian president asserted that Israel’s actions were worse than those of the Nazis, and at a time when the PLO’s main faction, Fatah, is openly involved in acts of terror against Israelis. [This is a reference to the so-called Al-Aqsa intifada.] … At other Land Day events, protesters reportedly unfurled Hizbullah banners and carried posters of the late Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, who is best remembered for his vow to throw Israel into the sea.”

For this year’s Land Day last Friday, Palestinian activists decided to join forces with the groups that sponsored a planned “Global March to Jerusalem” which included various terrorist and extremist groups as well as Iranian organizations. While it may sound cynical, it is unfortunately all too realistic to conclude that the aim of this planned assault on Israel’s borders was the creation of “a new batch of martyrs” whose death would be blamed on Israel.

Indeed, the pervasive glorification of terrorism and “martyrdom” starkly illustrates the Palestinian fixation on blood and soil; some particularly egregious examples include recent events held in celebration of the 47th anniversary of Fatah that promoted the appalling notion that Palestinian children “were created to be fertilizer for the land of Palestine, and for our pure land to be saturated with their blood”  — which is apparently a line from a song that was also performed at an event attended by high-ranking Palestinian leaders.

The Palestinian anthem also includes a line about “longing in my blood for my land and my home” and mentions in addition “the fire of the weapons,” “the land of struggle,” and the notion of Palestine as “vendetta;” according to Wikipedia, the anthem’s title refers to “one who risks his life voluntarily; one who sacrifices himself” – all in all somewhat less offensive than the previous examples, but still quite remarkable language for an anthem that was officially adopted in 1996.

Unsurprisingly, supporters of the Palestinian cause prefer to ignore the prominence of the blood and soil theme in Palestinian nationalism – indeed, and perhaps equally unsurprisingly, a prominent defender of the Palestinian cause like Juan Cole would instead prefer to accuse even a liberal leftist supporter of Israel like Jeffrey Goldberg of promoting “blood-and-soil Israeli nationalist fantasy.”

Europe’s failing elites

I recently looked up the quote warning about the looming “night of fascism” and found to my delight that – according to Walter Russell Mead – it was “the portentous German novelist Günter Grass [who] once warned that the ‘dark night of fascism was falling on America’” and that the American novelist Tom Wolfe riposted “Why is it that ‘the dark night of fascism’ is always falling on America — and always landing on Europe?” [My own view on Grass is here.]

Keeping this in mind – and keeping in mind that Europe is constantly worried about Israel’s political direction – let’s contemplate this scenario:

Imagine a world in which President Obama, Mitt Romney and Pat Buchanan were all running in the presidential election and Buchanan was polling just one or two percentage points behind the other contenders. Is this likely to happen in America? No. But it is happening right now in France.

This is (again) Walter Russell Mead, in a post entitled “Le Pen Is Mightier Than Before.” Mead points out that given the French electoral system, there is no reason (yet) to worry, because Marine Le Pen would almost certainly be kept from the presidency in a second run-off election – just as her father was back in 2002.

However, as noted in the New York Times report to which Mead links, a recent poll has shown “that 31 percent of the French were ‘in agreement with the ideas of the National Front,’ up from 22 percent a year ago and 11 percent in 1999,” and analysts think that “it won’t be a big surprise” if Marine Le Pen managed to get into the second round.

In this context it is interesting to read Francis Fukuyama’s two recent posts on “European Identities.” The first post examines how different European countries have dealt with Muslim immigrant assimilation (and Fukuyama actually argues that France has done relatively well on this count); the second post focuses on the lack of a European identity. I think in both posts, Fukuyama identifies a number of problems and challenges that Israel is also facing when it comes to its minorities. But while Israel may not have any reason to gloat about Europe’s problems, European elites definitely have no reason to feel entitled to preach to Israel – at least if you agree with Fukuyama’s verdict:

Now, let me just conclude by saying that these issues that I have discussed- immigration, national level identity and European level identity-in the next years are going to merge as really the same issue because these are the central issues of all the new populist parties that have arisen all over the continent of Europe. That is to say, opposition to immigration and Euro-scepticism. We have older parties like the Front National in France and the Vlaams Belang in Belgium. But in the last decade we have seen the emergence of new ones, the Party of Freedom in the Netherlands, Danish People’s Party, the Sweden Democrats, True Finn Party, the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) […] in Switzerland. Opposition to Europe and immigration has a common source amongst all these parties. It is basically a populist impulse. It is a feeling that the needs of ordinary citizens have been ignored by the elite with regards to both the deepening of the European Union and to immigration issues. […]

And to be quite honest, the whole European project has been an elite-driven affair. We know that on several occasions when the issue of agreeing to a treaty was put up for popular referendum and when the people gave the wrong answer, the elite would say the people were wrong about that, they are going to have to vote again. So, I think that in a sense the rise of populism reflects in a certain way the deepening of democracy in Europe: the public is not going to be lead along by their elites like they were in the first decades after the Second World War. But it [also] means that there are tremendous dangers for European democracy that lie ahead in the immediate future. I think we all recognize in the European Union that an important process either deepens it or it begins to split apart. The current middle ground is not one that is sustainable.

[…] The deepening project, that is to say to moving from monetary to fiscal union, may make sense in terms of economics, but it is going to have a tremendous number of political costs that need to be taken into account. There is absolutely no grassroots support in Europe for this deepening project; this is again going to be an elite-driven affair […] undertaken for largely technical economic reasons. It is actually something that is already stimulating the renationalization of Europe. […] And it also forces conditions that amount to the suspension of democracy in Europe, now you have technocrats running the governments of Italy and Greece that were not elected in normal fashion by their constituents. The reason why they are there is because of the conditions set not by the Italian and Greek public but set by other parts of Europe. This kind of deepening both on the part by Northern and Southern countries is going to lead to doubts about political accountability in both of the halves. All of this is being undertaken against the background of a prolonged and deepening economic crisis. In many respects this identity problem is one that we all need to think about very deeply; it is one that will come back, I guarantee you, in our politics in the near future.

Just one variant of anti-Zionism

In the flood of commentary elicited by Newt Gingrich’s remarks about the ‘invention’ of Palestinian national identity, a more than two decades-old article by Daniel Pipes has been referenced by several writers. Under the title “The Year the Arabs Discovered Palestine,” Pipes reviews the events of 1920 and explains why the developments of this year gave rise to the first expressions of Palestinian nationalism .

Since I’ve argued in a recent post that would-be peacemakers all too often overlook the problematic fact that Palestinian national identity is to a large degree based on opposing Zionism, I was intrigued to read that Pipes also emphasized:

Ultimately, Palestinian nationalism origi­nated in Zionism; were it not for the exis­tence of another people who saw British Palestine as their national home, the Arabs would have continued to view this area as a province of Greater Syria. Zionism turned Palestine into something worthy in itself; if not for the Jewish aspirations, Sunni Arab attitudes toward Palestine would no doubt have resembled those toward the territory of Transjordan — an indifference only slowly eroded by many years of governmental effort. Palestinian nationalism promised the most direct way to deal with the challenge presented by Zionist settlers.

Putting it perhaps even more starkly, Pipes notes in his conclusion that “Palestinian nationalism is just one variant of anti-Zionism.”

Reading this, I remembered that at the beginning of the article, Pipes describes Palestinian nationalism as “the most widely supported but possibly the least successful nationalist cause of this [i.e. the 20th] century.”

Maybe, just maybe, there’s a connection somewhere?

But since Daniel Pipes seems to be not everyone’s favorite and most trusted Middle East expert, let’s see who else thinks that anti-Zionism is a central part of Palestinian identity: writing in the Guardian almost exactly four years ago, Ahmad Samih Khalidi, a former Palestinian negotiator who is now at Oxford, described the re-emergence of a distinct Palestinian identity that, according to him, had been “lost” in the wake of the “nakba”:

It was only after the 1967 debacle that a new Palestinian national identity began to take shape. At its core was the notion of the armed struggle as a galvanising force. Armed struggle, according to Fatah, restored Palestinian dignity and gave the Palestinians a say in determining their future.

Statehood and state building had no real place in this scheme. Indeed, the first tentative proposals to establish a state in Palestine (ie the West Bank) were rejected as defeatist and a betrayal of the national cause. […] Today, the Palestinian state is largely a punitive construct devised by the Palestinian’s worst historical enemies; Israel and its implacable ally, the US. The intention behind the state today is to constrain Palestinian aspirations territorially, to force them to give up on their moral rights, renege on their history and submit to Israel’s diktats on fundamental issues of sovereignty.

Khalidi concludes his article by suggesting that the Palestinians might pursue a “one-state-solution” or that they “could simply continue to say no to a state that does nothing to address its [sic] basic needs.”

His final sentence is:

Either way, it’s hard to see how Israel can win this struggle in the long term.

In April of this year, Khalidi argued in another Guardian article that there was

a slow but sure manifestation of a new transnational movement, centred less on statehood and more on forging a national project that will traverse the existing Palestinian divides – diaspora, occupied territories and Israeli Arab citizens – and bypass the notion of an independent Palestinian state on part of Palestinian soil. […]

What this approach, still in nascent and tentative form, reflects may be profoundly important for the future of the struggle; a move away from seeking the ever-shifting goalposts of an inevitably constrained and incomplete form of statehood that would come at the expense of equally fundamental rights to a much broader interpretation of self-determination that includes all the divergent Palestinian constituencies, and a much wider and continuing confrontation with the Zionist enterprise in Palestine.

Well, if Pipes is right that Palestinian national identity first began to emerge in 1920, it’s just a few more years until the Palestinians will be able to mark the 100th anniversary of their “continuing confrontation with the Zionist enterprise in Palestine” — 100 years of national anti-Zionism.


Reflections on the invention of peoples

When I recently challenged Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine about his response to Newt Gingrich’s controversial statement about the “invented” Palestinian people, he responded that his “semi-critique of nationalism is equal opportunity” and he suggested that I check out two of his relevant articles. (Twitter exchange Ibishblog – WarpedMirrorPMB December 10; the exchange began when I took issue with Ibish’s argument that “there was no Israel and no such thing as an ‘Israeli people’ before 1948. So the idea that Palestinians are ‘an invented people’ while Israelis somehow are not is historically indefensible and inaccurate;” in response, I pointed out that the “Land of Israel” as well as the “Israelites” are concepts dating back to biblical times.)

I have by now read several of the relevant articles written by Ibish, including the two he urged me to read. In my view, there is no doubt that Ibish’s thoughts on the subject are sophisticated and make for very worthwhile reading; but, for reasons I will explain below, I’m not convinced that his critique of nationalism is as even-handed as he claims.

The first article Ibish recommended to me is entitled “Fetishizing nationalism.” Living up to his claim of being an “equal opportunity”-critic of nationalism, Ibish argues right at the beginning of this piece: “All contemporary nationalisms are based on constructed and imagined narratives about history, geography, culture, ethnicity and religion.” In his concluding paragraph, Ibish again emphasizes:

“The analytical challenge is to recognize that while not all nationalist claims are necessarily equally valid (they may speak on behalf of very few people, for example, and not really have the constituency they claim), in some important senses they are, however, all equally invalid. Championing one’s own nationalism as self-evidently ‘authentic’ at the expense of a well-established, deeply-rooted and much-cherished rival identity is a particularly lowly form of self-delusion, chauvinism and fetishism.”

That last sentence has a seemingly solomonic quality, since it can be read as addressed to Palestinians and Israelis alike. Unfortunately, in the context of this particular article, it seems more likely that Ibish was admonishing those who subscribe to the “traditional Zionist narrative” that Ibish breezily summarizes in a previous paragraph.

The second article Ibish recommended is entitled “Mr. Mileikowsky and the ‘seal of Netanyahu’: the perilous encounter between modern nationalism and ancient history.” Again, at the outset of the piece, Ibish appears to be very much the “equal opportunity”-critic of nationalism he claims to be when he argues:

“the nationalist identities of Egypt or China are not more authentic or legitimate because they claim direct descent from ancient civilizations and kingdoms than is the American one which celebrates its non-ethnic, sui generis (at the time of its founding anyway), and ideological self-definition. All three are equally the products of a set of developments in global history that produced them in their present form at the current moment. The American version of nationalism based on adherence to political principles and a kind of US civic religion can’t be privileged over ethnic nationalisms either, and is also very much grounded in myth, legend and historical fantasy.”

Ibish then proceeds to take on the notion “that there is a hierarchy of legitimacy of nationalist claims and that the Israeli one is simply and obviously superior, older, more ‘authentic’ and more deeply rooted than the Palestinian one.” Continue reading

Highbrow Israel-bashing is hard

Named after Israel’s country code, the +972 site promises “Independent reporting and commentary from Israel and the Palestinian territories.” As far as I can tell, the site’s contributors all seem to agree that this basically means joining the already crowded Israel-bad-Palestinians-good-camp.

Currently, +972 is featuring several articles debating the question whether there is such a thing as “liberal” Zionism. One of the contributions focuses on the question how Zionism differs from other forms of nationalism.

In support of his arguments, the post’s author Sean Lee (described as a Beirut-based American blogger and academic) provides several references to academic works; intentionally or not, this creates the impression that he is well-read and knowledgeable about his subject.

However, Lee proceeds to offer a rather jumbled argument. He starts out by noting that nationalism “implies an in-group and out-group; citizen and non-citizen; us and them.” Therefore, Lee confesses to being “sympathetic to the idea that nationalism is inherently illiberal by the very act of creating this distinction.” Yet, in his view, it should not be overlooked that “Western 21st century nationalism has come a long way from its 19th century origins. Today, American and French nationalism […] are fundamentally political categories that no longer have an ethnic component.”

The most obvious problem with this argument is that both in the US and in France (and everywhere else, for that matter), there is still a difference between citizens and non-citizens.

Less obvious is the misleading claim about the supposedly modern elimination of an ethnic component in the US and France. Let’s dispense with the name-dropping and just turn to Wikipedia, where we find the following under the relevant entries on Jus soli (i.e. right of the soil, or birthright citizenship) and Jus sanguinis (i.e. right of blood):

At the turn of the nineteenth century, nation-states commonly divided themselves between those granting nationality on the grounds of jus soli (France, for example) and those granting it on the grounds of jus sanguinis (right of blood) (Germany, for example, before 1990). However, most European countries chose the German concept of an “objective nationality”, based on word, race or language […] opposing themselves to republican Ernest Renan’s “subjective nationality”, based on a daily plebiscite of one’s belonging to one’s Fatherland.

In other words, the developments of American and French nationalism that Lee describes as recent praiseworthy achievements go back all the way to the beginnings of nationalism.

Importantly, however, the idea of birthright citizenship was originally associated with the assumption that a person who grows up in the country s/he was born will naturally identify with this country’s laws, customs and values, which is reflected in the notion of “a daily plebiscite of one’s belonging to one’s Fatherland.” A contemporary expression of this for modern ears awkwardly phrased notion is found in United States Oath of Allegiance that must be taken by all immigrants who wish to become United States citizens.

Interestingly enough, Sean Lee has written an error-riddled blog post on the debate about an Israeli loyalty oath, where he registered his support for the loyalty oath, “not because it’s right, but rather because I think it helps illustrate the distasteful ideology on which Israel, as an officially Jewish state, is based.”

But back to Lee’s +972 post and the relevant Wikipedia entries that explain:

Many nations have a mixture of ius sanguinis and ius soli, including the United States, Canada, Italy, Israel, Germany (as of recently), Greece, the Republic of Ireland and others. Apart from France, ius sanguinis still is the preferred means of passing on citizenship in many continental European countries.

A long list of countries that “provide immigration privileges to individuals with ethnic ties to these countries” can be found here.

But never mind the facts if the highbrow purpose is to single out Israel’s Law of Return – which Lee mistakenly refers to as “right of return”:

Israel […] is explicitly a state for one category of its citizens: Jews. In both theory and practice, the Jewish state accords certain rights and privileges to Jews that it does not to non-Jews. This is seen most dramatically in the right of return, which states that anyone who has one Jewish grandparent (ironically the same criteria used in the Nuremberg laws) is automatically eligible for Israeli citizenship. Conversion is a little more complicated, but generally speaking, converts to Judaism are also accorded the right of “return.” On the flip side, a Palestinian citizen of Israel from Haifa or Jaffa, not only cannot give Israeli citizenship to his or her spouse in Ramallah or Bethlehem, but the latter cannot even enter Israel so they can live together.

I have to admit that I’m not entirely sure why it is “ironic” that a persecuted people would adopt a law that reflects a deadly historic experience, but maybe my sense of irony isn’t sufficiently developed.

But let’s get to “the flip side.” Indeed, Lee’s flip side example is very interesting, involving “a Palestinian citizen of Israel from Haifa or Jaffa” who would like to pass on his or her citizenship to a “spouse in Ramallah or Bethlehem.”

The citizenship of the “Palestinian citizen of Israel” is obviously Israeli, and if his or her prospective spouse was a non-Jewish person holding e.g. American or European citizenship, the “Palestinian citizen of Israel” would face exactly the same bureaucratic procedures as any other Israeli citizen who plans to marry somebody from abroad and wants his or her spouse to have Israeli citizenship. In other words, it’s not about Jewish privilege, as Lee implies.

Moreover, Lee may not know it, but in most countries, foreign spouses cannot claim a right to citizenship and must instead apply for naturalization – which usually also means that they must meet certain conditions, such as, to quote one particularly shocking (!!!) example, “that the applicant not endanger the internal or external security of Switzerland.”

A final note: In an attempt to do some comparative research to find out how many things Lee gets wrong when he writes about Arab or Palestinian nationalism, I only found out that he seems to prefer to write about Zionism. No doubt this is a terribly important subject when you live in Beirut.