Sunday, December 23, 2007

Transnational Constitution? Stay Calm, Stay Tuned

Adalah Legal Center is the closest thing Israeli Arabs have to a mainstream think-tank. It is staffed by civil rights attorneys, mostly Israeli trained, who’ve been seasoned by (at times, successful) efforts to turn Israel’s courts against the structural discrimination of the state apparatus. Although formally nonpartisan, many of its activists have been close to Israel’s Balad Party, founded by the former MK, Azmi Bishara. More recently, Adalah has been morphing from a lawyerly non-profit, aiming at piecemeal legal reforms, into a center of political activism, engaging the Israeli public as a whole with public drafts of a new constitution. It is trying (what George H.W. Bush called) "the vision thing."

Bishara, whom I interviewed at length for my forthcoming book, has become a fugitive from the Israeli secret service, who’ve accused him of abetting Hezbollah during the last Lebanon war. When I spoke with him in 2005, he was still promoting the idea of Israeli Arabs as a national minority deserving of special status, something like radical Quebecers in Canada. Last year, Adalah brought out what it called a multi-cultural constitution for Israel, which pretty much put into legal terms Bishara’s peculiar political demands. Israel, it implied, should become binational, but in an awkward way that would give extraordinary privileges to the elected leadership of the Israeli Arab community, which would be recognized as a nation apart, though not quite part of a future Palestinian state.

Bishara had told me that, for its Palestinian Arab citizens, the real tragedy of Israel’s founding was the destruction of their elite bourgeoisie, which had been on a more or less equal footing with the Jews before the 1948 War. (Like most people who use the term bourgeoisie in this approving way, Bishara is a former Marxist.) The point of Adalah’s constitution, not coincidentally, was to reconstitute that elite by means of a kind of affirmative action. If Palestinians could not have an independent middle-class equal to the Jews, they would at least wield a bureaucratic and legislative power in the state apparatus equal to Jews.

Thus, although Israeli Arabs are one-fifth of the population, virtually any legislation impinging on Arab citizens would be subject to a kind of veto of Arab legislators. Lands confiscated from Arab citizens in 1948 would be returned. Arab towns would be reestablished. State symbols should be approved by a committee, half of whom would be Arab. Arabic should be an official language with statue equal to Hebrew. Yet Arab schools should be autonomous. The only thing missing is the British Mandate.

Would Israeli Arab elites (I asked Bishara) really want to stay in their township-like villages, and develop their own political economic infrastructure—not move to Tel-Aviv, or turn their villages into commercial suburbs of this global metropolis? There is, based on the votes of feet, room for doubt. To its credit, the Adalah constitution tried to move Israel to separate religion and state, and argued that public discussion should get beyond who is a Jew and get to what is a citizen. But instead of looking forward, Adalah seemed stuck in the past, internalizing the most tribal notions of nation, wanting an apology for 1948, and implying changes for Israel that were unnecessarily provocative and, in any case, impractical.

Until Friday. In a remarkable break (which he has not exactly acknowledged), Adalah’s chairman Hassan Jabareen has begun speaking about a larger federation of Israel and Palestine into which the Israeli Arab community would be subsumed. The model would be the new Europe, including the European Convention on Human Rights. The jurisdiction of a transnational entity would regulate our rights in both Israel and Palestine: it would celebrate culturally distinct nations in different states, sharing what needs to be shared in the context of a Europe-like framework.

It will be fascinating to follow how the Adalah scheme plays out. I shall follow it closely from now on. Many Israeli Jews will see yet another threat, no doubt. But Jabareen's logic suggests how the positive forces of globalization can help nations win without making others lose; it implies how to bring both Israel and Palestine up to code. Anyway, one can see how important Israeli Arabs will be to setting a framework for a workable solution between two states and, simultaneously, Israel's majority and minority. Like European Jews in 1848, Israeli Arab intellectuals have everything to gain from the virtues of federation and the pleasures of civil society. Which is why they have much to teach.

7 comments:

bar_kochba132 said...

This is one of your more amusing pieces. You state "Israeli Arabs have everything to gain from the virtues of federation and the pleasures of civil society. Which is why they have much to teach". Exactly WHAT do the Arabs have to teach us about civil society? That the rest of us should go back and divide ourselves into tribes and clans and run our affairs on that basis? Have you seen how Israeli Arab towns are run? (this is the best demonstration of how Arabs respond to western-style democratic machinery in the world). Election results are always based on the clan vote. The ruling clans are generally loathe to enforce taxation and other regulations against their own clan/family/hamullah members which is a big reason why so many Israeli municipalities are chronically bankrupt and poorly maintained (yes, there are some Jewish towns run in a similar manner but they are the exception).
Where can you show me the "virtures of Federation and civil society" that the Arabs can teach us?......Algeria, maybe? Bloody civil war in recent years, more than 100,000 dead. Lebanon--there is a good one...multi-cultural, mutliconfessional....oops, I forget their civil war that went on for 15 years with tens of thousands of dead, and which is now in political paralysis with the everpresent danger of re-exploding. How about Egypt....suffocating, unresponsive dictatorship, voter turnout is usually around 10%. Read Nobel Prize Winner Naguib Mahfouz's novel about the civil servant who tries to get ahead, and the Egyptian Civil Service's corruption, bribery and inertia. Back to "Federation", how about Iraq, another multicultural, multi-confessional state? Better forget that one ('nuff said?).
Or how about "moderate-pro-Western" Jordan, where they recently re-Gerrymandered the Parliamentary districts in order to prevent the elections results going against the King's wishes. Then , of course, there is Saudi Arabia which is probably the only country in the world, including North Korea, that doesn't have even at least a "rubber-stamp" parliament.

You keep throwing out "globalization" as some kind of panacea for the intractable Arab-Israeli conflict. The Arabs are terrified by "globalization" because opening up their societies and their economies to accomodate its demands would endanger the ruling cliques in each Arab country. For them, it is better to keep their population poor and backwards and to maintain their own power, rather than reform. I recall Shimon Peres ("Mr The New Middle East" in which Israel would become a member of the Arab League) saying at the height of the Oslo "Peace" delusion of the 1990's that "The Arabs have no choice but to make peace with Israel due to globalization because they Arabs will fall behind if they don't go along for the ride". Well, did that happen? No, because maintaining power is the main goal of the regime, and as long as they have an efficient Mukhabarat (secret police) and a loyal army, they have proven their ability to maintain their power for decades and hand power over to their sons, while keeping their population poor and repressed.

You old Labor Zionists seem to have a hard time shaking your old Marxist ideology which says everything boils down to economics and people's main interests is in their economic advancement. This is false, but you guys can't seem to grasp this. Just look at HAMAS in Gaza...they won power in the election by promising NO PEACE, and endless war until victory, and the people there bought it, even at the price of economic decline.
This is the reality, not your phantasmagorical dreams.

Jerry Haber said...

"The only thing missing [from the Adalah 'Democratic Constitution'] is the British mandate...Instead of looking forward, Adalah seemed stuck in the past, internalizing the most tribal notions of nation, wanting an apology for 1948, and implying changes for Israel that were unnecessarily provocative and, in any case, impractical."

Spoken like a true liberal Zionist, a defender of a regime that "internalizes the most tribal notions of nation," a regime whose foundational assumptions in its Declaration of Indepenence are without peer in any western democracy today -- including those of the former Soviet Union.

The above quote, Bernie, seems to be a case of the pot calling the humus "black".

Adalah's proposed constitution (which was put on the table for consideration as a work-in-progress and not as fixed in stone), while it properly sought to redress past injustices, was a forward-looking document that took its models from progressive states currently in existence. It argues for a "democratic, bilingual, multicultural state." The term "binational" does not appear once in the document, although you claim, without argument, that it is implied. Is Canada a binational state? The trouble is that its notion of cultural autonomy threatens the Zionist notion of cultural hegemony that is at the foundation of the 1948 regime.

One can argue about the constitutions's models --as an American baby boomer, I need to be convinced of the desirability of cultural autonomy for minorities --but I haven't heard them called "regressive" except by Zionists who, admittedly, have much to lose by regime change.

Throughout the document, parallels are brought from other contemporary democracies. The Isrealii state that would emerge would certainly be more progressive than the ethno-nationalist regime founded here in 1948.

Moreover, the new transnational constitution, from what I read, would not replace Adalah's proposed Democratic Constitution for Israel, but would be what it says it is -- a separate constitution for states in the region like the European Constitution. You seem to think that Adalah is giving up on the old vision and coming in with a new one that will make you happy --perhaps some limitations on state's sovereignty, to be sure, but allowing the component states to remain as they are (well, in the case of Israel, as it is.)

Anyway, I look forward to you post that criticizes Canada's regressive and reactionary regime.

A word on "impractical". Liberal Zionist for over sixty years have been dismissing any but their own solutions as "impractical." Magnes was dismissed as impractical. The "practical" solution was implemented in 1948. Since then tens of thousands of Jews and Arabs have died in a conflict whose end is -- I emphasize -- nowhere in sight.

Short-term practical is sometimes long-term disastrous.

Jerry Haber, aka the Magnes Zionist

PS. If you think that this comments "balances" the above comment, please read my post on "Moving Past Walt and Mearsheimer and Getting Stuck in the Middle."

bar_kochba132 said...

Well, Jerry (or whatever your name is), had we did what Magnes and his Brit Shalom buddies had wanted in 1948 instead of setting up our own state, we would have had here another Lebanon with HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of dead and you wouldn't have had the opportunity, like me, to make aliyah.

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