The Mantra of Israel’s Right of Existence

The Mantra of Israel’s Right of Existence

Anis Hamadeh

After the construction of the wall, the introduction of executions, the war on Lebanon, the employment of controversial weapons and diverse other events, the worldwide indignation about the State of Israel has increased, as has the engagement of Israel apologists who, for instance, can be found regularly in the German media. Their basic argument is that the right of Israel’s existence must be secured, often enriched with attributes like “unconditionally”, “not negotiable” or the like. The underlying scenario can be described like this: “The citizens of Israel, the only democracy in the region, are living under a permanent existencial threat. The non-Democrats of Hamas, Hizbollah, Syria, Iran and others seek to destroy Israel. Often they are motivated by an exaggerated Islamic religion or pure hatred of Jews. As the Jews no longer want to be victims of history, they defend themselves. Because of the genocide of the Jews it is the duty of Germany and the world to support them in this struggle.”

There are several points for discussion in this framework which is prevailing in our public. The first striking thing is that the actions of the State of Israel are not being examined in respect to their effects. The focus is on the situation of menace, an axiom that is not itemized. What, for example, are the effects of the occupation and the settlements on Israel’s security? Did Israel really protect itself by building a wall on Palestinian soil? Do the international deliveries of weapons for Israel indeed help to stabilize the political situation? Or do all those elements evoke terror to begin with? For there are indications that the trauma of World War II is defining the situation in the Middle East and it is the argument of Israel’s right of existence where this becomes most obvious.

What does this argument mean, anyway? It is steadily repeated and reaffirmed like a mantra, and yet it remains uncertain what it is all about. In which way is Israel to be acknowledged, by whom, and why? Israel does exist, doesn’t it? When it was founded, this was not done in coordination with its neighbors or the United Nations. It did not happen in the scheduled borders and it was accompanied by mass expulsions and disappropriations of the indigenous population. It hardly comes by surprise that Israel’s popularity in the region thus remained limited. Does the acknowledgement of Israel’s right of existence entail to neglect these historic facts? Israel has no defined borders, so what is to be recognized? The occupation? The non-compliance with UN resolutions? Is it Zionism that is to be recognized, this thing that we do not talk much about for good reasons, or may it be philo-Semitism? Is it the terror that ought to stop? What is the root of this terror? And where is the parting line between terror and resistance, who defines this line and with what competence?

The thesis, according to which Jews are persecuted because of their history and/or group-intrinsic characteristics and that they are living in a situation of permanent threat, is central in the demand of this ominous right of existence. There is an ideological potential inherent to it, as it is a politically relevant allegation that can hardly be proven or refuted. The group’s own behavior is neglected for the self-defined Jewish policies in Israel and the region cannot lead to a relaxation. They do not find a way to juxtapose the scenario of being threatened with a tangible wishful perspective and to work for this aim. Some analysts interpret this lack as a persistent remaining in the trauma.

Moreover, the thesis of anti-Semitism can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy like any other claim of the “nobody likes me” kind. The sentiment of being threatened is subjective and coined by events that did not take place in the Middle East. Palestine neither has an army nor are there heavy weapons like in Israel. In view of the situation it is by no means astonishing that there is resistance, sporadically also violent and injust resistance. One cannot collectively punish the Palestinian society for those who fire mini-missiles from Gaza, just as one does not sanction societies for their soccer hooligans or their criminals. The collective punishments generate more terror, this is a truism. In this respect Israel is destroying itself and this has a lot to do with the deliberately vague concept of Israel’s right of existence. For the so-called friends of Israel’s contribute to the escalation with their attitude of laisser faire and their stereotype portrayals of Jews and Arabs/Muslims.

But how can it be that the above scenario can be implemented so deeply in the heads of our public? If everybody says that this is an adequate mental framework, isn’t there necessarily something to it? There are two points against this: on the one hand we find other publics, for example Arab publics, in which other, substantiated scenarios prevail. They contain information that complete the picture, like the occupation and expulsion mentioned above. (These Arab publics certainly have defects of their own, too, they are not superior.)

On the other hand we can witness a clear discrepancy between the (frontal) public and personal opinions. It is the very mantra character of the existence argument that indicates that a group is to be sworn to certain truths that are beyond questioning and criticism. This strategy of affirmation is a phenomenon of group behavior. The struggle is not about the right of existence of all involved parties, but that of one particular group, “our” group. Whoever adopts this behavior in the group public will raise in the group and gain prestige. Such a behavior is not necessary on the personal level. Thus, the information we receive from the frontal public in its totality neither is a representation of the general opinion nor of historic facts.

As there cannot be peace wihout a restructuring of the conflicting scenarios on a higher level and as we are living a time of escalation, it is important to suggest even to the unconditional friends of Israel’s that their statements and behavior can well lead to the very opposite of the desired effect.