What’s Wrong With Israeli Nationalism?
Nationalism has a bad name today. As if protecting your country from illegal migrants is a bad thing, a racist thing. As if being a proud member of your nation makes you elitist. As if, as is the case in Israel, singing your national anthem or displaying the national flag on Independence Day should be discouraged because these displays of patriotism are offensive to the Arab minority who surely cannot help but feel left out of things at best or a second-class citizen at worst.
A simple Google search of the word, nationalism, brings up the following definition:
Unfortunately, however, this definition is tainted with its more extreme version, chauvinism:
Therefore, I would edit the definition of nationalism above to be simply:
identification with one’s own nation and support for its interests.
The second half of the definition,
especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations,
belongs more rightfully in the definition of chauvinism.
When we cheer for our national Olympic teams and for the singers representing our countries in the Eurovision contest, we are showing pride of nation, patriotism, identification with our own countries. Should we seek to do away with these emotional displays? Without the friendly competition among nations there would be no Olympics, no Eurovision. There would be no FIFA.These international competitions at which we root for our own national contestants provides a framework for healthy nationalism.
The fact that there is war does not mean that nationalism is a fault. It is chauvinism that is the problem, among other phenomena.
At Least Be Consistent
Funny that those, Jews and otherwise, who want Israel to be more considerate of the feelings of the Arabs-who-now-call-themselves-Palestinians have no problem with so-called Palestinian nationalism.
They have no problem with the fact that the anticipated so-called Palestinian country of the two-state solution will be Jew-free, a real apartheid; on second thought — not apartheid — but ethnically cleansed of Jews. Like what Jordan did between 1948 and 1967. While Jordan killed or exiled the Jews living in Jerusalem and Judea & Samaria, the Arabs accused Israel of genocide/ethnic cleansing of the Arabs from within what became the 1948 armistice lines. Yet we did such a poor job of ethnic cleansing that 20% of the Israeli population are non-Jews, whereas between 1948 and 1967, 0% of Judea & Samaria were Jews.
Nobody had a problem with that. And very few seem to be perturbed by the thought of once more evicting Jews from the heartland of our Jewish spirituality and peoplehood.
The Tragedy of Anti-Nationalism in General
Unfortunately, European countries that do not agree to open their borders to masses of refugees and economic migrants coming in from Asia and Africa, who want to maintain their national characters as distinct, are scorned by those who favour a more homogenized Europe, a more homogenized world. And what would that world look like?
For one thing, would we see the brilliance of a Naguib Mahfouz emerging from a homogenized Egypt? What about a Rohinton Mistry from a homogenized India? A Gabriel Garcia Marquez from a homogenized Colombia? Is not part of the charm of literature the opening of windows into other cultures, other ways of experiencing humanity, family, personal triumph and tragedy that enrich our own lives? Would we not lose something of value in a homogenized globalized world?
People need belongingness and always try to aggregate into manageably sized groups to which they feel a sense of belonging, attachment, loyalty: a group with which they share certain characteristics, whether that is language, religion, values, history, goals. And these groups are self-defined; they, themselves, determine who is within and who is without. That does not have to operate to the detriment of outsiders; if there is mutual respect and willingness to cooperate it can work quite well. Being proud of your nation does not have to mean thinking your nation is better than others, just different, better for you, and it includes the understanding that other nations are better for those who identify with each of them. Remember the difference between nationalism and chauvinism.
And the push for anti-nationalism, globalism, is nothing more than a desire to build an empire. There was the Roman Empire, the British Empire, the Caliphates, and small and large empires on almost every continent. Mostly, the empires were settler-colonial projects imposing empire rules on various tribes and peoples, smashing their cultures and group pride.Who benefited from living in an empire? The rich, the rulers, in short: the elite; the common people who may have made up the majorities within their own natural boundaries became minorities in the empire, minorities without equality.
I find it ironic that those claiming that nationalism promotes elitism and inequality do not see that elitism and inequality are most obvious in empires.
Today, it is clear that the Islamists want to impose a Caliphate on the world, but not only them. The multinational corporations are seeking to turn the world into an economic empire under their thumbs. Leaders like Merkel want nations to give up their sovereignty to a “super-state”. And who would run that super-state? Would there be a democratically elected super-government? Unlikely. Undermining national borders and cultures and symbols in the push for a global government would pit an elite that rules against the needs and desires of the common people, and perhaps this super-state would turn into a super-apartheid. And where would the human rights ngo’s be then? Does anyone believe they would be able to exert any influence on a super-government, on the empire leadership?
Nationalism is a Good Thing
Nationalism helps organize groups of people who feel a common destiny, common characteristics, group culture, into governable units. It helps them define the nature of the group and who may enter and who may not. That is just fine. It is as it should be. With so many nations around the world, there can be a place for everyone.
What there cannot be, should not be, are groups of people who think they have the right to lord it over the rest of humanity.
What we have not yet learned how to do is how to resolve conflicts without killing. Globalization will not change that; globalization will not make people feel less hatred, resort less to violence. And these problems are not because of nationalism. They are related to at least three separate phenomena:
- to low national self-esteem; just as low personal self-esteem can be expressed either by extreme passiveness or by violence, low national self-esteem can be expressed by either extreme passivity in face of threat or the opposite: by threatening others, in other words, by chauvinism;
- to the residual impact of settler-colonial powers who drew borders in pre-national regions of the world without taking into consideration natural tribal and ethnic allegiances thereby creating unstable political units; and
- to empires that insisted that the indigenous peoples forget their native languages and their ancient spiritual traditions in favour of the settler-colonial languages and religions.
We will see healthy nationalism when former conquerors give it up and allow naturally aligned peoples to develop their own independent sovereign states, even if these end up with borders that differ from those that are currently drawn on the map, and revitalize their own indigenous languages, social network frameworks and their lost spiritual traditions.
I know that is a pipe-dream. So I can just be grateful that we Jews have our own modern sovereign State of Israel re-established on our own sacred lands, the seat of our peoplehood. Minorities who are happy to link arms with us as we march into the future are very welcome here and will enjoy full individual civil rights, but minorities who seek our destruction should find another place to live. Healthy nationalism demands nothing less of its citizens.