Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Al Jazeera Panel: Is Zionism Compatible With Democracy?

Is Zionism compatible with democracy? Panel with Mehdi Hasan, Shlomo Ben-Ami, Avi Shlaim, Paul Charney, and Diana Buttu. Video. Head to Head. Al Jazeera English, March 7, 2014. Transcript. YouTube.

Transcript excerpt: 

Mehdi Hasan: Okay, how does a political ideology which, at its core, is about privileging a particular ethic group presumably over other ethnic groups. How do you reconcile that with the principles of Liberalism, which is about equal rights for all, equal citizenship for all?

Shlomo Ben Ami: I think you need an effort to reconcile the two, to square the circle. It’s not easy, but I do agree that there is a fundamental anomaly in the creation of the state of Israel. This can perhaps explain the controversy around the Jewish state because it was created in a very particular way. And, given the background of Jewish history as we know it. But I do believe that enlightened leadership and more sober political construction in Israel could have bridged that kind of squaring the circle.

Mehdi Hasan: But when you talk about squaring the circle or anomaly some people go further. They say “there is an inherent, more than just a tension, there is a contradiction when you talk of being a Jewish and democratic state.” It is like talking about hot ice. It’s a contradiction in terms, it is an oxymoron.

Shlomo Ben Ami: No it is not an oxymoron. I mean, you can be a Jewish state where the Jews are a majority but is fully, unconditionally respectful of the minorities. Look, without declaring it, many other states throughout the world gave priority to a majority ethnic or religion.

Mehdi Hasan: You’re right, if we take the United States, for example, you could say there’s a big debate about indigenous people there, Australia. The difference, surely, is that in the nature of Zionism, surely it’s about preserving a Jewish majority and that Jewish majority, of course, came about by expelling some of the Palestinians who were living within those original borders, those UN-mandated borders. You wouldn’t have a Jewish majority and a Jewish state had you not expelled Palestinians along the way.

Shlomo Ben Ami: Well, this is the way the state of Israel was created. I’m not trying to whitewash the anomaly in the creation of the state of Israel by saying that nations normally throughout history were born in blood and were born in sin. The difference is that Israel was born in the age of mass media. Imagine that the United States would have been born in the age of mass media after the elimination of the indigenous people.

Mehdi Hasan: Today, the United States does not say it is the nation or the country of one particular ethnic group or religion. And, whereas the Jewish state is called the Jewish state. You are, in its very title it is privileging one group of people over another group of people who happen to live within that state’s borders.

Shlomo Ben Ami: [INTERRUPTING] Ah, well…

Mehdi Hasan: …That’s why people talk about – it’s an ethnocracy, not a democracy, some suggest.

Shlomo Ben Ami: You need to see that against the background of Jewish history. Now what we need is to reconcile that complex historical background with what a normal state should be.