Whether the State of Israel has a ‘right to exist’ is a well-publicised topic. The two previous posts looked at less publicised issues: whether whether the destruction of the Jewish people constitutes a genocide and the existence right of the Jewish people.
This post looks at how to assess the existence of the State of Israel. It does not have a formal right to exist, since states do not have existence rights in international law, and they would be impossible to implement anyway. However, people do talk about Israel’s ‘right to exist’ in a less formal sense. They mean that there ought to be a State of Israel. That could be formalised a a preference for the State of Israel, above possible geopolitical alternatives. That preference is not, however, self-evidently the right choice.
When supporters of Israel speak of its right to exist, they also mean its existence in its intended form. It was founded to implement the ideology of Zionism – to create a national homeland for the Jewish people, and to fill it with Jewish migrants from Europe and their descendants. Its precursor state is British Mandate Palestine, created after the First World War from on former Ottoman territories.
For this state with this purpose, there are many possible geopolitical alternatives: restoration of a western mandate state, an Arab League mandate state, a secular Jewish-Palestinian state, accession to Egypt, an Islamic state of Palestine, a Levant state on the eastern Mediterranean seaboard, a Greater Syria, or a Euro-Mediterranean superstate, among others.
To compare Israel with the other possible states, criteria are needed. States have been assessed in modern history, although not often in public. After the fall of Austria-Hungary, for instance, western diplomats assigned territory and borders to the new nation-states, using certain criteria. Most of this work was done in secret, and only published when the decisions had been made.
‘Natural boundaries’ are the best know of all criteria for the existence of a state, but rivers and mountain ranges are not necessarily the boundary of a geographic entity. A diplomat sees a river as an ideal border: a geographer knows the the river basin is a unit, including both banks of the river. In any case, natural boundaries do not necessarily define social or economic units. It is also generally recognised that a state’s territory should be contiguous: East and West Pakistan, separated by India, inevitably parted company.
This type of criteria can be summarised by the principle that geographical, economic and administrative unity are desirable for a state.
‘Unity’ does not mean uniformity or monotony: it means that the boundaries of states should form a logical division of the planet’s land surface. If a boundary divides a geographical region, and the population, language, culture and economy are the same on both sides, then the boundary is clearly in the wrong place. It is arbitrary – as if it had been drawn at random. If that applies to the entire boundary of a state, then there is probably something wrong with the state itself. Failed boundaries imply that the state should get better boundaries, or be dissolved.
That is not the whole story, however. States can also have a function, which differs from that of other states. Buffer states are classic examples: they serve the interest of neighbouring great powers rather than the interests of their inhabitants, who may not have wanted to live together in one state anyway. States can theoretically have an ethical function, although there are no current or historic examples. Most modern states do have a specific non-ethical function: they are nation-states, and they exist to provide a national homeland for a specific nation. That is usually taken for granted: the other possible functions of states are rarely considered explicitly.
The State of Israel and its supporters do claim, that it has a special protective function: a last refuge for the Jews in the face of global persecution, a guarantee against possible extermination. This claim can be rationally assessed. Are there no other ways to prevent a mass murder of the Jews? If there are, then this function can not serve as justification for the state’s existence.
With such criteria, it is possible to assess whether the existence of the State of Israel has value. The result will be negative, because Israel was not founded on rational principles of public administration, economic policy, or regional development. It was established on purely ideological grounds, to implement the Zionist claim to a Jewish nation-state. Without Zionism there would have been no Jewish state in Palestine. The evolution of Israel’s borders since 1948 was determined by military factors. State and society are by now directed at the states’s continued existence, and the defence of those borders. None of this would produce a rational unit with logical borders. It is therefore unlikely that the state would have other advantages, which justify its existence.
There are other negative functional factors to consider. It is important to distinguish between a state’s political culture and self-image, and its actual function in the system of states. However, the function can be influenced by politics, not necessarily in the state itself. The European right, traditionally antisemitic, is gradually adopting the State of Israel as an icon of its values. It sees Israel as an outpost of western values and western civilisation, within the Islamic world. It sees Israel as a front-line state, in a 1400-year long Jihad against the West. It sees the ‘left-wing elites’ in Europe as allies of Islam, and Israel and the Jews as their target, because they stand in the way of Islamisation. This is the perspective of the Eurabia theory, which has its origins in European Jews’ fears of a pro-Palestinian European Community (the predecessor of the European Union).
This tiny country is situated on the fault line of jihad, frustrating Islam’s territorial advance. Israel is facing the front lines of jihad, like Kashmir, Kosovo, the Philippines , Southern Thailand, Darfur in Sudan , Lebanon , and Aceh in Indonesia . Israel is simply in the way. The same way West-Berlin was during the Cold War.
The war against Israel is not a war against Israel . It is a war against the West. It is jihad. Israel is simply receiving the blows that are meant for all of us. If there would have been no Israel , Islamic imperialism would have found other venues to release its energy and its desire for conquest. Thanks to Israeli parents who send their children to the army and lay awake at night, parents in Europe and America can sleep well and dream, unaware of the dangers looming.
Geert Wilders at the Four Seasons in New York, 2012
At the same time as the European right shifted to support for Israel, Israeli politics and public opinion turned against the European Union. It also came to see antisemitism as a characteristic of the left. Its perception of its enemies shifted from them being ‘the Arabs’, to them being ‘the Muslims’. Judaism itself is changing, as more and more Jews define it, at least partly, by opposition to Islam. They see Islam as an essentially antisemitic religion.
The result is a gradual re-orientation of Israel toward a more ideological status, rather than as simple ‘national homeland’ or a refuge. Israel is assuming the function that it is attributed to it by the philosemitic European right, and by the Eurabia theory. The Jews who fled to Israel after the Second World War have, as it were, re-entered European politics. Israel is becoming a functionally Eurosceptic state, allied with the new European right, and with them opposed to Islamic influence in Europe. It is no longer solely the national homeland of the Jews, but the emotional homeland of the right, a sort of Wildersland.
It is unlikely that the State of Israel would abandon its primary function as Jewish national homeland. That does not prevent it from taking on other roles in the system of states. If Israel is a source of constant right-wing pressure to preserve the nation-state, to restrict immigration, and to block the emergence of a European state, then Israel has a negative function. In combination with the negative assessment of its value as a state, that is reason to seek its disappearance.