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Israel does not have a right to exist – nor does any other state

People have the right to exist – not states.


States are political formations, born out of the interaction of any number of factors – economic, ethnic, topographical, military, form of governance, and so forth.  They are not sentient beings in any meaningful way. It is, therefore, simply a category mistake to assimilate the concept of human rights to that of state formations.

From Israel’s perspective, however, it is a category mistake that it sees virtue in sustaining. This because in common discourse rights are seen as a good thing, to be promoted, not opposed – almost a self-evident good not to be challenged or disrespected. 

The trick that Israel’s highly effective hasbara – literal meaning: explaining – plays is precisely in assimilating the concept human rights to a claimed right to exist as a state.  It is, as so often with Israel, another example of its predilection for sustained acts of legerdemain – whereby lies and misinformation disport wearing the garb of truth, the better to deceive.

Israel’s highly effective hasbara.......another example of its predilection for sustained acts of legerdemain – whereby lies and misinformation disport wearing the garb of truth, the better to deceive.

States, of course, come and go; and others, to a greater or lesser extent, in acts of self-generated will, change their very nature. Apartheid South Africa is an example. The Apartheid South African state did not formally dissolve itself. Instead, it promulgated a radically reformed constitution that countered and annulled the prior Apartheid regime.

Other states determine for themselves their own dissolution. The Czechoslovakian state self-determined its own peaceful dissolution, effective from December 31, 1992, into two independent countries: the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The process has been dubbed the Velvet Divorce.

The citizens of the pre-dissolution Czechoslovakian state clearly did not think the state had a right, still less an imperative, to exist. The people’s right to exist, however, continued in an unbroken continuum traversing both the pre-dissolution state, and the two states that were subsequently created.  In principle, a person’s right to exist is not annulled by virtue of a state fading away, or radically changing its character.  

Closer to home, so far as I’m aware, the United Kingdom has never claimed a right to exist, though it may very much wish to continue to do so. But it accepts, for example, that the people of Scotland and Wales, should they care to, may divorce from the United Kingdom to become independent states. In such a case, if either or both removed themselves from the state formation that presently is the United Kingdom, that state would no longer exist; but this would not affect people’s right to exist though now living under a new constitutional dispensation – an independent Wales, an independent Scotland, and a new state formation to take the place of what was the United Kingdom. Individuals have, as Hannah Arendt put it, the right to have rights.

The right to self-determination

Article One of the Jewish Nation-State Basic Law, proclaims that it is within the State of Israel that Jewish people fulfils its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination; and, further, The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people. In other words, the Israeli state is founded on an exclusionary principle, constitutionally embedding rejection of the non-Jewish citizen’s right to the full, unfettered expression of his or her personhood, individually or in congress with others.

Over and above issues connected with citizenship and statehood, Article One of the Jewish Nation-State Basic Laws strongly suggests that Jews can only, or at least mainly, fulfil their own desire for self-determination via an explicitly, exclusive Jewish state. The implication here is that the absence of a specifically Jewish state somehow hinders or damages Jews’ present and future capacity for self-determination, presumably in a wide range of areas. This is an odd claim given the at least 2,000 years of history, absent a specifically Jewish state, wherein Jewish religious, cultural, political, artistic and scientific flourishing occurred; and now occurs, irrespective of Israel’s existence.

Tendentious conflations

Israel’s conflation of the rights of people, with those of states, linked to the view that Jewish self-determination can only be realised within an exclusivist state, is but casuistry, a sleight of hand designed to deflect attention away from the fundamental fault line running through the Israeli state: that by virtue of its claimed right to exist as a specifically Jewish state it is at the same time promulgating for itself a perverse, negative right: to deprive others, not Jewish, the right to a full, unfettered, existence.  Israel is best understood as a rights-denying state entity.

What follows?

Israelis, and the non-Israeli Zionist Jews who so ardently and uncritically support it, must see, not least in the light of current events, that the Israeli state is inherently unstable, unsustainable, a perspective addressed in an earlier article: Israel: a state of contradiction.

The time has surely come to relinquish the barren Zionist dream of an exclusivist Jewish state, a construct that will always create turmoil and feel insecure to the very people who placed their hopes for security and peace in it. A state based on exclusionary principles will always have to fight to maintain itself, not only causing hurt and damage to its victims, but also to itself – a bleak legacy to pass on to one’s children.

Czechoslovakians came to see that the state-form within which they subsisted, had had its day. It therefore took its future in its hands and voluntarily, peacefully, dissolved itself. That, too, is a choice for Israel and its Zionist allies.  Dissolve, create a new, inclusive reality within the confines of one democratic state wherein all – Palestinians, Jews, Muslims, refugees, those of other and no faith – can self-determine their joint, but also independent, futures.


i) this is from Bernard's blog. He writes mainly about Palestine/Israel and related issues; sometimes other stuff too;

ii) the views expressed are Bernard's and do not necessarily represent CAMPAIN as an institution;

iii) reader: please add your comments below.

1 Comment

I believe the Good Friday Agreement is an important international precedent

Northern Ireland was established as a "home for Protestants" on the Island of Ireland.

The Good Friday Agreement (strongly endorsed by countries like Germany) stated that a country should be for all its peoples irrespective of religious identity. If this principle applies in a part of Europe, why doesn't it apply in the Middle East ?

Does Ethnic Cleansing have a right to exist ? Since Ethnic Cleansing is violent racism most people would answer "no".

So if Ethnic Cleansing has no right to exist, why does a state that owes it's existence to ethnic cleansing have a right to exist ?

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