Patriot of a Non-Existing Country

We have the right to hate Germany, because we love it. When speaking of Germany, we should be taken into account: we, Communists, young socialists, pacifists, freedom-lover of all kinds… How easy it is to pretend as Germany is composed only of the national associations. Germany is a divided country. We are part of It”.

Kurt Tuchlosky, 1929 (*)



An ironic piece was published this week (**) in Ha’aretz: the State of Israel, in response to an appeal to the Supreme Court, objects to have the word “Israeli” appear under the “nationality” clause of the Israeli Identity Card (which all Israelis must carry). The attempt to have the Court recognize an Israeli nationality, claims the State, is undermining the State of Israel.


It is doubtful whether there is any news item which so clearly articulates the problem of “two nations in thy womb”, the internal struggle over Israel’s soul. The appellants – who include such figures as Shulamit Aloni, Uri Avneri and Yehoshua Sobol – claim that the Ministry of the Interior recognizes 135 different nations. It recognizes the mighty Assyrian empire, the stubborn, hoary Samaritan tribe, and the remote Georgians. It refuses to recognize only one nation: the Israeli nation.


The ensuing struggle today in the Supreme Court is part of the struggle for the face, soul and identity of Israel. Our politics are so bitter because they are politics of identity, and our bitterness comes from fighting over what sort of country we should strive for. To put it another way, we are embittered over the question “who is a patriot.”


The right-wing readers of my columns have made it a habit to impugn my patriotism. And, indeed, according to their way thinking I am no patriot. If their patriotism means nothing but xenophobia, the controlling of another people, the justification of the killing of anyone who was not circumcised at the age of eight days, the limiting of civil rights according to ethnicity, and using the injustice visited upon the Jews as a pretext for injustice by Jews – then I should not be called a patriot. Moreover, I believe that such a country forfeits its right to exist. The world already has too many ethnocraties as it is. I strive towards a Civil State, what is called here, with contempt, “a country of all its citizens”, a distant dream in contemporary Israel.


I think ethnic countries, or rather countries whose perception of nationality relies ultimately on ethnicity, were and remain the main source of suffering in the world. All too often, religion gets entwined with ethnicity: thus, a loyal Frenchman (a right-winger, of course) was considered to be a Catholic one; thus, the Croats were led by Catholic priests, and Russian-Orthodox priests served as inciters for ethnic cleansing in Serbia; thus the national struggle in Afghanistan, the struggle against the Soviet invaders, got mixed up with religion – and became a struggle against the atheist invaders.


So is the case in Israel, as Judaism or some of its mutations (most commonly the Sect of the Battle Uniform, which demands that anyone who served in the IDF is a Jew or should be considered as such), lead it towards ultra-nationalism, away from the Civil State. The Ministry of the Interior chose sides and stands by religion: it will not recognize the Israeli nationality. Such recognition means that a person may be defined by some other characteristic than his religion, that a community may be formed based on the fact that its members hold the same principles, instead of the same religious tenets or ethnic background.


The Declaration of Independence stands by the supporters of civil state: it guarantees equal rights to all who live in the country, a promise that clashes with the concept of “a Jewish and democratic country”. A country cannot be both Jewish and democratic. A “Jewish and democratic country” is democratic to its Jews and Jewish for the rest of its residents.


The supporters of the ethnic state point, correctly, to the fact that the writers of the Declaration of Independence never intended to apply it. The Founders wanted an ethnic state, and carried out a wide ethnic cleansing to get it. The Declaration was written so that they would have something to wave at the UN, which had just then published the Declaration of Human Rights.


And that’s what the fight is about: Is there an Israeli nation, or are there only Jews and Arab ethnicities; shall we have a partnership, or shall we stand, forever, on the brink of an ethnic-cleaning war; will the willful hatred of humanity, or will universalism – both rooted in Judaism – portray the visage of the country. It is the question whether the Declaration of Independence is a fundamental document or a mere camouflage rag.


Many in the left find it hard, in the last few years, to love their country. Their tendency is to leave patriotism for the right-wingers to appropriate. It is hard, but necessary, to hate our country, because we love it; to hate its current visage, and to strive to change it.


How easy it is to pretend, as if Israel is composed of only the Likud Center and the Settlers. When speaking of Israel, we should also be taken into account: we, universalists, humanists, opponents of militarism, socialists, anarchists, freedom-lovers of all kinds. Israel is a divided country; we are part of it.


(Written and published in Nana News, as a weekly “Decline of the Republic” column, on 23 May 2004. Translated into English by Yossi Gurvitz).


(*) I do not read German – the text is a translation of a translation from German to Hebrew.

(**) That was in May 2004. As far as I know, the appeal is still being deliberated bu the Court.


6 responses to “Patriot of a Non-Existing Country

  1. I think that dissent makes more of a patriot frankly.

    Here in the US the two sacrosanct notions are “US Patriotism” and “Support Israel”.

    I want to support both countries, but I can not do so at the expense of truth. Ever!

    And any disagreement is viewed suspiciously as if questioning something means you are against it. And honestly, even if I am against it, is that not what democracy is about?

    I am tempted to send your blog to my cousins who have recently made aliyah. At least one of the 3 would have argument with you I believe, so I hesitate. I am reminded of he and I driving around the West Bank arguing about settlements, xenophobia and prejudice a year ago.

    Anyway, keep your thoughts alive and I will spread them here as well.

    L’hitraot and shalom,

  2. Sorry, but catching translation inaccuracies is a hobby of mine, and I couldn’t resist…
    The claim that “Russian-Orthodox priests served as inciters for ethnic cleansing in Serbia” is simply wrong. If there were priests involved in those events, they were Serbian Orthodox priests. The Eastern Orthodox Christianity consists of a number of autocephalous churches (those whose head is not responsible to any higher cleric). One of these is the Russian Orthodox Church; another is Serbian Orthodox Church (both are headed by a patriarch). The priests of the Russian Orthodox Church are hardly active in Serbia, and cannot have any real influence on the local politics there.
    The Hebrew original of this article describes the priests allegedly involved as “pravoslaviyim,” which is more or less OK since both the Russian and the Serbian churches call themselvs “pravoslavna(ya)” — i.e., “of the right faith,” or Orthodox, to use the anglicized Greek term. But when a Slavic term is translated into English by a Hebrew-speaker who is not well versed in realities of the Slavic world or of Eastern Orthodox Christianity… OK, you’ve got the point.

  3. You are, of course, correct. So what is the precise term in English?

  4. As far as I can see, “Serbian Orthodox priests” would be most precise. “Orthodox Christian priests” would be OK as well — in general usage, the term “Orthodox Christian” (with capital letters) normally refers to Eastern Orthodox Christianity (and not, say, to some Protestant denominations which feature the term “Orthodox” in their official name).

  5. Meni, thanks for the correction and explanation!

  6. I do read German (And more often than not manage to understand what I have read). A better translation of Tucholsky (You misspelled the name there), not the best one, I admit, would be:
    “It is our privilege to despise Germany, for we love it. When mentioning Germany, We should be taken into account: we, Communists, tender socialists, peace-lovers, freedom-lovers of all kinds…It is too easy to pretend Germany is only made of nationalist associations. Germany is a factious country. We are a part of It”.

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