Seminar: Muslims and Jews: Citizenship, Identity and Prejudice in Europe and Israel, Haifa, January 31, 2013



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Menny Mautner

Seminar: Muslims and Jews: Citizenship, Identity and Prejudice in Europe and Israel, Haifa, January 31, 2013

Opening Lecture

In the past four decades, voluminous literature on multiculturalism has been written in the disciplines of the social sciences, the humanities and the law. It is the common wisdom in the literature that being in use in varied contexts, the concept does not enjoy any one, agreed-upon meaning.

I think that the best strategy for getting a sense of the meaning of the concept is that of studying the contexts in which it is in use. I wish to offer six such contexts.

First is the descriptive context. The common image of the state in the past two centuries has been that of a nation-state – a state serving as political framework for a homogenous national group. As part of this image, many states adopted policies aimed at the cultural homogenization of the various groups living in their territories, as well as policies for the cultural assimilation of immigrants. The combination of these two policies led to the view that it would be only a matter of time until the goal of complete cultural uniformity of states populations would be accomplished.

In recent decades however many authors have suggested that the prevalent image of the state as a culturally homogeneous entity is false: after more than two centuries of processes of homogenization and assimilation, the populations of most states of the world are still composed of more than one national group, and/or more than one religious group, and of many ethnic groups - tribes, immigrant groups, etc. As Sylvia Walby wrote in 2003: “Modern societies have often been equated with nation-states … But nation-states are actually very rare. … They may be widespread as imagined communities, or as aspirations, but their existence as social and political practice is much over-stated. There are many states, but very few nation-states.” Moreover, it has become a widespread conviction that the goal of complete cultural uniformity is unrealistic, and probably even normatively dubious.

The second context in which the concept of multiculturalism is in use is that of states that converted their former national identity to that of multicultural identity. The three most salient cases are those of Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The third context is that of countries that adopted multicultural policies following the influx of immigration into their territories. Noteworthy examples are Canada and Britain.

The fourth context in which the concept of multiculturalism is in use is that of claims for collective rights raised by sub-state national minorities, such as the Quebecois in Canada, the Scots and the Welsh in Britain, the Catalans and Basques in Spain, the Flames in Belgium, and the Hispanics in Puerto Rico.

The fifth context is that of claims made by indigenes peoples, such as Indians and Inuits in Canada, Aboriginals in Australia, Maoris in New Zealand, Semis in Scandinavia, Eskimos in Greenland, and Native Americans in the United States. As I shall shortly show, Israeli Arabs make such claims, as well.

The sixth and last context in which the concept of multiculturalism is in use is that of the politics of multiculturalism as an extension of the politics of identity.

The politics of identity is an egalitarian politics invoked in the realm of cultural representations. Since the 1960s, groups such as people of color, women, homosexuals, persons with disabilities, and even fat people, have claimed that the cultures in which they live are replete with stereotypes that perceive them in derogatory terms. These stereotypes are internalized both by members of the groups and by members of surrounding groups, and, in turn, constrain members of the stereotyped groups from fully realizing the human potentiality that lies in them. Some of these groups have subsequently resorted to a politics of multiculturalism, claiming that in the course of their history, their members produced cultural products, in realms such as literature, poetry, art and music, yet these products are not adequately represented in state and civil society institutions engaged in the preservation and dissemination of cultural heritage -- universities, museums, and so on. The politics of multiculturalism, then, is an egalitarian politics conducted in the realm of the preservation and dissemination of cultural products.

The rise of the discourse of multiculturalism in many countries in the world in recent decades, and the adoption of various multicultural policies by many states, signal important changes in our perception of the state; the relations of the state with its citizens; and the interrelationship between the state and civil society.

According to the prevalent view of the past two centuries, the state was seen as composed of citizens having direct legal linkage to their state, within the legal concept of citizenship. Citizens were seen as forming and participating in various associations in the domain of civil society -- organizations of common interest which one may join and leave at will. No groups other than associations were seen as existing in civil society between citizens and their states.

The rise of the discourse and policies of multiculturalism implies the introduction of a new element in civil society, in-between states and their citizens: the cultural group -- a national, religious or ethnic group which one does not join and leave at will, but rather a group to which a person belongs, and which does not pertain to one narrow dimension in a person's life, but rather substantially constitutes his or her identity.

This is nothing short of a dramatic change, with far-reaching ramifications. The state is not seen anymore as merely a collection of citizens, purportedly belonging to the state's national group; the state is also seen as a collection of various cultural groups which constitute the identity of their members in competition with the state's national culture -- groups to which the citizens may at times feel allegiance greater than the one they feel toward the state.

When we talk about multiculturalism, I find it useful to distinguish between two contexts in which problems of multiculturalism may arise in a country.

The first context is that of the relations between the center of the state and minority cultural groups living in the state. This is the context in which problems of cultural diversity arise in Western countries. These problems largely relate to the extent to which the liberal center should tolerate the illiberal cultural practices of minority groups. Indeed, since the 1990s liberal political theorists have devoted much of their thinking to addressing this issue. So much so that Jacob T. Levy, a Canadian multiculturalism scholar, has written about “the multicultural turn in liberal theory”.

The second context in which problems of multiculturalism may arise in a country is that of the struggle between cultural groups over the shape of the center of the state, namely the shape of the state’s regime, political culture and law.

Center-periphery problem do exist in Israel, for instance due to the widespread discrimination against women in the ultra-Orthodox and Arab groups, or the prevalence of polygamy and honor killings among the Arab group.

The more pressing problems of Israel’s multicultural condition, however, have to do with the constitution of the Israeli center, and with the definition of the state. In order to understand these problems, a brief survey of Israel’s cultural history in recent decades is in order.

Since the 1970s, three far-reaching and interrelated historical processes began to take shape in Israel. First, the decline of the political, social and cultural hegemony of the Labor movement. Second, the rise of a Jewish religious option for the overall culture of the country. Third, the renewal of the “war of cultures”, i.e., the struggle over the country’s future cultural orientation between the Jewish secular group and the Jewish religious group.

A hegemonic situation prevails in a country when one social group (the hegemonic group) succeeds in controlling three foci of power. The first are the central institutions of the state. The second are the main institutions of civil society: economic institutions, trade unions, the educational system, the press, radio, electronic media, publishing houses, religious institutions, and so forth. Third, through its ability to place its people at the foci of power of the state and of civil society, the hegemonic group is also able to control the shaping of key elements in the country’s culture, i.e., it succeeds in implanting in the minds of many citizens the fundamental principles, the “rules of the game”, that determine how the country should be run: the principles underlying the country’s regime, political culture and economic order, as well as an “official” narrative of the people's historical memory.

The Labor movement stood at the center of a political and cultural hegemony that led the pre-state Jewish society, and then the state of Israel, for four and a half decades since the early 1930s. Toward the end of the 1970s, the hegemony of the labor movement declined. I wish to focus on the ramifications of this development on the condition of Israeli culture. As long as the hegemonic culture was in control, most Jews living in Israel accepted its principles which were premised on Israel being a secular, liberal, western and modern country. But in the 1980s and 1990s, the hegemonic culture lost this status. Israeli society split into many subgroups, each one developing specific cultural features, its members’ separate identity, its unique historical memory concerning the history of the Jewish people, the creation of the State of Israel and the group’s place in these historical processes, and a separate vision concerning the future of the state. The hegemonic group, once the group whose culture served as a yardstick for Israeli culture and identity in general, became just one more group among many.

A second process that was unfolding in Israeli society and culture in the 1980s and 1990s was the emergence of a social and political group within religious-Zionism that began to perceive itself, and also began to be perceived by others, as a comprehensive alternative to the previous hegemony with regard to the future shape of Israeli culture. This emerging group sought to found Israel on the Halakhah -- Jewish religious law -- and on traditional Judaism.

The third development that took place in Israel in the 1980s and 1990s was the renewal of the “war of cultures” between secular and religious Jews. The cultural struggle between these two groups has riven the Jewish people since the rise of the Jewish Enlightenment in the second half of the eighteenth century. In the period of the labor hegemony the struggle appeared to have been decided in favor of the secular group. But with the decline of the hegemony, and with the rise of the Jewish religious cultural alternative, it became apparent that the domination of the secular option in Israeli culture disintegrated. In the second half of the 1970s the Kulturkampf that has accompanied the Jewish people since the rise of Jewish Enlightenment in the second half of the eighteenth century erupted in full force in Israel. Indeed, many scholars not only conceptualize Israel’s current situation as one of multiculturalism; they also present Israel as a country in which a “war of cultures”, a kulturkampf, is being waged.

In addition to the divide between secular Jews and religious Jews, a central feature of Israel’s multicultural condition is the division between the Jewish national group and the Arab national group.

Some 20 percent of Israel's citizens are Arabs, and it is estimated that by the year 2020 their share of the state's population will have risen to 23 percent. Clearly, then, from a demographic standpoint Israel is already a bi-national state. However, the common view among Israeli Jews, which is also embodied in many sites of Israeli law, is that while the Jewish people is entitled to use the state as a means of exercising its collective right to national self-determination, the Arabs are entitled to their basic liberal rights on an individual basis only, i.e., as citizens of the state, but not in any way as a collective entity.

In contrast, it seems that most Arab citizens dismiss this view of the state and advocate instead for recognizing them as a national minority, and running Israel as a bi-national state jointly governed by the two peoples composing its population, with the Arab group enjoying cultural autonomy in addition to its sharing in the state's central institutions. In the alternative, some Arab spokespersons sometime make the claim that Israel should be “a state of all its citizens” -- a state that lacks any defined national identity, and serves as a means for providing its citizens with basic individual rights and services.

Indeed, in 2006-2007 four groups of Arab intellectuals issued four different policy papers, collectively termed “The Arab Vision Documents”. These documents strikingly express the Arab citizens' opposition to the definition of Israel as a Jewish state. Common to all four of them is the claim that Israel should give up its current definition as a Jewish state, and define itself instead as a bi-national, bilingual, Lijphart-type consociational state run jointly by the elites of the two national groups that compose its population, with extensive cultural autonomy enjoyed by its Arab citizens. Examples of this kind of regime are Canada, Belgium, Switzerland, Macedonia, and at certain periods also Lebanon and Cyprus.

Two of the Arab Vision Documents define the Arabs in Israel as an “indigenous people”. This is clearly an attempt to channel into the discourse on the status of Arabs in Israel the vocabulary of the developing rights of indigenous peoples under international law, first and foremost the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 12th, 2007.

All of that attests to the problematic standing of the concept of citizenship in Israel, i.e., to its being overshadowed by Jewish ethnicity. This is also manifest in the formula of “a Jewish and Democratic State” which has become common parlance in Israel’s legal and public discourses since the early 1990s. This formula does not give any expression to the fact that the country’s population includes a sizable Arab national minority of some 20%. Anybody familiar with the effects cultural categories have on the daily lives of people would understand how problematic the exclusion of the Arab minority from the state’s definition is. Indeed, it is for this reason that Amnon Rubinstein, Alex Yacobson and I have suggested that the definition be supplemented with reference to the Arab national minority.

The schism between Jews and Arabs in Israel relates not only to the issue of the definition of the state and to the way it should be run. The Arab citizens suffer severe discrimination in the allocation of the state's resources — budgets, lands, positions in the state's public administration — as well as in their representation in the media. As noted in the report of the “Official Committee of Inquiry in the Matter of the Clashes between Security Forces and Israeli Citizens in October 2000”, headed by Supreme Court Justice Theodor Or, “the Arab citizens live in a reality in which they are discriminated against. This has been documented in a large number of professional researches and studies; it was confirmed in court opinions and government decisions; and it is reflected in State Comptroller reports, as well as in other official documents.”

Moreover, the state does not recognize even a single holiday of its Arab citizens as an official national holiday. Also, the Jewish and Arab civil societies are very much separate: over 70 percent of the Arabs live in homogeneous Arab settlements, and in the case of mixed cities, Jews and Arabs usually live in separate neighborhoods. The Jewish and the Arab labor markets are almost entirely separate. Jews and Arabs maintain separate institutions in areas such as the press, the radio, television, culture, art, music, cinema, etc.; Jews and Arabs maintain school systems that are almost entirely separate; the Arabs' rate of income, standard of living, life expectancy, standards of housing, level of education, level of participation in the labor market, and level of infrastructure development are all substantially lower than those of the Jewish group. Israel is manifestly bi-national, then, not only in its demography, but also in the almost complete separation between members of the Jewish and Arab groups in the conduct of their daily lives.

One last highly important trait of the status of the Arab minority in Israel is, to borrow from Will Kymlicka, the “securitization” of the relations between this minority and the state. Kymlicka uses the term “securitization” to refer to the relations that take place in countries where minorities are seen as “allies or collaborators with external powers”. This situation is prevalent mainly in east European states formerly belonging to the Soviet bloc, where the national majority identifies the -- at times substantial -- Russian minority as citizens whose loyalty to the state may be questioned. But this is very much the situation in Israel, where the relations between the state and its Arab citizens are dominated by the national security paradigm which dictates the treatment of the minority by the state. For instance, the Arab citizens are excluded from participation in significant political decisions, most notably those having to do with Israel's defense and foreign relations. And talk about the need for “a Jewish majority” as a precondition for the legitimacy of such decisions is often heard in Israel.



I noted the two divides that compose Israel’s multicultural condition – the divide between secular and religious Jewish groups and the divide between Jews and Arabs. There is at least one clear-cut connection between the two divides -- together they create what could be called “the zero-sum game of the Israeli multicultural condition”: the more Israel accentuates traditional Jewish beliefs and practices in its public culture, the more appealing it would be to Jewish religious Israelis, but the more repugnant to Israel's Arab citizens. And vice versa -- the more Israel downplays the role of traditional Jewish beliefs or practices in its public culture, the more appealing it would be to Israel's Arab citizens, but by the same token the more appalling to Jewish religious Israelis. Israel is trapped between a rock and a hard place. In the coming years, Israeli thinkers will have to show considerable creativity, and a large measure of reason and goodwill will be required of Israeli leaders, in devising constitutional arrangements that can serve as common ground for secular Jews, religious Jews and Arabs.


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