Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh is a West Bank Palestinian academic who campaigns tirelessly for a one-state solution and against Israel — both against its occupation of what most of the world views as Palestinian lands, and against its very existence as a sovereign country. Two weeks ago, some members of our board discussed a long list of 28 alleged wrongs Dr. Qumsiyeh laid at the feet of Israel on his Facebook page on May 19, as “the only country in the world that….”
Rather than go through all of them here (one can scroll down his Facebook page to May 19 to find the list), we should stipulate that a few are factual and have long been the focus of our concerns and protests. Here are three that come readily to mind: Israel does not recognize a single Israeli nationality, but instead classifies its citizens’ nationality as Jewish, Arab, Druse, Circassian, etc.; it empowers “supra-national bodies” (such as the Jewish National Fund, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and the World Zionist Organization) for some purposes that are more properly functions of the state; there are “unrecognized villages” that are not accorded basic services by the state because its Bedouin residents insist on keeping lands that they claim to own and on maintaining their traditional pastoral way of life.
But while this indictment is not entirely wrong, his long list is tendentious in the extreme. He quotes nasty statements about Arabs and Palestinians by Zionist and Israeli authorities during specific historic circumstances of ethnic conflict, without any consideration of similarly nasty or bloodcurdling pronouncements by Arab leaders. Even if one does not consider the appalling human rights record of many Arab and Muslim-majority countries in comparison, one has to keep in mind that his argument ignores Israel’s reality as a small country under violent threat for its entire history. And even if we don’t look at the blood-soaked history of European countries, many of them even today favor their ethnic/religious majorities; Germany and Russia, for example, give automatic citizenship to those who can prove the appropriate ancestry. This is not to mention the ethnic, religious and racially-charged conflicts going on within so much of Africa to this day.
We know that mentioning far worse wrongs being committed outside of Israel does not excuse Israel from needing to reform some practices and to work toward a more just society. But Qumsiyeh’s basic argument that Israel is uniquely evil, deserving pariah status, is wrong on its face.
We consulted two friends specifically about Qumsiyeh’s indictment. Here’s a brief paraphrase of the response from J.J. Goldberg, The Jewish Daily Forward’s editor-at-large: He notes that Qumsiyeh only regards Jews as a religious group and not as a historic people; Germany grants automatic citizenship and other rights to “returning” ethnic Germans and that 3.5 million ethnic Turks have long struggled for equal citizenship rights; Bosnia is among a number of other countries that privileges returning ethnic (Bosniac/Muslim) kin; Russia classifies people by “nationality” apart from their Russian citizenship; Israel has been so scrupulous about respecting Christian and Muslim religious rights and holy sites that it infuriates many Jews by restricting their access to the Temple Mount (Judaism’s holiest site) and respecting the Muslim authorities’ insistence that Jews not pray there.
This is the response from our colleague Hillel Schenker:
Along with the many points that J.J. refutes, Mazin shares a problem with many, perhaps most Palestinians, and Arabs in general, who have a difficulty understanding that there is not only a religion called Judaism, but also a Jewish people/nation. They tend to see the Jews and Judaism as being parallel to Muslims and Islam. When we discussed at the Policy Committee of the Israeli Peace NGO Forum the question of how to relate to Netanyahu’s insistence on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, I emphasized the difficulty that Palestinians and Arabs have with this issue, and the whole concept of the Jewish right to national (not religious) self-determination.The Palestinians, and the Arabs in general, have gone beyond accepting the Jews only as a minority in the Middle East. After all, we have the Arab Peace Initiative, backed by the 22 Arab States and the 57 Muslim States, which is ready to recognize and make peace with the State of Israel and have normal relations, provided that we enable a Palestinian state to be established in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, and find agreed upon solutions for the refugees and Jerusalem. Once you define Israel as “a Jewish state”, that raises another problem in their eyes (apart from the attitude towards the 20% of the Israeli citizens who are Arabs and the implications for the Palestinian refugees and a potential right of return).Their problem is understanding that the Jews are a people/nation, and not just a religion. That’s what creates the conflict with the fundamentalist Islamic perception that the Middle East is a Muslim region, and that others can only be minorities with the status of Dhimmi within an Islamic state, defined by its religious character.