David Mivasair: “Israel shouldn’t exist as a Jewish state. It’s racist”

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David Mivasair

Rabbi David Mivasair is a member of Independent Jewish Voices Canada and a long-time active member of the New Democratic Party (NDP). Resident of Hamilton, ON Mivasair worked at Vancouver’s Ahavat Olam progressive synagogue and First United Church homeless shelter.

On March 11, 2022 Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) tweeted:

The mask has come off. Amnesty USA Executive Director Paul O’Brien says Israel “shouldn’t exist as a Jewish state.” The true intent of Amnesty’s report was apparent a month ago and is even more apparent today.

In response to FSWC’s statement David Mivasair tweeted:

I totally agree and have been saying it for years: Israel shouldn’t exist as a Jewish state. It’s racist.

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Mansour Abbas: “Israel was born as a Jewish state… and that’s how it will remain”

In an interview at the “Globes” Israel Business Conference on December 21, 2021 Mansour Abbas, leader of the Ra’am (United Arab List) Islamic party in the Knesset that joined a governing coalition with Zionist parties, said:

“The State of Israel was born as a Jewish state. That’s the people’s decision and the question is not about the identity of the state. It was born that way and that’s how it will remain.”

Here are excerpts from Mansour Abbas’ statements in an interview to The Washington Institute on February 10, 2022:

David Makovsky: You have said, in both Hebrew and Arabic, that Israel was born a Jewish state and will remain so, and you have been praised by Israeli Jewish leaders for your bravery and leadership. Why did you say it? What did you mean? Was this merely a statement of fact or a statement of legitimacy?

Mansour Abbas: I think of myself as an Arab, a Palestinian, a Muslim, and a citizen of the Israeli state. These identities, the national and religious, can live together. These identities coexist within the larger envelope of values, humanism, justice, mutual support, tolerance, and acceptance of the other.

The state of Israel was born as a Jewish state. That was a decision by those who set up the state, the Jewish people. The Palestinians didn’t do that. Today there is a majority of Jews in the state of Israel, and they established that identity without consulting us. Now what am I going to do about this?

There is an approach that refuses to accept this and maintains the right to fight against it. We want a state for all its citizens. I don’t exactly know what they mean when they say that they want the state for all its citizens, and on the other hand that the state of Israel is a state for the Jews. Maybe the most Arabs will be able to achieve is a theoretical equality before the law but not in practice.

I have a different approach. I am saying I accept the other, I am looking forward to the future, and I am not stuck in the past. Even though we cannot change historical narratives, we want to understand the Israeli Jewish narrative and to combine it with the Arab Palestinian narrative.

There have always been wars and bloodshed. Europe went through two world wars and eventually reached the conclusion that in order to maintain a society, they had to look forward. Jews and Arabs can live together when this state incorporates the Arab minority without sacrificing our identity or forgoing the initial rights of Jews.

Many opinion pieces have asked, “What does Mansour Abbas want?” Many people in Israeli society believe what I say. But there are people who are suspicious that I am some sort of fifth column, or out to undermine the state and the Jewish identity of the state. I do not ignore these suspicions. I understand them. I am asking that we give each other a chance, to give hope a chance, to create something new, something different. Maybe in the next Knesset, even if UAL will not be the linchpin, the majority would still say it is important that one of its partners in the Knesset be an Arab party.

What I tried to say in the interview in the Globes newspaper is that the real discussion is not about the identity of the state that exists, but what is the place of the Arab minority inside the state of Israel. That is the question that will decide what Israel is going to be and what kind of Jewish identity the state of Israel will have. Will it have a humanistic, liberal, open Jewish identity that is accepting and democratic, or will it have a nationalistic identity?

I’m trying to show Jews and Arabs a new way to live together in which each side will realize itself as a collective and as individuals. It is our role always to emphasize the rights of the minority, but the majority has rights too, and we have to preserve them as well.

[…]

Robert Satloff: Dr. Mansour, thank you. Before we finish, I have one last question. In your remarks and your conversation with David, for an hour, we didn’t hear the word “apartheid.” How do you feel when you hear the word “apartheid” to describe the situation between Arabs and Jews inside Israel?

Mansour Abbas: I would not call it apartheid—actually, I am within the coalition, and if I want to be inside the government I could be in government too. My approach brings me back to a more general answer: I try not to judge a given phenomenon, instead I prefer to describe reality in objective ways. If there is discrimination in a certain field, then we say that there is discrimination in that specific field.

For instance, we point out that there are gaps between Arab students and Jewish students and the budgets they are allocated, and we know there are gaps inside Jewish society and education as well. Everybody agrees about such discrepancies, and you will find objective descriptions of them in government documents—reports from the state controller or ombudsman. But everybody will then jump to using their own terminology when discussing them.

I usually try not to be judgmental. I try not to say things like “you’re racist” or “the state is racist” or “this is an apartheid state” or “this is not apartheid.” What I’m saying is that my role as a political leader is to try to bridge the gaps, improve the distortions, and create a better and more just society—not only between Jews and Arabs, but also among Arabs and among Jews.

There are people who say that I am so gentle, that I’m not saying things loudly enough, that I’m not stating clear positions. But my position is that when I look at my neighborhood and my family, I see that the problem is not simple. So if you want to talk about racism, let’s talk about racism between neighborhoods, between towns, between nations, and see how things change.

My basic education is medical, and the first phase is always to provide a good solution based on a good diagnosis. It does not help us to judge. I say again that I’m not looking for guilty people, I’m looking for partners—for a chance to do it together. If you focus on the people who live among us here in this country—Jews and Arabs and Christians and et cetera—I believe we have a very good system of values that we can use as a basis for building something better.

I will conclude with one point that I have told my personal friends and my friends in the leadership of the other coalition parties: I am not proposing to disregard what is being published in Amnesty International documents, OECD reports, other international reports, or even Israeli reports. This is an opportunity for us to look at what is happening, to be introspective, to see what we can fix and what we can change. This is of course on both the intra-Israeli level and the broader Palestinian-Israeli level. What is true in my view is not to say what is right or not right, but to do whatever is useful. That’s how I see myself. I do not have the right to judge people; I have the desire to accomplish this change together with them. I will change, and you will change. It is not that I am the absolutely good one and you are the absolutely bad one. Our fate is to live together, and we can decide how we want to live together. We can counter conflicts and hatred with the values that I have already offered: peace, security, tolerance. When we look inside ourselves, I think we all know what the answer is.

An answer to the new anti-Zionists: The rights of the Jewish people to a sovereign state in their historic homeland

In 2003 Dore Gold, the President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and Jeff Helmreich, an author of numerous articles on Israel for American newspapers and journals, wrote:

The new critics of Jewish statehood neglect the fact that Israel’s communal expression – like that of many communal states around the world – in no way infringes the rights of minority citizens, who enjoy full equality under the law and the political system. They also ignore that this form of national expression is not unique; indeed, most states identify in some formal way with the religious or cultural heritage of their predominant communities. Yet only Israel is singled out for criticism.

Israel is the only state created in the last century whose legitimacy was recognized by both the League of Nations and the United Nations. The League of Nations Mandate did not create the rights of the Jewish people to a national home in Palestine, but rather recognized a pre-existing right – for the links of the Jewish people to their historic land were well-known and accepted by world leaders in the previous century.

By 1864, a clear-cut Jewish majority emerged in Jerusalem – more than half a century before the arrival of the British Empire and the League of Nations Mandate. During the years that the Jewish presence in Eretz Israel was restored, a huge Arab population influx transpired as Arab immigrants sought to take advantage of higher wages and economic opportunities that resulted from Jewish settlement in the land. President Roosevelt concluded in 1939 that “Arab immigration into Palestine since 1921 has vastly exceeded the total Jewish immigration during the whole period.”

Israel’s new detractors seek to delegitimize Jewish national rights by arguing that their assertion was an extension of European imperialism. In fact, Jewish underground movements waged an anti-colonial war in the 1940s against continuing British rule. Israel was an anti-imperialist force when it first emerged, while the Arab states were aligned with the imperial powers, their armies trained and supplied by the French and British Empires.

There was no active movement to form a unique Palestinian state prior to 1967. In 1956, Ahmad Shuqairy, who would found the PLO eight years later, told the UN Security Council: “it is common knowledge that Palestine is nothing but southern Syria.” In the early 1960s, many Palestinians looked to Egypt’s Abdul Nasser as their leader as much as to any Palestinian. Given the historical background, it is impossible to argue that the Palestinians have a claim to the Land of Israel superior to that of the Jews, as Israel’s detractors contend.

The new assault on Israel is partly based on ignorance of Jewish history in today’s highly secularized world. But it also emanates from a new anti-Semitic wave reflected in a public opinion poll by the European Commission showing Israel as the country most regarded by Europeans as a threat to world peace. The president of the European Commission, Roman Prodi – alluding to the anti-Semitic underpinnings that led to the poll’s results – said, “to the extent that this may indicate a deeper, more general prejudice against the Jewish world, our repugnance is even more radical.”