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Don't call the promised land Canaan: a response to critics of Israel

By Alan Gold - posted Friday, 5 December 2003

There is a small but growing movement calling for the disestablishment and dismantling of the state of Israel and its replacement by a land shared jointly by Palestinians and Jews to be known as Canaan, an allusion to the demography and times of the Old Testament. What is surprising about this most recent assault against Israel is that the small number of voices calling for an end to the Zionist experiment (a state for all Jewish people) are coming from within the Jewish community.

Most prominent among these are the former speaker of the Knesset, Avraham Burg, and Tony Judt, professor of modern European studies at New York University.Since its foundation in 1948, Israel and Zionism have always been threatened with extinction by Arab neighbours who have refused to recognise Israel's legitimacy.

But this new call is very different. Even though the neo-Canaanites constitute only a small body of Israeli politicians, activists and intellectuals, they are saying that after 55 years, Zionism has failed and that a Jewish state in today's world is an anachronism which cannot continue to be sustained. And their thoughts are being echoed by some leading Jewish intellectuals in America, Canada and Europe.


But are there valid and compelling reasons to put an end to Israel as a nation defined along ethno-religious lines and replace it with a bi-national and predominantly bi-religious state in which Jews would inevitably become a minority?

And if there is a growing move to dismantle the Jewish nation, why is Israel the only nation about which such questions are being asked?

Why are the standards of behaviour demanded of Israel by the world community so different from those required of, say, the dictatorships of Arabia or Africa? And why is Israel the only nation whose right to exist is being questioned, as opposed to religiously-based states such as the Vatican or Saudi Arabia or any of the anachronistic and exclusionary principalities of Europe?

Perhaps it is because Israel is the only true and vibrant democracy in Arabia, whose equality for women, universal liberal education, unfettered media and success humiliates and terrifies its neighbouring autocracies.

In 2002, the United Nations Arab Human Development Report rated the nations of Arabia among the lowest in the world in terms of social and human equity. Yet there are no demands in the West for disestablishing these feudal states.

Why is the existence of a Jewish state now being questioned, especially one which guarantees the right of freedom of worship for all creeds, when no such questions are asked of majority Christian or Islamic nations? How free are Christians to worship in Saudi Arabia? Yet while the role of its feudalistic rulers is starting to be questioned, no such questions are ever asked of its right to exist as a Muslim nation. Is Pakistan's right to exist being questioned since it was established as a Muslim enclave in the break-up of Hindu-majority India? Or is this concentration on Israel's provenance simply nascent anti-semitism in a world which believes that things would be a whole lot simpler if Israel wasn't around any more?


The criticism of Israel today is that Zionism is a 19th century exclusionary philosophy superimposed on the Middle East at a time when other nations' borders were being opened and nationalism was on the decline. But Israel's creation was contemporaneous with that of India, Pakistan, Indonesia, and, shortly after, many Asian and African countries.

Israel's social mix is vibrantly multicultural, and from its inception, guaranteed freedom of worship and access to places of religion for all beliefs. Its media is fiercely independent and its highest courts rigorously autonomous, especially in protection of human rights for Muslims, Christians and Jews.

The main criticism of Israel's behaviour today, and the reason for this new movement conjecturing the dismantling of the Jewish state in favour of a new Canaan, is the construction of the settlements on the West Bank and in Gaza, and the building of the security fence.

This fence has been compared with the Berlin Wall, but the wall was built to keep people in, and the fence dividing Palestinians from Israelis is designed to keep homicidal bombers out. In order to protect itself from illegal Mexican immigrants, the US built a fence on its southern border. Surely it's valid to question what is the difference?

While it might be convenient for the rest of the world if Israel ceased to exist and was reconstructed as Canaan, history has shown that such artifices never work. With only two generations separating the Jews from the attempt at their destruction in the Holocaust, the failure of a secure homeland for the Jewish people would be catastrophic.

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Article edited by Jenny Ostini.
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This article was originally published in the Australian Financial Review on 27 November 2003.

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About the Author

Alan Gold is President of the Anti-Defamation Unit of B'nai B'rith. He has written 10 books and was the Year 2000 Human Rights Orator. He is also a member of the Sydney Institute, on the Board of Directors of Varuna Writers' Centre and an internationally published novelist.

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