Muslim Views


Israel has no Right to Exist

Israel has no Right to Exist
November 23, 2020
November 23, 2020 November 23, 2020

DR PAUL HENDLER critiques the concept of a sovereign state’s ‘Right to Exist’. This is an executive summary of an in-depth article (

THE Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has established itself as part of the Palestinian struggle for freedom from Israeli apartheid and ­colonialism.

BDS’s three cardinal demands are an end to the occupation (including dismantling the apartheid wall), full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes (as stipulated by United Nations Resolution 194).

The State of Israel regularly responds to its BDS critics and opponents by claiming that they deny its Right to Exist and are therefore anti-semites (racists). However, none of the 193 sovereign states that are members of the United Nations have a Right to Exist.

This article attempts to answer three questions: What is meant by ‘Right to Exist’? What is our critique of it? And why should Israel claim this right?

In doing this, it places the development of these concepts within a framework of ideological struggle. Closely linked to the Right to Exist are other concepts, which will form the substance of a second and third article.

The core of political Zionism is a nation state for the Jewish people with a Jewish demographic majority.

Raising critical awareness of key elements of Zionist and anti-Zionist ideologies can contribute to the struggle for Palestinian freedom and self-determination in a state (or states) where all have equal civil and national rights.

Getting to this will require international solidarity with other struggles, like the current Black Lives Matter (BLM) uprisings in the United States (US), in support of BDS.

The first section of this article describes a framework for making sense of the ideological struggles between Zionism and its opponents.

The second section unpacks the meaning of the terms Right to Exist and Right to Exist as a Jewish State.

The third section develops our critique of these two concepts.

The fourth section identifies some historical events as examples of the ideological struggle over Jewish and Palestinian rights to historic Palestine.

The conclusion sums up the important issues and introduces the topic for the second article.

This article clarifies the meaning of the terms ‘Israel’s right to exist’ and ‘Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State’. We approach this task within a framework of ideas developed by Antonio Gramsci. These are the notion that there exist ideological frameworks separate from our individual minds and that these are built on certain core concepts or elements.

The building of ideological frameworks is contested by groups that are excluded from the identities that are being built, a process that is driven by underlying social antagonisms including – but not reducible to – class conflict and class struggles.

There is a broad range of possible identities.

For our purposes in this article, we focus on two key identities, namely the ‘state’ and the ‘nation’, and how Zionism and its opponents have defined their preferred state, as well as the nation it purportedly represents, in the context of historic Palestine.

The first section provides a conceptual framework for understanding the significance of these terms and how they are used by groups that are struggling to get their attributed meaning established as a dominant discourse.

Within this framework, we identify a key turning point in the pre-state phase of Zionist ideology, i.e. the juncture (in 1937) at which a Zionist bloc was constituted, committed to partition and ethnic cleansing.

The second section unpacks the meaning that Zionist ideology attributes to the key identity, namely the right to Jewish statehood in the territory known as Eretz Yisrael.

The third section critiques this identity, showing that it has neither a legal basis in international law nor is there precedence for this form of (ethnocratic) regime in western democracies.

The fourth section maps some key milestones in the development of Zionism from being a peripheral to becoming a globally dominant mainstream ideology.

The section also identifies the impact of the ideological struggle against the idea of the right to exclusive Jewish statehood in historic Palestine.

The section focuses on the different ideological strands within the Palestinian liberation and solidarity movements.

In particular, we reflect on the contradictory articulations for support for and critique of Zionist claim of right to exclusive Jewish statehood in Palestine with the Black civil rights and Black nationalist movements in the United States of America.

The fifth section notes the current vanguard role of the BLM movement in the uprising by a broad demographic against the US imperialist state both through critique of its domestic policies (extreme privatisation, support for corporations and cutting back of welfare to working people) and its foreign policies (between 800 and 1 000 military bases world-wide and regime change against recalcitrant states).

If the article succeeds in sensitising sufficient Palestine solidarity activists here in South Africa as well as abroad to the risks of co-optation into a pro-Zionist narrative, and an avoidance of an anti-imperialist critique, it will have achieved its aim.

The road to greater ideological clarity is through developing and deepening a culture of debate, and not stifling voices that speak to inconvenient truths.

Concepts underlying and justifying exclusive Jewish statehood in Palestine do not stand alone in the edifice of Zionist ideology.

They are reinforced by – and in turn reinforce – concepts that proclaim Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, define who is a Jew and what constitutes anti-semitism.

The next two articles will explore the meaning of these terms, our critique and describe the historical development and function of these terms as reciprocal to the Zionist notion of exclusive Jewish statehood.

Dr Paul Hendler is Director of Insite, which formulates social and economic programmes for sustainable human settlements. He is also a member of the Palestine Solidarity Committee Stellenbosch in the Western Cape.

Featured image: The right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes is enshrined in UN Resolution 193. (Graphic MONDELWEISS.NET)

This executive summary first appeared in the November 2020 print edition of Muslim Views.

Muslim Views wishes to apologise to Dr Paul Hendler for erroneously referring to him as “Professor” in the print edition.

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