The co-founder of the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has made the extraordinary claim that Israelis can simply be subsumed as part of Arab culture. Given that Omar Barghouti has lived in Israel for nearly 30 years this is particularly astonishing.
It should be obvious from everyday experience that Israelis, or more precisely Israeli Jews, have developed a distinctive national identity. There are certainly Arab influences but there are contributory elements from many other parts of the world too.
First a health warning. This post is based on short video clip of a recent interview with Barghouti. The fact that it is only a minute long means that, potentially at least, it takes what he is saying out of context. It was also uploaded by Israellycool, a pro-Israel advocacy group.
Having said that, I have read a lot of BDS literature and this is in line with its general worldview. In any case this article should be viewed as the start of an investigation rather than its endpoint.
The premise of Barghouti’s argument is that Jewish culture is an important component of a broader Arab culture. From this he goes on to argue that it would be best if Israel was “dezionised” and the Jews living there subsumed as part of a more general Arab framework (details unspecified in this clip).
There are several problems with this argument but I will focus on the ones specific to Israel here:
First, most Israeli Jews are not of Arab origin. The families of many originated in Europe but there are also many others from non-Arab countries including Ethiopia, India, Iran and Turkey.
Second, Even those whose families came originally from Arab countries nowadays identify primarily as Israeli. Most migration was in the late 1940s and early 1950s (shortly after Israel was founded). So someone who was, say, 10 in 1952 when he emigrated would be 80 by now. To the extent Israelis of Arab origin identify as Arab it is usually in relation to relatively superficial matters such as food. Israeli Jews of Arab origin do not generally speak fluent Arabic and they know relatively little about their family’s country of origin. For example, see the interviews with Moroccan Israelis ( video below) by Corey Gil-Schuster of the excellent Ask Project (in which he asks Israelis and Palestinians to answer questions from abroad and gives their unedited responses).
Finally, the vast majority of Israeli Jews identify primarily as Israeli. In many cases their parents will have been born in Israel and in many others their parents will not come from the same country as each other. In any case there is a distinct sense of nationhood among Israeli Jews. (Israeli citizens of non-Jewish origin are another matter but that is a subject for another article).
Barghouti should be aware of these facts given that he has lived in Israel for nearly three decades. He has a masters degree in philosophy from Tel Aviv University and is pursuing a PhD there.
As it happens, an analysis of contemporary specifics is also necessary to understand the plight of the Palestinians. A distinct Palestinian sense of nationhood only emerged in the 1960s with the demise of pan-Arabism (the political movement calling for unity within the Arab world).
Indeed the whole arrangement of nation states in the region is relatively new. Most countries only emerged from colonial rule in the two decades following the second world war.
It is not possible to understand contemporary Israel or the plight of the Palestinians without grasping that both are relatively recent creations.
PS: Note added on 26 February 2022. Omar Barghouti's book Boycott, Disinvestment, Sanctions: The global struggle for Palestinian rights (Haymarket) is probably a key reading on this topic.
Photo: "Omar Barghouti- (BDS) Campaign Brussels photo's By Kevin van den" by intal.be is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0