Israel has passed a widely-condemned law that defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and gives Jews the sole right to self-determination. It also declares Hebrew the country’s only official language and encourages the building of Jewish-only settlements on occupied territory as a “national value.” The law has drawn international condemnation and accusations that Israel has legalized apartheid. For more we speak with world-renowned political dissident, author, and linguist Noam Chomsky. He is a laureate professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Arizona and Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he taught for more than 50 years.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about Israel right now. Israel’s passage of the new law that defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and gives them the sole right to self-determination. The law also declares Hebrew the country’s only official language and encourages the building of Jewish-only settlements in the occupied territory as a national value. This is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: This is a defining moment in the annals of Zionism and the history of the state of Israel. We will keep ensuring civil rights in Israel’s democracy. These rights will not be harmed. But the majority also has rights and the majority decides. An absolute majority wants to ensure our state’s Jewish character for generations to come.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about this new law, Noam Chomsky?
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NOAM CHOMSKY: First of all, a slight correction: the all-Jewish settlements that are authorized are within Israel proper. It’s not even a question on the Occupied Territories. They’re all like that. But this is within Israel proper.
So, yes, the new law does change the existing situation, but not by as much as is being claimed. What the new law describes has pretty much been in place for a long time. Basic law back in — land laws back in 1960 established what the Israeli High Court called, concluded is — their statement was “Israel is the sovereign state of the Jewish people” — all Jewish people, but not its citizens, just the Jews. That was 60 years ago.
The land laws were set up in such a way that, as was recognized at the time, in fact, that — internally in Israel, not outside — that the state lands would be effectively under the administration of the Jewish National Fund. An array of legal and administrative practices were set up to ensure that. If you’re interested in details, I wrote about them in detail 30 years ago in a book called Towards a New Cold War, sort of went through the documents. But, basically, a complex array was set up to ensure that the Jewish National Fund would be in control of state lands. That amounts to over 90 percent of the country’s lands.
What’s the mission of the Jewish National Fund? Well, it has a contract with the state of Israel which determines that its mission is to work for the benefit — I’m quoting now — of people “of Jewish race, religion or origin.” OK, what do you expect to follow from this? What you expect to follow is that 92, 93 percent of the land of the country is effectively reserved for people of Jewish race, religion and origin. And that’s the way it played out.
This finally came to the court, the Israeli courts, High Court, in the year 2000. Civil liberties association in Israel brought a case. The plaintiffs were an Arab couple, professional Arab couple, who wanted to buy a home in a Jewish settlement, settlement of Katzir, which was, like most of the country, restricted to Jews. The court finally ruled in their favor, in a very narrow decision.
Almost immediately, efforts began to try to figure out a way around it, by various devices. And the new law simply authorizes it, straight. It authorizes all-Jewish settlements in Israel proper, which means about 90 percent of the country. If you look at the development of settlements over the years — it’s discussed in an important article by Israeli writer Yitzhak Laor in a recent issue of Haaretz. I wrote about it in a post here in Truthout. He points out that I think about 700 all-Jewish settlements were set up, no Arab settlements. Arab Palestinians are restricted to about two percent of the land, a lot of them being kicked out of that.
So, all of this, it formalizes what has been practiced, in complex ways. It does demote Arabic from being an official language to not having that status. It enhances the past practices by introducing them into what’s called the Basic Law, which is effectively the constitution. So, yes, these are changes, but less dramatic than the way it’s portrayed, not because these are proper moves, but because it’s always been like that in one way or another.
Incidentally, this should not be too strange to Americans. You look at the housing — this has recently been discussed by [Richard] Rothstein, an interesting book. If you look at the New Deal housing programs, they were legally and explicitly directed to ensuring white-only projects, white-only towns. That’s why the towns that sprang up in the 1950s, like Levittown, were 100 percent white. Various legal requirements were introduced to ensure that. This is the New Deal. We’re not talking about the Deep South, although, of course, they influenced it.
This didn’t change until the late ’60s. And by then, it was too late to benefit African Americans. The reason was because of general economic changes in the ’50s — ’50s and the ’60s were a great growth period in the United States, offered the first time in hundreds of years of history, 400 years of history, for African Americans to have some sort of a chance of entering the mainstream society. But they were blocked from housing, by legal means. By the time the legal means were dismantled, we were moving into the onset of the neoliberal period of stagnation and decline, so it didn’t do them any good. That’s another chapter in the ugly history of American racism.
So, we shouldn’t be all too startled to see what’s going on in Israel, which is quite ugly and is part of the shift of the country far to the right, which was predicted in 1967, predicted right off, that a consequence of the occupation would be to turn the country to the right. When you have your jackboot on someone’s neck, it’s not good for your psyche. And I think we’ve been watching this happen.
Israel is quite aware of it, incidentally. Israeli political analysts have been pointing out for a couple of years that Israel should be preparing itself for a period in which it loses the support of sectors of the world that have some concern for human rights and international law, and should be returning towards alliances with the countries that just don’t care about this. Say, India, under the recent ultranationalist Modi government, shares with Israel the move towards ultranationalism, repression, a hatred of Islam; China doesn’t pay attention to these things; Singapore; Saudi Arabia; United Arab Emirates.
And we can see it happening in the United States, as well. So, not too long ago, Israel was the absolute darling of progressive, liberal America. That has changed. By now, among self-identified Democrats, they have considerably more support for Palestinians than for Israel. Support for Israel in the United States has shifted to the ultranationalist right and evangelicals, who, for the wrong reasons, support Israeli actions, with some passion, in fact, while at the same time many of them hold to doctrines which claim that the second coming of Christ, which is imminent, will lead to a series of events which will end up with the Jews being sent to eternal perdition. That combines with the support for Israeli actions. And that’s why the base of Israeli support in the United States has shifted to the right wing of the Republican Party. So, these things are happening all over the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, now linguistics professor at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Coming up, he’ll talk about the crisis in Gaza.