Self-Assertiveness, Nationalism And Israel.

Or: How did nationalism get such a bad rap? And: What’s a proud Israeli to do?

People on the left side of the political spectrum talk about nationalism as if it is a dirty word, something to be discarded for global(homogen)ization.

During the election campaign in the USA, many Americans expressed the sense that they care more for the greater common good of humanity than they do to “Make America Great Again”. Europeans fear a Le Pen win, in part because she may try to take France out of the European Union and revert to putting national interests above those of the European continent as a whole.

Israelis who support the two-state solution (TSS) argue that possession of rocks and buildings, central as they may be to Jewish history and our identity formation as a people, do not over-ride concern for the well-being of another group of people who claim ownership over this same land and these same buildings. TSS’ers say that Israeli national interests cannot be ethical if they are achieved and maintained at the expense of the national interests of the Arabs who now call themselves Palestinians.

Some TSS’ers may even deplore celebrations of our national pride, such as Jerusalem Day, arguing that marching through the Old City of Jerusalem holding flags and singing — “as if” we own the place — is insulting and humiliating to the Arabs who feel oppressed by us. Out of compassion, we are supposed to accept Naqba demonstrations at our universities as legitimate protests facing off against our own Israel Independence Day celebrations, and perhaps even to feel a little bit guilty about having won wars waged against us and not having agreed to lie down and die.
Is Israeli Nationalism and Pride Unethical?

I started to look at the issue at a personal level. We can talk about the individual’s protection of his or her rights. People can be aggressive, assertive or passive. Here is a simplistic distinction among the three:

Nationalism and Assertiveness.

In the same way, a nation can be assertive and it does not imply being aggressive and stepping on other people’s rights, or passive and allowing others to step on her own rights. It means having self-respect and respecting other nations’ rights to behave with self respect. The assertive nation is bound to respect the rights of other nations. However, if another nation acts with aggression and unwillingness to respect her rights, she draws red lines and says, up to here and no farther! Let us take this back to a personal example:

I hope that everyone agrees that people have the right to say “no” to sexual contact they do not want. Male or female, individuals have the right to expect that when they say “no”, that the other person, regardless of how much he or she may want to continue, must desist. There must be recognition of the individual’s right to self-determination. Mutual recognition. The initiator has the right to ask; the other partner to the situation has the right to say either yes or no.

The assertive individual does not agree to play by the rules of the aggressor and defines limits and boundaries, leaving the arena if the aggressor does not cease behaving aggressively.

The assertive individual avoids the passive person because the former has no desire to take advantage of the weakness of the latter; it gets tiring dealing with people who constantly put themselves down, put others’ needs ahead of their own – this, however, is what aggressive people most enjoy: taking advantage of weakness.

Assertive people most enjoy interacting with other assertive people. The playing ground is even, there is mutual respect and, while tempers may flare, there is trust that they can work their issues out.

At the national level, there are other terms for aggressive, assertive and passive, namely: chauvinistic, versus patriotic or nationalistic, versus appeasing. The chauvinist and the appeaser speak the same language, that of giver and taker; the nationalist speaks a different language, that of negotiation and mutual respect. Now what is wrong with that?

It is not the assertive country that pokes at others, instigating wars. (Before you get on at me about the so-called occupation of so-called Palestinian land as an example of Israeli aggression, let me note here that in a separate article I will discuss how the Oslo Accords set out the rules for what is now happening in Judea & Samaria. Both sides signed the agreement, and assertive partners to an agreement are bound to operate according to the terms of the agreement. So let us set that aside for the moment.)

The problem, therefore, is not nationalism per se. There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to protect and preserve one’s own particular national culture and traditions, to have a flag to rally around and a hymn to sing with hand over heart.

After all, what would the Olympic Games and the Eurovision Contest, for example, be like were people not to compete under their various national flags? Is it wrong to want YOUR athlete or YOUR singer to bring home the gold and to cheer them on above all others?

Yom Ha’atzmaut.

When we celebrate Israel Independence Day, we are not thumbing our noses at the Arabs who now call themselves Palestinians. Those who see it that way may feel we have to apologize for existing, for thriving, for claiming sovereignty over the seat of our ancient people.

Yom Ha’atzmaut is only about us. It is our day to rejoice in our nationhood, in our return home. Let us stand tall and proud on Yom Ha’atzmaut – let us assert our right to celebrate.

There are plenty of other days of the year to dedicate to the hard work of seeing if we can resolve our problems with our neighbours.

First published at Israel Dairies

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  1. Otto Waldmann

    There are terms, notion, just “simple” words which have established meaning, particularly in specific context. Here, the author misses a few important defining notions.
    We see the word “nations” used to explain, in Israel’s case with, obviously, the intention to refer to the Jewish segment of our country. While I know my political vocabulary, I just checked the linguistic bible, my own Oxford English Dictionary and guess what, “nation” is defined in… contradictory terms. Part of it agrees with what I perceive to be wrong and the other one agrees 100% with…… At page 661 it says : ” nation n. a community of people of mainly common descent, history, language, etc., (sic) ( you don’t have commas before “etc. ) forming a state or inhabiting a territory. ”
    Our, Israel’s problem in relation to what a nation means is that, those Jews who consider that the NATION of Israel contains implicitly and, to them explicitly, the proven demographic fact that it is not exclusively the domain of the Jews within but also some other not so Jewish components.
    That being established, we take the “nation” further and are prompted to consider how Jews were are still faring in some other nations, not as the majority of the … nation, but as the dreaded minority.
    This nagging detail seems to be etched on the minds, actually the existential condition of quite a few of our brethren. I, for example, am not afflicted by this condition although I have lived all my life in non-Jewish countries, some much better, more enticing than others.
    My condition aside, there are also ,those whom I have encountered within our minority fold, who would find it normal, justified to make a few attempts at the solidly marketed sentiment of EMPATHY.
    If we suffered as a minority, if we accused and some of us even fought against the plight of antisemitism, the domination of the majority within the NATIONS outside our own, where we have been historically , actually, an integral part of those nations, we, of all people, should not promote, condone, legalise and practice the same nationalistic scourge we condemn at others.

    This is the motivation, the rationale one can identify so clearly at those among us who are brandishing the banners of rejection of Jewish “nationalism”.

    How do we reconcile these facts and respective views, sentiments, with the Zionist NECESSARY spirit and respective policies, State attitudes, no less !!

    I am for balanced measures, realistic, pragmatic approaches and all respective…nation reasonable, civilised norms.
    Our Israel is unique in many respects, it must retain the Jewish profile and substance for which it was GIVEN to us Providentially and gained back through our conscious efforts.
    We live, however, by other important notions and principles, those which we MUST share with the rest of the civilised world, a world which must and to a great extent, agrees with our claims of specific….. national “features” and we must, conversely, avoid nationalistic excesses which may impinge upon our legitimate national rights and, yes, privileges. The privilege of calling Israel a Jewish State, warts and all. This does not mean a sacrifice of our security not just in military terms , but in maintaining Israel our distinguishable Jewish homeland and a beacon of Judaic continuity.

    • I loved your ruminations Otto….I have come to look forward to them as much as I do some of Shirlee’s other op-ed Posters. Thank You.

      • Otto is a bit of a character. Mind you, I had to ban him once. Now he ‘contains’ himself!! 🙂

  2. Otto Waldmann

    Says Shirl, whom I just adore, once banned herself ,lock , stock and a barrel of great stuff from the entire web “world ” …..

  3. Larry Langman

    Another wonderful exchange. I am troubled by the view put by Sheri Oz and heartened by the humanity of Otto Waldmann.
    Sheri Oz says “Yom Ha’atzmaut is only about us. It is our day to rejoice in our nationhood, in our return home. Let us stand tall and proud on Yom Ha’atzmaut – let us assert our right to celebrate.” I would invite Australians to replace the words “Yom ha’Atzmaut” with “Australia Day” and see if the statement is one most Australians would be happy with if proclaimed on the steps of our Parliament.
    Otto Waldmann notes, “We see the word “nations” used to explain, in Israel’s case with, obviously, the intention to refer to the Jewish segment of our country.” Otto further notes ” we, of all people, should not promote, condone, legalise and practice the same nationalistic scourge we condemn at others.” To which a say Amen
    How quickly we forget the lessons of the Seder just past. We are required to remove from our “cup of joy” ten drops in rememberance of the pain death and misery inflicted on the Egyptians.
    Three times now we have “entered the land” and at no time has the land been a “Terra nullius.”
    As Australians we know and acknowledge the pain that kind of assertion can cause. A triumphalist Australia Day seems I feel to many, not quite the right tone.