Karayanni, Michael. “Tainted Liberalism: Israel’s Palestinian-Arab Millets.” Constellations (early view; online first).
The purpose of this article is twofold. First, it offers a thesis explaining why the religion and state discussion in Israel has historically been Jewish-centered. This part of my thesis dwells on the constitutional attributes of the jurisdiction accorded to the Palestinian-Arab millets, which has been characterized as liberal in nature and seen as a measure of the tolerance of the Jewish state towards non-Jewish religious minorities. However, as I shall show, this was not the dominant perception or concern when rabbinical jurisdiction was established. For various political reasons intertwined with Israel’s nature as a Jewish nation state, rabbinical jurisdiction was conceived of as a necessity. Indeed, in terms of liberalism, rabbinical jurisdiction is generally regarded as illiberal or even coercive. This ontological difference in the nature of the jurisdictional authority of rabbinical courts (as a necessary illiberal concession) on the one hand, and the Palestinian-Arab religious communities (as a generous liberal accommodation) on the other hand, is what makes the mixing of both analytically unfeasible. But how much of the jurisdictional authority granted to the Palestinian-Arab religious communities is in fact liberal and tolerant in nature? My second argument in this article seeks to show that this seemingly liberal attitude is an illusion. Building on newly discovered archival materials as well as on international legal instruments that pre-date the establishment of the state of Israel I will argue that the central motivations behind the recognition accorded to the Palestinian-Arab religious communities were primarily driven by the interests of the Israeli establishment rather than by a concern for the well-being of the minority communities, and so the liberalism that was the perceived justification as to why Israel recognized in the Palestinian-Arab millets is certainly of a tainted form.
This article is divided into five main sections. Section One gives an overview of Israel’s constitutional nature as a Jewish nation-state and identifies the existence of two major paradigms that govern the jurisdictional authority of the various religious courts. The four subsequent sections are historical in nature and outline the factors that motivated the Israeli establishment when considering the recognition of the Palestinian-Arab religious courts. Section Two highlights the importance of maintaining the Palestinian-Arab millets to Israel’s foreign policy, especially in the decade that followed the state’s establishment, when international recognition and support were crucial for the state’s effort to subsist. Section Three reveals how the establishment of the Palestinian-Arab millets was used by Israel to divide and conquer its minorities. Section Four focuses on the importance of religious endogamy in preserving Jewish identity. Section Five relates to the interests of the Palestinian-Arab community in preserving the existing millet system, which was not invented by Israel — it existed under Ottoman rule for centuries.11 In the overall analysis, however, although this factor undoubtedly overlaps with the preceding three, it was not equally significant.