Monday 11 March 2024

Does Humza Yousaf support Palestinian nationalism?


To be a respectable form of nationalism Scottish nationalism has to carefully base its ideology on Scottishness being open to everyone who lives in Scotland rather than ancestry. To justify independence by appealing to a Scottish race or an indigenous people called Scots or to the fact that our ancestors have lived in Scotland for centuries would be a form of “blood and soil” nationalism that would be disreputable because it would tend towards the far right.

To its credit the SNP has tried to be an inclusive open party that both allows for migration to Scotland and for everyone to be Scottish whatever their ancestry, race or religion. There have always been elements of ethnic nationalism in the SNP’s argument, because these are unavoidable in any movement of national self-determination. They can be seen most clearly in the hostility of some Scottish nationalists to English people and their obsession with long ago battles against England and in their dressing up in clothing from previous eras.

But this has to be counterbalanced with the SNP electing Humza Yousaf to be leader, the support it enjoys from many recent arrivals to Scotland and its policies that treat all Scots equally no matter who their parents were or where they came from.

But there is a problem for Scottish nationalism that has only recently become obvious, and which goes right to the top with Humza Yousaf’s obsession with Gaza. The SNP is in danger of closely aligning itself with Palestinian nationalism and that is very far from being liberal.

To support a Palestinian state within the borders of Gaza and the West Bank coexisting with Israel is a perfectly legitimate, liberal objective. But this has been rejected by the Palestinian leadership on a number of occasions. It certainly is not the goal of Hamas nor is it the goal of those demonstrating each week in London.

Palestinian nationalism rejects Zionism as a legitimate ideology, thinks that the foundation of the state of Israel was illegitimate and has an ultimate goal of creating a free Palestine ruled and populated by Palestinians.

Obviously, supporters of the Palestinian cause have differing views. Some would like a free Palestine where Israelis were allowed to remain albeit outnumbered so that there was no longer a Jewish state. Others would prefer that the Jews were encouraged to leave, because it is the policy of the Palestinian authorities that no Jews should live in Palestine. Others still would like to eradicate both Israel and the Israelis.

But Palestinian nationalism is almost always viewed through the prism of “blood and soil” nationalism.

The statements “Resistance is justified when your land is occupied” or “From the River to the Sea Palestine will be free” are based on who owns the land called Palestine being a matter of ancestry.

If you think that who owns the land is based on whose ancestors lived there in 1948 and it makes no difference if Israelis were born there because their ancestors, migrated, then you are a blood and soil nationalist basing your goal of a Palestinian state on the ethnicity of Palestinians and the fact that they descend from those who lived in Palestine in previous generations.  

If only indigenous Palestinians have the right to live in Palestine and Jewish migrants or indeed Jews born there don't have any rights, then ancestry is more important to you even that birth or having a passport.

If you think that Jews can't live in Israel because their ancestors migrated there and others who were not born in Israel, i.e. people in the West Bank, Gaza and elsewhere have a greater right because their ancestors lived in Palestine first then you have the most extreme form of ethnic nationalism imaginable.

But worse if the logic of Palestinian nationalism can be applied to Palestine, it would have a very unfortunate and illiberal consequence if it were applied equally elsewhere including Britain.

Either we are in favour of migration and everyone having the same rights whatever their ancestry or ethnicity or we are not. In Britain we rightly accept that everyone is equally British, or Scottish or English no matter where their parents came from. We are generally happy with at least limited migration, while sometimes doubting the wisdom of unlimited migration.

This means that throughout Europe there are now more than forty million Muslims. It would as Humza Yousaf continually points out be racist, Islamophobic and far right to oppose these people continuing to live in Europe.

But you cannot apply this logic to Britain, while applying a standard of ethnic nationalism to Palestine which you would be rightly unwilling to apply here.

Zionism was the process by which Jews migrated to first the Ottoman Empire and then the British Empire. But you cannot think it disgraceful that 7 million Jew migrated to the Middle East while at the same time thinking that it is wonderful that 40 million Muslims migrated to Europe including you and your family. That would make you a hypocrite.

In 1947 Muslims decided to create a Muslim state called Pakistan. This involved the displacement of large numbers of Hindus and Sikhs who had always lived there. In 1948 Jews similarly created a Jewish state. The birth of the state of Israel involved a war because Palestinians allied with the rest of the Arab world attempted to destroy it. Some Palestinians were displaced. But you cannot argue that this was uniquely terrible while ignoring what happened in Pakistan. You cannot demand the right of the descendants of those displaced Palestinians to return unless you say that the descendants of Hindus and Sikhs also have the right to return to Pakistan. No one thinks Germans have the right to return to Königsberg which is now in Russia.

Palestinians living in Gaza, the West Bank or elsewhere have no more right to live in Israel than I do unless you are an ethnic nationalist. Someone living today in Gaza was not born in Israel unless he is very old nor is he an Israeli citizen. So, the very claim that his land is occupied is “blood and soil” nationalism based on his ancestry.

If you think that those people whose ancestors lived in Palestine prior to 1948 have a special right to live there more than others who were born in Israel and more even than those who are Israeli citizens, then this would have a very unfortunate consequence if applied to the UK. If you think that the presence of Jews is illegitimate because they migrated, then what about you and your family? The ancestors of nearly all British Muslims arrived in the UK after 1948. If you want to go down the route of saying that only British citizens who can trace their ancestry prior to 1948 have the right to live here, be my guest, but the logic of Palestinian nationalism would be unfortunate if applied here.

Scottish nationalists almost universally support Palestinian nationalism as does the SNP and the First Minister, but you cannot logically be a liberal nationalist about Scotland and an ethnic nationalist about Palestine.

If you favour a two-state solution based on the present borders and where people live now rather than where their ancestors lived, then the condition for this is to give up Palestinian ethnic nationalism that wants to have it all from the river to the sea and which views Jews as occupiers. Palestinian nationalists would then have to give up the armed struggle and learn to live peacefully with their neighbours. In time this would lead to two states, but Palestinians giving up terrorism is the condition.

But neither Hamas, Palestinians in general nor those demonstrating in London, nor I suspect the SNP and Humza Yousaf are remotely ready to give up Palestinian territorial claims to Israeli land grounded in the ethnicity, religion and ancestry of Palestinian people.

But if you are an ethnic nationalist about Palestine, it makes me question once again if you are an ethnic nationalist about Scotland. That would be odd indeed if your ancestors were not from here. But Scottish nationalism is full of contradictions.

Could it be that Humza Yousaf while complaining about the far right shows just those tendencies about Palestine?

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