I liked Barry Finger's review of Susie Linfield's excellent book The Lion's Den, but I want to open debate on two issues.
Barry calls for "binationalism" in Israel. I understand that is different from those who call for Israel to be extinguished and all 1948 Palestine to become a single "binational" state - so neither Israeli Jews nor Palestinian Arabs have self-determination - but still it leaves questions unanswered.
We should surely be for the big national minority in Israel - the 20% Palestinian minority - enjoying equal individual rights, language rights, and some autonomy in the areas where they are a majority.
But is that "binationalism"? The Palestinian-Israelis are heavily concentrated in Palestinian-majority villages and towns, and the city of Nazareth. Up to 1966 those centres of their population were under military government, but now they have local self-government. That seems to have some reality, since turnout for local government elections in Palestinian-majorities is about 90%, as against barely 50% in national elections.
Despite the hurtful recent "Nation State law", Arabic has wide official use, which has expanded since 2000.
Things could be improved on both those fronts, but I doubt Barry's argument is about that (or about the many changes that could be made to state symbolism).
Barry has mentioned (not in that review) the right of secession from Israel (to a future Palestinian state) of Palestinian-majority areas. That demand was first raised, as I understand it, by the Israeli Stalinists in the late 1950s. It seems incontrovertible. We in Workers' Liberty have raised it too.
That can hardly be the key to progress, either, since those in Israel arguing for that secession at present are right-wing Israeli chauvinists (who want a more "secure" Jewish majority), and the Palestinian-Israelis strongly reject secession.
When binationalism in Palestine was first raised in the 1920s, by liberal Zionists, it meant that Britain would continue to rule, but Jewish and Arab communities would each have some self-government and an equal right to lobby the British. It relied on British rule "holding the ring".
In the 1940s, very different groups backed "binational" schemes - liberal Zionists, left Zionists, the Palestinian Stalinists, the Heterodox Trotskyists, and, for a while in 1946, the US and British governments (who envisaged a UN protectorate to "hold the ring").
The schemes varied a lot in detail, but they had a common problem, crisply put by Albert Hourani, later a well-known academic, who was then the Arab League's lobbyist in London.
Binational schemes, he said, could work "if a certain spirit of co-operation and trust exists and if there is an underlying sense of unity to neutralise communal differences. But that spirit does not exist in Palestine. If it existed, the whole problem would not have arisen".
By 1947-8 pretty much all the 1946 advocates of binationalism had, from their very different angles, come to concede that partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states was the only workable next step. (Apparently Hourani himself, who in 1946 took it on him to be the "reasonable face" of Arab chauvinism, also later came to that conclusion).
Of course partition then raised the question of the rights of the Arabs in the Jewish state, and would have raised the question of the rights in the Palestinian Arab state if that state had not been snuffed out by Jordan and Egypt (except that all the Jews in the area had been killed or evicted).
Some of the variants of binationalism recently proposed within Israel fall foul of Hourani's objection, because they propose that the Palestinian-Israeli community have an organised veto over at least some major issues in Israel. Few nations concede wide veto rights over general state affairs to their minorities: if relations were easy enough to make that solution workable, then there would already be no serious problem to solve.
The other problem with variants of binationalism - and some reform programs not labelled "binationalism", like that of the liberals Ilan Peleg and Dov Waxman in their book on Israel's Palestinians - is that they would accentuate rather than blur the divisions between communities in Israel. This is the same objection that Lenin and others had to the "national-cultural autonomy" programme of the Austrian Social-Democrats before World War 1.
For example, Peleg and Waxman propose more Palestinian-Israeli control over Arab-language schooling in Israel, and a new "Arab university" there. Would it not be better to expand the dual-language Hebrew-Arabic schools (some have developed in recent years), and to have universities teach courses in Arabic as well as Hebrew (as the University of Barcelona teaches many courses in both Spanish and Catalan)?
A completely different point for discussion is the Khazars, the Turkic people who in the 8th centuries had a powerful state around the Caspian and the Black Sea whose rulers (at least, and maybe the people) were religiously Jewish.
I see Barry's point that Arthur Koestler's book arguing that most East European Jews were descended from the Khazars has been much used by antisemites. Also used for Israel-bashing is the argument that today's Palestinians are mostly descended not from Arabs but from ancient Canaanites. But I don't understand his insistence that Koestler was completely wrong. The records are scanty. How can we know?
The answer to the question of "who is the rightful Canaanite heir to Palestine?" is: no one.
Linfield puts it well: "The Jewish people are, of course, a mixture of races and ethnicities, including African, Arab, Persian, Berber, and European, as a walk down any street in Israel will quickly show". And Khazar? It is irrelevant to current politics.
National territories are not inheritances. We seek to resolve national disputes on the basis of the rights and interests of the living communities of today, not on the impossible basis of reclaiming the rights, and mending the wrongs, of all their ancestors.