I suppose it was inevitable that the union of war and new media would spawn some strange offspring that looked like a combination of hip media and varieties of war. Terrorists, revolutionaries, and disenfranchised citizens are carrying laptops, hand-held cameras, and phones into battle and posting real-time and unedited messages on Twitter and Facebook.
In 2003 we saw the early effects of new media when telephones were able to capture images such as Abu Ghraib and turn the site into an international symbol of torture. You can watch YouTube videos of Syrian rebels fighting government forces in real-time. The video takers are now part of the battle and have specific assignments and training. You can hear the video takers cry “Allahu akbar” when he successfully captures a photographic moment. We could call this the “YouTube war” because of the union of cell phones and social media that make it possible to furnish the world with real-time war. And YouTube does not delete very many videos; thus, there are some graphic pictures and raw scenes that even amount to crimes. You can see an example here but be forewarned .
The rebel videos in Syria are accompanied by English translations and commentary which touts the successes of the Syrian rebels. According to one article in the Wall Street Journal in September 2013 the rebels have hired accomplished graphic designers with stylized script to enhance the effects. It is not uncommon to leave cell phones and cameras on dead bodies so their content will be picked up. Some videos are designed for religious audiences and contain religious messages. A good reading on the use of social media in revolutionary movements appears in the online publication Small Wars Journal. It is free and easily available.
Some Ways New Media Has Changed Revolutionary Movements
Authoritarian regimes have always tried to control traditional media (radio and television) and have usually had the upper hand. But now the rebels have increased information and can gather intelligence more skillfully. Sophisticated American intelligence tries to understand the battlefield but revolutionaries now do it with amateur videos uploaded from handheld devices. Moreover amateur video legitimizes the narrative of partisans and insurgents. It is the first real countermove in the effort to weaponize information against authoritarian regimes. Propaganda is now a tool everyone has access to.
Secondly, the public sphere aspect of new media allows for mobilization. In Egypt in 2011 the phrase “We are all Khaled Said” on Facebook was a significant aid to youth mobilization during the 18 days in Tahrir Square. In one interesting development rebel fighters have Twitter and Facebook accounts in which they reveal their identity and answer questions “on the field.” They do not divulge locations but other than that the fighters use these social media to disseminate information and establish an online identity. They are completely comfortable with exposing themselves probably because they are simply used to sharing one’s identity online.
But third, social media cannot put weapons on the battlefield so it has its limitations. And state regimes have their resources and instruments of oppression that can easily overwhelm social media. Moreover, social media are particularly good at forming weak ties that are not accompanied by energized activism. Those who are members of Facebook networks make few real sacrifices and are “weakly tied” to the cause.
Finally, it is a little frightening to imagine the worst of all possible outcomes. Although new media in the form of videos uploaded on YouTube were instrumental in prompting debate about Western intervention in Syria and use of chemical weapons, there were also thousands of recorded atrocities before that and nobody paid attention. We might end up being increasingly entertained and narcoticized by images of war, and at the same time feeling just fine about doing nothing.
Are you offended by the picture below? Perhaps not but many people are. It violates a variety of moral foundations with respect to the interpretation of political messages (see a review here).
The photo is of an American soldier hugging a Muslim woman in a niqab. It is an actual ad inspired by a real couple. At first glance it looks like a political statement with respect to American forces and their concern for local citizens in Iraq or Afghanistan. But the billboard is an ad for a throat spray that is supposed to help people stop snoring and thus keep them “together.” The ad does successfully pass the first rule of advertising which is to capture attention. But for some people this togetherness is too soon after 9/11, and for others it is shoving political correctness down our throats. Others find the ad endearing.
Some research did reveal that the soldier is real and one question that can be asked is why is an American soldier in uniform doing an ad for a commercial company? Well, that’s a good question but not what I’m interested in. It’s more interesting to examine the various responses to the ad and why some find it loving and inclusive and others distasteful and offensive. How you respond seems to be a matter of what sort of moral issues you are concerned with.
Jonathan Haidt of course in his book Moral Foundations Theory (http://righteousmind.com) has explained how liberals and conservatives differ with respect to which moral systems they respond to. Haidt identifies six moral foundations and they are briefly: care/harm, liberty/suppression, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation. I won’t elaborate on them all for space considerations but a few insights are worthy.
The care/harm distinction evolved from the need to care for children and is now stimulated by messages about suffering in distress. Compassion is a strong emotion here. For conservatives, however, that compassion is more associated with members of your own group than an outgroup. Conservatives are more likely to help members of an ingroup rather than an outgroup. For liberals, care and compassion are more universal and might be triggered by anyone suffering. There is a subtle element of this in the photograph as the soldier seems to be caring for the woman. Liberals who are more responsive to universal care are more likely to accept the photograph and find it less troublesome.
The sanctity/degradation continuum is also particularly important to those with a conservative ideology. Early in our evolutionary history there was a survival advantage to avoiding human waste, decaying food, and health threats of all types. Haidt argues that many objects as a consequence became sacred and we wanted to protect them against desecration, thus setting into motion “sacred” images, flags, and words. American conservatives tend to bestow sanctity quite easily on objects such as flags, ideologies such as capitalism, and desecration on the other things such as homosexuality and foreign objects. The image of the Muslim has become contaminated and clearly by many with strong conservative ideologies seen as a threat and something to be avoided. The most conservative viewers of the photograph are the most “put off” because they see the sanctity of the American soldier being degraded by contact with an impure other.
We respond to things not only according to our economic interests our moral ones. The argument that we have evolved these moral standards over time and as a result of evolutionary needs does seem to be defensible enough. A few of these moral standards such as “caring,” “fairness,” and “sanctity,” are clearly the divides that separate moral reasoning. A strong liberal will be more supportive of using government to level the playing field and achieve a sense of fairness; whereas, a conservative who is consistent with conservative values will defend traditions and infuse some objects and ideas with “sanctity.”
The soldier in the photograph is more sanctified than the woman and that’s why we immediately perceive his threat and express suspicion about her. So what you see and how you interpreted is certainly not an objective processing of an image, but an interpretive act that includes the interaction of your political predispositions with the object of interest.
A narrative is an argument because it is an interpretation of evidence that explains some version of reality. As scholars explain, narratives provide a foundation for reasons. If a Palestinian tells a story of lost land and injustice then he or she is making an argument supporting a position. In the case of ethnopolitical conflicts, personal narratives set with national narratives and define the political environment of the participants. Each party to a conflict uses stories to justify their position. The stories are the basis for competing claims about resources, political events, and the assignment of blame for one’s condition. Moreover, narrative must be included in the deliberative process because it is simply a fundamental way that people communicate. And although narratives can become deceitful and misleading, and subject to manipulations designed to elicit emotional responses, they remain part of the folkways of communication. Narratives often involve an appeal to a moral standard. And these are some of the most difficult issues for deliberators. Making the claim that narrative is part of the argumentative structure for deliberating groups is a departure from the Habermasian ideal which purges folk rhetoric from the deliberation process in order to keep deliberation pure. Still, even Habermas would recognize that all arguments need to be accounted for and can be expressed in diverse ways. Such narratives draw attention to issues and injustices that cannot escape deliberative attention. Finally, such forms of communication as narrative and stories are often characteristic of a more popular form of rhetoric, or patterns and styles that are more culturally distinct. Including these forms of communication in the argumentative process helps achieve sensitivity toward pluralism and diversity that must be included in political discussion. If deliberative communication is as epistemic and effective as it is capable of then the full range of rhetorical styles must be accommodated. There is the reasoned argument tradition of Habermas stressing the public sphere and the ascendancy of the best argument, and the second tradition that stresses popular social relations, emotions, and folk theories of communication. These will meld together.
Clearly, theorists and practitioners of deliberation have worked too hard to try to purify the process by removing emotions and identities in the pursuit of rationality. And this has resulted in the exclusion of communication and rhetorical styles that are separate from the history of logical debate. I make this point not because of political correctness or a sense of social justice but in order to improve the quality of the deliberation and dialogue process. By including narratives and identities in deliberation it improves our understanding of the communication process and actually forms a more accurate foundation for problem resolution.
We cannot ignore the fact that intergroup conflicts are over material resources and the rational allocation of these resources is typically part of the solution. But in intractable conflicts a rather straightforward disagreement about material resources is intensified and made salient through narratives and identities. This is one more reason that narratives, which are easily part of the dialogue process, must be expanded to include deliberation. And the more material conflicts are filtered through and associated with identities the more intractable they become. Conflicts in which progress is genuinely possible often become “impossible” because the conflict has moved beyond resource allocation and become identified with the fundamental nature and definition of the national group. We see this clearly in the case of the Israel-Palestine conflict where every aspect of society is politicized and the political conflict is refracted through the culture. The pathway from a manageable conflict to a difficult identity that exacerbates problems is typically through stories and personal narratives. Stories allow members of conflicting groups to voice perspectives and express values relevant to the issues. Stories also help move the groups to dialogue because stories are a natural way to express experiences and communicate genuine emotions.
Whether your intellectual tradition is that of the Enlightenment, or the religious patterns of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, or Judaism along with modern liberalism each provides horizons of meaning that offer a picture and a future of peace. All of these intellectual systems have an end state that is, if not utopian and glorious, at least peaceful and orderly. But how do we begin to interrogate and engage these systems? What do we have to know about the cultures that are most representative of these belief systems?
In the micro world of interpersonal relations, or the more detached pedagogical stance one can take in the classroom, it is easy enough to make references to cultural generalities. We talk quite prolifically about cultural differences and enjoy citing examples of cultural variation. But when it comes to defending these cultural generalities, when one is asked to stand up in front of an audience and say things that involve generalities about cultures to which we do not belong, things get a little bit more difficult. I have participated in many conversations where generalities about culture were invoked (and I’m not talking about humorous stereotypes) but the participants would be hard-pressed to defend these generalities; they shy away from expressing cultural descriptions because they realize that such generalities are always a little bit on shaky grounds.
But on the other hand, there are characteristic qualities of cultures. We classify cultures as either individualistic or collective, self oriented or other oriented, modern or traditional, along with any number of other descriptions. These generalities often have some claim to legitimacy but they also are rarely a universally valid framework. We have to grapple with differences and try to avoid shallow cultural blather but at the same time improve the depth of our knowledge about cultures, especially cultures in conflict trying to resolve differences. Below, and in the next few posts, I explore some differences we might claim separate Islam from the West with respect to concepts of peace and conflict resolution. A good reading on this topic is Islamic Approaches to Peace.
When it comes to understanding Islam and its conceptions of peace and conflict management, we are in a difficult historical period because of “Islamism” and it’s narrow and aggressive discourse that is seen as a threat to peace. The concept of peace in the Islamic culture is typically misrepresented or ignored. But there are differences between Western and Islamic concepts of peace that must be understood. The differences between the two cultures form the basis for dialogue and deliberation. Yet, you actually see very little contact and very little theorizing about Islamic-Western dialogue. There are any number of reasons for this, but one of the most pertinent is that Western literature is more concerned about stating differences rather than commonality, and emphasizing the incompatibility of Islam with Western ideas about conflict.
There is a shameful lack of contact between Islam and the West with relatively little grassroots dialogue. There is a need for a new attitude and framework in order to organize knowledge about Islam for Westerners and organize knowledge about the West for Muslims. For example, there does seem to be a tendency to define Western approaches to conflict resolution as the “norm” or the ideal to strive for. We simply don’t have attitudes that expect Islam to be serious about peace. And although everyday contact between Muslims and Westerners is fine wherever it is possible (e.g. educational institutions), it still falls short of the structured and guided form of communication that results from dialogue and deliberation.
It is commonly accepted among conflict scholars that peace between deeply divided groups requires a global conception of peace that is integrated; in other words, problems will not be solved on the basis of narrow self-interest or the belief in one’s own cultural superiority with respect to ideas about peace. Peace will not come and problems will not be solved on the basis of a single dominant cultural attitude. Religion, for example, is essential to the attitudes about peace for Muslims but far less important for the secular West. And it is the West that must accept the role of religion and integrate it into the process.
All major religious, philosophical, and secular systems of belief and knowledge claim that peace will be the result of the full expression and recognition of the systems. And in a new world where boundaries are more porous and once separated groups must now confront the other there is an even more profound need for intercultural communication.
Ever have a political discussion with a friend and have it degenerate into incompatible positions that cause tension, anger, and exasperation? You have to learn how to appreciate “reasonable disagreement.” This is not a contradiction in terms; you can disagree and be both reasonable about it.
In the culture-laden and pragmatic world of communication disagreement is the norm, so we have to deal with it. Some people are taught that specific sources of information are the true guides to knowledge. Scripture and religious communities which include all sorts of information about the earth and animal species can be cited as a supreme source of knowledge. If people take no critical stance toward these issues and accept them thoroughly then they are justified in their beliefs. There can be a debate about what is true and what is not but this does not change the normative system. The beliefs of the religious person are justified; they are part of a system of relationships their empirical content notwithstanding. A “creationist” and “evolutionist” produce disagreement because they live in different knowledge worlds. They may be polarized and the position of the other may be unimaginable but this is the “stuff” of disagreement and must be managed.
Relationships that are “fiercely entangled”, such as between ethnopolitical groups in conflict, are characterized by the incommensurability that accompanies situations where the parties in conflict are divergent. Conflicting groups must be able to experience disagreement; they must, as Benhabib describes, treat the other as an “adversary” and not an “enemy.” The ability to tolerate disagreement as well as work with it is central to the communicative and resolution process.
There is more to reasonable disagreement than a gentleman’s agreement to respect differences. Clearly, communities, cultures, social networks, and groups establish different sets of standards and principles regarding beliefs and drawing conclusions. And while there are overlaps between groups in terms of standards of knowing (e.g. science) there are also sharp differences between them. For this reason, reasonable disagreement is a defensible philosophical position and a communicative state that usually cannot be avoided.
Some theorists are relativists in that they do not believe there is any overarching cultural norm of rationality. Others want to argue for more objective standards. One problem is that for one side of a cultural disagreement to be “correct” there must be a standard that determines such correctness. Such standards are difficult to establish. Still, rampant relativism is equally as indefensible and it is possible for certain positions to be more justified than others. The central question is posed as the following: is it possible for two cultures or conflicting groups, both of which have epistemic standards, to both share evidence and have reasonable disagreement. In other words, one group believes a proposition and the other group does not. An explication of the clash of narratives between Israelis and Palestinians present a good example. Zionism, for example, as stated in historical documents and instances can be interpreted as a noble effort to return a historically oppressed people to their homeland, or as a European colonialist enterprise with an expansionist ideology. The two groups (Israelis and Palestinians) are in disagreement such that one believes a proposition to be true and the other disbelieves it.
The disagreement is “reasonable” to the extent that each side is justified in holding the belief or disbelief. Ideally anyway, members of both groups should have equal access to evidence and documentation including the benefit of full discussion. In many cases this condition is not met. Differences in education and availability of information will also account for disagreements. To make matters even more complex, we must include the fact that people have graded beliefs based on subjective probabilities.
Participants in groups who disagree are working on the basis of a proposition that states that their own system of information justifies their beliefs. The simple act of observing Jews migrate to Israel justifies both the belief in “noble return” as well as “colonialism.” And from a communicative and discursive standpoint there is nothing malevolent about these differences. Both beliefs are justified and linked to some system of information. One side of the argument is not more correct than the other.
One solution to the condition of reasonable disagreement is for the two parties to converge on what counts as evidence. Some progress here is possible but slow and difficult. Then again, we always note that the process of communication and decision-making is slow and difficult.
In this post I want to spend just a little bit of time dealing with a few more specific and down-to-earth issues with respect to Israel being a “Jewish” state. I received my share of responses last week ranging from those who thought it was just another slap in the face of Palestinians, to those who are sure the state will become a theocracy and oppressive. Below I enumerate key issues and respond directly. I will avoid the historical arguments about the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the establishment of the state and what transpired in 1948. Rather, I focus on more mundane issues.
1. Many people get depressed about Israel as it fumbles forward increasingly divided by religion, secularity, and politics. The truth is that Israel is already ahead of most with respect to democracy. It has not made peace yet but that is a relational concept that requires help from the other side. Israel is currently the “state of the Jews.”
2. All Israel needs to do is establish a state that tilts toward the protection and development of Jewish life, culture, and religion. Israel will always be diverse but groups will always have a right to their own identity and protection under the law as long as they do not actively advocate for the destruction of the Jewish state. All groups have a right to advocate for their interests – even the majority group as long as it does it within democratic principles.
3. So, what do you do about an institution such as education? The role of an educational institution, especially public education, has always been to promote Jewish identity and citizenship in the public schools. But why is this any different than in the United States where schools promote American cultural values. And being socialized into a community through the public education system is not a mindless activity; there is no reason that the Jewish education cannot expose students to the conflicts and contradictions of this society as well as others.
4. The law of return is often cited as a discriminatory act that allows all Jews to settle in Israel but not those Arabs from earlier generations who lost property in the war or had it taken from them. The right of return could make it possible for Jews to return but not guarantee their actual return. That was always up to individuals and families. A significant ingathering of a particular group is a clear demonstration of a population’s readiness to establish formal legitimacy. The state fulfills the legitimate aims of a large group of people.
5. What about things like national symbols such as the flag of the state of Israel, the Star of David. Such a flag certainly does not represent symbolically in any way the Arab minority population. Still, many countries have religious symbols on flags and the Star of David would have to remain as a significant symbol for Israel and the Jewish people.
6.Or, even more divisive and impossible would be the singing of Hatikva the Israeli national anthem. The state of Israel cannot be neutral on these matters and still claim its Jewish identity. But it is also true that the obligations to democracy require as much neutrality as possible. But solutions to these things are possible. Gavison suggests, and I agree, that a second national anthem could be written acceptable to the Arab community. We would hope that one day the two sides might listen politely to each anthem.
7. Or what about the national calendar including the recognition and observance of holidays, public festivals, and school closings? This too is a solvable problem. Schools and institutions could be organized around the holidays of both significant groups. Jews are off during “Christmas” break in the United States which is based on a Christian calendar.
We should remember that a Jewish state creates conditions for a powerful cultural Jewish life. Works of literature, philosophy, art, and science rooted in Jewish life and tradition will have the opportunity to flourish. All ethnoreligious conflicts must strike a deliberative balance between what divides them and their necessary interdependence. Doing this successfully requires communication and democratic conditions, both of which continue on striking a homeostatic balance.
This is a big and controversial issue and I will not satisfy most people. Moreover, it is steeped in serious issues related to political theory, culture, philosophy, and the law. Better minds than mine have grappled with this issue. Still, I’m going to make a case. I’m going to make a case for two reasons: one, I believe a defensible case can be made. And, secondly, I believe it is important to make the case because Israel is clearly deserving but vulnerable and its political status is important for its long-term prospects. Israel is besieged on all sides by those who see it as illegitimate and conceived in sin (a Christian image). For these reasons – along with historical and cultural connections to the land as well as the ethnopolitical character of the people –it is important to establish Israel as a Jewish state. The single best reading here is by Ruth Gavison titled “The Jews Right to Statehood: A Defense.”
For starters, a Torah state run by Orthodox rabbis is not only undesirable but not defensible. A legitimately recognized Jewish state must be as democratic as possible and founded on human rights. It’s important to recognize that Israel cannot be a liberal democracy in the same vein as the United States. I’ve made this argument before but it is simple enough: if Israel is going to be even slightly favorable towards Jewish particularity than it is going to privilege one group sometimes at the expense of others. We have to remember that democracy is a continuum.
If some secular professor representing the universal values of the contemporary left believes that any state organized around ethnicity or religion is a remnant of ancient tribalism and thus undeveloped, then I say “so what?” The type of state I have in mind is not a theocracy. It is a state that privatizes much of religion but simply works to fulfill, support, and express the religious culture of Judaism. For example, Israel has no religious test for its highest offices of president or prime minister. The president or Prime Minister does not have to be Jewish in the religious sense he or she just has to have the fulfillment of the Jewish state in mind. They have to accept the founding principles of doing nothing to interfere with the Jewish character of the state.
We can dispense with the criticism of Israel as a political entity from Muslim states quite easily. Many of them (Oman, Qatar, Kuwait) have Islam as the religion of the state and laws requiring public officials to be Muslims. This is fine, it is a principled point but certainly lends hypocrisy to the claim that Israel should be multicultural or one secular state. Their refusal to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state is not a political or philosophical argument, it is a charged political ideal based in their refusal to make peace with Israel.
And there are examples of secular states with religious ties that operate quite well. I would compare something proposed for Israel to that of Denmark. In Denmark the Constitution recognizes “the Evangelical Lutheran Church” as the established Church of Denmark. The only requisite is that the political leadership in Denmark do nothing to interfere with the established church.
Israel must continue to establish justification on moral universal grounds as much as possible because this appeals to most of its own people who feel the power of the Zionist project but are not particularly religious. Gavison makes the interesting point that the more Israel argues on the basis of universal values the more the Palestinians will follow suit rather than claiming ownership based on the sanctity of Muslim lands. The state of Israel will be a contestatory political system constantly engaging in interaction designed to balance human rights with its Jewish nature. This is consistent with all democracies who rely more on argument and deliberation than ideology.
I reiterate that it will be impossible for Israel to be absolutely neutral with regard to cultural, ethnic, and religious issues. There will be differences in civic equality. But these differences do not have to be fatal. It is still possible to have a democratic Jewish state that respects the rights of citizens – and certainly allows them to engage in their own religion in the same way as the United States does not interfere with religious practice as long as it is in the private sphere – and still represents a national identity.
So for now, the state I am imagining is not completely neutral, has an official language that is Hebrew, a calendar that marks Jewish time (including Shabbat ofcourse), and puts forth a public culture that is Jewish. The public sphere will be important in the Jewish state because that is the context for contestation with respect to issues that affect the public in general. People will be able to practice Judaism or any religion but the management and compromise will come in the public sphere when one person’s rights have to be balanced against another’s.
The state will be as democratic as possible and proudly Jewish.
I will say more next week.
In a couple of posts I’m going to explore the issue of an official “Jewish” definition of Israel. I’m going to explore the issues and expose the difficulties and suffer the different philosophical consequences including the conundrums, logical impossibilities, and damning inevitabilities. Then I’m going to conclude that Israel should be Jewish, that the entire history of the country and the Zionist project makes little sense if Israel is not “Jewish.” You will see, of course, that according to some I’m recommending “Jewish lite” and that will be enough to disqualify my conclusions. But ultimately there’s only one way to meet that goal of Israel being both Jewish and operational and that’s for the Judaism to inform the state but not control it.
This question of Israel’s Judaism is really no small matter because it determines whether or not the state serves Judaism or Judaism serves the state. In other words, if the state is Jewish first and democratic second then the democracy has to be flexible enough to fit the Jewish nature of the state. Strongly religious Jews who want Israel to be a Jewish state begin with Judaism and shape all other forms of government to fit the needs of the Jewish community. Places like the United States begin with democracy and shape the society to fit the democracy. This is known as a liberal democracy and in the more pure sense is impossible in Israel if the state is “Jewish.” I would recommend a reading from the Jerusalem Center for Public affairs available here.
If Israel is devoted to Jewish particularity than it begs the question about what that particularity is and whether or not it is sustainable. A society that is truly communal in the sense that everyone holds a religious or ethnic identity is a society that is truly actualized and expressed by the state. The “state” is truly a full expression of the people and not simply a compromise or the sum of the parts. Even at the risk of some exaggeration the state becomes the full expression of the nature of the people. Now, we’ve seen all this before and it certainly wasn’t pretty (think Fascism or the Soviet Socialist Republic). But it is not inevitable that the state will gravitate toward authoritarianism and oppression – even though constant monitoring is required. But Israel will have trouble if it has a strong sense of Jewish identity wrapped up in the state because the community is not cohesive. An officially Jewish Israel will be oppressive for non-Jewish groups such as the Arabs. Again, this is a situation that simply cannot stand. Israel must find a way to be Jewish but acceptably tolerant of the groups within its confines that are not Jewish. It is easy to describe the state as fundamentally expressing a culture when everyone in the culture is the same or holds the same political or religious values. But government is about managing differences and this is going to be true even of Jewish government.
So this is the primary tension. The tension is between Israel as a modern state and Israel as a continuation of Judaism. In what sense is Israel uniquely Jewish? Well, we could begin with the question of the Jewish people living independently in their own country. How important is it that Jews have a sense of completeness and does this depend on living in certain territory? An Orthodox Jew, although not all strands of orthodoxy, will tell you that the task of completing the Jewish people is dictated by God and an in-tact political system is a means to that end. In fact, the reconstitution of the state of Israel in the biblical and religious sense is a sign of the coming of the Messiah. In the Bible a collection of people make up the nation and they are permanent entity. In this image Israel would become a Torah state that might be an honorable expression of the will of Jews, but it would also be discriminatory not only against non-Jewish groups but include gender and the various intellectual discriminations. To be sure, Israel could create a state of the Jewish people and such a state would struggle in contemporary terms.
We are still confronted with the question of how modern Israel fits into the long tradition of Jewish civilization. And if we decide that Israel is Jewish first then there is the daunting question not of Judaism – which will make adjustments slowly to the modern world – but how Jewish Israel fits into the contemporary culture of justice and fairness for all. More later.
It's time for another Good News Friday installment.
My first item for this week is the very exciting news that two out of the three 2013 Nobel Prize winners for chemistry are Israeli, and the third winner is Jewish.
Israeli professor Arieh Warshel on Wednesday won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, along with fellow Jewish professors Michael Levitt (who also holds Israeli citizenship) and Martin Karplus.
We will know that real progress is being made on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when the Arab world explicitly states that it “recognizes” Israel. This concept of state recognition is at the core of the difficulty between these two sides, and I have the feeling that Arab countries choke on the word “recognition” so badly that they just can’t cough it up. In fact, it makes even little sense to negotiate and work to solve problems without such recognition. But it is the official recognition that holds the symbolic value and is more important than the practical outcomes of negotiation.
In a speech at Bar Ilan University Prime Minister of Israel Netanyahu pointed to the refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and the home of the Jewish people as at the core of the Middle East conflict. It really is an excellent speech and I highly recommend it. Some countries recognize Israel from a purely political perspective but not as a Jewish state. There is, of course, a storm of anti-Semitism that accompanies this lack of recognition but my concern here is with more official explanations; that is, with the sources and documents typically used to prop up the objections to recognition. First, let’s take a quick look at what is meant by recognition in international law. These criteria are quite straightforward and easily applicable to Israel:
1. A permanent population that exist together and compose the people of the nation.
2. Territory or a parcel of land that the permanent population lives on. This land must be defined by boundaries and territories.
3. A government or a functioning political system that constitutes the law of the land.
4. The capacity to enter into relations with other states.
These are the criteria for recognition by international law but some states get around these criteria and maintain nonrecognition by the Stimson doctrine which is to withdraw recognition to any new entity that comes into being as a result of illegal actions or force. And of course some Arab states claim this applies directly to Israel because they came into being illegally through the United Nations and as a result of war. On one hand the United Nations is the epitome of official recognition, but many in the Arab world consider the United Nations to be in a position to sanction anything. The definition of illegal actions can be ambiguous. The United Nations resolution 242 was used in the aftermath of the six day war in 1967 and it was agreed to by Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt. Israel agreed that it should promote a lasting peace and a peaceful resolution. But the details of this resolution remain murky and there is still confusion over language.
Recognition is a difficult process especially deep and symbolic recognition which is the most important type of recognition. Simple recognition of the state, which means such a state is suitable for routine contact and trade, is easy enough. But recognizing the deeper aspects of a political culture and its legitimate ties to land in history is another matter that requires greater respect and understanding. And, of course, the more the surrounding nations recognize Israel as a Jewish state with a legitimate claim to the land the more they drain their own claims of exclusivity. For example, many in the Muslim world hold the following:
1. Judaism was superseded by Christianity and later by Islam.
2. Jews are not a nation but a religion.
3. Recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state” would question Islam’s claim to be a superior revealed authority.
4. The land the Jews are inhabiting is part of Islamic holy land and can never be associated with another group.
It will be a long time before a collection of Arab leaders stands up and states to the world that it “recognizes Israel as a Jewish state.” This failure of recognition includes a rejection of Jewish prayer, history as well as cultural artifacts. This is dangerous and potentially the “stuff” of anti-Semitism.