Recently, an acquaintance sent me an article with the inflammatory title “Why Israel Should Not Exist.” My acquaintance sent it eagerly and mentioned how much he was awaiting my response because the article was so trenchant and challenging. You can read the article here. Upon realizing that it came from the publication “Counterpunch” I knew it was going to be pretty left of center but I read the article carefully and gave it its due. What a collection of nonsense and distortions! The article should be an exercise in a journalism class on recognizing bias and manipulating the readers. But let’s take a look at it point by point. Maybe somebody will learn something.
The text is full of clichés and politically loaded language and the author seems to flitter by them so easily I get the impression that they are common and taken for granted in his thinking. Single words or phrases are categories for entire spaces of reality and I can usually tell when someone has organized his reality according to some common clichéish categories. Here are just a few examples: the term “Zionist” in the numerous places below appears with frequency because the author imposes the normal caveat that he is not anti-Semitic but anti-Zionist. I will give him this distinction just because it’s important to defend the difference between being anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist, but I doubt sometimes that people are really making a distinction. There is clearly anti-Zionism that is a cover for anti-Semitism. But we won’t go there today. The sections below in quotes are taken from the article in question. We start with the author’s conception of Zionism.
- “Zionism is for that sector of the Jewish people that believes it is their God-given right to establish a state of Israel in the holy land at the expense of the Palestinians who lived there for 2000 years” Zionism is about no such thing; it is nothing more than a concern for the care, cultural development, and security of the Jewish people. Zionism says nothing about Palestinians or God-given rights to land. These things happen to emerge but they are not part of actual Zionism. Zionism is philosophically rooted in the principle of self-determination – the same principle applied to Palestinians and other groups.
- “Zionism is a continuation of European colonialism.” The author and his minions better start following these issues a little more carefully. In fact, Israel was one of the first to decolonize the Middle East. The Balfour declaration helped Arab nations escape the colonial clutches of France and the United Kingdom. The Balfour declaration was good for the Arabs. Moreover, there were plenty of states that became colonies or protectorates but only Israel gets accused of being “colonial.” Here’s where you better be careful about claiming your anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism. The colonial settler charges are rooted in the ideological denial of Israel’s connection to the land. And to continue if you need more arguments, the term settler colonization is only applicable if the population has no historical or indigenous relationship to the land, which clearly is not the case for the Jews. Calling Israel a settler state is nothing more than name-calling. Anyone who does it is already ideologically grounded and biased and simply interested in attacking Israel. Again, the “I’m anti-Zionist not anti-Semitic claim” gets a little unsteady. American racists always had it explained to them how they didn’t understand their own racism. Why would liberals critical of Israel be less subject to such influences?
- The author loves the phrase “Zionist project.” This is postmodern language for intentional hegemony and criticism. If you refer to it as the “Zionist movement” or “Zionist aspiration” it would not be so devilish sounding.
- Good God, the author quotes Ilan Pappe as an authorative of source. Don’t you realize man that he is the most discredited academic in Israel? The author’s bed table reading must be pretty scary. You might as well quote Chomsky on the American media.
- The source (quoting Pappe) says that Israel destroyed 400 Palestinian villages, massacred thousands of civilians and forcibly displaced almost 1 million Palestinians who ended up in refugee camps. He then uses the phrase “ethnic cleansing” to describe what the Jews did to the Palestinians. He even invokes the term Holocaust. The author of the article doesn’t even hint that other historians, far many more of them who are more credible, discount all of these numbers. Sure, there were some unfortunate circumstances of war and Israel is not completely innocent but most of the Palestinians fled and there are far fewer documented instances of wrongdoing than in most violent conflicts.
- The claim that the United States has used its veto power to prevent anti-Israel resolutions is a piece of circular reasoning that has nothing to do with the issue. Do you know how easy it is to gather up a few people who will sanction some Israeli United Nations act or support a resolution condemning Israel. All you have to do is go to a few of the Arab delegation and they will gladly condemn Israel. Nobody takes it seriously.
- “Almost half a million Jews live in the illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem despite UN resolutions demanding that they be dismantled” Sorry my friends but the legal status of settlements is just not established. Painful as it is for you, you cannot simply and glibly point to illegal settlements. Nor can the movement of Israelis be regarded as violating the human rights of the occupied individuals. The situation is unlike that of the deportation of Jews to their deaths in the Nazi extermination camps. The 1949 Geneva Convention was aimed at preventing in the future what had happened in World War II: the forced transfer of large numbers of Jews by Nazi Germany and associates to the extermination camps. It was never intended to apply to Israeli settlements.
- There is no international law to ban Jews, whether Israelis or otherwise, from settling in the area of the original Palestine Mandate established by the League of Nations. The Mandate clearly says, in Article 6, that the administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage … close settlement by Jews on the lands, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes.” Eugene Rostow argued thirty years ago that “until the final status of a particular area is resolved, there is no legal basis for barring Jews from settling there.”
- “There is a disproportionate number of Palestinians killed in this conflict.” Call it what you like, but the Israelis have the right to defend themselves. They have been subjected to terrorism and a host of violent incidents all of which justify response. It’s unfortunate but these things are relational and the behavior of one side is dependent on the behavior of the other. This response is typically viewed as an excuse by those critical of Israel but there’s little more to say – it’s a simple fact.
- I will dispense with much of a response to “apartheid.” Apartheid is a political system that has nothing to do with Israel. Israel has no laws forcing its citizens into residences or legal restrictions. But remember, if he wants to use the word “apartheid” to describe the condition of Israel’s Palestinian Arabs—who enjoy rights denied to many ethnic and religious minorities throughout the Middle East and beyond—so many countries are going to quack that the term is going to lose any meaning. We should reserve “apartheid” for countries that deny an entire ethnic, racial or religious group the right to citizenship or the right to vote. Israel isn’t one of them.
- Finally, the author poses the standard “one state solution”. This is simple enough to respond to because it’s a nonstarter. It would mean the end of the state of Israel and the noble Zionist aspirations to simply find a homeland for the Jews would all be for nothing and make no sense. No Israeli, except in the most extreme case, supports a one state solution. Even if they are not religious or particularly nationalistic in the end they want a state of Israel, devoted in some way to Jewish particularity, to be standing.
I will stop here because there is always no end to these arguments especially when the participants would not recognize the end anyway.
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.
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.
Apparently, monster computers deep in the bowels of universities are cooking up bizarre political solutions that have grotesque shapes and unlikely survival rates. Last week in the New York Times Ian Lustick of The University of Pennsylvania wrote an opinion piece arguing that the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dead and based on false assumptions. You can read the article here. The essence of Lustick’s arguments are that Palestine is more likely to be Islamist and unreceptive to the two-state solution, as well as the end of Israel’s Zionist project, demographic threats, and cultural exhaustion. Lustick goes on to explain that the two-state solution has become a slogan kept alive only by the “peace process” industry.
Ian Lustick is a highly capable well-respected political scientist who is interested in state expansion and contraction. He has written cogently about Israel for decades and offers examples of sudden changes in nations and states that result from crossing certain thresholds of acceptability. He cites the sudden rise of revolts in Ireland leading to the establishment of an independent Ireland, the powerful French influence in Algeria which seemed to matter little as Algeria became independent and the Europeans disappeared, and the supposed stability of the Soviet Union that finally broke up and morphed into other arrangements. Ian Lustick is always worth reading.
But Professor Lustick often uses computer simulations to model political polities and institutions that lead to conclusions about what forces in society might expand or contract, or overwhelm other forces in society. These models include measurement of the forces that produce change in one institution caused by another. You can see an explanation of these computer simulations here. One can recognize the language of these simulations in the Lustick article when he says things like “when those thresholds are crossed, the impossible suddenly becomes probable, with revolutionary implications for governments and nations.” These models operate by establishing thresholds that resist change but are often “crossed” and result in new and sometimes creative combinations of unity. If the theory and the simulation are sound the model can generate predictions about shifts in power, new alliances between organizational entities, and the effects of such processes as argument and deliberation.
I fear that Professor Lustick’s computers have now taken on a “Hal” persona and begun saying things that make little sense. The new predicted alliance structures are certainly creative and could only have sprung forth from the mind of an iterating computer model, but that does not make them any less silly. Here are some alliances and new environments stated by Lustick – and predicted as possibilities by his computer, and described as potentially peaceful and secure environments. I quote from the New York Times article.
“Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank could ally with Tel Aviv’s post-Zionists, non-Jewish Russian speaking immigrants, foreign workers and global Village Israeli entrepreneurs.”
“Ultra-Orthodox Jews might find common cause with Muslim traditionalists.”
“Israel’s families that came from Arab countries might find new reasons to think of themselves not as “Eastern,” but as Arab.”
“Israeli Jews committed above all to settling throughout the greater land of Israel may find arrangements based on a confederation, or original formula that is more attractive than narrow Israeli nationalism.”
Predictions of new alliances such as these could only come from a machine modeling theoretical processes – a machine incapable of deep political and cultural understanding. Secular Tel Aviv citizens are going to form an alliance with foreign workers and non-Jewish Russians? How exactly does that work and what do these groups have in common other than secularism. Ultra-Orthodox Jews and Muslim traditionalists make common cause just because both sides are sealed in their respective religious traditions! Are there any computer models that input the history, politics, and differences between these religions and see whether such amalgamations amount to anything? I think these two groups are more likely to escalate competition and violence than form alliances. Israel’s “Eastern population” should ally with Arabs? Professor Lustick is actually suggesting that Israeli citizens develop an Arab identity rather than an Israeli or Jewish one? Difficult to imagine.
The two-state solution has plenty of life in it and is truly the best answer even though Lustick is correct that it is becoming more difficult to grasp even after all this time. Two states for two peoples is the most humane and politically democratic solution. It is a consequence of the belief that the Palestinian people constitute a collective existence deserving of political and cultural expression.
The “guide to parties” link is a clear guide to Israeili political parties and their position in Israeli politics. Click on Guide to parties. It is possible to see how Israel has moved to the center a little and the public is not as right wing as the world thinks. The “guide to parties” is a good and clear introduction to the political parties in Israel. It is also reproduced on my Facebook page. Of course, the surprising winner in the 2013 Israeli elections was the political party termed “yesh atid” (there is a future) headed by a newcomer to the Israeli politics Yair Lapid. Some background on Lapid is here: Yair Lapid background here. His victory was surprising to everyone and it will be interesting to watch him develop, or not, into a political leader. Lapid is considered a lightweight by many and as you can see from the background story he is currently fairly unprepared for serious national leadership.
The graph below shows the political blocs in Israel and their relative power in the new 19 Knesset. Netanyahu did not do as well as people expected and in general the Knesset moved to the center. Israelis have spoken and they are concerned with the right wing’s recalcitrant positions with respect to the peace process and settlers. One should not overstate Netanyahu’s loss. He will remain the most powerful person in the government and holds a slim majority of seats. But there will be more moderate voices and Netanyahu will now have to include and deal with political pressures from the center. The answer to Israel’s most basic problem, their relationship with the Palestinians, does not lie in the discourse of the far right. For the last few years the confidence and even arrogance of the settlers has been bolstered. But this election took them down a notch. Here are a few insights and suspicions I have about what will happen after the gritty work of forming a coalition is complete:
First, Netanyahu will try to form a stable coalition that will not fall apart if one group leaves the governing coalition. Pressure to do something about illegal settlements would cause Bayit Yehudi and its leader Naftali Bennett to bolt the coalition under such circumstances. The entire right wing bloc (see chart )is weaker than in the past and will not get its way very easily. Some of the power of the right-wing blocs will be redeployed to left of center Yesh Atid.
Second, the success of Lapid and Yesh Atid will be fascinating to watch and potentially important. Lapid has been clever so far and avoided alliances that might have hurt him. I spoke with some Israeli friends who think that Lapid will sell out to Netanyahu quickly and easily , and others who think he will remain more independent. In either case, he is in a position to form a powerful center bloc that can mediate some of the more conservative successes of the past. Lapid truly appeals to the Israeli center and is in a position to be very influential.
Third, the Arab parties continued to be a puzzle. Their turnout is low and their influence is less than it should be. If they were more engaged in the political process and had some increased respect for Israel’s democracy they would get more from their government. Of course, the Israeli right concludes that they are oppositional for a reason, which is to contribute to the failure of the political system and Israel in general.
Still, actual change will be slight. Netanyahu will form his third government and the coalition will be reasonably close to what it already is. We will have to keep our eye on Netanyahu to see whether he pivots toward the center or keeps his conservative coalition and moderates some of his positions. My guess is that there will not be much new under the sun.
Just in Final Results here.
1. Don’t equate Zionism with racism. Zionism is a national aspiration to cultivate and encourage Jewish life, literature, culture, and politics. It is designed to encourage group interests in the same way that any political, religious, or cultural group cares about its preservation. It is an ideology of inclusion, not exclusion. The racism charge is a hammer used to harm people. True enough, that the politics of Israel are complex and Israel national identity can disadvantage other groups (see #2 below). But this is not racism in any accepted sense of the term; it’s not an intentional ideologically based system of discrimination. Israel protects and perpetuates its own self-interest like any other nation state – and I repeat that this sometimes disadvantages other groups – but it’s nothing different than the United States does when it asserts itself in the affairs of other countries. The UN resolution #3379 to this effect in 1975 was an example of how easy it is to organize enough of Israel’s critics to pass UN resolutions. The resolution was revoked in 1991 and is typically recognized as an embarrassing moment in the history of the United Nations.
2. All criticism of Israel requires some nuance, complexity, and context. This may sound obvious but there is the sting of anti-Semitism when some issue is presented without context. For example, Israel is unfairly criticized for responding to violence against the state such that Israel appears to be perpetrating violence against a weaker population when in fact it is “protecting” itself and responding to violence. Recognizing some complexity and nuance is always important in any political conflict but anti-Semitism rears its head when Israel is criticized without seeming understanding of the issues. Israel does not engage in profligate violence and terrorism simply to achieve a political goal. Again, the charge of “terrorism” is a rhetorical tactic that does not characterize policy. Israel regularly complains about visual images of Israeli tanks or soldiers that make them appear aggressive when in fact they are responding to antecedent aggression. It does not mean that Israel’s policies are always correct and not subject to criticism, but such a discussion must take place in the context of facts and political reality.
3. Don’t refer to “the Zionists” as a collective noun. The public relations arm of Israel’s enemies have been successful at distorting the word Zionist to imply plots, conspiracies, racism, and insidious designs to oppress the Palestinians and engage in secret manipulations of segments of society. Referring to “Zionists” when you really mean Israel is an inappropriate lumping together of issues that justify anti-Semitism and suggests secretive and manipulative Jews pulling the puppet strings. Zionism does not mean that Jews and Israelis believe they have rights to “take what they want” in the interest of historical justice. On the contrary, original Zionist aspirations would be to cultivate Jewish life within a proper social and political context. That is, Zionists sought “a place among the nations” for Israel.
4. Don’t equate Israel with Nazi Germany or South Africa. The purpose of the Nazi Germany comparison is simple: it is a vicious and stinging comparison designed for nothing more than inflicting pain. It is a rhetorical strategy that capitalizes on the ironic charge that one group has become what its enemy was before. As with the comparison to apartheid in South Africa, the close and clear application of political theory and history (see #2 above) demonstrates how unjustified such a comparison is. All comparisons to Jewish historic enemies (Christians, Nazis,) and nefarious practices (blood rituals, money manipulation, Christ killers) will mark you as ignorant, anti-Semitic, and someone not to be taken seriously.
5. Learn important terminological distinctions and historical trends. Don’t blend the word “Jewish” with “Israeli”, at least not completely. It is true that the two complement one another, and the Zionism incorporates the symbols of Judaism, but realize that one can be Israeli without being Jewish (yet an issue still debatable by some) and, of course, Jewish without being Israeli. Judaism refers to a religious cosmology and Israel is a nation-state political entity. Make sure you know the difference between “Palestinians” and “Israeli Arabs” or if you prefer “Palestinian Arabs” and be able to describe the distinctions and political markings of each. Know something about the ethnic and historical identities groups in Israel; that is, the distinction between the Ashkenazi and Mizrahi traditions as well as other cultural groups. Be able to describe Israel’s democracy which is a viable democracy but not a liberal democracy quite like the United States.
There is clearly more to these issues than described above but it remains the case that anti-Semitism and ignorance walk hand-in-hand. The individual who cannot make the distinctions above, or who purposely draws on them in order to injure a rhetorical opponent, will be categorized immediately as repellent and easily rejected. None of this will further the interests of problem solving.
Hezbollah rockets often have sayings written on them such as “Remember the Khaybar, the armies of Mohammed will return.” Or it is not uncommon in a moment of victorious joy to hear a Muslim call out “Remember the Khaybar.” Khaybar was a battle in 629 where the prophet Mohammed defeated Jewish tribes. This victory is typically recalled in the chants and sayings expressing military victory and the defeat of the Jews.
The old European left, forged in the fires of Nazism and Fascism, identified with Jews and the struggling State of Israel. The left understood Jewish suffering and supported the State of Israel as a justifiable political collective deserving of national and political identity. Israel was understood to be emerging in the tradition of freedom and the struggle against oppression of all types. This was a time in the history of the left when they made distinctions and substantive decisions. It was a time when oppression and terrorism were clearly unacceptable and could not be justified by any argument. Historically, leftist and progressive political ideology was responsible for the defeat of Nazism, Fascism, and the development of human rights.
But in the last couple of decades the intellectual left has lost its moral compass and has now never met a minority group that did not consider oppressed. The European and American left are getting weaker and less able to defend themselves as a voice of moral legitimacy and progress. Israel is a very good case in point. Once, Israel was the darling child of the left because they had suffered so much discrimination, betrayal, and extermination. 50 years ago the State of Israel was bathed in the celestial glow of growing political strength and national identity. A longtime oppressed people were reconstituting themselves in their ancient homeland.
I grant you the changing conditions on the ground – settlements, checkpoints, and Israel’s military strength. But this is part of what I mean when referring to the left’s inability to make distinctions and decisions. They seem to be unable to distinguish between the peaceful and democratic trends in Israel and a discriminatory religious state. The left’s ideology has circled around and flanked itself. They now see everything filtered through a colonialism lens and robotically take the side of the smaller minority group. This is true in Vietnam, Rhodesia, Israel, and other causes such as Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. The rigid blindness caused by this colonialism lens is evidenced by the number of political regimes that are thoroughly authoritarian and repressive but still receive the sympathy of the left, especially the European left. And they have occasionally made the distinction between vulnerable European Jews and Israel as a modern-day Sparta, but this distinction between Israel and Jews is indefensible. The left’s ideological criticism of Israel coupled with Islam’s blatant anti-Semitism makes for a combustible situation. Even Christopher Hitchens, who later in life gravitated toward the muscular left in his support of the Iraq war, maintained his criticism of Israel right up until his end.
A Muscular Left
I would encourage you to read a statement on muscular liberalism called the Euston Manifesto. It is a document that tries to reinvigorate progressive politics by focusing on egalitarian liberalism and democratic commitments that are true to authentic liberal values in the actual tradition of the term and not so flexible so as to include defending all sorts of anti-liberal causes such as extremist Islam. Muscular liberalism makes no apology for tyranny; there are no excuses to “understand” violence and repressive regimes that harm their own people and stifle political progress. The muscular left does not countenance apologies and drawn out explanations designed to justify violence and repression.
Egalitarian politics has always been a staple of the liberal tradition especially between ethnic communities because even after peace treaties are signed it is interpersonal and cultural equality and respect that makes for lasting peace. A muscular liberal tradition accepts differences of opinion and perspective as normal and requires contentious issues to be solved through the communication process. The only legitimate battles are rhetorical and argumentative designed to manage conflict.
The left must remember that it once apologized for Stalinism and Maoism. The modern version of these apologetics is making excuses for suicide terrorism and religious extremism. Muscular liberalism challenges anti-democratic forces wherever it sees them – even if they emerge from historically oppressed groups.
The vote in the United Nations to grant the Palestinians nonmember observer status was certainly as expected. Those supporting the move were overwhelming with 138 countries voting in favor, 9 against, and 41 abstentions. The vote was testimony to the international public relations campaign that has evolved over the decades to establish the Palestinians as a political and legal entity. But I do not mean that cynically. There is no simple state agency or decision-making mechanism that determines precisely when a collection of people have cohered enough to be considered a particular ethnopolitically identified group. There are rules of thumb and good practices such as a history of cultural continuity, recognizable borders, established political institutions, and a desire for statehood, but conclusions about when these things have been sufficiently achieved remain at least somewhat subjective. That’s why there’s always a little bit of “persuasion” or as I referred to it above “public relations” involved in convincing the world that official recognition is justified.
In earlier posts on this blog (April 17, June 5, September 19, and September 25) I argued against the Palestinian effort to achieve recognition by the United Nations. See those posts for details, but I essentially signed on to a series of disadvantages such as (1) making it more difficult to negotiate with Israel, (2) damaging or even voiding the Oslo accords, (3) confusing security arrangements, (4) failing to make progress on unity between Hamas and the PLA, (5) annoying Israel and the United States who oppose UN recognition, and others.
Yet, it is pretty difficult to be in favor of the two-state solution and be overly critical of this latest development. In one sense, Netanyahu got what was coming to him. He has been sufficiently difficult and intransient such that the Palestinians were forced to entertain alternatives. Part of the hue and cry by supporters of Israel is little more than the painful recognition that a Palestinian state, in the real sense of the term, might actually happen. The phrase “two-state solution” has become a cliché, a shibboleth that rolls easily off the tongue but doesn’t really taste very good.
I would still argue that the best solution is for direct negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis. But I have softened my position a little and believe that the new United Nations status for Palestinians might be early labor pains that will one day give birth to a state. I would reiterate that a two-state solution is best for the maintenance of Israeli identity and Israel’s democracy. No other political solution to the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians guarantees the unity of the State of Israel based on Jewish particularity. Netanyahu can claim to be amenable to a Palestinian state one day all that he wants, but he is simply incapable – to use an unfortunate metaphor – of pulling the trigger. You could never convince me that a Palestinian state will be established on Netanyahu’s watch.
This is a first step and a baby step to be sure. Of course, being designated an observer state is mostly symbolic but not completely. The Palestinians will improve their international standing, call greater attention to themselves, and have an internationally legitimate body from which they can express themselves. It will also give them access to the International Criminal Court as well as participation in certain UN agencies. It is not full membership or recognition, but it is not unimportant.
Not much will change, however. Mahmoud Abbas even in his formal UN speech was graceless enough to refer to Israel as racist and colonialist. Netanyahu announced that the UN action “will not change anything on the ground.” He strongly asserted that Israel will not compromise its security and that “peace can only be achieved through negotiation between the sides…” Abbas asked the United Nations to issue Palestinians a birth certificate and that is fair enough. But the Israelis have to prepare for the new arrival by controlling settlers, negotiating in good faith, and recognizing at least certain aspects of the Palestinian narrative. The PLA must find some way to control Hamas and continue their recognition of Israel. Nothing really has changed on the ground, but the Palestinians do have a new toy.