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Are Things the Same Between Hezbollah and Israel?

Hezbollah (“the Party of God”) continues to cast its extremist rhetoric in Israel’s direction but we are at a confluence of events that make war possible. Typically, Hezbollah devotes much of its time to overheated rhetoric directed toward Israel and the Zionist enterprise. It is possible to ignore or at least pay little attention to Hezbollah’s bloated rhetoric. But some differences are morphing into a political environment that just might ignite violence from Hezbollah or perhaps Israel.

First, Hezbollah has been a powerful and overwhelming presence in Lebanon such that Israel is convinced that there is little difference between Lebanon and Hezbollah. The political and government structures of Lebanon have been thoroughly penetrated by Hezbollah. Consequently, Israel is threatening violence against Lebanon on the assumption that there is no difference between the two and attacking Lebanon is by definition attacking Hezbollah.

Furthermore, Hezbollah poses a number of genuine threats to Israel some of which Israel has not taken seriously enough yet. Hezbollah, for example, has built up a weapons cache that can inflict considerable pain and damage on Israel. Hezbollah keeps claiming that damage to Israel in the next war will be greater than ever and they are potentially right.

Hezbollah’s agenda has been reinforced by its victories or gains in Syria and Lebanon and they just might be “feeling their oats.” Still, Israel does not respond to Hezbollah with overwhelming force with the goal of defeating it thoroughly. Critics in Israel keep turning their attention to the military and saying, ”what are you waiting for?” The time to deal a final blow to Hezbollah is now and Israel should not wait until Hezbollah damages cities and destroys infrastructure. It appears that Israel has already conceded the first strike option – at least that’s what Netanyahu wants you to think.

There are, however, good reasons for avoiding war with Hezbollah and that has to do with the fact that this would essentially mean a war with Iran also. For starters, Hezbollah does not need a war with Israel while it is making progress in places like Syria and Iraq. Moreover, Hezbollah is spread out over large geographic areas and in no coherent position to deploy militarily against Israel. And Israel might know it has to engage Hezbollah one day but also knows that such engagement has a high cost attached to it. Hezbollah has an increasingly large arsenal of rockets and they will do plenty of damage. Additionally, Hezbollah has been working with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to form Shiite militias which can be called upon to join forces with the core Hezbollah military units.

The average Hezbollah or Quds recruit grew up on “divine victory” and the “glorious battles” in the name of Allah. Given the interpenetration of religion and the state in Iran fighting battles and dying is a religious experience. But even the most compliant Hezbollah recruit knows that he sees more blood, loss of livelihood, and dim future than any “divine victories.” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy reports that many members of Hezbollah are disillusioned and there is discontent.

In the end, both Hezbollah and Israel have serious issues to consider. Neither wants to initiate a first strike but neither side wants to be the recipient of a first strike. Both sides will inflict considerable damage on the other but also suffer it. And both sides, with the use of violence, will initiate a sequence of events that have implications for other countries and unknown consequences. This is all to say, I suppose, that nothing has changed.

 

 

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Top Five Ways to Be Critical of Israel without Sounding like an Anti-Semite

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.

Published January 22, 2013

Get Over it! Israel is Not an Apartheid State

A couple of weeks ago the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) issued a report equating Israel with apartheid. The ESCWA is charged with promoting economic and social development in Western Asia but spends much of its time bashing Israel. This is easy enough since the committee is composed of 18 Arab states each of which is eager to delegitimize Israel. But the “apartheid” analogy continues to rear its ugly head and has become an effective weapon against Israel and its legal and moral standing. You can learn more about ESCWA here.

Since Israelis and West Bank Arabs live separately and there is an asymmetrical relationship between Israel and the Palestinian territories it becomes quite easy, albeit sloppy thinking, to turn the word apartheid into a convenient hammer in order to bruise the Jewish state. Labeling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as apartheid stretches the meaning of the term beyond recognition and out of its historical context. It is like calling any human violence a “holocaust” or “genocide.” There are differences.

And my guess is that the apartheid analogy is often motivated by anti-Semitism but we will set that aside for the moment and consider some more compelling historical and political theory reasons for why Israel is not an apartheid state. If someone wants to just “name call” and lash out at the despised other, then the word apartheid is a good place to start because of its inherent implication of racism. And if you repeat it often enough people will believe it.

But the apartheid accusation is more than just name-calling. Language has power and consequences and cannot be divorced from specific behaviors. Thus, the apartheid accusation is used to justify violence against Israel and deny Israelis basic human rights of self-defense. It is a way of dehumanizing Israelis which makes it easier to justify violence. The apartheid accusation also distorts information and data and makes it more difficult to understand the truth or new information because attitudes and perceptions of the other become entrenched and impossible to unfreeze.

Some differences between Israel and apartheid

  1. Apartheid is a system of inequality based on racial ideology. The Israel-Palestine example is a failure to negotiate agreed-upon solutions. Racism is not what motivates Israel. Israeli Arabs can vote and serve in the Knesset in Israel. This was not true in apartheid South Africa.
  2. The Palestinians regularly reject compromises and good faith efforts. Partition has been considered the most fair-minded approach but is rejected by the Palestinians.
  3. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are not governed by Israel. They are governed by the Palestinian Authority.
  4. Skin color, voting rights, restrictions on movement, and geographical separation are not based on racist attitudes but on security concerns the goal of which is to one day eliminate, not perpetuated as a permanent definition of the political relationship.
  5. Zionism is certainly concerned with the development and defense of the Jewish people but is not rooted in racist ideology as much as – like any other political entity – national defense.
  6. Israel does not want to oversee and control Palestinians. On the contrary, Israel would like to help the Palestinians launch their own independent state and free themselves from the Israelis.
  7. Actually, apartheid is just what Israel is trying to avoid rather than perpetuate. The demographic threat along with pressures for bi- national and uni-national states threatens Israel’s existence as a democratic and Jewish state.
  8. Equating Zionism with colonialism is one reason the apartheid accusation seems plausible. But the Zionist movement was never part of the designs of an outside state on Palestine, and Zionist immigration was more interested in investing in Palestine rather than exploiting it.
  9. Apartheid in South Africa was based on the absolute domination of a racially defined minority (Whites) over an indigenous majority (Blacks). The Israelis and Palestinians are engaged in the clash of nationalisms.
  10. Finally, the Palestinians have been offered numerous opportunities to negotiate a compromise from the 1930s to the present. They have regularly rejected these opportunities and consequently have a clear role in the responsibility for maintaining the present situation.

Israel is certainly not blameless with respect to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but equating Israel with apartheid is little more than denying Israel its fundamental right to self-defense and a national identity.

 

Next Week in Jerusalem

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Next week on February 7th I arrive in Israel for a five month stay as a Lady Davis Fellow associated with Hebrew University. The inaugural definition of this blog was devoted to the Middle East and Israel and even though it remains that way I do admit to adjusting course after Donald Trump floated to the top of the pool of presidential candidates. His candidacy and his victory as President is so unnerving and shocking that I could not help but devote more time to try and understand what happened. Trump has to be the crudest and least prepared president in history and I’ve been warning that this is going to be a wild ride. The first 10 days of his presidency certainly has lived up to my expectation.

But over the next few months I’ll post more about Israel – even though there are probably more readers interested in Trump – and I will try to provide some sort of real-time value-added insight as a result of my presence on the ground. Still, I’m sure there will be times when I simply will not be able to shake Trump from the tangle of international relations, identity politics, his oppressive populism, or my tolerances for outrage.

Israel is not quite the same country or culture it once was. The Israeli founding narrative (an invincible democratic and moral Jewish state–holding a righteous sword– and mightily reasserting itself in the face of historic anti-Semitism to reclaim its ancient homeland) has broken up and does not echo the emotional and historical resonances it once did. The long and corrosive battle with the Arabs has depressed the nation and unleashed an unhealthy tribalism and nationalism. Much of the talk between Arabs and Jews is we-they talk that treats the other as a member of a binary opposite group along with attributions that explain deficiencies and problems in the culture by referring them to the particular “nature” of the culture. Still, Israel is a complex multicultural society full of the old and the new.

Listen to Bret Stephens explain the political and social conditions of the Arab world. I might not hold such analysis against lesser journalists but Stephens is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for the Wall Street Journal. Stephens is familiar with Israel, bright and knowledgeable about the issues but he remains committed to various prejudices and distortions when it comes to Israel. In the video Stephens explains how it is anti-Semitism that prevents Arab economic and political progress. He has teamed up with one of the most agenda-driven conservatives (Dennis Prager) to produce this short video, which has some defensible claims, but is so overstated and exaggerated as to render it unusable. The video capitalizes on the racist assumption that Jews are intellectually superior because when they were driven from Spain, or Germany, or Czarist Russia there was a decline in these cultures. A simplistic analysis if there ever was one. It is of course beyond the confines of this posting to offer more comprehensive historical and economic analysis but the notion that the loss of Jews in these populations is responsible for their decline sounds like just the sort of thinking he claims characterize Arab countries. I certainly don’t deny that a preoccupation with anti-Semitism is real enough and an unproductive distraction but is only one affect among an entire nexus of effects that explain problems in the Arab world.

Moreover, most Arabs critical of Israel would tell you that is Zionism and not Judaism that they object to. This may be a modern form of anti-Semitism – and I believe that argument can be made – but it still challenges the centrality of anti-Semitism as Stephens explains it. Israel is changing because it lives in an environment of constant threat that it has been unable to untangle itself from. 70 years of violence and aggression hasn’t worked very well for either side. Maybe it’s time both sides extend their hands palm down. I will explore the various possibilities in the next few months.

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Trump and Israel – He’s Confused

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The problem with trying to understand Trump’s relationship to Israel and the Middle East in general is that he knows nothing about either, and has no foreign policy record. His positions are confused and contradictory especially with respect to Iran and Saudi Arabia. He seems to care very little about most places except Iran in which he has threatened to pull out of the US-Iran nuclear agreement. And this is particularly dangerous if Trump surrounds himself with a Secretary of State such as Bolton or Giuliani both of whom are bellicose and more capable of inflaming differences then cooling them. Trump is sufficiently confused such that he is publicly critical of Iran but supportive of Bashar al Assad in Syria. Soon it should occur to him or his advisors that supporting the Syrian governing regime bolsters Iran, not to mention being on the wrong side of the ideological spectrum.

Israel primarily wants two things from the United States – its regular military aid, and the support and recognition that comes with our cultural and democratic affinities. Both of these can be in potential danger depending on which planks of Trump’s tangled platform end up emerging as the strongest. Trump has, on the one hand, signaled a lack of interest in the Middle East and an almost isolationist sensibility. In his businessman’s language, he does not see it as a “good investment.” On the other hand, Trump is committed to defeating ISIS and does not seem to fully realize the central role Israel must play with respect to intelligence and support. Moreover, continuing his confusion, he has taken highly inflammatory and unrealistic positions by expressing support for the settlements and moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. At other times he just wants to remain distant from the issues. The Forward has suggested that Trump will probably reduce America’s involvement in the Middle East. This is generally not good news.

His conservatism is not yet fully honed because Trump sometimes appears to be the isolationist who does not want to be the world’s policeman, and at other times he seems to resonate with neoconservatives who want to assert American political and military power. Trump has a lot to learn and it is the type of learning that requires some development and maturation. He cannot see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as just one negotiation trick away from resolution. He is more comfortable with business deals and negotiations which are subject to more rational marketplace considerations. “The art of the deal” is governed by a logic that requires one to maximize benefits and minimize losses and the deal is done when both sides can accept their gains and losses. This is not the governing logic of asymmetrical ethnopolitical conflicts that are intractable; in other words, the issues of sanctity, identity, fractured history, violence, and deep emotions are not part of the rational model of the “art of the deal.”

I suspect Trump’s limited experience in international affairs blinds him to the type of communication necessary to solve problems such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which does not profit much by seeing it only through a prism of rational exchange. I fear that when he becomes fiercely entangled with the knotty issues that characterize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict he will see it through a narrow American prism rather than a broader global and cultural one. And the tools that enabled him to succeed in business will not serve him so well in the arena of international conflict.

The Republican Party is generally more blindly supportive of Israel but for now all we know about Trump is the blind part.

 

 

Why Putin’s Support of Syria Is Okay for Israel

Putin and Netanyahu

Even at the risk of overstating the point, Russia has an increasingly more accommodating stance toward Israel than most people realize. One reason for this is Russia’s claim to support political systems that defend their citizens. Edward Luttwak, writing in Tablet, sang Putin’s praises for his “defense of his friends” and criticized the Obama administration for abandoning their partners every time the police shoot at a protester. Putin supports Syria surely because he wants to keep his base at Tartus, but he also wants to establish Russia as a friend who can be counted on.

Putin expresses the same sensibilities about Israel – he respects their right to defend themselves. The more general and encompassing relationship between Russia and Israel is accommodating even though there is a history of contentious disagreement. The Soviet Union did align themselves with Arab nationalist governments and Israel and the Soviet Union were estranged for many years. But they exchanged ambassadors again in 1991 and continue to have a certain amount of trade. Israel occasionally sends fighter-bombers over Syria to hit Hezbollah targets and Netanyahu and Putin have agreed to inform each other about flight plans. Think about this a moment. Russia has accepted Israel’s right to bomb in Syria when Russia has troops and equipment on the ground. That requires a fair amount of trust and cooperation.

According to Michael Katz in the Middle East Quarterly Putin has worked to upgrade Russia’s relations with Israel. There are numerous flights each day from Tel Aviv to Moscow and a large Russian population in Israel. Still, we can’t be too sanguine about this because serious differences remain. Moscow supports Iran’s nuclear development and provides many of the construction contractors. This support for Iran is certainly puzzling because Russia may be a practical political system, but it clearly opposes and objects to ISIS and all the efforts to establish an Islamic state be it Sunni or Shia. Stopping the Islamic state, a goal he shares with Israel, is one of its stated justifications for its Syrian support.

Russia has had its own problems with the Chechnyans and can sympathize with Israel’s struggle with Palestinians and Jihadist Islam. In fact, the declaration of “no negotiations with terrorists” is probably the most characteristic statement that binds Israel and Russia. Putin has pointed out the similarities between the Israeli conflict with the Palestinians and Russia’s with the Chechnyans and this has translated into mutual sympathy. But is sharing terrorism experiences sufficient to move the Russians more toward Israel? I think not. Katz in the article referenced above believes a more recent Russian pro-Israel attitude is the result of Putin’s personal preference. Putin has a deep dislike for the Chechnyans and believes they have no justification for complaints against Russia. He refuses to recognize their complaints or negotiate with them. Couple this with Israel’s general agreement and sympathy for Russia’s stance toward the Chechnyans, and you have the makings of a common enemy resulting in Israel-Russian alignment.

In the end, the relationship between Russia and Israel will remain as complex and multifaceted as the situation in Syria. Israel is certainly gratified that Russia is bombing ISIS targets and considers them a threat. But, on the other hand, Israel has no sympathy for maintaining the Assad regime and will never align with Russia on this matter. Then again, to make matters even more confusing, Russia is attacking militias some of which are supported by the United States – a great friend of Israel.

Before you know it the United States will be siding with its enemy Iran (Shia Muslims) against ISIS (Sunni Muslims) and asking the Russians to stop supporting Alawite Muslims (the Assad regime) and join with the United States and Iran to fight ISIS, while Israel sits safely on the sidelines. Wait a minute! That’s what’s happening now.

 

 

 

 

 

Should Israel Exist

Israel is bornRecently, 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.

  1. “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.
  2. “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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. “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.
  8. 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.”
  9. “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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.

Israel as a Jewish State

If you want to listen to one of the finer minds around click here and listen to Ruth Gavison. This is a first-class intellect grappling with the issues of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and how it can achieve such. Just put your feet up and enjoy. Then read a few opinions of my own. This issue is the classic intersection of politics, philosophy, and culture

Now that Netanyahu has formed a government, a very conservative one, it’s time to think about the “Jewish” definition of Israel. We can explore these 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

Now that Netanyahu has formed a government, barely, and it’s composed of some pretty right-wing parties it begs the question of Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature. Let’s think a little bit about this. 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.

 

Reprinted from earlier post May 7, 2014

Obama’s Support for Israel – I’ve Come to the End of My Rope

 

US an Israeli flagI can barely stand it anymore. The knee-jerk reaction to Obama and his supposed lack of support for Israel is fueled by either rank partisanship or blatant ignorance. Signing the agreement with Iran is part of the protection of Israel not a threat to Israel. Moreover, in terms of traditional support Obama has been strengthening the US-Israel relationship and maintaining its historical bonds.

If you don’t think so then you’re just not paying attention. Below I’m going to be simple, clear, and blunt. For additional information go to the National Jewish Democratic Council. This is a Jewish organization and they are more likely to be demanding in terms of support for Israel. If anything, they are going to be a difficult group to please so when they expressed their satisfaction with Obama’s support you know it must be substantial. On the National Jewish Democratic Council site you can follow links to more original documents and click your way to the original sources of evidence for the issues I list out below.

  1. In a speech in 2013 Obama stated emphatically that the United States stands with the State of Israel. He pointed out that Israel was recognized quickly by the United States 65 years ago and continues to be Israel’s closest international friend.
  2. Obama has provided Israel with as much and in many cases more military aid than any time in its history. This includes $275 million for the Iron Dome Missile System which is so important for Israel’s protection from Hamas missiles.
  3.  Obama signed the US-Israel Enhanced Security Act which provides additional weaponry for Israel’s defense. This includes bunker busting bombs, F-35 fighter planes, and fast tracking arms   sales.
  1. As much criticism as Israel receives, Obama has clearly defended Israel’s right to self-defense and has maintained support for the position that the Palestinian issue should be bilateral. The US continues to vote consistently with Israel and has defended Israel’s legitimacy on the world stage.
  2. Israeli leaders such as Shimon Peres, Michael Oren, Ehud Barak, and on more than one occasion even Benjamin Netanyahu have praised President Obama and noted his strong support and alliance with Israel.
  3. The US has continued to support Israel behind the scenes in numerous subtle ways. For example the US and Israel continue to coordinate to combat smuggling and engage in military exercises designed to protect Israel.
  4. Even with the Obama-Netanyahu spat the two allies remain close and it has not been Obama who has wavered in his support.
  5. A narrow definition of support is what primarily informs those who continually complain about insufficient support for Israel. That definition is typically limited to military aid and other financial means. Obama’s diplomacy, and his slower more deliberative approach to the issues, must be considered a serious form of support and not appeasement. The critics of Obama when it comes to Israel have a narrow definition of the management of conflict and images of peace. No true legitimate third-party can be so blatantly supportive of one side at the expense of the other. If Obama and the United States are going to be true brokers of peace they have to be somewhat more inclusive. Difficult as it is, a truly sustainable relationship between Israel and its neighbors will come when there is some sort of peace agreement. And such an agreement will include the interests of others as well as Israel. That, too, is what it means to be supportive of Israel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Netanyahu and The Future: Israel and the Peace Process Will Make Little Progress

Well, Netanyahu has been elected for an historic fourth time. His path to the Prime Minister’ s office this time is strewn with damaged relationships (think US), international political stunts (speech before Congress), the race card (“the Arabs are voting in droves”), and desperate political appeals (“there will be no Palestinian state”). As much as I understand that he can be a charismatic leader, and Israelis obviously respect him, I also cannot shake the feeling that he is increasingly embarrassing. He has moved from being a strong and impressive leader to just another crude politician. But he also seems to have lost his political sophistication by failing to satisfactorily consider the negative consequences of his behavior. Let’s look at a few examples.

First, trying to scare Israelis about how many Arabs are voting was equated by the White House to the tactics of Southern racists who tried to scare the population about the black vote. Now there is a smart move if you’re dealing with the Obama administration. This is a president who is steeped in issues both professionally and personally related to minority rights. They were not going to be sympathetic to such talk.

Secondly, the statement about there being no Palestinian state, as a few observers have pointed out, undercuts the US argument in the United Nations. We have consistently supported Israel on the basis of bilateral negotiations; that is, the argument has been that solutions should emerge from discussions between the two sides. But if Israel is on record as opposing the future Palestinian state then why have the negotiations in the first place. Then again, Bibi does not want the UN to be involved in outlining a Palestinian state anyway.

There just is not going to be a Palestinian state on Netanyahu’s watch. Netanyahu is not going to be the leader of Israel who goes down in history as responsible for the establishment of the Palestinian state. And this is why Netanyahu is actually dangerous for Israel. No one can think about Israel in the future as an intact stable political system that is both democratic and Jewish without imagining a separate Palestinian state. Netanyahu has become a force leading increasingly in the direction of one state and all sorts of demographic difficulties.

I want to underscore the importance of a stable Palestinian Authority. Israel and the United States subcontract out security issues and border patrol to the Palestinian Authority and as they teeter things get more unstable. Even Israel would rather deal with the Palestinian Authority then some other more politicized and religiously fueled group (e.g. Hamas). So there are incentives to keep the Palestinian Authority stable even though this is distasteful to Netanyahu. Of course, there is the entire matter of settlements which I will not take up here but suffice it to say that Netanyahu’s predatory settlement expansion is a major sticking point.

Finally, there is the looming presidential campaign and US politics. Leaders of the Democratic Party have to find a way for Hillary to run to the right of Obama on Israel if she wants to guarantee the Jewish vote. Running to the right of Obama on Israel is not particularly difficult but it would be far easier for her to run if there is an actual UN resolution outlining final status parameters.

It is distressing that Israel continues to reelect the one person who is resistant to final status preparations. I just have the feeling that Bibi’s heart isn’t in it and he is trying to play both sides. What I mean by that is Netanyahu fundamentally rejects the idea of a Palestinian state, but must present himself as receptive to it. The US will maintain its deep commitment to Israel, but Bibi is not making it any easier.

Just for the fun of it if you want to hear Minister Farrakhan’s take on Israel and Netanyahu click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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