Thursday, November 11, 2010

What's Wrong With A Jewish State?

In the last few months, Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli government have demanded that the Palestinians formally recognize Israel as a “Jewish State.” Depending on the latest iteration, this new demand has been presented either as a precondition for negotiations over a two-state settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or as a necessary component of such a settlement. The demand has been strongly rejected by leading Palestinian officials: Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian National Authority, Nabil Shaath, the deputy prime minister, and Saab Erekat, the PNA’s chief negotiator have all said that while the Israelis can call their state whatever they want, the Palestinians will “never” recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Most of my liberal Jewish colleagues and other critics of Israeli policies also oppose the Israeli demand. There are substantial reasons to do so. First, it is almost certain that Netanyahu has cynically seized on this new precondition as a means of sabotaging any possibility of a two-state settlement which, despite his recent rhetoric, he has always opposed. Consequently, even if the Palestinians accepted the demand, undoubtedly Netanyahu and the even more extremist rightwing Israeli politicians that are part of his governing coalition would have no difficulty in finding other obstacles to a negotiated settlement.

Second, it is argued that even if wasn’t hypocritical, the Jewish state demand would be an unjust one, since its acceptance would require the Palestinians to relinquish their own demand for the right of return of the Palestinian refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars to their former homes, villages, and lands in Israel. Moreover, insofar as Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is an Israeli precondition for negotiations, the Palestinians would have to give up the right of return without serious assurances that Israel would really agree to allow the establishment of a genuinely independent and viable Palestinian state.

To be sure, most Palestinian moderates—including Abbas and other West Bank political leaders—have quietly indicated that in the context of an overall settlement that meets their other goals, they will have to relinquish an unlimited right of return. However, they have refused to publicly and unambiguously state that in advance of negotiations. Somewhat surprisingly, even the New York Times has in effect supported that decision, criticizing the Jewish state demand on the grounds that while the Palestinians will have to compromise on the refugee issue later, “Prejudging it right now is too much.” Jerry Haber has made the same point somewhat more forcefully: “the rapists demand that the rapee not only acquiesce in the rape but its legitimacy.”

A third criticism is that the Jewish state demand is openly racist; as succinctly stated by Gideon Levy of Haaretz, “Defining Israel as a Jewish state condemns us to living in a racist state.”

Finally, it is argued that the demand for a Jewish state is inconsistent with the requirements of democracy, for it would condemn the one million Arab citizens of Israel to permanent political as well as social and economic inequality and marginalization.

These are powerful criticisms, and certainly constitute decisive reasons for the Palestinians to reject the Jewish state demand as a precondition for “negotiations” especially since under Netanyahu they would all too likely go nowhere. However, for the Palestinians to say that they will never do so is a major error. Rather, Abbas and other PNA leaders should publicly state that they would be willing to relinquish their demand for a large–scale right of return and formally recognize Israel as a Jewish state, but only as part of an overall settlement that included the following:

*The creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza that met the legitimate demands—requirements, really--of the Palestinians: territorial contiguity, the withdrawal of Israeli military forces and all or most of the Jewish settlements, the establishment of East Jerusalem as the state’s capitol, Palestinian sovereignty over the Haram-al-Sharif (Temple Mount) mosques and other religiously important Islamic sites, Palestinian control over the crucially important water aquifers in the West Bank, and other components of the international consensus two-state settlement.

*A formal commitment by Israel to accept the Arab Israelis that choose to remain in a Jewish state as full citizens, with equal political, economic, and social rights as the Jews.

           The Criticisms Considered

A Jewish State Would Negate the Palestinian Right of Return. Of course that is the case, but even in principle it is far from clear that a right of return is a good idea on the merits, for the influx of perhaps hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into Israel might well result in a worsening of the conflict, not its resolution. However, there is no need to puzzle over this issue, since there is no chance whatever that Israel will agree to it.

Moreover, most Palestinian leaders—including Yasir Arafat in the past—understand that the right of return demand is unrealistic. For example, in a widely noted 2002 New York Times oped, Arafat wrote the following: "We are ready to sit down now with any Israeli leader to negotiate freedom for the Palestinians, a complete end of the occupation, security for Israel and creative solutions to the plight of refugees while respecting Israel's demographic concerns.” (emphasis added)[1]

In recent years, it has become increasingly clear that the true demand of most Palestinian leaders is a symbolic one--that the Israelis acknowledge their responsibilities for the expulsion or flight of the Palestinians during and following the 1948 and 1967 wars[2]—and that in practice the rights of the Palestinian refugees can only be realized by some combination of a small-scale family reunification return to Israel, perhaps on the order of 10,000 or so; the return of most of the refugees and their descendants, if they so choose, to the Palestinian state; or voluntary resettlement elsewhere, accompanied by major international economic compensation and assistance.

Moreover, it is of great significance that in 2007 the twenty-two states of the Arab League unanimously approved a peace plan that does not mention a Palestinian “right of return” but rather states that “a just resolution of the refugee problem” should be “agreed upon.” And it is hard to believe that this carefully chosen language, effectively granting Israel a veto on the issue, would have received such support if the Palestinian National Authority had objected.

It is often argued that for domestic political reasons no Palestinian political leaders can publicly and unambiguously renounce the right of return, even if conditioned on an overall peace settlement. Undoubtedly that is a real problem, but it is equally or probably even more true that as matters stand now domestic political constraints might well prevent Israeli political leaders from ending the occupation and removing large numbers of settlers from the West Bank and East Jerusalem—supposing, of course, that they really wanted to do so--even in return for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Both sides, then, would face major and perhaps violent internal opposition to a peace settlement, but what follows? Should we throw up our hands and accept that it is impossible to end the conflict? Many years ago George Kennan famously wrote: "History does not forgive us our national mistakes because they are explicable in terms of our domestic politics.…A nation which excuses its own failures by the sacred untouchableness of its own habits can excuse itself into complete disaster."  

In that light, there is nothing to do but continue the efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and hope that wise political leadership on both sides might yet be able to overcome domestic opposition to a realistic, rational, and a reasonably if not perfectly just settlement.

The Rights of Palestinian Arabs in a Jewish State.

Under its founding Declaration of Independence, Israel committed itself to “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex…and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.” However, from the outset Israel discriminated against the Israeli Arabs in a variety of ways, initially in practice though not in principle, but in recent years increasingly by official legislation and executive decrees.

Consequently, it could be argued that even if Israel agreed to full equality for the Palestinian and other minorities in a Jewish state, there would be no guarantee that it would honor its new commitments and no means of enforcement if it didn’t. That is correct, but what is the alternative? It stands to reason that the rights of the Israeli Arabs would have a greater chance of being realized if a peace settlement included a formal commitment by Israel that it will grant and enforce full citizenship and equality to them. And in the context of real peace between the Israeli and Palestinian people, there would be a much greater likelihood that Israel would honor its own declared principles and new formal guarantees, especially if they are structured so that they were commitments not only to the Palestinians but to the international community.

Is the Demand for a Jewish State Racist? In a famous or infamous 1975 resolution (later revoked in 1991), the UN General Assembly stated that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination." Aside from its political stupidity, that argument is untrue on the merits. To be sure, it is evident that many Israelis have racist attitudes towards Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular. Still, it is important to distinguish between Zionism in principle and its increasing corruption in practice, and to consider whether Zionism and the demand for a Jewish state is inherently racist.

If it is to have any objective meaning, as distinct from being merely an instrument of denunciation, the term “racism” must include the belief that other races or peoples are inferior to one’s own. In that sense, Zionism is not inherently or necessarily racist: the driving force behind the Zionist quest for a Jewish state was not the belief that it was imperative because the Jews were superior but the belief that it was imperative because the Jews were vulnerable.

Israel today is increasingly compared with South Africa under apartheid, and there are substantial reasons to do so. However, there are also important differences, among other reasons because South African apartheid was inherently racist, based as it was on the belief that whites were superior to blacks and therefore should rule over them, when necessary by great force and violence. Moreover, South Africa could not claim that because whites were vulnerable all over the world, they needed a state of their own.

To reiterate, by any reasonable definition the Israelis have become increasingly racist. Even so, the argument for a Jewish state is not racist by its very nature, and even in Israel today the predominant driving force behind the demand for formal Arab recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is not so much racism as it is a consequence of a continuing and probably growing sense of Jewish vulnerability in what is believed to be an inherently anti-Semitic world. Of course, this belief blindly equates opposition to the Israeli occupation and repression of the Palestinians with hatred of Jews as such; nonetheless, however paranoid and mindless, genuine beliefs have real consequences, including consequences that the Palestinians have to take into account.

Zionism and Democracy. Whether or not the Jewish state concept is inherently racist, there is a clear tension between a continuing commitment to a Zionist Jewish state and the requirements of democracy in the context of a substantial non-Jewish minority. This is the most difficult issue for defenders of the Jewish state concept, for once the tension between Zionism and democracy is acknowledged, as it must be, the issue of whether Zionism was ever justified or at least is justified today, is unavoidable.

In thinking about this issue, it is important to distinguish between anti-Zionism and “post-Zionism.” Anti-Zionism usually entails the belief that the state of Israel should never have been created--though except for a handful of well-known crazies it does not include opposition to the continued “existence” of that state and its people, despite disingenuous or hysterical Israeli claims and propaganda. Post-Zionism accepts the need for the creation of a Jewish state in the past but holds that Israel today should no longer be regarded as a Jewish state, as opposed to the state of all its citizens, Jewish and non-Jewish alike; indeed, some post-Zionists accept the full logic of their position, in the sense that they would be prepared to accept an Israel in which Jews eventually might become a minority.

It is my view that in light of the long history of anti-Semitism, often murderous anti-Semitism, few if any other nationalist movements have had a more convincing claim to an imperative need for a state of their own than Jewish nationalism, or Zionism. Thus, the anti-Zionist argument, as applied to the founding of Israel, is quite unpersuasive. Post-Zionism today is another matter; even so, in the final analysis it is not convincing, for on what basis can one be confident that anti-Semitism will never again make life difficult—or impossible—for Jews anywhere in the world?

For that reason I cannot agree with my estimable colleague Tony Karon, who writes:

“The majority of the world’s Jews have not claimed a right to self-determination as Jews. On the contrary, we’re very happy that anti-Semitism in the West has been marginalized to the point that we can freely integrate ourselves into the democratic societies in which we’ve chosen to live….most young Jews in the West today are not assuming that their gentile neighbors are going to turn on them.”[3]

True enough—today. However, go back to the 1920s and substitute the word “Germany” for “the West.”

In short, it is historically short-sighted to be confident that the problem of anti-Semitism-- a problem that has repeatedly and with disastrous consequences recurred for more than two thousand years--has now been solved and will not reappear in the future, anywhere. Nor is it necessary to cite the Holocaust to cast doubt on the End of History assumptions implicit in post Zionism--in the last thirty years there has been considerable Ethiopian and massive Russian Jewish immigration into Israel in order to escape growing anti-Semitism and persecution in those countries. In that light, the case for a continued Zionism and the need for a Jewish state remains a reasonably strong one.

All that said, there is no denying that there is inherent tension between the requirements of Zionism and the requirements of democracy, a tension that already is a problem in Israel today and one that could become far more acute to the degree that the Israeli Arab minority becomes larger or increasingly alienated from the Jewish majority. While it is not only the size of the minority that matters, it is worthwhile to consider that issue: if the Israeli Arab minority should become substantially larger, would the tension between a Jewish state and a democratic one become irresolvable?

Perhaps surprisingly, Moshe Arens, one of Israel’s most prominent rightwing politicians, has addressed this issue in an interesting and forthright manner:

“Most Israelis are determined to assure the state’s Jewish character...while respecting its Arab citizens. We insist on continuing the mission that the Jewish state has set for itself of providing a haven for those Jews throughout the world who may need one. What happened during the Holocaust can never be allowed to happen again. This requires a substantial Jewish majority.”

“How big a majority? That’s a question that needs to be pondered. Is the present 80 percent Jewish majority sufficient? Would a reduction to a 70 percent Jewish majority be a catastrophe? Is it solely a question of numbers or is it also a function of the degree to which Israel’s minority population has been integrated into Israeli society?”[4]

As implied in Arens’ argument-- but not sufficiently emphasized--the degree of tension between two legitimate goals, a Jewish but still democratic state, depends not only on the size of the minority but also whether it is satisfied to continue to live in a Jewish state. Today the Arab minority is about 20% of the Israeli population; to some degree it is integrated into the fabric of Israeli life (although, of course, not equally so) and to some degree--apparently increasing--it is at odds with it.

In the context of an overall peace settlement with the Palestinians and the Arab world—readily attainable if only the Israelis would agree to it—the size of the minority might well decrease rather than increase because of the likelihood of some voluntary emigration of Israeli Palestinians into a full Palestinian state, especially if it becomes a political and economic success.

Perhaps more importantly, if Israel finally makes good on its commitment to full equality and rights for all its citizens, the “demographic problem,” to employ the Israeli euphemism, would likely become increasingly less important as non-Jewish citizens become fully integrated into the Israeli political system, economy, society, and culture.

The Case for Palestinian Acceptance of Israel as a Jewish State.

Formal recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is hardly a new or radical idea; indeed, the 1947 United Nations partition resolution specifically provided for the division of Palestine into a “Jewish state” and “an Arab state.” To be sure, there is every reason to believe that the Netanyahu government has seized upon what should be regarded as a non-issue as a cynical tactic to torpedo negotiations leading to a Palestinian state. But now that the Israeli government has made an issue of it, there is no doubt that for psychological and symbolic reasons most Israelis genuinely support the Jewish state demand—including many serious critics of the occupation.[5]

There is a growing concern in Israel that the state is becoming “delegitimized”—its very existence supposedly under a coordinated and deliberate “international campaign.” Of course this concern is entirely misplaced: most Israelis, invariably blind to the consequences of their country’s policies and actions, simply deny the obvious, namely that it is not the “existence” of Israel but its occupation and ugly repression of the Palestinians that is regarded as illegitimate, especially since it is clear that in the context of a two-state settlement the Palestinian Authority and most of the Arab world are ready to accept Israel and normalize relations with it.

Nonetheless, for obvious historical and psychological reasons most Israelis apparently genuinely fear “delegitimization,” and for that reason the fear, however unfounded, is a real obstacle to peace. In that light, it could be very helpful if the Palestinians were to reassure the Israelis by agreeing to recognize it as a "Jewish State" and dropping essentially symbolic demands, like the right of return, that are unrealistic and have no chance of being accepted.

Indeed, over the years, Palestinian leaders have often indicated that they recognize the realities, and are prepared to act accordingly in the context of a settlement. For example:

* In 2003, unofficial but high level Palestinian negotiators, tacitly backed by Yasir Arafat (at the time still the unchallenged leader of the Palestinians) signed the Geneva Accord, the most detailed and authoritative plan for a two-state settlement. The Accord recognized “the right of the Jewish people to statehood and the recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to statehood, without prejudice to the equal rights of the Parties' respective citizens.” Mahmoud Abbas—then known as Abu Mazen—was among the Palestinian leaders who have supported the Accord; indeed, he was the joint author of the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian “Beilin-Abu Mazen” statement, which set forth the principles on which the Geneva Accord was constructed.

*In 2004 Arafat was asked in an interview with Haaretz whether he understood that Israel had to remain a Jewish state. Reinforcing his 2002 New York Times oped, and this time talking directly to the Israelis, his reply was: “Definitely.”

*Recently, Yasser Abed Rabbo, the head of the Palestinian delegation that negotiated the Geneva Accord and today secretary general of the PLO, publicly stated that the Palestinians should “recognize Israel under any formula” in return for an Israeli commitment to a Palestinian state with the 1967 borders.[6]

In short, the Palestinians have nothing to lose by publicly and unambiguously stating that they will agree to formally recognize Israel as a Jewish state as part of an overall two-state settlement that meets their realistic and justifiable requirements. To be sure, it is only too likely that such a Palestinian concession would, in the short run, result only in the Netanyahu government and its rightwing supporters finding other pretexts for refusing a two-state settlement—but at least the Palestinians would dramatically be calling Netanyahu’s bluff and increasingly international pressures on Israel. Moreover, continued and even more obvious Israeli obduracy might lead to changes in the attitudes of my fellow American Jews, most of whom continue to reflexively support almost any Israeli behavior, thus enabling their most powerful organized leadership to continue abetting an Israel that is now accelerating its descent into a moral and security catastrophe.

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[1]Arafat, "The Palestinian Vision of Peace," New York Times oped, Feb. 3, 2002.

[2]For example, in an October 20, 2010 oped in Haaretz, Nabil Shaath, chief of international relations for Fatah and a member of the Palestinian negotiating team, wrote that “We demand that Israel acknowledges its responsibility for the creation and perpetuation of the Palestinian refugee issue, and work with us toward finding a just resolution to this issue.” (“Does Israel Want Peace or to Play the Blame Game.”)

[3] “Who Made Netanyahu the Leader of the Jewish People?” Email to members of the Israeli-Palestinian List, Oct. 18, 2010.

[4]Haaretz, Sept. 14, 2010

[5] The Israeli centrist Yossi Alpher recently wrote that Netahyahu’s demand has broad support within the Israeli public: “The right wing likes it because it is patriotic and seemingly ‘anti-Arab.’ The left and center cannot easily oppose it because it dovetails with their emphasis on ending the occupation in order to maintain Israel as a Jewish and democratic state in view of the demographic threat.” (“The ‘Jewish State’ Condition,” Bitterlemons, October 25, 2010.

[6] For a discussion, see Alpher, cited in note 5.

18 comments:

Ael said...

The right of return is an individual right.

Leaders of collectives have no authority to give up individual human rights. Thus, Palestinian leaders can not surrender that right, without breaching their own commitment, such as it is, to individual rights.

Anonymous said...

Actually, a right is a privilege granted by governments. Under any agreement, the Israeli government--and only the Israeli government--could grant individual requests on a case by case basis.

Anonymous said...

I think you've understated the analogy with South African apartheid. Afrikaner nationalism played a strong role in apartheid. Simple white supremacy perhaps explains Rhodesia (which accepted white supremacist mercenaries from anywhere), but not apartheid South Africa. Zionism is most certainly as racist as was Afrikaner Nationalism. Zionism has also been more brutal in its implementation. No analogy is exact, but it is very close! How can you claim that a nationalist enterprise that set to kick out an indigenous population and then establish a state entirely for members of the settler colonist group is not racist? To exempt this from racism makes the concept of racism useless.

Anonymous said...

Zionism is an ideology which assigns a right (the right to settle in Israel if and when desired) to a specific ethnic group (Jews) and denies it to others. Anything that assigns a right to one ethnic group and denies it to others is racism, therefore Zionism is racism.

Harlan said...

Zionism was like most of the other international political movements of the colonial, mandate, and UN trustee era. They were based, in part, upon racialized doctrines about "standards of civilization" with respect to other "dependent" or "non-self-governing" peoples. I agree with the late Tony Judt that the very idea of a “Jewish state” is rooted in another place and time. Israeli policies and practices devoted to securing that end are an anachronism.

Of course, the law of nations does recognize an inherent right of peoples lacking the agencies and institutions of social and political control to organize a state and to operate a government. The indigenous Jewish communities of Palestine had been separated from the Ottoman Empire by the British who eventually abandoned their mandate. At that point the Arab and Jewish communities had a right to proclaim states and operate governments in their respective territories. The mere existence of "nation-states" did not prevent "governments" from pursuing policies that killed [roughly] two hundred million people during the 19th and 20th centuries. I doubt that a Jewish state will do much to prevent future calamities like that or that intergovernmental organizations will spare future generations from the scourge of war or oppressive regimes.

Theodor Herzl's belief that Jews and Gentiles are incapable of coexisting over the long-term within the same polity, coupled with his proposal to harness antisemitism as the engine of Zionism, were undoubtedly part of a racist doctrine. However, the establishment of a "national home" was not synonymous with the goal of setting-up a Jewish nation-state to a handful of other Zionist leaders, like Judah Magnes. There are still some leaders today who believe that, in the final analysis, Israel must be a State for all of the inhabitants regardless of where the borders are drawn. In that sense, "Zionism" should not be dismissed as inherently racist.

David said...

Jerome Slater's summary of liberal objections to Israel's call for Palestinian recognition of a "Jewish" state are:

1. These demands for are designed to scuttle peace talks.
2. These demands are hypocritical, unjust, and put Palestinian moderates in an impossible position because of (for example) the right of return.
3. Calls for a "Jewish" state are racist.
4. These demands are inconsistent with democracy.

In response to these 4 straw men, Slater responds (my summaries):

1. How could a self-respecting Zionist do otherwise?
2. Forget about Palestinians returning; Israel will never allow it. Period.
3. Well, I agree that Israelis are racist, but there's nothing inherently racist about a society that privileges Jews and shits on Arabs.
4. A peace deal would "probably" lead to democracy for Arabs. Maybe. I hope.

Slater's argument for Palestinian acceptance of a Jewish state is genuinely weird: because Israeli Jews want it:

"But now that the Israeli government has made an issue of it, there is no doubt that for psychological and symbolic reasons most Israelis genuinely support the Jewish state demand—including many serious critics of the occupation."

and that Israelis need psychological assurance from Palestinians:

"Nonetheless, for obvious historical and psychological reasons most Israelis apparently genuinely fear “delegitimization,” and for that reason the fear, however unfounded, is a real obstacle to peace."

Slater then quotes a couple of Yassers and interprets their remarks to mean that there are historical precedents for recognizing a Jewish state.

Wrapping his stinking fish in a handy newpaper, Slater finishes with:

"In short, the Palestinians have nothing to lose by publicly and unambiguously stating that they will agree to formally recognize Israel as a Jewish state as part of an overall two-state settlement that meets their realistic and justifiable requirements."

The only thing I'm not reading in any of this is:

Is it good for the Palestinians?

Jim Holstun said...

Professor Slater makes a serious misstatement when he says “it is of great significance that in 2007 the twenty-two states of the Arab League unanimously approved a peace plan that does not mention a Palestinian ‘right of return’ but rather states that ‘a just resolution of the refugee problem’ should be ‘agreed upon.’ And it is hard to believe that this carefully chosen language, effectively granting Israel a veto on the issue, would have received such support if the Palestinian National Authority had objected.”

Professor Slater confuses the Arab Summit of 28 March 2002—a.k.a. “The Saudi Plan” and “The Beirut Initiative”—with the Arab Summit of 29 March 2007. And he distorts the statements of both.

The former does say that an “Achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian Refugee problem” is “to be agreed upon.” But Professor Slater improperly omits the conclusion of that sentence. The whole sentence calls for the “Achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194” (http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/AllDocsByUNID/5a7229b652beb9c5c1256b8a0054b62e).
Resolution 194 “Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible” (http://www.mideastweb.org/saudipeace.htm) .

The 2007 statement simply does not include the words Professor Slater attributes to it. But it does insist on “the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes” (http://www.mideastweb.org/arabsummit2007.htm).

The quality of the discussion—much less the situation of Palestinian refugees—will not improve so long as we attempt to build arguments on such misstatements.

Israel has had 43 years to wander back to its 1948 borders. It has refused to do so. In other words, it has established the borders of Israel as one state, from the river to the sea. It is now time for Israel to stop denying full civil rights to the inhabitants of that state based on racist or sectarian criteria. As for every other state, it will be up to the state’s inhabitants to determine its immigration policy, in accordance with the provisions of international law that demand the right of return or compensation for ALL refugees.

Jim Holstun said...

Professor Slater makes a serious misstatement when he says “it is of great significance that in 2007 the twenty-two states of the Arab League unanimously approved a peace plan that does not mention a Palestinian ‘right of return’ but rather states that ‘a just resolution of the refugee problem’ should be ‘agreed upon.’ And it is hard to believe that this carefully chosen language, effectively granting Israel a veto on the issue, would have received such support if the Palestinian National Authority had objected.”

Professor Slater confuses the Arab Summit of 28 March 2002—a.k.a. “The Saudi Plan” and “The Beirut Initiative”—with the Arab Summit of 29 March 2007. And he distorts the statements of both.

The former does say that an “Achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian Refugee problem” is “to be agreed upon.” But Professor Slater improperly omits the conclusion of that sentence. The whole sentence calls for the “Achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194” (http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/AllDocsByUNID/5a7229b652beb9c5c1256b8a0054b62e).
Resolution 194 “Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible” (http://www.mideastweb.org/saudipeace.htm) .

The 2007 statement simply does not include the words Professor Slater attributes to it. But it does insist on “the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes” (http://www.mideastweb.org/arabsummit2007.htm).

The quality of the discussion—much less the situation of Palestinian refugees—will not improve so long as we attempt to build arguments on such misstatements.

Israel has had 43 years to wander back to its 1948 borders. It has refused to do so. In other words, it has established the borders of Israel as one state, from the river to the sea. It is now time for Israel to stop denying full civil rights to the inhabitants of that state based on racist or sectarian criteria. As for every other state, it will be up to the state’s inhabitants to determine its immigration policy, in accordance with the provisions of international law that demand the right of return or compensation for ALL refugees.

Richard Witty said...

Thank you for your sober assessment.

The concept of consent of the governed is a critical component of democracy, and there is no case that I can imagine that a super-majority of Israeli's would voluntarily accept integration into a single state.

Gil Maguire said...

Jerome,

Good article. I differ to the following extent:

A Zionism motivated by the need to find a safe place for Jews suffering the horrors of the pogroms of Eastern Europe in the 1880s was and is understandable and valid. Unfortunately, Zionism had a second motivation, the desire to create a place or homeland, exclusively for Jews. The need for a safe place does not require exclusivity. Unfortunately, the goal of creating a homeland exclusively for Jews started with Herzl who felt the Arabs needed to removed from Palestine but thought they would be willing to resettle if sufficiently compensated.

It was the Zionist drive for exclusivity, which really started after Balfour in 1918, that created the later Arab anger and riots. The Zionist drive for exclusivity, for an Israel as a homeland exclusively for Jews, led directly to the discrimination, ethnic cleansing, and modern day oppression by Israelis of Palestinian Arabs, and to all the subsequent violence.

So, the question is not whether Israel should be recognized as a Jewish state; it has been since UNGA 181 which created a Jewish State out of a portion of mandate Palestine in 1947. The question is whether it must be an exclusively Jewish state, or a Jewish state in which its Arab citizens can be denied many, if not most of the civil and economic rights possessed by its Jewish citizens, as is the case today.

It is that demon or original sin of Zionist Jewish exclusivity that motivates Israeli politics today, and drives the demand for recognition of Israel as a "Jewish State". It is also clearly what drives Israeli intransigence in the peace process and settlement enterprise.

The critical question is what do Israelis mean by "Jewish State". Palestinian reluctance to provide this recognition without legal clarification of its limits is understandable, particularly in view of the oppressive nature of their current circumstances in the "territories" as well as in Israel itself.

I also think the demographic threat is overdone. I read recently that Palestinian birth rates have fallen dramatically to levels far below those of the Haredi. High birth rates are a function of low poverty levels. Given a two state solution fair to both sides, and a conscious effort by Israel to include Palestinian/Israeli Arabs into Israeli society (equal funding, equal access to housing, job, equal education, etc.), including efforts aimed at ending discrimination and rascist attitudes by Israelis against Arabs, there could be a further dramatic drop in Arab birth rates. The main demographic threat to me is from the Haredi which really needs to be addressed.

While Jews had a valid need for a safe place, that need did not justify ethnic cleansing or enslavement or oppression of another people who had no responsibility for the pogroms or the holocaust, and who were the indiginous inhabitants of the safe place the Zionists chose.

So, yes, Israelis have a right to a Jewish state so long as they treat their minorities equally in terms of basic human rights, civil, economic, voting, etc.

Gil Maguire
www.irishmoses.com

Richard Witty said...

I think the extent of desire for exclusivity that is widely presented among the left and the pan-Arab and pan-Islamic right, is questionable.

I don't know of any group that advocated ethnic cleansing as an end in itself, instead, the right advocating for exclusivity as a means to the end of security of equal status and rights (which was nearly universally denied to Jews at the time of the formation of the idea of Zionism).

The sea that we live in (in urban America) with the most prejudice expressed are attitudes and stereotypes, is NEW. Its new in Europe and America (two generations at most).

Among German Jews in the 1930's/40's, they mostly thought of themselves as assimilated, patriotic. The experience of being persecuted, and that escalating to genocide and continentally, convinced MANY Jews (many of descendants of refugees reside in Israel, MUCH more as a % than in the US) that fredom from anti-semitism was not confident on the basis of only one's own experience.

My own view is that nationalism can only remain healthy if it includes equal due process under the law for all citizens (and parallel equality for all residents and visitors), and strong human rights efforts (attitudes and addressing institutionalization) socially.

ALL nations founded on whatever exclusive principle or norm, requires the same.

When the US regards national patriotism as critical and not simultaneous national health with legal and social democracy, that it too degrades.

Its an inherent tension of living in a body, a society, the balance between seeking one's own well-being (necessary)and accepting others (necessary).

Gil Maguire said...

I think Ilan Pappe’s book, “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” provides overwhelming evidence to the contrary. From Herzl to Balfour to the present day, the goal was and remains exclusivity.

Gil Maguire said...

I am cross-posting the following comment below from my prior comment on Jerry Haber’s Magnes Zionest blog and FAQ on this topic:

I think the problem with this discussion, and Jerome’s original theme is that it was improperly framed. Whether Zionism is racism isn’t really the point. I think virtually everyone who has responded appears to agree that Zionist/Israeli behavior toward the Palestinians, including massive ethnic cleansing and continuing oppression and unlawful seizure of Palestinian lands, has been and continues to be illegal and atrocious conduct.

Whether the motive was and is racist or merely exclusivist doesn’t really matter, it still is very, very wrong, immoral, illegal, and a continuing atrocity of monumental proportions. Trying to split hairs over whether the motive was or wasn’t racist is obscuring the reality and extent of the atrocity. Focusing on the conduct is probably more productive than philosophical discussions about the history and various forms of Zionism and whether these led to racism or a somehow less culpable form of atrocity.

I think righteous Jews like Jerome, Jerry and others understandably have a hard time coming to terms with the extent of what really happened in 1948, and what has happened since. There is an understandable and sincere urge, even while admitting the wrongfulness of the conduct, to search for less damning explanations or excuses. But, ultimately, it just doesn’t work.

The real eye opener for me was Ilan Pappe’s book “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”. Pappe demonstrates the clarity of purpose of the Zionist leaders, from Herzl on, including Ben Gurion and his predecessors, Sharon and others, and now Netanyahu. They wanted a state for the Jews, as large as possible with as few Arabs as they could get away with. These guys knew what they wanted to do, what they had to do to get there, and knew it would have to bloody and violent.

The Zionists were/are so secure in their righteousness and religious zeal that they are not at all inhibited by moral compunctions or doubts. They just did what they thought they had to do, be it the 1948 ethnic cleansing, the obliteration of hundreds of Arab villages, or later stuff like Sabra Chatilla (sp?), Gaza in 2008, the continuing oppression and violent treatment of Arabs in the territories, etc. They know or believe that violence and oppression is necessary to reach their goal, elimination of the Arab problem, so they get it done and they don’t agonize over it. Lacking the benefit of that moral clarity and religious zeal, the rest of us are more than a bit conflicted by this issue.

Are or were the Zionists racists? Who knows, who cares? There are certainly worse things and worse behavior than mere racism. It is the demon or original sin of Zionist Jewish exclusivity and the singleminded drive to brutally enforce it that motivates Israeli politics today, and drives the demand for recognition of Israel as a “Jewish State”. It is also clearly what drives Israeli intransigence in the peace process and the continuation/expansion of the settlement enterprise. What Zionists really want is validation of their goal of achieving an exclusive or near-exclusive Jewish state.

So, the critical question is what do Israelis mean by “Jewish State”. Palestinian reluctance to provide this recognition without legal clarification of its limits is understandable, particularly in view of the oppressive nature of their current circumstances in the “territories” as well as in Israel itself.

I suspect most Palestinians view their Israeli tormentors as violent oppressors, whether they are also racist is probably of little practical moment to them.

Gil Maguire
http://www.irishmoses.com

Joachim Martillo said...

Why do Jewish racists (a category that now appears to include Jerome Slater) demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state?

Do we oppose genocide or do we not?

A rational reading of the Nuremberg Trial precedents along with the International Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of genocide clearly identifies Israeli Zionists not as a protected population but as a criminal conglomeration of racist invaders, interlopers,thieves, murderers, and genocidaires that continue to engage in genocide right before our eyes.

Until Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Palestinians have every right to demand relief from the international community in any form from the removal of the criminal conglomeration up to and including its obliteration.

More to the point, under the precedents and conventions at least 50% of American Jews and probably 80% are also liable to arrest, trial, and conviction with the entire panoply of Nuremberg Tribunal punishments including execution.

Is Martin Peretz really any less of a genocidal criminal than Julius Streicher, who was hung by the neck until dead after his Nuremberg conviction?

Now one may argue that Streicher was an official of the German Nazi government while Peretz is a private citizen, but such a characterization is not true.

Peretz is for all intents and purposes a major official and propagandist in the Zionist Virtual Colonial Motherland and the Zionist imperial system.

The Zionist Imperial System is a threat to every single non-Jewish-Zionist human being.

I describe in detail its origins and threat in http://www.eaazi.org/ThorsProvoni/JudoniaComplete/JudoniaCompleteA.htm#_Toc199522884 .

I describe how the Zionist Imperial System exerts control in http://www.eaazi.org/ThorsProvoni/JudoniaComplete/JudoniaCompleteA.htm#_Toc199522865 .

As a specialist in modern Eastern European and Jewish political economics, I can safely state that there is far more truth in Der Giftpilz that Streicher published than in the vile Arabophobic and Islamophobic mental diarrhea that Peretz publishes.

http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/thumb.htm

Gil Maguie said...

Jerome,

Your original posting of your piece "What's Wrong with a Jewish State?" on this blog has grown exponentially, and now includes at least 6 separate threads on five or more separate blogs and several hundred comments. Congratulations on creating an intellectual fire storm that ultimately will result in greater clarity on this important issue.

In case Jaochim, in his prior comment, was responding to my earlier post, let me clarify a couple of points: First, in no way, shape or form did I or would I accuse Jerome of being a racist. Second,I see no larger Zionist conspiracies. My argument is that the reality of Zionism is the facts on the ground in Israel/Palestine which are pretty despicable. Refer to my earlier postings for details.

What follows is a modified portion of a posting of mine today on one of the Mondoweiss threads dealing with Jerome's original posting:
____________

The reality and actual practice of Zionism was/is so vile that trying to identify a benign subset of Zionism is problematic at best, and self-identifying as a progressive Zionist is even more so. While I am sure I could create some fascinating arguments about how fascism, at its intellectual roots, was and is a perfectly acceptable political/economic philosophy, and that Hitler and the holocaust were only aberrations, I wouldn’t feel very comfortable self-identifying as one of those progressive fascists, and in advocating fascism as a means to improve societal efficiency. I think I would probably refine the definition a bit and pick a different name. While I am not trying to equate the holocaust with the sins of Zionism, Zionist conduct is pretty despicable.

While I think one could have been a progressive Zionist in the early post-Balfour days, and advocated for a progressive, democratic, inclusive integration of Jews into Palestine, those days and choices are long gone. The reality is the actuality of the Zionist program in Palestine with all of its horrors, past and present. Self-identification as a Zionist today inevitably attaches to actual horrific Zionist practice. Moreover, there is no longer a need for a progressive Jew to make a progressive Zionist argument that Jews, because of the pogroms and the holocaust, need a safe place of their own. Jews have that safe place and have had since Balfour, and formally have had a Jewish State of their own, since UNGAR 181 gave them their portion of mandatory Palestine in 1947. Since the only morally justifiable argument for Zionism, a safe place for the Jews, has been satisfied, the need or justification for a moral, progressive form of Zionism no longer exists.

Those who were progressive Zionists should now devote their efforts toward creating a a truly safe place for the Jews by insisting on a two state solution and the cessation of the vile treatment of the Palestinians by the non-progressive, autocratic, dominent strain of Zionists, and by disassociating themselves from the Zionist label. Progressive Jews have the refuge or place of their own, now they just need to make it into the progressive, democratic, inclusive, integrated, safe place they originally intended it be. They have their work cut out for them.

Gil Maguire
http://www.irishmoses.com

Jerome Slater said...

Hi, folks:

Sorry I haven't been able to respond in this debate, the explanation being I am in post-surgical rehab, following knee replacement surgery--and stuck with a balky and unpredictable old laptop, to boot. I'll do better in the future.

For now, I can't resist just one comment. I've always enjoyed Martillo's tightly reasoned critiques, but he sometimes, being such an understated fellow, doesn't follow the logic of his argument to its apparently unavoidable conclusion. Or perhaps he can't help being understated.

To wit:
1. As even a qualified supporter of the Jewish state concept, I am a racist.
2.racism=genocide.
3.Marty Peretz, a racist, is guilty of genocide, and as such deserves the same fate as Nazi war criminals.

Ergo: So does Slater?

Joachim Martillo said...

1) If you support the self-definition of a state as a racist state, that makes you a supporter of racism. A supporter of racism is by definition a racist. Thus anyone that supports the definition of Israel as a Jewish democratic state is a racist.

2) I never said that racism == genocide, and creating this straw man is very much a Zionist style of argument. Not only is Zionism racism but from the earliest writings of the primary Zionist ideologists of the 1880s it was definitely a genocidal movement because almost all these Zionist writers envisioned the physical destruction of the native Palestinian population in one way or another either through removal or via arms. This fact is not surprising, a lot (maybe most) of the secular Russian Jewish Zionists past through a phase of Russianization and absorbed the values and attitudes associated with Russian expansionism.

3. Have you ever tried to understand what Streicher did that merited execution? Peretz has for years been spewing anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry that makes Streicher look mild.

The TNR has worked hard to create an intellectual climate that has justified the incineration of one Arab or Muslim country after another.

By any reasonable standard (and qal vahomer), Peretz is at least as much a criminal as Streicher and deserves the punishment Streicher received.

fuster said...

Hope you're enjoying your vacation, Slater.


I scrolled back through your stuff and enjoyed this post.

I was vastly amused by the obviously unbalanced Martillo and your response.