Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Yet Another Day In the Life of The Light Unto The Nations (A Continuing Series, Extended Indefinitely)

Five stories from Haaretz, January 24, 2012

*The Rule of Law.

An editorial reports that Israel's High Court of Justice has ordered the government to evacuate a West Bank settler "outpost"--actually, permanent homes--built on privately-owned Palestinian land.  Three years ago, this same outpost, Migron, rejected a deal offered by the Israeli government to move into a nearby (presumably "legal") Jewish settlement, at government expense: "Then, too, the squatters and their political supporters not only rejected the generous offer but threatened to settle accounts with the prime minister and 'set the territories ablaze.' This is the price paid by the State of Israel for supporting - through action as well as inaction - the takeover of Palestinian lands while at the same time undermining the two-state solution and reconciliation with our Palestinian neighbors."

The editorial continues:  "The story of Migron is not only a story of contempt for the law, the legal system and justice; it is also a slap in the face to the international community....In 2003 the government of Ariel Sharon (in which Netanyahu was a senior minister) adopted the road map peace plan, which required Israel to "immediately dismantle" all outposts established after March 2001 - including Migron." The editorial concludes that despite the High Court order and Israel's international commitments, the Netanyahu government is again "conducting humiliating negotiations" with the settlers.

Any bets on the outcome?

*An Unbelievable Comparison: But You'd Better Believe It

Haaretz columnist Sefi Rachlevsky writes:
     "When the Nazi regime set out to create the image of the enemy, it was found in the image

of the Jew, the intellectual, the liberal, the socialist, the communist, the modernist, the homosexual. Years later, the circles from which Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's murderer, Yigal Amir, came also invoked the image of an enemy with the very same features that adulterates the race and is a traitor to his country. …Somewhat surprisingly, all of them actually found the non-dangerous leftist Jewish intellectual scattered around the world as their demon....The spirit of the comments of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as related by the editor of the Jerusalem Post, Steve Linde, are of the same realm. That Haaretz and the New York Times are Israel's must dangerous enemies follows the comment that the left has forgotten what it means to be Jewish."

"Even more serious," continues Rachlevsky, "It is coming from the government of a people that escaped the terror of Nazi racism, a government that is dealing obsessively with racial distinctions....It's a government that continues to fund and subsidize municipal rabbis under its auspices who called on Israeli Jews not to rent or sell apartments to Arabs. It's a government of a people who were refugees themselves that in the dead of night at Netanyahu's direction passed a law providing for the detention for three years without trial of African refugees."

Rachlevsky concludes: "Fascist regimes have been marked by… racism and internal violence and external gambles in defiance of the outside world. To the amazement of those looking on, the Netanyahu government is embracing this entire package."


*"It's About Time Somebody Made Things Clear to the Lebanese," says Moshe Arens

Moshe Arens, a former Defense Minister, Foreign Minister, and Israeli Ambassador to the U.S, continues to be a major figure on the Israeli right.  What he wants to make clear, in his words, is that Israel "intends to do something about" the alleged influx of "tens of thousands" of missiles that Iran has sent to Hezbollah.  These "terror weapons in the hands of a terrorist organization...[are] a ticking time bomb" that threaten Israel and "Middle East stability," Arens writes.

He continues: "The Lebanese should not forget that it also represents a threat to the physical existence of Lebanon and the people of Lebanon. The Hezbollah missiles are deployed throughout Lebanon and have been deliberately emplaced in the midst of Lebanon's civilian population centers, in the vicinity of schools, mosques and hospitals....The Hezbollah missiles will have to be removed. When the time comes for Israel to neutralize this missile threat...there is bound to result wholesale destruction all over Lebanon. Hezbollah's missiles are a suicidal invitation to the destruction of Lebanon." (emphasis added)


*Religion, the State and "Modesty," Israeli-style

"It seems like insanity and ignorance have reached a new low point," begins a column by Uri Misgav, reporting that a rightwing "Center for Jewish Studies," funded by the government--including by the Education Ministry, no less--is distributing a picture of five family members who were murdered a year ago in a terrorist attack on a West Bank settlement; the picture of the mother,  however, is intentionally blurred, the Center explains, for reasons of "modesty."

Puzzling?  Misgav explains:"So here you have a woman who was murdered a year ago with her husband and young children, prevented from appearing with them now in a family picture for fear that the viewer will see her as a sex object, a source of immorality and the evil inclination." (emphasis added)

Misgav continues that there has been shock and "public fury" over the incident, but he is not impressed by it: "This shock, as justified and natural as it may be, also entails a significant amount of hypocrisy and willful blindness. The Jewish religion, like all the monotheistic religions, was invented by men....it was constructed thousands of years ago in the prevailing conditions of ancient human society, and therefore perpetuates and preserves male paternalism. Believing Jewish men say a blessing every morning to thank God 'for not making me a woman.' When he nevertheless decides to marry one of them, he estimates her worth in cash by means of a marriage contract, and then becomes her ba'al, a Hebrew word that means both "owner" and "husband."

Misgav then makes his main point: "But the real issue is not religion, but the status it is granted. There is no other country in the Western world where the supremacy of religion is as blatantly enshrined in law, including the Basic Laws that comprise a de facto constitution, as it is in Israel. From birth to burial, and in matters of marriage, divorce, food, the day of rest and daylight savings time, Israeli citizens are subject to religious regulations and to the religious establishment.... Many Israelis do not have the strength and decency necessary to confront it. They are too hopeless, or too frustrated, or too obtuse, or too blind. What is left for them is the occasional attack against incidents of "extremism," as though the everyday situation were not extreme.  The state, with its ongoing weakness and the cynical and irresponsible coalitions that rule it, is perpetuating this craziness."

*However, The News Is Not All Bad--Sort Of.

Akiva Eldar reports on a new Israeli academic study that found that "more of the Israeli mainstream than previously thought has adopted a critical approach on 1948"--meaning the Nakba, or the Israeli killing or expulsion of some 750,000 Palestinians from what became the land of Israel.


"The study argues that by the end of the 1970s," Eldar writes, "most media and scholarly articles in Israel used the critical approach. Virtually all newspaper articles and research studies from the end of the 1980s to 2004 referred to the critical narrative on the Palestinian exodus. The same is true in about a third of books written by veterans of the 1948 battles....The paper shows that the vast majority of studies recognized that Israel had expelled Palestinians in 1948."  And in the most surprising finding, "all history textbooks authorized by the Education Ministry since 2000 have replaced the old Zionist narrative with the critical approach."

Eldar comments: "This is a ground-breaking finding on a change in Israel's official collective memory. In effect, it's a rejection of the Zionist narrative that 'there was no expulsion in 1948.' The willingness of key Jewish-Israeli institutions to alter their attitudes on such an important and sensitive issue casts a positive light on Israeli society. It's a sign of maturity."

Unfortunately, the news is not all good.  Eldar cautions that "Politicians [still] think that the evasion of any responsibility for the Palestinian catastrophe appeals to most Israelis," and as a result "Politicians from all Zionist parties refuse to acknowledge a right of return for the Palestinian refugees, " and even "vehemently reject a more modest demand by the Palestinian side--that Israel accept partial responsibility for the Palestinian exodus of 1948."


Thursday, January 12, 2012

What is Zionism?

A small but growing number of Israeli and American Jewish critics have come to regard traditional Zionism as an anachronism and a major obstacle to a just settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the future I will be making an argument about this issue, but for now I wish simply to define, explicate, and clarify the distinctions between different forms of Zionism. If I have made any errors, I would be very grateful to hear from the true experts on the nature of Zionism.


The most radical critics of Zionism are probably best described as “anti-Zionists,” for they argue not only that Zionism should be cast aside today but that because of the inherent conflict between Zionism and the rights of the Palestinians, the creation of a Jewish state in a land belonging to another people was never justified, not even in the aftermath of the Holocaust. The anti-Zionists favor a “one-state solution” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, meaning a democratic binational state of all its citizens (Jews, Israeli Arabs, and Palestinians in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza), irrespective of whether the Jews continue to constitute a majority. Indeed, anti-Zionists tend to support the Palestinian “right of return” to Israel itself, which if realized would certainly guarantee that the new binational state would have an Arab majority.


A second position is that of “post-Zionism,” which holds that while Zionism and the creation of Israel was initially justified because of the Holocaust and previous periods of murderous anti-Semitism, it is no longer either necessary or desirable that Israel continue as a Jewish state—meaning a state in which Jews are a large majority and have political sovereignty, which is heavily Jewish in culture and religion, and which allows, as a matter of right, unlimited Jewish but not non-Jewish immigration. Post-Zionists believe that Zionism has become an anachronism and an unbridgeable obstacle to a just settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and they therefore join with the anti-Zionists in supporting the concept of Israel as a fully democratic state of all its citizens, with no special privileges for the Jews, and irrespective of whether the Jews continue to constitute a large majority (currently, as in most of its history, about eighty percent).

The position of post-Zionism on the nature of an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement is less clear—to my knowledge, there is no single position. My understanding of post-Zionism is that most Israelis who identify themselves with that position favor the one-state solution, a democratic binational state. On the other hand, it apparently does not necessarily follow that most post-Zionists also favor a large-scale Palestinian right of return to pre-1947 Palestine—that is, before creation of the state of Israel and the subsequent expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. In the absence of such a return of the Palestinian refugees and their descendents, a binational Israel would almost surely remain predominantly Jewish. Even so, post-Zionists oppose all measures and practices that compromise full democracy and are designed to ensure that there will always be a large Jewish majority.

Liberal Zionism

There is no one definition of “liberal Zionism.” However, most Israelis who identify themselves as liberal Zionists—or are so considered by others—share a number of characteristics. First, liberal Zionists believe that the creation of the Jewish state of Israel was justified because of the Jewish right and demonstrable need for a refuge. Secondly, however, most liberal Zionists reject traditional Zionism’s other arguments for a Jewish state in the land of Palestine on the basis of religious claims, Biblical mythology, ancient territorial “rights,” or colonial impositions (i.e. the Balfour Declaration).

Third, all liberal Zionists are adamantly opposed to the occupation and to the settlements, favor a fair two-state peace agreement with the Palestinians and generally share the international consensus of what such an agreement should comprise (the main components of which include the end of the Israeli occupation and the withdrawal of most of the Jewish settlements over the 1967 lines; the creation of a Palestinian state in some 95-98% the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, which will become the capital of the state; Palestinian or Muslim sovereignty over the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) mosque and other religiously important Islamic sites; strong limitations on the size and armaments of a Palestinian army, but with international peacekeeping forces stationed along the state’s boundaries, to help guarantee the security of both Israel and Palestine against military attacks, from whatever quarter).

Fourth, liberal Zionists certainly oppose the demand that the Palestinians must formally recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a precondition for negotiations, and most of them would not even insist that a final settlement must include such Palestinian recognition. Even so, there is a certain tension, or perhaps a potential internal contradiction, in the liberal Zionist position. On the one hand, in principle liberal Zionists wish Israel that to be regarded—and become— a truly democratic state of all its citizens. On the other, for both political and cultural reasons, most liberal Zionists continue to wish to live in a state that remains heavily Jewish, and support the continuation of an Israel that can serve as a potential refuge against a revival of severe anti-Semitism elsewhere in the world—which means privileging Jewish immigration into Israel and perhaps other measures that are designed or would have the consequence of maintaining a large Jewish majority in Israel.

Thus, the implicit—and sometimes explicit—premise of liberal Zionism is that Israel will and should remain a state in which the Jews are a large majority, and that is one of the most important distinctions between liberal and either anti- or post-Zionism. The fullest and most sophisticated statement of the liberal Zionist position is that found in a major book by a distinguished Israeli legal and moral philosopher, Chaim Gans A Just Zionism; On the Morality of the Jewish State (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

Gans argues that while many components of traditional Zionism are unpersuasive, and that the Zionists undoubtedly committed crimes against the Palestinians, especially in expelling or killing hundreds of thousands of them in 1947-48, the Holocaust proved (made “indisputable,” in his words) the need for a Jewish state. Moreover, Gans contends, the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, leading to an Israeli sense of insecurity, continues to justify the retention of a Jewish majority in Israel and Jewish control over the army and other security institutions, although only temporarily and “circumstantially,” pending the end of the conflict is settled.

The unavoidable implication of the liberal Zionist position—but not that of the anti-Zionist or post-Zionist arguments--is that its commitment to genuine democracy and to viewing Israel as a state of all its citizens would be put to a severe test if the Jews were, for whatever reason, to lose their large majority in Israel

Traditional Zionism

Most traditional Zionists, by far the overwhelming majority of Israelis, adhere to all the Zionist arguments justifying the creation of Israel in Palestine as well as the standard mythology about Israeli innocence in the ongoing conflict with the Arab world in general and the Palestinians in particular. However, there are differences over what to do about the Israeli occupation, the expanding Jewish settlements, and an end to the conflict with the Palestinians.

Centrist traditional Zionists tend to be uneasy about the continued occupation and support a two-state settlement with the Palestinians—in theory. However, when it comes down to the necessary specifics, in practice even the centrists typically oppose the Israeli concessions that are a sine qua non of a two-state settlement, especially over sharing sovereignty in any part of Jerusalem with the Palestinians and even a minimal Palestinian right of return to Israel.

Rightwing traditional Zionists, especially but by no means exclusively the settlers, are opposed to ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank; on the contrary, they want to take over more and more of “Judea and Samaria,” including formerly Arab East Jerusalem. Therefore they oppose a two-state settlement and any compromise with the Palestinians, for their true goal is a one-state solution--not a binational one, however, but an expanding Greater Israel over as much of Biblical Palestine as feasible and with as few Arabs as possible, using force or other means to make life miserable for the Arabs in order to induce them to move elsewhere.