Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Moshe Arens: JNF Law Should Die in Committee

It doesn't get better than this...one of the most rightwing faces in Israeli politics, former defense minister Moshe Arens, has come out against the JNF Land-Lease law in Haaretz. I don't agree with his understanding of democracy, but even he gets the fact that this law is bad news and should be killed in committee.

Postscript on the Morality of Land-Lease Discrimination

As I tried to make clear in my original post, there may be grounds for restricting land-sales and land-lease on the basis of nationality or ethnicity. My friend, Chaim Gans, a law professor at Tel-Aviv university, has referred me to Joseph Carens' attempt to justify certain illiberal land-lease practices by the Fijians against the Indo-Fijians that are necessary to preserve Fijian culture -- despite the facts that both Fijians and Indo-Fijians are (or should be) considered equal citizens. I hope to learn more about this and deal with it in a future post.

One could also argue that were there to be a Palestinian state with a Jewish minority, then illiberal, discriminatory practices by Israeli Jews against Israeli Palestinians, could be in part justified by similar Palestinian discrimination against Palestinian Jews. This argument has been used to justify the Israeli law of return; in other words, if both sides have the same discrimination in force, separate but equal may not be such a bad idea.

I don't like the argument, but it is worth examining.

What I really don't like is the proposal offered by former minister and MK Amnon Rubinstein that may pick up steam -- it was recently adopted by Ami Ayalon, who is considered (by some, not by me), to be left-leaning. That proposal is for the JNF to return to the government the land it bought from the Israeli government in the early years of the state, and the land that is left, i.e., the land that was purchased by diaspora Jews (if any of that is still available) can be used for projects of "national interest," like housing for married IDF veterans, etc. (In other words, only for Israeli Jews and Druze and the ultra-orthodox, even though they do not serve in the IDF.)

This seems to me to be just another way of avoiding open housing and recognizing the needs of Israeli Palestinians

I have another proposal. Let the JNF make available vast tracts of its land for the expansion of Israeli Palestinian towns and villlages. Let new Israeli Palestinian towns and villages be built with the money of Jews from around the world, and with that of the Israeli government. At the very least, the land that was "bought" against the will of its Palestinian owners in 1948 should be made available for Israeli projects for Palestinians within Israel -- and if that land is not available, then comparable land should be made available.

I know, I know...let's see how far that proposal goes....

Monday, July 30, 2007

History vs. narrative -- Enough with the textbooks, already

Gaby Herman, the chairman of the history department at Hebrew University, wrote a very good op-ed in today's Hebrew Haaretz, which has yet to be translated into English. Maybe it won't be. I may be paranoid, but I have noticed that the English online Haaretz is more to the right of the Hebrew one. Anyway, this is not a left/right issue; this is much deeper than that

Herman was reacting to the news item earlier this week that Israeli Palestinian history textbooks will include references to the Nakbah, and will present the Palestinian version-- or what is called "narrative" -- to 1948, but that the Israeli Jewish textbooks (albeit for a younger age-group) will not.

Herman doesn't like this talk of narrative, Israeli Jewish or Palestinian. He doesn't believe that history and narrative are the same thing -- none of that postmodern crapola for him. His proposal is as follows:

הציגו היסטוריה אחת ויחידה של אירועי 1948, שהיא תוצאה של מחקר מעמיק ומקיף, ושהגיעה להבנה הטובה ביותר האפשרית של אירועי העבר ושל מניעי הנפשות הפועלות על סמך העדויות והמסמכים למיניהם, ותקבלו את המסקנות העולות ממנה. לא ניתן להגיע לאובייקטיוויות מוחלטת בתיאור מאורעות, אך אין זה אומר שיש להרים ידיים ולוותר על כל שאיפה לה.

"Present one and only one history of the events of 1948, which is the result of indepth and comprehensive research, and which gets to the possible understanding of the events of the past, and the motivations of the players according to tesimonies and documents of all sorts -- and accept the results that emerge from them. One cannot receive absolute objectivity in describing the events, but that doesn't allow us to throw up our hands and to give up our desires for it."

I am completely in sympathy with Herman. But it is not so simple. Israelis and Palestinian historians have tried very hard to come up with a one-size fits all history, and they have failed. The problems is not one of competing narratives, but of competing histories. Once one tries to provide explanation -- and what history does not? -- all sorts of issues arise. And performing a balancing act of the histories, rather than respecting both histories, creates a third history. At best one can have a single history with a lot of "he said/she saids."

As I said, Herman is on to something. But in a country where the history of events that occurred (or didn't) two or three thousand years ago is extremly controversial and politically-charged, the idea of writing up 1948 in an agreed-upon and uncontroversial manner is a nice fantasy.

Why American Jews should Vote Republican

It's simple. The Republicans support Israel, right? So American Jews, this is Jerry Haber speaking to you from the Holy Land: Vote Republican. Leave the Democratic Party for those self-hating Jewish "progressives" and all those ethnic types.

And then, when the Democrats sweep both houses of the Senate and take the White House, they won't be beholden to the Jews, now, will they?

And the US will be able to stop pandering to the Israel lobby and finally become an honest broker, right?

All right, so it's an immature fantasy.

I am allowed one, aren't I?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

No, Rivkele, The Jews Weren't Driven into Exile by the Romans

"In A.D. 70, and again in 135, the Roman Empire brutally put down Jewish revolts in Judea, destroying Jerusalem, killing hundreds of thousands of Jews and sending hundreds of thousands more into slavery and exile."

Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, May 5, 2006

"Well, now: We were expelled from the land and taken into captivity in the year 70 of the Common Era."

Leonard Fein, The Jewish Daily Forward, May 11, 2007–07–23

"After Bar Kochba…Jewish emigration, a more or less permanent feature of ancient Palestinian demography, now assumed alarming proportions."

Salo Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews (New York/Philadelphia, 1952), vol. 2, pp. 122-3.

Despite their ideological differences, what unites columnists like Charles Krauthammer and Leonard Fein, and what distinguishes them from Salo Baron,the greatest historian of the Jews in the twentieth century, is inter alia their acceptance of the myth that the Jews were forcibly expelled from the Land of Israel, and taken into captivity by the Romans. To this day, most lay people, Jews and non-Jews, accept the myth of the exile, whereas no historian, Jew or non-Jew, takes it seriously.

This post will look at the disconnect between popular and scholarly belief and try to examine the origin of the myth several centuries after the event occurred. I will follow pretty closely the first part of a comprehensive article on the subject by Hebrew University professor, Yisrael Yuval, which is available here . Because this article is under copyright, I can’t quote more than a few passages, and so I will just be paraphrasing him. But I urge you to read the article, especially his copious footnotes.

The myth was not invented by the Zionists, although it was greatly used by them, in part, to justify the return of the Jews to their ancestral homeland. For the tacit assumption of the Zionists was that if the Jews had left the land willingly, if they had merely “emigrated” because they found opportunities beckoning in the Diaspora, then they would have betrayed their allegiance to the land, and their return would have been less justified. That is one of the reasons why Zionists argued for years that the Palestinians left Palestine of their own free will – if they were forcibly expelled, then somehow their claim to the land would be stronger. Of course, the putative expulsion by the Romans was not the only claim of the Jewish people to the land – many peoples have been exiled from their lands, and the Zionists were not claiming that all of them had a right to return -- but it dovetailed nicely with the historical view of the wandering Jew that finds no rest outside of his native place from which he was expelled.

The first point to make is that well before the revolt against Rome in 66-70 c.e., there were Jewish communities outside Palestine, most notably in Babylonia and in Egypt, but elsewhere as well. References to the dispersal of the Jewish people throughout the civilized world are found in the book of Esther, Josephus, and Philo. There is no indication that these communities were small, satellite communities.

Second, there is no contemporary evidence – i.e., 1st and 2nd centuries c.e. – that anything like an exile took place. The Romans put down two Jewish revolts in 66-70 c.e. and in 132-135 c.e. According to Josephus, the rebels were killed, and many of the Jews died of hunger. Some prisoners were sent to Rome, and others were sold in Libya. But nowhere does Josephus speak of Jews being taken into exile. As we shall see below, there is much evidence to the contrary. There was always Jewish emigration from the Land of Israel, as the quote above from Baron indicates.

The first mention of the exile of the Jews occurs in remarks attributed to the third century Palestinian rabbi, R. Yohanan that are found in the Babylonian Talmud, a work that received its final recension several centuries later (c. 500 c.e.): “Our House has been destroyed, our Temple burnt, and we ourselves exiled from our land” (Gittin, 56a). The editor/s of the Talmud referred this statement to the Roman exile. Similar statements can be found elsewhere in the Babylonian Talmud attributing to rabbis living in the Land of Israel the view that the Romans were responsible for the destruction of the House, the burning of the temple, and the exile from the land. But if one examines other Babylonian sources, and most sources from the Land of Israel, the statements most likely refer to the First Temple, and the exile by the Babylonians. There is, after all, something odd in having rabbis living in the Land of Israel bemoaning an exile from the Land of Israel. Yuval summarizes the sources as follows:

“In other words, it seems that the triple expression—destruction of the House, burning of the Temple, exile from the land—originally (in the sources from the Land of Israel) referred to the First Temple and were applied to the Second Temple only in Babylonia.10 In the Tannaitic and early Amoraic sources, Rome is accused only of destroying the Temple, not of exiling the people from their land.11 A broad historical and national outlook, one that viewed the “Exile of Edom” (Rome being identified with the biblical Edom) as a political result of forced expulsion, did not survive from this period. Nor would such a view have been appropriate to the political reality and the conditions of Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel, which were certainly very well known to the members of that generation.”

In fact, Chaim Milikowsky, professor and past chairman of the Talmud department at Bar Ilan university, has argued that in 2nd and 3rd century tannaitic sources, the Hebrew term rendered as “exile” has the meaning of political subjugation rather than physically being driven from the land (cited in Yuval, p. 19, n.1) This, by the way, dovetails nicely with the Zionist historiography that emphasizes the loss of political independence, rather the physical removal of the Jews from the Land of Israel. For Zionists were somewhat at a loss to explain how Jewish rabbis could create the Mishnah and subsequently the Talmud of the Land of Israel if there was a mass exile.

This much of Yuval’s essay is uncontroversial and based on widely-accepted historiography. What follows is speculative and fits well the general trend of Yuval’s work, which is to see much greater Christian influence on the formation of rabbinic Judaism than has hitherto been recognized. Yuval points out that in early Christian sources, following the failed Bar Kokhba rebellion, there is an attempt to interpret the removal of the Jews from Jerusalem as punishment for the sin of rejecting Christ, and the depletion of the Jewish population of Jerusalem in light of the Biblical prophecies of exile. The Jewish reaction, on his reading, was to emphasize that Jews were still very much in the Land of Israel – which contemporary Jews, for the first time, interpreted to include not merely the Northern Kingdom of Israel, but the entire land. Only later, during Talmudic times, was the Exile from the Land incorporated in Jewish collective memory.

What implications does the exposure of the myth of the Roman Exile have for Zionism, the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, etc., etc. None, in my opinion. It is less important that the Jews were actually carried off into Exile than that they thought they were. The rabbis, and even earlier Jewish scholars, tended to conflate the Babylonian exile with the later loss of independence among the Romans. As a formative moment in Jewish religious consciousness, the destruction of the first temple and the exile was vastly more significant than the destruction of the second temple; some, like Bible scholar Adele Berlin, have argued that parts of the Bible, and maybe even the Torah, were edited in light of the trauma of the Babylonian exile. What this means is that in Jewish (and Christian) consciousness destruction, exile, and return, became significant categories in light of which history was read. If there is any argument for a right to return, it is not based, in the case of the Jews, on being driven out of the land against their will. It is more because of the Land of Israel playing such an important role in the consciousness of many (though not all) Jews. This is a more modest claim than is generally heard; it certainly does not in itself justify Jewish hegemony over Palestine. But it does put on the table the very real connection (imagined or not) between the Jewish people and Palestine. That, to me, is what is reasonable about Zionism.

In the words of J.K. Rowling, just because it is in your head doesn’t mean that it is not real.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Shabbat Nahamu -- Comfort, comfort my people

The motto of this blog is "Not just another Israel-bashing blog" -- but something more.

That "something more" is my Magnesian Zionism, and my love for Am Yisrael, the People of Israel, and, for ha-Am ha-Yisraeli, the Israeli people. For as much as I dislike, even detest, the ideologies and immoralities that swarm around me, I cannot bring myself to dislike my people. And when my gut takes over (like after reading Nahum Barnea's brilliant piece on the Gush Katif evacuees in today's Yediot Aharonot -- yet not available on the web, I think), and I want to demonize the settlers as fantastically spoiled, amazingly chutzpadik leeches, I pull myself short and say, Calm down, they are tinokot she-nishbu, captive children, of a fundamentalist ideology and parisitical mentality that has been the undoing of them. They, like drug addicts, don't need condemnation; they need treatment, patience, and love. And before I throw stones, I should look at the mirror -- have I done enough to fight the settlement movement from Gush Katif to Efrat?

No, a little bit more ahavat Yisrael and ahavat medinat Yisrael (love of the Jewish people, and the State of Israel) is in order and that's what I want to rant about, today.

Has Israel been built with the blood, sweat, and property of millions of innocent Palestinians? Yes it has. And it must make amends and offer restitution. But it has also been built with the blood, sweat, and energies of millions of Jews, inside and outside. And while there are many deep and structural problems with the state that was founded in 1948, there are many worse post-World Was II states than Israel, many more states that perpetuated the same crimes and worse than Israel, and yet are in much worse shape today.

Yes, things are the absolute pits here. But we can be thankful of the little things.

For example, I love Jerusalem -- whatever is left of it after its overbuilding and its ghetto-like, apartheid wall.

I love the quiet neighborhoods, the bustling areas, the amount and quality of kosher food I can eat...

Where but in Jerusalem can you go to a kosher restaurant that doesn't look irredeemably Jewish? Where you look around and the people don't all look like they followed you out of the early minyan (prayer service) at shul?

What other Jewish community in the world gives your daughters at least two shuls in which women read from the Torah AND there is a mehitzah (partition).

What other Jewish community in the world has Jews and Arabs working together to protest injustice and humanity?

What other Jewish community in the world has a DVD rental store like the Third Ear, where you can get alternative indie movies that show you the true face of the Occupation, as well as the complete sets of Simpsons and Seinfeld?

All this is in Israel, and in Jerusalem, the Holy City.

Gershom Gorenberg, the journalist, told me a story that I love to repeat. He was once speaking about Israel before Jews in America, and they were giving him a rough time for his criticisms of Israel. He finally broke down and said, "You know what -- you Jews are the best argument for making aliyah (immigrating) to Israel that I can think of. When I criticize Israel in Israel, nobody bats an eyelash...but when I do it outside of Israel, I am called a self-hating Jew and a traitor."

We Jewish people are in a spiritual malaise. Traumatized by the holocaust, supportive of a state that is still, after sixty years, foundationally racist, and yet has achieved so much....if I didn't believe in the indestructability of the Jewish people -- that the seed of Abraham will never wither away -- I would despair.

But we will prevail. With the help of people of good faith everywhere, and, desperately, with the assistance of our Palestinian brothers and sisters, we shall overcome the malaise. Justice will be served. We will learn from them and from our mistakes. It will take decades, but it will come. I am 53 years old. I compare my generation with that of the younger generation -- things are changing.

One day there will be no more secrets and lies. Books like Dershowitz's Case for Israel and Bard's Myths and Facts will have been banished to their proper place -- dusty bins in second-hand book stores in Boro Park No more refugee camps. No more rusting keys. There will be justice, justice, and peace.

Ma'a salaama

Shabbat Shalom


Thursday, July 26, 2007

On the Morality of Land-Lease Discrimination against Non-Jews in the State of Israel

The recent passage, on preliminary hearing, of a Knesset bill that would explicitly prohibit land-lease to non-Jews of lands held by the Jewish National Fund has once again raised the question of historical patterns of discrimination in land-lease against the Palestinian minority by the Jewish majority in Israel. No one denies that such discrimination exists, has existed, and no doubt will continue to exist. The question here is whether land-lease discrimination is morally justifiable

On certain theories of morality, no discrimination on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, is permitted. But this runs counter to common-sense morality, which would appear to allow for some manner of preferential treatment, provided that a reasonable justification is provided. For example, if a group’s survival and flourishing demands a certain amount of partiality, and the members of that group rely on their group-identity for their own survival and flourishing, then certain partialities and preferences may be morally defensible; especially if such partialities apply to all groups. Or, again: there may be historical reasons for favoring one group at the expense of another; affirmative action relies on this principle. Of course, all this is controversial, and part of the value of the debate is to probe the limits of defensible partiality, and to adjudicate conflicting values.

I am not a moral philosopher, so I cannot pretend to dig deep into these questions. What follows consists of claims more than arguments. But before I begin, I would like to offer two prudential rules-of-thumb that should guide us in moral inquiries of this sort. The first principle is that when one offers moral justifications for the practices of the group to which one belongs, one should be on special guard against employing self-serving arguments. Self-interest often produces tendentious moralizing, rather than honest moral justification. Defending the morality of a practice, is not, or should not, be like defending the innocence of a client in a criminal case. The purpose should not be to win using all legal means available to you, but to arrive at a position that accords with our best moral judgments or sentiments.

The second rule-of-thumb, and this is more controversial, is that morality is in part conventional, and that conventions change. I will accept this rule for the sake of my argument, because I think that it accords with common-sense morality.

For example, the conventions concerning the morality of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and race in purchasing and selling housing and land have changed quite a bit over the last century in the United States. Before World War II, and certainly before the Civil Rights movements of the 1960’s, there was widespread discrimination in real estate; there was little, if any, open housing, and this was not seen by many to be morally improper. In fact, even today, many consider it to be morally defensible. If your home is your castle, then you should be able to sell it to whomever you want. If members of an ethnic group or race wish to live together, they should be able to, even if this means discrimination in practice. Certain private clubs until very recently discriminate against ethnic or religious groups; others refuse to admit women as members. The arguments in favor of these discriminatory practices should not be dismissed summarily; indeed, the ebb and flow of legislation reveals the changing values and attitudes of the society toward them, not to mention the clash of values they represent. The line must be drawn, but precisely where is always going to be a question of debate.

Part of the reason why the conventions on open housing changed was because of a greater sensitivity to the dignity and welfare of individuals and groups that were historically disadvantaged and in a weaker position. In other words, it was not always the fact of discrimination per se that began to offend people’s moral sensibilities but the fact that discrimination was practiced against disadvantaged groups. I daresay that if a poor African-American chose not to sell his house to a wealthy developer because he didn’t like wealthy white people, this would occasion less moral outrage than if the race of the buyer and seller were switched -- although it may still cause moral disapproval. Once again, the case of affirmative action shows that discrimination can be defended when that discrimination favors disadvantaged groups.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, a fund was established by the Zionist movement to purchase land in the Palestine for Jewish settlement. The fund was called the “Jewish National Fund,” and generally it leased land to Jews only. Given the paucity of Jewish settlement in Palestine, the moral acceptability of colonization in an age of empire, the ambiguous and shifting political aims of the Zionists, and the contemporary tolerance of discrimination when it came to transactions of private property, there seems to be little reason to find the establishment or practices of discriminatory land lease as particularly immoral at the time. And indeed, although these practices were increasingly seen as inimical to the goals of the Palestinian population, criticisms of them were generally not couched in moral terms, but in nationalistic ones (or in moral terms that derived from nationalist considerations.) The only ongoing moral issue of which I am aware was the purchase of land from absentee landlords and the subsequent eviction of the tenant farmers from lands they had worked for generations. While the Zionists may have had a legal right to do this, it was certainly morally questionable. The same may be said for the Zionist boycott of Arab labor; even it could have been justified, it was certainly a cause for resentment by the natives, and understandably so.

However, times change, as do moral conventions. Nowadays, only extreme ultra-nationalists (and “mafia”-moralists) would attempt to justify discrimination against Palestinian Israeli citizens in the workforce.The Jews became the dominant ethnic-religion group in Palestine following the 1948 war, the expulsion of the Palestinians, and the increased immigration from Europe and the Middle East. Colonization on the basis of ethnicity fell out of favor in the eyes of the civilized world, discrimination in land sales were frowned upon, especially when disadvantaged minority groups suffered as a result. Although the importance of group survival and flourishing has been recognized by liberal political theorists and moralists, there are limits to the sort of discrimination that is morally justifiable. The argument that private individuals or corporations have the right to do with their property whatever they want is not as accepted now as it was fifty years ago; we live in an age where there is pressure on private clubs not to discriminate in their membership policies, much less to discriminate in disposing of their possessions. Given these considerations, and the fact that the most disadvantaged group in Israeli society, the Palestinian Israelis, have suffered greatly because of this discrimination, it seems impossible to justify the “Jews-only” policy that the Jewish National Fund has pursued, certainly in the way it has been pursued. One should also add that there is a significant difference between the actions of minority group that is attempting to gain a foothold, and a majority group in control of a country that discriminates against a minority group of citizens in order to maintain and deepen its control.

The above assumes a situation in which the government is in no way involved in the discriminatory land-lease, and where the land has been purchased voluntarily from the sellers. Under those assumptions it would be immoral for Jews to purchase land and refuse to sell or rent it to non-Jews -- not only in Israel, where they constitute a majority, but anywhere where they are free to live productive lives free of discrimination. I am not claiming that where Jews are discriminated against they are automatically allowed to discriminate against others, but rather that where they are not discriminated against, and where they live in a society that values non-discrimination, the justification of preferential treatment for “Jews only” becomes more difficult. Thus, for example, bumper stickers that proclaim, “I only buy from shomer shabbes Jews” are offensive in societies where non-discrimination is valued.

But the history of “Jews-only” land-lease moves from the frying pan of the morally questionable to the fire of the morally objectionable with the establishment of the State of Israel, and with the Israeli government's seizure of 3.5 million dunams of abandoned Palestinian land – one-sixth of the area of the state of Israel according to the armistice lines, and in choice locations. In December 1948, less than a week after the US General Assembly passed Resolution 194, which called for the return of the Palestinian refugees, Prime Minister Ben Gurion met with Yossef Weitz, the director of the JNF land department and proposed that this Arab land be transferred to the JNF, in order to relieve possible pressure on the government of Israel to return the land to the Palestinians. Ben-Gurion informed Weiss that one million dunams were to be sold by the State of Israel to the JNF for eleven million pounds. The attorney general was opposed to the sale which he felt was patently illegal, since at that time land could not be sold without the consent of the owners – a problem that was rectified later by the Absentee Property Law. But the sale went through. So land taken from Palestinians in order to prevent their return to their homes, contrary to Resolution 194, remained unavailable for use for the Palestinians who remained.

While one can justify some sorts of preferential treatment by a group toward its members on the basis of ethnic survival and flourishing, the notion that land can be expropriated by a government from a disadvantaged minority group against its will – it is immaterial whether members of that group were paid or not – and then transferred to the exclusive use of the advantaged majority group, has no moral justification whatever. It is no different from stealing from the poor and giving to the rich. Even if this practice had been performed at the height of the imperialism, it would be recognized as simply wrong and lacking of any moral justification.

Well, not any justification. There is always the justification that theft is morally permitted to ensure somebody’s survival. Philosophers talk about the permissibility of breaking into a pharmacy and stealing medicine when there is a life-and-death situation. But this is, of course, a dangerous analogy, and we should apply the first procedural rule I mentioned above. Is not such a defense patently self-serving? Aside from the point that the facts of the matter are notoriously difficult to establish, it is not at all clear that basic minority rights automatically should be suppressed for the sake of the majority. To put it bluntly, if a thriving Jewish state required the wholesale theft of land from Palestinians then what moral person could support the establishment of a Jewish state? Certainly not the great Zionist ideologues, who never ever informed a world that they would have to expel the natives and expropriate their land for the sake of Jewish hegemony. Had they done son, they would have been asked, why should the settler’s rights trump those of the natives – or, in our situation, why should the existential fears of majority settler group trump the property rights of the minority native group?

One can always answer that morality has nothing to do with it; that states and peoples know of no law besides the law of the jungle and that might makes right, etc., etc.. The fledgling Jewish state had the right to expropriate the land for what it considered to be its survival after it had won a bloody war of independence. Whether it assessed the situation correctly or not is immaterial. This answer is a powerful one, and I have no reply except to say that my question is not whether a majority group can or even should discriminate against a minority group if it feels insecure or threatened – the question is whether that discrimination is morally justifiable. And I have argued that it has not.

To sum up: I have argued that whatever moral considerations could be brought to bear for discriminatory land-leasing practices during the age of empire, they simply do not apply in the moral climate of the last half-century. On the whole, Jews have benefited from the zero-tolerance of discriminatory practices in housing and in land-lease and sales; it would be hypocritical to claim the right to discriminate where one is a majority, while benefiting from non-discrimination where one is a minority. However, the immorality of the discriminatory situation is compounded when one takes into consideration the motivation and goals of the discrimination – not merely to accord preference to one’s own, but to actively thwart the flourishing of a minority group, to keep them down in the dust, as it were. That is discrimination bordering on racism, and cannot be justified under any circumstances.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Please Sign the Petition Against the Knesset JNF Bill

Richard Silverstein of Tikun Olam, Daniel Flesher of Realistic Dove , and I, have banded together to produce a petition to sign against the JNF Bill recently passed (on a preliminary reading; it is now in committee) by the Knesset.

To sign the petition, please click here.

Basically, the bill would formally prohibit the lease of lands owned by the Jewish National Fund to "non-Jews and non-Zionists," i.e., Palestinians. This follows the Israel High Court Decision that such discrimination violates one of Israel's Basic Laws.

It cannot be stressed enough that most of the JNF land was not purchased by the Jewish people before 1948 for Jewish settlement, but expropriated from Palestinian owners following the 1948 war and managed by the Israel Land Authority.

The bill was sponsored by ultra-right wing members of parliament, and it has been attacked as racist by an excellent Haaretz editorial. Even the highly-respected neoconservative law professor and former minister, Amnon Rubinstein, has urged the government to kill the bill, and to reclaim the Palestinian land it had transferred to the Jewish National Fund to keep it out of Palestinian hands.

I am sorry that the Jewish National Fund's Ron Lauder (see post below) has embraced this bill without reservation. I assume that he was misinformed -- his statement had several factual errors in it.

Lucius Malfoy: Don't Lease Wizard Land to Muggles!

In a press-release issued today, Lucius Malfoy of the Wizard National Fund (WNF) wrote:

"We are gratified that the Government of Wizards, which since 1961 has been entrusted with management of Wizard lands through the Wizard Land Authority (WLA), recognized that the land purchased by the Wizards for the Wizard purebloods should remain in the hands of its rightful owners.

"This decision of the Wizard parliament reaffirms the vision and the dream of Lord Voldemort and the millions of wizards over the past 106 years who contributed and participated in the rebirth of a Wizard nation after 2,000 years. The land of the Wizards is part of the very existence of the Wizard people from as far back as Salazar Slytherin. We are a people linked to our land. Now and forever."

Mr. Malfoy implied that Muggles whose land was taken from them in the Great War, or paid for with a few galleons, have no rights to that land "since it is not part of their very existence."

Mr. Malfoy's statement came today despite a stinging editorial against the parliament's decision from the respected Daily Prophet.

For the original statement of the WNF-KKL, click here

With apologies to Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley (not to mention J.K. Rowling)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Zion, Will You Not Seek the Peace of Your Prisoners?

Many years ago I read a survey of Israelis' attitudes towards death. According to the survey, secular Israelis fear the physical pain of dying, but not the spiritual punishment; the ultra-orthodox fear the spiritual punishment, but not the physical pain. The modern orthodox fear both the physical pain and the spiritual punishment.

In other words, the modern orthodox get it from both sides...

Well, I am a modern orthodox Jew and a Zionist. I sit on the floor in shul today and hear recited Eichah (the Book of Lamentations). I recite the Kinot (elegies) that have memorialized Jewish suffering throughout the ages, especially the suffering associated with the destruction of the Temples and the fall of Jerusalem. I am fasting; I am dirty; I feel horrible.

And then I think of the horrible injustices that my people and my state perpetuate daily on another people in their own homeland, with no protection and no real legal recourse, for they have no citizen rights; they are without representation. They are a subjugated people, dependent entirely on the good will of their occupier. I am fasting; I am dirty; I feel even more horrible.

In other words, I get it from both sides....

And it gets worse....

As a religious Jew, I believe that some how, in some way, God takes care of the world. Call it nature; call it evolution; call it what you will. I look at human history with an eye slightly more jaundiced that that of Dr. Pangloss, but with a feeling that -- for whatever reason, and by whatever mechanism -- things right themselves. Wicked societies do not go on forever. There is some sort of payback. I know that this is an article of faith that cannot be demonstrated. But it is one I live with.

So now I am fearful of the punishment, of the divine retribution, of the suffering to come for the injustice that we have grown innured to. Our hearts have been hardened as much as the hearts of Pharoah or Sichon. And retribution will come -- or, perhaps more accurately, in what comes I will see retribution.

All I can hope and pray for it that when it comes, it will be made up of afflictions of love that not only chastise us, but purify us.

It is not too late...we can avert the decree through teshuvah, tefillah, and tzeddakh -- repentance from our evil ways through ending the Occupation, prayer to God and to all people of good will to help us build a just society within Israel, and charity/righteousness that restores to the Palestinian people what we have taken from them.

And we should never despair. That is the message of Jeremiah (the other one) and of Tisha B'Av.

Three Short Intentions to Have in Mind When Observing Tisha B'Av

Tonight starts the fast of the Ninth of Av, when Jews mourn the destruction of the First Temple by the Bablylonians. All sorts of bad things happened to the Jews on this day, according to rabbinic Jewish tradition. It is a day of national mourning and soul-searching.

Three short intentions (kavvanot) to have in mind when you are observing this day.

1. When you pray for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, make that a spiritual rather than a physical rebuilding. Jerusalem today is overbuilt and overdeveloped by a combination of market factors, nationalist ideology, and greed. Patch after patch of green space has been rezoned for multi-dweller buildings. Unless you want to curse the city, don't pray for erecting buildings.

2. When you think of "Jerusalem in her ruins" have in mind Arab Jerusalem, as brilliantly described in the latest book by Hillel Cohen: "The Marketplace is Empty": The Rise and Fall of Arab Jerusalem 1967-2007 (Jerusalem: The Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, 2007 (Hebrew). Cohen describes the decline of a once bustling and vibrant polis, thanks to mostly (but not exclusively) Israel's policies since the "reunification" in 1967. And also have in mind the apartheid wall/security fence that is choking the Arab neighborhoods.

3. Finally, some hope: when you think of rebuilding the Temple, think not of some building on the Temple Mount or Haram ash-Sharif, but of all those houses rebuilt by the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), most recently, the renovation of Issa Amro's house in the Tel Romeida section of Hebrew. A great yashar koah (congratulations) to all the people involved in that melekhet mitzvah (commanded labor), especially ICAHD and Bene Avraham

Friday, July 20, 2007

"We withdrew from Gaza, and they responded with rockets and violence"

For the definitive answer to the above canard, from a centrist and key player, who actually believed that the disengagement could have worked, read the important Haaretz interview with James Wolfensohn.

Thanks to my e-friend Sam Bahour for sending this around.

Washing Israel's Dirty Linen in Public during the Nine Days


Dear Magnes Zionist,

Is it permissable to wash Israel's dirty linen in public during the nine days?

On the one hand, there is a mitzvah to rebuke one's neighbor, and exposing Israel's wrongdoing is done as a rebuke. On the other hand, it is forbidden to launder clothes during the nine days, and washing one's dirty linen publicly borders on mesirah and halshanah, i.e., informing to the gentile authorities.


To wash Israel's dirty linen in public during the Nine Days is not only permissible, but actually a mitzvah.

But here I would make a distinction. With respect to petty sins and acts of injustice, those that are part and parcel of the Israel experience, it is not permitted to launder these during the Nine Days. That is because the Nine Days are days in which we are to feel the full force of the spiritual galut (exile) in which we live. Protesting such minor injustices relieves us, psychologically, of the galut guilt.

However, with respect to the major acts of Israeli injustice against the Palestinians -- not exposing these would be akin to not laundering soiled underwear during the Nine Days -- a most unhealthy and dangerous practice that brings disease and even death. And these are the sorts of acts that need repeated public laundering, and that exposing them makes one feel worse rather than better -- because they remind us of the moral rot at the heart of the State that needs to be removed.

So, continue to wash Israel's dirty linen in public during the Nine Days, but focus on the truly filthy laundry.

Shabbat Shalom

The Magnes Zionist Note to my non-orthodox readers: it is forbidden according to Jewish law to wash clothes and to wear new clothes during the nine days before the Ninth of Av (which begins this Monday night), as a sign of mourning over the destruction of the Temple.

RPS (Righteous Person in Sodom) Award

This week's RPS Award goes to the editorial writer of Haaretz who wrote an excellent editorial blasting the Knesset for approving the racist JNF law on the preliminary reading.

Read about it here.

The English translation does not do justice to the Hebrew headline: "Medinah Yehudit ve-Giz'anit" ("A State that is Jewish and Racist"), which is an allusion to the famous phrase in the 1948 Declaration of Independence, "A State that is Jewish and Democratic".

Please read Tikkun Olam's piece, which cites the Haaretz editorial, and the brilliant cartoon by Daniella London-Dekel. And the clarification by Realistic Dove.

Remember: this is only approval of the preliminary reading; it now goes into committee. That is why it is most important to scream from the rooftops about this. The more Israel can be embarrassed in world opinion the better for her and for all us.

There is much more to read in today's Haaretz, and once again I have publisher Amos Schocken and editor David Landau to thank for their being a beacon of light.

I cannot say the same for my Jewish Studies colleague, Kadima MK Prof. Menahem ben Sasson, the chairman of the judiciary committee, no less, and the MK responsible for the proposed Israeli constitution, no less, who voted for this infamous bill. Menahem's area of specialization is the history of the Jews in Arab lands. Perhaps he is trying to create some sort of dhimmi status for Israeli Palestinians here....no, that was not an unfair jab, Menahem

In coming posts I will try to grapple with the arguments -- the not entirely unreasonable ones -- that will be brought in the coming days to justify the bill. I imagine that Israel's neoconservative thinkers such as Amnon Rubinstein, Ruth Gavison, and Yoram Yakobson will come up with prima facie reasonable arguments to support their case. In America, these writers would write for liberal hawk or conservative journals. They are not evil incarnate; on the contrary, they are people to engage, and to be engaged by them.

But folks, the reason I am writing this blog is also to respond from the gut. And my gut says:

Cut the sophisticated legal and philosophical crapola. This Bill is Evil!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Postscript to the Knesset Bill Banning JNF Land Lease to Goyim

Aren't orthodox progressives naifs? I thought that Haaretz's print edition would make a big deal of the preliminary passage of the Knesset bill discriminating against non-Jews that I reported on this blog yesterday. Yet the item got two paragraphs on p. 14 of this morning's edition.

Realistic Dove wrote a heartfelt elegy on the JNF, appropriate for the beginning of the month of Av. Check it out.

According to a piece written by Uri Avnery some time ago, much of the lands currently belonging to the JNF were not bought by Jewish donations, but were expropriated by the Israel government from Arab villages after 1948, and then given to the JNF precisely to preserve the fiction that Israeli institutions do not discriminate against its Arab citizens. As long as Uncle Ahmad and Aunt Jemimah knew their place and stayed in their own shanty-towns, things were harmonious. It was only when that uppity one, Adil Ka'adan, tried to get smart, and integrate a Jews-only settlement, that problems started. The High Court stepped in, the policy was changed, and now the true Zionists have reasserted their privileges.

Will the bill pass? Will it be upheld by the courts? Are separate communities justifable, as Ruth Gavison seems to think? Time will tell...but if you really want to be depressed -- and I can't think of a better time of year -- read the Talk-backs to the Haaretz article.

Israel Racism Watch -- Knesset gives initial approval to bill restricting JNF land lease to Jews only

Jerusalem Post is here

The link to the Haaretz Hebrew is here.

The Haaretz English Translation is here

Basically, the Israeli Knesset gave preliminary approval today to a bill outlawing the lease of land owned by the Jewish National Fund to goyim. It now goes into committee where, God willing, it will be buried. But I doubt it.

Of course, it is against the halakha to sell the land of Israel to idolaters. The fact that Rav Kook ruled that Muslims are not idolaters is a source of unending embarrassment to the religious right.

But the point of this bill -- cosponsored by a member of Ehud Olmert's Kadimah party -- is to bypass the High Court's 2004 ruling that required the JNF to lease state land to Israeli arab Adil Ka'adan as a result of that ruling, Meni Mazuz, the State Comptroller, instructed the JNF not to discriminate in sales. That angered the Israeli legislators, who wish to pass this discriminatory law. The irony is that there was an attempt to prevent the bill from being tabled because it is racist. Apparently, not enough.

By the way, the Ka'dan ruling was praised by Alan Dershowitz in his book, "The Case for Israel."

I am hoping that Alan will speak loud and clear against this racist -- oops -- "Jewish" law, (that is how the proponents are describing it.)

Should I be glad that the racism that is so deeply rooted in political Zionism, and the State of Israel, is being flushed out of the closet for everybody to see? Not really.

But hang on...it is a Jewish state, right? And that land was bought by Jews for Jews. I mean shouldn't everybody have to a right to buy land for her family?

Sure, and I have a legal and moral right to sell only to whites -- right?

Will the Knesset redeem itself? Only if we shout loud enough.

Alan, please make a comment on the Huffington Post today. You say that you have criticized Israel before. Let's hear you loud and clear.

By the way, for a truly bizarre reading of the Ka'dan case by Ruth Gavison, the liberal-hawk law professor turned neocon (on her way to being a female Scalia), see


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

David Shulman's Dark Hope

Some important books have come out in the last few weeks in Israel, and I thought I would mention a few of them in short posts.

First, David Shulman’s Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine (2007, U of Chicago Press)

David Shulman is the Renee Lang Professor of Humanistic Studies at Hebrew University, and a world-renown expert in Sanskrit and the history of Indian religion. The book is his diary of activities with Ta’ayush, the Jewish-Arab organization founded during the dark days of the Second Intifada that provides food and relief supplies for Palestinians and Bedouin.

I read the Hebrew version of the book (Ha-Tikvah ha-Marah) this past Shabbat, and at first I found more marah than tikvah. But then I thought of the activists like Prof. Shulman, and I felt a bit of hope.

I thought I would translate a few pages for this blog, but Prof. Shulman told me that the English version had already come out. So please check it out on Amazon

This is not a book about the peace process, terrorism, geopolitics, the rise of Islam, Jewish fundamentalism, yada yada yada. This is a book about how innocent people’s lives are made miserable on a daily basis, and how Jews and Palestinians have come together to help them. I really urge you get it and give it to your friends and family. Testify, testify, testify.

Oh, heck…I can’t help it…just a couple of lines of my own translation from the Afterword, and may the U. of Chicago Press have mercy on my soul:

"'You shall remember that you were a slave'… 'Shake yourself from the dust, arise'…'To loose the chains of injustice, and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke'…'Whoever sustains one life, it is as if he sustained an entire world'…Did I invent these voices? It seems that they burst forth from the depths of a dream, a distant and troubling dream. To be right – that’s nothing. To be “righteous” – that is the true disaster. But to do what you can – that is everything.

"We know our adversaries, the ones close to us: those who sit with indifference in government ministries, or who are recruited in the army’s high command, or who simply stay at home, apathetic and inactive. We shall meet them at every corner. At every house that they destroy, every olive tree they uproot, every rocky field that they go to steal. We will struggle with them again and again,without violence. We will track, document, and testify, and occasionally, we will stop them. They have weapons. We have each other – and a smidgeon of hope in the darkness."

What more can I add?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Jerusalem Street Scene c. 10 pm tonight

My wife and I were taking a walk on Derekh Beit Lechem, and we passed the 1868 dairy restaurant. "Dairy restaurant" is a misnomer because it conjures up visions of blintzes and borscht, where as anybody in Jerusalem knows, this is a high-class and very expensive fish and pasta restaurant. 1868 is very popular with the haredi set, who look out of place in Baka, but who may come to the restaurant because the supervision is the Chug Hatam Sofer.

As my wife and I were passing the restaurant, we saw a young, well-dressed hasidic married couple. The young man looked at me and said in Borough Park Hebrew, "Would you take a picture of us?" I took his digital camera in my hand, and they posed in front of the restaurant. Just before I took the shot, the young man put his arm around his wife. They made such a lovely couple.

And yet I know many people in Israel, secular and religious, who would take one look at them and dismiss them because they don't belong to the tribe. Ditto for the Palestinians. How many times do we try to look at the individuals who are not member of whatever tribe we belong to, and relate to them as human people?

Appropriate thoughts for the Second of Av.

Justice for Holocaust Survivors' Children! And What About Palestinian Refugees?

Phil Weiss's short take on this extraordinary story is well-worth reading.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Realistic Dove, Mondoweiss, and the Amhaaretz Zionist

Here I am, thinking that I am hot stuff for starting a blog that is neither anti-Zionist nor political Zionist, but represents a line of thought of somebody (Magnes) who was universally dismissed (except by folks like Hannah Arendt), and then it turns out that I have a place in the blogosphere. Place me between Phil Weiss's mondoweiss and Dan Fleshler's realisticdove. That may not be fair to them. They have professional blogs, and I don't know how to type. Also, they're going to hell because they shave during the Three Weeks (wait a minute, I shave during the Three Weeks...ok, so they shave during the Nine Days.)

Anyway, thank you Mobius for making the shiddukh between me and the Realistic Dove....I really hope that my readers from Efrat (you know who you are) check out the Realistic Dove. Pick on him for a while...

It's Rosh Hodesh Av, and I would like to put in my own two cents about bringing together the Jewish anti-zionists and the so-called Zionist left that Dan F. has been talking about I think I have some credentials here because I am a) a religious fanatic who blesses the moon once a month; b) a wimpy liberal democrat who thinks Chomsky is a moderate and c) an opponent of the one-state solution because it shafts the Palestinian people.

What I am about to say seems to me trivially obvious. There is an overriding moral imperative to end the Occupation. That is the platform on which all decent people should agree. There may be moral considerations in favor of slavery, child-sacrifice, wife-beating, and apartheid. I don't recognize any. Ditto for the Occupation.

It will be said that ending the Occupation may endanger the Jewish State. But I say that if the price to pay for the State of Israel is the ongoing occupation of three and a half-million Palestinians, then that price is too high -- and that no decent human being -- and I include all the political Zionist ideologues from Herzl and Weizmann to Jabotinsky and Ben-Gurion -- would agree to that price. Liberal zionists, it is about time that you say the same thing, loudly and clearly.

Who belongs in that coalition? I, for one, would find it difficult to sit on the same platform with folks who think that 9/11 was a Zionist plot. But I would sit on that platform. Because even though the thought offends me, as a Jew and as a rational animal, I understand where it is coming from. And as long as the person who thinks so doesn't want to gas Jews, then she should be part of the coalition. Phil Weiss is right -- this is not just a Jewish issue, this is an American issue, and, of course, a human rights issue.

But we all wear different headcoverings, even those of us who go bareheaded. That is the first coalition. There are two more.

The second coalition is the coalition that I believe in deeply -- and that is the Palestinian-Jewish coalition. The history of Zionism has been the history of Jews talking to Jews about how much land we can morally take from the Palestinians. That debate is over for me. Jews should be joining together with Palestinians -- and the place for that is not only in Israel, but davka in the diaspora communities, where American Jews and Palestinian Americans already have so much in common. I am not talking dialogue here...I am talking coalition. See where you agree and see where you don't agree, and work together on what you agree. And remember -- the balance of power is unequal -- so on matters to be negotiated, one should tilt toward the Palestinian side. (A subject for another post -- what we Jews owe to the Palestinian people.)

The third coalition is the coalition of Jews against the Occupation. OK, I am a tribalist here -- Jews mean a lot to me. Norman Finkelstein, Daniel Boyarin, Noam Chomsky -- all moderates in my book, by the way -- mean a lot to me also BECAUSE they are Jewish. Here, I have gripes on both sides. When Tony Judt and Norman Finkelstein snipe at each other, it bothers me, but both are smart enough to know that they stand together against the kohot ha-tumah (better left untranslated) in the world. And they do...Judt was supportive of Finkelstein's tenure bid after Dershowitz stepped in, even though Finkelstein and he have their "issues". But both are adults.

My request from the Zionist liberals is that they NEVER join the chorus of rightwingers who bash the anti-Zionist or non-Zionist left. Disagree with Finkelstein but don't bash him. In another post I will take Gershom Gorenberg, a guy to whom we owe a great deal for his book on the settlements, to task for this. Have your disagreements, but resist the temptation to look over your right shoulder and say to Alvin Rosenfeld, "Hey, I am your side...these guys are heretics."

I have to go to work. Have a good month, even though everything is the pits here in Jerusalem.

Friday, July 13, 2007

On the Zionist Settlement Enterprise

In memory of my teacher (for one course), Prof. Yosef ben Shlomo, z”l

Bloggers, I am told, shouldn’t write long posts. So I will be long on claims and short on arguments.

Let’s start with some of my assumptions.

From its inception the Zionist movement in its statist form threatened the aspirations of the emerging Arab nationalist movement, and the vast majority of the Palestinian residents. The increasing settlement of Jews in Palestine with the express purpose of that settlement being a Jewish state was obviously opposed to the national self-determination of the native population. Of course, given the context of nationalism, colonialism, and orientalism, etc., Zionism was understandable, and I am not for a minute casting aspersion on the morality of the political Zionists. (On the contrary, the view of Zionism as a national liberation movement is one I basically accept – as long as that liberation is not at the expense of another people with claims at least as equal.)

Hence , the resistance of Arab nationalists to Jewish nationalism was entirely reasonable. I am not claiming that the Arab position was right; I am claiming that it was reasonable. Israel is now nervous about being swamped with Sudanese refugees. Just imagine how we would feel if those refugees claimed that they were coming home to rebuild their ancient homeland.

Even if one accepts the justice of some Zionist claims, those claims would have to be balanced with the claims of the native population, who had every reason to believe, especially following the breakdown of the Ottoman Empire, that in the normal course of things, a Palestinian state would arise that would reflect the makeup of the majority of its inhabitants.

Irreconcilable claims are often settled through a reasonable compromise mediated by outsiders. In retrospect, the Arabs miscalculated badly in rejecting partition, but that rejection was understandable. The Zionists miscalculated badly by rejecting partition after they got the upper hand, but that rejection was also understandable. In any event, the UN ratification of the partition plan did not justify the unilateral declaration of independence in 1948, much less the failure to relinquish territory achieved in war, much less the horrible decision not to let the Palestinian refugees return to their homes.

And now for the question of Zionist settlements. I am not here talking about private ownership but of national sovereignty. (Important distinction. I will talk about private ownership in a separate post.)

Land held by Jewish individuals or companies prior to 1948 should in no way have been seen as automatically belonging to a future Jewish state. If I buy a house “for the Jewish people” in Kansas with the intention of that land being part of a future Jewish state, then this purchase doesn’t advance that claim. Of course, if Jews live in the house, then a democratic government should represent them. But what makes territory part of the state is recognition of that fact, based on international law, treaties, etc.

Territory acquired as a result of the 1948 war belongs to the State of Israel by force of that land being recognized by the countries of the world, and by the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people, as under Israeli sovereignty. This includes the land that was acquired in the 1948 war beyond the UN Partition borders. Without such recognition, this territory remains disputed territory. In the eyes of Hamas, for example, it remains disputed, just as in the eyes of some Israelis, the West Bank remains disputed. Still, I believe that the Israel’s sovereignty over such land is as provisional as are its borders. Until a treaty is signed and Israel has recognized borders, everything, in principle, is up for grabs -- including Sheikh Yunis (today Ramat Aviv -- that line was for Prof. Ben Shlomo!)

Territory acquired after 1967 is universally viewed by international bodies as Occupied Territory. That includes, in my book, anyway, areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

Some conclusions I draw from the above:

1. What counts when it comes to sovereignty is not just what we think but what everybody thinks, i.e., the Palestinians and the world. At the moment, the vast majority of the world, including the Palestinian people, including Hamas, are willing to conclude some sort of peace settlement with Israel on the basis of the 1948 armistice lines. While there is nothing holy about these lines, they are a convenient starting point because of international recognition and the passage of time.

2. That there are Jews and Christians who believe that Israel has a historical claim to Judea and Shomron means as much to me as that there are Iraqis who believe that Iraq has a historical claim to Kuwait. (I am not referring here to the religious question of Eretz Yisrael, which I find utterly irrelevant to Zionism. )

3. Every step that Israel takes with respect to settlement inside the green line should be done taking into account its implications for bilateral relations with the Palestinian national entity.

4. No Israelis should be settled on post-67 occupied territory against the wishes of the Palestinian people, and in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. I think that Israelis have the right and the responsibility to negotiate for settlement for Jews – for example, the Jewish settlement in the Jewish Quarter – but as part of a peace settlement, and not unilaterally by the occupying power.

I wish I had time to argue these points, but I don’t. I haven’t said enough about the morality of the Zionist settlement program. That is a difficult topic, but I think that parts of the settlement program was justifiable in light of the norms and expectations of the time, many of which are no longer relevant.

Again, I am not talking about private ownership, but about national sovereignty.

So, it is more legitimate for Israelis to settle territories that are within their recognized national sovereignty, than for those that are without. Settlements outside must conform to the guidelines of the Fourth Geneva Convention, as generally interpreted.


Shabbat Shalom...please enjoy the Shabbat respite from the Three Weeks, and no public display of mourning, please!

Two Bad Arguments for Political Zionism

1) The Holocaust proved Herzl right. Because of antisemitism, Jews will never be safe until they have a state of their own.

2) Had the State of Israel existed in 1939, a large number of the six million would have been saved.

Of course, neither argument has anything to do with having a Jewish state in Palestine. Even if both were valid, they would not provide sufficient justification for displacing the Palestinians, unless the latter were themselves responsible for the Holocaust. I don’t even think they would justify giving a large chunk of Germany to the Jewish people after World War II, but that is at least debatable.

The first proposition is untested. Since 1948, very few Jews have had their physical safety threatened that was unrelated to the State of Israel. So had there been no Zionism movement, it is not clear that, after 1945, the physical security of the Jews would have been worse off. Arguably, it would be better off. As Y. Leibowitz used to say, Israel has been indirectly and directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of Jews -- but Israel has not saved the life of a single Jew that would have been at threat had there been no Zionist movement. (Well, maybe one or two…)

The second proposition is a historical counterfactual, and hence it has no real force. Let us assume that it is true; it does sound reasonable. But so what? Had Hitler not come to power in 1933, even more of the six million would have been saved. And it was more likely for Hitler not to come to power in 1933 then for there to be a Jewish state in 1939. In fact, it was because of the Holocaust that Israel came into existence when it did.

There are much better arguments for political zionism than these. I will consider them at a later date.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Short takes before cleaning my room for Shabbat

1. Those people who want to guess at my identify are invited to do so via email to me, Jeremiah.Haber@gmail.com. I suppose we should have a contest or something.

2. Thanks to Mobius for mentioning me on his Jewschool.com site The site traffic doubled today (to 15 hits, I think).

3. Why am I a Zionist? Or: what makes me a Zionist? That is the subject of a post in the near future.

4. Rebyudel, sorry about the misspelling of Rabbi Kahane's name. (And sorry to Feigie and R. Nahman Kahane, too.)

5. Good question, amehad -- aliyah has always been the big issue, though not as big now. I will devote a post to that, too. Magnes was willing to limit aliyah, although this was a big deal for him. And, yes, there is no justification (to my mind) for settlements over the green line; all are in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Don't bother to argue with me on that one; you won't change my mind. If it makes you guys out there in Efrat feel better, I don't see any essential difference between Shevei Shomron, Efrat, French Hill, Ramat Eshkol, or the Rovah. In my opinion, Jews can be in all those places -- under a Palestinian flag. (Don't worry, it ain't gonna happen, so no point getting riled up.)

Shabbat Shalom, y'all


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Last Heresy

Hebrew University’s Institute of Advanced Studies is sponsoring a workshop on Judaism and Heresy. At first glance, heresy does not seem such a hot-topic for the twenty-first century unless you live among fundamentalists. But, of course, even secular ideologies have room for orthodoxies and heresies, and Zionism, of course, is the only orthodoxy left for the Jewish people. You can be a pork-eating atheist who spits on religion, but if you are a Zionist, then you are a welcome part of the Jewish people, If you are a Satmar hasid who believes that the State of Israel is an abomination, then you may look and talk Jewish, but “you have removed yourself from the Jewish people.” Ditto for the anti-Zionist left.

I just ran into a colleague who is attending the conference. He is an expert on Karaites, and his paper made the point that as long as the Karaites refused to recognize rabbinic authority, but saw themselves as part of the Jewish people, then they should not be considered heretics. But when in the nineteenth and twentieth century in Russia they saw themselves as a different religion/ethnicity from the rabbanites, then they removed themselves from the Jewish people, and really were heretics. When I asked him, “Are anti-Zionists heretics?” he said, until the Holocaust they were not, but after the Holocaust, they in effect removed themselves from the Jewish people, and should be considered heretics. He said that this was analogous to the Karaites. Well, I didn’t get a chance to talk to him because I was trying to get into my car, and I couldn’t find the keys. But I don’t get the analogy at all. The separationist Karaites saw themselves as the true Jews and the rabbanites as imposters. But the anti-Zionists have no problem with Judaism, or with being considered Jews. They just don’t agree about Zionism.

One of the tragedies of the establishment of the State of Israel was that it effectively destroyed the debate over Zionism. Oh, sure, the debate between Zionists and the Diasporists continued. To some extent the debate over political Zionism continued, although Zionists now assume that if you question the legitimacy of Zionism, you question the right to Jews to exist, or to express their collective identity. But if you ask the question today, “What form, if any, should Zionism take for the Jewish people?” you are looked at as if you are nut. There were people who used to identify what the Soviet state did with Marxism or Communism. But when I was growing up, I used to hear all the time, “Don’t assume that the Soviets state embodies the most cogent or appealing form of communism.”

How many times have you heard that said about Israel?

Sunday, July 8, 2007

The Israeli Occupation of Gaza Continues

Yes, I know, that's kind of obvious. But there are some people who think that because the wardens moved their families out of the prison, the prison is no longer a prison.

Israel controls Gaza. It controls its airspace, access to the ocean, border crossings, you name it. It has placed a land, sea, and air embargo on it. After exploiting its labor for 40 years, hardly developing its industries, and now economically crippling its agriculture, it is still very much responsible for the welfare of the Gazans?

Until when?

Well, it will be legally responsible for their welfare until a strong and independent Palestinian state arises on the West Bank and Gaza, which has as much control over its destiny as Israel has over its own.

And then, Israel will have a long-term moral responsibility for the welfare of the Gazans.

Of course, tell that to the Knesset's committee on legislation, which declared the occupation of Gaza over...so Israel will not have to pay conpensation to civilians for destruction of life and property.

http://www.ynet.co.il/home/0,7340,L-8,00.html (Hebrew) Remember the motto of (political) Zionism -- maximum control over the land with minimum responsibility for the natives.

Sorry to have to moderate comments, but...

OK, it's not because of Ged and my critics that I have to turn on the "moderate comments" option, but because of Italian spammers like Rodrigo. So I will print all your comments, even the ones that call me a traitor, self-hating Jew, etc., but not the ones that make pitches for snake-oil, etc.

Please read the "Are You a Moral Zionist?" post if you haven't done it already. Comments welcome.

Are You a Moral Zionist? Take the Test!

Zionism, like other things, comes in various shapes and sizes. I, for one, am a Zionist who doesn't believe that the State of Israel as founded in 1948 is a good idea; it has to be changed fundamentally to make it into a liberal democracy with a more vital and challenging Jewish component. Political Zionism may have been a reasonable idea at the time, especially if you came from Eastern Europe, but it hasn't worked out well. When Magnes addressed the Jewish Agency and said that declaring a state would provoke unending war with the Arabs, he was laughed at. Who's got the last laugh now?

But today, I want to talk about a different division of Zionism, not one of political vs. cultural, but moral vs., well, not-so-moral. And I have devised a test that you can take to judge your morality meter. I know, I know, this is "beyond Chutzpah," to use Norm Finkelstein's phrase (so don't accuse me of plagiarism!), but there is a point to the exercise.

Are you a moral Zionist. Answer these questions!

1) As part of your education about Israel (youth group, synagogue, Hebrew school, Hillel, etc.), you were told that the Jordanians desecrated Jewish holy sites and cemetaries between 1948 and 1967, but that Israel respected Arab holy sites. Now you learn that the Israeli government had a deliberate policy of destroying Arab towns and villages (around 500 of them), including sixty mosques, many of great archaeological value, over the objections of Israeli archaeologists.


Your reaction is:

A. To feel outrage that you were lied to, and to acknowledge that Israel lost the moral high ground on this issue.

B. To accept responsibility for the actions of Israel, to discuss ways of commemorating the towns and mosques, to issue an apology to the Palestinians and Muslims.

C. To say, "Look, all emerging nations try to obliterate the past of their enemies; we are no different from anybody else. So maybe wiping out the towns was not nice, but that's the way the world works."

D. To say, "Those ghost towns and empty mosques posed a serious security threat to the State of Israel, and we were perfectly justified to wipe them out. Anyway, if the Arabs hadn't attacked us, they wouldn't be ghost towns"

2. You were always taught that the land for settlements in Judea and Samaria were obtained according to law, and that the Arab demand for making parts of Eretz Yisrael "Judenrein" was antisemitic. You now learn that many settlements were built on Palestinian private land, that much private land was declared public land by dubious legal methods unrecognized outside of Israel, and that the distinction between private and public land is actually irrelevant, because all of the land is considered by the world "Occupied" except by some Israelis, Zionist Jews, and Christian fundamentalists. Your reaction to this:

A. To feel outrage that you were lied to, and to acknowledge that Israel lost the moral high ground on this issue.

B. To agitate for the removal of the settlements, and at the very least to call for a complete freeze and a government accounting.

C. To shrug your shoulders and say, "There was a war, and these are spoils of war."

D. To say, "This is Eretz Yisrael, man; if they don't like it, they can move to Detroit."

3. You were always taught that the Palestinians fled during the 1948 and 1967 fighting because their leaders urged them to do so, so they could come back after the Arab victory and loot the Jewish stuff. You now learn that Palestinians were forcibly expelled as part of IDF policy, and at any rate, even those who left voluntarily, or happened to be away at the time, were not allowed to return to their birthplace as part of a strategy to provide a Jewish majority, and that this strategy of transfer had already been discussed by the executive of the Jewish Agency prior to the State. Your reaction is to:

A. To feel outrage that you were lied to, and to acknowledge that Israel lost the moral high ground on this issue.

B. To urge Israel to take responsibility for creating the plight of the refugees, by its sovereign decision not to let any of them back in, in violation of UN resolution 194.

C. To say that the rights of the Jews to a state of their own involved, inevitably, getting rid of a large number of Arabs, and that the justice of Zionism outweighs the resulting injustice to the Palestinian Arabs.

D. To argue that life is tough, that your parents or grandparents were refugees, and that the Arabs themselves kicked out the Jews from their countries, that their own brethren should take responsibility for them the way Jews take reponsiblity for their refugees, that the Palestinians could have stayed put, that the whole damn thing is their fault, and that, anyway, refugees are a fact of life, expecially after World War II.

Well, I'll stop here.

If you answered A or B to all three, then you are an adult and moral Zionist. Pat yourself on the back, and feel bad about being a bleeding-heart.

If you answered C, then you are an amoral Zionist; or to use the jargon, you believe in realpolitik. We won; they lost; let's eat. You may use the language of morality (cf. 3C), but that's just for outward consumption and inward self-justification. The bottom line for you is that even if Jewsact immorally, the only thing that really matters is that are alive to act at all. If "being moral" entails national suicide, then forget about morality.

If you generally answered D, then you are an immoral Zionist. Or you are a moral Zionist, whose conception of morality is that of Tony Soprano or Meir Kahane. In the professional jargon, it's called "Mafia Morality." This usually means that you do an enormous amount of hesed work, that you always have guests for shabbat, that you give a lot charity to Jewish causes, and that you would do anything, anything for anybody who is a member of the tribe. But that if somebody is not a member of the tribe, then he or she has worth only in so far as she is good for the tribe.

(I will have a post later on Torah morality according to Tony Soprano (or Dov Lior, or Yisrael Rosen, etc.))

If you answered B to all the questions, then send me an email -- we should have coffee together some day.



Friday, July 6, 2007

What Hebron Needs is Jews

When will the government evict the people who are masquerading as Jews in Hebron?

According to the reasoning of the Rambam (Maimonides), many of the Hebron settlers are not halakhically Jewish; well, to be precise, one has to suspect their lineage. I say that with respect to the ones who act immorally and cruelly towards their Palestinian neighbors. For whoever acts cruelly, his Jewish lineage is suspect. (Mishneh Torah, Matanot Evyonim 10:2)

When people ask me, "Why shouldn't Jews be allowed to live in Hebron?" my answer is bevakasha, let Jews live in Hebron. But not the pseudo-Jews living there now. And only when it is a Palestinian city in a Palestinian state.

Shabbat Shalom, y'all


A Righteous Man in Sodom -- Dror Etkes.

Haaretz published a good piece today about how the West Bank settlers grab land and keep Palestinian villages from expanding.

Here is the Hebrew link:


and here is the English link


The article was written by Amos Harel, who has coauthored the definitive study of how Israel stole and continues to steal Palestinian land in the West Bank and Gaza.

Let me say off the bat that I can't stand Israelies who demonize the settlers. The immorality of the settlements attaches to the entire Israeli society, me included. I have nothing to say about the morality of the settlers, either, most of whom I put in the "captive children" category (captive of their post-Holocaust trauma and Zionist ideology). Of course, excusing doesn't mean exculpating.

Here is the lead:

"West Bank settlements have been allocated huge amounts of land, but use very little of it, according to a Peace Now report.

"Only nine percent of the area under settlement jurisdiction has been built on, and only 12 percent is being used at all, the report said, citing Civil Administration figures.

"But despite their huge unused land reserves, 90 percent of the settlements exceed their boundaries, and about one-third of the territory they do use lies outside their jurisdiction, the report added.

"The findings attest to the government's ongoing cooperation with the settlements' expansion, Peace Now charged: On one hand, the state earmarks huge tracts for the settlements, out of all all proportion to their size, in order to prevent Palestinian construction in those areas. Yet once an area is closed to Palestinians, the settlers begin seizing adjacent Palestinian lands, often privately owned, that lie outside their jurisdiction."

You know, there is a famous midrash brought by Rashi in the beginning of his commentary on Torah, in which the nations of Canaan accuse the Israelites of stealing the land. "You are listim (thieves)." Now, had the Jews written that midrash today, they would have said thinks like, "No, this is not stealing at all...actually, these territories are disputed; we are administering them; we are able to do things for the benefit of the settlers because of the Fourth Geneva Convention which allows us to do things for the benefit of the inhabitants (even though, technically speaking, it doesn't apply); anyway, we build settlements on public land; the Palestinians themselves have lots of illegal building." Yada, yada, yada.

All the above is crapola. The only real justification I understand is what the Midrash answers: "The earth belongs to the Lord. He decides to whom he can give it. He gave it to you; he can give it to us." (By the way, I wonder what the nations responded to that.)

In other words, if the "Pals" don't like it, they can go to hell, or to Detroit, whichever they prefer. (No anti-Detroit jokes.)

But Israel can't say that, right? And so they have to lie, they have to steal through deception, and they have to do it quietly, so the world -- and even the Israelis -- don't know.

That is why Dror Etkes is one of my heroes. He doesn't sit in Tel-Aviv and kvetch on Shenkin St. He and Hagit Ofran, who is taking over from him, know every piece of land being stolen from the Palestinians in Eretz Yisrael. The evil done in the West Bank can only be done in the dark, like ganavim be-layla.

Will publicizing this stuff succeed? To me, that's not the point. The point is that, like my hero Magnes, he stands up and denounces the immorality and the arrogance of power.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The Fourth of July, Judah Magnes, and the Israel Baseball League

OK, so I just had my July 4 barbecue (mangal) here in Jerusalem with my family. God bless America. One day I will argue that you can't really be unreservedly pro-Israel (in the ZOA sense of the term) and love America. You certainly can't consistently love Israel and be a Republican. But I wander...

I want to say a few good words about the new Israel Baseball League. I know that my friend Dan Kurtzer has moved up in the world from US ambassador to Israel and Egypt to Commissioner (Netziv!) of the IBL. Gosh, for less than 15 bucks, you can get a baseball with his autograph on it.

Kurtzer was quoted by Joel Greenberg as saying:

"'Judah Magnes, an early Zionist leader and the first president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, played second base for the university in 1927 in what might have been the first organized baseball game in the Holy Land,' wrote Kurtzer, who is currently teaching at Princeton."

Of course, it would have been inappropriate for Dan to mention that Magnes was dead set against the establishment of the State of Israel, or that he predicted most of what came to pass -- unending warfare, violation of the rights of the Palestinian natives, etc., etc. Better stick with baseball.

So I would like to give two cheers to the new Israel Baseball League, and especially to the Netanya Tigers and Benji Engelhart. Way to go, Benji!

Why only two cheers? Well, I can't help but noticing that the Israel Baseball League is really the Israeli Jewish Baseball League. What happened to 20% of the population?

It's not that any of the teams have a lot of native Israelis on them. But couldn't they have found room for one team from, say, Um al-Fahm? Or even Yaffo? Even if there were American Jews on the team, at least the team could try to represent the town.

I know, I know, baseball is not a Palestinian sport...yet. I am just grumbling. I do wish the guys and the fans well.

Still, can't something be done to show some sensitivity to the Palestinian minority...maybe at least invite Palestinian kids from the Galilee to watch a game?

I figure that with Kevish Shesh (Highway 6), the highway that stole the land from the Arab villages up north, getting to Kibbutz Gezer, where some of the games are to be played, should be a snap.

Mah man Dan should be able to swing it, so long as he is not accused of being a self-hating Jew. That's how the rightwingers termed him during the years he was one of Secretary of State Baker's "Jewboys."

There are no kosher settlements

You know, back in my (political) Zionist youth, I put down two thousand bucks to join a non-profit organization called, "Reishit Geulah". By doing that I was helping support the creation of a new town on the West Bank, right outside of Jerusalem, called "Efrat".

The year must have been 1978 or something. I remember going to hear Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, then rabbi of the Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York City, make the sales pitch for a model Torah community. At one point, after showing plans for the villas, apartments, shul, etc., a skeptical woman raised her hand and said,

"But Rabbi -- isn't Efrat over the Green Line?"

To which Rabbi Riskin replied

"Efrat is in the consensus -- nobody wants to give it back. It's part of the Etzion bloc. And anyway, we will have good relations with our Arab neighbors."

About a month later, I withdrew from Reishit Geulah and got my two thousand dollars back. They were very prompt about the refund.

The town of Efrat -- arguably the most immoral settlement that Israel has ever constructed on the West Bank (but it's a close race) -- will be the subject of a separate post.

Here I just want to see how Efrat maintains its neighborly relations. Please watch the following video (you have to navigate to the site)


You see in the video a group of Palestinians and Jews protesting the fact that route of the Separation Fence now entails a new path for Efrat's sewage. And the cheapest path is through a grove of apricot trees -- well, what were once apricot trees, until they were cut down. This will destroy the livelihood of the Palestinians who have worked there for generations. No amount of compensation will make up for destroying their livelihood and their way of life. Note the reasonableness of the Palestinian, and the patent unfairness of the setup.

Important! Keep watching the video. You will then see the destruction of the apricot trees to make way for the sewage of Efrat, to the soundtrack of Ana be-khoah.

Now take a few minutes to look at yourself at the mirror and ask yourself, in what way was I responsible for the destruction of the livelihood of an entire village?

Now you will say that this happens all the time in any society. Doesn't the government have the right of eminent domain, which allows it to expropriate land for the common good? The answer is yes, it does, provided certain conditions are fulfilled: a) the government has the consent of the governed and is not an occupying force; b) the public good is not the only the good of the occupier or its own population; c) proper compensation is given.

All three of these conditions were fulfilled in the evacuation of the Gush Katif. Not one of them is fulfilled in the current case.

This is just one of hundreds, if not thousands, of injustices that you will never read about in the press. Since you won't read about it, you will think that it does not exist.

Remember, when an Israeli's rights are violated, he can appeal to the Israeli police, the Israeli courts, and to one of the most powerful armies in the world, the Israel Defence Force.

But when a Palestinian's rights are violated, to whom can he appeal? To the same Israeli police, the same Israeli courts, and the same Israel Defence Force -- none of which bodies represents him or his interests.

More on the poll reported in YNET yesterday

The poll found that Israelis hold contradictory views. For example, while 64% of the Israelis supported a law prohibiting non-Jews from being prime minister (the percentage includes Palestinian Israelis, so actually, the percentage of support is greater among Israeli Jews), 61% of the Israeli public calls for an equal (per capita) distribution of resources between Israeli Jews and Arabs.

The representative of the Fund that commisioned the poll attempted to resolve the contradiction by saying that while Israelis fundamentally hold liberal values, many are afraid to put them into practice because of the security situation. This is a very unsatisfactory explanation. The question was not, "Should an Arab be the Prime Minister?" but "Are you in favor of requiring by law that the Prime Minister be Jewish." No doubt that had the poll been taken at the beginning of the Oslo Process, the numbers would have been slightly different, but not by a whole lot. When the fundamental understanding is that only a Jew should be Prime Minister -- because it is a Jewish state -- then there are no need for laws.

No, the views of Israelis are contradictory because that contradiction is at the heart of the State of Israel, and is found in its most foundational document, the 1948 Declaration of Independence. Many Israeli Jews (though not all -- I know many of orthodox Jews and Russian Jews who disagree) simply want a state that is Jewish and democratic. So when they are asked, "Should there be equal allocation of resources for all?" most, but not all, will answer, "Yes." But if you ask, "Should Arab political parties be members of the government coalition," I daresay that most will say, "No, this is a Jewish state." But until Israeli Palestinian political parties are accepted into the coalition, there will never be equal allocation of resources -- because it is the government coalition that divides up the money pot.

Israel is really a quasi-democracy. It has some of the trappings of the democracy -- it allows Palestinian citizens of Israel the right to vote, for example -- but it rigs the game so that the Palestinians might as well place their ballot in a toilet rather than in a ballot box -- because of the understanding that Palestinian parties will never access to power. I call this "democracy-lite" or "racism-lite". By indoctrinating the populace to accept Israel as a Jewish state, there is no need to legislate against non-Jews being prime minister. It is understood that in a Jewish state, non-Jews will not rise to high office. That's racist.

I want to make clear (in response to one of the comments). It is not that I conclude that Israel is racist because of this poll. All I need for that is the Declaration of Independence, current Israeli legislation, and its interpretation in the Israeli courts. What this poll shows most dramatically is that you can simultaneously be in favor of democratic values, but those values will often be compromised in light of the ethnocentric values embodied in the state.

America is different. Although America was founded as a Christian state, the fact of its being Christian nowhere appears in the foundational documents. If it did, then it would be religio-racist in the sense I defined yesterday.

My wife just heckled, "What about Tony Blair's decision to be Catholic after he formally resigned? Doesn't that show that the Prime Minister of Great Britain must be Anglican?" Apparently, not. Although there have never been non-Anglican prime ministers, there haven't been legal restrictions against Catholics (and only Catholics) serving as prime ministers since the early nineteenth century.

Why was the state founded in such a way? I think that the Zionists wanted to reproduce for the native Palestinians their own alienation from their countries of origin. They were citizens of Russia, Germany, England, Austria, etc. -- but as Zionists their nationality consciousness and identity were Jewish. They criticized Jews who felt themselves to be full citizens and part of the native states as "assimilationists". So when they created a Jewish state, they made certain to include non-Jews as citizens but to exclude them from the nation represented by the state -- i.e., to exclude the nation-state from them, just as they had felt excluded in Germany, Russia, etc.

That is racist. And it is at the heart -- the very heart -- of political Zionism and the state of Israel.

Until Israel recognizes Israeli nationality -- until the nation represented by the state of Israel is constituted by its citizens, Israel will remain a racist remnant of late nineteenth-century Eastern European nationalism.

Or it can remain the state of the Jewish people -- provided that anybody who becomes an Israeli citizenship is ipso facto a member of the Jewish people. So you can Muslim Jews, Christian Jews, and Jewish Jews.

Don't laugh. In the late eighteenth century, the German Jew David Friedlaender argued (ironically) that if the price for German citizenship was conversion to Christianity, then the Germans should allow for a conversion to an enlightened form of Christianity, to which the Jews could submit en masse.

Judah Magnes, my kind of Zionist, had another solution. But that is for another day.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Jewish and "Democratic" -- Israel Racism Watch

Today I kick off a new feature on The Magnes Zionist -- I call it the Israel Racism Watch. Israel is a deeply racist state. By that, I don't mean that Israelis are any more racist than other folks. Who isn't bigoted when it comes to race? It is not the racism of Israelis that should be of particular interest, but the racism inherent in political Zionism, which set at its goal the creation of an ethnic nation state that distinguishes between citizenship and nationality. That is racist.

Is Zionism racist? Not all kinds of Zionism. But the sort of Zionism that is embodied within the state of Israel is indeed racist.

And please, don't tell me that Zionism can't be racist because any gentile can convert to Judaism, blah, blah, blah. By "racism" I mean unwarranted discrimination on the basic of religion, ethnicity, national origin, etc.

For instance, suppose this scenario: 64% of Americans support legislation requiring the president of the United States to be Christian (or White, or Anglo-Saxon). That would get US Jews up in arms, right? After all, even though the majority culture of the US is Christian, and even though the chances of a Jew being elected president are slim, though not as slim as in the past, still -- wouldn't you American Jews be outraged if legislation like that were supported by almost 2/3 of the American public? Wouldn't you cry antisemitism, and rightfully so?

So read this (in Hebrew)


Yup, you guessed it -- 64% of the Israeli public supports legislation requiring that the Prime Minister be Jewish. So the son of the Rumanian foreign worker, who is born in Israel, and serves in the army as a distinguished war hero, and gets elected as the leader of the Likud party, would be barred -- by law -- because of his religion. And the Palestinian Israeli whose has lived in it for generations would be barred -- by law -- because of his religion.

And pulleez, don't quote Arnold Schwarzenegger to me. He can't be president of the US because he is not a native American. But twenty percent (at least) of Israelis who are NATIVE Israelis would be barred.

You may say, "Oh, but that will never get to the stage of legislation"...but that's not the point. The point is that most people say, "Well, of course only a Jew can be a prime minister -- this is a Jewish state." And so citizenship goes out the tubes.

Just another reason why "the only democracy in the Middle East" is hardly a democracy, but rather an ethnocracy which gives lip service to democracy....

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Michael Oren's "New Paradigm"

Michael Oren, rightwing Israeli historian, had an op-ed in today's Haaretz, in which he proposed that Israel and the world forget about the Fatah party and the Palestinian Authority, and instead, give limited autonomy to the Palestinians in areas of the West Bank, with internal security (i.e., policing) controlled by a Jordanian-Palestinian force. There would be some sort of provisions for (elected?) councils that would meet with each other to consider issues of mutual concern. Somehow, I doubt that those issues would include land-expropriations, settlements, control of water resources, etc., not to mention, Palestianian security from the IDF and the settlers. After years of this arrangement (i.e., after the Palestinians behave themselves, and prove to Israel that they are no threat to its security, and they they known their place), only then can one speak of a lasting peace.

Now, Michael Oren is certainly entitled to his opinion, blah, blah, blah, but he is not entitled, as an historian, to write a bald-faced lie, and that is his assertion that the above constitutes a "new" paradigm. This is fundamentally the Israeli position at least since the first Camp David, and arguably from 1967. It is very close to the Begin autonomy plan (if there was such a plan), with a soupcon of Peres' Jordanian option. Gee, it even goes back to Golda Meir and King Abdullah. Central to all those plans was the denial that the Palestinians have an inalienable right to statist self-determination. There is no mention of the Palestinian right to live as a free people in their own land, the land of Palestine, to paraphrase Hatikvah.

Still, Oren's "new paradigm" might work under the following circumstances: Israel would announce its intention to help, together with the Quartet and the UN, the Palestinians to create a viable and secure state that would be as economically and militarily strong as Israel, and that would include an evaculation of all the settlements over the 67 border, the nullification of the annexation of Jerusalem, an admission of responsibility for the refugee problem, a release of all Palestinian prisoners. That help would be contingent upon an orderly transformation of the occupied Palestine to a liberal secular democracy, in which religious political parties (like Hamas) had a place, the abolition of the militias, etc. That would be a big carrot for people that are starving for freedom.

Sounds like a fantasy? No more than Oren's "new paradigm." The only difference between his and mine (neither of which has much likelihood of being adopted by the world) is that were Oren's to be adopted, and the Palestinian people would start blowing up Israeli civilians again, a lot of the world would find their actions justifiable as part of the resistance of an occupied people who have been told that they will not get a state.