Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Sarah Kreimer's Moving on to 'Stage-two Zionism'

Sarah Kreimer, a former head of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), and a pioneer in Jewish-Arab economic development, wrote an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post today, much of which I agree with, some of which I don't. We both made aliyah in the 1980's; we both consider ourselves liberals; we both look forward to an Israel which is not a state of the Jews, but a homeland for the Jews and the Palestinians.

What separates us is that whereas Ms. Kreimer insists upon a two-state solution, a Palestinian state with a Palestian majority alongside an Israel with a Jewish majority, I don't. I prefer the two-state solution (it seems more feasible, in principle, and it has the support of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, as well as much of the world), but I have no rooted objection to some other solution, provided that the solution respects the national aspirations of Jews and Palestinians.

But more than that: Ms. Kreimer rightly wants Israel to become a state of all its citizens, yet in the same breath, she wants it to have a majority of Jews. I suppose that her desire in itself is all right -- a Christian may express a personal preference to live in a US with a majority of Christians. What I fear is that this personal preference becomes a national exigency. And that, I find, problematic.

Once Israel becomes a state of all its citizens; once there is an Israeli nationality (of which Jewishness is a big, though not exclusive, part), then, and only then, can we consider Israel a liberal democracy. A state like that won't be concerned with what percentage is Jewish, because it will be 100% Israeli. (See my post, "Zionism without a Jewish State") Counting Jewish heads should not be an issue. It is not the quantity of the Jews, but the quality of the Judaism, which will determine how much a Jewish state Israel is.

The issue is not one of "moving on to 'stage-two Zionism'", but rather of "moving on to 'stage-one Israelism'. Or, if you like, of returning to the non-statist Zionism of people like Magnes.

Still, Ms. Kreimer and I agree on so many things, that I thought I would show my readers that I am not the only crazy liberal American-Israeli out there who wants to see Israel transform itself into a liberal democracy.

Apr 29, 2008 22:52 | Updated Apr 29, 2008 23:30

Moving on to 'stage-two Zionism'


'Make a decision - are you citizens of Israel, or of the Palestinian Authority?" Yisrael Beitenu MK David Rotem challenged the Arab citizens of Israel in a recent Israeli news interview. Sadly, on the eve of Israel's 60th celebration of independence, ongoing Israeli policy is pushing almost one-fifth of our citizenry - the Arab Israelis, or Palestinian citizens of Israel - into the corner of choosing between being Israelis or being Palestinians; when, in fact, they are both. This impossible choice plagues not only the million Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel - living in Ramle, Lod, the Galilee and the Negev. Rather, it poses an existential dilemma to the basic vision of our country.

I IMMIGRATED to Israel, in 1980, to be part of building a society of which I, a liberal Jew from America, could be proud. Often, I am proud of being an Israeli. When my kids and I push through the Hebrew Book Week crowds, eagerly choosing from among thousands of works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, written in a language that was unspoken 100 years ago. When I go to my Kupat Holim HMO in Jerusalem, and my doctor is Armenian, our pediatrician is a Mizrahi Jew, and the eye doctor is a Russian immigrant. When I walk through the Knesset, and see ultra-Orthodox MK Eli Yishai, secular-Jewish MK Zahava Gal-on, and Muslim Arab MK Jamal Zahalka - all legislating for the State of Israel.

Today, Israel stands among the developed nations as a world leader in health care and technology. There is a lot to be proud of in Israel. A lot to be ashamed of, as well.

In the Negev, the Israeli government continues to refuse 70,000 Beduin citizens the right to settle on lands they have inhabited for centuries. In Israel's mixed Jewish-Arab cities, building permits are denied to rehabilitate Arab homes, while adjacent Jewish neighborhoods flourish. In the Galilee, rather than investing in developing Arab towns, the government continues to constrict their lands in order to expand Jewish towns. As a result, in modern, successful Israel, over 50% of Israeli Arab families live under the poverty line.

SIXTY YEARS ago, the young State of Israel, using the Absentee Property Law, appropriated hundreds of thousands of dunams of land, owned by Arabs who had fled their homes - in the Galilee, the Negev, the mixed cities of Ramle, Lod, Jaffa, Haifa and Acco. Over the coming decades massive government (and international Jewish) investment gave birth to scores of new Jewish development towns, kibbutzim and moshavim throughout the country - consolidating possession of the land. Meanwhile, the Arab towns and neighborhoods that remained continued to be restricted, receiving little public investment, and facing labyrinthine planning systems designed to limit their development, or even re-allocate their remaining lands.

In 2008, this ethnic approach - draconian, yet necessary in the 1950s and 1960s - still dominates national land use and development policy in Israel. Today, if we continue this approach to building the "Jewish democratic state" we doom ourselves to a non-democratic state, known to the world as "Jewish." But such a state will not be Jewish in ways of which we can be proud.

AFTER 60 years, it is time to re-design our current path, with the aim of building a society that fully belongs to both its Jewish and Arab citizens. This aim is not only just; it is in the overall Israeli interest. It also affects, and is affected by, any effort to achieve a two-state solution.

First, despite Yisrael Beitenu's demand to choose, Arab citizens of Israel are Palestinians. In some cases, they are the sisters or cousins of those who left in 1948, who are now living in Jordan, in Lebanon, and in Gaza. In all cases, one million Palestinian citizens of Israel maintain a constant balancing act - between their identification with their Israeli citizenship, and their identification with their Palestinian peoplehood. When their attempts to build a legal home or develop their neighborhood are rebuffed, their identification with Israel weakens. When their country bombs or shoots their people the balancing act becomes intolerable.

Second, failure in building a two-state future increases the national conflict among citizens inside Israel. Since the beginning of the Oslo process in 1993, until its violent interruption in October 2000, most Arab citizens of Israel sought their own civic aspirations in achieving equality in the state in which they lived - Israel. They sought, for their stateless Palestinian brethren, a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

As the prospect of a Palestinian state dims, and Israeli government policies and proclamations continue seeking to "Judaize" the Galilee and the Negev, Arab citizens of Israel turn increasingly to the idea of achieving Palestinian self-determination within the State of Israel. The more that mainstream politicians regard Arab citizens as a foreign element to be contained and later jettisoned in a "land swap," the more these same citizens withdraw from participation in Israeli democracy, and seek their future through increased autonomy - as a national minority within Israel.

AS WE celebrate Israel's 60th birthday, we need to make a paradigm shift, and to re-envision our society. Sixty years after the founding of the state, we must declare an end to stage one of Zionism - state-building - and move to stage two of society-building. We need to redefine our Israeli civic enterprise, not as a Jewish State, but as a Jewish Homeland, in a state with shared citizenship. Otherwise, in clinging to the visions that have guided Israel in the past, we will destroy what has been built.

Israel - within its pre-1967 lines - is a shared home. It is a Homeland for the Jewish people; but it also a home for the descendants of the Arabs who were living here and became citizens in 1948. Over these 60 years they, too, have worked, paid taxes, and built their future and their children's future here in the land of their birth.

At the same time, if our Homeland is to be genuinely democratic, with a Jewish majority, a viable Palestinian Homeland must be established alongside ours - with its own Palestinian majority and law of return for Palestinians. As Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said at the Annapolis conference in November 2007: without the two-state solution, Israel is "finished." As long as only one state exists in this Land (between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River), our Jewish national home will not be sustainable. Sixty years after achieving statehood, our national home awaits this completion.

The immediate steps on the path to this vision are clear. Jettison the settlement enterprise - both within the Green Line ("Judaizing" the Galilee, the Negev, and the mixed cities of Ramle, Jaffa, Acre and Lod), as well as beyond it (in east Jerusalem and the West Bank). Dismantle institutional discrimination - particularly in land-use, planning, and resource allocation - and develop the country for all citizens equally. Teach Hebrew and Arabic as the official languages they are; and teach the histories, narratives and poetry of both peoples in our schools. Pursue "complete equality of social and political rights to all inhabitants" - as proposed in Israel's Declaration of Independence.

After 60 years of independence, it is time to recognize that an Israel that attempts to neglect, dispossess or exclude its Arab citizens is not Jewish; and is not sustainable. It is time to stop defining the Jewishness of the state by the amount of land controlled by Jewish towns or citizens, but by the justice of our society. It is time to be guided by the vision of Israel as a decent, fair, democratic society for all Israelis -Arab and Jewish - as we pursue a two-state solution that will allow national fulfillment for both peoples.


Anonymous said...

Quebcois are a distinct nation within Canada. They are very different from the French of France and proud of that difference, and proud of the fact that their culture exists despite English Canada's mistreatment of them for 200 years.

How is the Arab culture of Israel different from from the Palestinian or Syrian or Jordanian? Where is the literature, art and culture proclaiming their Israeli uniqueness ?

Without that a multicultural or multinational state of loyal citizens is an impossibility.


Jerry Haber said...


You asked a question and I will try to answer it.

There is an Israeli-Palestinian culture, a Palestinian culture, and an Arab culture, that one can look at as concentric circles. Each culture is based on a partly shared and partly distinct set of experiences and heritages. Those who know, for example, Israeli Palestinian literature (I am now speaking of high culture, although I certainly don't want to limit culture to that) knows the distinctiveness of an Anton Shammas from a Naguib Mahfouz -- or from a Palestinian refugee living in Jordan. For one thing, Shammas expresses himself in Hebrew and speaks of the experiences of the Israeli Palestinians.

In fact, the analogy with Canada is instructive. A French Canadian can travel to France and will be perfectly understood. But an Arab in the Galilee, speaking his native dialect, will find it difficult to make himself understood in Morocco. Surely there are similarities between all Palestinians. But the Palestinians who received Israeli citizenship have had very different experiences over the last sixty years from those who did not.

An Israeli Palestinian identity was created, partly, by Israeli policy. Israel was very interested that the "Israeli Arabs" not see themselves as part of the Palestinian people (this has been well documented by Hillel Cohen), but it also did not see them as part of the Jewish state. So it created a separate "Israeli Arab" identity -- forcing them to learn Hebrew, giving them no educational autonomy. Frankly, there were and are some large advantages to this. But in doing so, and in creating an educated class of Israeli Palestinians with a distinct consciousness, Israel laid the seeds for the next step, which is for the Israeli Palestinian intellectuals to demand cultural autonomy.

You see, Ploni, Israeli Palestinians view themselvs as Israeli and Palestinian. Their Israeli identity is important to them. They have grown up in their villages and in cities, with a sense of both identities -- just as, say, a Jewish American, feels both, despite that they are officially excluded from the nation-state. German Jews were excluded from their nation state, but they saw themselves as Germans, and they had a distinct identity as German.

As long as Israel defines itself as a Jewish state, and gives groups like the religious nationalist and the haredi educational autonomy, then the Israeli Palestinians demand for similar autonomy is only fair. Once Israel becomes a state of all its citizens, like every other liberal democracy on the face of the earth, then Israeli Palestinian culture will be respected, fostered, and perhaps even funded by the state.

Jerry Haber said...

PS to Ploni,

My arguments assumed a two-state solution. But needless to say, if one were talking about a one-state solution, then there would have to be steps taken to forge a Palestinian identity that would transcend the differences between the Palestinians living in Israel and in Palestine. One can imagine social problems that would fade over time (worse, say, then the problems between East and West Germans).