Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ahmad’s Key and Aharon’s Key

The key, as is well-known, is a powerful symbol of the Palestinian resistance, and of the Palestinians' claim that they have a right to return to the land and homes. That key is the house-key that Palestinians took with then into exile and that some of them have kept as a zekher le-hurban, a memorial of the Nakbah. As long as the key is cherished, as long as the memory is left alive, there is hope.

Last week, former Chief Justice Aharon Barak spoke of another key, a key to which he has referred in the past as a "golden key". In explaining how the State of Israel can remain both Jewish and Democratic – albeit, with difficulty, and in constant tension – he described the Law of Return as a "special key to enter this state." Only Jews have the key, but once they have entered, there is, or should be, complete equality between citizens, Jews and Arabs. (I haven't yet seen the speech in English. In Hebrew it is here.)

Two keys, then – Ahmad's key, which opens a house that probably no longer exists; Aharon's key, which opens a state that exists, and that provides access to, among other things, Ahmad's house.

That Aharon's key impairs Ahmad's claims is obvious; there is no need to argue that here. But what I wish to show is that the golden key of the Law of Return seriously impairs, and arguably destroys the claim of equality among Israeli citizens that is supposed to be the backbone of Israeli democracy.

Before I explain myself, I will assume as proven the following assumption: That the Israeli Law of Return (together with the Citizenship Law) has no parallel anywhere else in the world. Don't bother to look for any other country that has the same policies as Israel; there isn't any. If you think otherwise, leave responses here. For starters, no other Western nation state considers people belonging to its religio-ethnic group around the world, as already citizens, or potential citizens, simply lacking a formal bureaucratic act. And, to my knowledge, no other Western state lacks a formal route for naturalization for non-citizens or potential citizens In Israel, non-Jews (with the exception of spouses and certain degrees of relatives), can become citizens only on an individual basis. Only a handful – a handful out of thousands – have done so.

To see how the Law of Return inherently discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel (a.k.a., Israeli Arabs), consider the following story.

There is a club with eight members, and the club orders a pizza for dinner. At the last minute, four more non-club members show up. They are admitted to the club and given an equal share of the pizza. Now, the original eight are going to get less. This in itself is not unfair, provided that the eight people, or a majority thereof, vote to allow the others in.

But suppose that of the eight people, six are white, and two are black. Suppose also, that the law prohibits, in effect, blacks from entering, and permits, nay, encourages, as many whites as possible to enter. In that case, the blacks as a group are greatly disadvantaged, not only because they have a smaller overall share in the pizza than the whites, but because they will have less say in all subsequent decisions of the club.

Over the last thirty years of the twentieth century, Israel admitted well over a million former Soviet Union immigrants as citizens (not all of them Jews, but all of them non-Arabs.) That means that during the last thirty years, the number of non-Arabs in the population increased significantly. Had there been no F. S. U. aliyah, the percentage of Arabs in the population would have been around 29% today. Because of the aliyah, it is around 19%, and it has been so since 1948. So aliyah directly disadvantaged Israeli Arabs because their share of the pie (better, of the crumbs), and their political clout shrank.

In fact, since their political clout was lessened, so, too, their ability to increase their share of the pie in the future, at least, theoretically.

Now, some will argue that Israel is a Jewish state, and as such, its Arab minority will inevitably not be equal to the non-Arab majority. Fair enough.

But Aharon Barak claims that Israel can have both the Law of Return AND equality among its citizens, a Jewish and a Democratic state.

This is a myth, and the sooner it is laid to rest, the better. The Law of Return inherently discriminates against a group of people – who happen to be citizens and natives -- on the basis of ethnicity alone.

Say it out loud, and say it often.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Free the Prisoners, and Let Their Rights Be Respected

Some folks thought that I should have posted about the third year anniversary of IDF soldier's Gilad Shalit's capture/kidnapping by Hamas. I suppose the implication is that if I don't, then I only care about the Palestinian prisoners being held by Israel. Of course, I didn't post about them either.

So let's make things clear. First of all, all prisoners being held by both sides should have their rights' respected. Neither side does that. Israel does not recognize captured militants as soldiers, but as enemy combatants, who have only minimal rights. Israel may confer "privileges" on these militants, and often she does. But these are not considered enforceable rights. Hamas, of course, has done much less than Israel, including not letting Israel know whether Shalit is alive, much less let him have Red Cross visits. Both sides are guilty on this, and Hamas more than Israel, when it comes to Red Cross visits, and other fundamental rights of prisoners.

I condemn Hamas for its specific violations of Shalit's rights, but Israel's actions pain me more, since they are done in my name. When Hamas kidnaps an Israeli soldier to use as a bargaining chip, I consider that barbaric. When Israel does the same, I consider it also barbaric, but in this case, the barbarism is done by my country, and not by a political/military organization that doesn't purport to represent me.

Thanks to a High Court ruling, Israel no longer kidnaps foreign civilians and holds them indefinitely to use as bargaining chips. But the security services have near carte blanche to round up the usual suspects whenever they want, including political leaders and folks who have been fingered by Palestinian collaborators, etc. Yes, administrative detainees must be brought before a judge, but the procedure is closed, and while it is a bit better than what Bush-Cheney did, it is still an affront to decency.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Why So Many Israelis Can’t Stand Obama

Months ago I tried to explain why Israelis don't get Barack Obama. Read about it here. In the meantime, it has gone from bad to worse. I feel the hate, or at least contempt, every day. Read the talkbacks in the online editions of the press, and you will see what I mean.

For one thing, Israelis are traditionally cynical about politics and politicians. Just yesterday two former government ministers were sent to jail with multiple-year sentences for bribery and corruption; the current foreign minister is under investigation for corruption, the last prime minister may stand trial for corruption, and there were corruption allegations against the trhee prime ministers before him. And did I mention that the former President of Israel will soon stand trial for rape and sexual assault?) Obama's belief in hope, change, and government ethics reform, holds up a mirror to the ugliness of the political culture in Israel. And nobody wants to look ugly.

But most of all, Obama is the Other that many Israelis fear – black, educated, with the middle name Hussein and with a preacher like Jeremiah Wright. Before the election many Israelis projected their own ethnic tribalism on America by claiming that Obama could never get elected. And then when he did get elected, and showed that there is a democracy where politics and nationalism can, on rare occasion, transcend race and ethnicity, their shame and discomfort turned to racism and hate.

And this was before Obama's speech in Cairo, and his tough talk on the settlements. Now, the mood is pretty grim. I mean, what Israeli wants a black American telling them what to do? Maybe that last line is too much. After all, they hate Jimmy Carter even worse.

I won't even link to the latest diatribe against Obama in today's Haaretz by Ari Shavit, the Krauthammer wannabe, who writes that Obama's only political idea is to be anti-Bush.

But the reason I am blogging about it is that one "talkback" to the Shavit screed that originated from America caught my eye:

The author is "largey" from Palo Alto.

I find it amazing how deeply Ari Shavit misunderstands the Obama phenomenon.
Do you really think that a leader that is simply "anti-Bush" or "Bush-negative" would have been so popular as Shavit points out?

Ari, you simply do not have the tools, the cultural background to explain Obama.
This is a revolutionary leader, proposing reforms in so many fields of American life that you simply do not understand, because you do not understand America.

That about sums up my feeling about Shavit, and the many other anti-Obama Israelis. According to a recent poll, only 6% of Jewish Israelis think that Obama is pro-Israel. Of course, that is not the same as saying that only 6% of Jewish Israelis support Obama, of course, and I have met a few who are supporters

But we have all felt the hate against Obama in Jerusalem in Max Blumenthal and Joseph Dana's video. (Youtube keeps taking it down, and folks keep uploading it, so just google it.) That video is representative of the sort of bums America sends to Israel (you want real hate; look at some of the videos of settlers.) But many more Israelis don't like Obama. That crummy video made at Bar Ilan of the Other Israelis that the Hasbarah folks have been hawking is SOO unrepresentative. I was on the Bar Ilan faculty for 13 years, and I know whereof I speak.

Should the reactions of Israeli society to Obama, the snide and condescending comments in the media, surprise us?

Maimonides wrote in his law code that people who are ill taste bitter things as sweet, and sweet things as bitter. He was a physician and he knew. I may add that the same applies to societies.

Israelis' attitudes toward Obama speak volumes about the fundamental maladie of Israeli society.

Blessed be the exceptions. Whether at Bar Ilan U or not.

Perfect Timing: The United States Institute of Peace Publishes Important Special Report on Hamas

A little-known (yet), but very important special report was published recently under the imprimatur of the United States Institute of Peace. The paper is entitled, "Hamas: Ideological Rigidity and Political Pragmatism," and was written by Paul Scham and Osama Abu-Irshaid.

The full report can be downloaded here.

The report is considered so sensitive that a USIP Editor felt the need to preface it with a "Editor's Note" that tries to defuse the potential controversy. Some examples of his preemptive strike against the critics:

"The authors neither endorse Hamas's actions or positions nor advocate taking Hamas's claims at face value, and they certainly do not argue that Israel, the United States, and the West should drop demands for changes by Hamas….

"Even if readers accept the authors' interpretation of Hamas's thinking, many may still question whether engagement is worthwhile, particularly given--as the report describes--the limits for Hamas to compromise and the very real risk of renewed and potentially more dangerous conflict should a truce end.

"The report argues that it is not inevitable that Hamas will accept coexistence, only that its acceptance is more likely if framed within its Islamic ideology."

After reading editorial qualifications like that, you know that some of the USIP are nervous about the reception of the report. You can see the rest of the "Editor's Note" here

The thrust of the report – coauthored by a Jew and a Muslim -- is that Hamas is a major player that will not be going away, and that in order to engage with it, people are going to have to understand the religious ideology, context and rhetoric that guide its actions. Hamas has shown to be a pragmatic organization, but it justifies its behavior from an Islamic perspective, one must be willing not to discount that perspective, but to work within it.

Needless to say, demanding Hamas to recognize the right of Israel to exist, much less the right of the Jewish people to a state, and demanding Hamas to enter into permanent peace negotiations are non-starters for the organization – as it would be for any of the Jewish religious nationalist parties. But the attempt of Hamas to use religious rhetoric to justify long-term truces with the Jewish state should not be dismissed out of hand as genuine.

As I have said many times in this blog, the inability of secularists to understand religious language and ideology, the need to justify all moves according to Sharia or Halakha, is a major stumbling block for justice and peace in the Middle East.

Scham and Abu-Irshaid's article should be mandatory reading for anybody interested in furthering peace, both among the Palestinians, and among Palestinians and Israelis.

Here is the authors' summary:


  •  Although peaceful coexistence between Israel and Hamas is clearly not possible under the formulations that comprise Hamas's 1988 charter, Hamas has, in practice, moved well beyond its charter. Indeed, Hamas has been carefully and consciously adjusting its political program for years and has sent repeated signals that it may be ready to begin a process of coexisting with Israel.
  • As evidenced by numerous statements, Hamas is not hostile to Jews because of religion. Rather, Hamas's view toward Israel is based on a fundamental belief that Israel has occupied land that is inherently Palestinian and Islamic.
  • For Hamas, "recognition" of Israel would represent a negation of the rightness of its own cause and would be indefensible under Islam. It considers unacceptable for itself the actions of those Muslim countries that have recognized Israel, such as Egypt and Jordan, and those that have indicated their willingness to do so, such as Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arab League, because they have provided no theological justification for their policies toward Israel.
  • Although Hamas, as an Islamic organization, will not transgress shari'a, which it understands as forbidding recognition, it has formulated mechanisms that allow it to deal with the reality of Israel as a fait accompli. These mechanisms include the religious concepts of tahadiya and hudna and Hamas's own concept of "Palestinian legitimacy."
  •  Tahadiya refers to a short-term calming period between conflicting parties during which differences are not put aside. A tahadiya stopped most violence between Hamas and Israel from June to December 2008.
  •  Hudna is a truce for a specific period, which is based on the practice of the Prophet Mohammad and on subsequent events in Muslim history. Hamas has indicated on a number of occasions its willingness to accede to a hudna with Israel, assuming basic Palestinian rights as set forth in the Arab Peace Initiative (API) are agreed to first.
  •  Palestinian legitimacy is a term employed by Hamas to describe its willingness to consider accepting a binding peace treaty, such as the proposal set forth in the API, so long as the treaty is first ratified by the Palestinian people in a referendum. Although Hamas would not directly participate in peace negotiations with Israel, Hamas has indicated that it would be willing to be part of a Palestinian coalition government with Fatah under which Fatah would negotiate the actual treaty.
  •  Although a peace process under such circumstances might, for Israelis and Westerners, seem involved, arcane, and of dubious utility, it is necessary to consider the possibility of such a process because there is no realistic scenario under which Hamas will disappear. Understanding the Islamic bases of Hamas's policies and worldview will be essential for the success of any process in which it is engaged.

About the Report

Very little of the recent voluminous literature in English that has discussed Hamas has focused on how to understand--and perhaps influence--its behavior from an Islamic point of view. We have analyzed Hamas's statements and actions since its inception and have concluded that Hamas has indeed undergone significant political changes as well as certain slow, limited, and carefully calculated ideological shifts. It is now at the point where it is ready to explore arrangements that will allow it and Israel to coexist without episodic violence. Its readiness is based on the framework of Islamic law (shari'a) in which Hamas is embedded. Shari'a both provides the basis for the political actions that Hamas can take and defines which actions are forbidden to it.

Paul Scham is a visiting professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Maryland at College Park and executive director of the University's Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies. Osama Abu-Irshaid is completing a Ph.D. thesis on Hamas at Loughborough University, U.K., and is the founder and editor in chief of Al-Meezan newspaper, published in Arabic in the United States.




Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Activists on the Streets of Teheran and in the Occupied Territories

Ibn Ezra (a.k.a. Joseph Dana) has an excellent post comparing his activism in the Occupied Territories with that of the Iranian activists in Tehran. Read it here. Both activists are fighting injustice and oppression. Both are fighting their government for the sake of their country. The similarities between the two cases should be stressed.

Live Ammunition Against Civilian Protestors. When Israel shot and killed Palestinian Israeli protestors in October 2000, who in the world cared? When it shoots and kills Palestinians protesting the theft of their lands, who cares? But when the Iranian government does it, everybody is up in arms. Only the human rights agencies condemn both.

News blackouts. When Israel launched its campaign of death and destruction against Gaza, it imposed a news blackout on Gaza. No foreign journalists, and few Israeli journalists could get news out, and the latter was subject (as always) to military censorship. But that didn't stop the Gazans from using Facebook and Twitter and texting (though Israel often tried to jam the cell phones) to get the news out. The Iranians learned their lesson well from the Gazans, but because they are better off, they can send alerts more effectively.

Disregarding Elections. Although technically there is a difference here – the Iranian government inflated and distorted the Iranian election results; the Israeli government reacted strongly to the Palestinian elections results, throwing elected officials into jail because they were elected – the effect is the same: trampling on the will of the people.

For all their similarities, though, the Iranian protestors are in a much better situation than their Palestinian counterparts. They, at least, are citizens of the state whose government controls their lives. The West Bank and Gaza Palestinians, by contrast, have been stateless for over forty years. Every day, every minute of their lives they are oppressed by Israel – simply because they are held stateless, and they are governed by a foreign power. And, of course, Israel sees itself and sells itself to others as a democracy.

Would that the world appreciate the Israeli activists like the Iranian activists. And treat the Israeli government like the Iranian government.



Saturday, June 20, 2009

Why Israel Won’t Let Its Arab Citizens Read Bambi

Little of Haaretz's "Culture and Literature" section is translated into English. That is a pity because an article appeared in that supplement entitled, "They are trying to dictate to us what to read." Read it in Hebrew here.

According to the article by Gish Amit, the Israeli government, since August 2008, has clamped down on the importing of all Arabic books from Syria and Lebanon. They based this new practice on a pre-state, 1939 mandatory regulation that forbade the importing of books from enemy states. (Presumably, that meant Nazi Germany.)

This mandatory regulation has never been enforced in Israel's existence – until last year.

Israeli Palestinian booksellers who import large number of books for Israel's Palestinian citizens saw their books confiscated; in some cases, through proteksia and maneuvering, they were able to get a temporary waiver. But that is now over.

How important are these books? According to the Haaretz article, 80% of the books needed for Israeli Palestinians, including children's literature, dictionaries, etc., are printed in Beirut and Damascus. Of course, there are many books published in Cairo, such as the Harry Potter series, and these are ok. But why prevent children from reading Bambi and Tigger, printed in Lebanon

Or more importantly, getting the needed Arabic books and dictionaries at affordable prices.

Now what's the government's case? It doesn't want to support the publishing industry of countries with which Israel is at war.

That would be reasonable if there were an alternative place to get the books, and if the regulation had been enforced at any time in Israeli history.

But this just seems a measure intended to hassle Israeli Palestinian book importers, whose livelihood is at stake, and to control the material read by Israeli Palestinians.

Thanks are due to Gish Amit and Haaretz, for bringing this item to the public's attention during Hebrew Book Week, the national celebration of Hebrew publishing.

A Note on the Iranian Protests and on Israel-Palestine

The eyes of the entire world are trained on Iran, as well they should be. One can only watch with envy at the courage of the Iranian men and women who are fighting and dying for their rights to have their voice heard, and to determine their future.

Gideon Levy wrote about this envy in Haaretz. I can't say it any better than he can. In Iran, a nation is galvinized against injustice. Here, only a handful protest.

When an international crisis is going on, nobody pays attention to Israel. How can Youtube videos about Palestinians forcing to slap themselves by Border Police compete with the riveting clips from Teheran? The last Gaza campaign was planned for the Christmas – New Year's season, when American would be busy.

The international crises come and go, but the longest running shown in town – the Israel/Palestinian Follies – looks like it will play forever. It has run even longer than Agatha Christies' play, the Mousetrap, which opened in 1952 and is still running in the West End.

Remember that scene in the movie Clueless, where brother Josh is watching tv footage about Bosnia, and says to a puzzled Cher, "You look confused," to which she responds, "Well, I thought they declared peace in the Middle East." The audience laughed because Cher confused two conflicts. That movie was made in 1996, when the world thought that Oslo was chugging along nicely, and Bosnia looked like a hopeless mess.

Well, where is Bosnia now, and where is Israel/Palestine?

So what do I do when nobody is looking? Well, I just keep collecting the material. I know that when the situation in Iran has stabilized (for the better, I hope), our mess will still be here.

The only thing I can do is keep broadcasting to a distracted world the "low-level" conflict that is over 100 years old.

Friday, June 19, 2009

What Youtube Finds Offensive

"Feeling the hate in Jerusalem," the video by Max Blumenthal and Joseph Dana, that has been seen almost a half a million times in the last few weeks, and has spawned international controversy, was removed by Youtube for "offensive content." Oh, sure, if you go to Youtube, you can still see it, because folks are always putting it back on for as long as they can. But Max has posted the video here.

Of course, I was offended by Max and Joseph's video, as were many people, left, right, and center, leaving only the morally-challenged unaffected.

But I am more offended by the video that Youtube also removed, only after Haaretz brought it to the light. See this before youtube takes it down. I am hoping that somebody who captures the video puts it on another site.

Filed under comedy: a Palestinian forced to slap himself and sing how about he loves the Border Police.

You see, the Israel Border Police finds it amusing to humiliate Palestinians. Nothing new, there; they have been doing it for decades. In fact, when interviewed about it, former Border Police see nothing wrong with it. They think it is so funny that they put it up on Youtube.

Read about it in Haaretz here. As of Saturday night, the youtube from the Haaretz page is working.

Of course, when you talk to the top command, it is always the same crap: things are better in the last few years, zero tolerance for this stuff, a few bad people, and then, as always, some racist hints about the sort of people who join the Border Police.

In the last forty two years, Jews have been blown up, stabbed, and shot. So have Palestinians. But only the Palestinians have been humiliated, and on a daily basis.

Remember what it was like to live under Bush-Cheney? Remember how you felt when you first saw the Abu Ghraib pictures?

Now think of living in a place where its entire existence for the last forty plus years has been Bush-Cheney and Abu Ghraib. And contemplate there being no end in sight.

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Call Israel’s Bluff on “Natural Growth”

Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote last week in the Washington Post concerning the US demand to stop the "natural growth" in settlements:

What's the issue? No "natural growth" means strangling to death the thriving towns close to the 1949 armistice line, many of them suburbs of Jerusalem, that every negotiation over the past decade has envisioned Israel retaining. It means no increase in population. Which means no babies. Or if you have babies, no housing for them -- not even within the existing town boundaries. Which means for every child born, someone has to move out. No community can survive like that. The obvious objective is to undermine and destroy these towns -- even before negotiations.

Charles Krauthammer has written some very stupid things in the past. But he is smart enough to know that the "natural growth" line is a BIG LIE that the Israelis have used since Oslo to justify the expansion of settlements. Nobody, on the left or on the right in Israel, could write that paragraph and get it published here by a mainstream paper. The "natural growth" (nudge-nudge-wink-wink) argument is designed exclusively for external consumption, for dumb goyim, and for dumber American Jews.

A well-written rebuttal to Krauthammer/Israel's disinformation campaign about Bush Administration policy appears in today's Post by somebody who should know – Daniel C. Kurtzer, the former US Ambassador to Israel. Read it here.

But…you know…maybe I am being unfair. Maybe Krauthammer and the Israeli government have a point about "natural growth." Granted this point seems to apply ONLY in the settlements. (Palestinians on both sides of the border have babies, but I guess that doesn't qualify for "natural growth.")

So I am prepared to support "natural growth" in settlements, provided that it is truly "natural growth". And here's my proposal.

Any Jewish baby born over the Green Line since 2000, say, will be allowed to stay there. Housing can be be built for them, but only for them. Houses that have been built since 2000 and populated by people who moved into those settlements, but who are not first generation of descendants of those living there, will be evacuated. Their vacant houses can be used for the "natural growth."

The pre-2000 settlers can continue to have lots of babies.

OK, so this was not one of my better ideas. It insults the intelligence.

Like "natural growth."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Palestine -- The Case Against Non-Militarization

When the Palestinian Authority, during the Oslo final status talks, agreed to a demilitarized state, I shook my head in sadness. It was clear that the negotiators only agreed because they knew that they wouldn't get a state otherwise. I doubt they were motivated by progressive, anti-military feelings. In Israel, citizens from all walks of life serve proudly in the military (many don't, but that's another story.) The Israel army is firmly rooted in the Zionist ethos of the Jews being able to protect themselves, without having to rely on the good will of the gentiles. I have students from my US university come to volunteer in the Israeli army. Can you imagine a non-militarized Israel? I would like to, but I can't.

What the Palestinians are being asked to do, as a condition for statehood, is to complete the process of emasculation that Zionism began, and if that sounds too old fashioned and macho for a progressive blog, then let me put it another way – they are being required to outsource the most fundamental responsibility that any state has, which is to provide for the security of its citizens. And why? In order to allay Israel's existential angst. What about the angst of the Palestinians?

Now under any circumstances I would consider this to be a huge demand. But when it is made by the descendants of settlers who expelled the majority of the natives, imported members of its own ethnic group to the new state, occupied the rest of that land, and for the last forty-two years have deprived the natives of their life, liberty, and property – well such a demand is beyond chutzpah. It is obscene.

By requiring that Palestine be non-militarized, Israel implies (usually, it states openly) that the Palestinians are being punished for their behavior in resisting a long term occupation, At the very least, it implies that Israel, the more powerful country, gets to dictate the conditions for Palestinian statehood.

So whether the Palestinians decide to forgo a military or not, they cannot make the decision in order to meet an Israeli demand. The last hundred years show amply that Palestinians have at least as much to fear from Zionist ambitions as vice-versa, and probably much more.

But is non-militarization a good idea in its own right? Since I assume the arguments for non-militarization are obvious (militaries are expensive, developing countries waste time and resources on them, militarism is a bad idea), I wish to focus on the case against non-militarization.

First off, a Palestinian military would serve the same function as militaries do around the world. It would be a source of national pride, a place for social consolidation, and, for recruits coming from underprivileged homes, an opportunity for social mobility and education.

Second, a military serves as a place for national integration and consolidation.

Third, a military provides a sense of security, especially for a justifiably insecure people.

Fourth, a military acts as a deterrent for those wishing to solve bilateral disputes by force. Of course, I don't expect that a Palestinian state would have an army that comes close to the Israeli army. But neither does Syria, and Israel knows better than to humiliate Syria (well, usually it knows better)

Finally, if there is a Palestinian military, the incentive for Palestinian youth to join guerilla/terrorist organizations will be diminished.

I have heard all the above reasons from American neocons in connection with building an Iraqi army. When you tell them to apply the same principles to Palestine they start to hem and haw.

There are so many pluses to a Palestinian military that it is hard for me to see what the downside is, besides the obvious ones that militarism is a bad idea for any country, and militaries are too expensive for developing countries.

Perhaps the best idea for Palestine would be for it to have a small armed force that has been trained by NATO and a coalition of Western and Arab states, and that has a joint defense pact with NATO or a major Western army. A country that acts belligerently against Palestine would not only incur the wrath of its armed forces, but of the NATO alliance, or something to that effect. The Palestinian army could even have joint units with the larger army.

Of course, what I would really like to see is one army, with joint units, for Israel-Palestine. Maybe now is not the time, but it is time to start thinking about it.

But, you will argue, there are plenty of countries that don't have militaries. Indeed, here is a list:

Andorra. Costa Rica. Cook Islands. Commonwealth of Dominica. Grenada. Iceland. Haiti. Kiribati. Liechtenstein. Maldivias. Marshall Islands. Mauritius. Monaco. Federated States of Micronesia. Nauru. Niue. Palau. Panama. San Marino. Solomon Islands New developments in the Salomon Islands. St Kitts and Nevis. St Lucia. St Vincent and the Grenadines. Tuvalu. Vanuatu. Vatican City state. Western Samoa.

Do you see on this list a country whose land has been occupied and expropriated for decades, whose people have been denied citizenship and representation, and who will be located alongside the settler state from which it was displaced, and which has one of the most powerful armies in the world, and an irridentist population?

What would Ben-Gurion have done had the UN offered the Jews a state in 1948, on the condition that it was non-militarized?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A 1931 Zionist Proposal for a Federal State in Palestine

Rather than listen to Bibi's speech about his vision for an emasculated Palestinian quasi-"state" (maybe), I thought that I would tell my readers of a bold plan for a federal state proposed by an important Zionist leader of the Yishuv in 1931. This is dedicated to those of you who think that the Zionists believed that the Balfour Declaration guaranteed the Jews an independent state.

I. General Prologue…It is important to determine just relations between Jews and Arabs that are not dependent upon the relation of a majority and a minority. The regime in the country must in all periods ensure both to Jews and Arabs the possibility of undisturbed development and full national sovereignty, such that in no period will there arise the rule of Arabs over Jews or Jews over Arabs. The regime must also aid rapprochement, agreement, and joint action between the Jewish people and the Arabs in the Land of Israel.


V. The changes during the third period.

When the building of the National Home is complete, the Mandate will expire. A national constitution will be determined in a Founding Assembly that will be called by the High Commissioner and will be approved by the Mandate Government and the League of Nations. In place of the High Commissioner, an Emissary of England will remain in the country as an agent for the League of Nations, whose authority will be that of a General Governour in British dominions. Of the powers of the High Commissioner, the only thing that will remain will be the guardianship over the Holy Places in the country.

The municipal government will be free of all external supervision, and will possess independent authority by virtue of the constitution to be ratified. The autonomous provinces will become cantons that are entirely independent with authority granted by the constitution to be ratified.

The Land of Israel will become a Federal State whose governing bodies will consist of

1. The municipal government in the city and village which will be self-governing.

2. The cantons will constitute autonomous states in the Federal Country of the Land of Israel. Each contiguous settlement of no less than 25,000 people will be able to organize into a free canton. Each canton can arrange its own constitution. […]

3. The National Autonomy will have absolute authority in all matters of education, culture, language, in the framework of the constitution to be approved by the Founding Assembly. Religious matters will be handed over to autonomous religious communities which will be organized as voluntary associations, ratified by law.

4. The Council of the Federal Alliance, which will be composed of two houses:

    a. The House of the Peoples, in which Jews and Arabs will participate in equal numbers.

    b. The House of the Inhabitants, in which the delegates of the cantons will participate in proportion to their respective populations therein.

Every federal law and every change in the federal constitution will be ratified only with the approval of both houses.

[…] Arabic and Hebrew will be completely equal in all their rights throughout the Land of Israel and in all its institutions […] The international status of the State of the Land of Israel will be determined by a reciprocal agreement of the Council of the Federal Alliance from one side, and the Mandate government and the League of Nations on the other.

And who was this Zionist leader, who, four years after the formation of the Brit Shalom of Buber and Simon, proposed his own vision of a binational state?

None other than David Ben Gurion, writing in HaPoel haTza'ir , May 20 1931. The text is from the a Hebrew book published in 2008, entitled "Brit Shalom" and Binationalist Zionism: The Arab Question as a Jewish Question, ed. Adi Gordon (Carmel), pp. 311-12. Ben-Gurion's proposal certainly gave the Palestinian Arabs as much national rights as it did the Jews. In fact, his proposal gave much more rights to the Arabs than did the Adalah Proposal of several years ago.

Which just goes to show how easy it is to offer power-sharing when you have no power yourself; or binationalism, when you are a tiny minority.

Friday, June 12, 2009

President Obama, the Holocaust and Israel

When President Obama said in Buchenwald that the American G.I.s who liberated the concentration camp could not have known "how the nation of Israel would rise out of the destruction of the Holocaust and the strong, enduring bonds between that great nation and my own," he may have thought that he was making some Israeli and Jewish critics happy.

Instead, he riled up all the Zionists who cringe whenever they hear some sort of linkage between the Holocaust and Israel's founding, as if the Jewish people would have had no right to the state of Israel had the Holocaust not occurred. After all, didn't Zionism start way before the Holocaust in the nineteenth century, and some say as far back as Abraham? And weren't the Jews forcibly expelled from their land and never absorbed everywhere else? And don't they have the right, like any other people, to live in their historical land as a free people?

Maybe, yes. Maybe, no.

The uncomfortable truth for Zionists is that their historical-rights justification for a Jewish state in Palestine/the Land of Israel was never accepted by the countries of the world. Even the Balfour Declaration never spoke of a Jewish state but of a Jewish homeland in Palestine that would not adversely affect the rights of the natives (not a direct quote!), and we know how British governments subsequently interpreted that. As Chaim Gans wrote in Haaretz on Tuesday, even if the Jews had historical rights to the land of Israel, those rights would not override the rights of the native Arabs. According to Gans, the situation of the Palestinians in 1948 was like the situation of a person who is holding a medicine that somebody sick critically needs. The sick person's right to live takes precedence over the medicine holder's property rights, although the latter is not responsible for the former's illness. In fact, he is the accidental victim of that illness.

I don't buy Gans' argument because I think he accepts here a Zionist historical narrative. I don't think that a state in Palestine was the only option either for resettling Jews (many Jewish refugees ended up elsewhere; the Zionists pressured the world to allow refugees to go to Israel; many subsequently left, many stayed) or for saving Judaism. That is why I think the medicine analogy is inappropriate. I also think that this particular brand of medicine carried unfortunate side-effects.

But he is right that the Holocaust is behind a lot of people's thinking on why there should be a Jewish state.

The Jews were the direct victim of the Holocaust, but inasmuch as the Holocaust was the major impetus behind the recognition of the Jewish claim on Palestine, the Palestinians were also the indirect victims, just as they were the indirect victims of the expulsion of the Jews from Arab lands, and the direct victims of incompetent leaders.

Would there have been a Jewish state without the Nazi Holocaust? The Zionists always say, "Sure, we had the institutions; we had the resources; we had the smarts; we were ready, and we had the motivation. Maybe we got it earlier because of the Holocaust, but it would have come."

Not so fast. Today there are about as many Kurds in the Kurdistan Region as there are Jews in Israel. They have a flag, a parliament, and a foreign ministry. But they don't have a state, since they are part of the Federal Republic of Iraq. With or without the Holocaust there was no certainty that the Jews would ever have a state in Palestine. Yes, they were ready for a state, more or less. Yet given their political and cultural institutions, the Jewish people in Palestine could have been recognized as an ethnic minority, or as national part of a binational state, or part of a federal state.

Remember, nothing in history is inevitable.

And nothing has to remain the same.


Sunday, June 7, 2009

Why Frum Kids in Jerusalem Shouldn’t Behave Like Frat Kids in Cancun (Or Gang Kids in Bayside)

Of all the reactions to the Max Blumenthal-Joseph Dana "Feeling the Hate in Jerusalem" video (see below), the one I understand the least is, "What do you want? These are drunk kids six thousand miles away from home." Excuse me? Max already made the obvious comment that lots of people, including college kids on spring break, get drunk without spouting racist hate and death threats. The better comparison would be with drunken bigots. Maybe gang members in Brooklyn. But leave college kids out of it. I teach at a state university with a reputation as a party campus. There is a lot of (illegal) binge drinking, but little hate crime.

Shouldn't this video be bothering folks in the US who don't want their nice Jewish kids acting like neo-Nazis at a skinhead convention? Don't tell me who these kids don't represent. Tell me what you are going to do about them and the other kids you send to this country.

Something inside me says that if the students on the video started to take off their shirts and pants and make vulgar motions with their lower bodies, that would bother their orthodox parents more than their shouting racial epithets. Am I wrong here?

A piece by Ron Kampeas in JTA was predictably bad. Jeffrey "I-Can-Criticize-Israel-But-You-Can't" Goldberg made the obligatory comment that Max Blumental "doesn't seem to like Israel that much" (which would explain why Max has spent time and money going around interviewing Israelis he admires and respects, like David Grossman and the Ta'ayush folks). But at least Goldberg, unlike Kampeas, showed moral decency by being offended by the behavior of the kids in the video.

I am waiting for a sensitive editor like Gary Rosenblatt of the New York Jewish Week to pick up the story, which is not about how folks in Israel feel towards Obama, but about how some American Jewish kids come to Israel on Birthright and yeshiva programs, and desecrate God's name in public.

How public? Well, close to half a million people have seen the video.

How's that for giving food to the anti-Semites.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Blessed Are the Activists

Obama ended his Cairo speech with "Blessed Are the Peacemakers." How can you not say, "Amen" to that line, originally coined by a nice Jewish boy?

But I am writing this from Jerusalem, the city that knows no peace. And I wouldn't be making a bad bet if I said that there won't be peace for decades, if not centuries to come.

So who do we bless in the meantime?

How about the "Justicemakers"? The men and women on the West Bank (and in Gaza, when they can get in) who fight to protect the life, liberty, and property of those who have no protection -- the Palestinians.

A few days ago, I had coffee on Emek Refaim street with my former student Joseph Dana (the Ibn Ezra blogger) , his buddy Jesse Hochheiser (the Across the Borderline blogger), his friend, Mairav Zonszein, former head of the Union for Progressive Zionists (UPZ), and her mom.

The three young folks are activists in Ta'ayush. If you don't know about Ta'ayush, look at their website. Or get David Shulman's book Dark Hope, which I blogged about here.

Back to the activist bloggers.

Let me start with Joseph Dana, who studied Spinoza with me a few years ago (no comments about heretics, please.) His Ibn Ezra blog is terrific; he has been hanging out with Max Blumenthal recently, and last night went downtown with him to make for Phil Weiss a video featuring interviews with American Jewis-on-the-street. Watch it on his blog or here. (Not for children, but then again, nothing here is for children).

Feeling The Hate In Jerusalem -- The Censored Video from Max Blumenthal on Vimeo.

As for Across the Borderline, Jesse has a great piece about Ezra Nawi, the hero of all activists, a truly great individual.

Bookmark both those blogs. With folks like that, I am looking forward to retiring.

So, once again you have "elu va-elu" -- on the one hand, the young American Jews in the video who are drunk and stoned on their Jewish power, the bigots, the racists, the crazies, not to mention the violent settlers and the Judaeo-nazis, who hang around downtown Jerusalem, City of Peace; on the other hand you have the young American Jews (and others) who come here to protect the unprotected, whether in Bil'in, South of the Hebron Hills, Ni'ilin, or East Jerusalem.

It's a great project. Do you think I can get Tzedek Hillel to be involved with it?

Blessed be the activists. And as for the others, shuvu banim shovevim. Return you wayward children.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

David N. Myers’ “Between Jew & Arab: The Lost Voice of Simon Rawidowicz”

Well, I am going to go out on a limb. If there is one book that has come out recently on the history of Israel and Zionism that you should read, then David N. Myers' book on Simon Rawidowicz is the one.

Myers's book contains the translation of a chapter that Rawidowicz wrote for, and then suppressed from, his great work on Jewish nationalism, Bavel vi-Yrushalayim (Babylonia and Jerusalem). In that chapter, written c. 1956, Rawidowicz called for the government of the State of Israel to admit responsibility for the flight of the Palestinian refugees, and to let them return to their homes. His arguments were both pragmatic and moral. That they were written in a beautiful and fluent Hebrew by one of the most interesting Zionists of the twentieth century gives the chapter special signficance. Why he suppressed the chapter remains a mystery to this day and is the subject of Myers' scholarly speculations.

Simon Rawidowicz was a leading historian of Jewish philosophy who died, tragically at the age of 60, in 1957. A native of Grayewo, Poland, he inherited his Zionism, Hebraism, and the love of the study of Torah from his father, a religious Jew who had learned in the yeshivas of Mir and Volozhin, yet who was attracted to the Haskalah (Jewish enlightenment) and Jewish nationalism. Like other Eastern European Jews of a philosophical bent (e.g., Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Abraham Joshua Heschel) Simon traveled as a young man to Berlin to study philosophy. There he became involved in Hebrew publishing and Hebrew literature. His introduction and edition of Krochmal's Moreh Nevukhei ha-Zman (Guide for the Perplexed of our Time) is still unsurpassed. A scholar recently told me that his edition of one of Moses Mendelssohn's writings was first-rate. Of course, I am familiar with his articles on medieval Jewish philosophy.

Rawidowicz, as a Zionist, Hebraist, and scholar of Jewish philosophy, would have been ideal for the fledgling Hebrew University, and, indeed, for many years he actively sought a position there. But the chair of Jewish philosophy went to Julius Guttmann, a liberal German Jewish professor at the Akademie für die Wissenschaft des Judenthums in Berlin, who knew little Hebrew. Remember that the Hebrew University in its early years, especially the faculty of Jewish Studies that included men like Buber and Scholem, was composed almost entirely of "yekkes", i.e., German Jews. (For years there was no department of German language and literature at Hebrew University – who needed one?) And Rawidowicz, the Ost-Jude from Poland, did not have the academic reputation of Guttmann. Rawidowicz spent some time in England at Leeds University and ended up in America, first at the College of Jewish Studies in Chicago, and then as the first occupant of the Phillip W. Lown Chair of Jewish Philosophy and Hebrew Literature and the first Chair of the Department of Near Eastern and Jewish Studies at Brandeis University. That makes Rawidowicz the first chairman of a Jewish Studies program at an American university, I suppose.

Rawidowicz's Babylonia and Jerusalem, a huge Hebrew work that has never been translated into English, was a statement of his own philosophy of the Jewish people, and of the relations between the Jewish Diaspora and Zion. Unlike Zionists who preached the "negation of the diaspora," Rawidowicz saw an essential relationship between the two poles of Jewish existence. In that sense his ending up in America, rather than in the State of Israel (a name he disliked intensely, as he famously wrote to Ben-Gurion) was entirely appropriate, but had he come to Hebrew University, his ideas would have become more influential. As it is, his insistence on writing in Hebrew in Waltham, Massachusetts, marginalized him both from the American Jewish scene and the scene in Israel.

David N. Myers, a professor of history at UCLA and the director of its Center for Jewish Studies, has been interested for a long time in Rawidowicz, but instead of writing a full-fledged biography, decided to translate (together with Arnold J. Band) the suppressed chapter as part of a larger book on Rawidowicz. In fact, the chapter is only sixty-five pages of a three hundred page book. To fill out the book, Myers has several introductory chapters and nine appendices that include some of the classic documents to which Rawidowicz refers (i.e., the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, The "Law of Return,", the "Nationality Law," etc. Some may feel that this unnecessarily pads the book; I don't. They provide the broad context that is needed and should be read together with Rawidowicz' chapter.

As for Rawidowicz's arguments themselves, some seem justified by history; others not. But the tone of moral urgency and indignation is as true today as it was then.

"The question of these refugees is not an Arab question; it is a Jewish question, a question that 1948 placed upon the Jewish people…Let not a single Arab refugee from the State of Israel remain in the world. This is an existential imperative for the State of Israel from which it cannot flinch…" (173)

"Defenders of the plight of the refugees, including those among the Gentile nations, claim that if those hundreds of thousands of Arabs had not left Palestine in 1948, the State of Israel would not have arisen at all. And if they be permitted to return to settle in the State of Israel, it will be destroyed. Is this an argument of defense on behalf of the State of Israel? Reflect on it well and you will see that they are making a mockery of the dream of Zionism at its core. These defenders affirm that they never believed in the dream of Zionism. They always knew that it could not be undertaken without destroying the Arabs in the land of Israel. In their view, there was no Zionism to speak of between 1884 and 1948. Its goals were in fact nothing but an illusion." (174)

"I am ignorant in military and security matters, but I do know one thing: practically speaking, five or six hundred thousand Arab refugees from the State of Israel outside of its borders are much more dangerous to the state than five or six hundred thousand additional Arab citizens within its borders…Any aspiration that an Arab "fifth column" may have regarding the State of Israel is nothing compared to the aspiration of those hundreds of thousands of refugees who dream night and day, by virtue of their stateless existence, of the possibility of creating a state right now, of realizing this goal in the immediate future." (174-175)

"Never in their history did Jews force refugees into the world. Let not the State of Israel begin its path by forcing refugees into the world." (176)

And, finally:

"May there not have to be among Jews in coming generations those who will call to justice the generations of the gatekeepers of the state who locked the gate to former residents of the land – and who thereby opened, through this closing, the door to their defamers and persecutors in surrounding countries. It is in your hands, guides of the current generation in the state, to safeguard those who will come after you from the verdict of that future day of retribution. May it not come, but if it does come, what will be the price that the children of ours sons and daughters will pay?"

One of the great joys – and weighty responsibilities – of the historian is to reincarnate the forgotten voices of the past, so that we can listen to them and learn from their neglected counsels. The time still may not be ripe for a Rawidowicz, a Magnes, a Buber, or a Leibowitz to be heard.

But that time is coming soon. As Israel becomes more and more deeply racist (Today I saw a big metal sign outside a company that says proudly that it employs only Jews), as its rightwing legislators compete with each other to propose legislation restricting the rights of its Israel's Arab minority, as its Minister of Justice equates Arab observance of Nakbah day with "wishing the State to fall and to throw its inhabitants into the sea" (here), as it forces the entire country into an unnecessary air raid exercise, thus further sowing panic, as a government radio announcer wonders out loud on the air whether Obama is more "Hussein" than "Barack" --

The time for the likes of a Rawidowicz is coming sooner than you think.