Saturday, July 31, 2010

The ADL’s Selective Sensitivity to “Sensitivities”

The Anti Defamation League has been pummeled by nearly everybody, including the liberal hawk Jonathan Chait in the New Republic and Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic, for supporting the demand of Newt Gingrich and some rightwingers to move the Cordoba Islamic Center from its proposed lower Manhattan site. Under the guise of sensitivity to the victims of the 9/11 attack, it signs on to the religious bigotry of the Christian right.

But when it comes to the Simon Wiesenthal Center's building the Museum of Tolerance on the oldest and largest Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem, the ADL has no problem backing the legal rights of the Wiesenthal Center and turning a deaf ear to the sensitivities of the Palestinian Muslims.

It wasn't always like that. When the Jerusalem Mammilla Cemetery controversy came up, the ADL first proposed suspending the construction of the Museum

The ADL believes that a Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem can be an important institution for educating against bias and for respect and understanding. We trust that the same tenets that undergird [sic] the museum's mission will be applied to finding a resolution to address the concerns of the Muslim community and the families of those whose graves have been discovered…To do less would weaken the foundation upon which a museum of tolerance stands.

This sensitivity was at the time hailed by opponents of the Museum and was criticized, of course, by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Consistent? Not exactly. The ADL later reversed its position. According to its website,

Update: Following discussions in Israel, ADL withdrew its call for halting construction on the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem.

So why is it ok to be sensitive to the feelings of some victims of al-Qaeda Jihadists (not Muslims, and, by the way, Muslims were also killed in 9/11). But it is not ok to be sensitive to the feelings of Palestinian Muslims?

Apparently for the ADL, the value of support for Israel trumps the value of religious tolerance.

Of course, the cases themselves are not comparable. One consists of building a Jewish museum (let's face it: the story of the Jews will play a big role in the Museum of Tolerance) on the top of one of the last visibly Muslim Palestinian landmarks in West Jerusalem, expropriated from the owners against their will. The other consists of building a mosque near a site that has nothing to do with it.

Perhaps some Christians are offended when those they consider to "Christ killers" wish to build a synagogue nearby? This sort of sensitivity we have to pay attention to?

I am waiting to see the following retraction on the ADL website.

Update: Following discussions in America, ADL withdrew its call to move the Islamic Center in lower Manhattan

Thursday, July 29, 2010

What Do the Palestinians Really Want?

What do the Palestinians really want? I get asked that question a lot. Actually, I get the answer a lot, not from Palestinians, but usually by Jews, who introduce their answer with the line, "You know what the Palestinians really want, don't you"? The answer is, "No, I don't." Palestinians society, like any society, is composed of many voices, and there is no one answer. And what people want changes with time and circumstances.

A June 2010 poll of Palestinian attitudes towards the Clinton parameters and the Geneva Initiative was conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (Khallil Shikaki's outfit). Recall that the six main features of the two-state plans are a) borders based on the 1967 "Green Line" with land swaps; b) most Palestinian refugees resettled in the Palestinian state; c) Jerusalem divided with Arab neighborhoods under Palestinians sovereignty, and Jewish neighborhoods under Jewish sovereignty; d) a nonmilitarized Palestinian state; e) Israel retaining security arrangements in the West Bank; f) the compromise constituting the end of conflict with no sides having further claims.

So here's a quick quiz. Which of the above six received the least support among the Palestinians?

If you guessed "refugees" or "Jerusalem," you would be wrong. If you think that the Palestinians have adopted a strategy of stages, in which they will get some of what they want now and continue to press for further demands later, guess again. A greater percentage of Palestinians supported the "end of conflict" feature than any other.

No, the correct answer is "nonmilitarization". A whopping 70% of the Palestinians polled opposed the creation of a nonmilitarized Palestinian state. 49% opposed the compromise on refugees, and 62% oppose the compromise on Jerusalem, where the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter would come under Israeli sovereignty. 57% opposed the security arrangements.

The authors of the survey took note of this and write:

[Nonmilitarization] receives the lowest level of support by Palestinians. Unlike the refugees and Jerusalem components, this issue has not received due attention in public discourse, as it should, since it may become a major stumbling block in the efforts to reach a settlement.


The percentages are slightly more favorable to the two-state compromises on the table than in a poll taken a year ago. So that may give some comfort to the Geneva folks. But they still very far from supporting the Geneva parameters. That is also true of the Israeli side.

Why do so many Palestinians oppose nonmilitarization? I don't think the answer is the limiting of Palestinian sovereignty, though that is an important feature. It is more likely the damage to their national security and dignity. The Palestinians have suffered for close to a century, with important deteriorations in their position in 1948, 1967, 1988, and 2000. A multinational force may provide some security, but past experience shows that this is questionable. A multinational force would certainly rob Palestinians of their national dignity.

I presented the case against Palestine's nonmilitarization here. The response I received (from Benny Morris, among others) was that the Palestinians had already agreed more or less to a light police force, implying that I was being more Catholic than the Pope. But pace the critics, none of whom was willing to contemplate a nonmilitarized Israel, it was not the Palestinians who had agreed to a light police force but only the PLO leadership – just another instance of the PLO brass being out-of-sync with ordinary Palestinians, and the latter being in sync with ordinary Israeli Jews.

If you support a nonmilitarized Palestinian state, you are opposed to a genuine two-state solution. You are locked in an internal contradiction. Perhaps we should start calling such compromise proposals the "Jew-state solution" where the Jews get their own state and decide on how much of a state to give the Palestinians.

So what do the Palestinians want? I imagine that they want nothing less than what the Israelis want: a sovereign state with Jerusalem as its capital, with control over its destiny, security from its neighbors, and life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for its citizens.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Avrum Burg’s New Party-Concept

Political parties in Israel usually crop up prior to elections, and then the parties are launched with a press-conference in which principles are stated and members are introduced. Avrum Burg, former MK from the Labor Party, Speaker of the Knesset, and head of the Jewish Agency, decided to launch his new party (does it exist yet?) with an op-ed in Haaretz. You have to wade through two-thirds of the piece before you get the money passages:

The time has come for an Israeli party, a Jewish-Arab party, that will carry the banner of total commitment to equality, without a trace of discrimination and racism. It will be without Meretz's complications and Hadash's baggage. A party that will sail far beyond the paradigms of classic Zionism, which to this day ignores the place of Israel's Arabs. A party that will demand full equality for all Israel's citizens, the kind of equality we demand for the Jews in the Diaspora wherever they live.

The party Israel Equality (Shivyon Yisrael -- with the acronym Shai in Hebrew, gift -- will fight for a state that will be a total democracy; everything else will be either personal or on the community level. The party will wrestle with the sanctimonious internal contradiction of "a Jewish and democratic state," which means a great deal of democracy for the Jews and too much Jewish nationalism for the Arabs. It will be the party of those who are committed to the supreme universal and Israeli cultural values of human dignity, the search for peace and a desire for freedom, justice and equality.

Those who vote for it and its candidates will accept the definition of Israel as "a state whose regime is democratic and egalitarian, and which belongs to all its citizens and communities. The state in which the Jewish people have chosen to renew their sovereignty and where they realize their right to self-determination." The practical expression of this commitment will be a supreme effort to change the social balance of power, which is unjust, to give equal opportunities to the entire population in Israel, regardless of national background, ethnic origin, race, sex or sexual preference.

Hats off to Avrum Burg for thinking outside the box. Politically, this is very different from the Jewish parties that trace back to 1948. And he talks the language of liberal democracy unapologetically.

Most Zionists will label Burg's party as "post-Zionist" but it is Zionist, since Israel is described as "The state in which the Jewish people have chosen to renew their sovereignty and where they realize their right to self-determination." But Burg and his party need to elucidate more here, and I have some questions:

  1. Exactly how is Jewish sovereignty realized in a state of all its citizens? What is the relationship between Jewish sovereignty and Israeli sovereignty, between the Jewish nation and the Israeli nation? A people can have self-determination in an ethnic state, or as an ethnic majority in a multiethnic state, or even as an ethnic minority in a multiethnic state. But sovereignty? That sounds odd, unless Burg is referring to sovereignty over the Jewish people, not the Israeli people.


  2. Why does Burg use in his op-ed the old-fashioned term "Israeli Arabs" rather than "Palestinian Israelis," which is preferred by many of them? Sometime in the late sixties, American blacks starting calling themselves, "Afro-Americans" or "African Americans" rather than "Negroes" or "Colored." That decision was respected by the white majority. Is he using the old Zionist term to appeal to a traditional Israeli electorate?


  3. Is the new party a Jewish party with a sprinkling of Arabs, or a genuine Jewish-Arab party? If the latter, then wouldn't it have been better to have a roll-out with a Jew and an Arab? Once again, my fear is that sensitivity to the electorate's ethnic biases and paternalism will doom the partnership from the beginning.


  4. In the op-ed Burg says the party will be free of the "complications" of Meretz and the "baggage" of Hadash. To what "baggage" is he referring? To its origins as the Israel Communist Party? Surely that means nothing nowadays to its electorate. Or does he mean the "baggage" associated with an Arab-Jewish party that has been regularly demonized by the Jewish electorate and permanently in the opposition? I suspect that Burg's new party is intended to be a hybrid of both Meretz and Hadash without the associated stigmas in the eyes of the Israeli Jewish electorate. Ideologically, however, it appears closer to Hadash. And so then the question becomes, why add a new party? And the answer presumably will be pragmatic; even though many more Jews vote for Hadash than ever before, the party's attractiveness to Jews is limited. So we now need a Jewish version of Hadash to appeal to a progressive Jewish electorate (and its supporters) who cannot bring themselves, for ethnic reasons, to support Hadash. If that is the case, then the party will not hurt Hadash as much as it will hurt Meretz.

If this party is really a new and improved version of Meretz, a Meretz, "re-Gifted," as it were, then that would indeed be interesting, but not sufficient. Meretz was combined originally from the parties of Mapam, Ratz, and Shinui. I would be happier with a party combined of Hadash and Shay – a "New Gift", as it were. That would be not just interesting but exciting

But it is still much too early to form a final judgment. Welcome back, Mr. Burg, to Israeli politics.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Company I Keep

I have tried very hard in my blog not to go after bloggers on the right side of the aisle. Needless to say, there are a lot of people out there who don't agree with me, some on the left, most on the right, and many people who agree with some but not all of the things I say. If I have a criticism to make of Israeli policy, doesn't it make more sense that I focus on the policy than on the bloggers who defend it (unless they have arguments that deserve to be answered)? True, I went after Alan Dershowitz when he incited against a good man and honorable Jew like Richard Goldstone. (Compare his screed with the recent response of the IDF MAG to the UN to the report, which although it disagrees with the main conclusions of the report, treats it respectfully, and does not dismiss any of the testimonies therein.) But I also gave him the courtesy of responding to his (rather bizarre) brief against Goldstone.

But some people I admire and respect have been repeatedly slandered and smeared by rightwing bloggers, and common decency requires that I not be silent and rise to defend them. Of course, they don't need my defense, and who knows, maybe if I were on the radar screen of the smearers, their slime would be directed to me. But I have a feeling that some of the smearers may be treating me with kid gloves because of my so-called credentials, credentials that are irrelevant to the arguments, but which they themselves lack.

And what may those be? Well, the fact that I a modern orthodox Jew, an American Israeli who has raised his children in Israel (all four of them veterans of the IDF, two officers), and a Jewish studies academic, makes me a less obvious target than a Chas Freeman or a Steven Walt for the "anti-Semite" slur or than Phil Weiss or Richard Silverstein for the "self-hating Jew" slur. Or maybe it is just the primitiveness of my blog (or the infrequent posts, or the numerous typos, as one uncharitable critic pointed out) that protects me. In any event, a rash of smears against my fellow bloggers, culminating in a particularly disgusting smear by association published in Tablet – in this case, the association is between the bloggers and some of their commenters, ribono shel olam! -- drives me to speak out.

I am very familiar with the writings of Stephen Walt, Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Sullivan, Jim Lobe, and Phil Weiss on Israel, and I can tell you that not only are they generally spot on in their analyses, but their criticisms, if taken seriously by the US and Israel, would only advance the cause of peace and justice in the region, and the security of Israelis and Palestinians. Nor are they significantly different in their views from a host of Israeli journalists, commentators, and politicians, not to mention human rights activists.

By contrast, the writer who published the scurrilous attack in Tablet, and a certain journalist/blogger who writes for the Atlantic, and who is increasingly known more for his ad hominems, which are cited in the aforementioned Tablet article, than for his arguments, advocate policies that lead, in my humble opinion, to undermining the existence of the state founded in 1948, and to any form of Zionism. Now even if this effect is appreciated by anti-Semites, that doesn't make the Tablet writer or the Atlantic blogger an anti-Semite.

I don't need to respond to the charges brought without a scrap of evidence in Tablet; Steven Walt does that well, if a bit too charitably for my taste. But I hope that Tablet gives space to the smeared bloggers to respond. So far the webzine seems to represent a center right status quo position on Israel, with a token nod (rarely) to progressives like Daniel Luban. If I am right, then its Israel opinion pieces will be read by young orthodox Jewish Republicans and by nobody else.

IDF’s Report to the UN: We Didn’t Do Anything Wrong, But We Will Try Hard Not to Do It Next Time

The above title basically sums up the response of the IDF to the United Nations Human Rights Council and the UN, which you can read here. The response is getting headline news because of the IDF's pledge to take more care "next time" to minimize damage to civilians, despite the fact that it took so much care this time. This is the sort of lawyer's report that only an Alan Dershowitz can love. The report goes case by case over the major allegations of war crimes and, with a few well-publicized exceptions, accepts the soldiers' version of events each time. In almost every case where an action has "collateral damage," we hear both that the action was a military necessity, but that steps will be taken to reduce the collateral damage next time. In the case of the bombing of the mosque, we are told that the soldiers were not aware that it was a mosque; ditto for the market, etc. You mean to tell me that the IDF can know when a Hamas operative is going to the bathroom, but they can't trouble themselves to know (except too late) when a building is a mosque because it is "lacking a tall minaret." What is the IDF's solution? Better maps next time. I mean, if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you.

As for the Goldstone Report inference that the IDF deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure, which is a war crime, it will come as no surprise that no IDF personnel admitted to this.

By the way, remember the debate between Judge Goldstone and Dore Gold at Brandeis – when Judge Goldstone claimed that the mosque was damaged by IDF shrapnel and Gold denied that the IDF had anything to do with it? How many supporters of Israel in that room would have unhesitatingly accepted Gold's position, despite the fact that, unlike Goldstone, he had not been to Gaza and seen the shrapnel? They would have followed him into the wilderness simply because he was defending Israel, and because it is a dogma that one accepts as true what any Israeli defender is saying. And yet later, the IDF changed its story on the mosque, just like it changed its story on the use of white phosphorus. Here, too, it claims that the use of the latter was legal and necessary; once again, it now promises not to use it in similar circumstances in the future.

Doesn't anybody in the MAG's office see the contradiction between claiming military necessity on the one hand, and suggesting that less lethal measures will be taken in similar circumstances in the future?

Nevertheless, despite the elegant whitewash, the MAG should receive two cheers for its ongoing investigations, which is already getting members of the IDF angry. In the report we are told of the measures that will be taken in the future to minimize civilian casualties. Of course, we are not told of the measures that will be taken to curtail the number of MAG investigations; stay tuned for that. After all, we all remember the response to the Second Lebanese war, in which the fear was that the every soldier would have to be accompanied by a lawyer. Now commanders are grumbling that the MAG investigates for the sake of the United Nations. What's the point, since the UN will reject the report, and rightfully so.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Nine Reasons for Fasting on the Ninth of Av

Haaretz writer Anshel Pfeffer argues here that it is "wrong" for a Jew today to fast on the Ninth of Av (Tisha b'Av). He claims that Jews traditionally mourned either the exile from the Land of Israel, or the destruction of the Temple. Mourning the Jewish exile is not relevant since nowadays that exile is voluntary; mourning the destruction of the Temple is also not relevant since most Israelis, including religious Israelis, don't really want to see it rebuilt. Both arguments are based on standard Zionist myths and misunderstandings of history and Judaism. For example, Pfeffer writes:

If Tisha B'Av is meant to mark the exile of the Jewish people, then it's no longer relevant. For a decade now, there has not been one Jew around the world who was not free to return to Zion. Ever since the quiet exodus of the last Jews of Syria, in the late 1990s, there has not been a country anywhere that has forbidden its Jewish citizens to leave. Even the 20,000 Jews in Iran can emigrate; they choose not to for financial reasons. They cannot receive a fair price for their homes, property and businesses should they leave.

The argument fails because a) Tisha B'Av was never meant to mark the exile of the Jewish people, and b) the "exile" that Zionists like Pfeffer refer to is a myth whose origin postdates the institution of the fast day. According to all serious historians, Jewish and otherwise, the last mass exile from the land of Israel was in 586 B.C.E., and that lasted approximately 70 years. When Jews returned in 516, many, if not most, preferred to stay in the diaspora. During the time of the Second Temple, according to the foremost historian of the period, Menachem Stern, "the total Jewish population of the Roman Empire outside Palestine and of the Parthian Empire…considerably exceeded the number of Jews living in their homeland." (The Jewish People in the First Century, 1:122).

In other words, since 516, whenever massive numbers of Jews left the land of Israel/Palestine, they did so voluntarily. (Even a Zionist historian like Anita Shapira says flatly that "historians don't deny" that there was no Roman exile. See her review essay of Shlomo Sand, When and How Was the Jewish People Invented here) And when they returned, they also did so voluntarily…well, at least until the Zionists tried to arrange that they could immigrate only to the State of Israel. Jews were prevented from immigrating to the Land of Israel after the Zionist enterprise was launched – considerably after the institution of the Ninth of Av Fast.

If the Ninth of Av Fast was not instituted with a mythical exile in mind, it also has nothing to do with the desire to rebuild the Temple. True, that desire is ubiquitous in rabbinic Judaism. But nowhere is the Jew told that he fasts on the Ninth of Av because he has been prevented from building the Temple.

It is surprising that Pfeffer doesn't refer to the events associated with the Ninth of Av cited in the authoritative code of rabbinic law, the Mishnah. On that day, it was decreed that the Hebrews liberated from Egypt would not enter the Land of Canaan; the first and second Temples were destroyed, Beitar (the stronghold of Bar Kokhbah) was captured, and Jerusalem was devastated. And, according to Jewish tradition other disastrous events occurred on the Ninth of Av, such as the expulsion and exile (a real one, this time) of the Jews from Spain in 1492.

Pfeffer ends his article with the following challenge:

The only ideologies that can justify continuing this observance are those that see democratic Israel as a heretic entity defying the majesty of God on earth. But if you are not a member of the Eda Haredit or a settler from Yitzhar, how can you mourn on Tisha B'Av in good conscience?

All right, Mr. Pfeffer, here are 9 reasons why a Jew today in "democratic Israel" should fast on Tisha B'Av. They may not impress those Zionists – religious or secular – who appeal to ideology in order to throw off the yoke of halakha (Let's face it: fasting is a pain). But at least some of the reasons may appeal to people of "good conscience," whether secular or religious.

First, for religious Jews Jewish Law mandates mourning practices on the Ninth of Av, including, but not limited to, fasting. Whether one is in a mourning "frame-of-mind" or not, one is halakhically obligated to observe these practices. Even God, much less his prophets, cannot change Jewish law; for that. there are mechanisms within Jewish law. So if by "reason" one means motivation for observance, then religious commitment to observance is reason enough.

Second, although the Jew is obligated by Jewish law to observe these practices, he or she also should also try to find them meaningful. And while Pfeffer belittles historical commemoration (one wonders what he thinks of Israeli Independence Day or Yom Ha-Shoah), he gives no reason for his devaluation. An historical dimension – or, if you like, the dimension of collective memory – is part and parcel of almost every Jewish holiday, with the possible exception of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And these too, while they do not commemorate any particular event, certainly commemorate religious practices in the life of the nation on those days. Why single out the Ninth of Av, unless feasting for an irrelevant historical reason is better than fasting for one.

Third, beyond the historical dimension of the actual horrific events, there is the religious/moral dimension. The Second Temple, we are told, was destroyed because of greed and baseless hatred. We read of the tragedies described in Lamentations, and in the religious elegies from the time of the Babylonian exile to the present. Should these be forgotten? And if they are tied to religious and moral failings, how can one not mourn our failings "in good conscience"?

These reasons are more than sufficient, in my opinion. But here are a few more that will appeal to folks of my ilk.

Fourth, how can one not mourn in good conscience the daily hamas/injustice perpetrated in Jerusalem by Israeli Jews against the Palestinians? Think of Silwan, where Palestinians, who are not allowed to build legally, see their houses and their history destroyed, replaced by Jewish settlement and an "archaeological park" commemorating – only – the Jewish past (real and invented)?

Fifth, how can one not mourn in good conscience the hamas perpetrated against the Palestinian families evicted from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah quarter of Jerusalem? (An event on Tisha B'Av organized by the Sheikh Jarrah activists will take place at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem on Monday night. For details, see here).

Sixth, how can one not mourn in good conscience the discriminatory laws against the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem in housing and in the freedom of movement caused by the accursed land-grab wall, may it be speedily destroyed? (For a refutation of the myth that the wall saves lives, see here.)

Seventh, how can one not mourn in good conscience the daily destruction of Jerusalem through the greed of overdevelopment, through failing to preserve buildings slated for preservation, through grandiose projects such as the Holy Land development, the closing of the Jerusalem Swimming Pool, the German Colony hotels, the elimination of green spaces, etc., etc.?

Eighth, how can one not in good conscience mourn the death not only of Jerusalemite Rabbi Yehuda Amital, z"l, but of his sane and pragmatic version of religious Zionism – and the temporary triumph of a religious Zionism that worships stones and trees, makes a fetish of the Temple, and sacrifices so much of what is good and just in Judaism on the altar of racist and fascist nationalism? (NB: I realize that many religious Zionists who did not support Rabbi Amital politically do not fall in this heretical category.)

Ninth, how can one not mourn in good conscience the mental and spiritual state of a people that has no qualms about fulfilling its own self-determination at the expense of, and continuing oppression of, the native people of Palestine?

Maimonides teaches that when troubles come upon the Jewish people we are obligated to fast. If this is true when we are victims, how much more so when we are perpetrators? "On account of our sins we were exiled from the land". That religious-spiritual exile is no myth, and it is not over, either.

It is not hard for me to mourn on Tisha B'Av – even when I recognize that, from the personal and Jewish standpoint, there is a lot to be thankful for. I hope my fast will be an easy one. It certainly will be meaningful.

And the same I wish for you and for Anshel Pfeffer.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Length Matters

One of the classic arguments against critics of Israel' human rights record is that other countries do worse, so why pick on Israel? There are many responses to that argument, and I have given some of them in this blog.

But one response is to bite the bullet and say, "Of all the major players on the scene since WWII, Israel has become the greatest human rights violator."

On the face of it, that response seems absurd. Genocide in Darfur? Massacre in Rwanda? Even if one allows that Israel's treatment of the Palestinians is bad, does it come anywhere near in scale to what others are doing?

So how can one even begin to argue that Israel is the worst human rights violator in the world, at least today?

It seems to me that one would need to make several assumptions.

First, that there are worse things than death, and the deprivation of liberty is one. The Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza are not free people. They are not citizens of their own state; they are not masters of their destiny. They have little freedom of movement and no possibility of movement between the two largest concentrations of Palestinian. They are entirely dependent on the charity of others, including the benevolence of those who control their life. If they behave, they will be rewarded. If they are naughty, they will be punished. Their inalienable human rights are sharply diminished. Of course, not all of the problems are due to Israel, but most are.

Second, one needs the assumption that human autonomy is a supreme value, and that a happy, well-fed slave is morally inferior to an unhappy free man. If you are a utilitarian, it is hard to trump genocide as a maximier of pain. And, of course, genocide often implies the dehumanization of the victim. But my point is that even if the Palestiians are better off economically than others, this does not mean that the crime against the Palestinian people is a less one. That depends on one's moral outlooks and values.

Third, and most important, is the assumption that when making moral assessments, the duration of injustice shoud be taken into account. Length matters. Those who are not absolutists will tolerate a temporary infrigement of liberty, or at least see it as justifiable. But what happens if that infringement, though relatively minor in its own right, continues over generations? What happens if the Japanese American citizens, who were placed in camps during World War II (a crime in its own right) had to stay there for over forty years?

It is a no-brainer that murder is to be considered more immoral than slapping someone in the face. But what is worse – death or being continually slapped in the face without respite for over forty years? Or repeatedly raped? Or systematically humiliated?

Israel's control over the Palestinians' life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is by no means genocide, either physical or spiritual. But at what point does it become a rival to extreme immorality? In the Nazi war against the Jews, millions of Jews lost their lives in ways that attempted to dehumanize them. It was an extreme of suffering over a relatively short period of time. But within 10 years of the outbreak of World War II, the Jewish people had a state of their own for the first time in centuries. For many Jews this was a source not only of pride but of dignity, self-worth, of being masters of one's destiny. All those who love the State of Israel, who are proud of its achievements, indeed, of its very existence, were raised from the pits to the summit in a dizzying short period.

But what of those who have been stuck in much shallower pits for a much longer period of time, and with no end in sight? And what if our staying at the summit necessitates their remaining in the pits indefinitely – unless they prefer to commit national suicide or accept a demeaning and humiliating surrender in the guise of "peace".

I don't think we are at the point yet but we are converging on it. If moral intuitions are notoriously tricky, moral theories are even more so. What we all should guard against is the use of moral theories to rationalize our biases and preferences. Is the IDF more moral than Hamas because it claims that it doesn't target civilians? Or is Hamas more moral than the IDF because its militants kill much fewer civilians? Can we decide this question by having deontologists slug it out with consequentialists?

It is far better to insist on fundamental human rights (or capacities or capabilities) for all, and to distribute goods (and justice is one such good) in a fair and equitable manner to both peoples. Whatever your own solution to the Israel Palestinian mess may be, you should evaluate it according to those two parameters.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Let a Thousand Gilad Shalits Go Free

Note to readers: I wrote this late last night, and then I woke up and saw that Israeli novelist David Grossman, in a front page "over the headline" article in Haaretz, has called Israel to change its attitude towards Hamas, to move beyond the "we don't negotiate with terrorists" crap that it has been dishing out for umpteen years, in fact, to make the switch that it made with the PLO. Grossman certainly is not a fan of Hamas (neither am I) but he is a fan of dealing with bona fide representatives of the Palestinians and getting out of the deep freeze. When it is translated into English, I will give you the link.

There should have been a prisoner exchange a long time ago for Gilad Shalit. In fact, it would have been better had Israel freed Palestinian prisoners as part of a general amnesty in order to improve the chances for a comprehensive settlement. I say this because, as Gideon Levy points out here, even if all Palestinian prisoners are freed, Hamas will do its best to kidnap more Israeli soldiers to use as bargaining chips, as Israel has kidnapped Lebanese civilians to use as bargaining chips. Let us face it; the only difference between Shalit and many of the Palestinians languishing in Israeli jails is that the latter have better prison conditions than the former. Both Israel and Hamas are guilty of throwing people into jail who should not be there, although only Israel is guilty of jailing an entire population. Until there is a settlement between Israelis and Palestinians the sides will be throwing each other in the clink to pressure the other side.

The reason why Bibi does not do a prisoner exchange with Hamas has nothing to do with the fear that Jews will die as a result – that is the line that he says to play to his base -- but because he wants to do everything he can to demonize Hamas, so that it help keep the Palestinians divided and makes it easier to control Gaza (and concentrate on the West Bank) A prisoner exchange will be viewed as a victory for Hamas, and while Bibi seems to like giving them victories (witness the gradual easing of the blockade), it is the sort of victory that will make them look like reasonable partners and not al-Qaeda terrorists.

What is interesting, though not surprising, is the number of Israelis who are opposed to the exchange of prisoners, despite the fact that Israel can always "round up twice the usual suspects" and has done so many times in the past. Haaretz published a very interesting article last Shabbat in which it was suggested that a sharp rise in the number of youths arrested for throwing rocks in the Hebron area can be correlated to the introduction of police software that rewards the police for taking the initiative to make arrests. (I will be grateful to the reader who provides a link to the article.) Some of the youths arrested are beaten and abused, according to their testimony, the testimony of human rights groups, and of sources within the police themselves. Yet, as is the case in totalitarian societies, investigations, when conducted, invariably support the versions of the police. Naturally, most Israelis don't care about any of the Palestinians beaten. But a hardened heart is a hardened heart. And so it is not surprising to hear how many don't care about the death of Gilad Shalit – for failure to release him will almost certainly doom him -- because they have convinced themselves that letting Palestinian prisoners go will encourage more kidnappings – as if Hamas hasn't tried to kidnap soldiers throughout this whole period, or as if Israel didn't itself effectively kidnap Palestinians – fingered by sometimes unwilling collaborators, always appearing before a military court.

What should be done? Well, without any relation to the Shalit business, Israel should a) recognize Hamas as the elected representatives of the Palestinian people and b) free their politicians and legislators from Israeli jails and let them take their rightful positions. Of course, Israel may want to get something in return for this, but the important thing is to take two steps. And, most important, Israel should express a willingness to sit down and talk with the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people, whoever they may be. All of these measures will be partial until a final settlement.

The Hamas leader Abu Tir is being expelled from Israel after having served time in jail. And what was his crime? He won an election that Israel authorized. It is not because he is a member of Hamas that he was jailed and will be expelled, because he was a member of Hamas before the election, and Israel did not do anything about him. He won, so he is jailed and expelled.

Now what will motivate Hamas more to kidnap IDF soldiers? A prisoner release? Or Israel expelling Palestinian elected officials like Abu Tir?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Alexander Yakobson on the One-State Solution

There are some good arguments against creating a binational state in Israel/Palestine, but you wont find them in Alexander Yakobson's op-ed in today's Haaretz.

Instead, Yakobson uses the same tired-old arguments that the statist Zionists gave seventy years ago against Magnes and his cohorts. That was when there were around 650,000 Jews, who formed a third of the population, and who did not have a state. Now there are five and a half million Jews (!) who control all of mandatory Palestine (minus the Kingdom of Jordan). And yet Yakobson still says that inevitably the Jews will be a minority in a secular democratic state. Why? No argument is given. I suppose the assumption is that no Jews would want to share power with -- yuk -- Arabs, and that they would rather go back to Brooklyn where they will share power with - yuk- goyyim.

So what are some of the arguments that Yakobson brings? Here's one: If there were one state, then it would be swamped with Palestinian refugees demanding the right of return. But if there were two states, then Palestinian refugees would only return to Palestine. Now, in my view, Israel should recognize the right of the refugees to return to Israel proper. But let's leave that aside and ask Yakobson the simple quesiton,  "Why would five and a half-million Jews agree to their state begin swamped with Palestinian refugees? Because their "golus" mentality doesn't alow them to assert their rights?

Here's another argument: There is no Arab state in the Middle East where there is binationalism, and where the dominant culture is Arab. Ergo, any binational state in the Middle East, even if it is based on constitutional agreement, will not last.
Is it conceivable to assume that the Palestinian people will, over time,
agree to be the only Arab people whose state does not have a clear-cut
Arab character and is not considered a part of the Arab world? Is it
logical to presume that this concession, which no Arab people has agreed
to undertake for the benefit of a non-Arab minority population that is
indigenous to the land, will be granted to the Zionist "alien presence"?

The champions of the "one-state solution" pledge that all the legal
arrangements that will safeguard the binational character of the state
and protect the rights of all ethnic groups in the country will be
spelled out in advance. The problem is that written guarantees cannot
determine what will happen in practice. Does the world - especially the
Middle East - not have enough examples of the discrepancy between the
content of state constitutions and the true nature of those states'

Let's call this the argument from lack of precedent. Not exactly the sort of argument that one would expect a Zionist, of all people, to advance. What precedent is there for a viable Jewish ethnic state in the Middle East? Ergo, such a state is doomed to fail?

The assumption running through all this is that nothing has changed since Magnes debated Ben-Gurion, that the Arabs are the same Arabs and the sea is the same sea,. The fact that Israel has great cards to play; that t is a in a position of strength in negotiations -- none of this means anything to conventional-wisdom folks like Yakobson.

Were Yakobson to propose a serious two-state alternative to the one-state scenario, at least he would have some positive arguments for that. But, no, his two-state differs little from the consensus Israeli position, which is one state plus (Israel) and one state minus (Palestine).

Yakobson's arguments only are valid if you supply some suppressed premises, e.g., "The Arabs cannot be trusted," "They are a mendacious lot," "They will wait for the first opportunity to break their agreements." If you are a tribalist, there are good reasons for opposing any scenario that empowers the Palestinian people. If you are a liberal tribalist, you will claim to be in favor of two-states but you will still want to control the other state.

What are good arguments against the one state solution? Well, the best so far is that neither side wants it.  That may change -- it is changing on the Palestinian side -- but majorities are for two states. And since we are talking about self-determination, that is pretty decisive.

What the one-staters should do is to flesh out, more than they have done already, just how binationalism will work. In particular they will have to convince both sides that binationalism is in their interest. And since the one state solution is favored mostly by secular intellectuals, they should also deal with the position of religion in that state.

In any event, people would to be educated, and education requires among other things, hammering out details. Of course, the idea has no chance of gaining traction now. But who knows what will happen in the future, as Israel sinks further in the moras