Monday, May 9, 2011

Beinart, Kushner, and Ethnic "Dry Cleaning"

Peter Beinart has written a post worth reading, and worth heeding, on the Kushner-CUNY affair (which has now been settled in favor of Kushner.) Worth heeding, because he calls for a Jewish communal discussion on Israel that includes non- and anti-Zionists, Worth reading, because he sees where the communal discussion is headed. That is Beinart’s main point, and I agree with it.

But after conceding to Kushner some of the problems inherent in the Jewish regime founded in 1948, Beinart offers his own reasons for rejecting Kushner’s call for transforming Israel into a more democratic and less ethnically exclusivist state.

Traditionally, statist Zionists have claimed that Israel is faced with two alternatives: either a Jewish state like the one founded in 1948, or a secular state of all its citizens, which, at best, is binational. That stacks the deck in favor of a Jewish state, since one need only argue that binationalism is unworkable, and that only the Jewish state founded in 1948 can serve as a refuge for Jews fleeing persecution. The conclusion? Israel as an imperfect Jewish democratic state is preferable to Israel as no Jewish state at all.

These once-debated Zionist claims have solidified into dogmas over the years. Through endless repetition they have been seared into the Jewish consciousness. They represent the frozen thinking of somebody like Yitzkhak Shamir, who famously remarked about Zionist dogma that the Arabs wanted to throw the Jews into the sea, “The Arabs are the same Arabs, and the sea is the same sea.” Nothing has changed.

Are “Jewish ethnocracy” or “secular binationalism” really the only alternatives? Are there no other possibility for creative arrangements? In the over sixty years of Israel’s existence, the only attempts to recognize the rights of the Palestinian minority as a native, homeland minority have been rejected as threatening to the Jewish state. The Palestinian minority has never been invited by the Jewish majority to articulate its concerns and offer possible solutions. That in itself would be too dangerous.

History is dynamic, not static; 2011 is not 1948; there have been enormous changes, especially in the demographic facts of Israel. Yet Israel and its supporters cannot free themselves from their postwar neuroses. Beinart writes:

Israel was created not merely to be a Jewish democracy, but to be a Jewish refuge, and even though most American Jews can’t imagine needing one, the long history of Jewish persecution suggests that we should not blithely assume that diaspora Jewish communities will always be as fortunate as us.

Let us all recall on Israel Memorial Day that the Jewish community that has suffered the most deaths and injuries since 1945 – per capita, if you like -- is the Jewish community in Israel. The long history of Palestine suggests that we should not blithely assume that the Jewish community in Israel will always be as fortunate as us. Moreover, there are other ways to ensure that Israel can serve as a refuge for persecuted Jews besides a blunt instrument like the Law of Return.

Secondly, while there is certainly a tension between Israel’s Jewish and democratic character, Israel’s Arab citizens (those within its 1967 borders) do serve in Israel’s parliament and supreme court. Indeed, they enjoy more rights and live better lives than do their cousins in most of the Arab world, which is why most Israeli Arabs would rather live in a Jewish state than a Palestinian one.

There is no evidence whatsoever that “most Israeli Arabs would rather live in a Jewish state than a Palestinian one.” There is considerable evidence that most Palestinians Israelis would prefer to live in their native homeland – Palestine – and their native state – Israel – than be expelled on the basis of their ethnicity to foreign places. The Palestinian citizens of Israel are in their homeland, with their family and friends. Are we to take pride that they prefer staying in their home as second class citizens to being forced to become refugees like their relatives? Their situation is getting worse, not better.

And most importantly – after sixty three years, the ethos of the state has always been to allow the Palestinian minority to participate in politics while effectively depriving them of all political power. Supreme court justice? Members of the parliament? Fewer and fewer Palestinians vote (per capita) each election – because the system is absolutely rigged against them. It is getting worse, not better.

The problem with the state founded in 1948 is not that it refuses to grow up, as Tony Judt once said, but that it refuses to deal with ethnic minorities with fairness and dignity. And while some of that decline can be attributed to the xenophobia that is a common disease, especially in our post-colonial world, some of it is directly attributable to the desire to build an ethnocracy that by its very nature perpetuates inequality

Tony Kushner was, in my view, imprecise when he referred to the “ethnic cleansing” conducted by the Zionists at Israel’s founding. The phrase conjures up mass murder and genocide along racial, ethnic, or religious lines. Yes, there was violent uprooting and planned dispossession. But the major crime was the laws and directives barring the return of the 750,000 refugees to their homes on the basis of their ethnicity. This is not so much ethnic “cleansing,” with its implication of blood and destruction, but rather ethnic “dry-cleaning”, ridding the country of most of its Palestinian population through legal stratagems that ensure that the natives of Palestine will be effectively barred from full participation in their homeland. Unlike ethnic cleansing, the legal structures behind ethnic dry cleaning have allowed Palestinians to be around 20% of the population and to be given the vote, but to be deprived of political power. This way Israel can say to itself and to the world that it is a democracy. This ethnic dry-cleaning is foundational to the Jewish state and all who support the 1948 state are complicit in it. In fact the liberal Zionists are arguably more complicit, since they require that Israel be a democracy.

These are not signs of an imperfect democracy. These are signs of a society that is careening towards disaster.

14 comments:

David Ender said...

Yes, actually. Israeli Arabs in Jerusalem would prefer to live in Israel according to a recent poll:
http://www.jewishnews.net.au/poll-jerusalem-arabs-would-prefer-to-live-in-israel/

bacci40 said...

"imprecise"?

nice way of white washing an attempted blood libel

too bad you werent around during the middle ages...the poles really couldve used you to explain how saying that jews use children's blood to bake matzah...was just a bit "imprecise"

happy nakba day

Jerry Haber said...

David Ender,

Glad to see that you agree with me.

David Ender said...

I agree in part.
I don't think it's the Jewish character of Israel that makes it inherently better than a Palestinian state, but it is Israel that Palestinians would rather live in than probably most other Arab states, because even as second class citizens, they have more rights, than say Syria, Saudi Arabia and others.

I think your portrayal of Israel is too negative and that until recently Palestinians had enjoyed very free and open lives in Israel (in comparison to how they would be living in other Arab states and maybe even in Gaza).

Jerry Haber said...

"It is Israel that Palestinians would rather live in than probably most other Arab states, because even as second class citizens, they have more rights, than say Syria, Saudi Arabia and others."

This is the typical mistake that most Israelis make although some focus not on "rights" but "economic benefits." You see, since Israelis assume that Israel is a state only for Jews, they wonder why Arabs would want to live there. Yet in poll after poll Palestinian Israelis explain that that they do not want to leave their homes and that they want to be have the same rights that Jews have in their homeland -- because Israel and Palestine are their homes. They have a Palestinian ISRAELI identity. They never ever give the reason you have given, David, for why they want to stay.

When you ask Israelis why more Jews don't leave America for Israel -- even Zionists -- they will say, "Well, obviously, the reason is that they have more material comforts in America. They don't want to give up their comforts to move here." And I suppose that this cannot be entirely discounted. But the reason people don't want to move from one country to another -- unless their lives are entirely miserable -- is that home is home. That's why many Jews didn't leave Europe, even when things got bad for them. Their being Germans, Poles, Russians, etc., was part of their identity, and leaving home was a difficult choice. By the time many made that choice it was too late.

But a Zionist can't understand why a Jew considers America, or an Palestinian considers Israel, his home. So the Zionist has to invent other reasons ("more rights," "more comfort") as the reason.

Michael Davis said...

Beinart: Israel was created not merely to be a Jewish democracy, but to be a Jewish refuge, and even though most American Jews can’t imagine needing one, the long history of Jewish persecution suggests that we should not blithely assume that diaspora Jewish communities will always be as fortunate as us.

Haber: Let us all recall on Israel Memorial Day that the Jewish community that has suffered the most deaths and injuries since 1945 – per capita, if you like -- is the Jewish community in Israel.
>
>
Beinart is doing a great job at keeping this subject alive.
I'm amazed at the prevalence of Beinart's irrational thinking among Jewish Americans. Many American Jews sincerely believe that we need the State of Israel to save us from some future bout of anti-Semitism. I've tried your line on these folks and got nowhere (other than to be branded a heretic).
The silver lining is that these are older people. Thankfully, younger Jews never got that memo.

The deeper truth is that to be Jewish is to act powerfully against powerlessness. Older Jews still think that we Jews are the powerless ones. Since, today, American Jews are clearly powerful, that must mean that it is the Israelis who are powerless or, alternatively, it is American Jews who may, one day, become victims.
Younger Jews know that Israelis too are powerful and don not fantasize about some unforseeable future in the States.

Therefore, connecting to the powerless means standing in solidarity with others who need our support. In the case of Israel/Palestine, that is, of course, the Palestinians.

David Ender said...

I think you make some good points, but oversimplifying the situation. It is true that home is home and that many people would not leave their home to go someplace even if it is considered better (economically, human rights,...). The point being is that it is a combination of all these factors and not just one of them that makes the difference.

I've lived in "Western" countries all my live and my family and I might be an exception, but there is an inherent fear of being prosecuted for being Jewish, for the simple reason that we have been. My friends during football matches against other teams had to hear the following chants from the opposing team : "All Jews to the gas" ("Alle Joden naar het gas"). One of my friends got beat up by a few people and a house in my neighborhood was set on fire, because they were Jews who lived there.

Most Jews I know want to move to Israel at some point in their lives and many have already.

Saying that Americans don't because they feel the US is their homes is a feeling of safety most Jews in Europe do not feel.

As such most of my family has moved away from their country of birth to wherever their lives brings them with a dream to move to Israel later on, once they've fully experienced what they want to experience.
Same for other Jews I know.

I'm the one exception to that, since I don't see the need to live in Israel, but I do however not feel safe and I don't feel Europe is my home. I feel like a nomad and I could set up shop anywhere in the world. All I am looking for is comfort and for me that means the right to voice my opinion, a good job and a family.

I went off on a bit of a tangent here. Sorry.

But basically, you can't just say they prefer Israel because it's home. If Israel was many times worse than Syria and they would get their heads blown even for just saying one little measly thing against the government then that poll would certainly not look the way it does.

Hope this made sense, if not I would clarify whatever didn't.

pabelmont said...

Jerry, my "take" is that you are right about "home sweet home." I'd add a point that may pass right by many Americans and Israelis of European background. The Palestinian villagers and possibly also city dwellers were people of the land, the particular land, this hill, this stream. Americans are used to moving and they are used to having their cities moved around them by bulldozers making highways and malls. Americans and the Israeli Jews who are pushing all those hideous settlements and bypass roads into the West Bank have no care whatever for the land. They may love an idea of the land but not the land, not the constant and unchanged land, itself.

I am saying that -- in my impression -- home is far more precious to Palestinians than it is to Americans and Israelis of European origin.

Theodore said...

It is true, native people often have a much stronger sense of attachment to their land than us in the modern west. Families live on a particular property for ages, and they become intimately aware of every aspect. In America, this has been one of the biggest associations with the Native Americans. Personal land, family land, triumph over all other things, including the greater state or national identity. For the Palestinians the attachment is greater because they have suffered expulsions and population loss. So this identity has mixed into their national consciousness.

The whole situation is very similar to the Native Americans. I remember one Israeli hippie in the documentary "Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land" talking about the Palestinian farmer in the West Bank the same way an American hippie would talk and connection with a native. There is a distinct appreciation that goes beyond the state structure.

Not to say that Jews in Israel don't feel the same. It's obviously so, particularly for the religious ones who identity with the old kingdom. Much as Americans certainly identity with American land as they can point to the various hallowed ground. However, I do have the sense that in some regards it can be a bit constructed with the latter. That in the case of the latter it may embody a certain nationalistic value that skews the traditional form of personal rather than collective attachment. I mean you find the nationalistic identification in almost all countries. Serbia had it with Kosovo, its own Jerusalem, yet it could never bring about a personal attachment for many of its settlers (who often left when they saw the crummy situation and land).

Than again, I may have just pulled this out of my butt.

i_like_ike52 said...

Pabelmount-
I think "hideous" is a word more applicable to the Arab towns spreading without any planning through the West Bank. I realize that there is a certain romaniticization of the Palestinians that says everything they have is "natural" and fits in with the land, whereas the Jewish presence in the country is "hideous, artificial, ugly, unnatural", but if you look at the ugly Arab buildings scattered here and there and the lack of sanitation with garbage thrown around, not to mention the ugly scars on the hillsides the Palestinians make with the uncontrolled excavations, you might reconsider what you said.

Jerry-
Odd that you start Jewish history in 1945, saying how wonderful it has been for Jews outside of Israel since them. Of course there was the Kielce pogrom in Poland (1946), the antisemitic Slansky Trial in Czechoslovaka in 1952, the ongoing Soviet antisemitic policies that continued up to 1989 and the various anti-Jewish riots in Allepo and many other places in the Arab world starting in 1947.
No doubt you don't want to discuss what happened in the wonderful "European Diaspora" before 1945, either.

LeaNder said...

A huge thank you, Jerry, I never heard a similarly simple and beautiful reply to the political Zionist commonplace, you discuss with David Ender here. Initially it irritated me highly, admittedly, by now I only register it with a shrug and a sigh.

I agree with you concerning the term ethnic-cleansing. The used of terms combined with ignorance of the historical context is a problem occasionally. On the other hand as Avi Shlaim suggests, not even Jabotinsky meant the Iron Wall should last forever.

But when I read Beinhard's article something else crossed my mind. Why does he choose Belgium to make his point and not Switzerland, Europe's oldest democracy?

This is by far the most important point for me:
Are “Jewish ethnocracy” or “secular binationalism” really the only alternatives? Are there no other possibility for creative arrangements?

Seems, I missed the exact day when The Magnus Zionist went light blue. But considering when you mentioned a blog-face-lift, the decision took quite quite some time. ;)

bacci40 said...

"I am saying that -- in my impression -- home is far more precious to Palestinians than it is to Americans and Israelis of European origin."

yes peter...that is why jews pray 3 times a day for the restoration of jerusalem

thats why at the end of the seder and at the end of yom kippur, we cry out NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM

because home is not precious concept to us

your ignorance is astounding...what is even more astounding, is that jerry doesnt even attempt to correct you

btw....according to polls....your side is still losing

http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/2590030.html

Jerry Haber said...

bacci40,
maybe the difference between Israeli Palestinians and American Jews who pray three times a day for the restoration of Jerusalem, and who say once a year, Next Year in Jerusalem, is that the Palestinians fight to remain in their home, whereas the American Jews only give it lip-service.

David Ender said...

You forgot to look at my last comment I think.