Wednesday, September 8, 2010

the discomfort of apartheid

Israel is in a fix of its own making.

Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, has published the results of a poll among Israeli students that indicates most of the teens polled agree that Arab Israelis do not have equal rights in Israel. Of this group, a majority agree that Arab Israelis do not deserve equal rights.

This should be expected because it comes from the design of the state, intended specifically for Jews. I'm surprised the results aren't more stark. There's hope.

The admission of a limited number of Arabs as Israeli citizens came in 1952, at the same time prohibiting citizenship to any Arab who left Israel during or after 1948; a concession to make the best of a sticky situation. By legalizing citizenship for a minority of Arabs who had been living in what was to become Israel and had stayed, the law excluded the great majority who had fled, sealing the state from any further appeals for return by former Arab residents.

At the time that Theodore Herzl wrote The Jewish State (1896), and for several decades thereafter, the positive aspects of a land for Jews alone was persuasive, if only as a refuge from the European world that preyed upon them. The Holocaust and the following reluctance of other countries to admit the victims virtually dictated the creation of Israel.

These days, Germany and Poland seem benign places. The Poles have in some cases revived Jewish culture, though only a few Jews remain there. After WW2, this would never have been considered a possibility. Couldn't Jews thrive almost anywhere today in Europe, even in places they thought would be hostile for all time? But Israel exists and will continue to exist - but not easily.

I say not easily because the whole idea of exclusion, while in the very nature of historical religious practice, ill fits a people who have so consistently been among the front rank of philosophers and practitioners of individual freedom and human rights. Look at the list of Israeli human rights group at the upper right of this blog. One might say of Israel that it seemed like a good idea at the time of formation but becomes harder to defend as the years roll by and the physical state acts in defiance of so much "metaphysical" Jewish thinking that has humanity in its debt.

Israel can't look to any other country for comfort. The South African effort collapsed and the world as a whole doesn't look fondly on exclusive citizenship. Tribal wars continue, certainly, but everyone looks to their end in the future. So Israel is stuck in a bind - wanting to think of itself as an advanced, civilized place, even as it practices something archaic. Though Israel is a fortress, is there any doubt that every Israeli could live in peace and security elsewhere? The primary reason for the state has evaporated. Yes, anti-Semitism still exists, but it can never be a shadow of what it was. The places where it was most cruelly practiced are now ashamed of that part of their history and repudiate the occasional eruptions of extremism.

Yet, irony of ironies - the United States, a country that has always boasted it represents the most advanced form of civilization, is the unquestioning backstop for Israel. By arming Israel to the teeth and pouring in money, the U.S. allows Israel to drive on regardless and, in fact, to use military might to isolate itself ever more completely.

So when someone tells you that the U.S. is doing what is right for Israel, don't believe it. All that is accomplished is putting off the day when Israel will have to face the uncomfortable nature of its design squarely. Apartheid has no future, no matter how adamant its defense.

I think of it this way. Imagine someone has a machine gun. He sees an enemy in front of him but, thanks to a crew that endlessly feeds him ammo, he can keep up a steady fire, mowing down all comers. There's no need for him to question what he's doing because it works, he is secure and the ammo is endless.

But suppose the ammo suppliers tell him that they will have to start reducing the amount he can have until finally no more will be available. To survive, our dedicated gunner must come up with an alternative to shooting.

Israel needs to be looking for alternatives instead of stoutly digging in deeper. The Unites States, specifically the United States Congress, is acting to increase the number of extremists and extremist acts in Israel. The Israel lobby is a decidedly right-wing operation and must be opposed.


  1. It is me again. Maybe I will motivate a few others to jump in through my talk, even if through dislike of my talk.

    Thank you for noting the Univ. of Tel Aviv poll; I would not have known of it otherwise. I do not think, though, that these young Israelis are so very different than many Americans. Consider the strange effort wasted in contention over the proposed "Ground Zero" Islamic Center. My impression is that the threat, more visceral in Israel, amplifies the exclusionary response.

    We have to understand what the 2000 suicide bombings did to Israelis. David Grossman in his little book of essays "Writing in the Dark" has some thoughts. Consider that those suicide bombings were horribly destructive without positive consequnce. They lead many to conclude that peace was impossible, this generalized to living with Arabs is impossible.

    These events are quite different than the white rage over blacks in Jim Crow and early Civil Rights American South. The destruction of 2000 was on a scale unimaginable just a few decades ago. Those hoping for peace, for constructing peace, must face what happened, how it happened, and why it happened. And why it has not happened since.

    I do not have answers to say. I am, at bottom, on your side. But that side, I plead, MUST absorb the fear of its opponents. We must understand it and prepare for it. For I think it quite likely that any plausible peace accord will be met with by such violence. When that happens, what will, should, the peace makers do? This is not said in irony. Gandhi knew there would be violence; he had to prepare for it.

    Conservatives are defenders of the hearth. Progressives, liberals, are at their best defenders of the creation of hearths. I see, in the present resurgence of American conservatisim, reactions not so dissimilar to those in Israel. I do not believe the world has much of anywhere gotten over my hearth first and foremost as core, gut philosophy. The West has found a way, through development, of shunting the compulsion aside; but we know that Western growth rests on the consumption of others' resources--often willing given, so they too my develop through the extraction.

    You have a very difficult mission and I do not think it can be won, toto. But it is essential that that mission never be given up. I think of Carl Sandbug: "You must be prepared to be in several losing causes before you die."

    Out there, somewhere, I do believe there is a pivot, multiple pivots, to make things better, pivots in Israel. People like you who keep writing against all polls may help such a pivot actualize.

    I enjoyed watching the video of the American/Israeli housing rights activist.

  2. I don't condone violence by either side. I think the frustration of so many years takes a toll. Some, particularly the young, will lash out.

    In the American old west, there were many incidents of Indian rage against white settlers, often resulting in the massacre of a settler family and burning the homestead to the ground. But it had no significant effect on deterring further settlement. It only acted to increase the rage of whites and confirm in their minds the need to sweep the Indians from the land. Something similar goes on in Israel.

    The challenge to the Palestinians is how to keep their plight before the eyes of the world while restraining those who seethe with rage from striking wildly. The suicide bombings of the second intifada were a great setback.

  3. I came across the following sentence from Sand's book (which I purchased upon reading of it on this blog): "I do not believe books change the world, but when the world changes it looks for different books."

    Keep blogging.