One of the ironies of the perennial Middle Eastern conflict is how the Western democratic Left shifted from a pro-Israeli position (held until the 1970s), to an anti-Israeli position during the last three decades. Much of this is Israel’s own fault, as its continued expansion into, and occupation of Palestinian lands in violation of the 1967 and 1973 war settlements, to say nothing of the Camp David accords, has re-cast its image to that of an imperialist oppressor rather than besieged liberal democracy surrounded by a sea of hostile Arab despots and medieval theocratic zealots.
Yet Israel remains the sole functioning democracy in Middle East (Turkey is further afield and excluded from this analysis for argument purposes), one that if, in a process of increasing decay (think the Olmert and Sharon corruption scandals), Â internal polarisation (think of the political ascendence of the rabid orthodox Right and its impact on Israeli settlement policy) and restrictions on the politicalÂ and civil rights of Arab Israelis and the Arab inhabitants of the occupied territories, remains in stark contrast to the autocracies or facade democracies that, even if pro-Western, surround it. In terms of social toleration, gender and economic equality, and freedom of expression, Israel remains ahead of all of its neighbours. In fact, Israel is a classic social democracy whoseÂ betrayal of its basic principlesÂ has also been seen in the negative fortunes of its Labour Party, something that has only been partially been compensated by a rising peace movement in opposition to Likud and its religious zealot allies (it should be noted that most of the orthodix Jewish zealots are fairly recent foreign immigrants from the US and Russia, and not second or third generation Israelis).
ButÂ the view that Israel, in spite of its grave flaws, remains a country worth supportingÂ is a view that can no longer be safely voiced in Left circles and is in fact now a minority opinion. Instead, the PalestianianÂ struggle has become theÂ main LeftÂ cause celebre as an expression of anti-imperialism, no matter that both Hamas and Fatah are intensely authoritarian political organisations with little socialist inclination, the former acting not only as militant counter to the “betraying” moderation (and corruption) of the latter, but also acting as a proxy (along with Hizbullah) for Iranian influence in the Eastern Mediterrean (Iran being an elected authoritarian-theocratic regime in which basic civil liberties are, to put it gently, Â seriously curtailed). Moreover, Hamas in government in Gaza has been anything but democratic in its treatment of internal dissent, so even if it was voted in fairly (much to the US and Israel’s dismay), it has not made good on its promises to bring democratic governance to its beleaguered people. The larger point being that Israel may suck as a democracy, but its neighbours and opponents may suck just as bad or worse.
Thus, if one is on the Left side of the Western political spectrum and expresses a sympathy for Israel in spite of its flaws, even if only in comparison to its neighbours and the character of Palestinian political society,Â then one risks being pilloried by ideologically kindred spirits.
On the other hand, if one points out the illegality of Israeli occupation of land in Gaza and the West Bank, and the illegality of the ongoing settlement of Palestianian lands, and/or notes the deterioration of Israeli democracy,Â then one risks being labeled an anti-Semite by Israeli sympathizers and the political Right. These see no fault in Israel and no good in Palestianians. Their fear of Islamicism overrides their concern Israel’s political decadence and its overtly bellicose approach to regional affairs. They see and hear no evil when it comes to Israel.
There is no point in arguing, as many do, about who came first to that part of the world–Jews, Arabs or Christians. Arguing about who came first 2000+ years ago does not advance one iota the prospects for a peaceful settlement of current disputes (there is a parallel here to the “we were here first” arguments of some Maori activists). Nor does it do any good to re-visit the circumstances surrounding Israel’s founding as a nation-state (much like there is little point in arguing the legitimacy of European colonisation of Aotearoa). The fact is that Israel (like Pakeha) is (are)Â not going anywhere.
IsraelÂ is here to stay regardless of whether its neighbours or non-state adversaries may wish it not to or plan for its demise. Thus, the real point of departure for any prospect for peace is admission of the fact. Sadat recognised this and paid for it with his life. In turn Rabin recognised that Israel needed to deal as equals with its Palestianian counterparts and paid for that view withÂ hisÂ life. Perhaps it is fair to say, then,Â that there are those on both sides (and inside and outside the Middle East) who have a vested interest in perpetuating the conflict rather than solving it, and they do so by dredging up historical grievances and past offenses as oneÂ means of doing so.
Needless to say there is a fair bit of anti-Semeticism in the opposition to Israel, particularly that voiced in Muslim and some Christian fundamentalist circles. And, needless to say, the heretofore seemingly blind US support for Israel has very much made it the tail that wags the US dog when it comes to Middle Eastern policy and has contributed to Israeli intransigence and defiance when itÂ addresses international conventions (something that may be shifting as a result of the Netanyahu government’s latest affronts to US attempts to re-start the so-called “peace process”). But opposition to Israeli occupation is not reducible to anti-Semeticism or anti-US beliefs. Instead, it can rest on a principled opposition to illegal behaviour on the part of a democratic state that more than most should understand the long-term consequences of oppression and inequality. Israel may continue to feel besieged (although truth be told many Arab states de facto accept its existance, so much of the siege mentality is driven by domestic ideological competition) but much of the opposition to it now has to do not with its origins or ethno-religious character but with its current behaviour.
The current rift in US-Israeli relations is a moment to drive that point home, devoid of the emotional and ideological baggage that has impeded rational discussion about the way forwards towards a durable peace. It remains to be seen whether those with a vested interest in perpetuating the conflict, be they from the Left or Right, will accept that to be the case.
Forewarning: Comments that attempt to rehash historical disputes (i.e. the “who came first” or “Israel’s founding was illegal” arguments) will be deleted simply because they add nothing to what has been saidÂ ad nauseumÂ already. Likewise for personal attacks on what some might take to be my position one way or the other. In the latter case the point will have been missed that whatÂ I am trying to do here is steer a middle course through the ideological minefield that surrounds discussion of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.Â
It’s a conflict that started out complicated and gets less simple by the day. For the life of me a can’t understand Israel’s continuation with the settlements.
I take issue however with –
“seemingly blind US support for Israel”
US support for Israel as always made strategic sense. The US picked up Israel in 1973 when Israel needed support against the Soviet-backed Arab nations and France had previously stopped support.
Cold War politics pure and simple. And that strategic relationship has continued under both Dem and Rep administrations because it’s been in America’s interest.
Pablo, one thing I’m curious about is WHY the US has had such a close, verging on obsessive, relationship with Israel. It silly to say there’s some evil monied jewish conspiracy acting to make it so, and yet unless you are on the FAR left in America, any criticism of any aspect of the Israeli government is seen as anti-semitism. How did support of Israel become what seems to me to be an unquestioned truth of mainstream american politics?
I’d have to disagree with this (oft-quoted) sound-bite. Turkey’s been a flawed but functional democracy since the 1980s (apart from a blip in the late 1990s). Lebanon and, more recently, Iraq have also had flirtations with democracy. And it could be contested that Israel today is no more a true democracy than South Africa was during the Apartheid era.
A perpetual state of war for a leader with a secure guard is surely safer than ‘sticking one’s neck out’ for a bullet, sarin or polonium.
The current rift in US-Israeli relations is a moment to drive that point home, devoid of the emotional and ideological baggage that has impeded rational discussion about the way forwards towards a durable peace.
I just don’t see any useful way forward out of this. As long as Israel’s providing the Palestinians with legitimate cause for violence (and the Nuremberg trials were pretty explicit about the right to attack the forces of a country that’s occupying and colonising yours), the Palestinians will be taking them up on it. Yet, removing the legitimate cause would involve dismantling a lot of settlements and evicting a lot of settlers, ie any Israeli leader who tries it is going out like Rabin.
It would be nice to imagine the Americans exerting enough pressure to force Israel back behind the 1967 borders, the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, and the international community holding the resulting Palestinian govt to its obligations re Israelis’ right to go about their legitimate business without Palestinian nutters trying to kill them. It’s hard to picture how that might happen though.
Well said Pablo. It does not seem possible for those on either side of the political spectrum to break with the expectation of attitude towards the conflict and not be pilloried. I would characterise the rift as the outcome of the beginning of efforts to drive the point home rather than an opportunity. Netanyahu has been attempting to box in the administration and has found he over stepped.
With the capital accumulated from winning on health he can effectively ignore the Republicans until the outcome of the November elections, if not beyond. (Frum is right).
His style of letting others make the running does not seem conducive to leadership and a positive next step in the peace process. The Palestinians can’t lead and Netanyahu won’t lead.
Just a thought – Do you think an Iranian bomb could be implicitly swapped for Iran recognising Israel and allowing the peace process to proceed?
I agree that Turkey is a functional/flawed democracy much like Israel. I simply do not consider it a part of the “Middle East” as commonly understood, since it has historically been considered to be part of the lower Caucuses and Central Asia. But it has increased its profile and role as an ME interlocutor, so your point is valid. I disagree that Lebanon or Iraq also qualify, simply because when you have armed militias roaming the street on election day intimidating voters, and use factional-based patronage networks for public good distribution, then you really have nothing more than a limited electoral regime posing as a “democracy.” As for the analogy with apartheid South Africa–the more Israel persists in its current policies towards its Arab citizens, the more you are right. The treatment of non-Israeli Palestinians is another matter, although Israel’s conduct is no better in that regard. That is the shame, and pity, of the Israeli democratic decline.
Psycho Milt, Neil and Eddie C: The answer to the impasse in large measure depends on breaking the AIPAC hold on the debate about Israel and Palestine. That could be in the process of happening, because just like the emergent peace movement in Israel itself, there are many American Jews and Israel supporters who do not support the occupation or the heavy-handed approach to Palestinian society as a whole as a result of the actions of its leaders. The strategic logics of the Cold War that propelled US policy towards Israel and the ME (which Neil describes well and which I agree was the case), are not those that obtain now even if some residual legacies remain. As an example, Turkey is becoming THE most important cog in the ME wheel, and will only grow in importance both for geo-strategic as well as political-diplomatic reasons. So pragmatism advises the US to put some distance on israel, at least when compared to the past and at least with regard to obvious transgressions of international convention and law. It may be too late given the Israeli defense industry, but limitations on arms sales might be a start.
Of course, all of this could literally go up in smoke if Israel and/or Iran decide to make good on their respective threats towards each other, and given the Israeli capabilities and penchant for pre-emption, in light of the political-diplomatic issues we are discussing here, that would indicate to me that Israel might make the first move. Regardless of who starts a Iran-Israel conflict (and whether or not the Sunni Arab world would actually welcome such), that wold not be good.
One last thing: the comments are being held up by the spam filter for reasons unknown. I will try to figure out the problem now that it is ongoing, but please be patient and do not re-send your comment for a few hours in case I am away from my computer during that time (and yes, I do spend some time away from the all-seeing eye).
Nope. Arabs in the occupied territories cannot vote, and Israel controls the occupied territories. Israel is a democracy in the way that the US, pre voting rights act, was a democracy, which is to say that it isn’t.
Re-read the post. I note the discriminatory treatment of Israeli Arabs as well as non-Israeli Palestinians. Remember, just because it is deeply flawed and losing its democratic “virtue” does not mean that israel is not a democracy. Plus, Daveosaurus already made your point in his comment above, and I agreed with him in my reply. In sum: Israel as a limited democracy with major flaws. But as a political system it is still far better than the majority of its neighbours.
I’ve always been skeptical about AIPAC’s claims of influence. They’re noisy but the reasons the US support Israel are pretty pragmatic.
They do support Egypt and Saudi Arabia and they did give some support to Saddam.
That’s not evidence of an all-powerful Jewish lobby.
Consider: Both McChrystal and Petraeus recognise that counter insurgency is not won by mistreating the local population. Petraeus is openly critical of Israel’s strategic value to the US and its cost in US lives. We can conclude that the military is in favour of less favourable treatment of Israel. From his election campaign Obama has openly courted a better relationship with the Arab street. Having won on health and recognising the American support for their military it is not hard to see the administration doing an end run around AIPAC and Republican opposition.
I think the time is ripe for strong US leadership in the peace process. The critical question is not how US or Israel act but how does the US provide sufficient carrots for Hamas/Fatah/Hezbollah/Iran to engage rather than sabotage?
heh – captcha is “much nitpicks” :^)
The US and the Israelis plucked Fatah out of exil and gave them a neither this nor that patch work of already much stressed communities to govern.
In hind sight it’s not had to see why it didn’t work out so well.
But it’s all very well to call for a Palestian state, but how who gets boot-strapped into existance is another matter.
that’s “how it gets…”
AIPAC is just the tip of the iceberg known as the “Israel lobby.” It includes conservative Christian churches such as those run by Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell, conservative Jewish organisations, weapons manufacturers and an assortment of conservative business interests. Although they prefer Republicans, they collectively and individually pour millions of dollars into the US political system to ensure that all ME policy remains favourable to, and based upon, the defense of Israel. Few politicians dare cross them.
This is the tried and true way of American politics. But over the last decade or so, beginning with Sharon’s provocation on the Temple Mount and continuing to date, progressive Jews in the US as well as an assortment on non-Jewish organisations have begun to question that assumption that “what is good for Israel is good for the US.” The 1973 bombing of a US eavesdropping ship in international waters in the Mediterranean and several instances of israeli spies being caught in the US have given them a historical record on which to refute that assumption, which when coupled with recent Israeli actions has driven a wedge between various components of what used to be a fairly monolithic lobbying bloc. It should be noted that some of the critical progressive forces do not excuse the excesses of Palestinian militants (which would be the kiss of death in terms of political influence) but simply argue that Israel can and needs to do better as a nation ostensibly in search of peace, precisely because it is a (purportedly) secular democracy (which if increasingly in question remains the cornerstone of the political and legal systems).
As long as talks are a shield for ongoing colonisation, those groups will sabotage talks. Hamas and Fatah exist to oppose that colonisation, so imagining they might engage with a “peace process” that acts as a cover for increasing settlement of their territory is just fantasy. Fatah have learned that the hard way. There’s no possibility of meaningful talks with the Palestinians unless the point of them is ending the occupation.
That’s the major stumbling block, since the Israeli govt’s plan seems to be to extend settlement as far as possible – I say “seems to be” because their strategy is actually unknown. What is that strategy? How does Israel see all this playing out? How does increasing colonisation of the occupied territories square with a claimed interest in peace? In other words, it’s not only the Arab side that needs to come up with evidence of a willingness to “engage.”
Milt – I took that as an assumption that Israel was negotiating in good faith, either genuinely or indirectly through US pressure. I assume that Obama will bring that to the table otherwise the Arab side will be empty.
I just don’t see that as the main stumbling block for the Arab side. They are quite capable of blind foolishness and stupidity of their own. But they must understand that delay simply strengthens the current Israel strategy of establishing facts on the ground. They longer Israeli settlements remain the stronger the Israel case.
Israel never had any democratic virtue. It was only ever a conditional democracy, that secured its democratic bona fides by exiling and disenfranchising inconvenient persons. It’s due to the success of Israeli propaganda that it is seen as a democracy at all.
Once you count all the Palestinians, including those living as refugees in other countries, you have a massive majority of people who have a right to live there being denied either residency or a vote for religious reasons. That’s nowhere near a democracy.
The UN counts four million officially designated Palestinian refugees. There are 3 million Palestinians who live in Jordan. The UN DHR states that nobody is to be involuntarily exiled from his country. Israel is only sustained by a massive violation of that right. Israel has, since its inception, been sustained only by a massive violation of this right.
Even if we discount the Palestinians living outside Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, one third to one half of the population of that area has no vote, despite being under the direct control of the Israeli state.
The facts don’t lie.
If you exclude Turkey, then Iran is probably the most democratic country in the Middle East, and that’s not saying much.
I hesitate to get involved in this, but:
Even if we discount the Palestinians living outside Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, one third to one half of the population of that area has no vote, despite being under the direct control of the Israeli state. … If you exclude Turkey, then Iran is probably the most democratic country in the Middle East, and thatâ€™s not saying much.
As opposed to 100% of the Iranians who, while they have a vote, can’t exercise any actual control over their rulers by using it.
This is a bizarre argument for you to make, Ag, given your usual position that it’s not the trappings of democracy but the actual exercise of power which matters. In Israel, at least some of the electorate has democratic power over the leadership.
I accept we’re talking about the difference between “very little” and “bugger all”, but the point remains.
well written post pablo, and good summary of the situation. also nice to see a reasonable and sane discussion in the comments.
just one small bone to pick:
that’s sounding a bit like you saying that all muslim opposition to israel is anti-semitic in nature, and i’m pretty sure you didn’t mean it to sound that way. there are quite a number of us who are anti-Israeli government policies, who recognise that it’s impossible to dismantle the israeli state despite the injustices involved in its creation, and who don’t have a problem with judaism or jewish people in general.
Indeed Stargazer. I should have put the “some” before Muslim, not Christian. BTW–do you realise that I am the same person that you criticised for a speech I gave at Waikato in 2001? Perhaps this post will help clear up the misperception of my views, then and now.
Ag: why do you assume that displaced Palestinians would want to vote in Israel as opposed to a free Palestine? That is another reason why the continued occupation and settlement of Palestinian lands in violation of the 1967 borders and Camp David accords is a travesty. Allowing some measure of Palestinian self determination under previously agreed upon terms would also allow for the return of many of the displaced, whereupon they can (theoretically) exercise voting rights in a sovereign and (hopefully) democratic Palestinian state. I very much doubt that the Palestinian diaspora are yearning for voting rights within Israel. What they likely hope for, given that Israel is here to stay, is the right to vote in their own country.
Psycho Milt: I agree that what gives legs to Hamas (less so Fatah) is the occupation. I also believe that armed resistance against occupiers is a valid tactic. Where I disagree with Hamas is in the application of the tactic, since my own experience with guerrilla codes of justice leads me to believe that military-political targets are legitimate but the civilian population is not. Thus to my mind Hamas’ targeting of Israeli civilians is counter-productive as it hardens the resolve of the target population and plays into the hands of Israeli extremists who want to remove any vestige of Palestinian autonomy in Gaza and the West Bank.
The fact that many of the settlers are armed and organised into militias at the behest of the Israeli state makes them a “grey” target–neither noncombatant or proper military (although a useful distinction might be to view anyone with a weapon as a legitimate military target). And they are extremists anyway, so there is no way of peacefully persuading them to give up land that they believe to be their religious right to settle upon. It is therefore incumbent upon the Palestinian resistance to make clear to the Israeli state that it will have to remove the settlers as part of any quid pro quo with regard to recognising Israel’s right to exist. At this point that seems a long shot, which is where the pressure from third parties (the US) comes into play.
I agree. The targeting of unarmed civilians is a war crime whether carried out by regular or irregular forces. Of course, for the Palestinians the subtle distinction between deliberately targeting civilians, and simply not caring that your military operations will kill civilians, doesn’t count for a lot. both sides are successfully hardening the other’s attitudes.
I doubt that the left cares a great deal about whether the label â€œdemocracyâ€ applies to Israel or not. Democracy is as democracy does. The American Constitution was written by folks who condoned slavery, Hitler was elected by a resounding majority etc.
Democracy alone does not guarantee minority rights which is why it has been judged necessary to create independent standards such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is here that Israel fails, both within the â€œJewish Stateâ€ and the territories it has occupied for more than 40 years.
A democracy that denies citizenship and the vote to a minority who were born in the land?:
Whilst anyone claiming even a tenuous link to Judaism (Sammy Davis Jnr for example) may claim citizenship in Israel, an indigenous Palestinian in the O/T may not even visit the place of his/her birth in Israel.
A democracy that chooses whom a minority of citizens may marry?:
Non-Israeli spouses of Jewish Israelis qualify for citizenship. Non-Israeli spouses of Palestinian Israelis do not.
A democracy that forbids the sale of land to a minority of its citizens?:
Whilst there is no law on the books that forbids the sale of land to Palestinian Israelis, the Law supports the Jewish National Fund, whose rules do prohibit such sale.
A democracy that censors history?:
Israel’s education ministry has ordered the removal of the word nakba â€“ Arabic for the “catastrophe” of the 1948 war â€“ from a school textbook for young Arab children, it has been announced. (guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 22 July 2009)
The occupied territories have an interesting â€œdemocracyâ€. The almost half million Jews who live there get to vote in Israel. Palestinians, whose everyday lives are micro-managed by Israeli authorities do not. After 40 years, this is beginning to smell a bit.
Democracies come in many forms. Syrians, Jordanians, Egyptians, Iranians all vote but they are prohibited from changing the system. In Israel, any political party that advocates a plural democracy is banned and last year the Central Elections Committee (CEC) actually banned the Arab parties (the Supreme Court overturned the ban).
“the sole functioning democracy in Middle East?”
– a matter of opinion I guess.
The point of Israel’s flawed (and declining) democracy, to include the ill-treatment of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians living under occupation, has been explicitly conceded in the post (BTW–do you know of any subjugated people living under occupation who were granted full voting rights in the occupying country?).
Yet you belabor the already conceded point and minimise the non-democratic character and non-cooperative (to say nothing of hostile) behaviour of Israel’s neighbours and Palestinian authorities (which might have something to do with the decline of Israeli civility). Surely you understand that fault lies on both sides of this divide, even if the Israelis are the more obvious heavy in the current context?
This is another canard which needs to be debunked. Data from Wikipedia: the NSDAP’s highest share of the vote was 43.9%, immediately after the Reichstag fire. Hitler never won a Presidential election (he lost both rounds of the 1932 election) and seized the Presidency illegally upon Paul von Hindenburg’s death.
Of anti-Semitism: as the Arabs are also a Semitic people, it could be suggested that the most prevalent form of anti-Semitism today is the rhetoric emanating from certain quarters of the West against the Arabs and their religion, as the anti-Semitic rhetoric of the early 20th century was most commonly directed against the Hebrews and their religion.
Pablo, Israel continues to broadcast its propaganda to the world that it is a Democracy. It isn’t. It is a democracy for Jews only (who are less than 80% of the population of Israel). It is an ethnocracy. There is a good analysis of the subject in Shlomo Sands’ book “The Invention of the Jewish People” (pp 292-313). He is a professor of European history at Tel Aviv University. And he points out that there are in each university in Israel two history departments, one of Jewish history and one of general history. And he is highly critical of the methods of the former. If you can visit Israel talk to any of the many (well informed) Palestinians who form over 20% of the population of Israel or read Susan Nathan’s book “The Other Side of Israel”
As far as the much bigger question as to how to end the stalemate, I think that the so-called “Peace Talks” are simply a smoke-screen which allows Israel to continue its expansionist policy. There will be no just settlement until Israel acknowledges the Nakba, “the disaster” in 1947-48 when about 700,000 Palestinians were forced out of their homes (Nakba rememberance could soon be punishable under Israeli law.) And recognition of the harm Israel has done – and continues to do, under the occupation – will not happen until there is a real change of heart by mainstream Israelis ( there are a notable (tiny) group who already have done so and are bravely fighting against the militaristic basis which Israel still has as its only answer for security). I can see no way that Israelis will change their views other than by withdrawal of military and financial support by the US.
There are signs with the BDS campaign that concerned people in the US and the rest of the world are waking up to the evil of the occupation, much as happened with Apartheid. But it is as yet a very small force.
To pretend that there can be a two state solution is equivalent to taking the parallel in South Africa ie that the black Africans should have been content to have settled for a two state solution: the Bantustans for them and the rest of the country for whites. Any careful examination of the geo-political state of Palestine (see for example the excellent analysis by ICAHD (Israeli Committee against House Demolition), shows why. Of course a one state solution also has immense problems and will need to be achieved in steps. But it will afford a lasting, just, peace.
“BTWâ€“do you know of any subjugated people living under occupation who were granted full voting rights in the occupying country?”
I know of no other “occupation” that has lasted 40 years during which the occupier has transferred a substantial portion of its populace into the occupied territory, an act that more closely resembles annexation. Perhaps you know of a precedent for this, I cannot think of one offhand.
“Surely you understand that fault lies on both sides of this divide,”
No I do not but it is not possible to discuss that point without re-visiting the origins of the conflict.
The point of my post is simply to show that waving the “democracy” banner is meaningless. It is a talking point usually used by hasbarachiks to foster a sense of solidarity with Israel – I am surprised you bought into it. The examples given in my post demonstrate that Israeli “democracy” embraces concepts of human rights that we would not find so congenial. The concessions you make are far from explicit. Had they been so, it would be difficult to exclude several other ME countries, Lebanon for instance, from the class of “functioning democracies”.
A trivial point I guess but you saw fit to devote a paragraph including phrases like: sole functioning democracy in Middle East” and “Israel is a classic social democracy” and I felt it required qualification.
There is much in your essay with which I would take issue.
“Nor does it do any good to re-visit the circumstances surrounding Israelâ€™s founding as a nation-state (much like there is little point in arguing the legitimacy of European colonisation of Aotearoa). The fact is that Israel (like Pakeha) is (are) not going anywhere.”
Spurious analogy. The colonisation of New Zealand occurred during a period of history when such practices were accepted. It was managed by treaty and did not involve the ethnic cleansing of the native population. The first “Protector of Aborigines”, George Clarke, was appointed in 1845 specifically to ensure fairness in land transactions, 100 years before the Zionist project began in earnest. Israel is yet to make baby steps in this direction.
Had the colonists driven Maori into South Otago then ring-fenced them the analogy might be more apt.
The dispossession of the indigenous Palestinians occurred within living memory. Asking Palestinians to refrain from revisiting this reality is about as unrealistic as asking a Jew to refrain from revisiting the Holocaust.
The land issue is pivotal and there will be no settlement or peace until it is addressed. I therefore think revisiting it is necessary.
“Hamas in government in Gaza has been anything but democratic in its treatment of internal dissent”
This is at variance with the opinion of many otherwise reliable sources. Can you tease this out a bit please?
“Iran being an elected authoritarian-theocratic regime”
Whatever you might think of the current Iranian administration, this is not an accurate label. It never seemed to be applied when Rafsanjani was at the head, yet he was elected by the same system and could be again. The system, as Ag has pointed out, is very democratic and has many checks and balances built in to avoid authoritarianism. Khameini can be removed by the Assembly of Experts, a sort of House of Lords which is elected every eight years. Let us not forget that the British House of Lords is an unelected body. As for “theocratic”, Iran is 98% Muslim and Islam is, by its very nature, political. Religion and politics are not good bedfellows in a secular or multi-cultural society but I don’t see too many problems in a state where only 2% of the populace are not adherents and those 2% have representation by law.
(Israel is a “Jewish State”. I have never fully understood what this means – religion or race)
This, from your label, leaves “elected” and I have no argument with that.
By Iranian proxy, do you mean that Iran is making war on Israel at one step removed? If so, I would be most interested to see evidence of this. My impression is that Gazans were attacked after a period of truce which they strictly observed and, in the event, had very little in the way of weaponry with which to defend themselves. The Winograd Commission used the term “war of our own initiative” in judging Lebanon ’06.
In what way is Iran using Hamas and Hezbollah as proxies?
If you do not believe that Hamas and Hezbollah act as Iranian proxies (which still gives them operational autonomy at a tactical level), then you are deluded or willfully blind. The same goes for your disbelief that Hamas is anything but democratic in its rule. I have already explicated that the existence of armed militias intimidating voters puts both Lebanon and Iraq in a separate category of electoral regime when compared to Israel, a fact which applies equally to the way in which Hamas operates when it comes to dissenting views or those who simply do not obey its every command. As for Iran itself–surely your defense of the Mullahs regime is a piss take (something that perhaps “Spoff” might write elsewhere?) Geez.
I am glad that you recognise differences in the NZ colonial/settlement process and that of Israel/Palestine. I drew the analogy as food for thought by way of contrast. As Lew would say, colonisation by consent is a whole different kettle of fish than what happened to the Palestinians. That much we can agree.
Your slide into historical revisionism also moves into the field of Israel-bashing and hence earns you a warning that no more will be tolerated, as per my forewarning in the post. Besides the fact that like the Holocaust, there are few actual survivors of the Nakba still around, and unlike the Holocaust, there is even less concrete documentary record (films, etc.) to corroborate claims about the numbers dispossessed. That is what makes arguing about the past so darn pernicious and unproductive as a basis for a durable peace.
This does not mean that it did not happen–the fact that it did cannot be denied and it is a foul cover up to prohibit a factual account of what happened to appear in Israeli textbooks (much like the White washing of history that has occurred in so many other post-colonial democracies). But what it does mean is that the story of the Nakba and Israel’s foundation is now the stuff of folklore, which means that it is subject to mythologising and subjective interpretation by those with ideological agendas and axes to grind. Since I am interested in finding a practical middle road forward, your re-visiting of history, like so many others, is useless. Nevertheless, I agree that recognition of a disputed history is part of the peace process. However, that will have to include mutual recognition that historical injustices have been done, whatever the perceived “balance” of injustices committed and in contrast to your blinkered view.
John G. Although I disagree with you (and Joseph P and Ag) that Israeli democracy is more fiction than fact, I appreciate your informed views even if they contradict mine (your ethnocracy remark is a bit over-stated but drives the point home). I do agree that for a durable peace to be achieved Israel will have to own up to past wrongs (as will its adversaries), and that it will take concerted pressure for them to do so. My view is that Israel is on a downward political spiral towards xenophobic authoritarianism, and it will be this that finally ends the unequivocal US support for it.
As for the two state solution. Here is where hypothetical analogies with South Africa fail. Neither Jew or Palestinians really want two states. Right now the situation is a zero-sum game, sold by the respective political leaderships as an all or nothing contest with victory only possible for one or the other side. That is why recognition of Israel’s right to exist has to happen, which means there needs to be a quid pro quo in which withdrawal from occupied land is exchanged for Hamas and Fatah agreement of Israel’s right to exist. At that point the contours of a Palestinian state can begin to be discussed, and its borders begun to be defined.
Again–warning to all: reasoned argument good; Israel (or Palestinian)-bashing, unacceptable and grounds for deletion.
Pablo, please will you give more details as to your reasons for disagreeing with me when I wrote “Israel is not a democracy”. And expand on why you think my use of the word “ethnocracy” to describe Israel is “a bit over-stated”. I think it is very important that Israel is faced with the truth about itself.
The reasons are many, but there is no room to detail them all in a comment. However, here is the backdrop to my views: I have been researching and teaching comparative and international politics for 25 years. As part of that career I have written in the field of regime transition and comparative democratisation. The latter field has amassed a large body of evidence that demonstrates that “democracy,” rather than be a universal value sharing cross-national characteristics, is in fact always limited in its franchise and application one way or another. This has led to what is known as the “democracy-with-adjectives” phenomena, where democracies are classified as liberal, limited, popular, participatory, oligarchical, consociational, corporate/corporatist, etc. Moreover, the measure of democracy is not taken at merely the procedural level (i.e., elections), but on the three dimensions of substantive democracy: institutional, societal and economic (I have elaborated at some length on all of this in a series of KP posts written in 2009 and also found as a full-length essay published in Scoop in 2009 titled “Are We There Yet?”).
Without going into major detail, by these measures (that is, the extent to which procedural as well as the three dimensions of substantive democracy obtain), Israel is a limited social democracy that, comparatively speaking, ranks higher on all of those dimensions than its neighbours (again, I have omitted Turkey because it is not considered either by the Turks themselves or most analysts to be part of the MIddle East). Although it is a majority Jewish state, it is not an “ethnocracy” akin the that of apartheid South Africa (even if the more conservative and/or racist sectors of Israeli society would like it to be).
This is not to say Israel is a shining example of democracy in practice. To the contrary, its has been in a process of decline and encroaching, incremental authoritarianism for at least two decades , something that is evident not only in electoral restrictions on Arab Israelis and non-Jewish residents of the occupied territories (although Arab Israelis still are allowed the vote thanks to Supreme Court rulings in the face of right-wing attempts to restrict it), but at a substantive level as well. Institutionally, socially and economically, Israel has witnessed a move towards elitism, intolerance, corruption and decay, something that in at least partial measure due to the influx of new immigrants from Russia and the US. The social democratic ideal that was the kibbitzum no longer is, and the general ethos of toleration that existed, at least briefly, in the late 197s and early 1980s is no longer the prevalent societal mindset. Some attribute this to the “garrison-state” mentality that has set into Israeli society as a result of the wars and intifada. Others point to the bigotry of recent immigrants. Whatever the reasons, the truth is that the quality of Israeli democracy has deteriorated appreciably in the last decade or so, which is why questions are raised as to its true character and comparisons are made with neighbouring countries that, by the democratic standards outlined above, do not even remotely qualify to be called such.
That some commentators here indulge those comparisons is evidence, to my mind, of their misunderstanding or ignorance of the full scope of the democratic enterprise put into practice, To wit: it is never fully “free” and it is not forever, but has always been limited and fluid in practice. The issue for those who study the quality of democracy is to push for substantive democratisation as a counter to electoral manipulation and elitism. Unfortunately Israel is headed the other way–in fact, some argue that it is becoming more “Arab” in its politics, which quite frankly I feel is an insult to the populations in question although it may be somewhat true as a characterisation of the behaviour of political elites.
I am sorry if this answer appears vague and does not satisfy you, but it is all I can do within the limits of a comment. Again, my earlier KP posts on democracy can provide you with a more in-depth look at my views on the subject.
A couple of inconvenient “facts” to throw into the mix.
Israel is not dependent on American aid, but American aid is a diplomatic leverage. It is (electorally) easier for the USA to offer aid to Egypt and Jordan and the Palestinian Authority (this aid is no less than that to Israel – which actually supports the American arms business) if it is also giving aid to Israel. This aid is premised on recognition of Israel and being supportive of the peace process.
That said it could be argued that Israeli action is not consistent with being a peace partner and so aid could be withdrawn. While Israel is not dependent on American aid, showing willingness to establish a condition for receiving it would restore some leverage to the aid.
The history of the state of Israel was as a League of Nations Mandate – a homeland allowing Jewish migration. There was a Jewish population majority in the area originally set aside for a nation state by the UN (and population numbers have swelled by immigration since). While there was an overall Palestinian majority then (in the wider land area) and now (if one includes Palestinian refugees around the world), there is no way to factor in the decisions of Jews around the world where they will choose to live in future. And every nation has the right to determine its own immigration policy. Which is why a unitary state is problematic unless Arabs reverse their opposition to Palestine being a Jewish homeland where Jews can migrate. If only Arabs had allowed migration of Jews there would have been a unitary state from the beginning.
People have to stop seeing Jewish settlement of the West Bank as just a betrayal of a two state peace (and it certainly is that), but also as an affirmation of the original goal – settlement of a homeland in Palestine.
There are few ways to reconcile the two contrary strands – but if the PA was to allow Jewish immigration into the West Bank it could gain some control over settlement activity. By accepting compensation for use of land and assets by existing settlements (past and continuing) and requiring prior consent for any new ones. It might seek in return an IDF withdrawal to 2000 period checkpoints and removal of the security fence to the 67 border. It might similarly seek greater access to land in Israel for Arabs (those constrained in existing villages and possibly a token quota for 1948 refugees).
PS Many people of the state of Israel are neither Jews or Arabs. Some are refugees taken in by Israel and some are allowed migration under the law of return who are not Jewish. These people have a Jewish great grand-mother (to be a Jew requires a Jewish mother or religious Jewish status). The reason for this is the holocaust – people with Jewish ancestry were persecuted.
I don’t. I only assume that they are entitled to live in their own country, either in the whole of or part of Palestine, and that they should have a vote in that country. The UNDHR only says that people can’t be exiled from their own country, so it is a moot point as to where they would vote. In either case it is the Israeli government that is denying them the ability to vote.
That’s a peculiarly American view. I would personally be surprised if Israel lasted another half century. The fact that it has managed to survive this long without being the subject of crippling diplomatic action is that it has managed to persuade a great power to back it to the hilt.
All that stands between Israel and diplomatic disaster at the moment is the reticence of the US President to stand up and say something like: “There are many members of congress who seem to be confused about which people they were elected to represent. America cannot survive if its elected representatives put the interests of a foreign state first.”
He says that forcefully enough, and it’s more or less the end of the Israel lobby.
And Iran is a strange case. What it is, is a not too successful attempt to create a modern Islamic Republic. It’s not really a primitive theocracy, but a dysfunctional attempt to create something new.
On the issue of Israel’s “disappearance” n 50 years time, I have to disagree. Not only because of its own internal strengths as a political community that is a technology innovating hub with world-wide client networks and a fierce resolve to defend its existence, but because the Sunni Arab world (which has never had much regard for the Palestinians except as a political tool) see it as a usual hedge against Shiia Persian influence and expansionism. That alone means that a loss of unequivocal US support will not bring the Israelis to their knees. Then factor in the ties Israel has to a wide range of other powers, big and small, and you have the makings of (even if behind the scenes) diplomatic and economic cover.
What I do see as a problematic scenario for Israel is its continued territorial expansion in violation of its promises and diplomatic agreements etc. To continue to do so guarantees that it will be involved in a perpetual low intensity conflict with episodic high intensity flareups, any one of which could crack the resolve of the Israeli population to continue supporting such neo-imperialist policies (the ill-fated incursion into Lebanon a few years ago is indicative in that regard). Defense against existential threats is one thing; expanding the scope of threats via expansionist policies is quite another.
One wonders what diplomatic action would end a nation states existence – given the collective security of recognised nation states is a function of the UN.
Pablo, two points in response to your comments on democracy for which I thank you! Firstly it is irrelevant in this discussion to compare Israel with its neighbours. Israel wants to be seen as similar to European democracies or the US. so it is necessary to judge it by it’s own standard. Unlike you I am not a political scientist and certainly haven’t a long teaching experience of it, but I believe in the authority of truth not the truth of authority and with respect I would invite you to assess Shlomo Sands book where he argues that Israel is not a democracy. He does not do so lightly and he has been pilloried by many Israelis for his analysis. He considers the various forms of democracy that you mention and explains why none of them, including “ethnic democracy” does not apply to Israel. As a lay person his arguments ring true to me. If you will consider them and if you find them faulty I would appreciate your critique as I am sure he would.
SPC. I wonder where you get your facts from. You state several points which are so far as my reading goes, incorrect. “Israel is not dependent on US aid. Really? Have you studied Mearsheimer and Walt’s book “The Israel Lobby”? In the chapter “The Great Benefactor” they point out that the US has been giving Israel between US$3 and US$4.3 billion and year which had amounted to more than US$154 by 2005. That Israel is by far the biggest recipient of aid at approximately $500 per head. (Egypt is second with $20 per head) and that Israel is the only country which does not have to account for how it is spent. That is all government aid – they also receive more than $US 2 billion in private donations. The book is extremely well referenced. And what evidence do you have to support your assertion that it is easier electorally for the US to give aid to other countries than to Israel?
And Jews being a majority in that part of Palestine (54%) which was granted by the UN when there was a partition. The Jewish population at the time was about 548,000 out of 1,750,000 total and they owned only some 6% of the land. That Jews became the majority was only following what some Israeli historians have called “ethnic cleansing” when some 700,000 Arabs fled. This event “THe Nakba” has never been officially acknowledged by Israel and I see in today’s Haaretz newspaper that the Knesset has passed the first reading of the Nakba Law which will make it an offence to publicly remember the event.
As to your point “if only Arabs had allowed migration of Jews…..” I am amazed! During the British Madate, it was the British who controlled immigration and the Jewish population rose from 76,000 in 1922 to over 600,000 by 1948. The Arabs certainly objected and at times revolted, but ‘prevent’, no way.
You go on to say “people have to stop seeing the Settlements as an obstacle to a 2 state solution but as an affirmation of.. but if the PA were to allow immigration into the West Bank…” Are you aware that it is specifically forbidden under the Geneva Convention for an occupying power to settle it’s citizens in the area of occupation? That according to B’Tselem,the Israeli Peace group that by 2007 there were already 121 settlements in the West Bank. And that after the 1995 Oslo Accords the West BAnk is divided into 3 zones Area A (18%) with PA civil and Military authority, Area B (22%) with PA civil and Israeli Military authority and finally Area C (60%) with Israel having both civil and military authority?
With very few exceptions, Jewish Settlements are in Area C. And the PA has no authority there.
Thanks John, I shall look for the Sands book (although it may be a while before I can comment on it as I am in the midst of research traveling at the moment).
1. When I say that Israel is not dependent on US aid, I am simply saying that if US government aid was suspended – Israel would survive (the aid is only 20% of the defence budget).
Historic aid is irrelevant to this point and so is private aid to Israel from Americans.
You seem to have a misapprehension of my other point, which was that the provision of equivalent aid to Egypt, Jordan and Egypt is more easy for the USA WHILE they also give to Israel.
But as I noted, the aid to the Arab states is based on their recognition of Israel and support for the peace process – and thus suspension of aid to Israel is possible on the grounds that actions are not in accord with peace process committments.
Some people portray Israel as dependent on continuance of US government aid – but that is not true.
2. I simply said that Jews were a majority in the area awarded for a Jewish (majority) state and you acknowledge this was the case – so your point is?
Your reference to the amount of land in ownership is a red herring – as most of the land was not privately owned.
The fact that on both sides of the partition border there was ethnic cleansing and refugee migration is irrelevant to the existence of a Jewish majority before 1948 (and the same thing also occured when Pakistan was formed and was common in Europe when borders were redrawn).
I understand the need for those who oppose a Jewish majority state’s existence to portray a Palestinian majority in the wider world (including refugees) – if not within the historic Palestine area itself. But to belabour that point (ignoring that some refugees do not want to return and on that same basis Jews around the world could be counted) is to make a claim of legitimacy on the same “identity” premise on which some oppose the “Jewish” state iself. The argument is not consistent.
3. I wrote
>Which is why a unitary state is problematic unless Arabs reverse their opposition to Palestine being a Jewish homeland where Jews can migrate. If only Arabs had allowed migration of Jews there would have been a unitary state from the beginning.
I was speaking to the issue of why a partition arrangment was chosen by the UN. Which was Arab opposition to migration of Jews. The original mandate to GB was to provide for the migration of Jews to their former homeland. If the local population had accepted this migration, a unitary state option would have been viable.
Your use of the word “prevent” to describe (if they had accepted) that is a misrepresentation.
4. On your other point – settlement of occupied land, consider the 1949 ban of annexation of territory seized in war. The peace process is premised on the idea that the PLO/PA and Israel can negotiate new borders (that is different to those of 1949). This speaks to the recognition of the sovereignty of the Palestine nation/people representative in negotiation of a peace settlement.
Given that principle, the objection to settlement of occupied territory does not prevent the PLO/PA from allowing (some of) these settlements as part of the peace process and or with the founding of their state
(on whatever conditions they set)
Palestinian officials have themselves at times mentioned that they might allow some settlers to remain within a Palestinian state. Regardless of the Oslo Accord arrangements – the fact is Palestinians in the peace process negotiate on the premise that they will have authority on their side of the 67 border.
Shlomo Sand calls the Jewish people an invention â€“ in his challenge to nationalist assumptions, so he has a track record of trying to be provocative.
This is one Haaretz take on his position on democracy in Israel.
A good example is the vicious campaign that has been launched against Tel Aviv University historian Shlomo Sand, who wrote a book arguing that Israel needs to move from an ethnocentric to a liberal model of democracy. Sand has been called anti-Semitic and a “self-hating Jew” – even though it seems from the utter inexactness of some of the claims on these Web sites that few of the delegitimizers have actually read the book. As a result, these attacks completely miss the simple point that Sand’s goal is precisely to ensure the existence of Israel as a democratic state with a Jewish majority!
Jewish-American Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and one-time U.N. rapporteur, Richard Falk has a very interesting article on the Australian pro-Palestine site which concludes:
“Even if the Palestinians win the legitimacy war there is no guarantee that this victory will produce the desired political results. It requires Palestinian patience, resolve, leadership and vision, as well as sufficient pressure to force a change of heart in Israel, and probably in Washington as well. In this instance, it would seem to require an Israeli willingness to abandon the core Zionist project to establish a Jewish state, and that does not appear likely from the vantage point of the present. But always the goals of a legitimacy war appear to be beyond reach until mysteriously attained by the abrupt and totally unexpected surrender by the losing side.
Until it collapses the losing side pretends to be unmovable and invincible, a claim that is usually reinforced by police and military dominance. This is what happened in the Soviet Union and South Africa, earlier to French colonial rule in Indochina and Algeria, and to the United States in Vietnam.
It is up to all of us dedicated to peace and justice to do all we can to help the Palestinians prevail in the legitimacy war and bring their long ordeal to an end.”
Jewish American? Would you say “Muslim American,” “Catholic American” or Protestant American?”
Your true colours are showing in that short phrase.
Well I suppose the “Jewish” American Professor at least knows in what way he qualifies as a Jew (it’s neither by religion or race).
It’s an interesting advocacy to the Palestinians, to be patient in the quest of a victory in the legitimacy war (not the same meaning as de-legitimisation of a Jewish state of Israel).
However, while the advice is not wrong, the outcome may not be what those who seek the end of the state of Israel might want. Israel could well be faced down and withdraw from occupation and accept a 2 state reality. That will deliver a Palestinian state, but not the end of a Jewish majority state.
Whoa, steady up there big fella. I got that from Wikipedia:
“Identifying himself as a Jewish American, Falk stated……”
Ok, my mistake, and apologies are in order. It seems strange that Falk, a very famous political scientist, would choose such a form of self-identification (since he has never done so within the pol. science profession, of which I am a member). I wonder if it is done more for foreign activist consumption, as a way of establishing his “bona fides” in advocating the Palestinian cause.
You could easily substitute “Soviet Union” for “Israel” and make appropriate substitutions for the rest of the variables in this statement, and look what happened to the Soviet Union. The variables which you note are some of the world’s most unstable.
The real victims of this will be non-Israeli Jews, who will at some point rue the day that Israel made common cause with the religious political right. There’s a great scene in The Sopranos where Hesh’s daughter remarks about how much Christian fundamentalists have done for Israel, whereupon Hesh replies: “You wait”.
After the ridiculous amount of flak I have personally taken from these folks for daring to question Israeli policy towards Palestinians, I think I’ll stand back and leave them to the wolves. Israel is a cancer on international relations, and the US and British Israel lobbies are a political cancer on those countries’ foreign policy.
The USSR/Israel analogy is a far stretch. The former was a forcibly cobbled together federation involving dozens of nationalities, ethnicities, religious and cultural traditions spanning 12 time zones. Israel is a wee bit different, as are the variables I mentioned with reagrd to it.
Also, who are the “these folks” who have given you flak?
“establishing his â€œbona fidesâ€ in advocating the Palestinian cause. “
Perhaps it is to avoid the “from the hip” accusations of Antisemitism that are all too often leveled at those who write in the interests of a just settlement of this question.
That was not his purpose, but enabling others to quote his argument possibly was. After all, there was no reason not to share a line of argument that had already been used in debate with other Jews.
Jonathan Ben-Artzi was one of the spokespeople for the Hadash party in the Israeli general elections in 2006. His parents are professors in Israel, and his extended family includes uncle Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. Ben-Artzi is a PhD student at Brown University in Providence. He describes himself thus: “I am an Israeli. Both my parents were born in Israel. Both my grandmothers were born in Palestine (when there was no â€œIsraelâ€ yet). In fact, I am a ninth-generation native of Palestine. My ancestors were among the founders of todayâ€™s modern Jerusalem.
Both my grandfathers fled the Nazis and came to Palestine. Both were subsequently injured in the 1948 Arab-Israli War. My motherâ€™s only brother was a paratrooper killed in combat in 1968. All of my relatives served in the Israeli military for extensive periods of time, some of them in units most people donâ€™t even know exist.”
On the question of Israel’s “democracy”, he ends this essay in the CSM:
“If Americans truly are our friends, they should shake us up and take away the keys, because right now we are driving drunk, and without this wake-up call, we will soon find ourselves in the ditch of an undemocratic, doomed state.”
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