Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Is Opposing a Palestinian State and Palestinian Suffrage Racist?

One of the arguments prevalent among those who advocate for the creation of a Palestinian state, including among staunch Zionists - such as Jeffery Goldberg - is that the Jews of Israel must make a choice between two incompatible futures. In one scenario, Israel relinquishes the territory it liberated through defensive war in 1967, divesting itself of millions of Palestinian non-citizens under its control and allowing a Palestinian state to take root in what is commonly referred to as the West Bank. The State of Israel will then remain an overwhelming and unassailable Jewish majority country, continuing to bestow democratic rights on all its citizens without risk of undermining the country's Jewish character. Alternately, Israel may annex the West Bank, but must then grant voting rights to the 1.5-2.5 million Palestinians who reside there (the exact number is debated), ostensibly ending the Jewish people's modern journey in national sovereignty.

In my last post, I discussed the traditional and contemporary commitment of Jews - all Jews - to democratic norms. Of course, Jefferey Goldberg's full argument is that certain problematic sectors of Israeli society - Jews of Middle Eastern and of recent Eastern European origin, residents of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and the rapidly growing haredi minority - are a unique obstacle to Israel relinquishing territory for a Palestinian state, while remaining opposed to granting citizenship to the 1.5-2.5 million Palestinians residing in the West Bank.

It may very well be that large constituencies within Israel are opposed to granting the Palestinians either a state or Israeli citizenship and voting rights (as opposed to say, permanent residency rights). However, neither Goldberg nor Israel's progressive left is really dealing with the reasons why this may be. Instead, they're suppressing the basis for inconvenient opinions and segmenting Israel's Jews into the good and the bad, the reasonable, progressive Zionist democrats, and the illiterate savages who are too stupid to be allowed to think for themselves. Pigeonholing people between the solution preferred by the country's self-anointed elite and the promise of a veritable apocalypse is not intellectually honest dialogue. Further, labeling a likely majority of the Israeli population as anti-democratic and racist for obstructing either a Palestinian state or Palestinian suffrage as Israeli citizens presumes a lack of alternative motivations.

Israel is a nation under siege. Its citizens have been shot, stabbed, blown up, bombarded and generally threatened with a loss of life, limb, parent, child, sibling, friend, or any stranger on the street, not to mention the persistent regional calls for their national genocide, every single day, going on eight decades. When the nation isn't being invaded or threatened by neighboring armies, it is being infiltrated by individuals whose primary intent is either to kill or maim the greatest number of people in the most gruesome, public way possible, slit the throats of entire families in their sleep or kidnap soldiers and bargain their decomposed remains back to the state. Millions of people are living in an environment where, at any moment, for no reason within their control, rockets will fall from the sky and splatter their children's mutilated bodies so completely across sidewalks and playgrounds that it will take days for trained specialists and DNA sequencing to collect the pieces. This is not a normal way for human beings to live their lives.

At this point I can hear a number of my Israeli friends protest, vehemently, at my characterization of them as hapless victims. They live their lives to the fullest, they'll say, and don't think every day about the violence and challenges I'm ascribing to them. Indeed, Israeli society has demonstrated a remarkable resilience and even growth in the face of adversity. This is a quality of the country and its people much beloved their supporters worldwide, and certainly by the American Jewish community. However, such praise, while understandable, isn't admirable, it's sickening. We in the rest of the world are praising a people for accepting as normal a level of violence and threat of violence that would never be tolerated in our societies. That Israelis have internalized and normalized living at death's door, and that we applaud them for it, is not a source of pride, but of shame. What other nation with the power to permanently resolve threats to its security would not do so? That's normal; Israel isn't.

There was a time when the "land for peace" formula made some sense. There was a time when the peace camp promised that its solutions would actually bring peace. I don't know if you've noticed, but after Lebanon and Gaza, no one is making such promises to the people of Israel - not the human rights groups, not the Israeli government, not the Palestinian Authority and not the American president. A nation already at the limit of its tolerance for violence is being asked to double down on a policy which no one can guarantee will bring peace, and may in fact instigate a new round of bloodshed. It's either that or invite the very people who would shoot rockets at your home and riddle your family with bullets into having a say over how your country should be run. Lastly, should you choose to do neither, you're an anti-democratic racist. Enjoy.

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