Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Manifest Destiny of Arab Zionism

I remember a particularly engaging lecture I attended while an undergrad on the modern iterations of manifest destiny. It is a term of mid-19th century vintage, originally used to describe the belief in a seemingly divinely sanctioned inevitability that pervaded and nourished American expansionist settlement into the central plains of North America and beyond. While originally intended to serve the ideological needs of mostly white, Anglo-Saxon culture, in more contemporary times, manifest destiny became a type of shorthand for the prevailing national sentiment and foreign policy - whether as gunboat diplomacy in cordoning off the Western Hemisphere for American dominion, making the world safe for democracy (and liberal capitalism), or insisting that representative government is the basic need and right of all humanity, extending into our own time.

Every people has a certain vision of itself. The French, Germans, Russians, Poles, British, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, all have a national ethos based on the dominant culture. The Japanese, for instance, believe themselves to be children of the gods, literally; their emperor a direct heir of divinity, and the rest of us gaijin (literally, foreigners, but more loosely, barbarians). And who are the French, if not the snotty global womb of cultural refinement and high society (just try to tell them otherwise), and ever the salacious Catholic penitents to boot. To whatever extent such notions of ethos and inherited mind are today relegated by the global-local Twitter generation to antiquated vernacular, they remain, borderless Europe and all, shaping the national character of societies.

It is only in the case of the Jews that the expression of a national movement born of a majority culture within the confines of a geographic locale - Zionism - is readily deemed especially sinister, and so implacably at odds with international norms and humanistic values as to challenge the foundations of legitimacy for peoplehood itself, to say nothing of national sovereignty. Absurdly, the one nation most clearly defined and longest persevering in the consciousness of Western civilization - indeed, the later in large part stems from the former - must now produce the proof, as no other people ever have, with an axe at its nape, that it exists!

Underlying all rhetoric about the innate racism of Zionism is a simple and undeniable fact - there are no structural impediments to Israeli-Arab enfranchisement, well-being or self-actualization in Israel, none. Dissenters should be pressed and cornered, for they will squirm, to cite the lawful statute which prevents "the Jewish State" from being presided over by an Israeli citizen of any faith, ethnicity or creed, should they gather the necessary votes. They can not find such a law, the miscreants, and therefore will not even seek it, instead retreating to a no less preposterous notion that human failings and moral frailty which permit discrimination the world over, even when prohibited by law, should not exist in one country among the rest, as though imperfect human beings do not reside in it as they do in all others.

To be sure, there are problems of minorities in Israel - poverty, lack of integration, etc. - among others, but these are present in every other Western society also. There is nothing particularly pernicious about minorities in Israel being worse off as compared to minorities in France or the USA being worse off. And if you say that population sub-groups face no such obstacles in the States, then I encourage you to take a Greyhound bus through the countryside of the fine states of Georgia, or West Virginia, and watch communities of trailers and run down makeshift shacks for whom the Balata refugee camp would objectively constitute a housing upgrade. These issues require remedial attention, yes, education, yes, multi-culti sensitivity training, yes of course, all of these, and who is saying otherwise? Such societal ills do not make Israel unique or special in the community of civilized and even affluent countries; they make the country normal.

That Israel is not now and never will be a Palestinian or Arab state is not a product of assertive ethnocentrism but a function of its majority culture, and that culture’s basic level of productive vitality, which has ensured and will continue to secure its majority status. I don’t know any Jews who bear children to fight a demographic war with the Arabs. Nowhere in the world, and certainly not among the Jews, do people conceive children out of fear; children are born out of hope for a better future. It says something about the substantive value of national sovereignty on the outlook of a people that Jews have more children in Israel, on average, than elsewhere in the world.

The very recent emphasis on Israel's "second-class citizens" is all the more peculiar now, when Arab enfranchisement in the Zionist project is growing, from year to year, and across all fields - linguistic, cultural, political and economic. The Arab Israeli activists who scream loudest about being second class Israeli citizens are repeatedly shown to be the least representative. Calmer Arab voices, often without European-funded human rights activists on their speed-dial, are quietly confessing their embarrassment at being denied integration into civic life, and the government resources that flow from it, by Arab radicals who are pursuing an agenda quite at odds with the basic interests of their own communities.

Is it so inconceivable that Arab Israelis will one day celebrate Chanukah, Passover and Independence Day as national holidays, and why should anyone well-meaning discourage them from doing so? Bearing in mind the Jewish diaspora experience, it is natural for a minority to desire a level of integration with the dominant, majority culture, to celebrate occasions of national joy with everyone else. Indeed, the American Jewish experience points to the mass of communal resources that must be expended to avert total assimilation and sublimation into an open and welcoming majority culture. If only a small group of misguided Jewish rabblerousers and populist Arab demagogues are kept from interfering in the process, future generations of Arab Israelis will increasingly integrate into Israeli society and rely less on the “resistance” of their parents to define their identity in opposition to the State. It is a process of normalization, of cultural diffusion, of assimilation that is irresistible in the long run, and in my opinion, in terms of Israel’s future, that of its Jews, and the future well-being of its Arab minority, this is all to the good.

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