Debating and Criticizing Israel

(See here) an opinion piece written by George Bisharat that appeared on the Philadelphia Inquirer's website, philly.com.

This is a biting piece highly critical of Israel. I agree with many but not all of the points George makes.

One criticism that George does not make, that I think is relevant I feel should be added. While George delves into how none Jews are sometimes unfairly treated in Israeli society, he leaves out how Israeli society is not even fair to all Jews. For example, if a Conservative or Reform Jew immigrates into Israel, and subsequent to arrival wishes to get married, this same Jewish person would be forced to convert to Orthodox Judaism first, and then can only be married in an Orthodox Jewish ceremony. If a Jew wants to be married in a Conservative or Reform Jewish ceremony, or (gasp) in a secular ceremony, they must leave Israel and have the ceremony performed elsewhere upon which the marriage would be recognized upon their return to Israel. Not all Jews are equal in Israel. Orthodox Jews are "more equal" then others.

George seems to be encouraging debate about the United State's policies towards Israel. In his concluding paragraph, he states and asks:
The debate should now be extended. Are Israel's founding ideals truly consistent with democracy? Can a state established in a multiethnic milieu be simultaneously "Jewish" and "democratic"? Isn't strife the predictable yield of preserving the dominance of Jews in Israel over a native Palestinian population? Does our unconditional aid merely enable Israel to continue abusing Palestinian rights with impunity, deepening regional hostilities and distancing peace? Isn't it time that Israel lived by rules observed in any democracy - including equal rights for all?

First, before I go into where I differ with George, let me point out where I think we might find agreement. I, too applaud Jimmy Carter (who George mentions in his piece) for daring to bring the subject to the public's attention. I probably find stronger areas of agreement with Jimmy then I do with George. I have heard Jimmy state that in his book he is being critical of what is happening in the occupied territories, not of what goes on within Israel proper, those portions of Israel that exist within the Green Line. However George does not stop there. He seems to think that Israel must adopt all the ideals of American society.

I would ask George to be realist. He questions as to whether Israel can be simultaneously Jewish and Democratic. I say it can. Are there some aspects of the society they have established that I think should be changed? Yes. However I do not think it would be right for our society to try and force feed these changes upon them. You have to remember what motivated the establishment of Israel in the first place. Hitler really did put millions of Jews into the ovens. Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi persecution were even turned away from the shores of America and forced to return to the shores of Europe to meet their fate (Google SS St Louis). I do not think the desire of Jews to establish a predominately Jewish society, a society that will throw open its arms to welcome any and every Jewish individual who desires refuge, is unreasonable.

I also believe that George would differ with me over "the plight of Palestinian refugees". I feel that in order to obtain a peace agreement that Israeli society will agree to, the "right of return" is going to have to be denied Palestinian refugees who fled, or were driven from, territory within the Green Line during 1948. Yes, perhaps there should be some form of reparations given to these refugees. However the return of these refugees to within the Green Line would mean the eventual destruction of "the Jewish state" due to demographics. The "right of return" is going to have to be denied.

One thing I am certain of is this, if we are going to open a public debate about "what to do about Israel" I vote that it be Jimmy Carter be the one to lead the side voicing criticism of America's public policy regarding the subject. Jimmy Carter is at least, in my opinion, reasonable in his criticisms while I think criticism voiced by people such as George Bisharat would be dismissed without serious consideration as being too extremist in nature.

I am in favor of the "two state solution", I am not in favor of the destruction of Israel, and what George proposes would yield just that. However, much of his criticisms are indeed warranted. He can join the debate, however I do not look to him for leadership on the issue. George Bisharat is too much of an extremist for me.


Blogger Michael said...

Even ignoring Israel's foreign policy and its policy towards Palestian territory, there are some serious problems within Israel domestically.

As you have highlighted, the problem is with its treatment o Israel's non-Jewish (specifically Arab) citizens.

With regards to Israel accepting any person of "Jewish" descent as a citizen, I take your comment on the formation of Israel (i.e., haven for displaced Jews post WWII). Just as any other nation show favourable status to diaspora who which to return (e.g., Chinese people to China, German people to Germany, etc.) I believe that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with Israel accepting Jews (given that there are of course no "Israeli" diaspora in the usual sense).

More problematic, however, is Israel's creed of being both "Jewish" and "democratic". Here, "Jewish-ness" does not refer to "Israeli-ness". By stating it wishes to be a "Jewish nation" it is declaring an institutionalised bias towards one racial group.

As an analogy, consider what the response would be if Australia suddenly announced that it was to be a "democratic nation" and an "Anglo-Saxon" nation (as it did for quite a long time with the White Australia policy).

It is hard to argue that it is not a form of institutionalised racism. Despite the (valid) negative connotations and the anger at the association, that is what Apartheid in South Africa was.

By all accounts, Arab citizens within Israel ARE treated differently and universally not for the better. This is hard to justify for a democratic nation. Now, there are those who argue that Arabs within Israel are treated better than in almost any other surrounding nation in the Middle East and there is truth to this. I doubt that most Israeli Arabs want to move elsewhere and there are certainly fiercly patriotic Arab Israelis.

Nevertheless, Israel must be judged by its peers, which are the other Western democratic nations that it believes itself to be. I do not believe that Israel's preoccupation with being both a "Jewish" and "democratic" nation is tenable.

IMHO, Israel must shift its focus on the reality of its citizenry. As the United States is an American nation, Israel must redefine as an Israeli nation, not just a Jewish one.


2/03/2007 05:30:00 AM  
Blogger Little David said...

Israel is an "equal opportunity" discriminator. Israel discriminates against a significant portion of Jews that come to call Israel home.

Israeli's benefit through their comparison of their society to other societies that reside in their neighborhood. Israel enjoys the ability to play the trump card of "Peace Now" that was birthed within Israel.

I do not know about you, but I will point to "Peace Now" as being amongst the most laudable, self sacrificing, examples of humanity. While I have, and will reserve the right to continue, to criticize Peace Now for some of their positions, I see nothing within any of Israel's neighbors that even remotely approaches an organization that is so worthy of praise.

Israel lives in a "bad neighborhood". Once the neighborhood is cleaned up, then perhaps we can involve ourselves in motivating them for further improvement. Until that time comes, I am at times awestruck at just how wonderful their society can continue to be. I will point towards that they have not yet resorted to throwing the members of "Peace Now" into prison for treason or something. The majority of Israeli's would not stand for it. - Grin -

I love Israeli society. During trying times, true beauty is exposed.

2/03/2007 11:50:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

I'm not entirely sure what your point is there in the last comment...

To be sure there are many positive aspects of Israeli people and Israel as a nation.

Institutionised discrimination against one segment of its citizery based on race is not one of them.


2/03/2007 09:19:00 PM  
Blogger Little David said...

It was an attempt to rebut the concluding remark in your previous comment, which included:

"As the United States is an American nation, Israel must redefine as an Israeli nation, not just a Jewish one."

And you accentuated this conclusion with the concluding statement of your last post:

"Institutionised discrimination against one segment of its citizery based on race is not one of them."

I could have quibbled that the discrimination is not really institutionalized, but that would indeed be quibbling. Instead I was seeking to draw a comparison to Israel's neighbors where discrimination against Jews is also quite real.

It is my belief that some of the discrimination evident in Israel against Arabs is because "the heat is on". Once the heat of conflict is removed, the cauldron might not boil. To put it in other words, I believe that Israeli society is good enough that it will improve on its own after the current conflict resides and robs right wing extremists of their arguments for why some discrimination is necessary.

In the meantime, I do not think there is anything wrong with one nation serving as a point of refuge of the last resort for all Jewish individuals. History shows us that something like this might be necessary.

2/05/2007 05:27:00 AM  

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