Yesterday, I wrote about the sad death of Tony Judt, the Jewish scholar that, among many other accomplishments, argued that because Israel’s national identity remained centered on an antiquated ethno-religious characterization, it lacked the ability to be a true democracy. Similarly, analyses of Israel also quickly discover the impossible juxtaposition of Israel’s desire for peace and its historical dream for a Greater Israel. Both issues (Jewish vs. democracy and peace vs. Greater Israel) are paramount in the current national Israeli dialogue and parallel strangely well with each other. Should Israel be a peaceful, Democratic state, or should it be a Jewish state reaching for expansion?
Interestingly, this (admittedly simplistic) bifurcation of the Israeli culture can be extended into nearly all facets of Israeli society: settlers vs. citizens, Lieberman vs Livni. Jerusalem Post vs. Haaretz. It is not surprising, therefore, that Haaretz published two opinion articles yesterday that touch exactly on this maddening internal Israeli conflict of identification.
Zvi Bar’el starts his article with an interesting (although debatable flawed) comparison of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank to the American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, saying that the lack of American colonies and settlers in Afghanistan and Iraq allows the American leadership to cease the occupation at any point (it is here that I disagree, but that is a different argument). Israeli occupation is doomed to an everlasting presence. Gaza demonstrated that Israel could pull out of the settler-induced quagmire, but, so the argument goes, pulling out of the West Bank is a security risk and it would bring down the government:
But it’s not the well-worn security argument that blocks Israeli withdrawal. That’s because Iran poses an existential threat, and terror threats emanate from Lebanon and Gaza. Israel has no withdrawal issue as far as these lands are concerned. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shows concerns about developments on the eastern front, he is referring to Iraq and Iran, not Ramallah, a West Bank town heaving with shopping centers and discotheques. There is no oil in the West Bank, which does not provide us with foreign workers. The West Bank has stopped serving as Israel’s economic hinterland, a role it played in the 1970s and ’80s. So no economic argument is at play here.
Nor can the danger of a collapse of the governing coalition serve as a viable excuse for not withdrawing, because even when center-left coalitions were in power and had the option of withdrawing, a pullout from the West Bank was not on the agenda. In other words, no rational argument is left to block a withdrawal.
Even the most stringent supporters of disengagement can admit that there are risks involved with leaving the West Bank, but the situation is immensely different than Gaza and holds many more long term benefits than short term risks. So why not pull out? The desire to expand:
Israel’s refusal to pull out is rooted in another dimension – the dream of Greater Israel has never disappeared. Two states for two peoples is a pleasing and rational slogan that appears to reflect political realism, but it’s not strong enough to eradicate a psychological complex of power and bury a dream.
[tweetmeme] Gideon Levy wrote the second op-ed yesterday than seems to mirror Har’el’s emphasis on the harmful, subconscious, national dream for a Greater Israel. Levy, though, seems to have taken a book straight from the late Tony Judt in arguing against the compatibility of Jewish and democratic foundations of the Israeli state. The Jewish characterization of Israel, argues Levy, institutionalizes racism and perpetuates damning political decisions (continuing to occupy the West Bank for a Greater Israel?). Levy notes that Israel is not the only state with racist policies, but is one of the only that has such despicable behavior woven into the society:
Israel is not the only place where racism is on the rise. Europe and the United States are awash in a turbid wave of xenophobia; but in Israel, this racism is embedded in the state’s most fundamental values. There is no other state whose immigration laws are blatantly and unequivocally based on the candidates’ bloodlines. Jewish blood, whether authentic or dubious, is kosher. Other blood, from those of other creeds or nationalities, is unacceptable. No country throws its doors wide open to everyone, but while other states take social, economic and cultural considerations into account in Israel bloodline is the name of the game. How else are we to understand the fact that someone who was born here, who speaks the language, cherishes its values and even serves in the military, can be unceremoniously expelled while a member of the Bnei Menashe community in India or the grandson of a half-Jew from Kazakhstan are welcomed with open arms.
At the end of his article, Levy asks, “And how is it even possible to speak about a state being both Jewish and democratic?” highlighting a clear problem in Israeli identity. This question, with a few minor changes, could have easily been the endpoint for Har’el’s article as well: And how is it even possible to speak about a state dreaming of both peace and a Greater Israel? Eventually the internal contradictions in Israeli identity will be confronted. One can only hope that the future sees Israel falling on the moral side of the fence.
Photo from News Real Blog