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Israel's Zionism Problem


October 15, 2010

I was struck by a piece I read this morning on The Atlantic's website by Jonathan Tepperman. The piece, which admirably decries Israel's drive toward a loyalty oath, is a perfect example of the type of bend-over-backwards thinking that is produced by the desire to justify an ethnocentric majoritarian state. Tepperman begins:

Last Sunday, the Israeli cabinet approved a controversial new draft law that would require non-Jews hoping to become Israeli citizens to swear a loyalty oath to the nation as a democratic and--here's the ugly bit--Jewish state.

OK not so bad, he continues:
While there's no question that the measure is abhorrent, smacking as it does of blood-oaths and narrow, violent, 19th century notions of nationalism, I think there are a couple of points worth keeping in mind.

Uh oh...here it comes (emphasis mine):
One, those of us who live in multiethnic, pluralistic societies with few external threats and where everyone basically agrees on what it means to be a citizen--we have it easy. And the knowledge of our good fortune should perhaps make us just a touch slower to judge societies that don't enjoy such luxuries--or at least lead us to double-check our criticisms before letting fly. I'm not arguing for giving Israel a pass in a case like this. But I am suggesting that we should think about the kinds of fear that motivate it.

Which leads me to point number two. The Lieberman pledge is an odious attempt to deal with a problem. But that doesn't mean that the problem itself isn't real.

So what is the problem Jonathan?
Even if Israel were to shed itself completely of the West Bank today, the issue wouldn't go away. For Israel proper--as defined by its 1967 borders--also has a sizable Arab population, and that population is also growing fast (or so it is commonly believed), again thanks to a birthrate higher than that of the Jews. The rate of increase is far too fast for the likes of people like Lieberman--but also too fast for many secular Israeli Jews, who worry that once again they risk being outnumbered in their own land.
This is where "liberal Zionism" gets all dressed up in flamboyant garb to prance around in the oxymoronic parade. Still, very few take notice. The problem as Tepperman sees it, is that the Palestinian Arabs exist, and their mere existence in their ancestral homeland poses a threat to ethnocentric majoritarianism. The problem for liberal Zionists is not the state adopted ideology which demands ethnic majority rule, but rather the people who were there before the state. And why?
Israel was founded and internationally recognized as a refuge for Jews, and it is legitimate that modern Israelis are determined to keep it so.

There is no doubt that Jews suffered tremendous injustice in Europe and elsewhere throughout history, and the notion of a homeland for Jews is a legitimate one. But to argue that this justifies ethnic majority rule while ignoring that the creation of that state directly created another stateless people through depopulation and ethnic cleansing is irresponsible and dangerous. In fact, ignoring these truths which are inconvenient for the liberal Zionist leads to perverse and obscene arguments about managing birthrates among ethnic minorities to maintain majority rule. You know, something like this:

For the explanation for the falling birthrate in Israel is the same as it is everywhere: as women get richer and more educated, they start having fewer kids. So if Israelis are still convinced they have an Arab "problem" and want to deal with it, their best bet would be to continue to ensure the economic and social integration of those same Arabs.

Doing so should appeal to Israel's moderate mainstream because it will help guarantee that the Arabs remain loyal citizens in the long term, as it will give them a greater long-term stake in the state.

As for hateful xenophobes like Lieberman--well, even they should find something to like. Since by lowering birthrates, at least it will reduce the number of their enemies.

So in essence the argument is if Israel could just eliminate some of the institutionalized racism in its socio-economic policies vis-a-vis the Palestinian citizens of Israel, then it will lower birthrates among this population and secure its meta-goal of institutionalized racism in the long term.

Isn't it just awkward when liberalism meets Zionism? I suppose in theory the two are not incompatible, but in practice, when Zionism means the creation of Israel in what was Palestine, Zionism will continue to be at odds with the liberal values of equality and freedom.

:: Article nr. 70796 sent on 15-oct-2010 20:19 ECT


Link: blog.thejerusalemfund.org/2010/10/israels-zionism-problem.html

:: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website.

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