HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

April 14, 2008
"Intruder from some other place!"
-or-
"Why did we rush to accuse?"*

James Adler


The Israeli daily "newspaper of record," Ha'aretz, recently reports that the "construction in the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem is continuing full speed ahead" [Apr. 1], and that, as it approvingly observes in Peace Now's new report, at present the "momentum for settlement construction is 'unprecedented'" [Mar. 31].

This is a convenient peg on which to hang most of the world's combined fear and anger-- fear and anger at both sides --that Israel's occupation and longstanding expansionism is reversing the long-term post-War decline of the scourge of anti-Semitism.

Notably, after overrunning and occupying Kuwait, Iraq was sent straight back to its own borders.  But somehow Israel, certainly and laudably "the only democracy in the Middle East," also would appear to continue to remain as -- "the only expansionist in the Middle East."

This expansionism exacerbates the malignant resurgence of anti-Semitism-- as also does the fact that Israel denies the fundamental distinction between state and religion, so that expansion is done not in the name of Israel as a state, but instead of Jewish ethnic and religious identity, so that the Palestinians, who are less interested in Europe's sordid history and more that their land continues to get stolen, simply copy Israel's substitution of the one identity for the other.

This substitution of state for religious identity has furthermore had the power to escalate the conflict into something more than only political, so that Europe's moribund arsenal of hate and slanders has begun to be malignantly ransacked and recycled for the Arab anti-Israeli and Palestinian movements.  This seems to me the truth in the observation that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more than just a political one over land, and the truth in the fact the Israelis are Jewish -- instead of another people -- counts especially against them in the attitudes of their adversarial neighbors.  This seems to me the sense that the conflict is more than political, and even more than religious: That Anti-Semitism, in the old European sense, is involved, that is, that Europe's cauldron of Mein Kampfs and Protocols of the Elders of Zion has been taken out of storage -- where they had deserved to lie loathed and otherwise forgotten in the dust forever -- to whet and inflame the animosities of its victims and haters and enemies.

In the meantime Israel's expansionism, its settlements, land claims, and home demolitions, has long constituted, since Israeli actions speak so much louder than any words, a standing -- more, a longstanding -- and an in-your-face rebuke to any two-state solution.

Expansionism attracts hatred and subverts peace processes.  And if Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority as political entities are too weak or unwilling to curb the hateful and anti-peace Hizbollah and Hamas, it would appear that Israel as a political entity is likewise too weak or unwilling to curb its expansionism.

The Israeli -- and worldwide so-called "pro-Israel" right wing -- I say "so-called, because I am pro-Israel too -- acclaims moral clarity, but its steady expansionism in settlements and home demolitions and intrusive land claims constitutes a protracted collapse of its own moral clarity.

Moreover, the expansionism exacerbates hatred and popular frustration that escalates Islamism and anti-Semitism; it has compromised regional and international peace and security -- notably, the peace and security of both Israel and the United States, as exemplified by the ruthless 9/11 terrorism against us; and it perpetuates and escalates demographic entanglements and dilemmas that, against an overwhelmingly frustrated and intertwined and also larger surrounding Arab  and Muslim population, could generate the One-State Solution that all the right's militant denials and defiances (to the world, as well as to an Israel that is herself hostage to her own settlement movement)--  may ultimately be unable to prevent.

And what is wrong with a One-State solution? Nothing, if there were no conflict, nor a danger of yet another tyranny of a non-Jewish majority, under which the Jews have suffered for thousands of years; so the issue isn't a majority per se, but that of a tyranny of a non-Jewish majority.  So this isn't a Zionist ideology but sociological realism: The Jews of the Middle East need dignity and a sufficient amount of political self-control and self-reliance, just the same as does every ethnic group in the Middle East that also suffers if it doesn't have enough of it, whether Bahai's, or Sunnis in Iran, or Shia and Sunnis and Kurds in Iraq wherever they're in the minority surrounded by the others, or Shia in largely Sunni places, or Copts in Egypt, -- or, needless to say, Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories.   Every group needs political power and self-control for sufficient defense and autonomy, and which whenever any group doesn't have it, it suffers, be it Palestinians, Jews, Kurds, Copts, Ba'hai, dependent on circumstances Sunnis and Shia...

At the same time we must recognize that in the old Mandate area -- and even in the whole Middle East -- in the enlightened 20th century itself, the Palestinians were the first -- and really only group-- to have to give up what they socially and culturally and religiously and quasi-politically already had and formally-politically were on the verge of getting -- a colossal travesty of justice inflicted on them.

Moreover, a melting pot of total nontribalism and nonethnicity would be, in some Platonic sense, the best and most ideal form of government, and perhaps eventually will come about, such occasionally the unique and idealistic American experiment  aspires to and sometimes, occasionally (at some distance approaches)-- most nearly when furthest from excessive "identity politics."

And perhaps the Mideast and whole world will some day aspire to it and experimentally approach it.  But, alas not yet, and no one group -- such as the Jews -- should be the first to have to give it sufficient political power and self-control, sufficient empowerment and autonomy over local affairs and organized defensive potential against potential discrimination and persecution... nothing more or no less than every group needs, and many don't have-- until tribalism and tribal and ethnic identity ends, which comes miraculously close to doing here, but may never completely-- and much less elsewhere in the world. And so while the Jews shouldn't have to give it up, many don't even have it yet in the first place, such as the Copts and Kurds-- and Palestinians --, and as we are in these weeks horribly reminded, the people of Tibet.

Hence until the far-off future of nonethnic ideals implemented throughout the world, Israelis and Jews everywhere and just as much the occupied Palestinians desperately need and deserve states for themselves, each state near or adjoining the 1967 borders, each with Western and Arab League and ironclad American peace-and-security guarantees.

Perhaps, against the current rampant and largely right-wing current cynicism, we may invoke the name and banner of the founder himself of the national vision for the Jews, Theodor Herzl, and hope that one of the main consequences of a realized two-state solution will be the gradual resumption  -- no matter how painstakingly slow and frustratingly fitful this trajectory may turn out to be -- of the trend that had already  experienced its longstanding beginnings in the first Postwar decades --  of  the Postwar decline and slow and eventual disappearance of anti-Semitism from the face of the earth.


*Two lines from "The Puzzle Jigs," a (non-political) family opera by writer and composer David Haines, adapted by David Bass and Cheryl Moreau, additional lyrics by David Bass and A.J. Liuba, performed this month at the King Open School in Cambridge by the North Cambridge Family Opera Company.


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