Jewish or democratic state?
Sometimes one’s most hypocritical enemies can suggest a clue to one’s own problems without meaning to. This applies most of all to the outgoing Obama administration, especially as regards the Republic of Israel. Barack Obama has always hated Israel because he thinks Israel is Jewish. Maybe now Israel will decide to be Jewish and not try to be democratic.
Can Israel be Jewish and democratic?
On 28 December 2016, Secretary of State John Kerry actually touched on the central problem that holds Israel back. You can watch Kerry on video directly using Israel’s democratic reputation against it:
You have a similar number of Jews and Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. They have a choice. They can choose to live together on one state, or they can separate into two states. But here is a fundamental reality. If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic. It cannot be both, and it won’t ever really be at peace.
Notice: Kerry did not even bother to veil his threat and slur against Israel’s Jewish character. Now democracy is good, but Jewishness is bad. And Kerry boasts of it!
But maybe the Secretary of State told the truth! At least he dropped a hint to Israel’s best course of action. Why not then take him at his word? If preserving Israel’s democratic reputation means trashing Israel’s history, which, then, should Israel’s people choose?
An American example
In 1984, the town of Antelope, Oregon lost its identity to a guru named Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. He bused in homeless people from Houston, Texas and other cities. They settled in Antelope, then outvoted the original residents and changed the town’s name. Years later the United States government exiled Rajneesh after he failed to pay his taxes. Only then could the Antelopers get their town’s identity back.
Israel faces an even older squatter problem than did Antelope. Today they can rely on no foreign power to guarantee their Jewish identity. They must do it themselves. Choosing actual history over democratic reputation might be exactly what they need to do.
Roots of the problem
The squatter problem Israel faces goes back to the history of modern Zion. Professor Paul Eidelberg has alluded to it often on this page. Theodor Herzl started the movement to set up a world homeland for Jewish people. Eliezer Itzhak Perelman, alias Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, taught these migrating Jews to speak one common language: Hebrew. But both men emphasized a homeland for Jews as an ethnic group, i.e., as a nation. (Do not confuse nation with nation-state, which connotes government.) They did not emphasize Jewishness as a faith calling. Herzl paid scant attention to the Jewish faith, and Ben-Yehuda ignored it completely.
At first this made little difference. The Zionist pioneers came to the land and reclaimed it. Nomadic Arab and Persian people came to the land, looking for work. And for decades everyone got along.
World War I
Then came World War I. Major T. E. Lawrence of the British Army taught the Arabs a few techniques of asymmetric warfare. So the Arabs drove out the Turks. But in the process, the Arabs remembered their own religious tradition: Islam. The Jews thought nothing of this. Instead they relied on the good graces of the victors of the Great War. Those victors, beginning with Lord Balfour, made certain promises to the Jewish people. No one had any reason to think this would be a problem.
The Arabs made one. On 23 August 1929 they infamously slaughtered 67 Jews at Hebron and chased the rest to Jerusalem. This was only the latest outbreak of tension that built between Muslim Arabs and still largely secular Jews. Nor was it the last. And, of course, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, bent the ear of Adolf Hitler. And after Hitler lost (and killed himself), the Grand Mufti came back, saying, “I declare a holy war! Kill them all!”
Who are the war criminals?
In 1949, of course, Israel had its independence. But it had to fight for it, in the costliest war in modern Israel’s history so far. It ended on July 20, with an armistice. That armistice drew what today diplomats call “the pre-1967 borders.” But the instrument of armistice declares those borders are strictly matters of convenience.
Jaffa gives us the prize example of the forebearance of Israel and the intransigence of Arabs. The Haganah captured Jaffa, and offered to let its Arab residents stay in their homes. But the Jordanians encouraged those residents to flee, and promised they would return after the Arabs won. The Arab Jaffa residents fled—streamed toward the front en masse. But the Arabs lost anyway. So those Jaffa residents stayed in refugee camps in Judea and Samaria – “the West Bank.” Which existed only because the nascent Israel Defense Force (IDF) couldn’t push the Arabs further back.
Gaza gives another example. In 2003, Israel gave back Gaza. Rockets have rained down on Sderot, a village in the Negev, ever since, some years more intensely than others. And Gaza has changed from a thriving farming community into an armed camp with missile launchers and armories side-by-side with hospitals and schools. Sweet.
How many chances?
In any just sense, Israel has offered many chances for peaceful coexistence to its Arab neighbors and residents. In 1996 the King of Jordan finally signed a sensible treaty renouncing all claims to Judea and Samaria. Israel foolishly gave away the Sinai, and relations with Egypt have been dicey at best. In every other case, Arabs have repaid Israeli generosity with murder and mayhem.
Enough! Israel should annex Judea and Samaria and have done with it. And her people should come to grips with the fundamental issue Herzl and Ben-Yehuda ignored. In a sense truer than John Kerry meant, Israel can indeed be a Jewish state or a cosmopolitan one—but never both. And it shouldn’t try to be both.