A Response to Zonszein

Categories: Israel
By Elihu Davison

Homogamies attract. This fact becomes magnified because we now live in an era of ethnic devolutions. That explains why Scotland and Wales have their own parliaments separate and apart from Westminster. Ethnic devolution is why Northern Ireland suffers from what is so elegantly understated as “the troubles.” It is the essentialist reason for the horrific dissolution of Yugoslavia. It goes a long way towards explaining the genocide now ongoing in Darfur. And it is fundamental to understanding Israel’s encounter with the Palestinians and its other Arab/Muslim neighbors.

It is a misnomer to discuss Israel’s troubles in the context of nationalism, a modernist philosophical construct. Rather the conflict has devolved to one of ethnic devolution of conflicting peoplehoods (in the Kaplanian sense—Kaplan must be turning in his grave!) How else to explain, for example, Palestinian demands that no Jews live in any Palestinian territory? Parenthetically, how does one overlook, inter alia, the fact of a continuous Jewish presence in Hebron from antiquity until its forcible 1936 removal by the British in response to Arab pogroms? Why do we not admit the historical reality that Judea and Samaria are the traditional heart of the Land of Israel? That history may not be adequate to direct contemporary political decision-making; it is no less true.

All this brings me to Mairav Zonszein’s seeming apology for Israeli national existence. Life is full of contradictions and a Jewish state endeavoring to be democratic for all its citizens is not the least. The United States also struggles with the concept of individual rights versus the more recent notion of protected classes. We have yet to rectify the incongruities between the historical realities that necessitated affirmative action and our repugnance for invidious exclusionist quotas.

To be fair, America’s conundrum does not necessarily threaten its physical and existential existence. Many Israeli Jews see themselves subject to both physical and existential extinction. Jews have a terrible primary instinct to intellectual deconstruction, to wit, asking first if I/we did something wrong. I don’t fault Israel’s Arabs, considering their own condition, seeking betterment of their circumstance. Why does Zonszein excuse that but deny a Jewish need for physical and existential succor?

Israel can and should be faulted for the ad-hocratic and thoughtless nature of its settlement endeavor following the Six Day War. Wall-to-wall Israeli political sentiment immediately after that war would have had Israel trading almost all the territories for normalized and peaceful relations with its neighbors. There was nothing sacred about 1949’s “green line” as the demarcation of any final settlement; it was only an armistice boundary, never an established border. Zonszein ought to place blame directly and accurately. The Arab League’s 1968 Khartoum declaration of “3 noes”—no recognition, no negotiation and no peace with Israel—exacerbated bad Israeli policymaking and gave even the best-intended Israelis no options.

The failure of Camp David II made Israel’s conundrum more essentialist, lowering the level from nationalist to ethnic conflict. Nation states and nationalist movements can deal with each other in a political context. Ethnic conflicts, with their bases in religion and tribalism, are inherently more absolutist in nature. Indeed, the religious aspects of philosophical ultimacy almost completely exclude accommodation with the other. How else, for example, to view the inherent contradictions of a Roman church whose very name, Catholic, purports and implies an explicit unitary universalism?

No one reasonably denies Israeli Arabs their desire and search for existential place. Is Israeli-Arab a misnomer? Might Israeli-Palestinian be more accurate? It is their conundrum to choose to continue living in a Jewish state that tries, however inadequately, to give them individual democratic options. (At the same time the Mideast is rapidly losing its Christian Arab residents, most leaving to avoid persecution by their Muslim neighbors.) Zonszein’s failure is her willingness to deny Israeli Jews the national and ethnic place that she would grant Israel’s Palestinians—at the expense of Jewish national life.

No Arab Muslim country apologized or gave reparations to their Jews forced to flee their homes after 1948. No Muslim country has formally repudiated its history of dhimi status of non-Muslims. Indeed today it is illegal for Jews to visit Saudi Arabia. The Palestinian Authority is blatant in its announced policy that a Palestinian state must be Judenrein. At the same time Avigdor Lieberman’s odious suggestion of physical removal of Israeli Arab citizens from Israel is politically and morally unacceptable. In a world replete with conflict and contradiction, Zonszein’s discomfiture and guilt at Jewish national existence is at least as misplaced.

It is reasonable for Israeli Palestinians to want an existential place. It is unreasonable for that place to be at the expense of Jewish national self-determination. The unhappy truth is that neither Israeli Palestinian nor Jewish Israeli probably wants much to do with the other. Therein is the truth of the explanation of the attraction of homogamies. Ethnicity is at the root of that homogamous attraction. Israeli Palestinians are unashamed of their developing self-awareness.

We need to recognize the contradictions between the establishment of a Jewish national home and the declaration of its democratic character. It is democratic only insofar as it guarantees individual rights for all—its non-Jewish citizens included. Jews, however, are the protected class. Unfortunately nowhere else but Israel does that for Jews. In an era of ethnic devolution we should be grateful for this fact.

About Elihu Davison

Elihu Davison is an alumnus of the 17th Habonim Workshop in Kibbutz Urim. He lives in Morristown, NJ.
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