A Palestinian State
Benjamin Netanyahu's statement that there would never be a Palestinian state on his watch puts him in the ranks of the British opposing independence for the Americans or Indians, South Africa in the apartheid era, Belgium in the Congo, the Soviets in Poland and Czechoslovakia.
On a personal note, I have had moments recently, and for the first time in my life, when I have considered converting from Jewish atheism to some other brand, maybe Unitarian. This is partly because the world assumes, sometimes murderously, that if you are Jewish you support Israel. A very powerful reason I dislike Israel, and want to disassociate myself from it, is its arrogance in insisting it stands for me, is my home and place and birthright and leader whether I want it to be or not. This is consistent with the routine and trite attack that, if as a Jew you do not support Israel, you must loathe yourself.
As a child of secular parents attending a Reform synagogue in Brooklyn, I believed an Official Narrative that the Jews, perhaps more than any other group, were the children of the Enlightenment. My heroes were Spinoza, Cardozo, Einstein, and Freud; and one could forgive Marx despite some bad prescriptions, for being so compassionate and smart. Every year at Passover we read from some old, much-thumbed Haggadahs, with a lot of lovely prose about tolerating the stranger and remembering that we ourselves were once slaves in the land of Egypt (mixed in confusingly with other language about boils and plagues and slaying the first born). "The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone" and all that.
I also became aware in the same years that Israel hovered in the center of a huge blind spot for American Jews. Circa 1968, as my political awareness developed, I spotted the following contradiction:
1. If a Southern sheriff drove a bulldozer to knock down the home of a black rural family, all the Jewish people I knew would be up in arms, shouting about Southern racism, but
2. Whenever the Israelis knocked down a Palestinian home with a bulldozer, many of those same people were curiously silent, or if you confronted them about it, would mutter something about the Arabs wanting to drive "us" into the sea. Or would simply say: "If you haven't lived there, you can't understand."
I recently after many years, reread Theodor Herzl's The Jewish State. Herzl was a variation on the Enlightenment Jew I had always idolized, but he was also quite mad. His sincere madness took the form of a belief that if the Jews subtracted themselves entirely from European society and formed their own state, they would be liked and respected by the rest of the world. Herzl didn't care if that state was in Uganda or Argentina. There couldn't possibly be any indigenous people there who might feel oppressed by the Jews. If any non-Jews chose to live among "us", Herzl said, "we should accord them honorable protection, and equality before the law. We learnt toleration in Europe”.
The anti-Herzl was Vladimir Jabotinsky, a realistic Zionist, who wrote “It is impossible to dream of a voluntary agreement between us and the Arabs” and called for “an iron wall of Jewish bayonets”. The result is that Jabotinsky has been completely forgotten in the Official Narrative for his distasteful truth-telling, while Herzl, in his woolly vagueness, is honored.
Netanyahu is the living proof that the Israel of today has nothing whatever to do with Enlightenment values. The country has been all about force and fraud almost since its birth, but pundits and politicians have poured down so much covering fire for so long that the reality is completely obscure for most Americans. Like the Red Queen who could believe six impossible things before breakfast, Jews (or anyone) supporting Israel must explain away, or forget, a lot of problematic things, like those bulldozers, white phosphorus, Rachel Corrie, cluster bombs, the destruction of U.N. schools full of civilian refugees, attacks on civilian protest ships in international waters, constant settlement-building, Gaza as a prison or concentration camp, Mossad assassinations,and the recent mass resignation of more than forty reservists working in Israeli intelligence who refused to manipulate and blackmail ordinary Palestinians any more. Actually, a substantial portion of the Israeli population sees its own country much more clearly and dispassionately than Americans do.
When you take a step back, look at Israel from a Martian perspective, putting aside all the rhetoric, Netanyahu is not distinguishable from South African prime ministers, Chilean presidents, others we regard as Bad Guys. The "one state solution", which recently has acquired so much public currency that it has an official name, is officially based on the proposition, advanced by some Israeli and American pundits, that the Palestinians cannot govern themselves and would actually be better off under Israeli rule. But behind that is a Kissinger-style real-politik, that its either "us" or them, that (similar to apartheid South Africa, a close ally of Israel) "we" must keep a subject people frightened and obedient, in order to exist, to maintain "our" identity.
The saddest thing about all this is that, in the Enlightenment zeitgeist, "self-determination" is one of the most moving of phrases. We all believe with John Stuart Mill that we have the right to seek fulfillment in any direction, even if it means women separating from patriarchal men or young people renouncing stifling religions. I was raised to be automatically sympathetic to any people, except the Palestinians, who wanted to take charge of their own destiny. Ernst Renan discovered a hundred and fifty years ago that a nation is "a daily referendum", that any people who want to separate should be permitted to do so. The worst, most despicable of the feudal remnants of thought, dissolved everywhere by Enlightenment sunlight, is the proposition that any human group in the world has a mysterious obligation to allow itself to be used, exploited, ridden like horses.
Review of the full collection of rationales and excuses I will save for another essay. Aside from the plea for Official Silence (which amounts to a request to tolerate Israeli intolerance), the other basic argument, "They want to drive us into the sea", amounts to a kind of Original Sin argument, when you unpack it. Even if the Palestinians once had a right to self-determination, they lost it somewhere along the line due to their own bad behavior. Now they are obligated to live in subjection, as God once sent "us" to live in slavery (until He no longer wanted that).
I think I invented the following aphorism: "Its impossible to salute a flag if you don't know what it stands for". Sadly, Israel has lost any credibility it once had. Netanyahu is the epitome of the politician who feels no enduring obligation of truth to any constituency: his disgraceful and embarassing self-contradictions during and immediately after the election illustrate that. He attempted to "walk back" the statement about a Palestinian state a day or two later. He also told his "base" to get out and vote because the Israeli Arabs were,then apologized for that as well. This floundering, this unplanned chattering and denying, makes him small and (like so many of the Congresscrittters he came here to address) un-leaderlike.
However, there is another point of view, that when he said a Palestinian state would not happen on his watch, he was telling the truth for the first time. Israel has never been serious about permitting a Palestinian state next door. The PLO became nonviolent and has run the West Bank for twenty years or so in close cooperation with the Israeli military and intelligence, without getting a step closer.If the Israelis ever entertained the idea of a Palestinian state, there would have been one long ago. Sometimes the lack of a trout in the milk is the circumstantial evidence.
It has been obvious for thirty or forty years at least that embracing the Enlightenment would mean the end of Israel--not by violence, but through demographics. If Arabs living under Israeli control were given full equality and voting rights, Israel could not continue to be a "Jewish" state and in fact Jews would someday be a minority, just as the WASPs who founded America have become here. That is a reality. In my own country, the United States of America, if I traveled three hundred years forward in time and found a vastly Hispanic majority which continued to have democratic and Enlightenment values, in my mind the United States will have succeeded as a polity. (The problem with that hypothetical, which is also not for this essay, is whether this nation has such values today.) While the fear of assimilation, of being submerged, is an element of real-politik, this fear has no moral standing, is not the end of any argument. The real question is whether its a Bad Thing when Enlightenment values act as a solvent dissolving inequality and oppression even in Israel. I say it is not.