Whenever I write about Palestine, Israel, and Zionism — especially when I point out that American Reform Jews en masse gagged on the thought that America was not their “homeland”; they insisted they were Jewish Americans not American Jews — I am lectured on Facebook about how “keeping to one’s own kind” is a natural inclination and that inclusion, not exclusion, requires aggression. We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that alt-right-types who may dislike Jews nevertheless respect their expressed desire to live among themselves in a Jewish State. Why wouldn’t the alt-right take this position? Israel is a (pseudo)ethno-state. It is identitarianism run amok.
As Foreign Policy in Focus (FPF) reports, Richard Spencer, the alt-right leader of “Hail Trump” infamy, told Israel’s Channel 2 last year, “You could say I am a white Zionist.” FPF went on: “He later described the Jewish state as ‘the most important and perhaps most revolutionary ethno-state’ — the ‘one that I turn to for guidance.'”
What Spencer and his ilk, unlike Israel’s supporters, understand is that Israel is an apartheid state — but with a difference. White-supremacist South Africa wanted to separate the whites and the blacks, but they needed the blacks to do society’s dirty jobs. In contrast, the Israeli elite and much of the public want the Arab Muslims and Christians to go. The dirty work can be done by the Arab Jews (the so-called Sephardim, though they came not from Spain but from Arab countries. The late Iraqi Jew who turned anti-Zionist Naeim Giladi called them “Islamic Jews.”) and black African Jews
But tribalists of all stripes get it wrong, as a glance at history will indicate. It’s not association that requires aggression, but dissociation. True, freedom of association entails freedom of dissociation, but historically the liberal struggle has not been over the freedom to stay apart from The Other but rather over the freedom to get together in all sorts of ways.
We have many fictional accounts of warring factions being racked internally precisely because individual members didn’t give a hoot about the prohibitions against interfactional association. It’s the old fight between tribalists and assimilationists. Rising generations will always view their elders’ taboos with fresh eyes and see that many or most of the old rules are rubbish, existing only to be defied. The writing of such prohibitions into law indicated that the powers-that-be understood that young (and not so young) people wanted or one day would want to associate commercially and noncommercially with whomever they wished, their parents stern warnings notwithstanding.
Think of how Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story resonate with so many of us. Think of the much-beloved Fiddler on the Roof. Contrary to popular misconception, that phenomenal Broadway musical — loosely based on Sholem Aleichem’s Yiddish stories — is not about the charms of the shtetls of the Russian Empire. On the contrary, it is about how suffocating the shtetl — a ghetto, after all — was for the rising generation. Young adults rebelled at being told what they had to do and whom they may love and marry. When the Jewish stranger and teacher, Perchik, tells the men of Anatevka that girls also should be educated, he’s denounced as a “radical.” When he asks the woman he’s falling in love with, Tevya’s Hodel, to dance with him at her sister’s wedding, it’s a scandal, though this does not keep the reluctant subversive Tevye from joining Perchik by defiantly dancing with his wife, Golde. Then even the old rabbi joins in (sort of).
When Tevye’s youngest marriable daughter, Chava, falls in loves and wishes to marry the Russian gentile Fyedka, it is too much for Tevye. He lectures his daughter that “you must not forget who you are and who that man is,” but Chavala pushes back:
“He has a name, Papa.”
“Of course. All creatures have a name.”
“Fyedka is not a creature, Papa. Fyedka is a man.”
“Who said he isn’t?,” Tevya, the most reasonable man in the village, concedes. “It’s just that he’s a different kind of man. As the Good Book says, ‘Each shall seek his own kind.’ In other words, a bird may love a fish, but where would they build a home together?”
“The world is changing, Papa!”
“No! No. Some things do not change for us. Some things will never change.”
“We don’t feel that way.”
“Fyedka and I.”
When Chava later tells her father, who along with his fellow Jews must leave their village under the tsar’s edict, that she and Fyedka are voluntarily leaving, the young man says, “We cannot stay among people who can do such things to others.”
In the end, the audacious, yet respectful Tevye — who dares to speak frankly to God — cannot bear to go on if his daughter is “dead” to him, and he subtly relents.
Love defeats fear. This is the man who proclaims at the start of the show, “Without our traditions, life would be as shaky as a fiddler on a roof.” This is the man who had prayed to God to keep his children “from the stranger’s ways.” As he leaves for America (this does not happen in the original stories), Tevye gestures for the symbolic fiddler to follow to the new world, but it is not really the same fiddler we saw in the beginning, is it?
If you need a real-world example think of the Lovings, the white man and black woman who at great cost defied Virginia’s prohibition on interracial marriage and eventually won a victory in the U.S. Supreme Court — in the later 20th century!
Fictional accounts of interfactional romance never strike us as unrealistic because we easily identify with the defiant ones, even in apparently the most unlikely places. In Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, marriage between Shia and Sunni was common and uncontroversial. After the U.S. invasion, with its Jacobin rearrangement of power relations, it became impermissible, leading me to quip that Bush’s war gave a boost to same-sect marriage. Somewhere sometime, a Hatfield married a McCoy, and a Palestinian married a Jew (or “secular Jew”). It wasn’t in Israel, however, where civil marriage does not exist and Jew may not marry non-Jew (and children aren’t allowed to read novels about romance between Jew and Arab.)
Love (romantic, familial, etc.) trumps difference, fear, hate. We know it. Fear and hate need the state; love and cooperation need only freedom. Demagogues know that one gains power by sowing and reinforcing divisions that otherwise would wither away with each generation.
I could point out that Ludwig von Mises made a powerful case that what initially overcame the fear of The Other was a glimpse of the potential for gains from trade. He wrote:
The law of association [the mutual gains from trade among parties of unequal endowments] makes us comprehend the tendencies which resulted in the progressive intensification of human cooperation. We conceive what incentive induced people not to consider themselves simply as rivals in a struggle for the appropriation of the limited supply of means of subsistence made available by nature. We realize what has impelled them and permanently impels them to consort with one another for the sake of cooperation. Every step forward on the way to a more developed mode of the division of labor serves the interests of all participants. In order to comprehend why man did not remain solitary, searching like the animals for food and shelter for himself only and at most also for his consort and his helpless infants, we do not need to have recourse to a miraculous interference of the Deity or to the empty hypostasis of an innate urge toward association. Neither are we forced to assume that the isolated individuals or primitive hordes one day pledged themselves by a contract to establish social bonds. The factor that brought about primitive society and daily works toward its progressive intensification is human action that is animated by the insight into the higher productivity of labor achieved under the division of labor.
Trade brought adversaries together when they perceived the fruits promised by the division of labor. Trade, however, is not just an exchange of goods; it’s also an exchange of ideas and other nonmaterial values. Commerce by nature is conducive to trust, toleration, friendship, and more, as scholars have noted. Once the circles of trust begin to expand, there is no stopping the process, as hard as opportunistic tribalists might try.
So, undoubtedly, soon after the first exchange of goods outside the clan or tribe took place, boy met girl; boy and girl fell in love; boy and girl started a family. Well, there went the neighborhood! It’s ever been the case.
Zionists, like all particularists, are not only on the wrong side of history; they are at war with human nature.