Trump and Netanyahu first tried to bribe the Palestinians into capitulating to the Israeli imposition. But the two men failed. So now they are executing Plan B: bribing the Arab states’ rulers to give up even the pretense of championing the Palestinians in their struggle against Israel. In that, the two are succeeding.
When actor Seth Rogen, an atheist of Jewish heritage, announced that he no longer supports Israel — “I was fed a huge amount of lies about Israel my entire life” — he was criticized for his apostasy. (Being an atheist does not constitute Jewish heresy, but breaking with Israel does.)
Then, during a call with Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog, Rogen learned that “many Israelis and Jews around the world were personally hurt by his statement, which implies the denial of Israel’s right to exist.” Herzog says Rogen apologized, explaining that his comments were meant to be humorous.
But Rogen has “distanced himself from a statement from the Jewish Agency that claimed [he] had ‘apologized,'” the Times of Israel reports. That must mean he wasn’t just trying to be funny.
I stand with Rogen. His comments about Israel were spot on. I too was told lies about Israel growing up (“a land without a people for a people without a land”) — but I hasten to add that the people close to me did not know they were lies. I’d bet Rogen would say the same thing.
I am also happy to hear that he did not apologize for his comments. Why should he? The State of Israel came into being through the systematic dispossession and oppression of the Palestinians. Many Jews know this and criticize Israel for it. Not only that: many Jews would have been uncomfortable with the idea of an exclusivist Jewish state even if Palestine really had been a land without a people. (Rogen expressed the same view.) Reform Judaism was explicitly founded in the 19th century in opposition to the ideas of Jewish exile, diaspora, and separatism.
But what I most want to focus on here is Herzog’s statement that Rogen had “personally hurt” Jews and Israelis. I assume he meant that Rogen had hurt their feelings. My question is: if someone’s feelings are hurt by condemnations of injustice, why should anyone care? Are some people’s feelings more important than other people’s very right to live free and dignified lives? I don’t think so. Some feelings ought to be — need to be — hurt.
This preoccupation with not hurting feelings is at the root of the ominous cancel culture and the burgeoning informal PC constraints on free thought and free speech. If you look hard enough you will find that these unfortunate things originated in attempts to inhibit good-faith criticism of Israel and support for the Palestinians by stigmatizing the speakers as anti-Semites.
As long as we’re talking about feelings, let’s do a full accounting. Yes, I’m sure Rogen hurt some people’s feelings. But I’m also confident his courage to speak also made Palestinians, anti-Zionist Jews, and other champions of justice feel more hopeful. Why don’t their feelings count?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who remains under a cloud of personal corruption, had more or less promised to annex some of the West Bank in July. He’s let his deadline slip, we’ve been told, because he doesn’t want to proceed while his buddy Trump is preoccupied with other matters. He must need the cover, which is interesting in itself. Meanwhile leading Jewish Democrats like Sen. Chuck Schumer are uneasy with annexation talk, perhaps because his party is no longer solidly in Israel’s corner.
So who can say when and if a formal annexation will occur? I prefer to ask: does it matter? If the state of Israel does nothing, the Palestinians of the West Bank will remain without rights, ruled under an apartheid regime either by Israel directly or by Israel’s subcontractor for security, the authoritarian Palestinian Authority.
As the indefatigable Norman Finkelstein often reminds us, Israel has already de facto annexed the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which is just a big open-air prison. Under international law, when a government occupies an adversary’s territory during a war, it is obliged to regard the occupation as strictly temporary. Keeping it and moving citizens into it are indisputably illegal acts. The law makes no distinction between offensive and defensive wars, although the 1967 war, in which Israel seized the Palestinian territories (which Jordan had occupied since 1948), was not defensive.
In 2004 the International Court of Justice reaffirmed this aspect of international law when it condemned Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, the Jewish-only settlements, and the wall of separation as illegal.
By now, after 53 years, we are entitled to notice that Israel’s occupation is not temporary. And that means the territories’ status is not one of occupation but of annexation. It won’t do to say that Israeli governments have tried to negotiate with the Palestinians according to the land-for-peace formula called for by the postwar UN Resolution 242. Israel has often pretended that it would be willing to give up some land for peace, but it is hard to take those gestures seriously. Every so-called “generous” Israeli offer contained so many conditions and Israeli prerogatives that the Palestinian territories would have been nothing more than a scattered archipelago of vassal districts. This is no less true of Trump’s grand plan for Israel and Palestine.
The Palestinians have been victims of a cruel Israeli (and American) joke — often with the complicity of what are laughably called their rulers, who have put their personal interests ahead of the people they claim to represent.
No wonder Netanyahu is in no hurry. He’s already got what he wants. If he were to formally annex some of the West Bank, he would get flak both from those who support the long-suffering Palestinians and from his domestic right-wing, which will complain that he did not annex enough.
Americans’ free-speech and other rights are being violated by state laws aimed at stifling the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Movement against Israel’s illegal rule of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, both conquered over half a century ago. Twenty-eight states have enacted anti-BDS laws or executive orders that prohibit state agencies and state-financed entities, such as colleges, from doing business with any person or firm that hasn’t pledged never to boycott Israeli goods.
Appropriately, these laws have come under fire as violations of both free speech and the right to engage in boycotts, which consist of peaceful decisions not to buy products of a particular origin.
The latest case to hit the news is concerns journalist and filmmaker Abby Martin and the state of Georgia. Martin explained the case in a January 11 tweet:
After I was scheduled to give keynote speech [about the media, not about BDS] at an upcoming @GeorgiaSouthern [University] conference, organizers said I must comply w/ Georgia’s anti-BDS law & sign a contractual pledge to not boycott Israel. I refused & my talk was canceled. The event fell apart after colleagues supported me.
Georgia’s State Senate passed an anti-BDS bill which states that “a company or individual seeking a procurement contract worth at least $1,000 with any state agency would have to certify playing no party in a boycott of Israel.” When making his claim for passage on the floor of the Senate, Senator Judson Hill cited companies like HP and Motorola as examples of companies that use Israeli technology, and stated that boycotting any products or companies that were developed in Israel goes hand in hand with discriminating against the people of Israel and the Jewish people as a whole. [Emphasis added.]
One would be hard-pressed to show that boycotting Israeli goods discriminates against all Jewish people. Many Jews support BDS and condemn Israel for its brutal mistreatment of the Palestinians. Sen. Hill merely repeated the pro-Israel smear that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism, which is patently absurd. As for BDS constituting discrimination against the people of Israel — perhaps it does (except for Israelis who oppose the occupation of Palestinian territory and support efforts to end it). But why don’t Georgians and other Americans have a right to do that? It’s a peaceful decision to not buy certain products, and it violates no one’s rights.
Martin’s exclusion from Georgia Southern is under legal challenge by her, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF).
At least one other legal challenge on this issue has succeeded on constitutional grounds, and similar laws are now in the courts. Regarding the successful case, MPN Newsreports,
In 2018, Bahia Amawi, a Houston-based children’s speech pathologist who worked with autistic, speech-impaired and other developmentally disabled children, lost her job after she refused to sign a similar document. Amawi had been at her job for nine years previously without a problem. CAIR took up Amawi’s case and managed to overturn every Texas boycott law on the grounds of their unconstitutionality and she is now free to return to work. They appear confident of a similar victory in Georgia.
Quoting a previous case, federal district Judge Robert Pitman ruled that the Texas anti-BDS law “threatens to suppress unpopular ideas” and “manipulate the public debate” on Israel and Palestine “through coercion rather than persuasion.” Judge Pitman added: “This the First Amendment does not allow.”
This issue ought to be a no-brainer. By what right does a state government require contractors, including speakers, to sign what is in effect a loyalty oath to Israel (or another other country)? That those laws have passed state legislatures and been signed by governors is more evidence of the influence — dare I say power? — the Israel lobby routinely wields in American politics. The lobby along with the Israeli government works overtime to destroy the BDS movement and discredit the activists who participate in it. (See my “The Art of the Smear — The Israel Lobby Busted.”)
To address an objection (which I’ve already seen), anti-BDS laws are nothing like antidiscrimination laws that prohibit state agencies and state-funded entities from contracting with firms that practice racial, ethnic, religious, or sex discrimination. As long as states exist (hopefully for not too much longer) they will surely tax everyone without regard to race, ethnicity, religion, or sex. Therefore, it is wrong for the state — or tax-financed entities — to discriminate in hiring, contracting, etc., on the basis of those incidental characteristics. The liberal principle of equality before the law demands such nondiscrimination. But one cannot move from that reasonable principle to other kinds of conditions on contracting, particularly conditions that infringe the right to free speech (say, advocating BDS) or peaceful action (say, boycotting for any reason).
Finally, a word about BDS itself. The movement aptly models itself on the effort to boycott, divest from, and sanction South Africa during its apartheid days. Israel has deprived the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip of their rights since the war of 1967. Gaza is a prison camp under a long-standing Israeli blockade, punctuated ever few years by full-blow military assault. Peaceful protesters in Gaza have been shot by Israeli military snipers from outside the prison fence, killing hundreds and wounding tens of thousands. The Palestinians in the West Bank have no rights and are subject to military surveillance and Jewish-only settlements and roads, as well as separation wall that snakes through the territory. It is naked apartheid in that Jews have full rights while Palestinians are treated like nonpersons. Meanwhile, Israeli officials, encouraged by the Trump administration, have been moving toward formal annexation of key parts of the West Bank. Thus, no mystery surrounds the selection of Israel for boycott and divestment. (The Palestinians inside Israel, 20 percent of the population, are treated no better than second-class citizens, which is not surprising since Israel bills itself as the state of the Jewish people everywhere, not the state of all its citizens regardless of religion or ethnicity.)
I have no problem with the B and the D, and I applaud those who refuse to do business with companies and individuals associated with the oppression of the Palestinians and who liquidate investments in Israeli firms. That’s a proper and peaceful exercise of their rights. But we advocates of liberty should draw the line at S — sanctions — because we should on principle reject the state’s power to impose sanctions on anyone. Sanctions punish people who don’t wish to boycott the targets. But the right to boycott logically entails the right not to boycott. Also, if the state has the sanction power, it will surely use it against targets we wouldn’t want targeted.
I propose a different S instead: Strip Israel of its $3.8 billion annual military appropriation.
TGIF — The Goal Is Freedom — appears occasionally on Fridays.
Trump’s “vision” for Palestine well illustrates that in his eyes (not to mention the eyes of Netanyahu, Kushner, and others), the Palestinians are mere pawns to be manipulated in the service of Israel’s and Trump’s designs.
This can be readily seen in an obscure provision of Trump’s plan, which “contemplates the possibility” that Israel and the future pseudo-state of Palestine could together redraw their boundaries so that nearly a dozen Palestinian towns within Israel, in an area adjacent to the line separating Israel from the West Bank known as the Triangle, would become part of the future pseudo-state. Were that to happen, the residents, who today are Israeli citizens, would lose that status without their consent and become citizens of the new pseudo-state. That would be an injustice.
While Palestinians are at best second-class citizens in Israel, they evidently do not like being ordered about by two entities they distrust: the Israeli government and the Israel-empowered Palestinian Authority, both corrupt and unmindful of individual rights. Netanyahu would no doubt like to see these towns transferred to the future pseudo-state (if there must be one) because that would mean fewer Palestinian Israeli voters and members of parliament. It would be ethnic cleansing by another means.
The fundamental flaw at the heart of Trump’s Palestine/Israel plan, presumptuously titled Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People, is that Trump — like his predecessors — believes that the Israelis are the aggrieved party and the Palestinians are the not-fully-human aggressors inherently unworthy of even the minimum trust accorded fellow human beings. You can see this premise throughout Trump’s corrupt blueprint for the future of Israel and Palestine.
But this premise has the aggressor and the victim roles switched in defiance of the facts. The Palestinians are the aggrieved party. They were dispossessed in 1948 and 1967 and then denied full and equal rights within Israel and all rights in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. We see Trump’s attitude in a key part of Peace to Prosperity, namely, section seven on security and the associated appendices.
Before we get to that, let’s start by recognizing that although Trump brags that the Palestine he envisions would be bigger than what the Palestinians now control under the Oslo Accords, he is blowing hot air in his typical way. The Palestinians control nothing. Whatever internal security the Palestinian Authority (PA) administers in part of the West Bank is merely the result of Israel having subcontracted to the Palestinian elite the dirty internal-security work that Israel used to have to do itself. But Israel is free to override the PA whenever it sees the need and take internal security into its own hands. This is not autonomy.
So if Palestinian control is to be doubled, as Trump says, it would be a doubling of zero. Moreover, as Jonathan Cook writes, Trump’s plan misleads when it touts that Palestine would consist of 70 percent of the lands Israel has (illegally) occupied since the 1967 war. Several decades ago the main Palestinian organization and spokespeople agreed to reduce their claim to only the occupied territories, a mere 22 percent of the Palestine they had inhabited for millennia. That stunning concession never got the notice is deserved. (Only Israeli “concessions” are described as generous.) Yet Trump is demanding that the Palestinians accept only 70 percent of the 22 percent — which comes to 15 percent of the original territory the Israelis (that is, Zionists) took by force in what is called the Nakba, or catastrophe. And, Cook adds, that’s “after Israel has seized all the best agricultural land and the water sources.”
The security section and associated appendices make clear that in Trump’s (and Jared Kushner’s and Benjamin Netanyahu’s) eyes, the Palestinians are the bad guys who deserve nothing less than the closest surveillance lest they commit mass murder because they (so it is alleged) hate Jews qua Jews. So, despite the apparent creation of a sovereign State of Palestine, the Trump plan in reality would create a gerrymandered archipelago of Palestinian towns that nevertheless would contain many “Israeli conclave communities” (see the map above) and be surrounded by the State of Israel. Palestinians would have highly limited home-rule, but ultimate control would remain with Israel. That state would have complete authority over Palestine’s borders, airspace, and even the electromagnetic spectrum. Palestine would have no access to the Jordan River, because Israel would annex the Jordan Valley (as it’s about to do), or the Dead Sea. To quote the plan:
Upon signing the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Agreement, the State of Israel will maintain overriding security responsibility for the State of Palestine, with the aspiration that the Palestinians will be responsible for as much of their internal security as possible, subject to the provisions of this Vision. The State of Israel will work diligently to minimize its security footprint in the State of Palestine according to the principle that the more the State of Palestine does, the less the State of Israel will have to do…. [Emphasis added.]
As you can see, any so-called concessions are for Israel’s convenience and not out of respect for the Palestinians’ long-denied rights.
Of course, the Palestinians would be watched closely. Appendix 2B sets criteria for “Palestinian security performance,” and they contain an inducement: “As the State of Palestine meets and maintains the Security Criteria, the State of Israel’s involvement in security within the State of Palestine will be reduced.” That sounds like the League of Nations’ old mandate, that is, colonial, system under which Great Britain ruled Palestine after World War I.
But as we’ll see, those criteria are hardly objective and leave plenty of leeway for Israel to give Palestine a failing grade — which is exactly what we can expect.
We read that the “State of Palestine will have security forces capable of maintaining internal security and preventing terror attacks within the State of Palestine and against the State of Israel, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Arab Republic of Egypt,” except that “these specific capabilities (i) may not (A) violate the principle that the State of Palestine in all its territory, including Gaza, shall be, and shall remain, fully demilitarized or (B) derogate the State of Israel’s overriding security responsibility, and (ii) will be agreed upon by the State of Palestine and the State of Israel.” (Emphasis added.)
And the kicker:
Should the State of Palestine fail to meet all or any of the Security Criteria at any time, the State of Israel will have the right to reverse the process outlined above. The State of Israel’s security footprint in all or parts of the State of Palestine will then increase as a result of the State of Israel’s determination of its expanded security needs and the time needed to address them. [Emphasis added.]
Just in case, of course, “the State of Israel will maintain at least one early-warning stations [sic] in the State of Palestine as designated on the Conceptual Map, which will be run by Israeli security forces. Uninterrupted Israeli security access to and from any early-warning station will be ensured.”
And: “To the extent reasonably possible, solely as determined by the State of Israel, the State of Israel will rely on blimps, drones and similar aerial equipment for security purposes in order to reduce the Israeli security footprint within the State of Palestine.” (Emphasis added.)
What a relief to know that Israel’s security footprint will be reduced through Israeli aerial surveillance — solely as determined by the State of Israel.
Let’s move on to the appendices, where some details are filled in.
Appendix 2C states that “Palestine will not have the right to forge military, intelligence or security agreements with any state or organization that adversely affect the State of Israel’s security, as determined by the State of Israel.” (Emphasis added.)
Israel of course would be free to make whatever agreement it likes, no matter how much it adversely affects the State of Palestine.
Moreover, a “demilitarized State of Palestine will be prohibited from possessing capabilities that can threaten the State of Israel.”
That is obviously vague. Defensive (and deterrent) capabilities can be always be called threatening. Israel does this with Hezbollah in Lebanon all the time. I note for the record that Israel is not similarly “prohibited from possessing capabilities that can threaten” the State of Palestine.
Congruent with the above, “any expansion of Palestinian security capabilities beyond the capabilities existing on the date this Vision is released shall be subject to agreement with the State of Israel.” Thus the Israeli state would have to approve virtually any change inside Palestine because, after all, almost anything could be construed as related to Israeli security.
We are assured that “while the State of Israel will use its best efforts to minimize incursions into the State of Palestine, the State of Israel will retain the right to engage in necessary security measures to ensure that the State of Palestine remains demilitarized and non-threatening to the State of Israel, including from terrorist threats.” There’s another blank check.
Now regarding those criteria:
The State of Palestine’s counterterrorism system must encompass all elements of counterterrorism, from initial detection of illicit activity to longtime incarceration of perpetrators. Included in the system must be: intelligence officers to detect potential terrorist activity, specially trained counterterrorism forces to raid sites and arrest perpetrators, forensics experts to conduct site exploitation, pretrial detention officers to ensure the retention of prisoners, prosecutors and judges to issue warrants and conduct trials, and post-trial detention officers to ensure prisoners serve their sentences. The system should include stand-alone detention facilities and vetted personnel.
I’m assuming, in light of Israel’s and the United States’ record in the matter, that “all elements of counterterrorism” include mass surveillance of all kinds, road checkpoints, torture, use of informants, and indefinite detention without charge, trial, or any reasonable notion of due process.
Just so the Palestinians are clear about what is expected of them, “the breadth and depth of the anti-terror activities of the State of Palestine will be determined [by Israel] by”:
The extent of arrests and interdictions of suspects, perpetrators and accomplices;
The systematic and comprehensive nature of investigations and interrogations to root out all terror networks and infrastructure;
Indictments and the extent of punishments;
The systematic and comprehensive nature of interdiction efforts to seize weapons and explosives and prevent the manufacturing of weapons and explosives;
The success of efforts to prevent infiltration of terrorists and terror organizations into the security forces of the State of Palestine.
Apparently, the Israelis will know the appropriate extent of all those things. But how? That’s not for us or the Palestinians to wonder about. But if the Palestinians fall short of expectations, you can bet the Israelis will maximize their “security footprint” inside the sovereign State of Palestine.
And speaking of vagueness, Palestine will be expected to “prohibit all incitement to terrorism.” Considering what the Israelis have regarded as incitement in the past, this sounds as though the Palestinian government will be expected to limit free speech.
And just so there’s no misunderstanding:
During the negotiations the parties, in consultation with the United States, shall attempt to create acceptable initial non-binding metrics with respect to the Security Criteria that are acceptable to the State of Israel, and in no event less stringent than the metrics used by either the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan or the Arab Republic of Egypt (whichever is stricter) with respect to the Security Criteria. Because security threats evolve, the metrics are intended to be used as a guide, and will not be binding. However, the establishment of such non-binding metrics will allow the State of Palestine to better understand the minimum goals they are expected to achieve, and take into account regional minimum benchmarks. [Emphasis added.]
To call the proposed Palestinian status one of indefinite probation with inherently subjective criteria interpreted by a sadistic probation officer would be a gross understatement
It’s clear to see that Trump’s plan is all about Israel (and its American partisans) and has nothing whatever to do with the rights of Palestinians to control their own destiny. All considerations appear subordinate to Israel’s alleged security concerns, but in fact, what really counts (since Israel faces no existential threat) is a pseudo-ethnic chauvinism. (I write pseudo because Judaism is a religion, not an ethnic or racial group, that is embraced by people of many ethnicities. See my Coming to Palestine.)
The Palestinians just don’t count. To the extent they would get anything out of Trump’s plan, it is to save Israel some trouble. Better to have Palestine elite do Israel’s dirty work.
TGIF — The Goal Is Freedom — appears occasionally on Fridays.
Speaking before Sheldon Adelson’s Israeli-American Council the other day, Trump took a shot at Jewish Americans who he says don’t “love Israel enough.”
“We have to get the people of our country, of this country, to love Israel more,” Trump said. “We have to get them to love Israel more because you have people that are Jewish people, that are great people – they don’t love Israel enough. You know that.”
Typical of Trump, this is scatter-brained. He begins by talking about “the people of our country,” which sounds like everyone, but ends up focusing on Jews who “don’t love Israel enough.” In either case, Trump talks rubbish.
First off, observe that although Trump stands accused of fomenting anti-Semitism by such remarks, he actually turns the loyalty issue upside-down. He doesn’t say that some Jewish Americans are too loyal to Israel (presumably at the expense of America), which is what a classic anti-Semite would say, but that they are not loyal enough. Recall that he previously labeled Jews who vote for Democrats “disloyal.” Disloyal to whom? Disloyal to Israel! We know this because he’s criticized the Democratic Party for “defending [Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who sympathize with the Palestinians] over the State of Israel.” Trump’s critics seem to overlook this twist because it doesn’t fit their stock narrative.
But turning to the matter at hand, Trump now entitles us to ask: what’s so lovable about Israel anyway? The modern state was founded through a campaign of ethnic cleansing — violent expulsion of Arabs, that is, non-Jews, from their long-held properties — and outright massacres and terrorism. For the next couple of decades it subjected those who avoided expulsion to martial law. Then in 1967 it conquered the remainder of Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, creating new refugees. Since then Israel has denied the inhabitants of those territories all rights while the Israeli occupiers built privileged Jewish-only settlements and otherwise usurped the land it acquired through aggressive force — contrary to morality and international law. The West Bank today resembles apartheid South Africa. But things are even worse in Gaza, a small, crowded piece of land under blockade that dissenting Israelis call a concentration camp and others euphemistically refer to as merely the world’s largest open-air prison. Gaza consists largely of refugees from the 1947-48 ethnic cleansing and their families.
So, I ask again, what’s lovable about Israel? Is it because Israel calls itself the nation-state of the Jewish people (whether or not they live or want to live there) and Jews were treated horribly by Christian Europe, culminating in the monstrous Nazi Judeocide? That doesn’t make Israel lovable. It is accountable for its crimes against humanity in Palestine regardless of the atrocities Jews suffered elsewhere. Israel is not exempt from moral judgment.
As for Jewish Americans in particular not loving Israel enough, Trump has again stuffed his foot in his mouth, something so commonplace that most people don’t notice it. Like other Americans, Jewish Americans are not obligated to love Israel. How could they be? They are not part of a supposed Jewish national people — they are Americans with a particular private religious faith (unless they are secular). If they wanted to become Israelis, they would have done so.
Israel, despite what it claims, cannot be the nation-state of all Jews everywhere (even atheists with Jewish mothers); it is the state only of its own Jewish citizens/nationals. The 25 percent of non-Jewish Israeli citizens unfortunately are out of luck, but then it shouldn’t call itself a democracy. Jewish Americans have roots in many countries, yet no one would say they are obliged to love those places.
We may ask: what does today’s state of Israel have to do with the Jewish creed, especially the universalism of the prophets? Little, really: Zionism was a secular movement that disparaged traditional and secularized Jews in Europe and America. Theodor Herzl et al. promised a new Jew in his own state, strong and hardy farmers and soldiers, unlike the frail bookish scholars and rootless “parasitic” financiers of the so-called “diaspora.” (It wasn’t a diaspora since the Judeans were not exiled by the Romans in 70 CE.) That’s one reason Zionism was a minority movement for a long time.
No one is clear about what it means to be a Jewish state. True, you have to be a properly credentialed Jew to get the benefits the Israeli state offers, but that only means having a Jewish mother (you may need a DNA test to prove it) or being converted by an approved rabbi. Jews and non-Jews may not marry each other, but that is not a religious injunction for Israelis; rather it’s a matter of secular (pseudo-)ethnic purity. It’s feared that Israeli children of interfaith marriages are less likely than other children to identify as Jewish — but then what would happen to the “Jewish people’s” state?
In fact, no Jewish national ethnicity exists to be kept pure, but many Israelis (who do constitute an Israeli ethnicity) don’t accept that. Nevertheless, Jews worldwide are of virtually every ethnicity, culture, language group, and color, and despite what Israel’s apologists say today, Hitler was wrong: there is no Jewish race (or gene or blood). Most Jews descend from the converts of many ethnicities — Judaism was a wide-ranging proselytizing religion roughly from 200 BCE to 200 CE (and later) — and most ancient Israelites, Judahites, Yehudis, and Judeans never left their homes, although many of their offspring converted to Christianity or Islam.
For the record, ancient kingdoms of Israel, Judah, Yehud, and Judea, according to the Old Testament, were no more lovable bastions of enlightenment than any other kingdom in the vicinity, what with their authoritarian monarchies, military conquests, genocides, Hebrew and gentile slave labor, animal and occasional human sacrifice, forced conversion of gentiles, suppression of religious pluralism among the Hebrews, and persecution and even capital punishment of sundry peaceful nonconformists, such as homosexuals and dissenters.
Moreover — and I wouldn’t expect Trump to know this — there is a long and honorable tradition of Jewish anti-Zionism. It goes back to the days of Herzl, though his idea of a “return” to Canaan originated earlier with non-Jews for perhaps less-than-honorable reasons. On different grounds, Orthodox and Reform Jews vehemently opposed Herzl’s movement. (See details on this and other matters discussed here in my bookComing to Palestine.) The Orthodox regarded the Zionists as charlatans because a “return” was not to occur until the Messiah appeared in order to redeem the sinful Jews; the Orthodox anti-Zionists did not regard any of the atheists running the Zionist movement as Messiahs — even if they had Jewish mothers.
The Reform shared that disdain for the Zionists and Zionism but on different grounds. First, they rejected the premise that the people around the world who profess Judaism constitute an exiled national people, race, or ethnicity. Judaism is just a religion, they said. Second, they objected to a country that would proclaim itself the nation-state of all the “Jewish people,” including Jews who don’t and won’t live there. This, they said, would harm the Jewish citizens of other countries and the non-Jewish residents of Israel. Third, they knew that Palestine was not a “land without a people,” and so they rejected the land theft and expulsion they knew would be required to make a Jewish state there. I would say the Reform were right. (The remnant of this movement resides at the American Council for Judaism.)
So, Mr. Trump, I can’t see how Jewish Americans, who when surveyed rank justice high on their list social concerns, have an obligation to love Israel — or how this admonition from you, an enthusiast for Palestinian oppression, could possibly be taken seriously.
TGIF — The Goal Is Freedom — appears occasionally on Fridays.
On Wednesday, Donald Trump signed an executive order that implicity defines Jewishness as a racial or national catetory and not as just a religious category. The order further reinforces the Department of Education’s power to sanction colleges that receive federal tax dollars if they permit Palestinian solidarity activities. The Obama administration took a similar approach, which raises the question why Trump signed the order at all.
The New York Times first reported the story, but it was quickly criticized for misstating the nature of the order. However, the Times was correct in reporting that the “order will effectively interpret Judaism as a race or nationality, not just a religion, to prompt a federal law penalizing colleges and universities deemed to be shirking their responsibility to foster an open climate for minority students.” (Emphasis added.) This is true. The order does not openly declare that Jewishness is a racial or national category, but that is its indispensable premise.
The Times noted that “prominent Democrats have joined Republicans in promoting such a policy change to combat anti-Semitism as well as the boycott-Israel movement.”
The key sentence in the order is this: “Discrimination against Jews may give rise to a Title VI violation when the discrimination is based on an individual’s race, color, or national origin.” (See accompanying talking points here.)
How would authorities know this is the case? What if the persons accused insist their actions were not based on racial or national-orgin considerations? Would that be an acceptable defense? Most likely not. Moreover, this sounds like we’re in the area of thought crime. Someone charged with discrimination on the basis of race or national origin is treated differently from someone charged with discrimination on the basis of religion.
The impetus for Trump’s actions is not admissions or hiring policy at colleges and universities receiving federal money; it’s activism expressing Palestinian solidarity. Pro-Palestinian activism on campus is not “discrimination” even under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This is true even if it makes some students uncomfortable.
More importantly, such activism is not about religion, race, or national origin. It is about land theft and oppression. The Palestinians would have been victims of injustice no matter who stole their land or oppressed them. Religion and ethnicity are red herrings intended to shut down Palestinian solidarity..
Israel and many of its defenders insist that the world’s population of Jews consitute a single race, ethnicity, and nationality — which is patent nonsense. Does their insistence mean that anyone who criticizes Israeli oppression of Palestinians is in reality attacking a mythical Jewish race, ethnicity, or nationality? That would be unfair. And what does it have to do with discrimination anyway?
Imagine that a pro-Palestinian student group disrupted a pro-Israel speaker. That certainly would be objectionable, and schools shouldn’t let that happen. But why assume the disruption was based on race, national origin, ethnicity, or even religion? Why not assume that the action was based simply on objections to oppression and Israeli apartheid? Even someone who was prejudiced against all Jews could also hold a principled objection to Israeli policies.
You can see what’s going on here: it’s attempt to force schools to suppress protests against Israel.
Yes, of course, the government should not force taxpayers give money to anyone, but that’s not the point here. The point is that, according to Trump and Kenneth Marcus, who heads the office for civil rights at the Education Department, Hitler was right: Jews constitute a separate racial group. (Many Israelis and Israel supporters agree.) Jewishness in the blood. Once a Jew always a Jew. Hitler wasn’t the first to take this idiotic position, and Zionist leaders agreed with him. It was the view of pre-20th-century European rulers who confined Jews to ghettos (with rabbinic endorsement), treating them as mere members of a corporate entity rather than as individual citizens with rights. (Napoleon broke up this system and emancipated the Jews for a time.)
The problem that Trump and Marcus think they are solving, as I explain here, is that the 1964 Civil Rights Act doesn’t list religion as a forbidden discrimination category. It “prohibits discrimination [only] on the basis of race, color, or national origin.” That being the case, how can the Trump administration claim that colleges and campus groups act illegally when they allow or put on programs designed to bring attention to the Palestinians, who have suffered so long at the hands of Israel, the self-described nation-state of the Jewish people everywhere, including the United States?
The administration was hoping that Congress would pass a definition of anti-Semitism that would shoehorn Jewishness into the Civil Rights Act clause and force schools to crack down on support for, say, the BDS movement, which opposes apartheid policies in the West Bank. But Congress hasn’t passed the so-called Anti-Semitism Awareness Act. So here is the new tack: implicitly define Jewishness as a nationality or race. Voila! Problem solved. Students and professors who disparage the self-described Jewish state for its cruelty to the Palestinians can be charged with discriminating against Jewish American students who can be regarded as members of a nation or race, and the administration can cut off the money. It’s all about inoculating Israel from criticism.
Liberal Jewish groups are protesting what Trump’s up to, which is good. But in fact Israel itself defines Jews as constituting a nationality or race. As I explain here, no such thing as Israeli nationality exists in the Jewish state. For purposes of nationality, Israeli citizens are officially listed as Jewish, Arab, or any one of dozens of other categories. When fans of Israel point out that Palestinians are citizens, they ignore the fact that those citizens are not Israeli nationals and that it is nationality, not citizenship, that matters when it comes to Israeli policy regarding access to resources and services. Remember, Israel exists for the benefit of Jews — everywhere — and not for all of its citizens regardless of religion or religious background. It’s a rigged game that cleverly manipulates the terms citizen and national.
Some Trump critics try to tar him as an anti-Semite, but their case so far has been flimsy. His actions — including moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, declaring settlements in conquered territory legal contrary to international law, quitting the Iran nuclear agreement, and working toward a mutual defense alliance — fulfill every Zionists’ wishlist. He’s even overturned a classic alleged anti-Semitic trope by charging Jewish Americans with being insufficiently loyal to Israel.
But now some solid evidence is at hand. Declaring that Jewish Americans (including non-believers who have Jewish mothers) are members of a separate national and racial group is the essence of anti-Semitism — even when the assertion is pressed into the service of the so-called Jewish state. Jewish anti-Zionists said this from the start. Trump’s liberal Jewish critics will need to explain why he’s wrong and Israel and its apologists are right.
Israel’s champions owe us an explanation. First, they insist that Israel is and always must be a Jewish state, by which most of them mean not religiously Jewish but of the “Jewish People” everywhere, including Jews who are citizens of other states and not looking for a new country. To be Jewish, according to the prevailing view, it is enough to have a Jewish mother (or to have been converted by an approved Orthodox rabbi). Belief in one supreme creator of the universe, in the Torah as the word of God, and in Jewish ritual need have nothing whatever to do with Jewishness. (We ignore here the many problems with this conception, such as: how can there be a secular Judaism?)
The definition of Jew has been bitterly controversial inside and outside of Israel since its founding. The point is, as anthropologist Roselle Tekiner wrote, “When the central task of a state is to import persons of a select religious/ethnic group — and to develop the country for their benefit alone — it is crucially important to be officially recognized as a bona fide member of that group.” (This is from the anthology Anti-Zionism: Analytical Reflections, which is not online and is apparently out of print. But see Tekiner’s article, “Israel’s Two-Tiered Citizenship Law Bars Non-Jews From 93 Percent of Its Lands.”)
Second, Israel’s champions insist that Israel is a democracy — indeed, the only democracy in the Middle East. They vehemently object whenever someone demonstrates how Israel-as-the-state-of-the-Jewish-People must harm the 25 percent of Israeli citizens who are not Jewish, most of whom are Arabs.
Yet Israeli law uniquely distinguishes citizenship from nationality. The nationality of an Israeli Arab citizen is “Arab” not Israeli, while the nationality of a Jewish citizen is “Jewish” not Israeli. Are citizens of any other country distinguished in law like that?
This has consequences. For example, the prohibition on marriage between Jews and non-Jews. It is not the result of political bargaining with religious parties but of a desire to protect “the Jewish people” from impurity. These contortions are required by Israel’s self-declared status as something other than the land of all its citizens. Early Zionists said they wanted Palestine to be as Jewish as Britain is British and France is French — a flagrant category mistake that has had horrific consequences for the Palestinians.
The insistence by Israel’s supporters — that Israel can be both Jewish and democratic — thus is puzzling. What does it mean for Israel to be a Jewish state if that status has no real consequences for non-Jews? If all it meant was that the Star of David was on the flag, we might hear far fewer objections to Israel. But of course it means much more.
To see what it means, one has to look beyond Israel’s Declaration of Independence, Basic Law (its de facto constitution), and specific statutes, which contain language that on its face forbids discrimination against non-Jews. We should know better than to take official documents at face value. What matters in any society is the “real constitution,” the principles that underlie commonly accepted behavior. The old Soviet Union’s constitution listed freedom of the press among the “rights” of Soviet citizens, and the U.S. Constitution says that only Congress may declare war and that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
More pertinent, the 1917 Balfour Declaration, wherein the British government “view[ed] with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” also stated that “it [was] clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” We know how that worked out.
So what’s the story inside Israel? (I’m not talking about the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which Israel has occupied for 52 years and where Palestinians have no rights whatever.)
After doing an interview recently about my new book, Coming to Palestine, I was challenged by a listener over my statements that the Israeli government treats Arab and Jewish criminals differently depending on whether they shed “Jewish blood” or “Arab blood” (no such distinction actually exists) and that political parties can’t call for changing Israel from a Jewish state to a state of all its citizens.
Who is right?
Regarding criminal justice, Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy shows anecdotally that Arab Israeli citizens who kill Jews can spend more time in prison than Israeli Jewish citizens who kill Arabs. “Arab blood is cheaper in Israel,” Levy wrote in 2014, “and Jewish blood is thicker.” He says things are the same today. Over the years, many articles have been published documenting this de facto, though not de jure, disparity. Indeed, Haaretz reported in 2011 that
Arab Israelis who have been charged with certain types of crime are more likely than their Jewish counterparts to be convicted, and once convicted they are more likely to be sent to prison, and for a longer time. These disparities were found in a recent statistical study commissioned by Israels Courts Administration and the Israel Bar Association…. The [unpublished preliminary] study is unique in that it is the first of its kind to be commissioned and funded in part by the courts administration, and in that it sought to examine claims by attorneys that Israeli judges deal more harshly with Arab criminals than with Jews.
Note that government discrimination against non-Jews across the spectrum of issues is not usually written into the law, although it may be. Mostly flagrantly, discrimination is legally applied to the “right of return.” People defined as Jews, no matter where they were born or live, can become Israeli citizens/nationals virtually on arrival, while Arabs driven from their ancestral homes in 1947-48 and 1967 may not go back, much less become full-rights citizens/nationals. Put concretely, I, an atheist born in Philadelphia to Jewish parents born in Philadelphia (with roots likely in the vicinity of the Black Sea), can “return” [sic] to Israel and become an Israeli citizen at once, while my friend Raouf Halaby, a naturalized American citizen born to Arab Christian parents in west Jerusalem three years before Israel was founded, may not. The only difference is that my mother was Jewish, making me, a Spinozist, a Jewish national in Israel’s eyes, and Raouf’s mother was not.
Regarding restrictions on political parties, the Basic Law: The Knesset states:
A candidates’ list [party] shall not participate in elections to the Knesset, and a person shall not be a candidate for election to the Knesset, if the objects or actions of the list or the actions of the person, expressly or by implication, include…:
negation of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state;…
Before proceeding, let us note a conundrum. The issue I’m raising here is whether a state be both Jewish and democratic. The root of the word democracy is demos, people. So if the raison d’être of Israel is the welfare of only some of its citizens and millions of certain others who are citizens and residents of other countries, how can Israel be a real democracy? Strictly speaking, considering that word and, the law’s language legitimizes a party that “negat[es] the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish … state” but not as a democratic state. Would the Israeli election authorities accept that distinction? I don’t think so.
In the past the Israeli Supreme Court has reversed government bans on a party’s or candidate’s inclusion in an election. Particular cases will revolve around the exact wording of a party’s mission statement or candidate’s platform, and legal language is subject to endless, unpredictable, and political interpretation. But, regardless, the government has the power to ban at its disposal, and future Supreme Courts may not be so liberal. So the threat of a ban always looms. Incidentally, a party or candidate that engages in “incitement to racism” is also ineligible to participate in elections, yet this provision has yet to be applied to Jewish parties and politicians, such as Likud and Benjamin Netanyahu, that routinely spout racist rhetoric.
Israel’s champions also deny that Arab Israelis — citizens, mind you — have grossly inferior access to land, most of which is owned by a “public” authority and the Jewish National Fund (very little is privately owned); building and village permits; public utilities; education; roads; and other government-controlled services and resources. The Israeli government has carried out programs in the Galilee and Negev, known as Judaization, from which Arab Israelis, especially Bedouins, have been cleared to make way for Jewish Israelis. Such restrictions inside Israel have the stink of apartheid.
In his book Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination, and Democracy, Ben White documents that the Israeli government allocates resources — unsurprisingly — just as one would expect, considering that Israel by its founding doctrine is not the land of all of its citizens but only of some. This doctrine was reinforced last year in the Nation-State Law, which declares that “The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”
So, as Israel’s champions say, all Israeli citizens are indeed equal. It’s just that some — those whose nationality is “Jewish” — are more equal than others — those whose nationality is “Arab” or anything else but “Jewish.”
TGIF — The Goal Is Freedom — appears occasionally on Fridays.
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