Anti Isreal = Anti-Semetism?

Nathan Newman nathan.newman at
Mon Feb 15 21:30:45 PST 1999

I'll try to be economical and reply to a few different posts, aiming at three major issues: the role of Israel in the Cold War, the pitfalls of a two-state solution and the possibility of a joint state, and the racial and religious politics of conversion and immigration in a Jewish state.

First, let's take Sean's argument:

>Though the Brits didn't gain immediately from the creation
>of Isreal it is important to note that the British response to Palestinian
>struggle for statehood, which included strong elements from the
>Palestinian Communist Party, during the 1930's (36 if memory serves) was
>quite different from the British response to Zionist attempts to create a

Two points that undermine the "Israel as agent" argument. First, it gives imperialism two much credit to say that even though there was opposition to Israel from Britain and no immediate benefits, the Brits and the US somehow "knew" that their other client Arab states would slip the leash and end up allying with the Soviet Union, so the fact that Israel became a useful ally later then retroactively was an imperialist justification for its founding. This kind of post hoc argument just is not convincing.

And to argue that there was some important difference between the response to Jewish nationalism and Arab nationalism is to ignore the multiple Arab states established BEFORE Israel got statehood. Brits had a bunch of Lawrence of Arabia fans and were quite comfortable playing ball with Arab nationalism and were probably quite confident of their ability to suppress the more radical elements. Given the strong socialist and even some Communist currents running through Labor Zionism, there were many people in the US and Britain who were none too confident of the reliability of Israel on the whole ideological alliance question.

Who knew those crazy kibbutz communists would be so economically successful that they would need lower caste Palestinians to do their scut work fifty years later?

Sean also noted:
>You are correct about Palestinians inside Isreal having the formal right
>to vote (except of course the 900,000 forcibly expelled from 47-51. If
>only those 900,000 Palestinians and not their descendents would be allowed
>to repatriate the Palestinian population inside Isreal would be 1.9
>million people or 32% of the 5.9 million people in Isreal, which would
>make for a very different Knesset and "Jewish" state.

Probably a better one, but the rights of Israeli Palestinians to vote (despite other civil harms by the state) is not inconsiderable and undermines the easy analogies to Apartheid. As for the "expulsions", that phrase glosses over the fact that most of those happened in the midst of war, with many "expulsions" being deliberate defections to opposing war camps with the expectation of return as soon as Israel was destroyed. What proportion was which is one of the main historic disputes, but it is a fact that in that period surrounding Arab states sought to destory Israel, so again simple analogies to "ethnic clensing" by dominant regimes do not fly in a very different context of conflict.

None of this is to say that Israel's blowing up of Palestian homes is acceptable, but my point is to hold out for historical specificity when false analogies do not hold.

Another point touches on the two-state versus joint state issue. There is a third possibility, which is the joining of the West Bank and Gaza to Jordon. In fact, that was the reality before 1967 in regards to the West Bank. Jordon has a large Palestinian population and it is not unreasonable to see joining those states, at least as reasonable as joining Israel with the West Bank and Gaza.

The problem of course is that the Palestianians don't want to be joined with Jordan. They were not well-treated when Jordan controlled the West Bank and Palestinians have more taste for self-government and democracy than Jordan would allow (ironically, a taste somewhat derived from association with Israel's democratic institutions, however flawed in regards to the Palestianians themselves.)

What actually makes the most sense (and is being negotiated in small ways already) is a broader federation of Israel, Palestine and Jordan to fairly manage resource issues such as water and joint economic development. The Oslo Accords do make such negotiations an integral part of what is needed for the future of the region.

History makes nations (however weak their justification in most cases) and history has shaped three separate nations, none of which can be easily melded. That is the reason why a two-state (really three-state) solution is the one that has ultimately been supported by the leadership of Jordon, the PLO and Israel. Palestine will be an officially recognized state in the United Nations by the end of the year 2000; Israel will fight that recognition but will have to negotiate that reality, which its sane leaders recognize. Palestine may be a weak, stunted shitty excuse for a nation given the resources Israel may relinquish, but it will be a state. It will need economic aid but that is starting to flow even from the US, and with self-determination and international pressure for a fair settlement of regional resources, it can become a real nation.

As for Israel's Law of Return, this actually highlights the oddity of Jews themselves, a group that is neither fully a religious, ethnic or cultural community but some bizarre oscillating Schoedinger's Cat kind of combination of all three. The current fight over control of conversion is a fight over the boundaries of this odd cultural offshoot of history. In a sense, Jews have more in common with Hindus than Christians as far as tying religious identity to genetic descent. This is not the same as a racial definition, since Jews do encompass a whole range of racial groups, from Ethiopians to Sephardic to European to even Chinese as points. But it does create a tight restriction on generational expansion of the religious community, which opposition to liberal versions of conversion just accentuate.

Yoshie writes:
>don't Zionists think of the Law of Return not as an aberration that
>contradicts an otherwise democratic constitution and that might be or
>should be corrected later but the reason for and the main point of having
>Israel as an independent state?

Of course, just as ethnic definitions divide Armenia from Azerbijian, Estonia from Latvia, France from Germany, Korea from China, Cambodia from Vietnam, and so on. Religion defines the reasons for nations as well, Pakistan from India, Belgium from the Netherlands (a bit back in time), and so on. Almost no state, even ones aspiring to democratic institutions, defines itself solely as a random piece of dirt on the ground.

If Israel's existence is legitimate (or at least as legitimate as most other lines on the map), then my point would be that its self-definition is no more restrictive than most other nations. A bit odder in many ways, but the oddness of the Jews has been one of the reasons they've been persecuted so much, and in turn a reason why they may need their own state. So in some ways the very issues that piss people off about the Law of Return are the exact reason why it may be a good idea to leave a few square miles on this earth for the Jewish people to work out their bizarre self-definition problems.

What other purpose does a nation have?


1948 and Israel as Imperialist

Combined State Issue

Coversion and Racial Nature of Judaism

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