Monday, May 12, 2008

Why we can't all just get along

"Isn’t it long past time for all countries to reject citizenship based on race or religion?"

This, needless to say, from a letter protesting Israel's continued existence as a Jewish state. Statements like the one above are quite similar to those that go, 'Shouldn't war be a thing of the past?' As in, if everyone worldwide could agree, it would work, but as long as it doesn't, the world's nations might want to consider holding onto their militaries. The great thing about this letter-writer's demand is that it can be countered with an equally utopian and over-simplistic remark: 'Hasn't the time come for all oppressed minority groups to gain (and maintain) national independence if they so choose?' Don't we also like national independence for groups that have been discriminated against on the basis of race or religion? If anyone can live in these newly independent nations, what's to prevent the white man from staying put? What do we do?

As long as Jews--whether defined as a race or a religion--cannot live openly in many countries, there is a necessity for Israel to define itself as a Jewish state, which, however defined, will be in terms that are off-putting to someone with politically-correct impulses, to those who feel you can look at Israel in isolation from the rest of the Middle East, expecting Park Slope niceties from one country and tolerating all manner of exclusion from the others. The way for Israel to be a Jewish state should not be as convoluted as it is in the current state of things (screwed-up marriage and conversion regulations), but there's a reason Israel's founders saw it necessary to define the nation based on those rejected by other nations, and that reason becomes clear in the letter that follows the 'why can't we all just get along?' one.

9 comments:

Withywindle said...

Even if Jews could live freely anywhere in the world, Israel would still have the right to define itself as a Jewish state. Every nation-state has and should have that right.

J. Otto Pohl said...

Except that the world did not allow South Africa to define itself as an Afrikaaner state. Nor was Rhodesia allowed to define itself as a White state. Jews are only a bare majority in Palestine due to the massive ethnic cleansing of 1948 and again in 1967. I realize that WW supports ethnic cleansing even of German speaking Jews and anti-fascist Social Democrats from Post-war Czechslovakia. Both categories were expelled enmasse as "Germans." But international human rights law disagrees with both of you. What if the US defined itself as an exclusively White Christian state? What if it then decided to maintain the purity of that state by expelling 80% of non-Christians and non-Whites into Mexico? I do not think all the "progressive pro-Zionists" would be so hip on defending this as an example of justified national self-determination.

Phoebe said...

No thoughts on the Jews kicked out of the rest of the Middle East, I see.

Anonymous said...

As is well known, Jews were kicked out of the rest of the Middle East only following the Nakbah.

schMaltzLover said...

I think Jeffrey Goldberg had a good riposte to holocaust-centric view of Israel in his Atlantic article where he interviewed Olmert.

And if the only reason to abjure a post-Zionist Israel is the way Jews are treated in other countries -- then the Israeli ethnostate really is in trouble. Withywindle's argument is better.

Speaking of which, here's a report by a Palestinian-Israeli think tank (the Mossawa centre) on ways Israel could better include its aboriginal community.

Φ said...

So, Phoebe, you raise a question you don't really answer: is the right of a nation to define itself in racial/religious terms (pending the utopia, of course) available to all, or is it reserved exclusively for Israel?

They South African counter-example raises a hypothetical: if demographic trends continue, and Jews become a minority in Israel, what steps would you permit them to take to hold on to power? Would you permit these steps to other nations threatened with demographic displacement?

Withywindle said...

Every nation has the right to define itself; any group not included has the right to rebel, either to seek inclusion in the nation state or independence. Justice and legitimation are determined by the rights and wrongs accruing to competing nations, not to individuals.

I'm all in favor of settler states that establish themselves as demographically dominant--the United States, for a notable example. The white South Africans, like the French Algerians, tried to have their cake and eat it too--a settler state supported by massive amounts of cheap native labor. Not an impossible trick to pull off--the whites of Latin America still rule the roost in largely non-white nations. But generally, the attempt is worse than a crime, it is a folly.

Israel, because of its socialist origins, imported a large enough Jewish working class to make Israel viable. If it allows itself to become dependent on Palestinian labor, it will die. The most hopeful sign for Israel is their substitution of a motley labor force of Thais, etc., for Palestinians; too many Arabs on the wrong side of the walls, and no more Israel.

The judgment of the rights and wrongs of nations is a prudential judgment of particular national characters--in which judgment, the actions necessary for survival register positively by some scales of virtu(e), and negatively by others. But the scale should never be by the categorical imperatives of values.

Any portion of the American nation has a right to define itself so as to exclude me. It is not an illegitimate decision; it merely means I will fight them to the death.

Withywindle said...

Note, incidentally, the continuing exodus of whites from South Africa, because of "high crime," among other things. Note that the promise of Zimbabwe to maintain the white farmers had an effective life of twenty years. If there are no whites in South Africa in twenty years--if there was no middle ground between white domination of South Africa and the elimination of whites from South Africa--how moral then will we take the agreement to hand over power to the black-majority government? Should the Afrikaaners-in-exile then applaud?

Anonymous said...

I wish the modern state of Israel had been founded in Uganda.

Chaim