Encountering Peace: Bibi or Tzipi, Bibi and Tzipi – what does it really matter?

by mgopin on February 24, 2009 · 9 comments

Gershon Baskin’s provocative title is absolutely right, it does not appear to matter anymore which coalition will rule Israel next. The fact is that Olmert had a bigger mandate than Livni or Netanyahu to pursue the peace process, freeze the settlements, and uphold all the commitments Israel made in Annapolis. And he failed at all of them, and instead unleashed a horrifying set of wars in Lebanon and Gaza that have left Palestinians utterly shell shocked. So why not add fuel to the fire with a Lieberman-inclusive government that traumatizes the rest of the Palestinian people who have resided in Israel since 1948, who never left the land, and who have been isolated by everyone ever since, despite their absolutely peaceful resistance to injustice? Despite the fact that by a vast majority of 75% the Arabs of Israel would support a democratic constitution for Israel that also kept it a Jewish state?!

This is a dark time for Jewish behavior in Israel. Racism is quickly replacing any positive notion of Jewish identity as a unifier of Jews. We may be witnessing the slow demise of Israeli democracy, and who better to kill it than a scion of a Russian totalitarian society that has veered from Communist autocrats to Mafia autocrats.

But there is poetic justice in this demise. After all, Israel was desperate to welcome in millions of Russians, but really any Russian with remotely Jewish blood in order to fight the Arabs demographically. Now they have swastikas on Jewish graves in Israel and a Russian who will undo the hoped for combination of Jewishness and democracy. I know fabulous Russian Jewish peacemakers in Israel, but the votes go to fear and hatred.

As I have said here before, I think there is little evidence throughout the world of viable states that are both democratic and ethnic, the so-called nation-state. The logic of history and the pressure of politics will always sacrifice democracy on the altar of ethnicity. That is not to say that Judaism and Jews cannot thrive in a state on the ancient land of Israel. They can and they will when everyone eventually comes to their senses through absolute separation of state, ethnicity and religion. But if they don’t, if they continue to build Israel on the basis of fear and hatred of Arabs they will get an Israel that will not be recognizable from the vantage point of a Jewish history that has been largely nonviolent for almost two thousand years. It will become a land of Jewish racism and violence against fellow Jews.  It is already not recognizable to Jews in Iran, and increasingly it is losing the support of a key group of Americans, Jewish liberals. Some will dismiss these liberals, but they just were key in electing the most liberal president in decades of American history. Any honest analyst sees that subtly, quietly, Israel is headed for a slow train wreck of a clash with its last staunch ally, the United States.

Of course Israel has security challenges, of course it has difficult compromises it must make to live in peace, of course Hamas and Hizbullah must be prevented from aggression. But what is preventing any real progress is the insidious relationship between voting and fear in Israel, the easy way that votes can be bought with fear and hatred. This is far from a uniquely Jewish problem, but it is killing Israeli democracy, a fact that every Jew and every pro-Israel person should wake up to and fight like hell against.

This is not about Hamas, or Hezbollah, or Iran, this is about the Jewish soul, and the choice is clear. Just like Abu Ghraib was not about Islamists, about Al Qaeda, about Syria. Abu Ghraib was about the American soul. The Americans have now spoken, from the military to the pulpit, and they have made their choice against Abu Ghraib.

What choice will Jews make? If Israel keeps going on this path the Jewish people are eventually going to split into two groups that are completely divorced: one with a Zionist religion, and one with a Jewish religion, one that will be welcome in the democratic world, and one that will be a pariah among democrats and welcome in the un-free world. This may seem odd historically, but it is coming. The vast majority of Jewish establishment programming, from synagogues to college campuses, is already secular, political, and ethnic in nature. It is effectively a state-based form of worship. There are alternatives that exist quietly but they will emerge more clearly as a Judaism different from Zionist religion–if Israel continues its downward ethical spiral.

I wish I could say that this is all the fault of a few unscrupulous politicians in Israel but it is not. These are the unfortunate choices that most people make for ethnicity over ethics, fear over courage, when states mistakenly base their political system and parliamentary constructs on ethnicity. I wish i could wave a magic wand and help the Arab world understand clearly and unequivocally that no matter how pitiful Hamas and Hizbollah resistance to Israel may be that violence has never paid off in forcing Israelis and Jews to face the crimes of 1948. By contrast, it seems clear to many of us that the time is ripe for a much greater global consensus on a reasonable solution to Palestinian national aspiration and reparation. But the Achilles Heal of such an eventuality is the Western world’s loathing of violence that has come from the Muslim and Arab world in the form of terrorism that Al Jazeera calls resistance. This moral standoff between Middle East and West is just not working for Palestine. A democratically elected Hamas that is devoted to suicide terrorism is destroying a potential global consensus on Palestine. I am in favor of recognizing Hamas, I am in favor of radical Fatah reform, but the Arab world must recognize how toxic it is to the cause of challenging Israeli policy if they continue to turn a blind eye to the methods of Hamas or the ugly rhetoric of Iran.

It is time for the Arab world, in other words, to get behind a systematic campaign of Palestinian national liberation that will be utterly and completely nonviolent. This is the formula to win the day, to win Palestinian independence, to save Israel from its dark shadows, and to allow the Middle East to finally join the world of authentic international development and democratization.

© Marc Gopin

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