Thursday, February 6, 2014

Israel: Can it be a Jewish State and a Democratic State


As a frequent visitor to Israel, I often leave conflicted.  I love the food, I have many friends that have open their homes to me, the history is unparalleled, the spirit of inventorship rivals any other nation, and the never say die attitude is inspirational.  And yet, I am troubled, like many, about the region’s oldest democracy as it struggles with its identify and future.  Can Israel be both a democratic state and a Jewish state?  In its pursuit for the latter will it sacrifice the former?

Last week I happened to be in Israel when key points of the Kerry Plan were released to the public courtesy of New York Times’ Thomas Friedman (who was visiting and staying in the same hotel as yours truly).  I won’t bore you with the details of the plan, but it was interesting to witness firsthand the “he said/he said” schoolyard silliness within the Netanyahu government.  If the Israeli government, and its outspoken ministers spent as much time talking with the Palestinians as they argue amongst themselves perhaps a deal could be struck.  Alas, the Israeli cultural tenet to argue (arguing to Israelis is like gambling to Asians, it’s a cultural thing) and debate makes negotiation a slow process. 

While the hero of the settlers, millionaire software mogul Economy Minister Naftali Bennett of HaBayit HaYehudi (The Jewish Home) Party criticizes both his boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and American Secretary of State John Kerry, fellow coalition government member and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni of the Hatnuah Party continues to spar with Bennett.  Throw into the mix Yair Lapid, Finance Minister and head of the new Yesh Atid party, has also been at odds with Bennett.  And then there is Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman who merged his Yisrael Beiteinu Party with Netanyahu’s Likud and has gone from the radical right winger to proponent of a Palestinian state. And we haven’t even mentioned the opposition Labor party.  Can you imagine a U.S. administration where the Secretary of State, Treasury Secretary, President, and Attorney General openly denigrate one another?

Meanwhile, these news stories are commonplace in the occupies territories:

  • Israeli forces forbade the Islamic call for prayer at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron 49 times in the month of January because it "annoyed" Jewish settlers.
  • Israeli forces on Monday morning stormed the Bab al-Awda protest encampment which Palestinian and international activists erected Sunday near the Bisan checkpoint in the northern Jordan Valley
  • A group of settlers from Shilo settlement uprooted more than 1000 olive trees and newly planted saplings in the village of Sinjil north of Ramallah, planted with funding from ICRC
  • Ten Israeli military vehicles stormed Qabatia and inspected several homes before leaving the town. A military spokesman said the raids were 'routine security activity.'
  • In 2013, Israel destroyed 99 buildings in annexed East Jerusalem, leaving 298 people homeless, according to UN figures

These are not isolated stories, they represent a one week snapshot of headlines in the occupied territories.  An illegal and amoral act that that is a blight upon a democratic state.  It is up to Netanyahu to do the right thing and enable the creation of a Palestinian State if he really wants a Jewish Democratic State.  The current situation of occupation is undemocratic.  The establishment of a single state with equal rights to all citizens will ultimately leave Jews in Israel as a minority, and thus not a Jewish State.

As hard as the Netanyahu government continues to play the security card, they will get their sympathies from the American Congress.  Though, the claims of imminent danger from the West Bank have been greatly exaggerated as Shin Bet, the Israeli state security service, is now counting rock throwing as terror incidents.   Netanyahu will likely have to risk his political career as his right wing government would collapse if he were to accept the Kerry Plan.  Of course, he could probably form a new a coalition government with centrist and leftist parties.  Of course, there is no guarantee that Abbas will be able to sell it to the Palestinian people either. 

As Israeli journalist and author of My Promised Land Ari Shavit said “I think that the two-state solution is necessary for political reasons, first of all, but also for moral reasons. I think that it's incomprehensible that the Palestinians will not have a state of their own.”

Imagine that, the political and moral thing to do are one in the same.

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