Sunday, October 17, 2010

Israel? or Palestine?

I cannot ever recall finding myself in such complete agreement with someone on an important issue and yet completely rejecting of his conclusions.

Jonathan Gross is an Orthodox Rabbi in Omaha, Nebraska. He has written a book entitled The Jewish Case for the One State Solution. This is an idea that is mind bogglingly dangerous. Rabbi Gross believes that Israel should give up its Jewish identity and become a secular democracy comprised of citizens not identified by religious affiliation - much like the United States. In a vacuum - ignoring history and theology - this is not a bad idea. But in reality it is a disaster.

First I want to applaud Rabbi Gross for studying the situation and recognizing reality. He correctly perceives the situation as it is – which is not the way most supporters of Israel see it. Most see the situation through their own lens. In the case of most religious Jews that means bringing to bear their own religious feelings. Rabbi Gross has removed those feelings from his mind and analyzed everything as objectively as I have ever seen. It is nearly impossible to disagree with him about the facts.

I cannot possibly deal with all of his points in the context of a relatively short post (of which this one is considerably longer than most). But I will attempt to describe the essential ones and then analyze his proposed solution.

One of his primary observations is that Rabbi Meir Kahane was a true visionary who saw things as they were. Rabbi Kahane’s perceptions are perhaps more valid now than when he first made them. We see an Arab populace that is at best unsympathetic to the existence of a State and at worst we see a fundamentalist arousal of faith in many Arabs that has actively resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Israeli Jews.

Even Arab citizens of Israel who mostly would never commit an act of terror nevertheless cheer when a suicide bomber successfully accomplishes his mission of mass murder. They do so out of a sense of pride in successful resistance to their Israeli occupiers. This - despite the fact Israeli Arabs in Israel have it better than most Arabs in other countries. Economic success does not replace national pride in their people.

It is also a fact that Arab Muslims do not recognize the Jewish theological claim to the land. The Koran says that the God fulfilled His promise to Abraham through Ishmael, not Isaac. Nor do they recognize the historical claim. To claim ownership based on the fact that Jews ruled the land over 2000 years ago is surely a questionable enterprise. It should be well past the ‘statute of limitations’ to reclaim ownership now based on that. This is why their refer to Israeli independence day as ‘the catastrophe’. They see Jews usurping their land as occupiers causing them undue hardship – especially since the six day war in 67.

Meyer Kahane put it well. You cannot buy Arab loyalty with indoor plumbing. No matter how much Israel has improved the lot of its Arab citizens, they will never see Israeli rule in ‘Palestine’ as just. And those are the ‘peaceful’ Arabs. The Islamists are trying to do something about it.

Meir Kahane understood the demographic time bomb too - long before anyone else did. He realized that the Arab population growth rate surpassed by far the Jewish population growth rate. He said that a choice had to be made between a Jewish State and a democratic one. You could not have both. Meyer Kahane obviously believed that Israel must be a Jewish State and non Jews living there had to agree to give up any national rights including the right to vote. They could then stay and enjoy full civil rights and prosper. If they did not agree to that they would have to leave – either voluntarily or by force.

This of course could not work. Any attempt at mass popuations transfers would be seen as extremely provocative and racist. The Israeli government certainly saw it that way and outlawed Rabbi Kahane’s political party declaring it racist and thus illegal.

In my view they should not have made his party illegal. He had a right to his views just as the Arab political parties in Israel do. Nor do I consider them racist. But I do agree that his ‘solution’ would have been a disaster for Israel on too many levels to discuss in this post.

Rabbi Gross also says that those who say we should have faith in God that He will always protect Israel is a mistake – as is the idea that Israel’s existence is the first flowering of our messianic redemption.

I should think that the latter is obvious by now. It is now well over 60 year of statehood and we are no closer to seeing Moshiach now than we were the day before Israel proclaimed its independence. Israel is is threatened by a radical fundamentalist Iran that has pledged to wipe Israel off the map while developing the nuclear capacity to do so. Not to mention an implacable Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and various other Jihadist groups pledged and actively working toward that goal.

What about faith in God’s protection that many religious Zionists talk about? Rabbi Gross says they are deluding themselves. ‘Read the book!’ he says. He of course means the Torah which says the exact opposite. God constantly promises to expel His people from the land if they do not obey the laws of the Torah. Isn’t it fair to say that the government of Israel isn’t even remotely interested in that? There is no guarantee or even a reason to expect that God will save Israel anymore than he saved European Jewry during the Holocaust.

The bottom line for Rabbi Gross is that a two state solution is untenable. A truly Jewish state that is also fully democratic will never happen since the Israeli Arabs are not going anywhere. Israel can’t continue to deny them their rights and still call themselves democratic. Nor can they deny Arabs the right of return while granting Jews that right. That is truly undemocratic.

Rabbi Gross acknowledges that even if we take theological and democratic considerations off the table there is a moral consideration for keeping the State Jewish. It is the ‘never again’ philosophy. The Jews of Europe were victims of genocide during the Holocaust in part because they had nowhere to go. Had they been allowed to escape to other countries at the beginning of the war many would have. But the doors were closed. Israel’s ‘Law of Retrun’ guaranteeing any Jew the right to be granted immediate citizenship and entry would prevent that scenario. That is as good a reason as any for Israel to maintain its Jewish identity.

But Rabbi Gross makes the following observation which on its surface is true. The holocaust is fading from our national consciousness and our collective memories. Eventually the last survivor will die. And like all historical tragedies will be forgotten or at least not have same the impact on our national Jewish psyche as it does now. Israel will not be seen as a place of refuge against persecution.

The facts on the ground are in fact quite the opposite. There is relatively little persecution of Jews througout the world today. Instead Israelis see America and western democracies as a refuge for themselves. Many Israelis are simply tired of being under siege. They fear suicide bombers, random rocket attacks, and see a nuclear armed Iran looming in the not too distant future. Immigration policies in western democracies are now more open than ever. Ask France and Canada... and even Germany!

And though things can always change and go back to the way they were during the holocaust, the ‘never again’ mentality is surely fading in the current world climate. So as important as the ‘Never Again’ reason is, it will not be sustained indefinitely.

Rabbi Gross’s overview is very thorough and quite on target. But his solution is mind-bogglingly naive.

He is advocating a ‘One State Solution’ and that Israel abandon its Jewish identity. Instead Israel should become a secular democracy granting full democratic rights to all - Jews and Arabs alike. There should be no automatic religious or ethnic right of return. Not for Jews nor for Arabs. Citizenship should be determined by democratically derived rules - much as they are in the US. Jews, and Arabs - Muslims and Christians - would have religious freedom and practice their religion under the full protection of the law much like the first amendment of the US constitution guarantees its citizens.

National leadership will not be limited to Jews nor will Judaism – whether religious or secular versions be be the national character of the state. Everyone will be better off. Jews will maintain their current religious rights and Arabs will no longer feel that the Jews have taken over. One state. Two peoples. No subservience by either. The rights of both guaranteed.

Leaving out religious considerations that sounds fair. But in reality it is impossibility. And it is just plain wrong. Jews cannot leave out Judaism when it comes the land of Israel. It is one thing to be pragmatic about it – I am a pragmatist when it comes to peace. But to completely abdicate any right is wrong headed. As Rashi explains - the Torah in its very first statement should make makes ownership of the land clear to any Jew. That should be never be ignored. That it Israel is currently not being run according to Halacha is beside the point. Just because we may be expelled by God again doesn’t mean that we necessarily will be.

Despite the fact that many secular Jews do not like to have religion forced upon them - most still have Jewish religious identities. And they follow many religious practices – even if they aren’t completely Shomer Shabbos. So having faith in God’s protection is not entirely ridiculous. There is also as unprecedented resurgence of religious fervor and devotion to Mitzvos. Torah learning there is at unprecedented levels. So expulsion is not necessarily the Fate of the Jewish people in Israel.

On a practical level setting up a secular democratic where Jews and Arabs will be completely in par with each other is a fools errand. There is well over one hundred years of built up animosity towards the Jewish people. Arab hatred didn’t happen over-night - and it won’t be eradicated overnight. Rabbi Gross is aware of that but claims that a slow and carefully planned transition from a Jewish State to a secular democracy will prevent any violent reprisals by Arabs eager to ‘get even with the Jews’ for subjugating and mistreating them.

I truly question that assumption. The education of far too many Arabs includes many decades of massive doses of Jew hatred. I find it ridiculous to believe that such indoctrination can change - no matter how slow such changes take place. Even Israeli Arabs who may not hate us but they resent us and would do little to protect us in any kind of pogroms that might develop. Islamic fundamentalists would salivate at such an opportunity.

The dismantling of the Jewish State – giving more power to these Palestinians will have drastic consequences. It could even hasten a democratic takeover by Hamas much as it did in Gaza. Especially if considers the rapid growth of Islamic fundamentalism in recent years.

I don’t know what the solution to this conflict is, but a one state solution is not it. Giving up Jewish rights to the State is both morally wrong and existentially foolish.

This is the sad state of affairs as I see it. I see no solution at all. Not a two state solution, not a one state solution, and not the status quo. That doesn’t mean we shouldn't try and seek peace somehow. But we do need to keep the eye on the ball. And that means keeping Israel Jewish and strong.