Monday, May 19, 2008

Another Israel Post (Dennis)

I thought this article by Jeffery Goldberg on Israel's relationship with America was a very good one. In it, he basically argues that the leaders of the groups like AIPAC and their supporters have been stifling a reasonable debate on Israel by being more extremist on Israel than the Israelis. Here is a quote that I think illustrates the core of the piece:

These Jewish leaders, who live in Chicago and New York and behind the gates of Boca Raton country clubs, loathe the idea that Mr. Olmert, or a prime minister yet elected, might one day cede the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to the latent state of Palestine. These are neighborhoods — places like Sur Baher, Beit Hanina and Abu Dis — that the Conference of Presidents could not find with a forked stick and Ari Ben Canaan as a guide. And yet many Jewish leaders believe that an Israeli compromise on the boundaries of greater Jerusalem — or on nearly any other point of disagreement — is an axiomatic invitation to catastrophe.

One leader, Joshua Katzen, of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, told me, “I think that Israelis don’t have the big view of global jihad that American Jews do, because Israelis are caught up in their daily emergencies.” When I asked him how his Israeli friends responded to this, he answered: “They say, ‘When your son has to fight, you can have an opinion.’ But I tell them that it is precisely because your son has to fight that you have a harder time seeing the larger picture.”

By the latter part of the 20th century Irish Americans had a similar relationship with the troubles in Northern Ireland. That is, the most radical factions in the conflict were funded by ill informed nationalist Irish Americans, while the vast majority of people in the Republic of Ireland and even the Catholics of Northern Ireland were far more ambivalent about (and even disgusted by) the actions of the IRA.

This comparison made me think about some similarities between the Irish and Israeli situations.

Ireland, like Israel, was a nation founded in response to the hard realities oppression and the sweeping poetry of idealistic nationalism. Ireland, for its first 60 or 70 years, was an insular backward and poor country. It was plagued by a troubled relationship with Britain, embarrassing terrorism on its behalf in the North and in England, and restrictive economic, and cultural regulations that stunted growth and creativity. Its presidency was always won by the radically nationalist Fianna Fail party, which was started to oppose the very compromise that brought Ireland into existence.

Then, perhaps in response to the troubles of Northern Ireland of the 1980s, or perhaps in disgust at being considered Western Europe's only third world nation, the attitudes of people changed. They elected as president Mary Robinson, the first woman, as well as the first person not from Fianna Fail, to ever hold the post. She was someone who had built a career around campaigning for liberal principles that ran counter to the strict Catholic traditionalism that had strangled the country for so long, and who was known for reaching out to the British and to Unionists.

The act of electing Robinson showed a desire for change on the part of the Irish, but Robinson also pushed the Irish in many ways. Most notably, she became the first Irish president to meet with Queen Elizabeth in England. A professor of Irish history told me that only after her presidency was it possible to conceive of an Irish identity that was not Catholic, white, and traditional.

This change it attitude made it possible for Ireland to achieve all it has today. Could the protectionist, reactionary Ireland from the 1970s and before have accepted the waves immigration that went along with membership in the EU? Could such an Ireland have achieved a sufficiently educated populace if going to some of the best (Protestant) universities still required special dispensation from the local bishop? I doubt it.

Indeed, it's reasonable to ask whether the situation in Northern Ireland would continue to challenge Israel and Palestine for ferocity without the change in attitude of the Irish and Robinson's leadership. If the Irish Catholics on both sides of the border didn't embrace the idea that a Protestants were fellow citizens and not just "The Enemy", wouldn't Belfast be the same horrible mess it was in the 1980s?

I think that the experience of Ireland tells us that Israel cannot be both at peace with its neighbors and exclusively Jewish in identity. Yes, there are Arab/Muslim citizens in Israel, but how can one be a full citizen if the identity of your country stridently and officially excludes you? How can you and others feel welcome if it's the stated policy of a country to keep you in the minority? We know precisely why it would be (and was) a bad idea to define America as a "Anglo-Christian nation." So how exactly is it a good idea to define Israel as a Jewish state? It is arguably even worse, since sets up an inevitable, intractable conflict where on one side stands Israeli Jews and on the other side stands all of its neighbors.

I think the end of the Israeli-Arab conflict will finally come when Israel ceases to be the "homeland of the Jews" and becomes simply a democracy with no pre-concieved notions on what the ethnic character of its body politic should be. I suppose a lot of people would regard this as a tragedy, since he dream of a restored romantic vision of ancient Israel would be lost.

I would not.

Jews would not be losing their homeland any more than Irish Catholics are losing theirs or any more than the decedents of the Puritans in America have lost theirs. They would, instead, deal a final crushing rebuke to the Nazis that drove them there. An Israel where a Muslim could be elected president, or where it would pass relatively unnoticed that Jews were in the minority was exactly the type of society that the Nazis attempted to banish from the Earth.

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