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Essays on a Promised
Land

Moises Fleitman Salinas

© Moises F. Salinas, 2010, may be reproduced with


attribution to author

 
 

 
 
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INDEX

Why  Israel   5  
The  End  of  Cynicism   11  
On  Zionism  and  Post-­‐Zionism   15  
How  Zionism  Was  Hijacked  by  the  Right   19  
Palestine:  Occupation,  Not  Apartheid   23  
Why  is  Israel  Singled  Out?   29  
What’s  a  Jew  to  Do?   33  
Future  news:  Operation  'Isaac’s  Sacrifice'   37  
The  Paradox  of  Force   41  
The  One-­‐State  Solution  and  'War  of  the  Roses'   45  
Would  Herzl  be  Disappointed  in  Israel?   49  
Objectivity  &  Bias  in  study  of  Israeli-­‐Palestinian  
Conflict   57  
War  Cannot  Be  Waged  in  a  Democratic  Way   61  
Is  The  Proposed  Citizenship  Oath  
Discriminatory?   65  
Netanyahu:  The  Master  Juggler   69  

 
 
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Why Israel

May 2006

As I was fastening my seat-belt on the miniscule


seat of the cramped IsrAir flight into Ben-Gurion
Airport, I felt a tight knot on my stomach. I knew it
could not have been the airline food, since we have
not had any chance to eat with my three children on
the plane. In fact, the whole process of planning my
current Sabbatical year in Israel was an emotionally
drenching experience, not because of any religious
or security connotations, but because it is a country
I have rarely visited in 13 years and where I lived
for about 7 years (from age 18 to 25). It is also a
country I love and the one I would like, one day, to
move back to and raise my children in.

Before my trip, when I told my Israeli friends about


my desire to come back, many of them looked at me
with a puzzled gaze and asked me: Why?
Ishtagata??? (Something akin to saying: Have you
gone mad???), and I understand they have a point.
Indeed, as an academic, I have a good life in the
U.S., one of the very few countries in which a
university professor can make a decent living. Israel
is a country in which, as we all know, security and
economic considerations cannot be ignored, and
lately, even political corruption has showed its ugly

 
 
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face. Also, I am not a particularly observant person.
Israelis, unfortunately, are used to seeing that the
majority of Jews from America who make Aliyah
are not secular but rather only the ones motivated
by their spiritual convictions.

So why indeed would I like to move to Israel? The


first thing that comes to my mind is that in Israel,
children can go play with their friends without a
play-date. In fact, the concept of play-date doesn’t
exist. As a matter of routine, elementary school age
children, after having done their homework, just
head out to the street and knock on the doors of
their friends, one by one, and move in small groups
from house to house. This practice not only speaks
volumes about the over-structured life that
American children live, but also about the irony of
our sense of “security” when compared to that of
the Israelis. No Amber alerts down there.
And then, there is the weekend. I visited with four
different families in Israel who have children in
2nd-3rd grade, and as part of my conversation, I
asked their children, “what is your favorite thing
about your weekend.” Answers, of course, varied,
but were mostly in areas like, playing in the yard
with my parents and cousins, going on a field trip
with my family, or attending the meeting of the
Tzophim, the Israeli Scouts. I asked the same
question of my twin 4th grade sons and their
friends, and the answers were: It's the day I get to
go to Toys R Us™; I get to play gamecube™ all
day, I don’t have to go to school (at least this last
one is not ™). Israel is, as a matter of fact,
becoming a more materialistic society, but, at least

 
 
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in my view, one that still has a better sense of
balance.
Which leads into the topic of school. See, as an
educational psychologist, I am a big supporter of
public education. I think it has the potential of
being the vehicle to bring about diversity, tolerance,
equality and opportunity for all to our next
generation. The problem is that, as a Zionist Jew, I
also value Jewish education and want my children
to learn Hebrew and Jewish history without having
to have another reason to hate Sundays. Only in
Israel can my children get Public Jewish education,
and one, that for the most part, is still more about
values and experience and not bubble-sheet tests.
I want my children to grow up in a country in which
Jewish values, which are human values, are a
stronger part of the culture. For example: caring for
the disadvantaged is so important, that in Israel,
Universal Health coverage is not a bad word, it is a
national standard (although it has been eroding
lately). The average tuition at any of the national
universities (some of which are at a par with any
Ivy League institution) is less than a third of what
we pay at a regional State College in the U.S.,
making education more affordable to all its youth.
And the value of human life is so high, that not only
is Israel willing to trade hundreds of prisoners to
rescue a single Jewish life, but they won’t even put
the cruelest of terrorists to death (the single death
sentence ever carried out in Israel was that of
Adolph Eichman).

I want my children to live in a place where people


are involved and care about important issues. In
Israel, routinely 80% of eligible people vote

 
 
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(compared to slightly over 40% in the U.S.), and
according to several surveys in the late 90s, the
favorite Hebrew “songs of all time” deal with
themes of peace and life (like Jerusalem of Gold, or
Shir la Shalom). In contrast, a similar U.S. survey
found the favorite songs to be about drugs, sex and
violence.

I also want my children to experience a diverse,


multicultural society. In Israel, the vast majority of
people are fluent in two if not three languages, and
represent cultures all around the world. This level of
diversity tends to make people more tolerant and
even appreciative of differences (although Israel is
not above prejudice for minority groups). Israel has
a long way to go before the Zionist ideal of gender
equality is a reality, but our small country is unique
in some of it’s achievements in this area: It is the
only country in the world where women have a
mandatory army draft, the one which boasts the
highest proportion of women in the world in its
universities (58%), and among the highest
proportion of women judges (Close to 50%).
I want a society for my children that is not obsessed
with liability. A culture of liability breeds
conformism because doing things by the book is the
best way of avoiding being sued. People become
more willing to take risks, be creative and think
outside the box without fear of frivolous litigation.
For my children, I want a society in which there is
trust in adolescents. In the U.S., we consider
teenagers guilty until proven innocent. We do
everything we can to limit and control their “wild”
behavior, and we assume that the moment they are
left alone, they will take the opportunity for

 
 
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mischief. This mistrust becomes a self-fulfilling
prophecy, and teenagers, as soon as the opportunity
presents itself, experiment with alcohol, drugs and
sex, often without knowledge (or awareness of the
consequences) because we are afraid that teaching
them about these subjects will “legitimize” them. In
Israel, adolescents are often leaders of large youth
movements. Routinely, a couple of 15 or 16 year
olds will be in charge of taking a dozen third
graders camping overnight with little or no adult
supervision. Teenagers have parties, spend the night
at each others houses and go out with friends
without the need for chaperons. As a result, Israeli
teenagers become, on average, more self-regulated
and responsible.

There is one more thing I want my children to


experience. Israel is the only place in the world in
which being Jewish is not a minority condition but
just being part of a nation. The only place in the
world in which you can flirt and “pick up” a person
in the bus or in a bar for a romantic date, while
being fairly certain that they are Jewish. No need
for J-Date. No need for the temple’s young-singles
group. Just anywhere. It is the only place in the
world in which you don’t have to THINK about it,
and asking somebody out on a date is not a
dilemma. I am sure that this is not necessarily what
Herzl had in mind, but it is definitely one of the
benefits of the State of the Jews that, if I live in
Israel, I certainly will appreciate when my 6 year
old daughter turns 15.

 
 
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The End of Cynicism

August 2007

In Israel, there are very few things one can be called


worst than frayer, naïve. For starters, anybody who
has lived for a length of time in the Jewish state
knows that “being smart” means being able to find a
way around the law, flaunting authority. There is a
word for the person who pays all of his taxes,
follows the rules, and doesn’t take advantage of the
loopholes in the system: Frayer. It is about the
worst insult you can utter in Hebrew, because,
frankly, all the really bad curses in Hebrew are
actually in Arabic. And the truth is, that this ethos
of impudence can certainly be understood in a
society that owes its existence to contempt of the
law: The Nazi laws, the British mandate laws, the
United Nations resolutions. The ability to survive in
spite of the law was, and still is, in Israel one of the
most values qualities. The result, however, is a
society of cynics. Israel is a society in which
criticism of the country, the government and the
society is constant. Just one example: there is no
doubt that the new millennium brought to Israel the
ugly specter of corruption. There were Sharon
scandals, Olmert scandals, Hirschon scandals, and
that is without looking at the sexual scandals like
the Ramon and Katzav scandals. A whole Shuk full

 
 
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of scandals. The situation seems so dire, that when
Israelis were asked about their perception of
corruption in an international survey by
Transparency international, Israel ranked in 28th
place, below almost all other industrialized nations,
and at the level of countries like Malta or Estonia.
However, when the same organization asked “In the
past 12 months have you or anyone living in your
household paid a bribe in any form” only 4% of
Israelis responded yes, a result that put the tiny
nation in the first tier, at par with European and
North American countries (e.g., Japan and Canada
scored 3%, Luxembourg 6%). Another example:
according to the Israel democracy institute, in the
past 10 years, the only prime minister who received
high approval ratings over 40% was Benjamin
Netanyahu, and only for part of his tenure. On
average, Ehud Barak had high approval ratings of
only 16% of the people, Sharon hovered around
30%, and Olmert under 20%. Indeed, this general
suspicion of elected officials has created an unstable
government with high turnout rates: In the last
eleven years, Israel has had five new prime
ministers: Peres, Netanyahu, Barak, Sharon and
Olmert, and if it were up to the Israeli public, we
would be on a sixth by now. In short, it is the norm
to see in the daily opinion pages harsh criticism in
Israel against the establishment, the judiciary
system, the different ministries, the social
institutions, and society in general, and when you
talk to the average Israeli, you will hear nothing but
complaints about the little country’s taxes, attitudes,
education, health system, traffic, religious
intolerance, government and even the weather as if
it were the product of the minister of environment.

 
 
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Now, don’t take me wrong. Self-criticism can be a
positive thing, because it pushes us to improve, to
reflect. But exaggerated self-criticism makes us
loose sight of our accomplishments, erodes the
pride on our country and our people, and creates a
country of pessimists. Cynics become
individualistic and self absorbed because they can’t
trust anybody but themselves. So, for all the
criticism we can level towards Israel, lets not forget
that it truly is an amazing county that did not even
exist 60 years ago. That in this short span, it
managed to absorb 3,000,000 immigrants, relatively
speaking more than any other country in the world.
Whose economy grew at one of the fastest paces in
the west. Israel's per capita GDP increased more
than 500% since it’s foundation. According to the
World Bank, Israel’s per capita GDP (Purchasing
Power Parity) stands at around $26,000,
approximately two thirds of that in the U.S., and
comparable to those of Italy or Germany. Let’s face
it, we have become a regional economic superpower
and a global technological leader.
And in spite of all the criticism, Israel has also
made impressive social gains. For example, just 60
years ago Israeli Arabs where considered a hostile
enemy population under military rule with very
restricted civil rights. Just 45 years go the did not
have the right to vote. Today, even though there is
no denying that they still suffer form prejudice and
discrimination, they now enjoy full equality under
the law with other Israelis and are represented in the
government as members of the Knesset and
ministers in the cabinet. It took America almost
200 years to finally grant full legal equality to its
minorities.

 
 
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So, let’s put things slightly in perspective. Indeed,
we are far away from the Zionist ideal of an
exemplary society. And yes, we do have some
serious problems, chief among them the occupation
of a foreign people that is eating away our
economic, social and moral resources. But if we are
ever to go back to Herzl’s dream, to making his
model country not a legend but something closer to
a reality, we need to be a little less cynical. We have
to be a little less critical, and a little bit prouder. We
have to agree that idealists are nobody’s frayers.

 
 
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On Zionism and Post Zionism

December 2008

Zionist, Non-Zionist, Post-Zionist, Anti-Zionist.


What is all the fuzz about? Recently I read a piece
by columnist Phillip Weiss in which he talks about
why he defines himself as an Anti-Zionist. Weiss
was responding to a column by Dana Goldstein,
who apparently considers the term anti-Zionism
“too negative” and “redolent of anti-Semitism,” and
therefore prefers the term “post-Zionist.” Both
authors agree that being a Zionist is out of the
question because, as an ethnocentric ideology, it
essentially contradicts basic Jewish and human
values. And therein lies the problem, because the
belief that Zionism is an ideology is a fundamental
misinterpretation. But let us begin from the
beginning. As I have written before, Judaism is an
anomaly in the modern Western World, because it
is a vestige of an ancient era of national religions. I
won’t elaborate much on this point, but just think
about this: on ancient times, civilizations like
Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, etc., had belief
systems that were also legal and moral codes, and
an integral part of their national identity. National
religions were hence the norm. Christianity and
Islam changed that, becoming successful
supranational religions, and fundamentally

 
 
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changing the way religion and nationality were
understood in the West. Except, of course, for
Judaism, which remained a national religion.
Today, this situation creates a fundamental
contradiction because nationality and religion are
supposed to be separate, and therefore a national
religion inherently creates conflicts of loyalty. So,
how do we deal with it? One proposition that has
been part of Jewish thinking for the past two
centuries is to define Judaism, just as Christianity
and Islam, as a supranational religion (or “just” a
religion, with no national ties), and therefore
removing the inherent conflict. Many Jews have
supported this position in the past 200 years, and in
their case, Zionism is an aberration, because at a
minimum, it conflates “church and state,” and at
worst, it advocates for a theocratic state. Another
proposition, however, is to define Judaism as “just”
a nationality, which means that you could be a Jew
even if you are agnostic or atheistic. Many secular
and progressive Zionists saw Judaism this way, and
for those who see Judaism as a nationality, Zionism
is not an ideology. It is just a reflection of the basic
right of ANY nation to have a state. Within that
basic concept, there are different ideologies, like
Religious Zionism, Progressive Zionism,
Revisionist Zionism, etc. Consequently, if you see
Zionism as a basic right of the Jewish people, anti-
Zionism is the negation of a people to a basic right,
and therefore equivalent to anti-Semitism.

Most modern Jews try to find a precarious balance


between the two positions. But it is hard to
maintain the balance, like playing the violin on a
roof…

 
 
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Post-Zionism, on the other hand, is the idea that
Zionism (the National movement of the Jewish
people) is now obsolete since the state of Israel has
been established, and therefore we need to move to
an era in which Israel becomes a state for all its
citizens, and not primarily a state for the Jews. It is
actually a nice idea, and one that is compatible with
the conception of diversity and multiculturalism that
is prevalent among western liberals. The problem is
that a state, and its citizens, have to achieve a
certain level of development, socially, legally, and
economically, before post-Nationalism can be
achieved. In my opinion, no western country has
truly achieved post-Nationalism. I doubt Israel will,
or should, be the first.
However, Weiss goes even further on his argument.
He complaints that Zionism stifles, even castigates
any criticism of Israel. And although some of the
leadership of the Zionist movement in the U.S. are
indeed intolerant of criticism toward Israel, that is
not at all the position of the movement as a whole.
Progressive Zionists, like me, strongly believe that
in order to have a healthy and democratic national
movement, we must welcome, indeed embrace,
constructive criticism and discussion. A Zionist can,
at the same time, support Israel and condemn the
Israeli occupation of the West Bank or the operation
in Gaza. In fact, traditional Zionism in the vein of
Herzl strives for an Israel that is liberal, progressive,
and a model of human rights for the world.
As a liberal in the United States, it is just easier to
pick sides. To negate the contradiction, and just
become a post-Zionist, or even an anti-Zionist. My
guess is that for people like Mr. Weiss and Ms.
Goldstein, is just simpler to jump off the roof and

 
 
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play your violins on the street. Others will jump of
the opposite side, in their unwavering support for
Israel and its policies. But here, in the small camp
of progressive Zionism, every one of us is a fiddler
on the roof, just trying to play a tune and maintain
our balance without breaking our necks.

 
 
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How Zionism Was Hijacked by the


Right

February 2007

Zionism was hijacked by the right. Today, in


campuses all over America, Zionism is readily
associated with conservatism, imperialism, the Bush
administration and a host of other right wing
movements. Many progressive historians are bent
into showing that Zionist history was imperialistic
and even racist from its beginnings. And even right
wing Zionist movements like the Zionist
Organization of America (ZOA) want to limit the de
facto definition of Zionism as a movement that
unconditionally supports Israel, even when the
policies of its government are pro-occupation and
militarism (the ZOA attempted to expel the Union
of Progressive Zionists, a liberal student group,
from the Israel Campus Coalition). And this
connection has left thousands of Jewish faculty and
students, who are largely liberal, with as uneasy
feeling that in most cases leads to a disconnection
between them and Israel oriented activities, and in
some others to outright rejection of Israel and
Zionism. That is, however, deeply ironic, because
this was not always the case. You see, over one
hundred years ago, Theodor Herzl, father of

 
 
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political Zionism, proposed the creation of a State
for the Jews as the only way for the Jewish people
to end an abnormal situation of a stateless nation,
loathed and rejected everywhere it settled. This
political dream, however, could not come without a
price, human and political. As evidenced by his
utopian novel Altneuland, Herzl understood this,
and therefore believed that the only way to validate
the Zionist enterprise was to build “a light unto the
nations” that would be a progressive model of
justice, democracy, equality and prosperity. Most
other Zionist leaders of the time, like Ber Borochov,
Nahman Syrkin, or A.D. Gordon, also saw in the
birth of the Jewish state the opportunity to create a
utopia, and the justification for such an enterprise in
the possibility of creating an egalitarian state based
on human rights and dignity. In fact, the revisionist
Zionist right wing movement of Zeev Jabotinsky
was the exception, even though many critics of
Israel today portray him as proof of the imperialist
basis of the Zionist movement. Publications of that
era show that the Zionists of the time had,
unfortunately, very little awareness of the Arab
population living in the area, and thought by the
most part that the “progress” they would bring
would be welcomed by small groups of indigenous
inhabitants. And indeed, at the end of the 19th
century, most Arabs living in Palestine had no
quarrels with the small but growing Zionist
colonies. Within a few years, however, Zionists ran
up against the reality that the Palestinians also had
their own national aspirations, triggering a military
conflict that would cost tens of thousands of lives,
and corrupt their early idealism. Moreover, the
Zionist visionaries would have never imagined that

 
 
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the Jewish national utopia would end up as an
occupying power, mainly shaped by the pragmatic
factors emanating from violent conflict, and
criticized by most of the world, justifiably or not, as
a major violator of human rights. Zionism, at its
root, is not only a movement to establish a Jewish
homeland, but a philosophical and ideological
movement in which the establishment of a Jewish
state was seen as a step to affirm humanistic values.
The liberal Israeli writer A. B. Yehoshua contends
that Zionism is not an Ideology, but only a broad
platform. In his view, as long as you support the
existence of a State for the Jewish people in Israel,
you are a Zionist. However, for the majority of the
founders of the movement, a State of Israel that is
militaristic, theocratic and corrupt would not be a
Zionist state; it would only be a state that happens
to be populated by Jews.
Where does that leave us today? I believe that it is
pointless to argue about the culpability of past
abuses and atrocities brought about by the
Arab/Palestinian-Israeli conflict. There is no
denying that both sides have been thrust into an
ugly conflict of retaliation, and that the solution lies
not on re-examining the past to keep finding blame
in each other. The discussion, therefore, has to lie in
the present and in the future of Zionism, not in its
past and in actions that many of us are not proud of.
In the view of present-day Progressive Zionism, a
modern Zionist state can only be justified if it
becomes what it was originally intended to be: a
model of democracy, of equality, and of human
rights. In fact, during the 50s and the early 60s,
Zionism was typically associated in Academia with
left wing liberalism. Yet, on our campus culture of

 
 
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the 21st century, Zionism has ironically been
portrayed by both the Zionist right and the non-
Zionist progressive left as a mainly conservative,
imperialistic movement. I don’t know at what point
academia shifted its view of Zionism, who was
supported by the left as a social democratic
movement who among other progressive
achievements founded the socialist kibbutz. Perhaps
it was after the 1967 war. In any event, I believe it
is time for a paradigm shift in our views. The peace
camp has to reclaim Zionism. Some groups, like the
student Union of Progressive Zionists and the
faculty Jewish Academic Network for Israeli-
Palestinian Peace (JANIP) are already doing that.
But its not enough. Liberal Jewish faculty and
students need to speak out for a renewed movement
to emerge in which the goal is to bring into practice
the humanistic ideals of the original Zionism: An
Israel that will be at the forefront of the fight for
human rights and dignity; a prosperous and
productive Israel that will rival the rest of the world
intellectually and technologically, and use its
knowledge for the betterment of humanity instead
of its destruction; an Israel in which education will
be a priority and a major national enterprise, and in
which children will learn to think critically, to be
creative, multiculturally competent and open to
diversity; an Israel in which the Jewish people will
feel proud to be part of the renewed Zionist
enterprise.

 
 
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Palestine: Occupation, Not


Apartheid

April 2007

As a young Jewish human rights activist growing up


in Mexico in the 1980s, I can not remember a
greater victory for the global human rights
movement than the fight against Apartheid in South
Africa. The world united in a wide-range boycott
against a regime driven by a racist ideology of
white supremacy, ultimately forcing a victory for
the democratic movement of people like Nelson
Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Today, as a university
professor in the U.S., many of my progressive
colleagues are trying to rally the movement once
more. This time, they explain, the fight is against
the injustice of the Israeli “Apartheid” towards the
Palestinians, and should be fought by supporting
economic, academic and political sanctions against
Israel. This time, they are entirely misguided,
though. The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian
territories is that, an occupation. And as any other
military occupation, it does indeed oppress the
occupied people, denying them many basic human
rights, and conducive to abuses and discrimination.
However, confusing it and treating it the way we

 
 
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fought against Apartheid is not only a mistake and
an oversimplification, but ultimately a disservice
for the cause of the Palestinian people. Instead, the
approach should be one that promotes dialogue and
reconciliation. But first, some major differences
between South Africa and Israel. First, the root of
apartheid was a white-supremacy racist ideology
that enabled the Afrikaans movement to settle and
displace the Black inhabitants of South Africa
because they saw them as inferior. In contrast, the
Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories was
driven by military considerations, and at least
initially, the settlement enterprise was seen as a
security, not ideological, issue (e.g., the Israeli
government supported the “Allon plan,” that
proposed to settle areas of the West Bank and Gaza
to create “buffer zones” that would ensure secure
borders and strategic advantages over any attacking
armies). Even today, when the security rationale
seems ambiguous, the vast majority of the Jewish
settlers in the occupied territories are still not there
for ideological reasons, but for economic ones,
since housing is cheaper and they get government
subsidies and tax breaks.
The leadership of the Settlement movement has
certainly been religious, but they never espoused a
racist-supremacist ideology, just a “divine”
territorial claim.
The second major difference is that Apartheid
presumes a common citizenship. Two ethnic groups
within the same state receive different levels of
rights because of their ethnicity, just like in the U.S.
before the civil rights movement. The solution to
that problem is to find a formula for a successful
“marriage,” i.e., desegregation, equal rights under

 
 
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the law, etc. The Israeli-Palestinian issue is entirely
different because we are talking about two peoples
and two states. Palestinian citizens of Israel do
enjoy de jure civil and legal rights at par with those
of the Jewish citizens, even if there is de facto
discrimination, analogous to that which minorities
in the U.S. endure. On the other hand, Palestinians
in the occupied territories are considered foreign
nationals both by Israel and by international legal
standards. In this case, the best solution is not
marriage, but divorce. The situation is analogous to
an abusive marriage in which both parties cause,
and suffer, tremendous physical and emotional
damage. The original 1947 UN resolution 181 calls
for two separate states because then, the
international community understood these were two
peoples who could not live together. Current
opinion surveys also show that the vast majority of
both Palestinians and Israelis support a separation
between two states. Just recently, the majority of
Israelis voted for the Olmert government because he
offered a formula to exit the majority of the
territories, and neither the Palestinian Authority nor
the PLO have ever called for a single bi-national
state. The problem, then, is that the Palestinian
territories are a military occupation in a foreign land
that should be a sovereign Palestinian state.
One more problem with the Apartheid analogy is
that it alienates Progressive Zionists, who support
Israel but criticize the occupation, like myself,
because is too reminiscent of the Zionism = Racism
assertion of the 1970s, and then invalidates any
party who spouses it as a possible mediator in the
conflict. Take for example Jimmy Carter, a man
who brokered the first peace treaty between Israel

 
 
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and an Arab neighbor, and who had the credibility
and the credentials to bring both sides together in
dialogue. Now, after he used the apartheid analogy,
the Israelis, even the liberal left, would not accept
him as an impartial arbiter.
Then there is a problem with the tactics of the fight
against Apartheid. South Africa was not a state who
had to fight an endless series of wars with his
neighbors, who was born out of a bloody military
conflict, and populated by hundreds of thousands of
refugees who saw it as a last shelter. Israelis see
their struggle against the Palestinians and the
Muslim world as an existential one, and they are
unlikely to give in to economic threats like boycotts
or divestments. On the contrary, on the short run,
Israelis are more likely to become more entrenched,
radicalized, and make the situation worst for the
Palestinians. In the long term, there are no
guaranties either. In a region as explosive as the
Middle East, all bets are off.
To begin to comprehend the conflict, we need to
recognize that the basis for the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict is psychological. If, as numerous surveys
by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey
Research and the Israeli Steinmetz Center for Peace
Research show, most Israelis and Palestinians agree
on the broad parameters of a peace agreement, then
the obstacles are fear, mistrust, stereotypes, hate and
prejudice. And if that is the case, the solution begins
by fostering mutual dialogue and understanding.
By seeing this as a one-sided conflict, placing the
responsibility solely on Israel and calling for
boycotts and divestment, Progressives are showing
a lack of understanding and an oversimplification of
the complexities of the conflict. Calls for boycotts

 
 
 27  
 
and divestment are not helping, but making matters
worse. The international community can help, by
facilitating dialogue and promoting encounters, by
insisting on diplomatic contacts and initiatives. To
find a solution, it is vital to recognize that the
mistakes and the responsibility belongs to both
sides of the conflict. Truly progressive people can
make a difference not by condemning one side, but
by validating both peoples’ basic human right for
self determination, and promoting a civil separation
that will improve the odds of a better life for future
generations of Israelis and Palestinians alike.

 
 
 28  
 

 
 
 29  
 

Why is Israel Singled Out?

December 2008

The recent offensive in Gaza has, once again, put


Israel in the spotlight. And once again, if you take a
look at the progressive press, you will see it right
there: Israel equals Western Imperialism, South
African Apartheid, even Nazi Germany. There is no
denying that the situation in Gaza in particular, and
the occupied Palestinian territories in general, is a
tragic one. And as an occupying force, Israel does
bear responsibility for human rights abuses that
occur among Palestinians. However, it is also clear
that what happens in Israel does not even begin to
approach some of the most infamous human rights
crisis of this decade, such as what happens in
Sudan, Somalia or Congo.

Even human rights groups acknowledge the Israeli-


Palestinian conflict is not the worst contemporary
humanitarian tragedy. For example, the Amnesty
International 2007 annual report "offenders’ list"
included places like Sudan, Congo, Iraq; these
conflicts literally account for millions of deaths and
many millions more of displaced refugees, yet
Israel’s worst offenses are cited as the construction
of the separation barrier and the war in Lebanon,
which was actually initiated by Hezbollah.

 
 
 30  
 

A recent article in Front Page Magazine online


ranked the Arab-Israeli conflict only as 49th in
terms of fatalities since 1950. Even the “The
Observer” Human Rights Index in 2000 (the last
year it was published), listed Israel only in 31st
place in terms of the severity of human rights
abuses, and even on their weighted table, which has
been greatly criticized because of its methodology
that is heavily biased against more developed
countries, placed Israel only in 8th place.

Nevertheless, you wouldn’t know that judging by


some of the recent trends: the inclusion of Israel as
the only a permanent item on the UN Human Rights
Council agenda, boycott calls by unions in places
like Britain, Canada and South Africa, constant
condemnation by human rights groups such as
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International,
etc.

So, why is Israel singled out? Many Jewish


organizations blame it simplistically on anti-
Semitism. Granted, anti-Semitism and anti-Zionist
sentiment might be part of the problem, but given
the fact that this criticism is so widespread and in
some cases coming from former friends of Israel
(e.g., former U.S. President Jimmy Carter) I am
reluctant to believe that it is the major factor
affecting the emphasis on Israel.

The fact is that when you carefully examine the


criticism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is many
times viewed and analyzed at an affective level

 
 
 31  
 
rather than a rational one. I believe part of it has to
do with the fact that it is one of the only two major
conflicts between a "Western" developed nation and
a Third World, non-Western people left in modern
times. Indeed, of the other 48 conflicts analyzed in
the Front Page Magazine report, only 11 are still
continuing, and of these, the only other international
one is the Iraq conflict, in which a developed
country is responsible for the deaths of people in a
developing nation.

Look at other of the major human rights crises is the


world: in places like Sudan, Congo, Indonesia or
Myanmar the crisis is the result internal infighting.
Even Iraq, which is viewed as caused and
exacerbated by the U.S., its mostly a conflict
between Iraqis of different ethnic and faith groups.
Israel is the only Western nation that occupies the
territories of what should be a sovereign people.
That allows for easy, simplistic black and white
cognitive categorizations. Rationally, it is not nearly
the worst human rights tragedy of the contemporary
world, but it is the only one easily categorized as
clear cut: West-East, Rich-Poor, Colonizer-
Colonized, Good and Evil. For example, look at
what Tom Hickey, chair of the University and
Colleges Union in England and author of an anti-
Israel boycott resolution, wrote to justify his
proposal while ignoring the worst humanitarian
crises:

“In the case of Israel, we are speaking about a


society whose dominant self image is one of a
bastion of civilization in a sea of medieval reaction.
And we are speaking of a culture, both in Israel and

 
 
 32  
 
in the long history of the Jewish Diaspora, in which
education and scholarship are held in high regard.
That is why an academic boycott might have a
desirable political effect in Israel, an effect that
might not be expected elsewhere.” (British Medical
Journal, July 2007).

Israel is singled out because it is easy to feel good


about a conflict in which we can simplistically
recognize the butcher and the victim, to support the
weak, the abused, against the tyrant. Just browse
some of the blogs, and you will see Israel and
Zionism repeatedly depicted as Satan, as monsters,
as worst than Nazis. When demonization of a nation
is legitimized, it is easy to hate.

More moderate and reasoned calls for boycotts just


feed this frenzy. And then, there is no need to think.
No need to understand that the conflict is complex,
multifaceted and two sided, even if the conflict is
asymmetrical because of the overwhelming
superiority of the Israeli forces. And when there is
no need to think, all that is left is the emotion, the
feelings of hatred, of disgust, of revenge. A
solution, however, cannot be achieved by giving-in
to this tendency of name-calling and boycotting that
oversimplifies the issue and legitimizes the hate. It
has to come through the rational analysis and
understanding of a complex reality. And that is
what our challenge really is.

 
 
 33  
 

What’s a Jew to Do?

January 2009

How can we, as Jews and Zionists, reconcile our


social conscience and care for human rights, with
our love for Israel, in face of worldwide criticism?

So there we were, marching alongside Martin


Luther King, protesting apartheid in South Africa,
and voting overwhelmingly for Barak Obama.
Without a doubt, Jews have been amongst the most
concerned groups regarding human rights in
America for at least the last 50 years. And it makes
sense. After the lessons from the Holocaust, “Never
again,” a long history of persecution and anti-
Semitism, and traditional Jewish values like Tikkun
Olam (the repairing of the world) and Aravut (our
responsibility towards each other as a community),
it makes sense that Jews will care deeply about
human rights and human values.

It also makes sense that we will care deeply about


Israel. Judaism is a vestige from an era of national
religions. Until 2000 years ago, and for millennia,
religion was not only a belief system, but a way of
national identification and cohesion; a legal and
moral code that differentiated your nation from the
others. And thus, the Romans had their own

 
 
 34  
 
religion, the Egyptians theirs, the Norse theirs, and
so on. So, of course, did the subjects of the nation of
Yehuda, or Judea, which were called Yehudim, or
Jews.

National religions fell into disfavor during the first


millennium of “the common era,” with the
emergence of the two big Supra-National religions
(Christianity and Islam). Jews lost their land and
were scattered around the globe, but somehow our
national religion survived.

So Jews became an anomaly. A group with a


national religion in an era of supranational faiths,
and then in the era of national states. But nations
not only have a need for a land, they also have a
fundamental right to self-determination. So, Jews
through the eons yearned for both, and finally we
got it with the foundation of the State of Israel. So it
makes sense that we would care deeply about Israel,
and it makes sense that we would care deeply about
human rights.

But what’s a Jew to do when the world over, people


claim these two fundamental values of Judaism
collide? The recent Gaza offensive brings, once
again, this elemental contradiction afloat, and we
Jews are looked at to take sides in what is
tantamount to a "Sophie’s choice:" Which one of
your children do you sacrifice? When Israel is
accused over and over of human rights abuses, and
you see all of your non-Jewish liberal friends
clearly taking sides, condemning the bombings and
accusing Israel of using disproportionate force (to
say the least), a part of you wants to join them. But

 
 
 35  
 
another part of you wants to oppose them, and
defend Israel. So, what’s a Jew to do?

In reality, most of us just shut down, watch the


news, and try to stay under the radar, living with the
double sense of guilt. Reminding yourself that Israel
is doing everything they can to protect civilians, of
course as long as it doesn’t compromise operational
effectiveness, doesn’t help.

So, I offer you a modest proposal: It is possible to


care about Israel and human rights. Just as a family
member who sees a relative fall into despair and
addiction, if you believe Israel is doing wrong, you
should speak out, out of caring, out of love. But just
as you need to confront a loved one who is doing
wrong, if you want to help, you don’t condemn the
person but their actions. You don’t condemn Israel;
you criticize, fairly and constructively, their
response to what is evidently the real threat of
missiles from Gaza. However, you also stand up to
those who go beyond criticizing the actions of the
government, and into delegitimizing the state and
the nation.

The Talmud says that Kol Israel Arevim Ze la Ze,


all of the nation of Israel are responsible for each
other. That means that we confront each other since
the actions of one affect all of us, but we also
protect each other.

 
 
 36  
 

 
 
 37  
 

Future news: Operation 'Isaac’s


Sacrifice'

January 2009

Operation 'Isaac’s Sacrifice' Extends into its Second


Week
By Moises F. Salinas, independent correspondent

Jerusalem, July 17, 2012 – The Israeli Defense


Forces pounded the West Bank for an 8th straight
day, while militants from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’
brigade and Hamas continued firing rocket barrages
against targets in Tel Aviv, the coastal plain and the
Jerusalem suburbs, both sides ignoring calls from
the international community to end the fighting. The
UN Security Council passed a resolution, proposed
by the Arab league and strongly supported by China
and Russia, calling for a total embargo against
Israel. The American administration of President
Barack Obama abstained in the vote, but failed to
veto the resolution, as Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu had hoped.

In the meantime, the European Union issued its


strongest condemnation ever of the Israeli
government, supporting the UNSC call for

 
 
 38  
 
sanctions leading to a boycott, amid massive
demonstrations on the streets of Paris, London, and
other European capitals.

The current conflagration exploded last week, but


started when the government of former Palestinian
President Mahmud Abbas collapsed two years ago
due to the failure to gain any significant concessions
through negotiations. Radicals within his own Fatah
party forced him to resign. Palestinian spokesman
Muhammad Al Kasasi said: “it is clear Israelis only
understand violence. Every significant concession,
from Oslo to the Gaza withdrawal, came as a direct
result of an intifadah. Resistance is clearly the only
way.”

After the resignation of Abbas, the Palestinian


factions on the West Bank began to emulate the
strategy of their Hamas counterparts in Gaza, firing
makeshift rockets towards Israel largest population
centers. Israel has retaliated with increased force,
clamping down on the occupied territories, until a
week ago when a rocket hit a kindergarten killing 4
young children. The outrage that followed resulted
in operation “Isaac’s Sacrifice,” or HaKedat Itzhak
in Hebrew, that has resulted in the deaths of at least
3,500 Palestinians, mostly civilians, according to
Palestinian sources and human rights groups.

The international community has largely


condemned the disproportionate nature of the
operation, and most ambassadors from Latin
American and Asian countries have been called in
by their governments for consultations.

 
 
 39  
 

Developments in Europe seem to indicate that Israel


will soon be totally isolated, and except for
lukewarm support from the United States, it will
most likely become a 21st century’s South Africa.
Arab Nations have circulated a petition in the UN
General Assembly calling for the creation of a
single, bi-national state as “the only realistic
solution to the Zionist apartheid” that seems to be
gaining wide support among non-aligned countries.

Still, the Netanyahu government appeared defiant,


and declared that there is clearly no partner on the
Palestinian side for peace. Netanyahu said that
“Nothing less than the survival of Israel is at stake,
and therefore we will meet attacks from the
Palestinian terrorists with even greater force.”

 
 
 40  
 

 
 
 41  
 

The Paradox of Force

April, 2009

The paradox of force is simple: Israel will never use


the amount of force truly necessary to solve “the
Palestinian Problem,” yet the amount of force that
Israel is willing to use will never be enough to solve
it either. Let me elaborate, the amount of force that
would be necessary to “end” the conflict is so
devastating and cruel, that it would be morally
repugnant to most Israelis, and therefore not a
realistic option. On the other hand, the amount of
force that Israelis are willing to live with, a force
that is still tempered by moral standards and
Western ethical constraints will never be enough to
end the conflict.

However, because of the asymmetric nature of the


conflict, it will spark international condemnation
nonetheless. This fact was sadly witnessed with the
recent Gaza operation, operation "Cast Lead." In
spite of overwhelming force and an almost flawless
military strategy, the result was such that Israel was
unable to eliminate the Hamas threat, but the
civilian casualties were visible and significant
enough that it sparked almost universal
condemnation of Israel.

 
 
 42  
 

Many Israelis insist that the IDF should have


“finished the job,” but very few bother to define in
detail what that means. Eliminating all or most of
the Hamas leadership? That would have required a
prolonged occupation, house to house searches and
fights that would have probably caused even more
civilian deaths, certainly many more Israeli
casualties, and overall more suffering, anger and
resentment among the civilian population.

To “break the spirit” of the civilian population?


Massive arrests, the creation of long-term prisoner
camps, checkpoints and other traditional security
measures would be immediately condemned by the
world, inviting the inevitable comparison to the
Holocaust, and just as ineffective in the long term.

The point is that it is time for Israel to realize that


there is no military solution that would be
acceptable to the Israelis and the world at large. At
best, force is a temporary palliative to a slowly
deteriorating situation that eventually will be
uncontrollable. At worst, it will force the
international community to impose a solution on
Israel that would not be in the best interest of Israel.

You don’t have to be a supporter of peace, a


humanist, or a leftist to see that there is no choice
othen than a peace process. And not a process that
gives lip service to peace, but a realistic, vigorous
process in which both sides have clear goals, and
that will entail painful concessions on both sides.
There is no choice but peace because the alternative
is a solution that eventually will be imposed by an

 
 
 43  
 
international community that, let’s face it, is not
terribly sympathetic to Israel. There is no choice but
a peace process because the alternative is chaos.

 
 
 44  
 

 
 
 45  
 

The One-State Solution and 'War of


the Roses'
May 2009

"The War of the Roses," the novel by Warren


Adler, later popularized by the Michael Douglas –
Kathleen Turner movie, is a story about intertwined
lives, hate, and attachment to a home, that ends up
in a tragedy. In a nutshell, Barbara and Oliver Rose
are a couple who, as many others, after years of
living together, have developed an intense loathing
for each other. It is clear that their marriage is at the
end of their rope and they need to divorce.
However, they both have a strong attachment to the
house they built together, and both are unwilling to
leave. At that point they begin a ruthless mutual
campaign of sabotage, neither willing to let go,
neither of them willing to compromise, which ends
up tragically with both of them dead on the living-
room floor.

The premise is simple: the failure to separate and


their insistence on fighting for the same piece of
real estate without compromising ended up badly
for both. In a way, this is an apt metaphor for the
Israeli Palestinian conflict. Two peoples, their

 
 
 46  
 
existence so intertwined, hate each other intensely,
and a failure to separate and compromise can end
only in disaster. However, the “Roses'” scenario is
exactly what, blindly or naively, one-state solution
proponents are advocating.

Look at the arguments and you will see the


similarities between a failed marriage who refuses
to separate and the one-state solution proposal:
Their lives are so intertwined, their economies
depend on each other, the settlements have
expanded geographically in such a way that
separation seems impossible, Palestinian Israelis
(aka Arab Israelis) are already 20% of the
population of Israel. Who gets to keep Jerusalem?
How do you divide the state (the estate?). Anybody
who is familiar with divorce finds an eerie
familiarity with these questions. So, the question is:
is the fact that the lives of a couple are so intricately
joined a reason not to separate? Especially when, it
is clear that the husband (or the wife?) is abusive of
his physical and economic superiority?

Alas, that is exactly what one-state solution


proponents argue: An abusive spouse (Israel)
oppresses his/her partner (the Palestinians). They
hate each other, want to kill each other, and damage
each other physically and emotionally in an endless
cycle. Yet, because their lives are so intertwined,
instead of separation, the solution should be to stay
together. Yes, give equal rights to both spouses, but
stay together because separation would be too
complicated. Might sound good in theory, but we
know it's not realistic.

 
 
 47  
 

In a relationship of hate and loathing, you don’t stay


together just because it is difficult to separate. You
might have a nice house, joint bank accounts, and of
course children. But it is a mistake to stay together
for those reasons. Just like that, it is a grave mistake
to propose that Palestinians and Israelis should stay
together, indeed deepen their relationship, in spite
of their hate, their cultural differences, and their
economic disparities.

In fact, the only hope we have to ever achieve


normalcy in their relationship between both peoples
is for each to have the opportunity to fulfill their
national aspirations. Only then, might they be able
to look at each other as equals, without hate.
Otherwise, it would just create more resentment. It
would just lead to a civil war like in Lebanon. It
would just end up like the Roses, both lying dead, in
the middle of their living room.

 
 
 48  
 

 
 
 49  
 

Would Herzl be Disappointed in


Israel?
August 2009

This article takes the form of a letter by


Theodore Herzl, founder of the Zionist
movement, to his dear friend, William H.
Hechler. I attempted to add very little to Herzl’s
own words. Therefore, almost everything is a
quotation (in italics) from one of his works:
Altneuland, Der Judenstaat, or his personal
diaries. I just made minor grammatical changes
to fit tense and person.

Dear William,

So it’s been over 100 years since my demise,


(almost 80 from yours) and from this place, far
away, I look back to reflect on my great
accomplishment, Zionism. And I’m sad to say that
if I had to summarize it all in one word, that word
would be "disappointment."

When I founded the Zionist Organization in Basel, I


envisioned a state for the Jews that would be “A
light unto the Nations.” I believed that we must hold

 
 
 50  
 
fast to the things that have made us great: to
liberality, tolerance, love of mankind. Only then is
Zion truly Zion! Indeed, I was sure that the world
would be freed by our liberty, enriched by our
wealth, magnified by our greatness. And whatever
we attempt there to accomplish for our own welfare,
will react powerfully and beneficially for the good
of humanity. Because only here the Jews could
build up a free commonwealth in which they could
strive for the loftiest human aims.

Instead, the State of the Jews, which is called Israel


today, became-- to many-- a pariah among the
nations, one that is considered by too many
inhabitants of this earth as a danger, and an example
of oppression and racism. But let me tell you, my
dear William, where my disappointment lays:

Peace
I envisioned the state of the Jews as a peaceful
country. I believed that the Jews, once settled in
their own state, would probably have no more
enemies. Jerusalem would be a city of peace. In it’s
midst, a splendid Peace Palace, where international
congresses of peace-lovers and scientists were held,
for Jerusalem was now a home for all the best
strivings of the human spirit: for Faith, Love,
Knowledge. This Peace Palace, is an international
center for great undertakings. Its activities are by
no means limited to Palestine and the Jews, but
include all countries and all peoples.

I conceived the Jewish State as a neutral one. It


would therefore require only a professional army,
equipped, of course, with every requisite of modern

 
 
 51  
 
warfare, to preserve order internally and externally.
This is what I thought: The army of the Company's
officials will gradually introduce more refined
requirements of life. (Officials include officers of
our defensive forces, who will always form about a
tenth part of our male colonists. They will be
sufficiently numerous to quell mutinies, for the
majority of our colonists will be peaceably
inclined.)

I was unequivocally opposed to the acquisition of


land through force and invasion. I said, regarding
reaching an agreement to settle Palestine: One thing
is to be adhered to inviolably: the agreement must
be based on rights and not on sufferance. Truly we
have had enough experience with sufferance and
protection which could be revoked at will.
Consequently, the only reasonable course of action
is to work for publicly legalized guarantees. I am a
confirmed opponent of infiltration. My program, far
more preferable, is to stop infiltration and
concentrate all our strength upon an
internationally-sanctioned acquisition of Palestine.

To achieve this, we require diplomatic negotiations.


In order to be able to integrate with the local Arab
population, and become their allies instead of their
enemies, I believed we could offer the present
possessors of the land enormous advantages,
assume part of the public debt, build new roads for
traffic, which our presence in the country would
render necessary, and do many other things. The
creation of our state would be beneficial to adjacent
countries, because the cultivation of a strip of land

 
 
 52  
 
increases the value of its surrounding districts in
innumerable ways.

Well, William, as you know, we have fought many


wars, have no real peace with most of our
neighbors, and became on occupying power over
another people.

Religion
I saw a modern state, an example of egalitarian,
secular rational law worthy of the upcoming 20th
century. Religion would have been excluded from
public affairs once and for all. The New Society did
not care whether a man sought the eternal verities
in a temple, a church or a mosque, in an art
museum or at a philharmonic concert.

No, indeed. Faith unites us, knowledge gives us


freedom. We shall therefore prevent any theocratic
tendencies from coming to the fore on the part of
our priesthood. We shall keep our priests within the
confines of their temples in the same way as we
shall keep our professional army within the confines
of their barracks. Army and priesthood shall receive
honors high as their valuable functions deserve. But
they must not interfere in the administration of the
state which confers distinction upon them, else they
will conjure up difficulties without and within.
Every man will be as free and undisturbed in his
faith or his disbelief as he is in his nationality.

And if it should occur that men of other creeds and


different nationalities, we should accord them
honorable protection and equality before the law.
Instead, we have become a theocratic state, in which

 
 
 53  
 
religious parties hold the balance of power, and
impose their will over the secular majority.

Human and Civil Rights


My dream was one of a state for the Jews that
would be a model of human rights and equality. I
thought that no member of the Jewish state will be
oppressed, every man will be able and will wish to
rise in it. In our New Society, the women would
have equal rights with the men. Arabs would be
better off than at any time in the past. They would
support themselves decently, their children would
be healthier and be educated. Their religion and
ancient customs in no wise be interfered with. They
would have become more prosperous-that was all. I
believed that they would say: The Jews have
enriched us. Why should we be angry with them?
They dwell among us like brothers. Why should we
not love them? Yet we still discriminate and attack
each other in the basis of race, ethnicity, nationality,
gender, and sexual orientation.

I envisioned a state that would take care of its


citizens, based on the ancient Jewish principle of
mutual responsibility. Health care would be a
universal right. This was my vision: We are thus
able to care for every sick and needy applicant. The
needy sick have only to apply to the public charities.
No one is turned away. You must remember that our
workingmen, as members of the New Society, are
automatically insured against accidents, illness, old
age, and death. Their savings-capacity is therefore
not split up by provision for these contingencies.

We would learn from the mistakes of unbridled

 
 
 54  
 
capitalism to create a balanced, progressive society:
Here the bread of the poor is as cheap as the bread
of the rich. There are no speculators in the
necessaries of life. You know how in the co-
operative method has, indeed, become one of the
strongest motives in the new Palestinian
colonization, due chiefly to the efforts of the
organized labor movement.

Since I wished to join the New Society, I had to


submit to its land regulations. Its members have no
private property in land.

Instead, our experiments in cooperative societies,


the kibbutzim and moshavim, are failing; our
national industry and even our public land are being
privatized, and the social gap between rich and poor
is widening.

Environmentalism
Even 100 years ago, I understood that the smart use
of natural resources and forestation was key to the
success of the state of the Jews. I said: We think
nothing too costly for our parks, because they
benefit the growing generation. However, we did
not plant old and expensive trees like these
everywhere. For instance, we brought eucalyptus
trees from Australia which grew very rapidly. Our
first funds for this purpose came from a national
tree-planting Society which collected money in all
parts of the world. People in the Diaspora
contributed money for trees whose shade they were
afterwards to enjoy in Palestine. I also thought of
using natural sources for the production of energy:
I thought that we must study the power of water,

 
 
 55  
 
and appreciate the forces of electricity. Instead, our
beaches are polluted, our land and rivers
contaminated, and not really making progress in
environmental issues.

Education
I saw free, public, state of the art education, as the
basis for the development of the state: Each
generation is given a new start. Therefore, all our
educational institutions are free from the
elementary schools to the Zion University. All the
pupils must wear the same kind of simple clothing
until they matriculate into the secondary schools.
We think it unethical to single out children
according to their parents' wealth or social rank.
There will be light, attractive, healthy schools for
children, conducted on the most approved modern
systems. Instead, we have segregated schools that
are failing according to international standards, our
universities are declining and tuition is ever more
expensive, and a fair, egalitarian and modern
educational reform seems further and further away.

In summary, my dear William, I’m so disappointed


of this movement I founded over 100 years ago. I
had so many expectations, so many dreams. I was
convinced that given to Jews their rightful position
as a people, they would develop a distinct Jewish
cult national characteristics and national
aspirations -which would make for the progress of
mankind.
Is there time, still, my dear William, to correct it?
Can Israel still become what I envisioned, dreamed
all these years ago? I sure hope so, because

 
 
 56  
 
otherwise, all of of it would end up being no more
than a legend.

Sincerely Yours

Theodore

 
 
 57  
 

Objectivity & Bias in study of


Israeli-Palestinian Conflict*
November, 2009

Making in-roads in the understanding of the human


dimension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not
an easy task. In my book “Planting Hatred, Sowing
Pain: The Psychology of the Israeli-Palestinian
Conflict” I argue that psychological factors, such as
mistrust, fear, hatred and prejudice, are more
important than the political issues of borders and
refugees in solving the conflict. This is, however, a
concept that generates a lot of controversy and not a
little disagreement.

Among several positive reviews, I encountered an


interesting paradox: Some reviewers characterized
the book alternatively as too objective (Fox, 2007),
biased towards the Israeli-Western perspective
(Elbedour & Ferguson, 2008), or biased against
Israel (Salamon, 2007) because it “overlook[s] the
issue of [Islamic] fundamentalism” as the major
cause of the conflict. The fact that it has been
criticized from all sides is, in fact, a welcoming fact
that shows it belongs in what I call, "the radical
center."

First, in his review, Fox argues, rather convincingly,

 
 
 58  
 
that in order to understand this protracted conflict,
we cannot avoid the politics behind it, and detach it
from its historical perspective, and therefore the
academic objectivity of the book is an obstacle to
understanding of the conflict. Fox, however, misses
the point of the book. The question is whether
depoliticizing the conflict can help move towards a
solution.

One of the main premises of the book is precisely


that in order to solve the problem, there is no choice
but to move away from the parallel, contradictory
and irreconcilable political and historical contextual
narratives, and into a human paradigm with an
orientation to the future. Counseling psychologists
have shown that you can only resolve a conflict
when you are able to move beyond the past, and as
long as we insist on focusing on who is to blame for
the conflict, we will never be able to solve their
problems.

Psychological phenomena such as self serving bias


and cognitive distortions make it impossible to
agree on past events, creating parallel narratives and
an endless cycle of blaming the other. It is this fact,
and not, as Dr. Fox argues, my own personal history
as a progressive Zionist activist, that drives my
deliberate attempt to separate the usually neglected
social psychological dimension of the conflict from
its historical and political contexts. Dr. Fox’s
implication that the conflict must be seen as “an
indication of injustice and oppression” is, in my
opinion, an example of a “culpability orientation”
that is focused on blame, and is precisely an
obstacle to achieving peace.

 
 
 59  
 

Second, as Elbedour and Ferguson point out, the


book is indeed skewed in its sources because it
presents many more studies that analyze the conflict
from a Western/Israeli perspective than from the
Palestinian/Arab one. However, in this case, rather
than it being the result of conscious or unconscious
biases, it is the result of a methodology in which the
content of the book was driven by the available
literature, and a sad reality in which the majority of
the research is done by Israeli or Western scholars.
It would be great, for example, as Elbedour and
Ferguson suggest, to use the more contemporary
theories of prejudice, such as Stephan & Stephan
"integrated threat theory." However, once again,
there is no research available directly and, although
it would be tempting to hypothesize, I believe it
would be a mistake to include such speculation in
an empirically driven literature review.

Elbedour and Ferguson also explain that occupation


and security are the main issues you would need to
analyze, which is true if you are making a socio-
political analysis. However, the point of the book is
precisely to move beyond the political realm, and
more in terms of the subjective experience; for
example, occupation might be a reality, but hatred is
the subjective result. Security might be a real
concern, but fear is the underlying emotion.

In conclusion, I believe that the question one must


ask to move beyond the past and into a future
orientation, is not what is the historical and political
context of the conflict, but rather: what is currently
preventing the Israelis and Palestinians from

 
 
 60  
 
reaching an agreement? I believe, as is the main
point of the book, that psychological factors such as
mistrust, hatred, fear, stereotypes, and prejudice--
often overlooked-- are as important as
disagreements over borders, refugees, and
settlements. The historical narratives only serve to
maintain a perception of injustice on both sides that
is not conducive to dialogue and reconciliation.

Dr. Fox asks if “reconciliation requires


acknowledging past injustice." And the
psychological evidence would suggest it does. But
as a process, it can come only after rapprochement,
not as a precondition. Only after the sides stop
hurting each other, agree to end the fighting, and
begin to build trust, can violence and abuse be
sincerely acknowledged, and only then can it be
forgiven.

Dr. Fox’s contention that a substantial percentage of


the population oppose "splitting the difference
through decontextualized dialogue and then moving
on” might in itself exemplify how both sides’
obsession over past atrocities, result in a culpability
orientation because of a misguided quest for
subjective justice. This is the main obstacle to a
final and just solution to the conflict.

*This article is based on a version originally


published at Analyses of Social Issues and Public
Policy, Vol. 9, No. 1, 2009, pp. 341--343.

 
 
 61  
 

War Cannot Be Waged in a


Democratic Way
May 2010

Effective military conflict, because by its nature,


requires of secrecy and deception, misdirection,
intelligence gathered in unsavory ways, and
concealed decisions made by a few but that will
affect the many. This is a paradox that affects every
Western democracy engaged in war, because all of
these are antithetical to the principles of democracy:
Freedom of speech, openness, participatory
government, human rights.

That is why, in a democracy, war is a last resort.


Smart leaders understand that war is a temporary
suspension of democracy that can happen only
because there is no alternative to protect the lives
and livelihoods of its citizens, and therefore every
other possible effort must be done before beating
the drums of war.

What, however, happens in the case of Israel, when


a democracy is engaged in a protracted conflict?
When it has been in a constant stage of conflict for
several decades, and therefore “war” can no longer
be considered a temporary suspension of
democracy. I submit that at that point, democracy

 
 
 62  
 
takes a back seat to “security,” and therefore its
principles get eroded, to the point in which the
citizens might eventually forsake them all together.

We have been able to clearly see that erosion in


recent weeks. One example is the Anat Kamm
affair: Anat, a former soldier and journalist for the
newspaper Haaretz, was arrested because she leaked
classified military documents that contained proof
of extra judicial assassinations in the West Bank by
the Israeli Defense Forces. Journalist Uri Blau
published an article based on those documents, and
the security services also issued an arrest warrant
against him (fortunately, he was in London at the
time). While most democracies would have been
outraged both by the fact that the IDF was
conducting killings against an order of the Israeli
Supreme Court, and that a journalist that exposed
these assassinations was under threat of arrest, in
Israel, by enlarge, people were critical of the
journalists and saw their arrest as justified

More than a few other examples can be found: A


recent proposal by several members of the board of
governors of Tel Aviv University, which was
fortunately defeated, to change its statutes to allow
the university to censor or even fire professors
“involved in activity perceived as harming Israel”
such as criticizing Israeli policies or the defense
establishment. That would have made Israel the
only developed country without an affirmative
defense of academic freedom. Or a poll by the Tami
Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv
University that found that the vast majority of
Israeli Jews believe that there is too much freedom

 
 
 63  
 
of expression in Israel, that human rights
organizations that expose immoral conduct by Israel
should be penalized, and support tough penalties for
people who leak classified information exposing
immoral conduct by the army. Finally, these views
were further reflected in a recent bill proposed, not
by the extreme right wing, but by members of the
centrist Kadima faction, outlawing any Israeli
NGOs that provide information to foreign bodies
that result in the prosecution of Israelis for war
crimes.

I don’t blame Israeli citizens for holding those


views. It is a natural reaction to living in a state of
protracted conflict that is diametrically opposed to
the values of a democratic society. However, it is
clear that unless Israel does everything in their
power to take advantage of even the most miniscule
opportunity to advance peace, the wearing away of
these values will continue unhindered. In my
opinion, the current government, far from taking
advantage of every peace overture, seems intent in
maintaining the status quo. They live under some
naïve illusion that the current situation can continue
ad infinitum without destroying the core of the
Zionist values and ideals that the founding fathers
of Zionism held dear.

As a committed life-long Zionist, this erosion of


democratic values in Israel is particularly troubling
for me. I am truly and completely committed to
Herzl’s Zionist ideal of a Jewish and Democratic
state as an exemplary, pluralistic society that would
serve as a model for the rest of the world. In that
sense, there is nothing more anti-Zionist than the

 
 
 64  
 
failing to seek every opportunity for peace and the
resulting erosion of democratic values in our little,
visionary state that was suppose to be a light unto
the nations.

 
 
 65  
 

Is The Proposed Citizenship Oath


Discriminatory?
October, 2010

Today, Primer Minister Benyamin Netanyahu


approved a proposal to amend the Citizenship Law
to include a mandatory "loyalty oath," which would
require every new Israeli citizen to swear allegiance
to Israel as a Jewish and democratic
state. (Netanyahu had previously urged a "less
divisive" oath.) Labor ministers in the government
are grumbling and Defense Minister Barak has
submitted his own version, worded in a more
"liberal spirit."

On its face, a loyalty oath may seem fairly


reasonable. After all, many Western democracies
have oaths of allegiance. And in the case of Israel,
since 1948, the declaration of independence has
made it clear that Israel is a Jewish state and a state
for the Jewish People in the land of Israel.
Therefore, a loyalty oath in which citizens are
required to declare that Israel is a Jewish state
should not be surprising.

However, there are a number of problems with such


an oath. First, even though the declaration of
independence does state that Israel is a Jewish state,

 
 
 66  
 
the declaration has no formal legal value. This is
due to the fact that it was ratified before the formal
end of the British Mandate in Palestine and
therefore before the Israeli parliament (Knesset in
Hebrew) had the legal standing to pass laws.
Subsequently, Israel failed to adopt a formal
constitution and instead enacted a series of Basic
Laws. Of those, the Law of Return came closest to
declaring the Jewish character of Israel, by stating
that every Jew has "the right of return" to Israel.

But it was not until 1992, 44 years after


independence, that the Knesset passed the Basic
Law: Human Dignity and Freedom, which finally
stated overtly that Israel is a Jewish state: "the
purpose of this Basic Law is to protect human
dignity and liberty, in order to establish in a Basic
Law the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and
democratic state."

Even then the issue of Israel as Jewish was


controversial. But a law mandating allegiance to a
Jewish state is even more troublesome. Requiring
an oath of loyalty to a Jewish state, when 20% of
the population is not only Israeli-Arab, but is
actually feeling disfranchised by the Israeli
establishment and is continuously subject to
prejudice and stereotypes, is not only unwise, it is a
foolish affront that skims the line of racism.
Moreover, passing such an amendment while there
is a small hope that peace negotiations will
continue, sabotages any hope of success.

Prime Minister Netanyahu showed courage and


leadership by enacting a 10-month building freeze

 
 
 67  
 
in the Occupied Territories, and by agreeing to meet
the Palestinians in direct peace talks. But he has
failed to follow through by standing up to his
rightist coalition in the name of peace.

 
 
 68  
 

 
 
 69  
 

Netanyahu: The Master Juggler


December, 2010

If history records the greatest accomplishment of


the government of Israeli prime minister Benjamin
Netanyahu so far, it should be that of a master
juggler. As the newest Wikileaks documents reveal,
Netanyahu has being able to achieve a feat that, in
my opinion, rivals the complexity of the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict itself. One way or another, he
has managed to present himself as a thoughtful,
concerned and peace-seeking leader to the
international community, while at the same time
maintain a right-wing coalition that had, slowly but
surely, and with the complicity of the Labor party,
eroded human rights, democracy, and the values of
the Zionist movement. He has deflected pressure
both from the international community, and from
his own coalition partners on the right, by carrying
on small gestures, on one direction or the other, that
ultimately do little but maintain the status quo.

That is really impressive. Just like a juggler, being


able to maintain his equilibrium while being pushed
form all sides, while keeping the little balls in
motion. The problem is, the balls go nowhere. They
continue moving in a perpetual circular pattern with
no forward direction

 
 
 70  
 
No serious person can argue that the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict is not complex, or that the
solutions are simple without painful concessions
and sacrifices of both sides. It is clear that any
agreement carries tremendous risk with it. But the
evasive and maneuvers of the current government
just make the situation worst because they send the
signal that we have no end-game. It is not only that
it is hard to get to a solution, we don't even agree on
what this solution should be. And the absence of an
endgame is frustrating and creates hopelessness
among Palestinians, which in turn will eventually
just fuel more violence.

There is a simple way to end this. Regardless of the


difficulties in negotiating an agreement, a clear
commitment today to a two-state solution, with
assurances that a future Palestinian state will
receive equivalent territory to the pre-1967
armistice lines, will mark a clear path, and show
light at the end of the tunnel. But that commitment
will jeopardize Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition,
and for now, he seems content to just keep the balls
rolling in circles.

However, the problem is, no matter how skillful the


juggler, sooner or latter, the balls must stop rolling,
and the act must come to an end.