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Bishara as Rorschach Test for Israeli Democracy

azmi bishara cartoon

The reactions from Israeli journalists and politicians to Azmi Bishara’s Knesset resignation provides a sort of Rorschach test for Israeli attitudes toward democracy. The first lesson you must learn about the attitudes of the majority of the 75-80% of Israelis who are Jews is that both the State and its democracy exists primarily for them and only secondarily for anyone else (that is, the Arab minority which comprises 20-25% of the population). And since the State has accorded citizenship to its Arab minority while according them second (or third) class status, one cannot really call Israel a democracy. Israeli political scientists like Yoav Peled have adopted the term ethnocracy to describe Israel’s peculiar political system. That is, a system that awards superior rights to a majority ethnic group while according vastly diminished status to the ethnic minority.

For most Israeli Jews, Arabs are a royal pain in the ass. The center of the political spectrum tolerates them while the right longs for the day when they can be transferred out of Israel. Most Israelis would vastly prefer a homogeneous state composed only of Jews. A former progressive like Benny Morris is characteristic of this attitude in wishing that Ben Gurion had actually forcibly expelled a much larger proportion of Israel’s 1948 population than he did. Even some on the left adopt a profound mistrust of the Arab minority.


What all of the above neglect to understand is that an Israel shorn of its minority would no longer be a democracy since it would’ve forcibly extirpated a part of its polity. And a State which doesn’t expel this minority but continues to refuse to accord it full equality still cannot call itself a true democracy. A fragmented or not-quite democracy perhaps but not a democracy full stop.

Let’s take a look at a JTA article about Bishara’s resignation and an interview with Yossi Alpher, viewed by some as a center-left analyst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The latter is published at no less progressive a source than the Americans for Peace Now website:

Israeli tolerance for Bishara’s views has been remarkable.

This is quite a remarkable statement considering that the Knesset has twice stripped Bishara of his parliamentary immunity in order to compel him to face criminal investigations, NONE of which resulted in a court case being filed. Remarkable too in light of the fact that the government attempted to prevent his party from running in one election for its refusal to accept the primacy of the Jewish state.

Two elections ago, the High Court of Justice reversed Electoral Commission determinations that Balad’s political platform violated the constitutional demand that all parties recognize Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, thereby allowing him to run. His frequent visits to Syria and Lebanon, including during war-time–where he met publicly with Bashar Asad and Hassan Nasrallah, praised their policies and condemned those of Israel–were also tolerated by the security community, to the extent that some Israeli Arabs concluded that Bishara must be a collaborator.

Notice that a supposedly progressive analyst has the temerity to slip in this imputed charge of “collaboration” without any proof whatsoever of the charges. And to say that Bishara was “tolerated” by a security establishment which has investigated him multiple times seems far-fetched to say the least.

In fact, all this took place in the name of Israeli pluralism and based on the assumption that it was better to have internal critics of Israel’s existence, however extreme, out in the open than to drive them underground. But there can be no mistake that Bishara has become clearly identified by the Jewish public as an enemy of the state. His association with the most reactionary and oppressive of Arab leaders in Syria and Lebanon and his readiness to level outlandish accusations against Israel–e.g., “in the entire history of mankind there have never been acts of plunder like those carried out by Israel”–clearly belie his rhetoric about democracy and equal rights.

Here Alpher has run off the rails. Bishara has identified himself with the two closest Arab neighbors to Israel’s northern Arab communities: Syria and Lebanon. But who is to say that Hezbollah and Syrian leaders are “the most reactionary and oppressive Arab leaders?” Worse than the Saudi dynasty or Egypt’s Mubarak or Iran’s mullahs or Iraq’s Hussein? This is an entirely specious argument. Bishara’s alliance with Hezbollah and Syrian is mostly geographic. And who would Alpher have him make an alliance with who would have him? Doubtless, Jordan’s King Abdullah would not be interested since he values good relations with Israel and wants to wash his hands of continuing intra-Arab strife. So who’s left for Bishara to turn to for support outside Israel?

One useful aspect of Alpher’s interview is that he further confirms information I published here from the Palestinian news agency Maan about the specific nature of the charges against Bishara:

A former associate at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah, where he taught for several years before going into politics, told me that Bishara had received large sums of money from Syria and Hezbollah for use by his political party and had apparently kept them for himself: this could explain both the criminal and the security components in suspicions against him.

But I would strongly caution that this is terribly vaguely and inauthoritatively sourced. And even if it is true that Bishara accepted funds from Syria, it is quite another thing to prove in a court of law that he acted corruptly in retaining funds for personal use. That’s the Shin Bet’s job and they’ve by no means proven their case. In fact, in keeping it secret they’ve done precisely the opposite: allowed people to believe that the secrecy conceals a weak case.

Bishara’s legacy in Israeli politics is a negative one: greater polarization between Arabs and Jews and closer ideological proximity between Israel’s Arab community and the most extreme elements in the Palestinian national movement.

Now, that would depend entirely on whose viewpoint you represented. Do you think that Israel’s Arab minority agrees? It is preposterous to blame Azmi Bishara for the polarization between Arabs and Jews in Israeli society. What about the 2000 massacre of defenseless protesting Nazareth Arabs by Israeli Border Police who were never even charged for their criminal behavior? Alpher doesn’t even come close to acknowledging that the radicalization represented by Bishara might stem just as much from Israeli intransigence in the face of Israeli Arab demands for their rights and Palestinian demands for theirs. Yossi Alpher may not be a flaming leftist but he’s no fool as an analyst of Mideast politics. That’s why the blinders he wears in this exchange are very instructive regarding the utter lack of awareness even intelligent Israeli Jews have of the democratic contradictions represented by the Arab minority in their midst.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency has a mixed record of Jewish journalism. On domestic issues it publishes solid, reliable reporting. But when it comes to Israel, often it might as well have come from the AIPAC press office. That’s a wee exaggeration perhaps for effect, but not much. Let’s take Dan Baron’s article on Bishara. I tried earnestly to get JTA to write a story about Bishara’s secret Shin Bet investigation speaking with their DC correspondent for some time. Unfortunately, Baron’s article is JTA’s feeble coverage of the story. I’d call the following journalism by sloganeering:

Israeli Arab lawmaker Azmi Bishara has abruptly ended a parliamentary career built on denouncing the Jewish state from enemy capitals and then dodging charges of sedition at home.

That is the extent of Bishara’s career? Not the penetrating slogan: “A state for all its citizens,” which has resonated far beyond the Israeli Arab minority as a reasonable democratic demand.

For many mainstream Israelis, it was goodbye and good riddance.

You’ll notice the lazy man’s ‘many’ used by many to propound a questionable argument. Who are the “many?” What would’ve been far more accurate would be to say that “goodbye and good riddance” was the response of Israel’s far right politicians, one of whom even called for the Shin Bet to kidnap Bishara and return him to Israel for trial on charges of treason! How’s that for democracy??

Bishara stood out for his especially provocative antics.

To how many Jewish politicians would Baron attribute the dismissive label “antics?” And I’d like to remind you that southern Whites labeled Martin Luther King’s Montgomery bus boycott or Malcolm X’s speechifying in precisely the same terms. You dismiss what you fear and do not understand. But you do so at your peril because dismissing it will not make the issue or person go away.

Bishara overcame repeated attempts to have him tried for fraternizing with Israel’s enemies, invoking his parliamentary immunity from prosecution.

This is misleading if not downright inaccurate. Bishara’s immunity was stripped twice by the Knesset thus enabling the legal system to charge and try him. But it never did. Why not? Because they could not build a case. Why blame Bishara for shielding himself from prosecution when the state and its organs have done everything in their power to dismantle his political power?

Some moderate Israeli Arabs also sought to distance themselves from Bishara, so astounded by his temerity as to suggest it was all an elaborate cover for a role as an Israeli spy or covert diplomat.

Isn’t it interesting that we see the “Israeli spy” charge once again. But who gains from circulating such an unfounded charge? The Israeli right and Shin Bet of course. So we have to ask whose bidding are Alpher and Baron doing even if unintentionally? The forces who seek to diminish Bishara and Israeli Arab nationalism. I believe it is shameful journalism to disseminate a charge without having any credible source to back it up.

Baron leaves the most interesting and useful portion of his article for the very end of course. You wouldn’t want to include material favorable to Bishara in any other portion of the article now, would you?

Yaron London, saw in Bishara a sort of latter-day version of the Diaspora’s old political mavericks — the revolutionaries and utopianists.

“I once said to Azmi Bishara that he is more Jewish than I,” London said. “The heart of a Jew, even one who lives among Jews in their state, is the heart of a minority figure, but a Christian Arab who is a citizen of the Jewish state is an island within an island, a minority within a minority.”

“Bishara, a brilliant and arrogant intellectual, bossy and stormy, charming and easily offended, has no time to waste. He realized that the Jews would not accept his vision unless they were greatly weakened — and therefore they must be weakened.”

This is one of the truest and most incisive characterizations I have read in all my research on Bishara over the past two weeks. It is a statement that should be taken to heart by Israelis especially Bishara’s enemies in the Shin Bet and government. Think of all the political insurgents who were hated in their day only to return to glory leading their country or at the least playing a significant role in its political future.

I do not make a judgment on Bishara’s political views one way or the other except to say that they must be grappled with. And to those who falsely believe they have seen the end of Azmi Bishara, I say to you: “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” Think of DeGaulle in exile, Washington sulking in the snow at Valley Forge, Martin Luther King in the Birmingham jail, Mandela on Robben Island. The list goes on. Their causes eventually triumphed.

Finally, let’s explore the responses of the Israeli right to Bishara’s resignation. Predictably, they are overjoyed. I wrote that Yuval Steinitz wants the Shin Bet to forcibly return Bishara to Israel to face proper justice. What we should learn from all these responses is that the right cares not a whit for democracy. All that matters for them is that Israel is a Jewish State. Israel could be a Jewish version of Putin’s Russia, the People’s Republic of China or Mugabe’s Zimbabwe for all they care. When they talk of rights they are talking of Jewish rights. No other rights matter. Is this the model of a Jewish state which we wish to embrace? Many would say no. But if you take the logic of the Baron’s and Alpher’s to their end point they take you perilously close to the Israeli right. For our two journalists, the only acceptable Israeli minority is one that is quiescent, that accepts its subordinate role, that doesn’t grasp too insistently or aggressively for its rights. But is this a reasonable expectation? No, of course not. And once we accept that Israeli Arabs will no longer be quiescent isn’t the logical end point a Lieberman-Kahane like forced transfer, thus ridding Israel of its “fifth column” and creating a homogeneous Jewish state?

I hope and believe this will not happen. But the only thing to prevent it will be for well-meaning Israelis to realize that the Israeli Arab minority and its rights cannot be dismissed or swept under the rug.

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{ 45 comments… add one }
  • Richard Silverstein April 30, 2007, 8:29 PM

    Amir: You’re a broken record and I’m tired of being one of the few people here who rebuts the meretricious nonsense that you attempt to foist off on my audience as received wisdom. It’s time you got a reality check from people other than me so that you know that your opinion is a minority in the world outside your own narrow one.

    If you drone on and on and repeat yourself as you have in the past I’ll moderate your comments again. BTW, I don’t usually ban people and didn’t ban you. I merely moderated your comments which allows me to decide whether I want to publish them or not.

  • amir May 1, 2007, 12:28 PM

    [ed., comment edited. I reserve the right to delete links promoting sites or posts which attack me or promote right-wing propaganda.]
    The average reported wage an Arab earns in Israel is 75% that of a Jew. As far as I know, Arabs and Jews working in the public sector and performing the same job title earn the same wage. I believe discrimination plays a role in this gap, but that other factors do as well. I never said Arabs are lazy or smoke hookahs all day. All the Arabs I know are hard working. Most of the ones I know have college degrees, nicer cars than I have (not hard to do) houses which are three times bigger than mine and are professionals and their wives work: accountants, lawyers, building contractors, physicians, dentists etc. Most of them have between 2 and 4 children. Nevertheless, as a group and statistically speaking, a greater number of Israeli Arabs have CHOSEN to prefer a large family and to begin creating a family at an earlier age, and to prefer childbirth over higher education for the women. I do not consider this choice to be inferior to the choice I or my friends have made, but it has economic consequences. In this chart (http://www.adva.org/UserFiles/File/femaletomale.pdf) you can see the percentage of females of Males in the Labor Force worldwide. The Arab countries are all at the bottom of the list. So there may be a cultural aspect to this trend, and it in no matter belittles the acomplishments of Arab and/or Muslim culture that AG mentioned. For the record, I think every woman should have as many children as she wants and can have regardless of race or creed.

    I never referred to the minister Majadele as a “good Arab”. I merely said he’s in a position to actually do some good while Bishara is not.

    For your Information -
    Arabic is compulsory for all Jewish pupils in High School. In junior high school they must choose between Arabic and Frence and since few learn French, most have quite a few years of Arabic study in the classroom.

    That’s all for now

  • IsraeliBlogger May 1, 2007, 2:59 PM

    Richard – I read your response to Amir, and couldn’t help being reminded of my discussions with Arab bloggers (who attacked my views in a way that is not unlike the way you’re being attacked by Israelis right now).

    I’d really like to refer you to a post of mine. Let me know what you think.

  • IsraeliBlogger May 1, 2007, 3:03 PM

    @AG – where exactly did I say that Israel is a saint?

  • Richard Silverstein May 1, 2007, 3:59 PM

    The average reported wage an Arab earns in Israel is 75% that of a Jew

    Which is supposed to mean what? That there is parity bet. them because there is only a 25% wage gap?

    Arabs and Jews working in the public sector and performing the same job title earn the same wage

    Which again skirts the issue. Either the Arab can’t get hired for the job since his Jewish supervisor won’t do so; or the Arab doesn’t even have sufficient work or educational experience to be hired for the job. It’s an endless vicious circle.

    Nevertheless, as a group and statistically speaking, a greater number of Israeli Arabs have CHOSEN to prefer a large family and to begin creating a family at an earlier age, and to prefer childbirth over higher education for the women

    Ah yes. Those Arabs have chosen to be poor & their women have chosen to be barefoot and pregnant. I repeat, while having a larger family does put a financial burden on that family, it has nothing to do with the reason why the breadwinner cannot find any work or, if he finds work, it is likely menial, back-breaking manual labor. The man with 10 children who serves as a porter isn’t deliberately choosing not to be a dentist or accountant (as your Arab friends are). He couldn’t be one even if he wanted to be.

    I never referred to the minister Majadele as a “good Arab”. I merely said he’s in a position to actually do some good while Bishara is not.

    Wrong again. Bishara has done much good and will continue to do so. But you & I view as “good” are widely disparate. You wrote approvingly of Majadele as an Arab who works within the system & plays by its rules. That is the defintion of a “good Arab” by me. I see both figures playing a positive role for entirely different reasons. They are the Martin Luther King and Malcom X of Israeli Arab politics (I only meant this as a historical comparison but not to say that I feel Majadele’s contribution is comparable to MLK’s).

    Arabic is compulsory for all Jewish pupils in High School.

    So as a product of the Israeli educational system–how’s your Arabic? With my 6 yrs of junior high & high school French I could carry on a decent conversation with a native French person & read a basic text. How ’bout you? If every American high school student took Arabic for 4 or more yrs., I have to say the language would be a damn sight more highly regarded than it is in Israel.

  • Mike Seth May 11, 2007, 9:47 AM

    The point I’m arguing is that Hezbollah is not Hitler. Hezbollah is a political movement that arose in response to Israel’s first ill-considered war against Lebanon. Being a political movement, there are ways to negotiate with it & compromise with it & resolve the worst disputes bet.

    Nasrallah, no matter how bad a figure he may be, is no Hitler.

    So by the same logic, can it be truthfully said that the Jewish Holocaust is nothing like what Israel does to the “palestinians”?

    While there is no rule or regulation calling Israeli Arabs an inferior part of the Israeli population that doesn’t mean there aren’t powerful societal forces operating in precisely this way.

    I am glad not to be a part of these forces. Unfortunately, you have me confused with them. Our road to collision with these forces is long, winded and inevitable. Eventually, the new generation of Israeli people would see the horse manure (as you would say) they’re stuck in, and shit will hit the fan. Old powers would be fought back, and change will come, and Israel will be a better place for everyone. I am not afraid of that as I wait for that day rather impatiently. What I am afraid of is the day after. I know Israel, Israeli people and myself. I am convinced that on the grand scale of things Israeli Jews are not evil people and I know we can get our shit together and fix this once and for all. I can not in good faith say the same about Israeli Arabs. I am sure you can come up with many statistical explanations and macrosocial reasoning on why they are on the receiving end of the stick and we’re on the handle one. But here’s the thing. My flatmate, who’s also a russian immigrant, went through US and Canada before finding himself in Israel; and at home, I and him speak Hebrew. When I interview people, even though they are obviously more comfortable speaking in Russian, I still demand that they do it in Hebrew. I was not born in Israel but I am an Israeli. I understand the Israeli humour, I read Israeli newspapers, and I have Israeli friends despite the fact that I am a pantheist and I have absolutely nothing in common with Jewish culture and tradition. I came to Israel as a russian boy and now I am proud to be an Israeli man. Israel became my new home and I changed myself to fit. Are the Israeli Arabs of today prepared to undergo the same change? No. Do some of them try? Absolutely. Do some succeed? Go around Hadera and count the arabic lawyer offices. Yes, they do, individually. En masse they do no such thing, however. They want to stay in Israel and get the full benefits of being Israeli without actually being an Israeli: Arab education, they want, Arab cities, they want, road signs in Arabic, they want, national insurance, they want, and Jewish jobs with Jewish pay they want too. You know who else does that kind of thing? These people, a Russian nationalist movement inside Israel that is, I quote by translation, “created to serve the interests of satisfaction of cultural and spiritual demands of the Russian community of Israel, the numbers and the intellectual potential of which have risen lately”. These people are the part of the societal forces you were talking about: they want Russian to be a national language, and they want all government services to be offered in Russian JUST SO THAT THEY DON’T HAVE TO BECOME ISRAELI. Behind their seemingly innocent if not righteous message hides the ugly truth: these are disgusting nationalists who would do everything in their power to resist the change and become an Israeli. How are the Israeli Arabs different at large? And I will reiterate the question that no one seems to be able to answer: our impatience with the present grows short. We are ready to change and even though we have sacrificed enough we will be able to sacrifice even more if we are sure that we can achieve long lasting peace. How can we be sure? Who will give us the assurance that after we return Golan heights and follow the rest of concessions that are prescribed to us by your favourite two state solution plans, the Arabs will not use their new strategic positions to launch a full scale eradication war against us? They’ve been meaning to do that for more than half a century; they tried repeatedly and they failed, which only invigorated them further; with the “palestinian” cause being trumped up in every major newspaper around the world, with backing of the Russian military machine, with the new knowledge of psi-ops and assymmetric warfare, a network of terrorist organizations who share their experience and intelligence with each other, and millions of “liberal” western supporters, during the global rise of militant Islam, please answer me: how likely is it that by following the peace initiatives blindly (unconditionally) we are not loading a shotgun that would be then dicharged into our foot just like we did in 1993? And what countermeasures can be put in place to ensure that we are not turning into a minority in our own state? Answer me, because frankly, no one else is able to.

    Ultimately, there is no military solution of this conflict & not even a military defense that will allow the status quo to work.

    Yes, there is no military solution to this conflict, and there never will be. However, there is a military defense that allows the status quo to work. It’s called “now”. If you have a better alternative that does not have the demise of Israel as a free democratic society among its likely consequences, put it on the table. No, we are not saints, and yes, the way we handle things is way way way beyond benevolence; its because so far our methods, sadistic and amoral as they are, were shown to work where everything else fails. I know what you’ll say next: that human rights come before politics, and that efficiency is not an excuse for violence. You are right, yet we have no choice. I know a girl (well, a woman) who said once during a gun argument that she would rather allow herself to be raped than take away the rapists’ life. This is a subservient, fatalist attitude that we are not willing to bear.

    And about Arabic: my cousin, also an immigrant from Russia, also had compulsory Arabic lessons in her high school (rather, she chose Arabic instead of Russian as a second language of choice). And she got to use it too; during her military service she was recruited into the border guards, which is Israel’s official ‘we beat Arabs up’ pseudo-military unit (pseudo since they are considered police and there are various legal and jurisdictional consequences to that). That is our reality. Please don’t abuse other Israelis’ studies of Arabic as a way to prove your point, as the only likely response you would get is not the one you would like to hear.

  • Richard Silverstein May 11, 2007, 8:29 PM

    can it be truthfully said that the Jewish Holocaust is nothing like what Israel does to the “palestinians”?

    Is the Occupation genocide? No. Do Israelis want to exterminate Palestinians? Except for the Kahanists, no. But is there virulent hatred of Palestinians among significant portions of the Israeli people? Yes. Does this hatred allow them to view Palestinians as less than human, & hence make it that much easier to oppress them? Yes. So there ARE similarities bet. the two phenomena. But there are fundamental differences bet. the two events & they should only be compared very carefully, deliberately and in a quite constrained way.

    I am convinced that on the grand scale of things Israeli Jews are not evil people and I know we can get our shit together and fix this once and for all.

    I share your view. Again, nice to agree w. you on something.

    I can not in good faith say the same about Israeli Arabs.

    And here we fundamentally disagree & it becomes clear that you are & will be part of the problem that prevents peace rather than part of the solution that enables it. Most sad.

    Israel became my new home and I changed myself to fit. Are the Israeli Arabs of today prepared to undergo the same change? No.

    There is a fundamental diff. bet. you & them. As you say, you have little in common w. Jews or Judaism. You came to Israel & worked hard at assimilating to it. Arabs have no such obligation. Should a Native American feel he or she has to acculturate to white society? What does an aboriginal person owe to such a society in terms of being forced to fit in? If anything, fitting in should be the other way around. The majority owes the original inhabitants a debt because they have been toppled from their former status, oppressed & discriminated against. Lands & livelihoods have been stolen. Ways of life trampled. It is not the obligation of Arabs to fit into yr society. Should they choose to do so that should be their prerogative & they should not be hindered fro doing so (as they most definitely are).

    And that’s another thing. You complain about Arabs not trying to fit in as you have. If you close off jobs, opportunities, livelihoods, & educational advantages fr. Arabs as Israel most assuredly does you have no right to squawk about them “not fitting in.” Israel doesn’t give them a chance to do so. And those Arabs who do succeed in Israel do so against all odds.

    Who will give us the assurance that after we return Golan heights and follow the rest of concessions that are prescribed to us by your favourite two state solution plans, the Arabs will not use their new strategic positions to launch a full scale eradication war against us?

    You are about the 40th reader to ask such a question here. If you have cancer & the doctor tells you only one thing can save you: an operation. But he warns you that the operation also might kill you. Do you say to him: “But doctor, how can you expect me to have such an operation when you might kill me instead?” Sure, anything can happen after Israel returns the Golan. But will it? No. The problem is not only that you don’t trust the Arabs, but you don’t want to trust them. In fact, you’d rather believe that they’ll knife you in the back before they’d settle for peace. Well, you can believe that. But you won’t get peace out of that approach. You’ll get the same old bloody status quo.

    They’ve been meaning to do that for more than half a century; they tried repeatedly and they failed, which only invigorated them further;

    That’s a crock. They tried in 1948 and failed. Israel attacked Egypt in 1956 (not the other way around). Israel essentially attacked Egypt in 1967 because it believed that Egypt was planning to attack it first (which it wasn’t). After Sadat offered Israel peace negotiations in 1972 & Golda rejected his offer, he attacked to regain the Sinai (not to destroy Israel). There have been no other wars in which Israel’s existence was endangered. So don’t go claiming the Arabs are exterminationists. That song doesn’t play around here.

    with backing of the Russian military machine

    You’re from Russia & should certainly know that the Russian military is entirely dysfunctional. Couldn’t conquer Afghanistan. Took 2 wars to conquer Chechnya which isn’t entirely subdued yet. What does Israel have to be afraid of fr. the Russian army??

    there is a military defense that allows the status quo to work. It’s called “now”

    No, it DOESN’T work. Surviving is not enough. Living and enjoying life is what Israelis & Palestinians are entitled to. The status quo means continued murder & death. More blood. Survival, if you’re lucky. Just barely getting by. That’s not a life. Peace means life.

    our methods, sadistic and amoral as they are, were shown to work where everything else fails

    They “work???” How do you figure that??? Sadism and amorality when practiced by an entire nation never “works.” The Occupation doesn’t “work.” Not for Palestinians, not for Israelis.

    efficiency is not an excuse for violence

    You think the Occupation is “efficient???” Just think of the wasted money going into military weapons systems & logistics that could go into things that would truly help Israel’s inhabitants. Think of the millions of hours reservists spend in military service when they could be productive workers. This is efficient??

    she would rather allow herself to be raped than take away the rapists’ life.

    This is a false choice and ridiculous construct.

    she got to use it too

    This only proves my point. Your cousin got to “use” her Arabic while participating in one of the most brutal & thuggish Israeli institutions that interacts with Arabs. She essentially used her knowledge of the language to help perpetrate Arab subjugation. Is that the only use an Israeli Jew can make of Arabic? Shouldn’t we learn Arabic so we can study their great philosophers from the Middle Ages? Shouldn’t we study Arabic so we can study their astonishing artistic traditions? Shouldn’t we study Arabic so we can participate in joint economic ventures that might benefit both peoples? How often does any of this happen now? You know the answer.

  • IsraeliBlogger May 23, 2007, 2:02 PM

    The problem is not only that you don’t trust the Arabs, but you don’t want to trust them.

    I personally believe that the problem is much deeper than trust. It’s a problem of understanding. We don’t understand the Arabs, and they don’t understand us. And I’m not talking about language – I’m talking about understanding the fundamental way of thinking. Understanding the motivations. This lack of understanding is the root of distrust – for both sides.

    Sure, anything can happen after Israel returns the Golan. But will it? No.

    Why are you so sure of that? I have heard from many Arabs that Israelis and Zionists are the devil, and that the purpose of the Zionist movement is to conquer the entire Arab world. Simply returning the Golan will not change that. They will see such a tactic move in the plot to conquer their land. What is to stop them from attacking Israel in order to defend themselves from this threat? To us, this threat seems ridiculous. To them it is a very real one.

    In fact, you’d rather believe that they’ll knife you in the back before they’d settle for peace.

    Richard, the Qassam missiles that are being continuously fired on Sderot these past few days do much to strengthen this belief for the vast majority of Israeli Jews. I don’t think Israelis would “rather” believe Arabs will knife us in the back. It is the lack of understanding of the motivation – or actually, the misinterpretation of motivation – that strengthens this belief. The Israeli narrative is “we returned Gaza, and look what we got in return”. This is immediately extended to the Golan. Israelis don’t realize that the Qassam missiles originate in Palestinian despair and in the Palestinian ignorance of the effect of those missiles on Israelis. We automatically associate those missiles with the declarations by Hamas that Israel doesn’t have a right to exist, and label them as “acts of terror” and “antisemitism”. BTW, most Arabs believe Israelis will knife them in the back rather than settle for peace, but Israelis don’t usually understand this, because we interpret this way of thinking as “antisemitic propaganda”.

  • Richard Silverstein May 23, 2007, 8:26 PM

    I completely agree w. you that the ignorance on both sides of the “other” is what fuels the hatred & mistrust. Somehow, this ignorance must be broken down w. diligent efforts on both sides to learn the “language” the other speaks.

    I have heard from many Arabs that Israelis and Zionists are the devil, and that the purpose of the Zionist movement is to conquer the entire Arab world.

    That is certainly possible just as many Israeli Jews believe that the Islamists want nothing short of conquering the entire world including the west. But the former set of beliefs is not held by the majority of Arabs & we shouldn’t overstate the hatred, strong as it may be, that Arabs might feel for Zionism.

    Simply returning the Golan will not change that.

    It certainly will. Clearly this is what the Assad regime wants. When Syria gets this territory back & reciprocates by ending its state of war with Israel & recognizing Israel, the environment will change radically for the better. You don’t have to believe me if you don’t wish to. But mark my words when it happens because it will.

    What is to stop them from attacking Israel in order to defend themselves from this threat?

    Look, you or I could get killed crossing the street tomorrow. But will it happen? Unlikely. I know that the possibility of a war with Syria is more weighty than my example, but the comparison is still apt. Can anyone promise you a sure thing regarding Israeli Arab peace? No. But the chances are very strong that land for peace will work.

    Israelis don’t realize that the Qassam missiles originate in Palestinian despair and in the Palestinian ignorance of the effect of those missiles on Israelis.

    I want to thank you for the empathy that this comment shows. I too deplore the Qassam attacks. They are a bankrupt tactic. And I understand that they create hatred among Jews for Palestinians. I wish the barrage wasn’t happening.

    I do think in a way that Hamas is goading Israel into invading Gaza because if the IDF invades then Hamas realizes that all of Gaza will united behind them as the chief resisters of Israeli military might. If the IDF stays outside Gaza then Hamas starts to look like just another Palestinian cabal greedy for power & willing to decimate their fellow Palestinian supporters of Fatah.

  • IsraeliBlogger May 24, 2007, 7:48 AM

    Look, you or I could get killed crossing the street tomorrow. But will it happen? Unlikely.

    Kudos for the optimism :-).

    Problem is, if I may continue the analogy – suppose someone has a tendency to look only to the right before crossing the street. Having already been run down twice, this person has developed a severe paranoia of crossing streets, and can’t even get near a sidewalk without trembling with fear and the memory of pain. How do you convince such a person to learn to look left and try again? I doubt that shouting at that person that “you’re an incompetent fool” will do much good. Please forgive my criticism, Richard, but your answers to Israeli comments on this thread are a bit close to this sort of response. I’m only saying this because I realize you mean well, and I hope that you can find a way to truly communicate your thoughts to Israelis.

    But the former set of beliefs is not held by the majority of Arabs & we shouldn’t overstate the hatred, strong as it may be, that Arabs might feel for Zionism.

    Are you basing the statement that this view is not held by the majority of Arabs on any concrete statistics? I base many of my views on gut feelings and hearsay, so I would really find such statistics helpful. Can you point me at them? BTW, I’m not talking just about hatred – I’m talking about Arab people “knowing for sure” that the “true purpose” of the Zionist movement is to conquer the Arab lands (regardless of hating or not hating zionists for this).

  • IsraeliBlogger May 24, 2007, 1:14 PM

    Rereading what I wrote in my “road crossing paranoia” example, I suspect I may not have been quite clear. I forgot to mention that the Israeli Jewish society is paranoid about its survival.

    Is this paranoia justified? I don’t know, but it stems from the Pogroms, the Holocaust, the Prao’t, and the war of independence. It is constantly strengthened by intentional attacks on Israeli civilians – whether with knifes, guns, bombs, suicide bombers, Katyusha rockets, Scud missiles (and Palestinians dancing on rooftops when the Scuds fall) and now with Qassam missiles. It is further entrenched by declarations of Muslim leaders about Israel not having a right to exist, and by attempts of those leaders to obtain nuclear weapons. Can you blame Israeli Jews for being paranoid?

    Richard, you praised my empathy towards Palestinians. You’ll gain a lot by showing empathy towards Israeli Jews (including those in the right wing).

    BTW – Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they aren’t really out to get you… ;-)

  • Richard Silverstein May 24, 2007, 8:37 PM

    How do you convince such a person to learn to look left and try again? I doubt that shouting at that person that “you’re an incompetent fool” will do much good. Please forgive my criticism, Richard, but your answers to Israeli comments on this thread are a bit close to this sort of response.

    I completely agree w. yr analogy. Israeli ARE traumatized by their experience of war & terror. I empathize w. this fear. I know a great deal about the Jewish history & suffering you refer to. I do not call Israelis “incompetent fools” for being afraid for their lives.

    But Israeli readers of this blog who support a Likud or settler agenda are a diff. story. I do not have sympathy for them. I do not have sympathy for anyone who has convinced themselves that Arabs are pure unadulterated evil. I do not have sympathy for anyone who refuses to take any risk for peace at all & says it’s up to the other side to give in before they’ll be ready to make peace.

    I have a good number of Israeli readers who are not supporters of Likud or the settlers, but they are in the minority here. The reason is that most Israelis who are left of center are reading & writing Hebrew blogs, not English lang. blogs. Most Israeli blog readers reading English lang. blogs are Anglo-Israelis, whose politics unfortunately skews rightward. So though you may see these right leaning blog readers as a microcosm of Israelis themselves, I tend to see them as a skewed sample of a true Israeli panoply of political views.

    Are you basing the statement that this view is not held by the majority of Arabs on any concrete statistics?

    I wrote a blog post some months ago about a Pew survey of world opinion which included opinions in the Arab world. It doesn’t measure attitudes toward Zionism, but it does measure Muslim attitudes toward the west & toward Islamic fundamentalism. Therefore, it’s instructive. I’ll do some more searching for some more solid statistics on this subject.

    Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they aren’t really out to get you

    Yes, I agree. But my personal corollary to that Delmore Schwartz quotation is: “Just because they’re out to get you doesn’t absolve you of responsibility to try to find a way to turn them from enemies to something less threatening.”

  • IsraeliBlogger May 24, 2007, 9:41 PM

    I do not have sympathy for anyone who has convinced themselves that Arabs are pure unadulterated evil.

    I can certainly understand this view of yours. I used to subscribe to it myself not so long ago. However, once I realized that I must show sympathy towards Arabs who are convinced that Israelis are pure unadulterated evil, I found myself also showing sympathy towards Israelis holding that same view towards Arabs.

    Most Israeli blog readers reading English lang. blogs are Anglo-Israelis, whose politics unfortunately skews rightward.

    Try reading the Hebrew talkbacks on Ha’aretz or Ynet some time. You may find that the Anglo-Israelis are very mild. :-(

    That said, I think that many comments here are not right-wing. They reflect one aspect of the Israeli way of thinking – even of those who vote for center or even left-wing parties. Remember, though, that it’s only a partial view.

    I wrote a blog post some months ago about a Pew survey of world opinion

    Thanks – I’ll check it out.

  • Richard Silverstein May 24, 2007, 10:50 PM

    once I realized that I must show sympathy towards Arabs who are convinced that Israelis are pure unadulterated evil, I found myself also showing sympathy towards Israelis holding that same view towards Arabs.

    I think that’s admirable & it’s a state of grace I aspire to. With some commenters here who disagree but do so in a civil way, I don’t have such hot disputations. It really depends on someone’s tone. If they come across as self-righteous then I tend to reply in kind. If their tone sounds insulting or demeaning I respond similarly. I guess I like a good mahloket. But I should pay more attention to yr perspective (shared by my wife btw) that kindness, sympathy and tolerance go farther in their way than rapier wit.

  • IsraeliBlogger May 26, 2007, 12:29 PM

    :-)

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