Israel Report

April 2001         

Zionism as Affirmative Action

By Gerald M. Steinberg

(April 20) - By any standards, the successes of political Zionism have been extraordinary. A century ago, Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel was little more than a messianic dream. After the Arabs invaded Israel, most diplomats and military experts predicted its quick demise. The victories in the War of Independence (a better name would be the War of Survival) and later battles reflected superior motivation based on desperation and commitment, rather than technology or tactics.

Between the wars, these energies were turned to absorbing immigrants, building the economy, and on this basis, reviving Jewish civilization. However, along the way, the secular Zionist elite that led the struggle for independence grew tired and cynical.

The next generation became a self-styled group of "new historians," who surrendered and adopted the Arab version of history. In this "narrative," 600,000 Israelis, including many Holocaust survivors who went from the refugee ships to the battlefield, were stronger and better equipped (despite the one-sided arms embargo) than the combined Arab armies. The Jews were cast as invaders (in the Land of Israel!), and the Arabs were the passive victims.

In their obsession to become "normal" and to emulate their Western counterparts (a form of collective assimilation), many members of this group invented "post-Zionism," reflecting the Arab demand for "a state of all its citizens." While the authors of the Declaration of Independence sought to establish a Jewish State based on democratic principles, post-Zionists seek to create another Western liberal democracy where many of the citizens are, for now, Jews.

In a region dominated by Islamic nations where minorities are persecuted, this is a recipe for collective self-destruction.

The dangers do not come from intellectuals seeking attention, but rather from the penetration of these false prophecies into core political and legal institutions. In a critical case involving property rights, Justice Aharon Barak, president of the High Court, issued an opinion (Ka'adan vs. Katzir) based primarily on American civil rights law and citing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (a document largely ignored except in democratic countries). On this basis, he ruled that Arab citizens of Israel had the same rights as Jews to buy land and live in the special look-out settlements in the area of Wadi Ara.

In America, where surviving native peoples live on "reservations," and everyone has a distinct cultural background, an ideology emphasizing individual equality makes sense. However, the Israeli reality is totally different, particularly in critical parts of the country where the vast majority of the population is Arab and in which radical forces have become dominant.

This is clearly the case near the community of Katzir, which is surrounded by exclusively Arab villages and the city of Umm el-Fahm. In this area, Jews have been systematically excluded, and the neighboring areas are under Palestinian control. To prevent a situation in which, during a future conflict, the Arab population would join with Palestinians and other armies to cut Israel in half (as happened in 1948), a program to build small Jewish communities was initiated in this area. Yet none of these issues were discussed by Barak in his ruling. Like the post-Zionists, the ideal of America or Europe was more compelling than the Israeli and Jewish reality.

More disturbingly, the many lawyers who were charged with defending the policy of discrimination in favor of Jewish applicants also failed to argue in terms of the Zionist goals of Jewish sovereignty and survival. They based their case on narrow technical issues, and did not discuss history, geography, or security. While the Arab population is a minority, they are still a potentially very powerful and disruptive force, as demonstrated during the violence in support of the Palestinians during Rosh Hashana. In this environment, the principles of liberal democracy and individual equality must be tempered by collective rights and political reality.

In the Middle Eastern reality, Jews are a very vulnerable minority, and what appears simplistically to be discrimination is more accurately described in terms of affirmative action. For two thousand years, we have been forcibly excluded from our homeland and persecuted around the world. As Herzl and the founders of Zionism so clearly recognized, Jewish continuity is dependent on the survival of the world's only Jewish State.

In the Jewish tradition, affirmative action is based on the principle that in distributing charity, the poor of one's own city have priority. Translated into modern political terms, before we can provide Israel's Arab citizens with complete equal rights in all spheres, we must first ensure that this equality does not become the basis for depriving us of our own rights to survival, both individual and collective.

As the Palestinian violence and threats of war from the rest of the region have so tragically reminded us, this fundamental goal of the Zionist movement has still not been fully realized.

©2001 - Jerusalem Post

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