One of our local churches is hosting a program on Wednesday entitled “[The] Costs of War on Israeli Society.” The speakers are a Jewish Israeli and what used to be called an Israeli Arab but now has become a “Palestinian citizen of Israel.” The suggestion seems to be that war is bad for both sides, and if they could just be reasonable everyone would be better off.
The church is collecting donations in return for admission, and all proceeds will go toward their tour and the sponsoring groups.
I would like church members to understand exactly whom they are helping when they collect funds.
The costs of war on Israeli society are dear indeed. Think of how much more Israel could have accomplished if it had not been the victim of a continuous war waged against it since its founding. All of the lives lost, the huge amounts of time and money wasted on activities which are essentially unproductive. I know that my son would have much preferred to have spent 8 years of his life developing a career as an illustrator and graphic novelist than in military and other security-related jobs.
Unfortunately, for Jews in the Middle East, such unproductive uses of human and material resources are essential to life in their neighborhood.
The speakers do not see it in this way. Ofra Yeshua-Lyth, a journalist and the Jewish speaker* on the program (see here, here and here), is an anti-Zionist who appears to hold in contempt almost everything about the Jewish state in which she grew up and was educated. Like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, she does not accept the idea of a ‘Jewish People’, only a Jewish religion. And she sees Judaism as a contradiction at the heart of Zionism which makes the idea of a democratic Jewish state impossible.
She describes the state as “fascist and racist” because of “a legal system that blatantly accords positive discrimination to Jews at the expense of non-Jews.” She is opposes the state’s “militarism” and advocates “resistance” to the draft. She is disgusted by political corruption, inequality of wealth in Israeli society, the influence of Orthodox rabbis, etc. She sees the state as a total failure to realize the dreams of its founders — or, more accurately, to realize her conception of an ideal democracy. But most of all, she thinks the state discriminates against its Arab citizens and oppresses the Arabs of the territories.
The details are not simple, but this characterization is highly misleading.
Take “militarism” and the draft. Does anyone really think that unilateral disarmament will bring peace to a nation which has been attacked over and over again by her neighbors, is constantly under pressure by terrorism from multiple militias, and which is surrounded by Iranian proxies with which it fought two vicious wars in the last four years?
Let’s consider the Arab citizens of Israel. It’s important to distinguish between civil rights and national aspirations. There is no doubt that they cannot realize the latter living in a country defined as the state of the Jewish people, any more than a Turk living in Germany can feel German national pride (I’ll come back to this). Can they, however, have civil rights — the right to vote, to work, to have access to educational and health services, etc?
The goal is that they should, and as a matter of fact Arab citizens of Israel exercise more civil rights and receive far more services from the government than citizens of any Arab nation. There are reasons why this is not entirely realized, and they are not particularly racism or fascism. There are benefits to be gained from military service, and most Arabs choose not to serve — although they are not excluded by law and some Bedouins and most Druze do serve. There are practical matters, like the fact that Arab towns are governed according to traditional clan relationships and resources are often allocated locally. There are also issues that stem from the fact that Israel has been at war with its neighbors and with various terrorist groups for six decades.
It should be noted that this war against the Jewish people in the Mideast — which has consistently been accompanied by genocidal pronouncements by Arab leaders, and whose rationale is expressed in genocidal terms in the founding documents of the terrorist groups which form the basis of Palestinian politics — is also a form of oppression, which Yeshua-Lyth doesn’t mention.
Her recitation of problems related to Orthodoxy is obsessive. As the father of a daughter that had to convince the Israeli rabbinical authorities that she was Jewish in order to get married in Israel, I can sympathize with Yeshua-Lyth’s anger at the Orthodox establishment. But she exaggerates its power in areas other than what we call ‘family law’.
And it is unreasonable to say that there cannot be a state of the Jewish people, just like any number of ethnic groups — French, Germans, Norwegians — have states. It is also telling that she finds the concept of a state for a people so hateful when it applies to Israel, surrounded as it is by Arab states which are far more nationalistic, theocratic, aggressive, racist and fascist.
Of course if there is no Jewish people, then there is no meaning to ‘Jewish state’ other than a theological one. One would think that it would be simpler to reduce the power of the Rabbinate — permitting civil marriage would be a good start — rather than to to abandon the idea of a Jewish, democratic state. But Yeshua-Lyth believes that the Jewish state of Israel is past saving and must be thrown out.
Let’s look at the her solution. She is opposed to the two-state solution favored by the Zionist Left — the solution envisaged in the Oslo Accord and that which presently forms the basis of US policy toward Israel and the Palestinians. The idea is to partition the original Jewish National Home yet again to provide a place for a realization of Palestinian aspirations to their own state and a separation between Arabs and Jews. But,
Advocates of the “Two States Solution” [sic] ignore the fact that in this scenario the serious faulty legal and ideological infrastructure of the present Jewish State will not be dealt with. As a result, the serious inner schisms that tear Israeli society apart will continue to put pressures on whatever political structures the “Two States” situation should materialize.
Next to it, there is little chance for a non-nationalistic, non-religiously belligerent Palestinian State. The Two States Solution – which is non-viable anyway – is at most a program for the creation of two very unpleasant, mutually hostile, political entities.
Therefore she calls for one secular, democratic state, for Jews and Arabs from the Jordan to the Mediterranean. Although it’s not explicit in the material I’ve found, she certainly means to include Arab ‘refugees’ and the population of Hamas-ruled Gaza in this ‘democracy’.
Presently, only one state exists in the area between the Jordan River and the Sea, in the area Jews call Israel and Arabs know as Palestine. Surely the most efficient, affective way to improve life for the millions who live in this area goes through reforming and correcting this state, opening it up to all the inhabitants under its military and sovereign control. Turning Israel into a secular and democratic state is a precondition to the liberating of Palestine, if one accepts that shedding more blood is not the way to solve the region’s problems.
Unfortunately, she’s right that a two-state solution would not create a peaceful Palestinian state alongside Israel. No Palestinian leadership which accepts a solution that does not include bringing all of the land under Arab control could survive. At least today, with these players, there simply is no way to achieve both a secure Israel and a Palestinian state.
But her proposal — which is consistent with her pathological hatred for the state of Israel — is, in effect, to get rid of the Jews.
No, that’s not what she said. But it is the consequence of her ‘solution’. Suppose that the one-state of ‘Palestine’ were declared between the river and the sea. The state would immediately have a large Arab majority, many of them descendants of refugees (and others who claim this status) who have been prevented from integrating into the Arab world and who have irredentist claims against Israeli Jews. There are about 4.5 million Arabs that fall into this category. What would happen when these claims were pressed against the Jews who presently live in Israel?
Consider trying to integrate the ‘military’ forces of Fatah and Hamas with the IDF. I suppose we would even have to include the Islamic Jihad and the Fatah al-Islam guerrillas who are presently fighting with the Lebanese army in the refugee camps. How many armies would there be and who would command them?
Yeshua-Lyth expects that the new state would be democratic. Some Arab-majority states have elections, but are any of them democratic? How is the concept of a multi-ethnic state working out in Lebanon? How are the Palestinians governing themselves in Gaza? Does she think the Islamists of Hamas, Hizballah, the Islamic movement, etc. would sit back and allow a secular state to be created?
Surely Yehsua-Lyth has some idea of the genocidal ideology of Fatah, Hamas, et al. Surely she knows that even the most moderate elements among the Israeli Arabs believe that all of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan belongs to them, and that the creation of Israel was a nakba, a catastrophe which must be reversed. How does she see these ideologies fitting in with a continuation of Jewish presence in the land?
She says that the conflict is not over land, that it is a religious conflict. I agree with her that land is not the issue, but it has nothing to do with the practice of Judaism. Like Hitler’s war against the Jews of Europe, the Arabs are fighting the Jewish people in the Mideast. Would they make peace if everyone was secular? Did Hitler ask for a rabbinical certificate before murdering a Jew? Of course she doesn’t believe that there is such a thing as a Jewish people.
If a state like she envisions (in her dreams) could be created it would be an Arab state, it would not be democratic, and Jews would find themselves without property or protection against those who have sworn to kill them or drive them away. But in practice, it could not get that far. The attempt to create such a state would result in a civil war, on a scale probably greater than the bloody 15-year Lebanese civil war. It is hard to imagine that outside forces like the Iranian-controlled Hizballah would not intervene.
This is a formula for death and destruction in the Middle East beyond anything in recent history. If the Jews win the civil war, it will be another nakba for the Palestinian Arabs. If the Arabs win, the best outcome would be that the Jews scatter throughout the world to any place that will take them, as happened in 1492.
The worst would be another Holocaust.
* I am only discussing the opinions of Yeshua-Lyth in this post because the Arab speaker, Ismail Kharoub, hasn’t published his, as far as I can tell.
Interestingly, Yeshua-Lyth is a representative of a feminist group. I wonder how she reconciles this with the misogyny prevalent in the Islamic world and the poor treatment of women even in nationalist Arab societies.
By the way, note the irony in referring to her as Jewish. She despises Judaism, so she is certainly not Jewish by religion. But she doesn’t admit any other sense of ‘Jewish’! So what is she?