This week, real wisdom hid between the extreme positions so commonly staked out in this country. There was the fatwa against Israelis who would “dare” rent or sell their homes to Arabs. Dozens of rabbis have signed the letter forbidding such sale, while a smaller number have also had the courage to reject it outright. But virtually no one has pointed out that the choice isn’t a simply one between racism and human rights. It’s more complicated.
Obviously, it is mortifying to live in a country where “religious” leaders speak about Arabs the way that the enemies of the Jews spoke about us for centuries in Europe. And yes, as some observers have noted, it is virtually impossible to imagine a rabbi in the US saying anything remotely similar.
But the US isn’t Israel, and America does not need to struggle to guarantee its Christian nature. Our society, though largely Jewish now, could easily become something very different with time. If that is what these rabbis meant to say, they were right.
Apply the ethnicity-blind standards of American life here, and in a generation or two, Israel’s Jewish quality might be gone.
Why, after all, are most Israelis and American Zionists opposed to the Palestinian “right of return”? Isn’t that also a human rights issue? The answer, of course, is that on that issue, people recognize that the country’s Jewish character is at stake. Allow the refugees to return, and Jews become a minority almost overnight. (That is precisely why the Palestinians insist on it.)
Israel is a tiny speck of Jewishness in an ocean of Arabs and Persians in the Middle East, and to be clear about it, the ocean doesn’t appreciate the speck. How often do the Islamists of Hamas or Iran talk ab0ut ‘cleansing’ the land of its Jewish ‘infestation’!
Possibly I’ve repeated the same message enough that it’s boring some, but — especially for readers in the US — it needs to be emphasized:
Israel is not California, and the USA is not in the Middle East.
Arab and Islamic rejectionism hasn’t stopped trying to crush the idea of Jewish sovereignty anywhere in the Middle East for a hundred years. The war has multiple aspects where battles take place simultaneously: that of conventional and semi-conventional warfare, of terrorism, of subversion and sabotage (often seen simply as ‘crime’), of psycho-war, and finally, of demographics.
The US faces threats too, particularly that of terrorism. But there is nothing comparable to the demographic struggle.
Fully one-fifth of Israel’s citizens are Arabs. They are increasingly becoming ‘Palestinized’, that is, sharing the objective of the Palestinian Arabs in the territories to replace Israel with an Arab state. Some of them are secular nationalists and some (increasingly) are radical Islamists.
There may have been a time when Israel’s Arab citizens were reconciled to living in a Jewish state, where they would aspire only to equal rights and benefits as citizens, along with Jews and other groups. Today, as Jonathan Spyer has argued, the rise of Islamism and its ‘optimistic’ prediction that a corrupt and weak Israel will be defeated in the long run has reawakened hope, even among secular Arabs, that they can succeed in reversing the outcome of the 1948 war. Paradoxically, this has worked against the realization of full rights and benefits for Arabs.
In any event, the demographic front is alive, with Arabs from the territories wanting to live within the Green Line both to obtain the very real benefits of living in a Westernized, democratic and abundant society as well as to work to change it into an Arab state (they do want to keep the abundance, if possible).
There are other concerns than Arabs. There are hundreds of millions of inhabitants of sub-Saharan Africa who are living in unbelievable poverty under dysfunctional, kleptocratic, murderous ‘governments’. Many of them would like to live in secure, abundant Israel. Should Israel open its borders? How long would it continue to exist as a modern state if it did that? Even the US can’t sustain unlimited immigration.
Here in America, particularly in liberal Jewish America, discrimination of any kind is considered equivalent to racism. The outcry against the rabbis that signed that ‘fatwa’ was predictable and entirely misses the point.
Why is Israel’s ‘Jewish character’ so important anyway, ask my California friends. Surely that kind of ethnic nationalism is outdated, they say.
There are 22 or 23 (if you count the Palestinian Authority) Arab states in the Middle East. They take up the overwhelming portion of the land area and resources of the region. None of them are true democracies, none have anywhere near the tolerance found in Israel for religious, ethnic, or sexual-preference minorities. None come close in provision of equal rights for women. They have in general cooperated in creating the ‘Palestinian Refugee Problem’, started wars and supported terrorism. Indeed, they gave birth to al-Qaeda and other groups now threatening the West.
Many of these countries do not allow Jews to live within their borders at all.
This is not a question of civil rights for Palestinian Arabs. It’s a question of survival for Israeli Jews. If Israel loses its Jewish majority and Jewish character then it becomes just another Arab state, with all that implies.
Israeli Jews would be killed, subjugated or expelled. Jews around the world would no longer have a homeland — not just a refuge from antisemitism, but a symbol and sometimes active agency against antisemitism. One can imagine the world of 1939, in which no place on earth would provide a safe haven for Jews that nobody wanted.
We’re not prepared to let that happen again.