There is an unavoidable conflict between being a Jewish state and a democratic state.
– Joseph Levine, “On Questioning the Jewish State,” The New York Times, March 9
There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.
— George Orwell
Last week I cautioned that a crucial intellectual battle has been launched to strip the Jews of their political independence and national sovereignty. As promised, in this week’s column I will elaborate on the inanity and iniquity of this Judeophobic initiative.
Pernicious, perverse, paradoxical
The Times – together with several other major mainstream media entities – has chosen to throw its weight decisively behind this patently pernicious, perverse and paradoxical endeavor.
But over the last fortnight, the so-called “paper of record” has ratcheted up its bias and bile a notch or two. This prompted the following comment from Commentary’s Seth Mandel in his “A New Low for the Times” (March 18): “The bias against Israel in the press, and especially the New York Times, has become so steady and predictable that it can be difficult to muster outrage.
Since the paper flaunts, rather than attempts to disguise, its hostility to Israel, it can be easy to miss when the Times crosses yet another line. And the paper and its editors have done so again this weekend.”
I have not designated this drive to denigrate, delegitimize and demonize the conduct of the Jewish state — and of late, the very idea of a Jewish state – “pernicious,” “perverse” and “paradoxical” without reason.
Should this unholy crusade achieve its declared objectives, it will precipitate a reality that reflects a total negation of the very values invoked for its promotion, and the antithesis of those allegedly cherished by its propagators.
Until relatively recently, the bulk of the Times’s censure of Israel’s actions focused on its policy regarding the status of the territories beyond the pre-1967 Green Line, and the fate of the Palestinian Arabs resident there.
But with the emerging realization — indeed, perhaps resignation — that the previously preferred outcome of establishing a Palestinian state in these territories, is becoming increasingly unworkable, emphasis has shifted and enmity escalated. It now seems that the paper has begun to channel condemnation less against what the Jewish state does, and more against what it is — i.e. Jewish.
This is a line that it is apparently pursuing with increasing virulence, frequency and prominence on its pages, last week touting it on both the front page of its Sunday edition and the cover of its weekly magazine.
Barely a week previously, a lengthy opinion piece by University of Massachusetts professor of philosophy Joseph Levine appeared, advancing contrived and contorted claims disputing the conceptual validity of the Jewish people’s right to national self-determination and political sovereignty, now even within the Green Line.
Readers will recall that in my column last week, I pointed out the conceptual fallacies and faults in Levine’s approach to statehood, which seems to postulate that no state can be considered “democratic” if the conduct of its public life reflects the sociocultural dominance of the major ethnic group — even if it comprises a “vast majority.”
Accordingly, we are asked to believe that majority rule is an intolerable moral anathema for democratic governance. Indeed, unless the majority surrenders — or, at least, substantially dilutes – the expression of its identity, while the minority is allowed full expression of its identity — no matter how incompatible or adversarial it might be with that of the majority — the resulting sociopolitical reality is allegedly so disastrously impaired that its continued existence cannot be countenanced.
Thus, in Levine’s eyes, a “people” only merit the right to self-determination if they comprise a segment of humanity whose members are bound together by nothing more substantive than their equality before the law of the land and the accident of their physical location within the borders of that land. This is, as I showed, a position severely at odds with those of leading philosophers of liberal political theory over the past two centuries. It is one which fails to capture the most elemental essence that drives aspirations for national self-determination and that comprises the primal conditions for stable democratic governance: A sentiment of political allegiance born of a spiritual compatibility — which may arise because of ethnic homogeneity, or despite ethnic heterogeneity.
Silly or sinister?
In the absence of such communal cohesiveness, as John Stuart Mill tells us, “Free institutions are next to impossible.” Indeed, “in a country made up of a people without fellow-feeling the united public opinion, necessary to the working of representative government, cannot exist.”
Recent history bears eloquent, if tragic, testimony to the enduring validity of this perceptive insight. Wherever attempts have been made to weld inimical ethnicities together in a single political entity, if it is not bound by the iron grip of tyranny, the results have almost invariably been reminiscent of a Hobbesian nightmare of anarchy, chaos and bloodshed — as the examples of Lebanon and the Balkans starkly underscore.
Clearly, then, proposing policy prescriptions that not only disregard, but directly contravene, both the theoretical rationale and the empirical evidence regarding the attainment of the purported goal of sustainable democracy is either silly or sinister.
But whether dumb or deceptive, it is an approach that harbors huge hazards for Jews and Arabs – and for the hopes of liberal democracy — in the Holy Land.
“Israel was a mistake”
Yet despite its clearly calamitous consequences, it appears that this is the approach the Times has opted to adopt and advance both by publications of explicit endorsement (such as Levine’s opinion piece) and by implicit insinuations (such as last week’s 8,000-word magazine cover story by one Ben Ehrenreich, warmly embracing the Palestinian “resistance”).
Thus for example, flying in the face of facts, the latter misinforms Times readers by implying that the recent Operation Pillar of Defense was an unprovoked Israeli initiative that began when “in mid-November, Israeli rockets began falling on Gaza,” conspicuously omitting any mention of the fact that it was hundreds of Palestinian rockets falling on Israel that precipitated the fighting.
But, perhaps more significant — and revealing — than the blatantly biased and manifestly misleading content of the Times cover story, was the choice of its author. For as veteran pundit Jonathan Tobin tersely remarks: “Ehrenreich’s bias is so deeply embedded in the piece that it is pointless to criticize anything but the decision to employ him to write it.”
And that is precisely the point. For it is more than implausible to assume the Times was unaware of Ehrenreich’s strong anti- Zionist predilections. Indeed, these were unambiguously laid out in a Los Angeles Times op-ed titled, “Zionism is the problem” (March 15, 2009). In it Ehrenreich unfavorably compares the Jewish state to apartheid South Africa, stating: “If two decades ago comparisons to the South African apartheid system felt like hyperbole, they now feel charitable.”
He goes on to advocate what in effect is the abolition of the nation-state of the Jews, pontificating: “The Zionist ideal of a Jewish state is keeping Israelis and Palestinians from living in peace. Establishing a secular, pluralist, democratic government in Israel and Palestine would of course mean the abandonment of the Zionist dream. It might also mean the only salvation for the Jewish ideals of justice.”
This appears then to be the kind of journalist/ journalism that the New York Times is promoting.
As to the public sentiment it is liable to arouse, this might be gauged by the tenor of one of the talkbacks to Ehrenreich’s cover story — rerun in abbreviated form as an interview with him posted on the New York Times site today (March 21) — from Molly in Costa Rica: “Israel was a mistake, and they must leave.
Israel is a transplanted organ that the Middle East is rejecting. It will never fly.”
Perilous, preposterous prescription
The New York Times-propagated prescription, that in effect promotes the dismantling of the Jewish nation-state and replacing it with an un-Jewish secular state-of-all-its- citizens, is preposterous and perilous — in both principle and practice. Supporting it puts you firmly on the wrong side of history — and for self-respecting New York Times readers, what could be worse? For the concept of “multiculturalism,” once so fashionable, that underpins the rationale of the state-of-all-its-citizens idea, is rapidly being discredited. It has been tried — and has failed.
As I pointed out in an earlier column, “Nakba nonsense,” May 17, 2012, harsh and explicit declarations have come from the leaders of nearly all major European countries – including France, UK and Germany – acknowledging its disappointing failure. For example, Angela Merkel lamented: “The tendency had been to say, ‘Let’s adopt the multicultural concept and live happily side by side.’ But this concept has failed, and failed utterly.” Moreover in democracies as far-flung as Australia and Canada, the media have begun to publish expressions of exasperation and frustration at the deleterious effects of trying to absorb cultures incompatible with the host culture.
Even against a far less adversarial national- political background, incompatible social-cultural and religious disparities are causing increasingly unacceptable societal consequences for the host societies.
It is thus entirely unclear why anyone — unless motivated by malice — could possibly propose the application of such a failed formula in the far more daunting circumstances prevailing in Israel.
Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism
Despite the protestations of anti-Zionists, such as Levine and Ehrenreich, that opposing Zionism “does not manifest anti-Semitism,” it does.
No amount of academic acrobatics or intellectual sophistry can blur the truth in the words, widely attributed to Martin Luther King Jr.: “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews, you are talking anti-Semitism. And what is anti-Zionist? It is the denial to the Jewish people of a fundamental right that we justly and freely accord all other nations of the globe. It is discrimination against Jews because they are Jews. In short, it is anti-Semitism.”
It is anti-Semitic (i.e. Judeophobic) to denigrate every coercive action undertaken by Israel — whether military or administrative, proactive or reactive, preemptive or punitive — intended to protect Jews from attacks merely because they are Jewish, as racially motivated, disproportionate crimes against humanity.
It is anti-Semitic to peddle dangerous delusions, designed to deprive the Jews of their national independence and political sovereignty, and the purveyors of such poisonous merchandise must be forced to bear the burden of shame that plying their ignominious trade so richly deserves.
Fatal flaw in post-Zionist logic
I realize I have not fulfilled all my promises made last week, and several issues I undertook to deal with have been left unaddressed, particularly the significance for the non-Jewish minorities living in a Zionist Jewish nation-state. Regrettably, I have let my indignation at the New York Times distract me and that – together with new editorial constraints – preclude further discussion.
However, as my credibility is everything, I P-R-O-M-I-S-E to take up these topics soon in a forthcoming article – which I can already inform you will be titled, “The fatal flaw in post-Zionist logic”.
Until then, “Happy Passover.”
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.