At long last, even if years too late, Israelis woke up this week to the realization that we face yet another existential threat. Yes, it took 100,000 “Men in Black” in downtown Jerusalem to make the point, but finally, we get it. As dangerous as are the delegitimization of Israel and the specter of a nuclear Iran, Israel is no less threatened by a growing population of religious fundamentalists who insist on the right to racial discrimination in their schools and who utterly reject the legitimacy and authority of the Supreme Court. They reject, in other words, the idea of a “Jewish and democratic” state.
There’s more, of course, including their treatment of Sephardim (even haredi Sephardim), the often despicable attitude to women in their communities, their tendency toward violence (when irked, they attack city workers, police officers and even the haredi rabbi who urged the Sephardi parents to go to the Supreme Court) and, most obvious, their unwillingness to share the burden of defending this country.
This cancer threatens to destroy everything we have built. Yes, that’s a harsh metaphor, but it’s apt. As Dan Ben-David of the Taub Center has shown, despite its current economic stability, the State of Israel is simply economically unsustainable if matters continue this way. Barring a dramatic shift in policy, the country will collapse under the weight of these haredi “cells” that drain the energy from the best of the body. There’s nothing inherently evil about a cancer cell; we dread it only because it kills the organism we desperately wish to preserve. Haredim have every right to live as they wish, but that does not mean that we must allow them to destroy the country that we have built at such great cost over the past century.
THE HAND-WRINGING of the past week suggests that most Israelis believe that there’s little we can do. I disagree. With apologies to Jonathan Swift, I offer the following modest proposal for our collective consideration.
Those who argue that the two-state solution will not work are right. We need not a two-state solution, but a five-state solution.
1. Hamastan will be created on the territory now known as the Gaza Strip, and will be ruled by the same people who already run it. Like Iran and North Korea, Hamastan will survive through sheer force and the use of terror, until its citizens rebel. Its borders are already internationally recognized. It already has a flag, and international sympathy in abundance.
Yes, it’s short on many other commodities, so one presumes that even as Israel continues to blockade it (for it will remain sworn on Israel’s destruction), it will have to continue to let in massive humanitarian aid, either by sea or by land. But perhaps Egypt will open its borders and let goods flow in from the south. After all, it’s not as if Hamastan will be sworn on Egypt’s destruction. In Hamastan, in short, nothing but the name changes.
2. Fatahland, on the other hand, will rise from what is today the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria. It, too, thankfully already has a flag. It could become a democracy, though probably a limping one at best, considering the Palestinians’ record of creating transparent, democratic institutions. True, we might be pleasantly surprised, and its democracy might flourish. Equally possible, though, is that absent Israel’s efforts at propping up the scaffolding of its democratically inclined leaders, Fatahland could slip into dictatorship. The jury is out, but whether Fatahland is democratic or just another version of the brutal regime of Hamastan would really not be Israel’s problem.
Fortunately, even if Fatahland begins as a despotic regime, however, that could eventually change. For as Americans like John Adams and his compatriots knew, as millions of former Soviet citizens learned and Zionists before May 1948 understood well, you can earn freedom when you want it badly enough and are willing to risk – and sometimes to die – for it. Perhaps Fatahlandians will really crave freedom enough to be willing to die for it. They’ve proven that there are those of them willing to die to kill us; now we’d see if they’re willing to die to make themselves free.
3. Palestine will be the country of today’s Israeli Arabs. Increasingly, Israeli Arabs are wholly unambiguous about the fact that they reject the notion of Israel as a Jewish state. Adalah is only one of the Israel-Arab advocacy groups that have openly called for ending the Jewish character of the State of Israel. And the citizens of Umm el-Fahm, Israeli Arab citizens who rioted after the recent flotilla incident, continuously make it clear that they want a different type of government. It’s time to give them one. Though its borders would have to be negotiated, Palestine would be based in the “Triangle” section of the Galilee where such sentiment is strongest. And we’d have to figure out how to handle the other pockets of such sentiment, which are not geographically contiguous with the Triangle.
Palestine would probably be democratic. It would simply be liberated from the oppressive Jewish regime that it can’t bear, and would be free to chart its own course. And amazingly, Israel might have a neighboring Arab state with which it’s never been at war.
Alas, Palestine does not have a flag. The PA’s flag will be taken by Fatahland. And Israel’s flag, based as it is on the image of a tallit, would be thoroughly unacceptable. Designing a flag will thus be one of the first challenges to which the leaders of the new state will have to turn their attention.
4. Haredia will be the ultra-Orthodox state. Based primarily in the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Mea She’arim, Geula and Sanhedria, along with Bnei Brak and perhaps a few other localities, Haredia would be the country that last week’s 100,000 plus protesters clearly desire. It would have a Supreme Council of Rabbinic Elders, not the vile secular Supreme Court that so offends them. They would be free to do whatever they wished with their schools, and with their Sephardim. They could impose a halachicly based system of law as other countries have done with Shari’a. They could virtually guarantee the exclusion of all the nefarious influences they so deeply object to in contemporary Israel. They could impose whatever standards for conversion they wished, without causing a rift with the rest of the Jewish world, which would actually have more in common with Turkey than it will with Haredia.
Today’s haredim already have a political party called Degel Hatorah, the flag of Torah. Surely, they’ll have some ideas for a flag.
How Haredia will defend itself against attacks from elements emanating from Hamastan and Fatahland is, admittedly, not entirely clear. Defense, after all, takes some serious commitment, a willingness to risk and lots of training. There is a real possibility, unfortunately, that Haredia will be utterly unable to defend itself, and Haredians (some will just call them Haredim, probably) will find themselves the most abandoned and vulnerable group in the Middle East. What will the world say about that? Will there be the same outpouring of concern that there is now for the Palestinians of Gaza? We’ll learn a lot about the world from watching how many other countries come to the verbal and physical defense of Haredia facing its Arab neighbors all alone.
5. Israel will be the region’s Jewish and democratic state. It doesn’t have recognized borders, but at least it does have a flag. It will be mostly Jewish, though some Israeli Arabs will decide to remain Israelis instead of becoming Palestinians, and they should be welcomed. The same with Haredim – a few might be willing to recognize the legitimacy of the Supreme Court and might decide to live in a Zionist entity. If they want to go to the army and are willing to live off their own salaries and not off government subsidies, then they, too, should be welcomed.
ISRAEL WILL be a broad tent. It will include religious and secular, right wing and left wing, free marketers and those more inclined to socialism. It will be home to Im Tirtzu, a right-of-center student organization seeking to restore Zionism to Israeli campuses that countenances no criticism of Israel whatsoever, and Breaking the Silence, former IDF soldiers – and other peaceniks who’ve now glommed on to them – who travel across the world telling anyone who’ll listen about the excesses of Israeli power. It will be home to Avigdor Lieberman and Naomi Chazan.
Eventually, of course, it’s likely that both Palestine and Haredia will discover that running a country is a pretty complicated business. You need hospitals, and police. You need a functioning court system. You need people who can run the power company and the phones, people who can fly airplanes and people who can represent you in the international community. And, they’ll discover, all that money that Reform and Conservative Jews helped steer toward Israel actually did make life much better.
So the time may come that they’ll crawl back to us, on their hands and knees, begging us to annex them back. Imagine that. Israel annexes territory, but because the territory actually asked to be annexed. What a breath of fresh air.
Wait, though – not so quick. Maybe we’ll take them, maybe we won’t. Because by then, hopefully, we’ll have had a serious national conversation about what our country is committed to. We won’t be embarrassed by the idea of a Jewish democratic state, and we’ll have discussed what preserving it will entail. So we’ll tell them who we are. They can join the enterprise called Zionism, or at least live with it and respect it, or they can stay independent.
But we ought not to be cavalier about this scenario – it is profoundly
sad for Israel, too. Most Israelis take great pride in the country’s
commitment to diversity, even if it is far from perfectly implemented.
Its commitment to heterogeneity, and to freedom, is both one of its
great strengths and one of its great weaknesses. Breaking up the region
into these disparate countries addresses the weakness, but also robs
Israel of potential strength. It’s an eventuality Israel should want to
What makes Israel different from these other imagined countries is that
it does not wish to purge from its ranks those who are different. But
it is slowly being given no choice. The challenge to its leaders now –
were they only able to extricate themselves from their inability to
make any decisions about anything at all – is to take sufficient steps
to show these populations that in an ideal world, we want to live with
them. But even more than that, we want to survive. Therefore, if
surviving means living without them, so be it.
The real onus is on those groups who refuse to accept the notion of
Israel as a Jewish and democratic state to show Israelis how we survive
with them, and to demonstrate that their continued participation in our
nation will not lead to its ultimate demise.The writer is senior vice president of the Shalem Center in
Jerusalem. He is the author, most recently, of
How the Jewish People Can Win a War that May Never End, which
recently received a 2009 National Jewish Book Award. He blogs at