March 22, 2010
Republicans and Democrats in Congress leapt to their feet again
and again to applaud Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
even as he was challenging the policies of President Barack Obama.
Yet, this pro-Israeli solidarity could have harmful consequences
for Israel, the Palestinians and the United States, writes Robert
May 25, 2011
with repeated standing ovations, showed its love for Israels
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but the valentine may have
unintended consequences by stirring dangerous passions of Likuds
rejectionist wing, which is now weighing the risks of transforming
Israel into an overtly apartheid state.
might well interpret the congressional obsequiousness as signaling
that Israel still has a free hand to do whatever it wants, even
if that means defying President Barack Obamas mild pressure
for movement toward peace with the Palestinians.
and Republicans competed to see who could jump to their feet the
fastest and most often, Netanyahu mixed a rhetorical commitment
to peace with preconditions that he knows are unacceptable to
the Palestinians, including his insistence that they not only
recognize Israels right to exist but hail it as a Jewish
negotiators have balked at accepting Israels Jewish identity
because about 20 percent of Israels population is Arab.
They also have said it is up to Israel to define itself as it
wishes, not the Palestinians or any other outside group. But Netanyahu
has made this declaration a prerequisite for peace talks.
this notion of a religious identity applying to any government
runs counter to a core American principle, that governments should
not show favoritism toward one religion over another and that
all people are created equal.
was something craven, arguably un-American, about the U.S. Congress
cheering a foreign leader who insists on a religious state and
even requires its acceptance by a group of people living under
his military domination.
commentator Pat Buchanan once got into a lot of trouble for saying
that Capitol Hill is Israeli-occupied territory. But
Congress on Tuesday behaved as if it was determined to vindicate
the West Bank
also got cheers when he alluded to the religious nationalism that
cites Biblical authority for Israels right to possess the
West Bank where millions of Palestinians now live. Calling the
area by its Biblical names, Netanyahu declared, in Judea
and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers.
insisted that he was prepared to make painful concessions for
peace, including surrendering some of this ancestral Jewish
homeland, his belligerent tone suggested that he was moving
more down the route of annexation that Likuds deputy speaker
Danny Danon outlined last week in a New York Times op-ed.
that if the Palestinians go ahead as planned and seek United Nations
recognition for their own state on the West Bank, Israel should
annex the territory. We could then extend full Israeli jurisdiction
to the Jewish communities [i.e. the settlements] and uninhabited
lands of the West Bank, Danon wrote.
As for Palestinian
towns, they would become mini-Gazas under Danons plan, cut
off from the world and isolated as enclaves with no legal status.
we would be well within our rights to assert, as we did in Gaza
after our disengagement in 2005, that we are no longer responsible
for the Palestinian residents of the West Bank, who would continue
to live in their own unannexed towns, Danon
these Palestinian ghettos, Jews would still maintain a majority
in this Greater Israel under Danons plan. These Palestinians
would not have the option to become Israeli citizens, therefore
averting the threat to the Jewish and democratic status of Israel
by a growing Palestinian population, he wrote.
In other words,
the Israeli Right appears headed toward a de facto apartheid,
if not a form of ethnic cleansing by willfully making life so
crushing for the Palestinians that they have no choice but to
made this option more likely, with its enthusiastic applause for
Netanyahu and with its bipartisan criticism of President Obama
for urging peace talks that use the 1967 borders as a starting
members of Congress behave more like trained seals than as representatives
of a sovereign nation, hardliners in Netanyahus Likud might
well believe that there are no outrages against the Palestinians
that the U.S. government wont tolerate.
friends of Israel find the racism thats implicit in these
Likud strategies abhorrent, both politically for Israel and as
a violation of the honorable Jewish tradition of seeking justice
for all, especially for the oppressed.
more than three decades now, especially since the Likud rose to
power in the late 1970s, Israel has been shifting away from its
egalitarian founding ideals and toward a discriminatory society
based on religious claims of special entitlement.
has now spilled over from discrimination against Arabs to official
separation between secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews.
years, Ariel Atias, an ultra-Orthodox Jew from the religious Shas
Party and Netanyahus housing minister, has pushed for segregation
in the housing choices of Israels Arab population and of
[it] as a national duty to prevent the spread of a population
[Arabs] that, to say the least, does not love the state of Israel,
Atias told a conference of the Israel Bar Association. If
we go on like we have until now, we will lose the Galilee. Populations
that should not mix are spreading there. I dont think that
it is appropriate [for them] to live together.
spoke favorably of aggressive ultra-Orthodox Jews, known as Haredis,
who rough up Arabs who get out of line and harass secular Jews,
like those who use machinery on the Sabbath or women who dress
in ways considered immodest.
vision, Israel would be segregated along inter- and intra-religious
lines. I, as an ultra-Orthodox Jew, dont think that
religious Jews should have to live in the same neighborhood as
secular couples, so as to avoid unnecessary friction, Atias
with the repeated standing ovations, the U.S. Congress also embraced
Netanyahus presentation of the semi-mythical Zionist claim
that European Jews had a right to reclaim the Holy Land because
they were expelled by the Romans two millennia ago.
have questioned the historical foundation of the so-called Diaspora,
challenging the notion of a mass expulsion of Jews and instead
tracing the large Jewish communities of Europe to conversion to
Judaism, which in the early centuries of the First Millennium
A.D. represented a competing proselytizing religion to Christianity.
in When and How Was the Jewish People Invented?. Israeli scholar
Shlomo Sand challenges the Diaspora narrative as largely a myth,
denying that the Jews were exiled en masse from the Holy Land
and asserting that many European Jewish populations converted
to the faith centuries later.
an expert on European history at the University of Tel Aviv, argues
that many of todays Israelis who emigrated from Europe to
Israel after World War II have little or no genealogical connection
to the land.
to Sands historical analysis, they are descendents of European
converts, principally from the Kingdom of the Khazars in eastern
Russia, who embraced Judaism in the Eighth Century, A.D.
of the Khazars then were driven from their native lands by invasion
and conquest and through migration created the Jewish
populations of Eastern Europe, Sand writes. Similarly, he argues
that the Jews of Spain came from the conversion of Berber tribes
from northern Africa that later migrated into Europe.
a European Jew born in 1946 to Holocaust survivors in Austria,
argues that until little more than a century ago, Jews thought
of themselves as Jews because they shared a common religion, not
because they possessed a direct lineage to the ancient tribes
the turn of the 20th Century, Sand asserts, Zionist Jews began
assembling a narrative to justify creation of a Jewish state by
inventing the idea that Jews existed as a people separate from
their religion and that they had primogeniture over the territory
that had become known as Palestine.
also invented the idea that Jews living in exile were obligated
to return to the Promised Land, a concept that had been foreign
to Judaism, Sand states.
thesis is correct, it would suggest that many of the Palestinian
Arabs have a far more substantial claim to the lands of Israel
than do many European Jews who arrived there asserting a God-given
that many Jews, who remained in Judea after Roman legions crushed
the last uprising in 136 A.D., eventually converted to Christianity
or Islam, meaning that the Palestinians who have been crowded
into Gaza or concentrated in the West Bank might be direct descendants
of Jews from the Roman era.
what might be expected, leading Israeli academics dont dispute
the core point of Sands argument, that the Diaspora was
a myth. Rather, they have focused on disparaging Sand as a scholar
whose expertise is primarily in European history.
dean of humanities at the Hebrew University, agreed that the Diaspora
was a myth, but lashed out at Sands claim that Zionists
intentionally created it.
the myth of an exile from the Jewish homeland (Palestine) does
exist in popular Israeli culture, it is negligible in serious
Jewish historical discussions, Bartal wrote in the newspaper
Haaretz. Important groups in the Jewish national movement
expressed reservations regarding this myth or denied it completely.
kind of political intervention Sand is talking about, namely,
a deliberate program designed to make Israelis forget the true
biological origins of the Jews of Poland and Russia or a directive
for the promotion of the story of the Jews exile from their
homeland is pure fantasy.
In other words,
Bartal, like some other critics of Sands book, is not so
much disputing Sands historical claims about the Diaspora
or the origins of Eastern European Jews, as he is contesting Sands
notion that Zionists concocted a false history for a cynical political
can be little doubt that hard-line Zionists like Netanyahu and
Danon exploit the Diaspora myth when addressing American audiences,
including the U.S. Congress. In his speech on Tuesday, Netanyahu
declared that no one could deny the 4,000-year-old bond
between the Jewish people and the Jewish land.
appeal brought further applause from both Republicans and Democrats.
However, Sands research suggests that the Palestinians,
as descendants of the ancient Israelites, have their own historic
bond to the land, arguably greater than that of Netanyahu, whose
father was born in Poland and settled in Palestine in 1920.
Tuesday, members of Congress were not interested in weighing complex
legal and moral questions about who has the stronger territorial
claim to the Holy Land. Nor were they thinking about what might
be in Israels or Americas long-term
interests from finally making the compromises needed for peace.
simply eager to demonstrate their unwavering support for Israel,
for personal or political reasons. On the political side, the
Republicans want to drive a wedge between influential Jewish-Americans
and the Democrats, while the Democrats want to prevent that from
So, the two
sides bounced up and down cheering a foreign leader, even as he
continued down a course that could lead to disaster for Israel
and the Palestinians and as he challenged the policies
and prestige of the President of the United States.
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