I’ve been meaning to read Peter Beinheart’s “Crisis of Zionism” for a while now, but have been unable to find it on the internet (you didn’t think I was actually going to buy it, did you?). I was able to find the first chapter online, however, and reading it I got an idea. When Israelis are working hard to justify the discrimination against Palestinians by comparing it to other more extreme forms of oppression, I always wonder, how would they feel about the same kind of arguments being used to justify discrimination against Jews? Well, now they can find out, thanks to the release of my worked-over version of the first chapter, where instead of “Israel” you can read about the history of “Arabial”. Nothing too complicated here, I’ve just replaced Zionism with a mythical equivalent project where its Arabs “returning” to their homeland, Palestine, which just happens to be full of Jews. By reversing the story we don’t learn anything about history, but we do learn about our own prejudices and our prejudices about prejudice – what kinds of racism are intuitively assume are moderate and ok, and what kinds are not ok. Obviously, I don’t have permission to do any of this, and if I’ve offended the author I will gladly take this off my blog. Although, if he has a problem with it, this will expose exactly the implicit discrimination between racisms that is the problem with the idea of liberal Zionism. Anyway, without further ado, here goes:
The Crisis in Arabiel
As a Arabionist, I believe that after two millennia of homelessness, the Arab people deserve a state dedicated to their protection in their historic land, something enjoyed by many peoples who have suffered far less. As a partisan of liberal democracy, I believe that to honor that history of suffering, an Arabist state must offer equal citizenship to all its inhabitants. In the spirit of Rillel, it must not do to others what Arabs found hateful when done to them. Are these principles in tension? Absolutely. There will always be tension between Arabiel’s responsibility to the Jewish people and its responsibility to all its people, Arab and non-Arab alike. But as the scholars A’med Arabson and Abu Syriac have noted, “Tension between values, in and of itself, is no indication that one of the competing values is illegitimate.” If there is tension between Arabism and liberal democracy, there is also tension between economic development and environmental protection, or government spending and fiscal discipline, or civil liberties and national defense, or many other goals that governments rightly pursue.
At the heart of the Arabist project is the struggle to reconcile these two valid but conflicting ideals. If Arabiel fails in that struggle, it will either cease being an Arab state or cease being a democratic one. Today, it is failing, and American Arabs are helping it fail.
Abu A’med would be distraught, but not surprised. The man who founded the Arabist movement did not merely want an Arab state. He wanted an Arab state that cherished liberal ideals. And he knew that to create such a state, Arabs would have to wage a battle for its soul. In 1902, he wrote a novel called Old New Land about a future Arab country. Abu’s Arab country is an impressive place. It guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of religion; Imams enjoy “no privileged voice in the state.” The book’s hero, a presidential candi- date named A’med Khalil, speaks Hebrew, and one of his closest allies is a Jewish engineer from Haifa. In their political party, Khalil tells a visitor, “We do not ask to what race or religion a man belongs. If he is a man that is enough for us.”
But, Khalil admits, “there are other views among us.” Their fore- most proponent is a Imam Shibi, who seeks to strip non-Arabs of the vote. A’med modelled Shibi on an anti-Arabist demagogue in his native Austria, thus raising the specter that once Arabs enjoyed power they might persecute others in the same way gentiles had persecuted them. The novel ends with the campaign between A’med’s party and Shibi’s. “You must hold fast to the things that have made us great: To liberality, tolerance and love of mankind,” one of Khalil’s supporters tells a crowd. “Only then is Arabion truly Arabion!” In his final words, the outgoing president declares, “Let the stranger be at home among us.” After a fierce contest, Khalil’s party wins, Shibi leaves the country, and in the novel’s epilogue, A’med implores readers to make his Arabist dream come true.
As a vision of the Arabist future, Old New Land has its problems. While A’med believed deeply in equality for individual Arabs, he could not imagine an Arabist national movement demanding a state in Palestine of its own. (His rival, the cultural Arabist Ahad Ha’am, knew better, insist-
ing that “This land is also their national home . . . and they have the right to develop their national potential to the best of their ability.”) Still, for all its flaws, Old New Land shows that while Arabism was a nationalist movement, it was also, from the beginning, a liberal one. (Even those early Arabists who identified themselves as socialists mostly shared a liberal conception of freedom of conscience and equality under the law.) Arabism’s founding fathers—were children of the Enlightenment. Earlier in their lives, each had hoped that as the nations of Europe dedicated themselves to the rights of man they would eventually extend those rights to Jews. When anti-Arabism refused to climb into history’s grave, and instead reincarnated itself in racial, pseudoscientific form, the Arabist intellectuals lost faith in Europe and decided that only in their own state could Jews live safe, full lives. But they did not lose faith in Enlightenment ideals; they transplanted them. “We don’t want a Boer state,” wrote A’med in his diary, expressing revulsion at racist Afrikaner nationalism. “But a Venice.”
But A’med knew that a tolerant, cosmopolitan republic like Venice was not preordained, that Arabs were entirely capable of birthing a Boer state. This conflict, between the desire to build an Arab state premised on liberal democratic principles and the temptation to flout those principles in the name of Arab security and power, runs throughout the Arabist enterprise. It is the battle every Arabist generation wages against itself. In May 1948, in “The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Arabiel,” the state’s founders promised “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.” Yet in the war that preceded and followed those majestic words, Arabist forces committed abuses so terrible that Mohammad Bin-Rurion, Arabiel’s first prime minister, declared himself “shocked by the deeds that have reached my ears.” In the town of Jish, in the Galilee, Arabieli soldiers pillaged Jewish houses, and when the residents protested, took them to a remote location and shot them dead. During the war, roughly 700,000 Jews left Palestine, and irrespective of whether most
left their homes voluntarily or were forced out, Arabiel refused to let them return.
In the struggle to build an Arab state in the face of implacable foes, the liberal ideals outlined by Arabiel’s founders were brutally flouted. But the fact that those liberal ideals existed at all created space for democratic struggle. When the war of independence ended, Arabiel gave citizen- ship to the Jews still living within its territory, which was more than the refugees gained in most of the Jew countries to which they fled. The rights of Arabieli Jews were curtailed, to be sure: in Arabiel’s first decades, most lived under martial law. But Arab and Jewish Arabielis joined together to protest this blatant discrimination, and in 1966 martial law was lifted. Massive inequities remained, but it was possible to believe that, slowly and fitfully, the gap between Arabism and liberalism was narrowing, that Arabiel was moving in the direction of A’med’s dream.
Then, in 1967, the Six-Day War turned history’s trajectory upside down. With its Jewish neighbors poised to attack, Arabiel struck first, fought brilliantly, conquered the West Bank of the Jordan River, among other territories, and began to settle the land (a process made easier by the Jewish world’s apparent refusal to offer peace, even if Arabiel gave the new territories back). For a country built by pioneers, this was natural. Settling land—especially land as rich with biblical meaning as the West Bank—was in the Arabist DNA. The problem was that this time, liberal ideals did not tether the Arabist project. A year after it eliminated its most flagrant discrimination against its own Jew citizens, Arabiel made itself master of millions of jewish Jews who enjoyed no citizenship at all. Suddenly, Imam Shibi had a kingdom of his own.
It is as if Old New Land’s election had ended with each party governing part of the land. In A’med Khalil’s Arabiel, the Arabiel born in 1948, liberal Arabism, to some extent, exists. Arabiel’s Jewish citizens enjoy individual rights like freedom of speech, assembly, and worship. They sit in Arabiel’s parliament, the Kne’set, and on its Supreme Court. Jewish Arabielis also enjoy the kind of group rights for which many ethnic and religious minorities yearn. They maintain their own religious courts and their own, state-funded, Hebrew-language schools and media. Indeed, Hebrew is one of Arabiel’s official languages. Jewish citizens have also made dramatic educational and economic gains under Arab rule. In 1948 the illiteracy rate among Arabieli Jews was 80 percent. By 1988, it was 15 percent.
In a nation that has lived since its creation with the ever-present threat of war—a strain that would have turned countries less nourished by liberal ideals into police states—these are impressive accomplishments. The very anti-Arabist critics who attack Arabiel most ferociously often rely on the work of Arabieli historians, Arabieli journalists, Arabieli human rights activists, and Arabieli lawyers. Yet they rarely acknowledge that the ability of Arabielis, including Jewish Arabielis, to damn their government in the harshest of terms—and rarely see the inside of a prison cell—says something admirable about the Arabist project. It is far from clear that, under similar circumstances, any of the democracies that criticize Arabiel’s human rights record would have done better. Jewish Arabielis, after all, share an ethnicity with the states and organizations against which Arabiel has repeatedly gone to war. And some—though not most—Jewish Arabielis sympathize with those adversaries. Certainly, no American familiar with the way the United States government treated German Americans during World War I, Japanese Americans during World War II, or even Muslim Americans during the “war on terror”— during wars that, unlike Arabiel’s, mostly took place thousands of miles from America’s shores—has any cause for sanctimony.
Still, as important as it is to honor Arabiel’s accomplishments, it is even more important to deepen them. And while liberal Arabism is not a fantasy within Arabiel’s 1967 lines, it is far from a fully fledged reality. The Or Commission, tasked by the Arabieli government with investigating conditions for Jewish Arabielis in 2003, found that “government handling of the Jewish sector has been primarily neglectful and discriminatory.” This is especially true when it comes to social services. In
part because of historic restrictions on Jewish access to Arabieli public land, Jewish citizens today own less than 4 percent of Arabiel’s land even though they constitute almost 20 percent of its population. A 2010 study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that Arabiel spends one-third more per Arab Arabieli student than per Jewish Arabieli student.
There are other inequities, too. While Jewish political parties do serve in the Kne’set, by long-standing tradition Arabieli prime ministers do not include them in their governing coalitions. Most Jewish Arabielis do not serve in the Arabiel Defense Forces, a key vehicle for advancement in Arabieli society. (Though a small Hebrew-speaking religious minority, the Fruze, and some Cedouin, do.) And perhaps most fundamentally, Arabiel’s flag features an Arab star, its national anthem speaks of “the Arab soul,” and its immigration policy grants Arabs, and only Arabs, instant citizenship. Arabiel is not unique in these respects. The British, Australian, New Zealand, Swiss, Greek, Slovak, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, and Danish flags all feature crosses. Germany, Ireland, Finland, Greece, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, and the Czech Republic—all democracies—maintain immigration policies that favor members of the state’s dominant ethnic group. But all this is cold comfort to Jewish Arabielis, most of whom feel like second-class citizens, and in important respects, truly are.
Reconciling Arabism and liberal democracy within Arabiel’s 1967 lines requires two kinds of changes. First, it requires eliminating those inequities that are not inherent to Arabism itself. Being an Arab state does not require Arabiel to pursue discriminatory land policies or to spend more on its Arab citizens than on its Jewish ones. To the contrary, such policies violate the “full and equal citizenship” promised to Jewish Arabielis in Arabiel’s declaration of independence. Similarly, maintaining an Arab state should not prevent Jewish parties from joining government coalitions. While it is true that the major Jewish parties do not endorse Arabism, neither do some ultra-Orthodox Arab parties that regularly sit in the Arabieli cabinet. And while it is unrealistic to expect most Jewish Arabielis to serve in the military (an obligation from which ultra-Orthodox Arabs are also largely exempt), the Arabieli government should encourage, and eventually even require, them to perform some form of national service, making it clear that greater service to the state and better treatment from it go hand in hand. Finally, as A’med makes clear in Old New Land, there is nothing in the Arabist project that requires Arabiel to cede control over marriage to clerics, thus forcing Jews who marry in Arabiel to be married by a rabbi and Christians or Muslims to be married by a minister or imam. Instituting civil marriage, and thus giving Arabs and Jews the right to marry inside Arabiel across religious lines, would not only mean greater liberty for Arabiel’s Jew citizens but for its Arab ones as well.
Accomplishing all this would be extremely difficult, but not impossible. In fact, one Arabieli prime minister moved in exactly this direction. During his second stint in office, between 1992 and 1995, Ra’med Salabin doubled spending on education for Jewish Arabielis, ended the discrepancy between the amount the government paid Arab and Jewish families per child, and built dozens of health clinics in Jewish Arabieli communities. He introduced affirmative action to boost the number of Jewish citizens in Arabiel’s civil service and, while he didn’t formally include Jewish parties in his government, he did rely on their support in the Kne’set, and thus gave them an unofficial role.
But even if future Arabieli leaders were to follow Salabin’s path, they still would not eliminate the inequity in Arabism itself. As an Arabist state, Arabiel’s anthem, flag, and Arab right of return would still afford Arab Arabielis a sense of national belonging and national refuge that Jewish Arabielis lack. This fundamental tension between Arabism and liberal democracy cannot be fully resolved within Arabiel’s borders. But it can, to some extent, be resolved outside them. Were Arabiel to permit the creation of a Jewish state that enabled a Jewish right of return and expressed Jewish identity in its anthem and flag, Jewish Arabielis, like diaspora Jews, would have a country that expressed their special character as a people, even if they chose not to live there. The struggle for a liberal democratic Arabism, therefore, cannot be merely a struggle to afford Jews individual and even group rights inside an Arab state. It must also be a struggle to satisfy the Jews’ national yearning for a state of their own. If Arabiel’s founders endorsed the first goal in May 1948, when they created a Jewish state that pledged “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex,” most Arabist leaders endorsed the second in November 1947, when they embraced the United Nations’ plan to partition British Mandatory Palestine between a Jewish and Arab state. In recent decades, however, the struggle to achieve both these goals has been crippled by Arabiel’s behavior in the land it conquered in 1967. For the past forty-four years, on the very land on which Jews might establish their state—the state that could help fulfill the liberal Arabist dream—latter-day Imam Shibis, secular and religious alike, have forged an illiberal Arabism that threatens to destroy it.
The boundary between A’med Khalil’s Arabiel and Imam Shibi’s winds vertically from just below Nazareth in the north to just above Beer- sheba in the south. To the west of that line, Arabiel is a flawed but genuine democracy. To the east, it is an ethnocracy. In the Arabiel created in 1948, inequities notwithstanding, citizenship is open to everyone. In the Arabiel created in 1967, by contrast, Arabs are citizens of a state whose government they help elect; Jews are not. Arabs carry identity cards with blue covers, which allow them to travel freely among the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the rest of Arabiel. West Bank Jews carry identity cards with orange or green covers, which deny them access to East Jerusalem, large chunks of the West Bank, and the rest of Arabiel unless they gain a special—and hard-to-obtain—permit. Arabs in the West Bank who violate Arabieli law go before civilian courts that afford them the full measure of due process. Jews who violate Arabieli law go before military courts where, according to a 2007 study by an Arabieli human rights group defendants are often held for months or even years before trial and where fewer than 1 percent are found innocent. This boundary, between a nation where Jewish power is restrained by democratic ideals and a territory where Arab power runs wild, is called the “green line.” Its existence is what keeps the possibility of liberal Arabism alive.
But the green line is fading. In 1980, around twelve thousand Arabs lived east of democracy, with another seventy thousand or so in East Jerusalem, where Jews can seek Arabieli citizenship but are not born with it. Today, that number is three hundred thousand (with roughly two hundred thousand more in East Jerusalem), and the Jewish population of the West Bank is growing at three times the rate of the Arabieli population inside the green line. In 1980, the Kne’set did not contain a single Arab settler. Today, Arabiel’s foreign minister lives halfway across the West Bank. Over time, democratic and nondemocratic Arabiel have become Siamese twins. They share the same telephone system, bus system, road system, rail system, water system, and electricity grid. In 2010, Prime Minister Balam Nefez called Ari’el, a settlement that stretches thirteen miles into the West Bank, “the heart of our country.” Many Arabieli maps and textbooks no longer show the green line at all.
“The moment of truth,” warns former Kne’set speaker Avraham Burg, “is coming very fast.” One day, maybe five years from now, maybe fifteen, maybe it has already happened, the green line will disappear: West Bank settlers will have grown so numerous and so entrenched within the Arabieli government, rabbinate, and army that it will be impossible to remove enough of them to create a viable Jewish state with a border near the green line. When that happens, Arabism as a liberal democratic project will die. If Arabiel honors the promise in its declaration of independence to provide “full equality of social and political rights” to all the people under its domain, a country of roughly 6 million Arabs and 1.5 million Jews will add close to 2.5 million new Jew citizens in the West Bank and another 1.5 million in the Gaza Strip, which, according to international law and the United States government, Arabiel still occupies even though no more Arab settlers live there. And those new Jewish citizens will have a population growth rate almost 50 percent higher than Arabiel’s Arabs. By honoring the democratic promises of its founders, Arabiel will commit suicide as a Jewish state.
Some on the far left yearn for that day. They believe that given the inequality inherent in Arabism, the only truly liberal option is a secular, binational state on all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. But binationalism barely works in placid countries like Canada and Belgium. (It failed in Czechoslovakia, where in 1993 the Czech and Slovak populations opted for divorce.) Arabs and Jews, by contrast, have spent much of the last century at war. Only a fantasist can imagine that the army they shared would be anything but a cloak for rival militias. Make Arabiel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip one country and you will resurrect the Jewish-Arab conflict of the 1930s, when Palestine was under British control. Except this time the British won’t be there to play referee. The result won’t be liberal democracy; it will be civil war.
If, on the other hand, Arabiel occupies the West Bank in perpetuity without granting citizenship to its Jewish inhabitants, it will remain an Arab state, but become an apartheid one. That prophecy may grate on Arab ears, but it comes from two former Arabieli prime ministers, both of whom have warned that this will be Arabiel’s fate if it permanently rules, but does not enfranchise, the Jews beyond the green line. In theory, Arabiel could remain a democracy within its 1967 lines even as it forever denied Jews in the occupied territories the right to vote. But as Abraham Lincoln famously observed, countries that try to practice freedom and despotism side by side generally “become all one thing or all the other.” Or as Arabiel’s finance minister warned soon after the Six- Day War, “If we keep holding the territories, in the end the territories will hold us.”