Beware of Israelis who call for unity. More often than not, what they really mean is “everyone should unite around my political program.”
In yesterday’s Ha’aretz, Moshe Arens calls for unity with an invocation of American revolutionary rhetoric (”Divided We Fall”). Yet his bottom line is that unity means acceding to the agenda of Israel’s right-wing religious extremists.
Arens is a right-winger I like to disagree with. He writes well, argues cogently and logically, and sincerely believes both in Zionism and democracy. Like me, he grew up in the United States and absorbed the principles of liberal democracy. While he’s a territorial maximalist and a hawk to end all hawks, not to mention a talented political maneuverer in his Byzantine Likud party, he has devoted much effort to promoting minority rights in Israel, in particular serving an advocate for the Bedouin.
So when he writes that “The life-blood of a democracy are differences of opinion between different elements of the society that are debated and resolved in democratic elections,” I accept his sincerity. When he writes “Being united means that the different segments of Israeli society do not feel alienated from the state and its institutions,” I second him enthusiastically. When he writes, of the Bedouin, that “Years of government neglect and erratic measures to urbanize these nomadic people are turning them into an increasingly alienated and hostile element, easy prey to the subversive Islamic Movement,” I applaud him. When he refers to “the one success story—the Druze community in Israel, whose integration into Israeli society is primarily due the service of its young men in the IDF,” I think he’s painting an overly rosy picture, but he’s within the pale of reasonable argument. (For an excellent analysis of the relationship between Druze military service and that community’s ambiguous integration into Israeli society, see Ronald R. Krebs’ Fighting for Rights: Military Service and the Politics of Citizenship)
But then Arens takes up Israel’s national religious community—that is, not the national religious community in general (of which I’m a member), but that large portion of it that has fallen under the sway of the messianic theology that promoted Jewish settlement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Arens correctly notes that this section of the Israeli public is in crisis, and that “in recent years the government’s actions are gradually pushing increasing numbers from that community to the sidelines, and toward a feeling of alienation from the state and its institutions.” And he warns that “the lawless behavior of some of the younger settlers in Judea and Samaria is clearly a reflection of a feeling of frustration and anger that is straining against the restraints of law and order.”
And he concludes: “Maintaining unity among Israel’s citizens – Arab and Jew, religious and secular – is a goal of greatest importance. Divided we fall.” Hard to disagree with that.
But what’s the subtext of Arens’ argument? To fight the alienation of the Bedouin, we need to provide them with equitable social services and economic opportunities. To integrate Israel’s Arabs into Israeli society, we need to recognize that their citizenship should grant them full political rights. In the case of the Druze, we must recognize that their military service gives them a special claim on full partnership in the Jewish state. And what do we need to do to prevent the alienation of the national religious camp?
Arens doesn’t say so straight out, but the implication is clear. We need to cave in to this community’s political and religious agenda. We should allow them to settle the West Bank freely, even if in doing so they endanger Israel’s vital interests.
By the same logic, shouldn’t we fight the alienation of Israel’s Arab citizens by adopting the political agenda of the extremist northern branch of Israel’s Islamic movement?
Of course, it’s no coincidence that the settlers’ Greater Israel political agenda is one that Arens shares.
Sorry, Moshe. If this is what unity means, then united we’ll fall.