Rachel as a Metaphor–Why Israeli Democracy is Just as Bad/Good as All Others

Haim Watzman

In politics, the pure is the enemy of the good. One need look no further than the discussion that ensued in response to my post Votes Are Not Enough. Some of the most prolific correspondents there, coming from both the right and left, shared the implicit assumption that democracy, if not pure, is not democracy.

Unfortunately, they won’t be able to read the fine essay that Nurit Gretz published in the arts and literature section of Friday’s Ha’aretz—the piece, in Hebrew, seems not to be available on-line. Gretz addresses a problem of the same genre and in doing so shows how wrong purism can be.

She does so by writing about one of the icons of Labor Zionism, A.D. Gordon, the Second Aliya’s guru of back-to-the-earth socialist egalitarianism. One of Gordon’s disciples was the poetess Rachel Bluwstein, who lived and worked at Kevutzat Kinneret on the southern edge of the Sea of Galilee, where Zionist farmers first tried to work on a communal basis. Bluwstein—universally known in Israel today as Rachel the Poetess—lived in accordance with Gordon’s teachings. She abandoned the middle-class life she’d known in Russia and set aside her aspirations for education and culture to become a simple farmer.

When Rachel told her comrades that she had decided to leave the commune to attend university in France, many of them condemned her as a traitor to the cause. Shmuel Dayan, father of Moshe, wrote to her cynically: “There was a worker and now there is not one. Will you feel, remember, and understand our world, the world of the laborers?”

As Gretz relates, Rachel told her comrades that she was going to study agronomy—but felt compelled to conceal that she also planned to learn painting.

Ironically, it was Gordon the ideologue rather than her fellow workers who told Rachel that art was a worthwhile pursuit. “Our renewal demands that we accept labor as a new value, a new foundation of our lives, but [we must] not abandon the spiritual assets we have already required.”

Gretz uses this story to call on her fellow Israelis, intellectuals and workers, to reintegrate the two worlds that Gordon believed should never have been separated. The polarization of these values was the product of little minds who sought purity of ideology at the expense of the integration of values that the real world requires.

The purists who commented on my post commit the same sin. They accept a Platonist illusion that there is an ideal democracy out there that is the only standard by which Israel can be judged. They assume, naively, that the provision of equal political rights guarantees fairness and justice. To show that wrong all one needs to do is look at our real world. Indeed, the point of my post, entirely missed by these polemicists, was that the provision of formal political rights can still leave a minority essentially powerless.

All societies are imperfect. Any society that grants equal political rights to all its citizens regardless of their ethnic and religious affiliations can hardly rest on its laurels. Inequalities of power are created inevitably, not just by group affiliations but also by economic inequality, geographical distance from the center, and inequitable access to education and culture, to name a few. All societies that seek to be just societies must balance any number of competing and cross-cutting goals and purposes, and each society has a different set of constraints that it must face. To claim that Israel’s model of government is inherently more unjust than those of other Western democracies is to be blind to the huge disparities of power, rights, and privileges that exist in even the best of modern societies. In all these countries, it’s the obligation of socially-conscious citizens to seek to correct the injustices that each society perpetuates and to seek a better balance of values. Israel is no better and no worse than other countries on this score.

Rachel studied agronomy and painting. In the end she never went back to being a farmer. Circumstances—illness, and the small-mindedness of some of her erstwhile fellows–created constraints that led her to live out her life in Tel Aviv and became a giant of modern Hebrew culture. Was she a traitor to her great cause? Gordon obviously didn’t think so. Thanks to Nurit Gretz for reminding us.

29 thoughts on “Rachel as a Metaphor–Why Israeli Democracy is Just as Bad/Good as All Others”

  1. Israel is a microscopic county with a population that is always aware of history and survival with some alive who have seen the entire history of the state.

    From the impression I’ve received, it’s quite possible that a citizen knows a member of the leadership or someone close to that leadership personally. Citizens can hardly be ignorant of political events and going up in a light plane allows one to literally see from sea (Mediterranean) to shining (Dead) sea.

    At the opposite extreme we have the U.S. that is so huge and has such inertia, age and security that it’s quite possible to be ignorant of even the most fundamental aspects of democracy such as the name of one’s representative in government whether federal, state or local.

    With government, the complexity of legislation and the well-financed power of entrenched interests that all but write legislation for Congress only reinforce the idea of the individuals who say, “I’m nobody, what can I do anyway?”

    The greatest danger to democracy is apathy because it is far too easy to present the image of the the people being in charge when, in fact, they have almost no say in what goes on because, pathetically, they have abdicated.

    Perhaps I am wrong but my impression is that if you stop an Israeli (or a European) on the street and ask him or her a question about the political issues of the day you will likely get an emotionally charged, but informed response forged by some thought on the matter.

    In the U.S. you may get an emotional response but it likely won’t go much beyond emotion with little to back it up. If ignorance truly is bliss then this is the place to be. Maybe that is a real luxury that not many can enjoy elsewhere, but our giant ship of state moves on regardless with those having money and power very much at the helm.

    An interesting footnote – I’ve been reading a bio of Teddy Roosevelt. He keeps quite a menagerie in the White House and one day a couple of rabbits escape the WH lawn to the streets of DC, one heading in one direction and the other, the opposite. TR and his children run after the rabbits and the public on the street joins in the chase. That was a bit over 100 years ago. Can such a scene even be imagined today?

  2. Clif-I have to disagree with you. I have lived in Israel since 1986 after making aliyah from California. While you are corrrect in stating that the American Federal system makes understanding government and the legislative process difficult for the average citizen, I find Israelis to be very politically docile and indifferent to how the government works. You must remember that whereas the American system was based on the British form of government with emphasis on rights and the view that the greatest danger to the freedom of the people comes from the government, Israel was founded by people who were strongly influenced by eastern European Marxist/socialists who basically viewed the common people as an ignorant rabble who must be kept away from the levers of government and the system is best run by a self-appointed “elite” that knows best. Ben-Gurion was famous for saying “I don’t know what the people want, I DO know what’s good for them”. (The “Kemalist” Ataturk movement in Turkey has a similar mentality and it is in decline there, just as the political elite in Israel is). They believe a strong government is necessary to keep everyone in line. The biggest insult you can call someone in the political arena is a “populist”-some appealing to the masses. Whereas, in California, when I was in school (that was in the Vietnam era) we were taught how to debate and to respect other people’s views, we also discussed current events, here in Israel none of that is done. The regime in power, assisted by the media, goes out of its way to stifle public discussion of major issues. Take for example, the passing of the “basic laws” in the 1990’s which the Supreme Court later said formed the basis of a “constitution” which gave them the power to overturn legistlation passed by the Knesset….it was passed without any public debate by a vote IIRC of 23-22 in the 120 member Knesset. Similarly, the Oslo Agreements and Sharon’s destruction of Gush Katif were rammed through the Knesset with practically no discussion.

    Since the election of Barak as Prime Minister in 1999, partisan political life in Israel has come to an end. He broke more promises than any predecessor (he promised to draft Haredim ot the IDF, he promised to increase funding of social services among other things), and then, when Sharon destroyed Gush Katif in contradiction to explicit promises he made before the election in addition to the violation of basic values of his Likud Party, most Israelis have finally come to the conclusion that it doesn’t really matter who you vote for and it doesn’t matter who is in power…they all carry out more or less the same policies. For example, Daniel Ben-Simon quit a chairman of the Labor party Knesset faction supposedly because his party’s leader, Ehud Barak has not knocked down the settlement outposts, yet the Labor Party was part of the the previous Center-Leftist coalition and they didn’t knock them down, either. Why should he expect it now when they are in a coalition with the Right? Tzippi Livni of Kadima is saying that Netanyhau is not doing enough to “push the peace process” yet she was Foreign MInister in the previous gov’t which failed to get a peace agreement, either.|
    Most Israeli’s view it all as hot air and are turned off.
    People complain that the mechanics of Israel’s political system prevent better government, but it is really the whole political culture and mentality, inculcated in the population by decades of statist propaganda, reinforced by a government-controlled electronic media.

    If only you were right, Clif, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

  3. Y things have gotten worse since you left the now bankrupt State of California.We now have 325 million mostly uninformed citizens , manyof whom have opted not to read complete works or informative articles , going for “Cliff’s Notes” summaries of what passes for news or relying on right and left slanted cable gas bags.

    I live in what may be considered a somewhat eclectic citizenry and what Cliff says is right alot of emotion and little factual or intellectual backup.

    Most Americans think that the Bill of Rights are written in stone .

  4. Hit a wrong key. We have a Bill of Priviledges not rights . Rights can’t be taken away. There is nothing in The Constitution which insures the permancy of these so-called rights i.e.Habeas Corpus or even the 4th Amendment which has been eviserated by The Supreme Court.The First Amendment has taken a terrible beating i.e., Corporations being designated as legal persons so they now can totally own the political process.
    I taught social studies and government on the high school level (1967-69)while going to law school and I got into trouble for instructing my students to question the content put out in the textbooks( so much for the Socratic method)
    During the Bush/Cheney era we came close to what I call the “Velvet Dictatorship” The Constitution was given as much importance as Scott Toilet tissue and the so-called right of privacy was terminated with the complicity of the telephone giants
    Most Americans either don’t care or more likely don’t know.The future doesn’t bode well for Obama because his “rookie” political weakness is now glaring which is not overcome by “pep talks”

    As far as the knowledge and up-to-date proclivities of the Israeli electorate I can only speak to my face-to-face meetings with university students and other young people in Tel Aviv last March who appeared to have a handle on the state of affairs in Israel , far better than kids and adults I know in the US. They were alot more cynical about anything that went on in Jerusalem and a government that perpetuated conflict and a quasi-theocracy.

    These kids were anything but docile and indifferent to how their government works but they felt that no one spoke for them.Not one the numerous kids I spoke to were former residents of the US

  5. Here’s what I think Haim Watzman and I agree on. There’s no such thing as a pure democracy; concepts like democracy (and monarchy and aristocracy), public opinion, and consent of the governed are ideals which are never perfectly instantiated. That said, many states can meaningfully be called democracies and many states can meaningfully be called nondemocracies. Formal rights and procedures do not make a substantive democracy. (Contrary to what he says above, I understood his point and agreed from the beginning, objecting only to his not fully applying that principle to present-day Israel.) While we certainly disagree on standards of justice, we agree that the State of Israel is more just than many substantive, universal democracies (universal = of all adults).

    Here are some things we might agree on, I’m not sure. The question of a state’s existence – in Israel represented concretely by the Law of Return, repatriation of Arab “refugees”, etc. – is in a different category than other political questions. Israeli Arabs are a self-conscious political entity. They do not consent to Israel’s existence, that is, Israel’s existence in its current form. (Note well: obedience, even loyal obedience, is not the same as consent.)

    If someone agrees with what I wrote above, then I don’t think it’s all that big a disagreement if he says that Israel is a universal democracy and I say it isn’t. We’d mostly be disagreeing about the definition of a word.

    Since the topic of Mr. Watzman’s post was theoretical purity vs. getting your hands dirty in real life, I want to emphasize again that, pace Mr. Watzman, I never implicitly assumed that “democracy, if not pure, is not democracy”. I would describe each of Mexico, Singapore, Brazil, South Africa, and Nicaragua, to pick a few examples, as a (universal) democracy. Israel is not, and cannot be in the foreseeable future. That doesn’t make Israel bad or unjust from my point of view. However, it most certainly does from the Western Europeans’ point of view. Whoever’s correct, Haim Watzman or me, Israel has to deal with the fact that Europeans see this issue in my terms, not in Watzman’s. That in itself takes the question out of the world of political theory and into the world of the political.

  6. “To claim that Israel’s model of government is inherently more unjust than those of other Western democracies is to be blind to the huge disparities of power, rights, and privileges that exist in even the best of modern societies.”

    If anyone makes that claim it’s generally not based on Israel’s treatment of Israeli Arabs. It’s based on the fact that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip remain at least partly subject to Israel, while their Arab populations have no say in the Israeli government. I suppose some will say that it’s not fair to include the Territories, which aren’t really part of Israel and in theory have an autonomous government. But as long as a Palestinian state is not likely–and as long as Jewish settlers in the West Bank have full rights as Israeli citizens–I don’t think you can consider the question of Israeli democracy and ignore the Territories.

  7. Will, nearly all Western democracies have large populations of disenfranchised inhabitants who don’t get equal treatment and services. These include illegal immigrants, guest workers, and outsiders who have not obtained or been granted citizenship. This is not in any way to justify Israel’s settlement policies in the occupied territories–it’s just to point out that Israel is not the anomaly that purists make it out to be.

  8. Since I’m one of those “purists” referred to by HW, I’ll clarify for the record that I don’t see Israel as an anomaly here. I would classify some other putatively democratic states as non-universal democracies for the same reason as Israel. One example just off the top of my head might be India, because of Kashmir. Israel isn’t alone in the category of non-universal democracies.

    The real anomaly of the Israel-Arab conflict, as I said before, is that it’s perceived as institutionalized oppression of brown people by white people. That perception feeds into the European psychodrama, hence the disproportionate amount of attention.

  9. Israeli democracy is not really a democracy at all, because it is a front on an illegal entity, a state founded on lies, myths and violence. Therefore, I would say that German democracy in 1939 is superior to israeli democracy, because at least Germany is a legitimate entity

  10. It’s obviously true that Western democracies have populations of residents who are disenfranchised by virtue of lack of citizenship. I don’t see Israel being criticized much of its treatment of non-citizen residents of Israel proper. Haim’s “Votes Are Not Good Enough” post was however about Arab *citizens* of Israel, and in that area Israel is an anomaly, basically because of the divergence between nationality and citizenship. Jim Crow America had similar attitudes, thankfully history now and not considered “normal” any more.

    The occupied territories, in Israel’s case as in India’s, are an altogether different kettle of fish. There you don’t have aliens seeking residence in a foreign country, with the understanding of living there under foreign sovereignty, but an already resident native population being subjected to a foreign sovereign’s rule against their will.

    Finally, who said formal rights and procedures were all there is to democracy? I fully agree they are far from sufficient, but necessary they are nonetheless, lest we come to depend on the all-but-guaranteed goodwill of our benevolent leaders.

  11. Suzy : What have you been smoking ?. Germany in 1939 was an outright dictatorship wherein no one had any rights. No one in his or her right mind could call Gremany a legal anything in 1939 or thereafter until `1946.

    You should sit down in read the late William Shirers’ The Rise and Fall of The Third Reich. The writer being an actual neutral observer of Germany in 1939 for The New York Times at the Berlin Desk until almost the United States’entry into the Second World War.

    It’s curious that those who are so outspoken about Israel’s alledged conduct and status after 1948 were lined up during the war with with an acknowledged gang of monsters who are responsible for the deaths of over 20 million people.

    It appears in much of the aforesaid discussion that there is more of an effort to split hairs over what is and what isn’t a democracy. Political scientists can’t even together on what that is . Is it the New England Town meeting or is it the ancient Greek definition?

    I’m a nonminal Christian with a liberal bent and I have been to Israel twice in the last two years and I find as modern states go they have done a pretty good job at working at trying to be a”democracy”; albeit, all things are not perfect, far better than majority moslim states I have visited ,even Indonesia.

    Suzy your argument that Israel is an illegal entity is just so much hatred trying to make it’s self heard as meaningful commentary.

  12. HW – your theme of Rachel “the pure can be the enemy of the good” is well taken; however, this hardly applies to the arguments that were raging in the thread you refer to. certainly that is not the direction I was coming from, assuming i was one of the presumed offenders of the good.

    Aaron clarified that Israel’s democracy is viewed as highly deficient using european yardsticks because it sanctifies oppression of browns by whites. Aaron has a point but an incomplete one. The european model also takes a strong issue with the concepts of ethnocracy and/or authocracy in general, be it race or religion defined. If israel had a policy of “separate but equal” for its arab and jewish-identified populations that would make it akin to jim crow’s south (there goes the black/brown oppression theme again). Unfortunately, the treatment of the arabs does not even rise to that level since there is no pretense to treat the arabs equally – now or ever.

    So the question is: assuming Israel is as flawed a democracy as others when it comes to the jewish-identified citizens, is it at least so for its palestinian-identified citizens?

    Not quite, I say.

    Example 1: they can vote, but can an arab party ever be in the coalition (realistically speaking)?
    Example 2: can the arab israelis have a voice in how state funds are spent? for real?
    example 3: can an arab live and work anywhere they like?
    example 4: can an arab marry an israeli jew – without either converting – and live happily ever after?

    My point is simpler than Aaaron’s and more reflective of the reality than yours, Mr. Watzman: Israel may be a democracy for the “Jews” (albeit, an admittedly imperfect one) but it is a form of fascism for the arabs, because that’s how the arabs experience it.

    When you say:

    “nearly all Western democracies have large populations of disenfranchised inhabitants who don’t get equal treatment and services. These include illegal immigrants, guest workers, and outsiders who have not obtained or been granted citizenship. ”

    The difference is that the arabs who lived in israel from long before the jews arrived from europe are not comparable to illegal immigrants or guest workers. They were there forever and one day they became disenfranchized – almost as if they were illegal (and I’m not talking about the expulsion or the right of return even).

    Your comparison would be more apt had you compared the treatment of the bedouins to that of the gypsies. There you would have a point (not that I agree with either, but at least, there’s comparability).

    And Aaron is right about the Europeans never coming to accept israel “as a Jewish (ie non-arab) state’. A truly enlightened state would have long ago instituted some form of affirmative action for the indigenous people, much as america, canada and australia did. The important question to ask is why did the “jewish” state choose to turn its back on the best jewish values, only to then demand recognition as Jewish” state from the very ones it discriminates against openly and increasingly harshly. It’s not that israel is not a “perfect” democracy. It’s that it created a Kafkaesque alternate universe where it’s own professed values are turned inside out when it comes to the “others”, even as it wrings it’s hands asking “who, moi?”

  13. Dana and I agree even more than she thinks. I agree that Europeans and many Americans are sincerely and as a matter of principle against any state’s being constituted as an “ethnic state” (what used to be called a nation-state), i.e., the State of the ____s. This principle is reinforced by World War II and the shoah, which supposedly teach that any connection between Staat and Volk is bad. All this is the “text”.

    In practice, though, the Europeans (and their small but growing counterpart in America) aren’t too bothered by such ethnically-defined states, with one exception: li’l ol’ Israel, where the Staatvolk is “white” and the Other is “brown”. That is the subtext, and it’s always, always, always there. I just tried to draw attention to the subtext because, well, it’s the subtext.

  14. Dana: The important question to ask is why did the “jewish” state choose to turn its back on the best jewish values, only to then demand recognition as Jewish” state from the very ones it discriminates against openly and increasingly harshly. It’s not that israel is not a “perfect” democracy. It’s that it created a Kafkaesque alternate universe where it’s own professed values are turned inside out when it comes to the “others”, even as it wrings it’s hands asking “who, moi?”

    This hits a nail. I could and can never understand this- how Israel demands recognition from those it refuses to recognize and ( more importantly) allow ( formal) dignity. This need/demand of recognition and dignity of Israeli’s from Arabs- (the “other”)- ironically gives recognition and dignity. And you can say the same in reverse- of Arabs ( “others”) with re Jews/Israeli’s.

    But I have to say that I have thought that in some ways Israeli’s- ( okay the Jewish ones, or white ones at least) have more of a democracy than we do here in the USA. (though I totally agree with Dana’s above about an alternate universe for the others.)

    That said, even if democracy, purer or better, wider, is what is needed, what is also much needed is the rising of wiser leaders to power ( which democracy may prevent).

    If nation states ( 19th century style) are in fact ethnic states, that time is surely past. If I am not mistaken, I think this is what Aaron was promoting for Israel.

  15. Thanks for the comments Suzanne. It’s good to agree sometimes…..now if we could just ever get HW himself to address any of the points we have been raising, that would be something. I was actually disappointed that he chose to go sideways on the issue of democracy, slaying strawmen left and right but ignoring the golem in the middle. Way too oblique for my taste.

    Couple of points:

    You say: “That said, even if democracy, purer or better, wider, is what is needed, what is also much needed is the rising of wiser leaders to power ( which democracy may prevent).”

    Alas, i have come to regard the wish for “wise leaders” as problematic, partly because if wise men can rise up, so can vile ones, when circumstances change. maybe the role of the truly wise in a democracy is not to lead, but to advise and help tilt the scales in the direction of better interests of the citizenry. I don’t mean think tanks necessarily. hey, it can even be bloggers – like Glenn Greenwald, who I hope will one day be tested when the MSM he [justifiably] deplores decided to adopt him. Never know – stranger things have happened. And I like a good morality play as much as the next person.

    Anyways, democracy is, by definition, a messy business. What bothers me now in the US is that governance is increasingly abdicating its role in favor of creeping corporatocracy. Given where that’s going, who knows, some of us may yet come to see ethnocracy or oligarchy or, god forbid, theocracy, as not the worst of all worlds.

    Now that’s creepy…

    “If nation states (19th century style) are in fact ethnic states, that time is surely past. If I am not mistaken, I think this is what Aaron was promoting for Israel.”

    ah, aaron. You do know he promotes a contradiction, right? he recognizes where israel came from alright and doesn’t seem to like much what it’s become. But ultimately he professes to prefer that “jewish” state – paragon of non-virtue that is – to fighting for some better, but less known, alternatives. Which is another way of saying that for some (many?) most?), even an highly imperfect reality is good enough as long as it’s [still] in the comfort zone. Which should, in a nutshell, explain my own rationale for supporting BDS.

    PS Aaron is, of course, welcome to correct any erroneous impressions I may have formed of his positions.

  16. Dana-I see you are using the old “Israel doesn’t allow Arabs to marry Jews” theme to criticize Israel. Israel is in the Middle East. ALL MIDDLE EAST COUNTRIES, both Arab/Muslim and Israel have personal status controlled by the religious establishment of the religion they were born into or converted to. The Arabs do NOT want civil marriage any more than most Jews do. Arabs adamantly oppose marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men (Islam does allow Muslim men to marry non-Muslim women). The infamous “family honor killings” are motivated by Muslim women marrying or being interested in marrying men whom their family do not approve of, and that includes non-Muslim men.

    American “progressives” are always attacking Israel for not having 100% of the values they have, even though Israeli is a democracy and has 90% of them. BUT THE ARABS REJECT THESE VALUES COMPLETELY.
    People claim the Arab world hates the US because of American support for Israel. This is totally incorrect. There would be just as much hostility against the US even if Israel didn’t exist because of
    (1) Jealousy-The Muslims are supposed to (as they see it) be the dominant force in the world, not the Christian West
    (2) Resentment over past treatment – The Arabs hold grudges against past European colonial rule in the Arab world (although the Muslims are nostalgic for their own colonial rule in Spain and in the Balkans)
    (3) Fear of Intrusion of Western Culture-The Arab/Muslim Middle East is very conservative and becoming more so (e.g. Turkey). American values promoting feminism, homosexuality, permissiveness, disrespect for elders, traditions, and religion HORRIFY most Arabs/Muslims and they resent its influence (by way of the media) on their societies.

    This is why, in the end, it will be easier for an Israel that is MORE traditional in a religious sense to have dialogue with the Arabs than with the current secularist, materialist clique that is in power in Israel. Orthodox Jews-settlers have much more in common with the Arabs than to do the traditional “progressive” MERETZ-Labor types in Israel.

  17. Dana — I’m a writer with literary pretensions. Oblique is what I do. To do it again, here’s an interesting passage from an article about super-intelligent mice in the Oct. 15 issue of “Nature,” which just could send this discussion careening off-track on another tangent:
    “The Hras strain . . . might be good at learning, but its fear response would be counterproductive for a wild mouse. Its enhanced memory is both a blessing and a burden…. ‘It’s as if they remember too much,’ he says–possibly taking in irrelevant information such as the position of windows or lights but missing the big clues…. In the early 1020s, the Russian neurologist Alexander Luria began studying the learning skills of a newspaper reporter called Solomon Shereshevsky … [who] had such a perfect memory that he often struggled to forget irrelevant details…. Shereshevsky… was almost entirely unable to grasp metaphors, as his mind was fixed on particulars. When he tried to read poetry, for example, ‘the obstacles to his understanding were overwhelming….'”

  18. I was invited to correct misstatements, so I will. Here: I like what Israel is today! I’ve got plenty of suggestions for improvements – less materialism, better manners, more rainfall – but I’m basically satisfied. Israel today is what I mean by a Jewish nation-state, and I mostly want it to continue to exist as such.

    I see that Y. Ben-David replied on the marriage thing. I didn’t respond at first because it seemed a minor issue, but Dana’s formulation of it bothered me too. The marriage system of course goes back via the Mandate to the Ottoman millet system. I think the millet-like system is appropriate for Israel, though it might need some reform with all the non-Jewish Russians now.

    It’s interesting how the issue is presented in the West. Sorry to be repetitious, but it illustrates what I said earlier. No one ever says that a Jew can’t marry a Muslim woman, or that a Christian Arab can’t marry a Muslim Arab woman. It’s always, as Dana says, the Arab (Muslim? Christian?) who can’t marry the Jew. To put it crudely: brown (sometimes) can’t marry brown, and white can’t marry brown, but all we hear is that brown can’t marry white.

    Now compare worldwide. How many states in the world lack civil marriage, or have laws that make it hard for people of different confessions or ethnic groups to marry? How many of those states get the same amount of criticism that Israel gets?

  19. Aaron: “How many states in the world lack civil marriage, or have laws that make it hard for people of different confessions or ethnic groups to marry? How many of those states get the same amount of criticism that Israel gets?”

    How many of these states are Western democracies? What bothers me is the duplicity in bragging on the one hand about being “The Only Democracy In The ME” and that the Arab states are so much worse and then, when it suits you, turning around and saying “we’re in the Middle East, so what did you expect?”
    When Israel is so thoroughly oriented towards the west – its back, turned towards the Arab world, merely being something to watch – then it’s quite a chutzpah not only to excuse its more egregious faults with inadvertent influence of the loathed Arab world, but to be fine and dandy, proud even, of that which makes it more like its enemies.

  20. Dear Aaron, Suzanne, and Dana
    Thanks for proving my point. At least Germany in 1939 allowed marriages between Muslims and non Muslims. In “israel” today, there is a illegitamate Jewish presence that steals everything. By no means could this be called a democracy. It is unsalvagable

  21. Suzy : G ive me your source for such a statement. Moslems really aren’t considered Germans even today. Cite one example of a court in Nazi Civil Court in 1939 that would have permitted such a marriage. I guess you haven’t looked at the Racial Purity prohibitions mandated through the auspices of Herr Doktor Rosenberg

  22. The culture-blind democracy which is urged on Israel is an academic fiction. By real standards of the world democracies which emphasize national cultural core and differentiate the minorities, Israel indeed is a very normal democracy.

  23. Dana– I meant to clarify that I think that Israel’s democracy, such as it is (confined) is more responsive to it’s constituents than ours here in the USA. That it reacts to the moods of the Israeli voting public is evident in the results of the elections and coalitions and the governments and their policies. The wise man arising has happened after, in some sort of epiphany or internal revolution while in office, unfortunately and been assassinated, been too late, useless (maybe even personal changes to gain entry into heaven). Looking back on Israeli leaders this is almost the norm- Rabin, Barak (a coward, disillusioned, who reversed himself), Sharon (at the end) and Olmert(at the end when his “career” was essentially over). Rabin was in another class, but all of them evolved from their military approach, Barak and Olmert reverted back to it. I don’t expect that at this late stage of paranoia and despondency residing in the public that there will be a leader elected who a priori suggests the only real way forward and the people will go for it. So I think we look more and more at a tragedy in the making regarding Israel. Certainly, the Israel that the early Zionists dreamt of is no longer. I just read word from our friend, an old kibbutznik friend, the one who fought in 5 wars including the first for independence, the old Laborite. He will leave this world pretty despondent, pretty disappointed. At the moment he has a great view of the eastern Mediterranean- a consolation prize. This is not the society he would have sacrificed to be a part of.

    In my head re Israel, I became very disappointed in ’67 and with the “greater Israel” exuberance. Such a mistake. I was young, in my teens, but I knew already. And then in ’82 with regard toLebanon- I felt blood on Jewish hands as never before ( meaning no justification). I was upset. I don’t know what drives me to post here to tell you the truth b/c I too have less and less hope.

    Anyway, my take on Y.Ben-David’s is that it’s whining. Who the hell cares what THEY allow and don’t allow? This is exactly what Fiddler is saying:

    When Israel is so thoroughly oriented towards the west – its back, turned towards the Arab world, merely being something to watch – then it’s quite a chutzpah not only to excuse its more egregious faults with inadvertent influence of the loathed Arab world, but to be fine and dandy, proud even, of that which makes it more like its enemies.

    Aaron– I really do not understand your dreams of reverting to the past. But maybe it is necessary to go through these stages in order to go forward. In other words, maybe a young state Israel) in the mold of the European states must go through the painful lessons. If so, then some of us should just sit back and watch, or get busy with other issues, read more history.

  24. Haim, I do appreciate the response even if I don’t totally understand (how could I – with all that excess memory to burden with). You would certainly not be the first to imply (?) that:

    1. there’s such a thing as being too smart for one’s good (true enough and then some)
    2. Forget the trees for once and look at the forest. Ain’t it pretty?
    3. The whole can be less than the sum of the parts especially if there are too many parts.
    4. too much definition can focus attention on the warts of even the most beautiful.

    OTOH, sometimes it’s those few strangely dissonant details that can ruin an otherwise good tale – for real. If the tale involves an individual, well, we just get a good Greek tragedy. But what if it’s a whole people across much time and space? maybe then it makes god cry and that’s not a good idea. Isn’t that what the prophets warned about? and were they not right? (of course most of the ones who weren’t probably didn’t get into the book. who’s to know?).

    PS I’m still recovering from the hagar story (forgot whether it was yours or Gershom’s). The stray cat mother that no one adopted. So please – literary aspirations notewithtanding – no more sad animal stories. BTW – speaking of animals (just to set off on one little tangent) – personally I’ll never ever forgive israel for shooting the zoo animals in Gaza and the 10,000 chickens and that poor donkey. hamas or not – this was unforgivable – and this one little detail told me much of what I needed to know about the disintegration of the spirit that’s taking place just under the surface. It’s what I call – a significant “detail”.

    PPS best of luck with the show tour in the US. Too bad it’s not in my neighborhood (northern california is so techno-philistine ….)

  25. Y Ben David: I see that out of all the examples I cited you chose to jump on the issue of miscegenation (mixed marriage – cross racial or ethnic or religious). In defending your abhorrence of such, you take refuge behind the usual condescending interpretations of arab attitudes/beliefs. Alas, all I can say is that when it comes to Israel, you are way out of date. You know – many young israeli arabs are eager to come out of their villages and go into the modern world just as moshavniks once did. They are no longer content to herd sheep and work the fields in case you didn’t care to look. They want to work in high tech companies and move into the professions just like anyone anywhere else. The rural lifestyle doesn’t suit many palestinian israelis and they’d rather live and work in israel’s big cities, like tel aviv and haifa. Along with this process comes a certain weakenning of bonds to old religious customs and beliefs. Simply put, the young arabs of israel are becoming “modern” – and so they clamor for true equal rights. One of those rights is to love – and marry – anyone you choose. It’s really all quite individual – some prefer a ‘comfort zone” surrounded by approval of their “own”. Others explore new ways and new attachment braving disapproval. One should expect considerably more inter-marriage in a heterogeneous country. Now if you want to be like the japanese to keep the blood lines “pure”, that’s your choice. No one said one can’t be an orthodox jew or palestinian. But not everyone is close minded that way and, in case you didn’t notice, most of israel is still pretty secular (though admittedly the demographic threat from the orthodox will, over time, change that. Something I’m looking forward to, BTW, but not for the reasons you have).

    I recommend that you find a way to watch the Israeli sitcom “Arab Work”. It’s going into a second season now. You can check LinkTV to find it (a DVD is available of the first season). Quite hilarious.

    Aaron – regarding your comment 13 on ostensible european disapproval of the concept of staatvolk when the volk are brown/white. You use that as a club to bash asymmetric selective condemnation of lil’ ol’ israel. The point you make is an interesting one and has some merit in that europeans can indeed be amazingly selective in their condemnations. But you are carrying it too far – Israel is a lightning rod for condemnation not so much because of the anachronism of attempting to fashion a staatvolk in the 20th going into 21st century (just like the basques failed to do?). The Europeans have come to look askance at the enterprise of Israel BECA– USE the extended occupation made them realize just how much of it was based on the anachronism of the colonialist model of old. It’s not that Israel was once as Yugoslavia was , then broke up into ethnically based bits and pieces. It’s that European people went there and threw out most of the indiginous people, while keeping the rest as lower caste, even as they proceeded to bring in people with whom they had (or pretended they did, cf the mizrahi) ethnic affinity. In other words, israel is more like the much older models of human conquest, settlement, and banishment. The similarities are closer to models of old India conquered by the arians from the north and south america by the spanish – things that happened way back when. With one key difference – when it comes to the occupied territories they do not in fact want to keep the conquered palestinians as citizens, or they would have been annexed already. Which is why the entire enterprise – in its full colonial glory – has come to be seen as a throw back to humanity’s bad old days days. And for being an increasingly condemned anachronism, it’ll take refuge in xenophobia and sectarian parochialism. And that’s what will, in due course, cause it to implode. Not necessarily by war, but by internal strife and slow attrition. And that attrition will include people such as yourself when you no longer find it comfortable enough.

    Suzanne – everyone does what they can to fight against that which they find deplorable and/or dangerous to humanity’s welfare (and israel is a significant part of that humanity, which is now on trial in that part of the world). Some are motivated to go into the killing fields putting their actual person on the line, some write books and/or blogs, some demonstrate and some comment. It’s all for the good. Who knows – there were times in history when a mere word or two brought change. None of us can choose the right word or the form redemption will take – should it ever come to pass. All we can do in the space of one life is to choose a side. Enough people choosing the side of angels (figuratively speaking) can tip the boat – though alas, the cause and effect may only become clear over historical – not human – times. This is the best I can do to be encouraging given the program that I am.

  26. Dana- That is my belief too,( about helping to tip the boat) and why I post after all… and to help warm a blog I think is worthy.

  27. Suzanne – now why can’t I be so brief and to the point? I agree this blog is worthy. It’s why I post here. Though i may take issue with the authors’ take much of time, I like the tone, the essays and the occasional insight – especially the biblical annotations….

    There…I made it….short comment(!) + a compliment. Can now be mean me – at length – the rest of the day – with relish……

  28. “The difference is that the arabs who lived in israel from long before the jews arrived from europe are not comparable to illegal immigrants or guest workers. They were there forever and one day they became disenfranchized.”

    Nope. Historically this region has always been a highway of immigration. Bosnian Moslems moved to Caesarea; Cherkassy were expelled by the Russians and came to the Galil and Abu Gosh and Amman; Morrocan Jews and Moslems alike moved here with the permission of the Sultan; guys fleeing debt and conscription in Egypt moved to Jaffa; Algerians fled French reprisals and sought refuge under the Sultan in the Galil….The very FIRST “Zionist” was a Baghdadi Jews who decided to live outside the protection of city walls and farm his won land in the 1860s in Motza.

    NOBODY has lived here forever, although both Arab and Jewish populations have deeply rooted connections to his region. Please stop peddling the “we-were-here-first” propaganda. No, historically, Jews and Arabs alike lived here and both populations saw migration in and out during the Ottoman Empire and British Mandate. And after all–so what? The U.N. decided that each group, since they weren’t getting along too well, was entitled to their national homeland based on a demographic split.

    Jewish citizens of the Sultan were as entitled to their own national aspirations for a homeland as Arab citizens of the Sultan.

    And Jews and Moslems DO marry–they do what every other sensible Israeli does to circumvent the millet system –they go to Cyprus or Jordan or Ramallah. Silly piece of propaganda.

  29. Dana, I was hoping your name would be in blue, indicating a link I could follow to further investigate your insightful thinking. Alas, no.

    you said

    “The important question to ask is why did the “jewish” state choose to turn its back on the best jewish values, only to then demand recognition as Jewish” state from the very ones it discriminates against openly and increasingly harshly.”

    I come to South Jerusalem because it represents to me the best of Jewish values.

    But of democracy, thank goodness this blog is not one. We all get to savor the excellent posts, the thoughtful give and take, because the screaming and hatred that would otherwise swamp it cannot be posted here.

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