The Cotton Gin and the Jewish Problem

Gershom Gorenberg

My new article on whether Israel is a democracy is up at The American Prospect:

Infant mortality among Arab citizens of Israel is two and a half times higher than it is among Jewish citizens. One out of two Israeli Arab college graduates is out of work. Arabs make up 6 percent of the civil service, though they are over 15 percent of the country’s citizens. National testing shows Arab fifth- and eighth-graders trailing Jewish pupils in math, science, and English, and the gap is widening. That’s not surprising, since Arabs suffer much more poverty, and the national education system spends considerably more per Jewish child than per Arab child.

This a just a selection from the last few weeks’ news reports on the ethnic gap in Israel — not that inequality is big news. The most clichéd phrase in Israeli political discourse is that the country is a “Jewish and democratic state.” The phrase is overused precisely because of the tension between the two adjectives, because of the majority’s insecurity over whether both can be achieved at the same time. (The minority generally presumes it can’t.)

The standard line of the country’s boosters is that it’s the only democracy in the Middle East. The most concise criticism is that it is an “ethnocracy,” as Israeli political geographer Oren Yiftachel argues in his 2006 book of that name. An ethnocracy, he explains, is a regime promoting “the expansion of the dominant group in contested territory … while maintaining a democratic façade.” Looking at this debate in light of two new books by Israeli scholars and of a faded and remarkable document that I’ve just read in the Israel State Archives, it seems both sides could be right.

The document is from late April 1948, a few weeks before Israeli independence. It’s the blueprint for the administration of the Jewish state, detailed down to the location of regional health offices and the budget for day-care centers to be opened in large Arab villages. An Emergency Committee of top Zionist political leaders produced the plan, according to the unpublished doctoral dissertation of Israeli political scientist Jonathan Fine. (Fine’s dissertation on the transition from colonial rule to independence is what led me to the blueprint.) The committee had begun work the previous October, after a U.N. panel recommended dividing British-ruled Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. In the territory assigned to them, Jews were only a slight majority. Partition didn’t turn out that way, of course. Most of the Arabs residents fled or were expelled from what became Israel. Among those who say the exodus was premeditated ethnic cleansing, one argument is that Zionist leaders had to know that a Jewish state with such a large Arab minority wasn’t viable.

What’s striking about the Emergency Committee’s blueprint is that it assumes that Israel will include that large Arab minority.

Read the rest here, and come back to South Jerusalem to comment.

31 thoughts on “The Cotton Gin and the Jewish Problem”

  1. Is Israel a democracy (or an ethnocracy)? Is the USA a democracy or a plutocracy? All such questions depend much more on what people mean by the terms and the emotions behind the questions than on facts.

    Could Israel have made peace by now with the outside-Israel Palestinians if Israel had not excluded (expelled and/or refused readmittance to) [ethnically cleansed] most of the non-Jews from pre-1967 Israeli territory in the war of 1939-50?

    Would the USA be fighting against universal healthcare today and refusing to kick the fossil-fuel habit today if governance were not firmly in the hands of conglomerates of wealthy corporations?

    Governance by the people (by all the people) is one definition of democracy. In that case, Israel clearly is not governed even in part by the Palestinians (“refugees”) of 1948, who clearly should be both residents and voters. And the USA is not governed by the citizens (of whatever race) since we are instead governed by the wealthy corporations.

  2. Here’s the thing – the law.

    How is the law interpreted? In the United States for quite some time the Supreme Court made rulings that, today, make us marvel at how the Constitution could be read in a way the reverse of how we read it today.

    Your book, The Accidental Empire is an important read because it shows how the law in a country for the Jews, a people whose foundation is The Law, was flouted by a group of extremists who were able to get the government, through sympathetic leaders, to twist and turn in order to do everything but obey the law.

    A wise man once told me after I had seen something wrong happen in court, “it’s a court of law, not of justice”, yet we have to make the approach to justice in law as best we can.

    Anyone not born yesterday knows that if those entrusted to enforce the law choose to disregard it they certainly can, be they leaders of a country or members of a condo board.

    We don’t live in a perfect world and humans are masters of self-deception/rationalization. But the law is valuable in that it can be used to turn back an ugly tide if only through shame – by holding up practice in contrast to principle.

    Those that have eyes, let them see.

  3. Wow, lots of preaching going on here!

    This whole “Jewish democratic state” thing is kind of a hobby horse of mine, and I’ve ranted enough about it here so I’ll try not to repeat myself. “Ethnocracy” is a great-sounding label for Israel, but the guy goes and ruins it bringing in miscellaneous stuff like contested territories into what should denote an ideal state form, like “democracy”, “Rechtstaat”, etc. Sounds more like pure polemics than political theory.

    Israel is and always has been an ethnocracy according to what the word should mean by its etymology, as opposed to that polemicist’s definition, but we have to keep that fact a secret. Our enemies already know, but we don’t want our friends to find out.

    Or do we? Speaking of rhetoric rather than theory – use rather than meaning – how is “the only democracy in the Middle East” used? Seems to me it’s used as a sort of cheer by Israel’s supporters. It doesn’t convince anyone to support Israel who doesn’t already. And who really cares about siding with democracies today? It used to be democracy vs. Communism, but now it’s the West vs. Islam. Rhetorically, it may be time for Israel to ditch that “only democracy in the Middle East” jingle and sell itself as a Western state – the vanguard of the West. That’s how to win new allies, for instance the European right. Democracy is out; the West is in.

  4. More on Oren Yiftachel from Andy Beckett of the Guardian

    Over the next eight years, with his open-necked shirt and his open, inquisitive face, Yiftachel became a familiar irritant to Israeli rightwingers. He made a point of working with Palestinians whenever possible. He published books and articles about his government’s illicit appetite for Palestinian land. He told Israeli newspapers that, “Israel is almost the most segregated society in the world.” He set up an Arab-Israeli journal that so enraged some Israeli conservatives that they campaigned to have it banned.

    Given these radical credentials, Yiftachel did not anticipate any problems when, last spring, he submitted a paper to a left- leaning periodical called Political Geography. He had written for the respected British journal before. It specialised in the same probings of territory and power as he did. This time Yiftachel’s paper, co-written with a Palestinian academic, Dr Asad Ghanem of Haifa University, described Israel as “a state dedicated to the expansion and control of one ethnic group”; the paper concluded that such societies “cannot be classified as democracies in a substantive sense”.

    Yet when Yiftachel heard back from Political Geography, he got a shock. The precise details of what happened are disputed but, according to Yiftachel, the paper was returned unopened. An explanatory note had been attached, he says, stating that Political Geography could not accept a submission from Israel.

    “I hadn’t read the paper,” says David Slater, one of the periodical’s editors, who is also a geography professor at Loughborough University and a prominent British supporter of Palestinian causes. “But I was familiar with some of the author’s previous work… I was not sure to what extent he had been critical of Israel.” Slater says he hesitated about what to do with the paper, “for a while”.

    “I protested,” Yiftachel says. Through the summer and autumn, it is agreed by both sides, there was a tense exchange of email. Among the editors of the periodical, Slater admits, there was “a slight disagreement” over how to proceed: his colleagues were keener on the paper than he was. Eventually, Yiftachel says, Political Geography was “forced” to consider his work; but between May and November, whenever he asked if it was actually going to be published, the journal simply responded that the paper was “under consideration”.

    In the end, Yiftachel will be indistinguishable from Avidgor Lieberman, just another stinking yid

  5. A good article on the issue – Sami Smooha’s definition of Israel as an “ethnic democracy,” a country where the democratic principle of civil rights for all citizens and the “ethnic principle” of creating and maintaining a nation-state for a core ethnicity coexist in contradiction.

    There’s a longer (100+ pages), more detailed, and less Israel-centric study, also by Smooha, here:

  6. This Jewish tormenting of one’s self about whether Israel is an “ethnocracy” or not is quite amusing. All the “progressives” get together and cluck about this matter saying that since Israel is a Zionist state, it doesn’t meet their qualification of having a right to exist. Who cares?
    With all handwringing Gershom is doing here do we see an exodus of Israeli Arabs looking for greener pastures in Egypt or Syria? Do we see the Israeli Arabs gratefully accepting Avigdor Lieberman’s offer to have their towns attached to the Palestinian Authority’s jurisdiction? Of course not. They vehemently reject such proposals.

    Do we see the “Progressives” delegitimizing Pakistan which was a explicity created in order to favor Islam? Do we see the “Progressives” complaining about the superior position Islam is given over other religions in most Muslim states? Do we see them whining about restrictions on building churches in many Musliim states while they are ranting about the Swiss referendum to prohibit minarets?

    All of this reeks of hypocrisy and self-hatred. Who cares what they think? It is time for true Zionists to stop grovelling in front of the hypocritical, “progressive” PC crowd.

  7. Thankfully Jews have tormented themselves throughout their history, stressing over moral issues, right and wrong. It’s a long tradition and a good one, a beneficial one. To bitterly call it self-hatred is to attempt shut-down the essence of what it means to be a Jew.

    This is not about a right to exist as Ben-David always, one way or another, would like to frame it.

    I am sure there are many reasons some Israeli Arabs have chosen to stay. One that pops first into my head is that they don’t want to give up what is theirs, their family homes, their piece of land, their rights, especially to satisfy those Jewish Israelis who would like to be rid of them. Of course another reason is that they don’t want to be second class and foreigners elsewhere either. And why would they move to the West Bank or Gaza at this time given the conditions? So this point, which seems to want to prove that conditions are so much better in Israel, so much more democratic, is not a point at all, though that won’t stop it from being a popular one to try to make. Actually many Palestinians have left for better opportunity, education, elsewhere when they could have been contributing their talents and expertise to Israel’s benefit. There are those you know.

    Let’s not again morph the argument into who is delegitimizing Israel or Pakistan? Is Pakistan the model for Israel? Clouding the issue further with the Swiss democratic referendum and public discussion to prohibit minarets ( NOT a prohibition against mosques) make them not a democracy?

    The subject is about being a democracy. What is a democracy? And can an “ethnocracy”, a country in which full rights are granted only to certain members, be a democracy?

    Regarding “who cares what they think?” You do. Something must bother you about these questions, some deep insecurity which keeps you clawing.

  8. Suzanne, I think the point of Mr. Gorenberg’s article is that a state can be both ethnocracy and democracy, in the sense that it’s a mixture of those two mutually contradictory ideal types, with the mixture changing perhaps over time. If that’s a correct summary of his last few paragraphs, then what he says seems obviously true. By the way, the rest of the article was interesting and informative, as usual.

    I’d just add parenthetically that those two ideal types, ethnocracy and democracy, are contradictory only if democracy is defined as universal democracy. That seems to be standard usage today, alas, but it’s an untraditional definition, one that would exclude Athens for instance. And I know that’s an obvious point too.

    Speaking of definitions, I don’t buy your idea that the kind of collective self-laceration engaged in by this professor is “the essence of what it means to be a Jew.” Interestingly, it’s characteristic not only of Jews but also of Western goyim. Good or bad, it has roots going back through Montaigne, through the Cynics, all the way back to Socrates. I think this self-laceration of Israel by its elites owes more to secularized Protestantism imported from America than it owes to Jewish sources.

  9. Lets see, if Sami Smooha and Oren Yiftachel are both citizens of the zionist entity, and the zionist entity is an ethnocracy, that means that Smooha and Yiftachel are ethnocrats. They derive their salaries through the zionist entity, which benefits from the “occupation”, therefore, Smooha and Yiftachel are direct beneficiaries of the “occupation”. No wonder Political Geography didnt want to print Yiftachel’s work. He is more slimy than Lieberman, in that he opposes the “occupation” but still wants to benefit from it. Gershom, you might want to ask yourself if you are in the same category

  10. Y B-D, it’s important to remember that Israel is not the only object of this “hypocrisy and self-hatred”. As I’ve said here before, apartheid South Africa, whatever its real faults, was the target of similarly disproportionate hatred. Also, PC types in the West are only slightly less antagonistic to their own peoples than they are Israel. So when comparing Israel to Pakistan and other Muslim states, throw in white South Africa and Western states as well. Hmm, what do the ruling ethnic groups in Israel, South Africa, and Western states have in common that’s not shared by the ruling groups of Pakistan and other Muslim states…?

  11. I guess that if we crave more legitimacy from the nations of the world, we should be more like Pakistan

  12. Aaron-this discussion as all others, depends on definitions. Since I believe in social evolution, and the evolution of consciousness, I don’t believe that by today’s standards Athens would be a democracy. But it was then and it led the way. As well, I don’t believe that the US was one at it’s inception by today’s standards. The definition of what a democracy is evolves as awareness . Democracy is a work in progress or maybe even an aspiration. But I don’t believe it is not achieved at any one time. I think that our democracy here in the USA has in some ways increased and in others deteriorated. I was just reading an article in today’s New York Times about a new mosque that is flourishing near “Ground Zero” in New York City. No one is shutting it down, quite the contrary. It is being seen as a positive thing.

    I think Israel, by today’s standards, and unfortunately Israel has to put up with today’s standards, is having a hard time coming to grips with the conflicting desires to be both a democracy and a state that is not only for the Jews, favoring Jews, but also depriving others to be a certain kind of “Jewish State”.

    So you can shave your definition to something less than universal, or something more “traditional” but many don’t/won’t buy it, including myself.

    Regarding your use of the term “self-laceration”, I don’t say that this is what Gershon Gorenberg is doing- not at all. That is your characterization, not mine and so you put up a straw man to argue. The essence of being a Jew, for me, is not so easily defined but somewhere in all the self questioning, in the iconoclasm (the breaking of idols), the consideration of this world from as many angles as possible, the lack of a terra firma on which to stand. This is mistaken as self-hatred and particularly Jewish self-hatred by those who wish to end the conversation, who are afraid to ask questions or take risks. I think what is called self-hatred by others is actually feeling oneself profoundly as human. And I agree it’s not particular to Jews but it’s silly to say this is from Protestant America, as you admit in the same comment referring to Montaigne (with his Jewish roots) and Socrates.

  13. Ethnocracy is probably the best we can do; Democracy for the Jews. People who have a problem with that should go fix Jordon or Saudi Arabia first, and then all the full-out dictatorships in the world, before bothering Israel.

    There are Druse and Christian and even Muslims who really don’t have a problem living in the Jewish State. It’s not like we’re forcing them to convert.

    If the Arabs really wanted to live peacefully alongside Israel in an Arab State it would have happened many decades ago. But having spent so many decades trying to destroy the Jewish State, we cannot be expected to believe them when a few of them say they now want co-existence.

  14. @Herbert:

    How do these academics benefit from the occupation? Tell me, what monetary gain does the Israeli government get? The money it shells out for subsidised housing in the West Bank? The money for the continuing military presence there? The money to maintain a spy network?

    There’s no material gain to Israel from occupying the West Bank – just costs, and the slow erosion of Israel’s morals.

  15. Suzanne, I wasn’t accusing Gorenberg of Israeli self-laceration. He doesn’t do that, which is one reason I like his columns. I was accusing Professor Yiftachel of that. I agree that self-criticism is traditionally Jewish, but there’s a difference between self-criticism and self-laceration.

    I realize that calling the current liberal ideology a form of secularized Protestantism sounds pretty strange when it’s just thrown out there, but that’s the thesis of several respected scholars, including Philip Jenkins, James Kurth, and Paul Gottfried. Secularization has obviously been studied extensively over the last century, but these guys specifically show how the elements of Calvinism have been transposed to a secular context in the ideology of multiculturalism, universal human rights, etc. Gottfried attributes the thesis originally to the Protestant theologian Karl Barth.

    So, I think that modern Israel is more “Christian” (secularized Protestant) than Jewish in many important aspects. Which is related to my latest Great Idea, expressed above: that ethnocratic Israel needs to stop selling itself as a liberal democracy, and start selling itself as Western.

  16. Aaron – thank you for the elaboration. I remember a book I read years ago that may have started all this: “Religion and the Rise of Capitalism” by RH Tawney. I will read up on Barth, his contemporary.

  17. The Tawney book sounds interesting. I think the most famous starting place might have been Max Weber, “‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”. I’ve never read Barth and I don’t know what he said about contemporary liberalism (or whatever you call the ideology of the South Jerusalem blog) as secularized Calvinism. All I know is that Gottfried credits Barth with the thesis.

    Anyone interested can read Kurth’s article, “The Protestant Deformation and American Foreign Policy”, in the form of a talk he gave at a conference. Kurth was a student of Samuel Huntington, and he’s more interested in the foreign policy aspect whereas Gottfried and Jenkins are more interested in the cultural expressions of this secular “religion”. I recommend Gottfried, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt: Toward a Secular Theocracy.

    Israelis don’t study Christianity, which is unfortunate because they don’t realize just how “Christian” they really are. But I guess the same could be said about Europeans and secular Americans.

  18. dear Asa
    Israel benefits from the occupation in multiple ways. First, in preys on the talent of captive Palestinians, thus all the talent supposedly held by Israel is really stolen from the Palestinians. This enriches the tax base. Second, by holding on to the West Bank, Israel deprives the Palestinians of their inalienable right to shoot Qassams into Israel. This allows Israel to devote money to salaries of Smooha and Yiftachel, rather than fortify every playground and building in Israel like Sderot. Thus, these professors are financially benefitting from the “occupation” because their salaries would otherwise be going to bury schools and hospitals underground and place massive layers of concrete on every rooftop

  19. “All the talent supposedly held by Israel is really stolen from the Palestinians.” So our latest Nobel Prize laureate, Ada Yonat, has “Palestinian talent”? The tech entrepeneurs, mostly either Jewish Sabras or Russian immigrants, are somehow using “Palestinian talent” to create and maintain one of the world’s leading high-tech centers? That doesn’t seem like a realistic assessment of reality. The occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza don’t steal Palestinian talent, they waste it – blocking it from making any contribution, either to Palestinian life or to the welfare of the world.

    About the second bit: I’m not an expert on the matter and I won’t go into whether the IDF gets more bang for the buck by sitting in the West Bank or by focusing on defences within and on the edges of the Green Line, but I have high hopes that a Palestinian Authority in control of its territory would have an interest in keeping the Qassams out of Israel (and by so doing keep the IDF out of Palestine).

  20. Aaron – sorry to be the bearer of bad news but your idea of “Israel as a western state” is a non-starter. If anything, Israel is becoming more middle eastern by the day, which, to my mind includes the virtue of noise over civility, graft over uprightness, tribal politics over inclusiveness, ostentatious displays of opulence over forthrightness and simplicity, religious law over civil law, parochialism over universality. The middle eastern culture – in many countries – include a take over of crass materialism as an icon of culture, an in-your-face bravado of national “honor”, and a tortuous justification of outright discrimination against any minority – the very opposite of a “melting pot”. But these are just side effects of ethnic and religious battles for supremacy by a dominant group that seeks to reduce other groups to the status of “dhimmis’ (which is a good expression of what the arabs of israel are in practice).

    Thus have middle eastern attributes of acceptance of perpetual conflict, importance of “honor”, worship of material possessions, a religion permeating all aspects of civil life, and a dhimmi culture of second class citizenship become Israel’s “shining” face it presents to the world. Attributes made all the more impoverishing given the absence of respect for generous hospitality that traditional middle eastern societies still have.

    Interestingly, even as certain other middle eastern countries – such as Jordan – strive to reconcile middle easternism with westernism, israel’s path takes it in the opposite direction, as the proportion of the ultra-religious and nationalist segment increases, ever faster.

    I doubt Aaron that your recommendation will take. It may be good to bear in mind that “westernism” does include, by definition, the very elements of openness and universal rights that you admit israel is turning its back on, being, in truth an ethnocracy (on its way to a theocracy, actually). What you are more likely to have is the worst of all worlds when it comes to PR for your cherished state – an ethnocratic/theocratic middle eastern state with even those few trappings of western culture such as it has, turning inward, imploding to become ties that bind down rather than open up.

  21. Dana, you’re right as usual. Your examples of Israel’s Levantine savagery are all too true. The worst thing is, Israelis are proud of being savages. Still, Israel is more Western than “Palestine”, Iran, etc. Not more civilized, but more Western. A Westerner feels more at home in Tel Aviv than in Ramallah or Tehran, which is one reason many Westerners are more sympathetic to Palestinians and Iranians than to Israelis.

    In any case, Israel is already perceived as Western by its Western enemies. Israel is supposedly a Western colonialist power or whatever. It’s a truism that perception is what matters in politics. So we already know that Israel can sell a Western image of itself to its enemies, whether or not it’s really Western (which it is, compared to its Muslim enemies). Israel’s enemies will (rightly) deny that it’s a democracy, but they will insist that it’s Western. So Israel just has to give up the tough sell of democracy and start selling a Western image to its potential friends.

  22. but I have high hopes that a Palestinian Authority in control of its territory would have an interest in keeping the Qassams out of Israel (and by so doing keep the IDF out of Palestine)…. I also have high hopes that Santa Claus will come down the chimney of my house and deposit gifts under my Christmas tree next week

  23. Suzanne: Yes, of course many friends of Israel don’t buy the democracy pitch either. I’m one of them, remember? That’s one of the main reasons Israel should stop trying to sell itself as a democracy to its actual and potential friends. (The other reason is that democracy is less effective now, as a marketing tool, than it was during the Cold War.)

    I noted that Israel’s enemies already agree that Israel is Western – in fact, they insist on it – in order to show to Dana that selling the “Israel is Western” message won’t be difficult at all. Pretty much everyone except Dana already agrees that Israel is Western compared to its Muslim enemies. Now it’s just a matter of marketing.

  24. Aaron, Dana’s point wasn’t that Israel isn’t “Western” but that it’s steadily becoming less so, adopting the more unsavoury traits of its neighbours in the process.

    Where do you get the idea that Israel’s friends don’t, by and large, agree that Israel is “Western”? The neocons, whether Jewish or Christian, certainly see it as Western outpost in the Middle East, a forward battalion in the alleged clash of cultures, if not of armies. Others see at least a close cultural relative, emphasizing Ashkenazi European-ness (which has historically defined and dominated the state anyway) over the (to them, elusive) Jewishness that binds Ashkenazim and Mizrahim, but excludes even the most friendly goyim. Somewhat paradoxically, this notion of Israel having come “out of our midst” (in both ways – “one of us” as well as “away from us”) still implies an otherness they’d never claim consciously: terming Jews “the other” is no-go-area for Western non-anti-Semites.
    So, selling the “Israel is Western” message isn’t only easy, it’s also unnecessary. The rub is that in the West itself “the West” is almost synonymous with “democracy”. Whether Iraqis, Afghans, South Americans, and many others would agree with that is irrelevant – in Western perception you can’t have one without the other.

    Interestingly, Uri Avneri compares Israel not to its neighbours, but to Prussia:
    Bearing in mind that the perception “the West = democracy” is pretty recent and had no base in even Western reality in the days of Prussia, is that the “West” you want Israel to sell itself as belonging to?

  25. Fiddler – thanks for interceding with the excellent – and perceptive – article by Avnery. You made one of my points for me better than I did. But then, you may have noticed that Aaron is one slippery fish, right? his argument is one that would delight a sophist: since israel is already recognized as practicing some of the worst excesses of the “West” – ie, the colonization model and the nationalistic ‘der staat” – cf. the prussian model, why – with just a little push, it may just achieve full recognition as a fully western state-in-good-standing. As evidence of this ‘coming-into-being” Aaron offers the recognition by israel’s “enemies” – both east and west – that israel is a true-blue western construct – just not the best of it. So all that needs to be done is to convince it’s “friends”.

    But therein lies the rub – as you correctly interpret my original statement – no amount of Western excess (colonization, militaristic model, ethnic purity) can make up for the increasing absence of Western “virtue”in israel, key among which are democracy as well as commitment to universal rights, and indeed – a move away from the purely ethnic/homogeneous model for a state (at least in principle; and yes, except for the Swiss; but they are a special case, and they do make excellent chocolate). But Aaron knows that, though he may be hoping that perhaps israel’s “friends” basking in the delights of tel Aviv’s western life will somehow neglect to notice those other creeping influences – the levantinization and talibanization that’s stalking the oh-so-modern skyscrappers dotting silicon vadi.

    For a time, that has indeed happened. Israel’s “friends” (who are these, Aaron? please clarify…) will indeed feel at home in haifa more than in ramallah. But I maintain that this time is drawing to a close – perceptibly in some cases, less so than in others. It’s not that ranmallah will become a bastion of “westernism” overnight. It’s that israel will become more like an unholy mix of Dubai, Lebanon and Serbia, all mixed up with a touch of the maccabees’ judea and afganistan’s mujahadeen, sprinkled with prussian nationalist puff. A tasty mix, if there ever was one, no?

    As an aside (and because I was tempted) I’ll go back to Avnery, and the following memorable passage: :

    “The Prussian state became proverbial. Demonized by its enemies, it was, however, exemplary in many ways – a well organized, orderly and law-abiding structure, its bureaucracy untainted by corruption. The Prussian official received a paltry salary, lived modestly and was intensely proud of his status. He detested ostentation. ”

    So here was the best of Prussia – the clean austerity that was also a hall mark of the early zionists. This is one of those western – and indeed spartan ideals – the good “army” as a model for civil society. Alas, not much of that respect for order, frugality and clean living in modern day Israel, is there?

  26. On Avneri’s article, how can you take seriously someone who says that the Thirty Years War “determined” Prussia’s history for the next three centuries? A much better comparison was made by a real historian: Paul Gottfried (whom I cited above in another context) compared Israel to Poland in the interwar years under Marshall Pilsudski [sp?]. My views on Israel are probably closer to Gottfried’s than to those of any other political pundit, for whatever that’s worth.

    Israel’s friends as well as its enemies agree that Israel is Western. The marketeers’ task is to make Westernness a salient property of Israel for Israel’s (potential) friends as it already is for its enemies, and to explain the implications. Dana’s right that Israel lacks Western “virtues” (some of which I’d call vices, but never mind), but that’s not relevant to the sales pitch. The point is that Israel is a Western society fighting not just a colonial war but to some extent, alas, a civilizational war against Islam as well.

    Pace Fiddler, the West is not almost synonymous with democracy, unless “democracy” means “whatever Western government I happen to support” – and I admit that is a popular current usage. You certainly can have a Western, ethnocratic state. Haven’t we already agreed that Israel is one example? Plus Gershom’s example of the early US. The list can easily be extended.

    I disagree that a time is coming when (Israeli) Haifa will be no more Western than Ramallah. A claim that big can’t really be argued in blog comments, so I’ll just leave it as my own statement of faith against Dana’s.

    Dana asked, Who are these actual and potential friends I’m talking about? The actual friends are primarily Americans who view Islam as an enemy, rightly or wrongly. The most significant potential friends, as I said above, are those on the European right. Formerly anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic parties are now moving to a pro-Israel position as they view not only mass immigration, but jihad as an enemy. If I remember correctly, Lega Nord is a good example: they switched 180 degrees from supporting the Palestinians as their fellows in struggle for national liberation, to supporting Israel as the vanguard against jihad. (If it wasn’t Lega Nord, feel free to correct me; I know it was a secessionist or nationalist party.) The British National Party under Nick Griffin is trying very hard to clean up its image, and Griffin himself takes a very pro-Israel position. The list goes on, but the European right might be a very useful ally for Israel to have in the future. Unfortunately, Israel views them all as Nazis or Nazi sympathizers.

  27. I believe Israel actually aspires to be more Middle Eastern, sees it’s collective self as less Western, more Middle Eastern- not Western- while at the same time politically trying to reap benefits of being seen as and proclaiming it is Western ( for survival?)- while at the same time annoyed and defending itself at being held to the West’s higher standards- ( Israeli exceptionalism). Israel takes advantage of being on a cusp/border and if it had to collectively choose- I think it would go Middle Eastern- a choice of the heart, not the head. (Of course there is no “collective self” but from the outside, and as an occasional visitor this is what it seems to me).

  28. Formally, Israel is a democracy by most reasonable definitions. All adult citizens–I assume with the exceptions of those in prison, the insane, etc.– have the right to vote and to run for political office. Freedom of the press exists for all candidates, all political positions, and all parties. So it is a democracy. And using this definition, it is the only democracy on Asia’s West coast. But democracy is not enough. If formal democracy were the only criterion for evaluating a political system, there would be nothing wrong with (let us say) France from passing laws making the penalty for double-parking life in prison. The fact that France passed such a law democratically would not alter the fundamental injustice of it–or at least I don’t think it would. I have always felt the same way about many laws that Israel has. The worst one, in my view, is the law that says that Muslim Arabs who serve in the Israeli armed forces must serve in segregated units. Here are people willing to fight and die for their country, and they are not permitted to fight alongside their fellow citizens of Jewish heritage. To Jewish Israelis, the justification may be what Max Weber called “the authority of the eternal yesterday,” but I don’t see how any American can view this practice without being reminded of the old–and now long gone– “U.S. Colored Troops.”

  29. When America entered into Iraq, it believed the Iraqui’s would be appreciative of being saved from a heartless lunatic who used poisen gas on his own countrymen. They failed to understand that a very large portion of the arab world requires strong dictatorship rule to prevent internal civil war. Everytime the world has bolstered the P.A. to create a working society were people can make a decent living the palestinian authority has chosen war rather then giving their own people a chance to grow and suceed. Even when the P.A. was fairly weak most of thier people did nothing to change this train of thought. So after the the general arab populace suported the idea of Israeli’s being run into the sea, are you saying that the safety of Israeli servicemen, and the plans of the Shin Bet is less important then trying to pretend there is universal brotherly love. Yes some arabs Israelis are our friends, some not. We do not know who is who so we do not take chances. Blacks in the U.S. were not segregated because their people threatened to kill each and every American, that was racism. Many arabs are simply not interested in being a part of the Israeli school system.

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