An Arab Prime Minister for Israel?

Haim Watzman

In the wake of Barack Obama’s victory in the U.S., there have been a spate of op-eds and blog posts on whether an Arab could ever become prime minister of Israel. Some present it as a challenge to Zionism, at least as conventionally conceived, while others try to explain why such a thing could not, should not ever be. The latest installment is Daniel Gordis’s piece in The Jerusalem Post.

Gordis is correct in saying that an Arab majority in Israel would be the end of Israel as a Jewish state, and that an Arab majority in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, would reflect that loss of majority status. Zionism requires a Jewish majority–and not just a bare majority but a large one–for the state to be Jewish. This is the reasoning that means the two-state solution is the only way of preserving Israel as a Jewish state.

But while the election of an Arab to head Israel’s government, while improbable, is certainly not impossible,

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Superbad: The Onion Explains the Election

Haim Watzman . . . and gets it right: Although polls going into the final weeks of October showed Sen. Obama in the lead, it remained unclear whether the failing economy, dilapidated housing market, crumbling national infrastructure, health care crisis, energy crisis, and five-year-long disastrous war in Iraq had made the nation crappy enough to … Read more

Wright, Race and Contested Stories

Gershom Gorenberg

If you want to understand why Rev. Jeremiah Wright said the US government invented Aids, or what Barack Obama sought to accomplish in his Philadelphia speech on race, the best commentary is political scientist Marc Howard Ross’s book “Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict” – even if it never mentions Obama or Wright.

I described Ross’s book in my recent American Prospect piece about the smears against on Robert Malley and the shoutfest over Israeli-Palestinian history. Ross describes the critical role of the stories that

…ethnic groups build to explain their past, their present, and their relation to their opponents. The narratives are “compelling, coherent” and link “specific events to that group’s general understandings.”

They are also selective and inaccurate. Disagreement with a group’s memory is often perceived as an attack on its identity, if not its existence.

Ross certainly isn’t the first to talk about a shared narrative as part of ethnic identity. In Israel, there’s constant discussion in the tenure-track class of the Israeli narrative and the Palestinian narrative and how they don’t fit together. For Israelis, 1948 means independence; for Palestinians, the same date equals catastrophe. For Israelis, the southeast corner of Jerusalem’s Old City is the Temple Mount, proof of Jews’ ancient connection to their land; for Palestinians, the same place is Al-Aqsa Mosque, the place where Islam and Palestinian nationalism are fused together.

But Ross gives the best description I’ve seen yet of how such narratives are put together,

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