Monday, February 17, 2014

Arguing about Israel, Pete Seeger and Jeff Halper

This post is drawn from one of my occasional epic email debates with Werner Cohn, a radical leftist in his youth in the early 1940s, who takes what we would call neoconservative views on Israel today.  This debate was renewed the other week over the passing of Pete Seeger and references to his conflicted views on Israel: sometimes memorably supportive in his music, but in recent years marked by his financial contributions to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). 

From my perspective, ICAHD is far from perfect; I don't support the anti-Zionist agenda of Jeff Halper, its main leader.  Prof. Cohn argues that ICAHD is not really a group that promotes human rights and peace, but is basically just a platform for Halper's extreme anti-Israel agenda: "Halper characterizes any Arab leader who would sign a peace accord based on the Camp David understandings as a 'quisling'." But the issue of housing demolitions is deeply problematic.

Click here for a list of ICAHD publications.  And what follows link to articles and a YouTube video (courtesy of Cohn) which illustrate the depth of Halper's critique of, and alienation from, Israel:
Left-Zionists like myself fight a two-front battle: one against the political right and anti-peace forces that are Zionist, and the other against far-left forces that are anti-Zionist.  While I take a liberal and critical view of Israel, I am also supportive of Israel's raison d'ĂȘtre as a sovereign Jewish homeland and often criticize pro-Palestinian views and actions.

There's clear statistical evidence that Arab citizens are better off in Israel than in other places in the Middles East (see Josh Muravchik's article, "Israel’s Arab citizens," in the British online journal fathom).   It is sad (although not surprising) that the relative material well-being of Israeli Arabs, together with their relative political freedom, have not translated into a greater sense of identification with the State of Israel.  Had Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin not been assassinated, the progress he was making toward more equitable access to public funding and to a share in political power for Israel's Arab citizens would likely have made a huge difference, but Israel has not really progressed toward a fuller measure of equality between Jews and Arabs since.

Even the Israeli-born filmmaker, Hany Abu-Assad, whose latest film, Omar, is now contending for an Oscar, lists his 1961 birthplace as "Nazareth, Palestine" (rather than Israel, as it was then and is now) and refuses to speak Hebrew in public.  Palestinian Israeli citizens have reasons for complaint, as I relate below, but since a majority are not eager to have some of their towns and villages transferred to a new Palestinian state, as proposed by Avigdor Lieberman, they also have a sense of what is good about Israel.

There are several different realities regarding Palestinian Arabs:

    •    Those who are citizens are much better off economically than Palestinians who live under Israeli occupation, but they do suffer from discrimination in housing and in employment -- more a social reality than a matter of law, but also a question of how public funds are distributed.  Arab towns and villages in Israel receive less in budgeted public expenditures for municipal services (e.g., schools, roads, etc.) than do Jewish areas.  There is also a prevalence for housing segregation with no legislation under which Arabs can sue against landlords that discriminate.

    •    I honestly don't know how much Arab citizens suffer from demolitions because of a lack of access to building permits (I vaguely recall an Arab Israeli saying that this is a problem).  Arabs in East Jerusalem have residency rights within Green Line Israel but are not citizens (partly by their choice).  They suffer from widespread housing demolitions and live in neighborhoods that are woefully neglected by the municipality, even in terms of garbage collection; it's a very segregated reality.  Now they also suffer being cut off by the separation barrier from villages and towns next door to them in the West Bank, which are their natural social linkages.  Moreover, their legal status is tenuous; when they leave for education or to live elsewhere for another reason for an extended time, they are often not allowed back; and they are being muscled out of a couple of neighborhoods by militant Jewish nationalist groups that claim ownership of their properties from before the 1948 war.

    •    Then there's the West Bank.  Villages in Area C (geographically most of the West Bank, but not including Arab cities) are completely subject to the whims of the military and to the depredations of thuggish militant settlers.  Homes are demolished because of their lack of access to building permits, but also because of the path of the separation barrier -- the latter also causing the destruction of olive groves and other agricultural land.  There has been a non-violent struggle going on for years with the path of the separation barrier, which occasionally results in small legal victories in Israel's Supreme Court; this struggle has been showcased in the excellent documentary films, Budrus and Five Broken Cameras.  Another outstanding documentary, The Gatekeepers, famously depicts the dead-end of looking at the problem of the conflict only though a security-lens without sincerely seeking a political solution that ends the occupation.  Still another, The Law in These Parts, shows how Israel's legal system has operated in a stop-gap way in the Territories, meant to be temporary, but instead enforcing a semblance of law for nearly five decades that consistently disadvantages Palestinian civilians, even to the point of routinely jailing and traumatizing young children (often under 10 years old). 

I'd say that there is a "matrix of control" (a phrase popularized by Halper) but I would not want to endorse Halper's idea of what that is, which denies the reality that Israel has legitimate security concerns, and that the Jewish people have a historical right to self-determination in their own sovereign state.

8 comments:

werner cohn said...

thanks for your moderate comments about my views. for those who are curious, here is my take on poor old Pete Seeger:

http://www.wernersopinions.com/2014/02/10/pete-seegers-failed-veracity/

Jerry Haber said...

Ralph,

May I respectfully suggest that at least one of the reasons that Arabs feel marginalized, or don't identify with the State of Israel is that -- surprise, surprise -- it is a Jewish state, and they are not Jewish. It is not economic or social inequality per se that is the problem. In the US, for example, there are enormous economic and social inequalities between various groups. It is that these inequalities flow from the very nature of the Jewish state, which says to citizens, "You are not part of the nation that this state represents" -- precisely what Russian nationalists said to Jewish citizens of Russia, for example after emancipation.

A case in point: You wrote:

Had Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin not been assassinated, the progress he was making toward more equitable access to public funding and to a share in political power for Israel's Arab citizens would likely have made a huge difference, but Israel has not really progressed toward a fuller measure of equality between Jews and Arabs since.

This is somewhat of an exaggeration, but may I suggest that this "progress" was based on cold political calculations: Rabin could not have a government without the support of Arab political parties OUTSIDE the coalition. They were part of an "obstruction bloc" that prevented the collapse of a minority government. They were not part of the coalition because they were Arab parties, and Rabin could not, even if he wanted to, bring them into the coalition. And why not? Because it is a Jewish state -- not an Israeli state, but a Jewish state, and nobody even thinks of inviting an Arab party into coalition talks, even pro forma. Ehud Barak was elected with 96% of the Arab vote. And he didn't have the courtesy to drink coffee with them when he was setting up a coalition, and that was for one reason alone. Arab political parties have never been, and cannot be, part of the coalition government. And if your sector is not a member of the coalition govt (or supporting it from the outside) it gets no part of the pie.

I don't know of a single Israeli politician, left or right, who doesn't realize the danger of the social and economic inequality of the Palestinian Israelis. But good will is not enough -- the Arabs need hard, political, power. They don't need 10 MKS, they need at least 20 or 25, for other parties to grudgingly take them into the coalition. (If you're Jewish, 2 seats will get you into the coalition; if you are Arab, you would need more like 20.)

So, in short, if you want equity for the Palestinian minority, support the return of 600,000 to 700,000 Palestinians and hope that they will vote for Arab political parties. Because that equity simply won't happen until the state decides that it is a state of all its citizens and not a state of the Jewish people.

There is something absurd in saying that somebody can be a tenth generation Israeli citizen who is excluded from Am Yisrael (and the Supreme Court only recognizes Am Yisrael and not ha-Am ha-Yisraeli), whereas if I am a Tibetan convert to Judaism, I am immediately part of the nation represented by that state.

That's not a country discriminating against a minority. that's a country that excludes a homeland minority from the state in which it has resided for generations. They are considered strangers in their own land -- and then Israelis wonder why they feel alienated.

Ralph Seliger said...

Jerry Haber makes very good points (mostly), but "cold political calculations" (such as Rabin utilizing Arab parties to keep his minority coalition in power) is generally how progress is made in politics. Sadly, Barak did not calculate well a few years later when he so rudely dissed Arab voters and stupidly relied on right-wingers to keep him in power; little wonder that he lasted less than two years.

Yes, 20 Arab MKs might be more compelling a bloc to win a share of power; if most Israeli Arabs actually voted, they might elect them even now. But where does Haber propose to find support in the Knesset for a deal which would permit 600,000-700,000 Palestinian to "return"?

Haber and I would both like to see Israel evolve to a point where a common Israeli national identity becomes paramount over the currently separate Jewish and Arab sectors. For this to occur, the Jewish majority will have to cease feeling threatened by the possible nightmare scenario of its Palestinian minority combining with Palestinians from outside the Green Line to overwhelm it. Hence, it seems to me that a two-state peace agreement must come first before Arab citizens of Israel can more fully advance toward equality.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ralph,

It's rather disturbing that one who claims to work for equal rights seems so unaware of the impediments to equal rights. The information is not hard to find.

"Those who are citizens are much better off economically than Palestinians who live under Israeli occupation, but they do suffer from discrimination in housing and in employment -- more a social reality than a matter of law, but also a question of how public funds are distributed."

Once again, please see Adalah's database showing 50 discriminatory laws:
http://adalah.org/eng/Israeli-Discriminatory-Law-Database

Should you choose again to pretend there is little legal basis for discrimination, I am not sure what that will reveal about you, but surely something.

"I honestly don't know how much Arab citizens suffer from demolitions because of a lack of access to building permits (I vaguely recall an Arab Israeli saying that this is a problem)."

If you do not know how much Palestinian citizens of Israel suffer from demolition, that is simply because you are not trying to find out. The information is easy to find. They suffer extensively from home demolition. Just read some about Palestinian Bedouins in the Negev, Al Araqib as just one example, read about Lod, Ramle, etc., etc.:
http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/03/08/israel-stop-discriminatory-home-demolitions

If equal rights was indeed your concern, seems people would not need to let you know about this easily accessible, documented information about discrimination.

Thank you,

Ted

Ralph Seliger said...

As Ted and I both should be reminded, this blog has focused quite a few times on the destruction of Bedouin villages and the ongoing threat of displacement suffered by these Arab citizens of Israel. If Ted were not so taken with attacking us for defending the legitimate rights and concerns of Jews, he'd have to admit that we deplore the discrimination suffered by Arab citizens of Israel.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ralph,

So you don't need to be reminded in the future about discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, you might want to go see Hassan Jabareen of Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel speak at Columbia tomorrow night:

http://www.columbia.edu/cu/palestine/programs/

Could be a good talk to even announce on this blog.

As an actual Palestinian citizen of Israel, I'm sure he'd have some interesting responses to your queries. Hopefully he will not be as uppity as that young Palestinian woman who left Meretz, nor that mean Ashrawi woman who Lilly met in Ramallah.

Might also be good to query him on his bigoted desire to live in a state of all its citizens, rather than a Jewish state.

Ted

Ralph Seliger said...

Dear Ted,
We actually met with Hassan Jabareen and a colleague when I last went on our organization's annual Israel Symposium in 2012. I may not agree with him on everything, but I fully appreciate and support his aspiration for equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel.

warren said...

The following article might be helpful in understand the continuing conflict. The remainder canbbe read at:

http://unitycoalitionforisrael.org/uci_2014/?p=6035

When is a settlement not a settlement?


Historically, the word “settlement” has been used in a positive sense as a community of like minded people gathered together for societal, financial and security reasons. Communities were established by such people with perhaps no prior history in a land, sometimes displacing and sometimes reaching an accommodation with any inhabitants. Now, the word “settlement” is being used pejoratively to demonize Jews, accused of stealing Arab land to build “settlements” on the West Bank (known historically as Samaria and Judea).

Nothing can be further from the truth.

There is a 3,500 year biblical history of Jewish Communities on most of this land. Some retained their Jewish presence throughout the centuries, some did not, falling into ruin. Others were destroyed by Arab mobs or by invading armies. The truth and origin of “Jewish settlements” in the West Bank are ignored by the world community, preventing resolution of an issue that has traumatized the Middle East.
.