Can Israel Survive For 100 Years?
It may be, among other things, extremely banal and trivial to observe— or in the case of the Palestinians mourn — the supposed ‘immaculate conception’ of Der Judenstaat on its 73rd year. Nonetheless, there is enough perspective to contemplate on some questions that may be worn out, but are still pressing for us in our present. Is Zionism a national liberation movement for Jews or a settler colonial project (or both)? Has it made Jews more or less safe? Has the ancient scourge of anti-Semitism been cured by it? Have Jews been ‘normalised’ in the world by it? Is Israel a ‘light unto the nations’, or is it just another rotten nation state in a long line built on and maintained by violence?
Jewish people, as is par the course, occupy all sides of this argument. There are Zionists who earnestly believe Israel is the closest thing in history to a man made miracle. Other Zionists pander to Western prejudices on the ‘Muslim question’ in Europe by portraying Israel, the “villa in the jungle”, as on the front line in the ‘clash of civilisations’ against the Muslim hordes. There are Hasidic sects who regard Israel as an obscene blasphemy and only with the arrival of the Messiah can truly ‘authentic’ Jewish state come into an existence. There are leftist and progressive Jews who feel guilt and shame that in the name of the Jewish people a settler state was erected on the ruins of so many Palestinian Arab towns and villages. Conversely, there are some Jews who don’t have a guilty conscience at all. Indeed they wish to evict more Palestinians with a divine mandate and collaborate with fanatical evangelical Christians to expedite the end of days. And let’s not forget the disillusioned liberal Zionist for whom Israel was paradoxically a means for them to comfortably assimilate into the liberal democratic West. They blame Netanyahu and his cronies for being the gravedigger of the Zionist dream and making Israel resemble more and more a shtetl with an air force.
As is always the case with Israel, one has to live with multiple contradictions pulsating in your head. In fact, to echo Flaubert, contradiction is what keeps one’s sanity in place. Do I sometimes wish that Theodore Herzl, Max Nordau, Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion had never convinced Jews and Gentiles that the answer to the ‘Jewish Question’ was to create an irredentist Jewish state in West Asia? Yes. Does that then mean I desire the ‘obliteration’ of the Israeli nation and society? Of course not. Was there something fundamentally absurd in bourgeois and petit-bourgeois European Jews being intoxicated by the mad rhythms of messianic blood and soil mysticism? Yes. Do I wish the German revolution of 1918–19 had succeeded, thus averting the rise of fascism, preventing the Shoah, and hopefully charting out a better course for the Jewish question? Absolutely. Am I angered, horrified and disgusted at seeing a whole new generation of Palestinians being born into dispossession and/or occupation and exile already suffered by their grand parents, great-grand parents, and soon to be great-great-grand parents? Damn right I am!
It is à la mode to decry Israel as an evil, demonic, rogue state. That it operates outside the bounds of international law and decency. It’s impassioned defenders reply back: Israel is being picked on! Double standards are used against it! What about Iran?! Often times this is cheap whataboutery to deflect from Israel’s abuses against the Palestinians. But there is something to it. It’s not wholly wrong. There are some who can easily excoriate Israel as the vilest regime on earth, yet make excuses for the Assad regime and The Islamic Republic of Iran. Worse, they see them, and Hezbollah, as part of the true ‘resistance’ against the ‘Zionist entity’.
Personally, if you carry water for the Baathists in Damascus and their allies, who have carried out a Nakba against the Syrian populace, bombing, dispossessing and displacing millions of Syrians, turning their homeland into a charnel house, as well as torturing and massacring 4,000 Palestinians, then you don’t have a leg to stand on in condemning the iniquities of the Jewish state. You can’t also be pro-Palestinian by definition. A reactionary anti-Israelite, but not Pro-Palestinian. My position is an elementary universalism: liberation and self-determination for Palestinians and Syrians, side by side in solidarity. I walk with two feet, not one.
But what if, in Israel’s case, because of the basket case that is its politics and the failure to form any kind of government at the 4th time of asking it is at risk of becoming a failed state? Hooligan state suffices for me. Like all hooligans the Israeli state bullies and humiliates those it regards as weak with impunity as anyone with a brain can now witness everyday in the West Bank and East Jerusalem (notice how everyone has forgotten about Gaza?).
Which brings me to an irony about Zionism. According to its champions, Zionism was meant to be a demonstration of Jewish independence. No longer would the Jew be the meek, pathetic, luftmensch deracinated by galut (exile). No longer will the Jew be remembered in history as the skeletal carcasses of Bergen Belsen. No longer will the Jew be so naïve to rely on Gentile generosity for his survival and safety. No, he will be a Muskeljuden (for some reason I instantly think of Gal Gadot when I see that word). A Spartan adept at handling a plough on one hand and a gun on the other. From Woody Allen to Moshe Dayan. From victims to sovereigns.
Fair enough. But let’s see the follow up, without the chest beating rhetoric. Israel is dependent on Gentile powers for its defence. Israel is the recipient of exorbitant amounts of American military aid — no strings attached. It is American foreign policy doctrine to maintain Israel’s “qualitative military advantage” over its Arab neighbours.
Moreover, the Jewish state rules over millions of non-Jews, treating them as dependents and subjects, not citizens, and continuing to dispossess and humiliate them, intensifying their already impassioned enmity towards it. They don’t see the justice of being gracious recipients of ‘Jewish sovereignty’. Because of this Israel’s ‘international legitimacy’ is always fragile. How long until even America’s wall to wall, blind support for Israel whatever it does begins to crack? To put it simply, to talk of Israel as the ‘solution’ to the alienation of galut is mistaken. As Christopher Hitchens once observed, Israel is not “the alternative to the diaspora. It is part of the diaspora.” The global Jewish diaspora is around 18 million, scattered across many nations and continents. Only in Israel do Jews live as dangerously they do, the bloodshed of the recent past fresh in their minds, quietly fearing when the next round will kick off. Only in Israel do Jews live in range of rockets fired by Judeophobes. Only in Israel do Jews have to live with barbed wire fences, bomb shelters, iron walls, machine guns, iron dome and specially designed bomb proof buses underwritten by diaspora and Gentile generosity. Only in Israel is there talk of a second Shoah befalling Jews if Iran acquires nukes. What is the old cliché about Jews and irony?
Let me make few closing observations. Talk of a ‘two state solution’ in light of current trends is simply a stale platitude. The truth is from the river to the sea there is a de facto one state reality divided into three regimes (possibly four). Firstly, a liberal democracy (albeit with many cracks) with all of its limitations for its predominantly Jewish citizens. Second, its Palestinian-Israeli citizens (or Israeli-Arabs depending on your linguistic politics) who have legal equality and personal freedom, but like many ethnic minorities in Western democracies endure structural inequality and are frequently the whipping boys of far-right demagogues. Thirdly, the Palestinians in the West Bank who live as subjects under a degrading military occupation without any rights whatsoever. And fourthly, Gaza, which is just a glorified cage, and Israel holds the keys.
The settler-colonisation of the West Bank continues unabetted and is ever more entrenched. Its colonists feel emboldened to attack Palestinian farmers in Hebron without challenge. State enforced evictions of Palestinians in East Jerusalem are accelerating. Explicit far-right chauvinism, Arab-baiting and racism is becoming louder and louder. And yet, Israel is the only occupying power that I know of in history that genuinely believes its David and the people its occupying and subjugating is Goliath. Objectively and materially speaking the two state solution has been dying for years and the resuscitation machine isn’t working. This is the reality brought into being by the political descendants of Jabotinsky, and is going to be the future: the one state dystopia on Israel’s terms.
So to answer my own question, will Israel make it to a 100th birthday? Yes. And it will celebrate more birthdays beyond that. So long as humanity is divided into ‘nations’, there will be a Hebrew speaking, predominantly, though not necessarily exclusively Jewish, Israeli national community in Palestine for an epoch to come. However, I must confess that like Christopher Hitchens, I think Israel’s days as ‘The Jewish State™’ are numbered. Israeli propaganda has always blurred the distinction between a state for Jews and The Jewish State™ (similar to how the Pakistan movement blurred Pakistan as a state for South Asian Muslims and an Islamic state). A blurring that will have to be unblurred to settle this so called ‘conflict’.
I’m not naïve. There isn’t going to be a quick, painless, shortcut to resolving the question of Palestine. Sadly, there will be more suffering for years to come. But Israelis will one day be confronted with a choice: do they want a free, democratic polity for Jews in a shared homeland with the Palestinians that will be brought into being through a joint Arab-Jewish struggle or a Jewish state? They better come up with an answer soon. But I’m not getting my hopes up. So as always with Palestine, truths are going to have to be discovered the hard way.