Israel’s National Identity Problem

December 5, 2014

News has arrived that the Netanyahu Government coalition, less than 20 months old, is fragmenting, due, among other things, to tensions over the potential passage of a new bill before the Knesset.  Titled “Israel, the Nation State of the Jewish People”, the proposed legislation is an attempt to finally produce the Israeli equivalent of a Constitution, establishing the guiding principles for  the State’s governance.  The document itself is short – barely a page long — and expressed in extremely simple language.

It affirms some very basic principles which have been widely recognized as fundamental to the State’s existence and have been largely taken for granted over the past 67 years; among them:

The Land of Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish People and the place of the establishment of the State of Israel.

The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish People in which the Jewish People realizes its right to self-determination in accordance with its cultural and historic heritage.

The right to realize national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People.

The State of Israel is democratic, based on the foundations of freedom, justice and peace in light of the visions of the prophets of Israel, and upholds the individual rights of all its citizens according to law

Notice that these principles are stated without reliance on any other authority (in contrast to the 1948 Declaration of Independence which had relied on United Nations Resolution 181, the Balfour Declaration and other documents in part to affirm the right to self-determination) but draws on the Jewish peoples’ heritage and long historical connections to the Land of Israel.

The question: is why now?  What has impelled Netanyahu to risk his government over something that is widely accepted in the country anyway?

The answer is multi-dimensional but if necessary can probably be redacted to a few key words: the need to set both a vision and a purpose for the country.

In rapid succession over the past 20 years the concept of the legitimacy of a Jewish state has come under pounding assault — first in the 1990s from the Israel’s post- Zionist historians, then from the Israeli Supreme Court under Chief Justice Aharon Barak; following that from a raft of post 9/11 campus radicals and finally from the Palestinian Authority itself, which is now successfully leading the world in delegitimization efforts. They have attempted to chip away at the foundational legitimacy of the Jewish state, declaring any religious affiliation of the State to be racist and buttressing accusations of a reversion to South African-style apartheid. Forgotten of course is that most Arab countries in the region define themselves as Islamic states and Israel is far and away the only country in the Middle East to extend true legal protections to its minorities.

From the state’s very beginnings it has been debated whether the Israel should be governed as a Jewish state or as a state of all its citizens. No one has forgotten that there is sizable minority — a little more than 20% — of non-Jews living in the country which now includes a broad mix of Arabs, Druze, Bedouin, Thais, Filipinos and Russians.

The question has never been completely resolved, and in the absence of a Constitution (which was once attempted but abandoned when the tension over the religious character of the state scuttled the effort) the country was legally held together by the passage of a series of Basic Laws which have governed such controversial subjects as Sabbath observance, marriage, death, conversions, and immigration.

But now, as one European country after another lines up to recognize a Palestinian state outside of an internationally sanctioned peace agreement, the Government of Israel can probably see the writing on the wall. Just as Palestinians have elected not to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state, so will the international community be goaded into following suit when it finds Israel doggedly resistant to the demands for the establishment of an implacable foe on its doorstep.

The opponents of the new law have mounted a vigorous attack upon it, declaring that it is at odds with the democratic nature of the state.

It’s a curious argument since our modern understanding of the concept of democracy is government sanctioned by the majority.  The democratic nature of a state is not destroyed when the majority elects a government which seeks to affirm the nation’s identity and character.

In addition, the bill which as it stands takes great pains to stress that the state will uphold the individual rights of all its citizens according to law; that the State will act to enable all residents of Israel, regardless of religion, race or nationality, to preserve their culture, heritage, language, and identity; and that members of recognized faiths shall be entitled to rest on their Sabbaths and holidays.

No discrimination against any non-Jews there.

But there is yet another important argument to make. There are those critics who portray democracy as if it is some sacred totem to which all human beings must bow in worship even when  the existence of that ideal conflicts with the expressions of a nation’s identity or even its national security. However even the West’s greatest philosophers and most fervent proponents of democracy never believed that there was a perfect representative system which would ensure that the interests of all citizens within any given polity would be completely represented. How could it be logically so when democracy is the rule by majority vote? To put it starkly, in any democracy there will always be a tension between a majority mandate and minority aspirations. They are in constant balance and at times the balance will shift unfavorably against the minority.

We are well aware, after all, of the flaws in American representative government and how hard it is to guarantee that any law passed by Congress will not at one time or another be tipped against one particular minority or group of individuals. We cannot forget that a small country such as Israel, with a population 1/32nd the size of the United States, is a unique experiment in world history and as a Jewish sovereign democratic state — the first in 2,000 years — cannot and should not be expected to meet an impossible standard that even the most vigorous democratic nations have failed to achieve.

The vote in the Knesset to approve the bill Israel, “the Nation State of the Jewish People” has become essential for Israelis themselves to emphatically affirm that after centuries of persecution there now exists and will always exist a place of refuge for the Jewish people, one which guarantees, in the words of the country’s 1948 Declaration of Independence itself, ” the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, in their own sovereign state.” It is this unassailable right to self-determination, which draws its life blood from Jewish law and history, that lies at the heart of Israel’s founding — and not its opponents’ tendentious argument that protecting the sensitivities of minorities was and is primary. The twin ideals of Jewish nationhood and representative democracy have sometimes comes into conflict — that is true. But, as many Zionist thinkers have recognized, that tension might be the price to be paid for having any Jewish state at all.


This article first appeared at the American Thinker

Read more:
Follow us: @AmericanThinker on Twitter | AmericanThinker on Facebook


Is There a Word in Hebrew for Treason?

September 5, 2010

Ahmed Tibi is an Arab and the Deputy Speaker of Israel’s Parliament, The Knesset.    As such, he  enjoys a immunity from prosecution for incitement and for making statements which could be interpreted as endangering his country’s security.  Indeed, over the past three years several members of  Tibi’s own party – Balad (the National Democratic Assembly)  – survived the prospect of indictment after making unauthorized trips to enemy states.  Tibi remains as one of the most visible activists advocating the dismantlement of the Jewish State and its replacement with a unitary bi-national state of Arabs and Jews.

In January , 2009, the Knesset Central Election Committee, comprising members of all Knesset factions, voted to disqualify Tibi’s party, Balad,   and the United Arab List-Ta’al — from running in the February 10 elections.  Lawmakers accused the two Arab parties of supporting armed struggle against Israel and seeking to undermine the state’s Jewish and democratic character. They based their measure on a 2002 amendment to the quasi-constitutional Basic Law, which permitted the banning of a Knesset faction if its goals or actions support the “armed struggle” of a terrorist organization or foreign country either implicitly or explicitly.

Suspicion about Tibi’s ties to the country’s adversaries arose  when he registered at the Doha Forum on Democracy, Developent and Free Trade, in Qatar, as leader of the Palestinian delegation. “Israel is an apartheid state,” he said to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni during a session in which she was speaking from the podium. The episode prompted Deputy Foreign Minister Majalli Whbee, a Druze member of Kadima, to say it was “time for Ahmed Tibi to decide which country he represents.”

Resentment has been even stronger toward Balad, which has three Knesset members. Anger is focused mostly on party founder Azmi Bishara, who was investigated by police in 2007 for allegedly assisting Hezbollah in the Second Lebanon War. Between interrogations he left for a meeting in Jordan and has not returned, reportedly because he fears an unfair trial and long imprisonment. He resigned from the chamber in 2007, in a letter submitted to the Israeli embassy in Cairo. He remains head of Balad, reputedly living mainly in Jordan, and communicates with party leaders by phone. He still receives a Knesset pension of around $2,000 a month. A move in the Knesset to stop payments was blocked by the Supreme Court. On January 21, 2009 the Supreme Court of Israel overturned the Committee’s decision by a majority of eight to one.

Tibi continues to remain unfazed by the threat of prosecution.  In fact, he regularly uses the Deputy Speaker’s platform to proudly assert his support for Palestinian nationalism at every opportunity.

He did so again on Friday in the Los Angeles Times.  There he stated that he has no faith in the leader of his own government as a sincere negotiator for peace and condemned Benjamin Netanyahu for his procrastination and indifference to Palestinian suffering.   These were not the words of a Israeli parliamentarian but of an adversary.

“I am not alone in being pessimistic. Most Palestinians are. Young people in particular have been betrayed. A whole generation of Palestinians has grown up watching as talks failed. They have seen deepening colonization rather than freedom.”

Tibi, of course, fails to mention that the ” betrayal” in this instance, came from the Palestinian leaders themselves.  Offered most of their demands at Camp David in  July, 2000, Yasser Arafat launched an armed insurrection that resulted in 1,000 Israeli deaths and nearly 3,500 Palestinian.  The ” Intifada” gained Palestinians nothing and drove whatever was left of the peace process into the ground.

One has to wonder whether any other Arab country would tolerate such words spoken publicly by the Deputy Speaker of its Parliament.  It is a supreme irony that Tibi’s freedom to present such views in the Western press would never be allowed in any of the other countries who are party to the talks, least of all in Mahmoud Abbas’ West Bank where dissent is ruthlessly repressed.

Treason is not a popular word in the English vocabulary.  Very few Western countries have mounted successful cases in the post -war years against citizens who have espoused views or taken actions which have given comfort and aid to the enemy.

But there are countries where  the word ” treason”  really should have some meaning.   Perhaps the Hebrew word for traitor – “Bogged” might begin to take on some of this meaning when the Israeli Supreme Court finally gains the courage to  firmly states that it is illegal for  the country’s own parliamentarians to represent another constituency altogether, while presiding as a peoples’  representative .

Middle East Peace Requires A Warmer Nest

September 5, 2010

There is an old Yiddish proverb ” Beware of still water, a still dog and a still enemy”.  That is an adage Benjamin Netanyahu’s peace delegation might take to heart as it prepares for peace talks in Washington this Thursday.   For months the Palestinian Authority has been claiming that it has finally exerted control over its extremist elements, making it a fit partner for a peace talks and respectable to enough be taken seriously by the international community.

But that claim was put to the lie last night as an Israeli family of four was gunned down in cold blood on the outskirts of Hebron.   The murder, by the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigade, should make everyone understand that seeming Palestinian quietude is often a mask for the execution of the next terrorist strike.

On the surface, these times may indeed seem propitious for final negotiations. The Palestinian economy is booming, Israelis are desperate to find a passage out of  their current diplomatic isolation and the Obama Administration seems fully engaged, eager to end a nettlesome problem which stands in the way of a broader compact with the Arab world.

But lets get real.  The Palestinian delegation arriving in Washington this week is nothing more than a rump party, representing barely a third of Palestinian population and less than a quarter of domestic opinion ( which remains avowedly opposed to the recognition of Israel) ;  Its leadership has not foresworn the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees to Israel proper ( a deal killer for any Israeli government – of  either right or  left) and Palestinian school books still preach the value and benefit of murdering Jews.

Not exactly the ideal nest for hatching a peace egg, now is it? .

Beyond even this uncomfortable reality is the specter of  of the 800 pound gorilla that everyone conveniently ignores.    Hamas is not party to these talks, nor does it wish to be.  It is doing just fine, thank you very much, garnering global sympathy as a victim of Israeli intransigence while gleefully opening its Get Well mail sent by the world following the Flotilla incident of late May.  Yet Hamas represents nearly one and a half million Palestinians and is still, by all accounts, very much in control of its tiny territory.  Its willingness to defy the local superpower has transformed its image among ordinary Palestinians ( not to mention the broader Arab world)  from one of spoiler to that of gladiator.  The Palestinians in the West Bank have little to offer as comparable symbols of Muslim manhood.

The failure to recognize that the Palestinian people as irredeemably splintered and wracked by internecine feuds and tribal hatreds – and that is has never had any real incentive to make progress in peace negotiations, has bedeviled almost all peace negotiations since 1991 and will doom these ones as well.  No one seems to remember today that the vast majority of Palestinians killed in the first Intifada ( 1987-91) perished at the hand of other Palestinians.   Or that hundreds of Palestinians died during Yasser Arafat’s reign in the West Bank, merely for supporting the notion of peace with Israel.  Mahmoud Abbas, a weak leader whose chief ability appears to be his skill in evading assassination, has none of the charisma or confidence of Yasser Arafat ( nor consummate skill at duping Western leaders) and for years has appeared more than content to sit on his hands and do nothing.

For good reason.  A peace agreement does not serve his nor, to his mind at least, Palestinian interests.  The Palestinian leadership gains nothing from statehood ( and the implicit expectation that it recognize its neighbor’s right to exist), except death warrants from groups such as the Qassam Brigade and the possible loss of the nepotistic monopolies that they control in their territories.  The Palestinian people are  also doing fine as inveterate wards of the West, the recipients of more aid per capita than any other people on Earth.

Given this reality there is another Yiddish proverb the Netanyahu folks might wish to recall:  “If things are not as you wish, then wish them as they are”.   This an apt second guide for all the parties to the peace negotiations.  Taken seriously, it may just awaken the peace dreamers to the reality that the Palestinians might actually fight ( as Arafat once did) to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state.   The result could be a renewed Intifada far more desperate and catastrophic than any that has come before it.

Should Israel Apologize To Turkey?

July 21, 2010

The Turks don’t seem to be losing any momentum in their international campaign to demonize Israel.

Not content with having withdrawn their ambassador to the country and using every international forum available to raise the specter of the Jewish  ” state terrorism” , Turkey is now demanding an apology for the deaths aboard the Mavi Marmara on the morning May 30 when the Turkish registered boat sought to breach the Gaza blockade.

Now the Turks, having acknowledged that the Government of Israel recognizes that ” mistakes” were made in the attempt to interdict the passage of the ship, have made it clear that they will accept nothing short of a full apology for the eleven deaths which resulted from the confrontation.

Such an apology would be nothing  short of a diplomatic catastrophe for the Jewish state.  To acknowledge that the nation was somehow at fault for this commission of political theater, would be to essentially acknowledge guilt – yet there can be no question of Israel’s liability for the violence which broke out that morning , which was pre-planned and pre-meditated and designed to achieve exactly its result.    Israel would gain nothing but further opprobrium and it would make the likelihood of future passage of such violations of Israeli sovereignty even more certain.

The Turks know something about how to manage international campaigns of this order.  For 95 years , successive Turkish governments have denied the role of  the state in facilitating the deaths of close to one million Armenian Turkish citizens during the First World War.   No Turkish leader has been prepared to acknowledge this enormous crime against humanity and  for a very good reason.  To do so would open the country to compensatory claims and property right legal suits that could stretch on for generations.  Not only that, but the history of modern Turkey would  inevitably be colored by the  dark hues of racism and bigotry, almost impossible to erase from memory and reputation, as many Germans can today attest.

The difference between Turkey and Israel in these two instances is that Israel did not kill a million people in a pre-planned genocidal campaign and has not sought to deny the truth behind the incidents which occurred in May, 2010 – releasing video footage which shows clearly that the Navy Seals who boarded the boat,  were first brutally attacked  and fired their guns only to defend their lives.  The Turks, on the other hand, will not open their archives to reveal the truth about the events of 1915 –  which could not have been conducted in self defense – and insist in applying tremendous pressure on Western governments to resist Armenian pressure to declare those events a genocide.

Perhaps Israel then would be better off  not seeking to mollify the anti-Israel government of Turkey but in reversing its long held policy of not pushing for world wide recognition of the Armenian genocide.  Perhaps then, in the diplomatic shell game the Turks are now playing, they will begin to learn that they have exposure on an issue far more internationally damaging any ” crime ” the Israelis have ever committed.

Michael Lerner’s Night of Broken Glass

May 9, 2010

Pity Michael Lerner.  The oft quoted far left rabbi from Berkeley, the famous avatar of the Clintonian Politics of Meaning, has been the victim lately of a vicious blow-back against his political positions – most particularly his embrace of South African jurist Richard Goldstone as well as  his support for the U.S. imposition of a peace treaty upon Israel.

It has gotten so bad for the outspoken rabbi that vandals last week , according to a press release issued by Lerner’s organization, affixed  posters to his door, attacking the man personally, and pillioring liberals and progressives as being supporters of terrorism and “Islamo-fascism.” They glued to his door a printed bumper sticker which sported the logo “fight terror–support Israel” next to a caricature of Judge Richard Goldstone, whose UN report on Israel’s human rights violations in its attack on Gaza last year has been denounced as anti-Semitic and pro-terror.

Lerner’s supporters around the world have declared the house’s defacement an act of fascist vandalism and evidence of a brooding hatred in the Jewish world.  In particular, they have fingered the prolific pen of Alan Desrhsowitz, who in an opinion piece on April 28 in the Jerusalem Post called both Lerner and  Goldstone to task for their anti-Israel stances.

Labeling Goldstone’s rabbinic supporters  as ” Rabbis for Hamas”,  Dershowitz explained:

“Not surprisingly, the worst of these rabbis (and that’s saying a lot), Michael Lerner, has decided to honor Richard Goldstone with Tikkun Magazine‘s “Ethics Award.” I guess all it takes to be honored by Tikkun is to pass Lerner’s litmus test of lying about Israel. That’s Lerner’s definition of “ethics.” There are some good people on the advisory board of Tikkun Magazine. They now have an obligation to reconsider their membership unless they wish to be associated with a rabbi who is prepared to accuse Israel, in the absence of any evidence, of deliberately setting out to murder Palestinian civilians without any military purpose.  “

Lerner supporters, in reflecting on the vandalism and provocations of Dershowitz and others, have also invoked the imagery of  Night of Broken  Glass in Germany – or Kristallnacht as it is more familiarly known (November 9, 1938), when thousands of  Jewish shop windows , synagogues and homes were destroyed in state sanctioned violence after a Jewish student shot to death a German diplomat in Paris.

Such a comparison, is, of course, absurd.  Neither Dershowitz nor any other of the Lerner/ Goldstone critics are calling for the death of either man nor for the looting and sacking of their homes and injuring others.  But the far left’s  accusation is couched in language that they  – and Michael Lerner and Richard Goldstone in particular –  understand very  well.

In the early 1970s,  Lerner  created an organization called the Seattle Liberation Front (SLF), which participated in numerous anti-war protests and at least one riot.   During this period , SLF, the Black Student Union (BSU), and the violent terrorist group Weathermen (led by such luminaries as Bill Ayres  and Bernadine Dohrn) collaborated to carry out a number of direct actions on university campuses. One day, SLF and BSU members — bearing pipes and clubs while shouting “Power to the people!” and “Smash the state!” – rampaged through several university buildings and, in some cases, roughed up innocent onlookers. Washington state attorney Slade Gorton, who later went on to become a U.S. Senator, described the tactics of Lerner’s SLF as “totally indistinguishable from fascism and Nazism.”

SLF’s most famous action was a February 17, 1970 demonstration at the Federal Courthouse in downtown Seattle, which escalated into a riot in which twenty individuals were injured.   Lerner himself was one of the so-called “Seattle Seven,” charged in a federal trial with “conspiracy to incite a riot.” He spent several months in prison before the main charges against him eventually were dropped and he was released.

Richard Goldstone, on the other hand, has had his own flirtation with fascist undertakings.  In the 1980s and 90s, before the collapse of Apartheid, Goldstone took an active part in the racist policies of the South African regime.   During his tenure as sitting judge in the appellate court, he  sentenced dozens of blacks mercilessly to their deaths. The Richard Goldstone of that day and age was a great enthusiast for capital punishment, torture and miscegenationist policies.   He imposed and affirmed death sentences for more than two dozen blacks under circumstances where whites would almost certainly have been dealt with more leniently.  He gave sentences of physical torture–euphemistically called “flogging”– for other blacks. He also facilitated miscegenation and other racist laws with no recorded word of criticism nor dissent.   He therefore fulfilled an  important role in the state apparatus that enforced racial subjugation in his own country.

Even today Goldstone expresses few regrets.  ” It was the law of the land,”  he says, without seeming to understand in the slightest that statement’s  irony.  After all, antisemitism was the law of land on the night of November 9, 1938, as well.

Fascistic outbursts, as Jonah Goldberg has brilliantly illustrated in his book Liberal Fascism, is not only a phenomenon of the right.  Lerner, Goldberg and their supporters would therefore do well to investigate their own fascistic legacy before choosing to slap that label on to anyone else.

Jordan Plays Hard Ball With Soft Shoes

April 7, 2010

An interview  in the Wall Steet Journal of April 6 with Jordan’s  King Abdullah II, revealed him flexing his muscles and decrying Israeli intransigence over the breakdown of the peace process.

It was a nice little piece of political theater.  He of course knows much better.

The King is well aware of the nature of the Palestinian leadership and its abject failures over the course of 50 years to secure any substantial benefits for its people.  He knows that the true reason there has been no progress in the peace process is not because of Israeli intransigence, but because of a  Palestinian reversion to terrorism.

After all, nearly 70% of his own population is of Palestinian extraction and his own kingship is what we would call in the West, a minority government.

He is also aware that his grandfather, the first Abdullah, was assassinated by a Palestinian nationalist and that attempts on his father’s life occurred so frequently that bullet proof glass was needed to be installed in every bathroom in the King’s residences.

In other words,  this King is on shaky ground and he knows it.   He also knows that one of the things that vouchsafes his regime is the presence , not of his dear friends among the surrounding Arab countries (who would pick Jordan clean should the Hashemites fall) but the support and proximity of the Israeli army.  Israel will not let the Hashemite kingdom collapse.

Yet in true Arab fashion, the King chose to unload his venom in this interview on Israel, accusing it of deliberately delaying any movement toward peace.

There are several other glaring inaccuracies in his interview:

“The extremists around are saying, hey look, nothing is happening, dialogue does not work, communicating with the Israelis is not the way to go forward, the idea of resistance, the spread of fear and hatred is the message they put forward, is the way to go….”

Extremist elements in Gaza and the territories are opposed to Israel’ s very existence and the thought of an accommodation is anathema to them.   For Hamas and the PA’s own al Aqsa Maryr’s Brigades,  nothing could spur greater violence than  the idea of a final settlement. Last year Fatah re-endorsed the notion of armed struggle against the Jewish state.

“If there are those that are saying that Iran is playing mischief, then I say it is being allowed to play mischief. The platform they use is the injustice of the Palestinians and Jerusalem…..”

No, they don’t .  Iran’s problem, like Hamas’, Hezbollah’s and other Palestinian groups, is with Israel’s existence.  If they use the ” injustices” meted out to the Palestinians  as a means of discussing their grievances, then it is only as a pretext.  Once again Abdullah knows this, but like the rest of the leadership in the Arab world,  finds falling back on reliable old complaints a more comfortable political posture.

“I  think the long-term future of Israel is in jeopardy unless we solve our problems. Fifty-seven countries in the world, a third of the United Nations, do not recognize Israel. In a way, I think North Korea has better international relations than Israel. So when you look at the Arab-Islamic peace proposal what you are talking about is 57 nations reaching out to Israel for a long-term future.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. There  are not ” 57 countries”  who don’t recognize  Israel.  There are 30 – and they  are all either Muslim or Communist in nature.  There is absolutely no evidence that should Israel  remove its settlements entirely from the West Bank and retreat from East Jerusalem that there would suddenly be an outpouring of love from these same countries.  In fact, quite the reverse is likely to occur.  The Israeli  willingness to give up territory has always been regarded by the Arab world as a sign of weakness and an incentive for further attacks and demonization.  Hence the escalation of rocket attacks on Israel’s southern border in the wake of the removal of its settlements and  military presence in Gaza.

And unfortunately, for the first time since my father made peace with Israel, our relationship with Israel is at an all bottom low. It hasn’t been as bad as it is today and as tense as it is today.”

If that is true, it is not because of anything Israel has or has not done.   Because the reality is that Jordan has always feathered its nest by propitiating its stronger Arab neighbors, while continuing to maintain secret discussions with the Jewish state.  Abdullah’s father Hussein was a master at this kind of balancing act.  It served him well and facilitated his survival for nearly 50 years on Jordan’s throne.   We are yet  to see whether his  son has that same kind of aptitude.

Whatever King Abdullah II of Jordan really believes, we are unlikely to see any of it appear in print, particularly in a Wall Street Journal interview.  The realities of Arab diplomacy in the Middle East are rarely played out in the press and attitudes that are stated so forthrightly and adamantly in public can actually be very different from the ones expressed behind the closed doors.

With any fall out from an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel almost certain to have devastating consequences for neighboring Jordan, you can bet  that Abdullah and other moderate Arab leaders like him, will continue to find every conceivable excuse to blame Israel while at the same time scurrying for cover behind Israel’s deterrent nuclear shield.

Bombers For Settlements

March 25, 2010

I can’t say I disagree with the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens all  too often.  His is the first piece of writing I turn to every Tuesday morning, so certain am I that I will be greeted by a succinct, well argued editorial, wrapped in elegant, wry prose.

But his last two pieces for the print version of the Journal have angered me, not for the  thrust of his arguments, but for some ancillary matters that he allowed to slip into the writing which betrayed a bias out of keeping with his generally level headed approach.

On Tuesday, March 16,  his piece  Settlements Aren’t the Problem, he let fly this doozy of a paragraph:

“It’s easy to dislike Israel’s settlements, and still easier to dislike many of the settlers. Whatever your view about the legality or justice of the enterprise, it takes a certain cast of mind to move your children to places where they are more likely to be in harm’s way. In the current issue of The American Interest, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer persuasively spells out the many ways in which the settlement movement has undermined Israel’s own rule of law, and hence its democracy. And as last week’s diplomatic eruption over the prospective construction of 1,600 housing units in municipal Jerusalem shows, the settlements are a constant irritant to the United States, one friend Israel can’t afford to lose.”

Mr. Stephens falls into dangerous tropes when he stereotypes the settlers as generally ” unlikeable” or that they have manifested a profound irresponsibility by moving their children” into harm’s way.”  The settlement movement in Judea and Samaria boasts the highest percentage of soldiers serving in elite units in the country; its communities regularly win awards for good government and efficiency; cooperation with local Arab communities, never reported by the mainstream media, remains vigorous and is essential to the health and welfare of the overall Arab population.  And Ariel University, in the center of the territories, is now regarded as one of the primary tertiary institutions in the nation, serving Arab, Jew and Bedouin alike with unparalleled educational opportunities.

More than this, statistics reveal that the territories are no less safe than any other part of Israel, with those who live in the settlements suffering about the same percentage of attacks over the past 17 years (since the Oslo Accords), as any other portion of Israel’s population.

Mr. Stephens compounded his offense when he made a nonsensical argument on March 24, concluding his otherwise fine piece, The Netanyahu Diaries, with the following feigned address from the Israeli prime minister to the U.S. president :

“Let’s make a deal, Mr. President: Our settlements for your bombers. We can’t fully destroy Iran’s nuclear sites—but you can. You can’t dismantle our settlements—but we can. We’ll all come out the better for it, including the Palestinians. Think about it, Barack.”

The idea that Israel would move hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, splitting Israeli society in two and abandoning territory that Netanyahu has not only regarded as part of  the Jewish inheritance, but, according to his own work, A Place Among the Nations, as vital to Israel’s security, for  a military attack conducted by another nation, seems extraordinarily far-fetched.  Israel has never out- sourced its security to another nation and likelihood of doing it in the case of Iran is remote.    Add to this the uncertainty of a successful U.S. bombing raid (or any military action) against Iranian nuclear facilities and you clearly have a reflection,  not of Netanyahu’s or his government’s positions on the matter, but rather those of the writer himself.

We should not  forget that Mr. Stephens was the editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post for two years, so it is not as if he is ignorant about the Middle East conflict or unaware of its bedeviling contradictions.    But the flippant dismissal of a group, their ancestral associations or valid  strategic arguments  for retaining vital territory, belongs not to a writer of  Stephens’ renown, but to the smug, self -aggrandizing style of the New York Times’  Thomas Friedman.

Jimmy Carter, another ‘expert’ on the Middle East spent years vilifying the settlers without ever visiting a settlement, rarely ever meeting a settler.  That changed in June, 2009 when he accepted an invitation to enter the Gush Etzion settlement of Neve Daniel.  What he saw there, by his own admission, changed his mind – at least about the future of the settlement in question.

I am sure Mr. Stephens has met settlers and has visited settlements.  What I am not so sure about is his willingness to shrug off prejudices that do a disservice to his journalism, to  balance and fairness – and to the cause of peace itself.

%d bloggers like this: