Let’s talk about our relationship

Trigger warning: Donald Trump is mentioned in the following post. I ask that those of you who hate or love him to refrain from sending me angry emails accusing me of loving or hating him. I don’t. Unlike the Nobel Prize Committee, I prefer to wait for a president to be in office for at least a year before deciding.

During the Obama era, my advice to Israel regarding her relationship to the US was simple:

Reduce dependence on the US in every area; for military aid, intelligence cooperation, diplomatic defense, and facilitation of negotiations with the Palestinians.

Obama’s staff was overwhelmingly anti-Israel, and the president himself – his background, associations, ideology and temperament – was hostile to Israel. There has never been a president less friendly to Israel than Barack Hussein Obama, something that was proven to us over and over, from the Iran deal to the withdrawal of support for Israel at the UN Security Council last December.

With the election of Donald Trump, some suggested that now everything would change. And much has. Trump has some very pro-Israel advisors, notably Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. He himself is overwhelmingly pragmatic rather than ideological. He made early commitments to pro-Israel policies, such as moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, maintaining Israel’s “qualitative military edge,” and “dismantling” (later changed to “strictly enforcing”) the Iran nuclear deal.

But my advice remains the same.

The first reason is that despite the very positive changes, some things remain the same. For every Friedman or Haley, there is someone like Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who maintains that the capital of Israel is Tel Aviv, or National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster who refuses to say whether the Western Wall is part of Israel. And the State Department, unsurprisingly, is still the State Department, refusing to admit that any part of Jerusalem belongs to Israel.

Trump himself has flip-flopped on some of these issues. There have been several conflicting reports on whether he will sign the waiver that will keep the embassy in Tel Aviv. The most recent announcement attributed to a “senior administration official” is that he will not allow the embassy to move, but until the June 1 deadline, anything can happen.

Trump seems to view American interests – particularly where Iran is concerned – as closer to those of Israel than Obama did. But the “golden handcuffs” are still  handcuffs.

The second reason is that Trump is apparently in the grip of a traditional delusion of American presidents – the idea that he can and should try to “solve” the Israeli-Arab conflict. This is exacerbated by his view of himself as the world’s greatest dealmaker.

Trump has given no indication that he understands the nature of the conflict, that the intractability of it is a consequence of the contradiction between the Arab narrative and the existence of a Jewish state of any size between the river and the sea. The fact that he continually refers to a “deal” that he wishes to mediate illustrates this. A “deal” is an agreement in which both sides can find an advantage. In real estate, almost everything can be measured in dollars. But this conflict can’t be ended by a deal.

“Palestinian honor” requires an acknowledgement that every inch of the land belongs to them, and insists that several million “refugees” (who are in fact not refugees) have a right to “return” to the places some of their ancestors may have lived (for as little as two years) before 1948. Loss of honor can’t be compensated for with dollars, especially when several generations have been raised on precisely this “Palestinist” ideology.

The religion of Islam also plays a role. As long as there is Jewish sovereignty over what is seen as Muslim land, there will be an obligation for Muslims to pursue jihad to re-impose Islamic domination and Islamic law over it. Not all Muslim Arabs are prepared to engage in violent jihad, but many are. 69 years during which “refugees” in UN-supported camps have been paid to have children with no possibility of a permanent home and few opportunities for careers have ensured that there will be plenty of soldiers for the jihad.

The Palestinians have shown, over and over, that they are prepared to kill and die for their perceived honor and their religion. The combination of the ideology of Palestinism with the religion of Islam and the honor-shame Arab culture has closed the door to a negotiated compromise solution.

Although some Israelis feel a religious imperative to hold on to Judea and Samaria, they are in the minority. Almost all, however, understand that an influx of Arab “refugees” or the re-establishment of indefensible borders will be the end of their state, and probably the lives of many of them. And none of them trusts the PLO or Hamas to live up to any agreement that they may sign.

There aren’t technical solutions for the contradiction between Palestinian desires and the survival of a Jewish state. There is no deal here. And yet, Trump  insists that there is, opening the way for the Palestinian extortion that has characterized the phony “peace process” to continue. There is no benefit for Israel that can come out of Trump’s dealmaking. We can only try to control the damage.

The third and final reason that Israel should distance herself from the US is painful for me to discuss, as someone who grew up in America and who believes that in many ways she is still the greatest nation in history.

I think the third reason can be summed up by a simple analogy: don’t go out on a date with an 800-pound gorilla who has recently started hearing voices in his head. And if you have to go, make sure to bring cab fare for a ride home.

No, I don’t mean Trump. The gorilla is the USA. I am talking about – there’s no other word for it – the madness that has recently gripped the political and cultural life of the United States.

I don’t know where to start, but here are some examples off the top of my head: the political polarization and official gridlock; the failure of public education system in many places; the high cost, poor quality and often futility of higher education; the rejection of the ideal of freedom of expression in the academic world; the contest to see who can be the most extreme in matters of sexual preference, race and gender; the prevalence of conspiracy theories on both the Right and the Left; the failure of the healthcare system; the increase in political and racial violence; the epidemics of meth and opiates; the sheer number of people incarcerated; and the total lack of credibility of the media on both sides of the political divide.

Trump’s own position is unsteady. Today, while the President is traveling in the Middle East, his opponents at home – who never accepted the fact of his election – are fulminating with plans to oust him in one way or in another. There is a strong odor of instability coming from Washington. Whether you love Trump or hate him, there is no doubt that the situation is dangerous.

It isn’t safe for Israel to depend on a US that very clearly has its own problems to solve, where support for Israel has become a partisan issue, and where it’s not clear what the political weather will be tomorrow.

Tell the gorilla thanks for the offer, but Israel is going to stay home and wash her hair.

Posted in 'Peace' Process, American politics, American society, Israel and Palestinian Arabs, US-Israel Relations | 1 Comment

Europeans, get your national identities back

European history is full of wars, culminating in the massive eruptions of violence that characterized the first half of the 20th century, which overflowed the boundaries of Europe to the point that they were called “World Wars.” These wars were responsible for an unimaginable amount of suffering. Whole generations of young European men were wiped out by WWI. About 61 million people, more than half of them civilians, lost their lives in WWII. Genocides were committed, entire cities erased from the earth.

After WWII, Europe and her allies responded to the trauma. They blamed nationalism, jingoism, militarism and racism. They came to distrust expressions of patriotism, and to dislike borders and barriers to free passage of people and goods. They decided to create a new world, one in which the forces that had led to the horrors of the 20th century were suppressed, and in which reasoning and negotiation would replace war. They created the UN and its countless agencies; and they tried to unify Europe, first economically and then culturally, by means of the EU.

They tried to improve individual lives as well, to eradicate hunger and poverty, to provide free education to all, to reduce social and economic inequality, to ensure that everyone that could work could get a job and that those that couldn’t work would still have the necessities of life. The Dickensian conditions of the 19th century would not return; a new humanistic, universalist, caring ethic would replace the social Darwinism of old.

Western society, it was thought, had to change. War was an unaffordable luxury in a world of machine guns, strategic bombing and now nuclear weapons and ICBMs. It was often said that a WWIII would bring about the end of civilized life (if not all human life) on the planet. The changes were seen as an evolutionary development in order to adapt to a new environment. Things had to change, or humankind would destroy itself.

But evolutionary changes brought about by environmental pressure can have unintended consequences. A genetic trait that offers protection against malaria and which became common in Africa for that reason, also renders people that have it susceptible to Sickle-cell Disease. And the evolutionary social and political change in Europe and to a lesser extent in America may have helped reduce some of the dangers that threatened civilization, but it also made Western society more susceptible to others.

One of those dangers is the Islamic jihad.

One definition of jihad is a struggle – which can be violent or non-violent – to establish Islamic rule and law (shari’a). Douglas E. Streusand explains:

For the jurists, jihad fits a context of the world divided into Muslim and non-Muslim zones, Dar al-Islam (Abode of Islam) and Dar al-Harb (Abode of War) respectively. This model implies perpetual warfare between Muslims and non-Muslims until the territory under Muslim control absorbs what is not, an attitude that perhaps reflects the optimism that resulted from the quick and far-reaching Arab conquests. Extending Dar al-Islam does not mean the annihilation of all non-Muslims, however, nor even their necessary conversion. Indeed, jihad cannot imply conversion by force, for the Qur’an (2:256) specifically states “there is no compulsion in religion.” Jihad has an explicitly political aim: the establishment of Muslim rule, which in turn has two benefits: it articulates Islam’s supersession of other faiths and creates the opportunity for Muslims to create a just political and social order.

The “quick and far-reaching … conquests” in the West were stalled in 1683 at the Battle of Vienna, when the troops of the Ottoman Sultan were stopped by the combined forces of the Habsburg Monarchy, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Holy Roman Empire. By then Islam had a firm foothold in parts of Asia, Africa and Europe, but as time passed the Islamic world began to lag behind the West militarily, economically and culturally. The long jihad had made Islam the second-most common of the world’s religions, and placed a large portion of the inhabited earth in Dar al-Islam (the abode of Islam, i.e., under Islamic rule), but its advance had ended – at least until recently.

Jihad need not be conventional warfare. It is possible to expand Dar al-Islam by war, but also by subversion, by demographic means – migration and reproduction – and by da’wa (proselytizing), which can be totally non-violent or include terrorism as a persuasive component.

The weakness of the West today has allowed the still smoldering Islamic jihad to rekindle itself. Every form of jihad can be found in action today: kinetic warfare in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan (jihad can target “heretical” Muslims as well as non-Muslims); infiltration, subversion and da’wa, including terrorism, in the US; and of course demographic jihad in Europe.

In the US, the Muslim Brotherhood has had an elaborate plan for subversion and da’wa in place for several decades. It has infiltrated government agencies including those related to national security. Conversions to Islam spiked after 9/11, and the number of prison conversions has also increased (this phenomenon is also seen in other Western countries). There has been an increase in Muslim immigration to the US in recent decades, but of course it does not compare to the mass migration into Europe.

Dutch politician Geert Wilders called the flow of Muslims into Europe “a Tsunami” and the expression fits. In addition to the large number of immigrants, they tend to be younger and to have more children than the native Europeans. In Germany, the fertility of native Germans was 1.5 children per women in 2016, far below the replacement rate of 2.1, while foreign women living there had 1.95 children. Since the amount of immigration has very recently shot up (900,000 applied in 2015) we can expect that as these immigrants settle in they will have even more children.

Islamic terrorism in Europe has also made headlines recently, including high-profile mass killings in France, the UK, Germany, Sweden and Belgium. There has also been an increase in “misdemeanor terrorism” like harassment of Jews, much of it perpetrated by Muslims.

In the UK, outrageous behavior by Muslims (e.g., the Rotherham rape scandal) was allowed to continue for years because police and other officials feared being called “racist.” In another shocking case, thousands of women were sexually assaulted on New Year’s eve of 2016 in several German cities. Few of the perpetrators were prosecuted.

The massive migration into Europe was facilitated by the EU’s Schengen Agreement, which allows free passage between EU countries. Combined with liberal rules for asylum and lax enforcement, almost anyone could get to any country (rules have been tightened and enforcement improved to some extent). Europe’s walls were not breached; she voluntarily opened her gates. Germany, especially, welcomed migrants, many of whom passed themselves off as Syrian refugees with fake passports.

Unfortunately, the evolutionary changes in European (and, to a lesser extent, American) society after WWII have placed it at a disadvantage relative to the Islamic jihad. Jihadists are strongly dedicated to their cause, even in some cases prepared to sacrifice their lives in suicide attacks. Native Europeans, on the other hand, are less committed to their faith and to their nations. While some 72% of Europeans identify as Christian, this number is falling, with the influx of non-Christians and an increase in those who are becoming “unaffiliated.” Church attendance is low, and liberal religious leaders sermonize against “Islamophobia” rather than Islam.

Nationalism is associated with fascism, and criticism of Islamic ideology with hate speech, which is illegal in some countries and can be punished with fines or imprisonment. Thus European law is aligned with Islamic blasphemy laws! This is a particularly dangerous trend, which Richard Landes has named “Proleptic Dhimmitude,”  defined as “taking on the requirements of dhimmitude in anticipation of Muslim rule.”

So what will be the outcome? Will unassimilated Muslim populations increase, along with terrorism, conversions to Islam, disrespect for liberal traditions, harassment of Jews and women? Will taboos against insulting Islam and Muslims continue to stymie the prosecution of Muslim criminals? Will European society find itself adapting to Islamic standards rather than the other way around? And ultimately will countries like the UK, France and Germany become shari’a compliant?

I believe that if current trends continue, the answer will be “yes.” But there is an alternative. It will require a serious shift in attitudes on the part of native Europeans. They were right to regret their 20th century behavior, and right to try to ensure that it did not happen again. But they went too far when they denied their own national identities.

If they are to prevail over the jihadists, who know who they are and what they are fighting for, they will need to care about their own countries, their history, traditions and religions. They will have to be French or German first, and only then European (the British have already made this decision). They will have to re-embrace nationalism and patriotism, which are not the same as fascism. They will have to care more for their own people than for others, while still treating the others like human beings. They will have to control their own borders.

They will have to make the all-important distinction between the ideology of Islam and Muslim people, and emphatically reject the former while protecting the rights of the latter (and by “rights” I mean things like the right to live where one wants and not the “right” to not be offended). They will have to enforce the laws of their nations fairly.

They will have to learn that there are some things that aren’t open to negotiation, and some disagreements that can’t be settled by talking. They will have to maintain military forces just in case someone tries to take what is theirs by force.

Do the contributions of European civilization, Shakespeare, Mozart, Michelangelo, balance its mistakes, moral lapses and even heinous crimes, and justify its continued existence? Or ought it to join the Roman and Byzantine Empires, the Aztecs and all the rest in the dumpster of history?

The choice is in European hands.

Posted in Europe, Islam | Leave a comment

Moshe Arens, meet Aharon Barak

There are few people in Israeli public life that I respect more than Moshe Arens, former Minister of Defense (three terms), Minister of Foreign Affairs and Ambassador to the US.

But I think he was wrong recently, when he wrote this:

Just when I thought that the Nation-State bill had been shelved, shoved in the deepest recesses of the Knesset archives, it has resurfaced, and seems to have received the government’s support.

This bill is useless and harmful. Ignore the self-righteous explanations that it is no more than a statement, and that it does not discriminate against Israel’s Arab citizens.

Who needs this statement, anyway? The Israeli flag is the Zionist flag; and the Israeli anthem is Hatikvah; Hebrew is the predominant language spoken in Israel; and the Law of Return, passed by the Knesset many years ago, is being implemented on a daily basis. There is no need for a declaration to affirm that in Israel the Jewish people are exercising their right to national self-determination, and that Israel remains committed to providing a haven for all Jews seeking such a haven. All of Israel’s citizens, Jews and Arabs, as well as the rest of the world, are fully aware of that. Any “statement” on this matter is superfluous.

But the problem is worse than that. Enacting this bill into law smacks of a total absence of sensitivity and empathy for our fellow Arab citizens.

Israeli Arabs constitute a fifth of Israel’s citizens, a minority entitled to full equality of rights and of opportunities. Although great progress has been made in Israel’s 69 years, we still have a long way to go to achieve this goal, which is part of integrating Israel’s Arab citizens into Israeli society and into the Israeli economy. That is of ultimate importance not only for Israel’s Arabs but for Israel’s Jewish citizens as well. In other words, it is of ultimate importance for the State of Israel, and should be first priority in the government’s economic and social agenda. Failure to attain this goal could leave many of Israel’s Arab citizens with a feeling of alienation, possibly even hostility, toward Israel. From this perspective, the Nation-State bill is a move in the wrong direction.

I think the nation-state law (full text in English and in Hebrew), which passed its first reading in the Knesset this week, is absolutely essential. It is a weakened version of a bill that was proposed several times in the past, and will probably be weakened even further (perhaps the paragraph about the national language that Arens particularly objects to will be changed) before it is ultimately enacted. But I think some version must become law. Here is why:

Israel does not have a constitution. In its place it has several Basic Laws, which partially define the basic principles of the state: the Knesset and the electoral system, the army, Jerusalem as the capital of the state, the judiciary, and – very importantly – the basic rights of Israeli citizens in the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty.

These laws are not comprehensive. Due to the contentious nature of Israeli society and politics, the constitution that was called for in Israel’s Declaration of Independence to be ready in 6 months was never written; and the Basic Laws cover only part of the ground.

One of the biggest missing pieces is an explication of “Jewish State,” even though the Declaration of Independence explicitly declares “a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel.” But what is it? Arens says that since everyone knows, there is no need to explain further.

But does everyone know? I think not. Consider the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, whose stated purpose is “to protect human dignity and liberty, in order to establish in a Basic Law the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.” The law goes on to specify certain basic rights of citizens in a democratic state, which can be understood as a partial definition of “democratic.” But nothing is said of “Jewish.”

Since the phrase “Jewish state” does not appear anywhere else in the Basic Laws, the author of this law – and the man responsible for the so-called “constitutional revolution” that gave Israel’s Supreme Court what many consider excessive power – former President of the Court Aharon Barak was asked to explain what he thought it meant. His answer illuminated his view, which is shared by an important segment of Israel’s intellectual, cultural, legal and media elites :

The content of the phrase “Jewish state” will be determined by the level of abstraction which shall be given it. In my opinion, one should give this phrase meaning on a high level of abstraction, which will unite all members of society and find the common among them. The level of abstraction should be so high, until it becomes identical to the democratic nature of the state. The state is Jewish not in a halachic-religious sense, but in the sense that Jews have the right to immigrate to it, and their national experience is the experience of the state (this is expressed, inter alia, in the language and the holidays). [my emphasis]

While all secular Israelis and many religious ones agree that the state should not be “Jewish” in a halachic (according to Jewish law) sense, Barak’s idea that “Jewish” simply means “democratic” has the effect of factoring out Jewishness from the definition of the state. It is highly doubtful that the signers of the Declaration of Independence, or even a majority of secular Israelis would agree to this. Certainly Moshe Arens would not!

Although Aharon Barak sees himself as a Zionist, the implications of his view are anti-Zionist. It is consistent with the position of those Israeli Arab intellectuals and a minority of left-leaning Jews that Israel should not in fact be a Jewish state, but rather a “state of its citizens” in which the Jewish people has no special status (other than the accidental and possibly temporary condition of being a majority). They see the various symbolic and practical expressions of the state’s Jewishness – the flag, anthem, national symbol, and of course the Law of Return – as infringements of democratic principles.

I and others who favor the nation-state law draw a distinction between civil rights which must be guaranteed to all citizens of the state, and national rights, which are reserved to the Jewish people as a fundamental condition of the founding of the state.

It’s important to understand that there are practical consequences to vitiating the idea of a Jewish state in our foundational laws. What will protect the Law of Return and the national symbols if the concrete idea of the Jewishness of the state is not anchored in a basic law the way “democratic” is? What about our educational system? Does democracy require that our schools teach Arab students about “the nakba” or make nakba day a holiday for Arabs in Israel? The Supreme Court has already taken decisions that prioritize “democratic” over “Jewish.” What is to stop it from going farther?

Arens objects to the nation-state bill on pragmatic grounds: he believes that it will deepen the alienation of Arab citizens of Israel (many of whom call themselves Palestinian citizens of Israel). He correctly states that the integration of the 20% of our population who are Arabs into Israeli society and economy is a matter of “ultimate importance.”

I don’t disagree about the importance of integrating Arab citizens. But I think that we are making a serious mistake if we think that we advance that objective by in essence promising Arab citizens a binational state. What we can promise them, and should try to create, is a state in which there is equality under the law, equality of opportunity for economic and cultural development, and in which they are not discriminated against for receiving government benefits or services because they are not Jews.

We can’t promise them that someday Israel (which would have to be called something like the Judeao-Palestinian Republic) will make no distinction between the Jewish people, for whom the state was established and who are the owners of it, and anyone else. They wouldn’t believe us anyway.

Non-Jewish states represent more than 99% of the earth’s inhabitable surface. There are upsides and downsides to life in every country. If you live in the US, you worry about health insurance; in Syria, about staying alive. And if you live in Israel and insist on being a Palestinian nationalist, there is a downside to that too. We welcome our Arab citizens to participate in the life of this country. But they will have to do so on our terms, that is, as citizens of a Jewish state.

Posted in Israeli Arabs, Israeli Politics, Zionism | 1 Comment

Being the nation-state of the Jewish people

In April of this year, the UN released the 2017 World Happiness Report. Using polling data collected by the Gallup organization, it ranked 156 countries in the world in order of how happy with their lives respondents said they were, on a scale of 1 to 10. For each country, they also measured 6 relatively objective factors: GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make choices, generosity, and trust in business and government. By comparing the scores in these categories with a hypothetical “Dystopia,” to which they assigned the scores from lowest-scoring country in each category, they attempted to explain how much the objective factors contributed to the subjective perception of happiness.

Could this ranking possibly be meaningful? I have no idea, honestly, but Israel came in 12th out of the 156, beating the US which was in 15th place, the UK in 20th, and France which was a miserable 32nd. Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, The Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia were ahead of Israel. But not by much: Israelis give themselves 7.213 while the smug, top-ranked Norwegians claim 7.537. The most unhappy place in the world, the Central African Republic, rated themselves a 2.693. Trust in business and government contributed very little to Israel’s high score. Shocking! (not)

Although not the subject of this post, the score of the US has dropped very significantly since 2007. The report suggests that this is primarily due to social factors rather than economic ones.

The report’s writers do say that high perceived happiness is strongly correlated with the reelection of governments. Clearly, Israel has been a happy place lately.

But possibly more significantly, Israel leads the 36 OECD nations with a fertility rate of 3.1 children per woman (Mexico is a distant second with 2.2). And Israel’s rate is the only one of the 36 that is increasing. I can provide anecdotal evidence: one of the first things I noticed when I came here from the US was the number of pregnant women, people pushing baby strollers and walking with children. This despite the continuous terrorism, Iranian threat, periodic wars, compulsory conscription and reserve duty, ridiculous cost of housing, economic inequality and other quite serious problems.

Fertility rates in 36 OECD countries

Fertility rates in 36 OECD countries

If you read Ha’aretz or listen to liberal American Jews like Peter Beinart, you will probably get the idea that the Jewish state is tearing itself apart. But it isn’t, and both Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel are relatively happy and thriving. The Left is prophesying doom, but meanwhile the number of Israelis that identify or vote with them – especially young ones – is dropping. Israelis think that they are happy, and they are optimistically bringing children into the world.

I am going to propose a radical explanation for this. I think Israel’s economic and social success is due to the existence of a collective purpose. If you ask them they will probably deny it, but – at least to a greater extent than in America or Europe – Israelis do identify with their state, and even those that dislike the state identify with the land and the people. Israeli culture today developed directly from the Zionist struggle to build a Jewish state, and the feeling of ownership this created isn’t all gone. Even the most secular Jews feel a tug in their heart when they consider that their ancestors walked here in biblical times. Israelis tend to help one another when they are in trouble because they see themselves as a people. They feel as though they are all in it together.

Even Arab citizens who oppose Zionism partake of and benefit from this culture, although they are more likely to identify with a family or clan than the state. But yes, Jews and Arabs sometimes help one another and some Arabs will even say they are proud to be Israeli!

Certainly the concept of a Jewish state, not just a democratic one, amplifies the collective purpose of Israel’s Jewish citizens. This is one reason I favor the Jewish nation-state bill that has just been re-introduced in the Knesset.

Such a law has been proposed several times in the past – the last time in 2014, when it was abandoned as the Knesset dissolved itself in preparation for elections. Now it has raised its head again. On Sunday the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved it, and it will be submitted on Wednesday for a preliminary reading in the Knesset as a government-backed bill.

The various versions of the law have all been quite controversial, even in watered-down compromise form. Apparently, the idea of a new Basic Law – in essence, a piece of Israel’s “constitution” – that articulates the meaning of “Jewish” in the accepted formulation “a Jewish and democratic state” is considered both unnecessary and provocative by many.

Some opponents of a nation-state law, Arabs and the Left, believe that Israel ought not be, in any structural sense, a Jewish state. They would prefer a “state of its citizens,” a democratic state like the US or Australia. Such an Israel would be Jewish only by virtue of having a Jewish majority. Of course this position negates the Zionist principles on which the state was founded – both the practical idea that only the existence of a Jewish state can protect the Jewish people from antisemitism, and the spiritual one that ties the Jewish people to their historic homeland.

“So what?” many would say. But such a change would be very dangerous and might endanger the identification that Israel’s Jewish population feels for its country. It might damage the collective purpose that historically led Jewish Israelis to make so many sacrifices for the sake of the state, and which is in part responsible for its surprising success today. If Israel is just a small Australia, why not go live in the real Australia where you won’t have to do reserve duty? How long would there continue to be a Jewish majority?

Paradoxically, the coherence and national purpose of Israel’s Jewish citizens benefits Arab Israelis as well. If there can be coexistence between Jewish and Arab Israelis (I am not talking about the Arabs of the territories now, who present a much more complicated problem), then it will require a recognition by the Arabs that being Israeli means living as a national minority in a Jewish state.

The Jewish nation-state bill should therefore recognize the existence of such minorities and guarantee their rights, while at the same time assert the identity of the state as the state of the Jewish people.

We are walking a tightrope. One fifth of our population is Arab. After 69 years they are not going away and we can’t pretend not to see them. We must see them as equals in every respect, except that of national rights. But by the same token, they must understand that Israel is a Jewish, Zionist state with a national purpose defined by the Jewish people.

Posted in Israeli Arabs, Israeli Politics, Israeli Society, The Jewish people, Zionism | 3 Comments

Evil Council

Armon Hanatziv, in the days of the British Mandate

Armon Hanatziv, in the days of the British Mandate

[The British High Commissioner] grabbed the most fantastic place in the world … built a palace there, and every morning when he wakes up and opens his eyes … can see from the palace windows the loftiest and most holy view in the world, as if it were his.

 – Yehuda Haezrahi, City of Stone and Sky, quoted by Nadav Shragai

After the First World War, the British became the last in a line of foreign powers ruling over Judea, including Jerusalem. Like any conqueror, the British built monumental palaces for its administrators. From 1920 to 1927, the High Commissioner’s residence and offices were located in the Augusta Victoria Church and hospital compound on the Mount of Olives. A beautiful place, but after it was damaged in an earthquake, the Empire decided to build a new and even more glorious seat of power at a spot with an even better view, the Hill of Evil Council (not “Counsel”) – so called by the Byzantine Christians because it was said to be where Temple priests met to discuss betraying Jesus.

The grand building was constructed between 1928 and 1933, and its first resident was High Commissioner Sir Arthur Grenfell Wauchope, who seems to have been one of the better ones. It is a stunningly beautiful building (the UN renovated it in 2012) in one of the most beautiful spots in the world. I can’t imagine how much the property is worth (maybe Donald Trump could). In Hebrew, it’s called armon hanatizv (the commissioner’s palace), and that also became the name of the neighborhood around it.

In 1948 when Britain was forced to retreat from Palestine by yet another indigenous revolt in its rapidly fragmenting Empire, it transferred control of the property to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which gave it to the UN. It was part of the Demilitarized Zone which existed until 1967, when it came under Israeli control. The UN demanded it back, and after an abortive struggle, Israel knuckled under. Nadav Shragai explains the historical details and legal issues here.

The UN has since made modifications to the building, appropriated land adjoining the main structure and put up additional buildings, all – needless to say – without obtaining permits from the municipal authorities. The UN did not purchase the site, and never paid rent or municipal taxes on it. The most recent official reason for the UN presence there was to house the observers responsible for monitoring the truce in effect after 1967. This has long since become irrelevant; as Shragai notes “Israel has peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt, and in Syria everyone is fighting everyone.”

The UN is an organization that is hostile to the state of Israel, as is shown by the continual flow of anti-Israel resolutions from its various agencies. The cost of any improvements that it has made are a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of back rent Israel would be owed, if anyone chose to try to compute it.

Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev is the most recent Israeli official that has called for the property to be returned to Israel (in this she joins Levi Eshkol, various literary figures and numerous government officials over the years since 1948). The UN and some in the Israeli Foreign Ministry claim that the UN is protected by diplomatic immunity and that we can’t make them leave.

I think this controversy encapsulates the attitude of the Christian and Muslim world toward Jerusalem, and indeed the land of Israel. They have never accepted the possession of the Holy City and the Holy Land by its true owners, its Jewish indigenous inhabitants, and have tried continuously in one way or another to take it away from them.

Time and again the government of Israel takes a pragmatic attitude and allows the UN, the Islamic wakf, the US Department of State and others to symbolically deprecate Jewish sovereignty in Jerusalem, our capital city.

Here is an opportunity to take a stand for sovereignty and against the corrupt and anti-Jewish UN. Despite the absolute aptness of placing the UN on the Hill of Evil Council, the site does not belong to them. If they need a headquarters in our country, they should be required to rent office space like anyone else.

I know a presently unoccupied spot in Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station that they can get cheap.

Posted in Israeli Politics, The UN | 2 Comments