King's Evangelical Divinity School

16 January 2010

Is Today's Jewish State Racist?

Further to my recent posts here and here concerning biblical Israel, ethnicity and racism, today I want to  broaden the discussion a little and consider if modern Israel is a racist country, a charge periodically leveled at the Jewish state. Many people using such language are either ideologically-driven (usually on the hard left), so that in reality it makes little difference whatever Israel does, she will also be criticised, or else they have never visited Israel and are totally unaware of the reality on the ground. Unfortunately, this pejorative language is increasingly echoed among some Christians who seem to be driven by an irrational, pathological hatred of Israel. What is ironic is when such people either accuse Israel of being racist or that its entire  existence owes itself to racism, and in some cases even publicly suggest the bulk of fellow Christians who happen to be Zionists espouse a racist theology, but then get highly offended and threaten to sue or bring in the police when people suggest they are anti-Semitic. So easy to label a nation racist, isn't it? (who's going to sue you?)

Anyway, let's look briefly at whether or not Israel is racist. The first thing to note is Israel’s relationship with two (not one) groups of Arabs: Israeli Arabs and Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza. The former are actually Israeli citizens who live within Israel’s internationally recognised borders. As citizens, they have the right to vote, form political parties, stand for election, take their grievences to the Israeli courts, and so on. One of Israel’s official languages is Arabic. You’ll find Arabic writing on Israeli bank notes, while there are Arab members of the Knesset (the Israeli parliament).

Israel’s relations with non-Israeli Arabs, on the other hand, are very different. In the case of Gaza, which is led by an organisation - Hamas - whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel (why no howls of protest of racism from the anti-Israel crowd here then?), relations are non-existent. Relations with West Bank Arab leaders are marginally better. The point I am simply making is this: Israel has different relations with two distinct groups of Arabs in the region. In short, these relations are not homogenous. So efforts to label Israel as anti-Arab lack nuance. Neither does Israel have a blanket anti-Arab policy. The citizenship and rights of nearly one and a half million Israeli Arabs expose the accusation of "apartheid" for what it is, a breathtaking lie. But the left's mantra of a racist Israel (and sadly swallowed hook, line and sinker by purportedly educated Christians who should know better than to fall for such unsophisticated drivel), repeated over and over, means it is hardly surprising you sometimes come across men and women in the street who assume Israel hates and mistreats all Arabs (that is, after all, the purpose of the mantra). Some express complete surprise to learn that a sizeable portion of Israel are actually Arab citizens.

Next, Israel is one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse countries I’ve ever visited. You’ll see every skin colour and culture represented here. People who are even quite distantly Jewish are permitted to make aliyah and live in Israel. Thus, there are Ethiopian Jews (Falasha), as well as people claiming a distant Jewish link from places such as India and China. When one walks through the streets of Jerusalem one is struck by the broad ethnic and cultural diversity of this city. It is true that what holds them together is a Jewish identity and heritage, but as our OT discussion noted, Jewishness is not just limited to ethnicity and we pointed out how not all members of the congregation of Israel were ethnic Jews. So when Israel talks of a ‘Jewish state’ it is not, as some claim, a purely ethnic declaration and agenda. Rather, it represents an important declaration of identity, common heritage, religion, culture and history. In a sense, we see something very similar in the United States’ integrationist model (the so called ‘melting pot’) where a commitment to a common American national identity and values is promulgated. The main difference, of course, is that the US model is secular, unlike in Israel where rabbis play an important role in defining Jewishness and determining who is allowed to make aliyah (which is why so many Messianic Jews are outrageously refused right of abode).

Finally, Israel permits all manner of non-Jews, such as distant relatives, spouses and proselytes to make aliyah. It also takes in non-Jewish refugees from parts of Africa and elsewhere. Meanwhile, converts to Judaism of every skin colour exist in that country. Again, these are not the actions of a racist state.

To be sure, I am not suggesting Israel represents a model of racial harmony or that there are not very real tensions between some Israelis and some Arabs. There are, not least because of security concerns. Meanwhile, of course there are racists in Israel, just as they exist anywhere else. But seeking to model a culturally Jewish state, much like creating, for example, a distinctly American society which espouses American ideals and values, is not racist. Thus, talk of "apartheid" (I know South Africa well, there is simply no comparison) and "racism" is patent nonsense peddled either by the hard left, people who are driven for whatever reason by an anti-Israel agenda, or those who have never been to Israel and know no better. That some Christians have been sucked into making such blanket statements to forward the agenda of others is pitiful. So much better to keep any discussion of this issue objective... such people are taken far more seriously than ideological ranters.

Adapted from a post originally published on the KEDS blog.
Take my poll on Christian responses to the State of Israel. See top-right of this page.


Stuart said...

Very good, Cross-posting....again.

Gabi said...

This is true. People should visit Israel and look into things before making such blanket statements.
I was surprised myself to experience this uniting of races and background when i was there.

Philip said...

I found this a disappointing post. You seem to be saying that Israel is not racist because it treats its Arab citizens well, and because there are Jews living there from all over the world. The tone is ruined, however, by little comments dismissing others' arguments as 'pitiful' and 'unsophisticated drivel'. Moreover, it seems that disagreement with these arguments must be a sign of a pathological commitment to the 'hard left' or by never having actually visited the country itself. And on a blog that is usually so balanced…

Israel may or may not be racist - it's an open question. But to believe that it is racist does not rely on being on the hard left, or being unaware that there are Israeli Arabs. There are good arguments to be had about the way Israel (mis)treats its Arab citizens, about whether becoming is Israeli is open to all in practice and about the stronger-than-usual link between race and religion in this case, and yes, about whether there are similarities with apartheid. Obviously not all Israelis are racist. The question is whether the structures and institutions of Israeli government and society are and the evidence for this is stronger than I think you acknowledge.

Calvin L. Smith said...

Philip, thanks for commenting.

Having seen the reality on the ground I get tired of the term "apartheid" used so freely(especially by people who've never been there or South Africa). I think it's significant so many of Israel's critics (including, I would say, the bulk on the centre-left) avoid the term. It's one of those words laden with meaning which, when used, makes an objective, thoughtful debate a non-starter, don't you think? (much like labelling everyone critical of Israel an anti-Semite).

I've been at the end of Jaffa Street on weekend evenings when groups of Arab youths are stopped to have their ID checked by the IDF before they are permitted to go on to Ben Yehuda Street, the main meeting spot for Jerusalem youth. Remember, this is the area where there have been numerous bombings and deaths over the years by young Arab terrorists, yet Arab youths are free to mingle there. These are not the actions of a truly apartheid state. Neither is allowing Arabs to vote, sit in parliament, take the government to court, and a myrid other things.

I'm afraid I disagree, the term "apartheid" does tend to be mantra of the far left, which is ideologically opposed to Israel (a notable exception is Jimmy Carter who has since recanted, though cynically I suggest this is more for electoral reasons).

But, with respect, you may have missed the point of the post, which was more concerned with how some anti-Israel Christians casually employ terms such as "apartheid" and "racist". Christians are, after all, supposed to strive for truth (though we don't always succeed), and such language hardly smacks of objective theological enquiry or appraisal of the facts on the ground. Over the years I've learned to look at Israel objectively, both theologically and historically, which has meant learning to adjust my perceptions and be critical at times. So constantly describing Israel as an apartheid state (which I suggest a large proportion of the Labour Party would baulk at using this term of Israel), and presenting Israel as the bogeyman that can do no right suggests ideology has taken over from theology.

What have you seen in Israel which leads you to think there are similarities with apartheid?

Calvin L. Smith said...

Furthermore, Philip, for the sake of clarity it would be helpful to readers if you would specify which group of Arabs you are referring to when highlighting similarities between apartheid and Israeli policy and structures. Do you specifically mean towards Israeli Arabs, West Bank and Gaza Palestinians, or both?

Philip said...

So the question is, is there a system of racial privelege in Israel / Palestine?

An example of dicrimination against Israeli Arabs would be the 'Citizenship and Entry Law in Israel' which prevents the spouses of Israeli citizens from the West Bank or Gaza from becoming Israeli citizens, as is the normal case in Israel. Another example is the ban placed on Arab political parties early in 2009. The planning system is also stacked against Israeli Arabs.

An example of discrimation against Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza? A large wall, settlements, and roads on which Arabs are barred by law from using.

I didn't really want to get into this kind of tit-for-tat debate, though. I'm not necessarily comfortable using the term apartheid myself. Nor do I think Israel is the only, or even the most, racist country in the world. And I recognise that there are many complicated issues involved in this whole thing. But I do honestly think that Israeli government structures discriminate against Arabs.

Calvin L. Smith said...

But many (not all) of the examples you cite are based specifically on security rather than race. And here's the key issue, isn't it? As long as Israel responds to a security threat (admittedly sometimes heavy-handedly) emanating from a particular racial group, this will always be perceived as racist. And this is, I think, an important difference between Israel and South Africa, where blacks and coloureds were segregated from whites specifically because of their colour and race. It was a policy based on racial supremacy and purity. That is real apartheid.

So what's the alternative for Israel? A post-Zionist state? I think you probably know as well as me that within a generation it would be likely any substantial Jewish peopulation would cease to exist in the Middle East. Therefore, how does Israel deal with a very real security issue without being perceived as racist?

Calvin L. Smith said...

PS Neither do I want to get in a tit-for-tat debate. I agree, it is unprofitable and solves nothing. I'm just interested to know how Israel deals with an Arab terrorist threat without being labeled racist. I think this could be a useful debate for people on all sides to have.

Philip said...

The most significant thing that Israel could do to protect its security without being labelled as racist would be to make peace. To withdraw from the settlements, to negotiate in good faith and to make an offer that could be accepted by the Palestinian leadership. It hasn't done so thus far, but I'm still hoping.

Calvin L. Smith said...

But it has tried several times, without success. I've spoken with everyday Palestinians who simply cannot understand why Barak's proposal was turned down by their leaders so dismissively. If your suggestion is to work, then the Palestinian deadership must also negotiate instead of constantly making unrealistic demands.

And anyway, surely making peace with the Palestinians is impossible as long as they are divided over Israel's continued existence and security.

Philip said...

I'm afraid I quite disagree. I don't think Israel has ever tried seriously to make peace with the Palestinians. Not only have the offers it has made (when it has done so) been so miserly that the Palestinian leadership could never have accepted them (and Bill Clinton's advisors at Camp David will attest to this in that context), but Israel's actions at the same time undermine even these small efforts. How can we believe that Israel seriously wants to make peace when it has been colonising the West Bank? How can we believe that Israel seriously wants to make peace when it has been throwing people out of their homes in East Jerusalem?

James said...

Well said Calvin, but I fear you're wasting your breath on Philip Blue, an apologist for the Syrian government who thinks "the Jewish vote" in the US holds back fair play

Calvin L. Smith said...

Philip, some examples.

Gaza. Yet far from helping, it made matters worse (even before the blockade).

Withdrawal from southern Lebanon. Result? Increased sabre-rattling and worse from Hizbollah. It comes to something when even The Independent’s Robert Fisk today highlights Hizbollah’s increasing grip on Lebanon and the inevitability of another war with Israel.

And I think Israel will, foolishly, one day retreat from the Golan too. And as with the other examples (and others we might cite), it will also merely be perceived as weakness by Israel’s enemies. It seems Israel's enemies will only ever make peace with her when she is in a position of strength. A classic example, of course, was Israel's the return of the Sinai.

But with the greatest of respect, surely someone like you is not so naïve to think Israel can make peace with Hamas? Theirs is a piecemeal strategy: Gaza - pre-1967 borders - pre-1948. One of their spokesmen once stated that just as it took over a century to eject the Crusaders, so Hamas are in it for the long haul until the Jews are gone. They have no intention of ever recognising Israel. I fear you have completely missed the religio-political element here. The secular West thinks that, given the right conditions, pragmatic politics will kick in and genuine peace secured. But this totally ignores the religious significance of Israel’s existence.

PS What about the comment raised by James? Also, out of curiosity have you spent any time in Israel?

Philip said...

So many different angles...!

In response to James's comments, I'm not sure what to say. He appears to be engaged in character assassination.

I also think it's worth drawing a distinction between making peace with neighbouring countries and with the Palestinians. In advocating that Israel hold on to the Golan Heights, I guess you're aware that that is a sovereign territory of another country under international law? The other way to interpret what you say, though, is that Israel will only ever make peace when it is in a position of strength, rather than considering what would be just?

I think Hamas are a horrible organisation. However, I also think they are rational, and I think they need to be negotiated with. Ultimately, though, the Palestinian people want peace, and they want dignity, and if Israel offered those, I think Hamas would be bypassed. Do you think that there is any hope for a settlement between Israelis and Palestinians?

James said...

Sorry Philip, I did you a disservice, forgot to mention that you also think that it is "inflammatory" to question the credentials of a writer who cites a Holocaust denier

Philip said...

James, I believe you have misrepresented me on two of the claims that you make.

However, I don't want to get into an argument. What I will say is that Calvin and I were having a discussion; we didn't agree, but I believe we were trying to discuss in a respectful way. I don't think that the aggressive way in which you entered this discussion was respectful, making allegations against me.

We can all get carried away from time to time, especially those who have a lot invested in particular issues. However, people who follow Jesus should strive to be gentle and kind, not aggressive and mean. So let's agree to try to return the discussion to that kind of tone.

Calvin L. Smith said...

Philip, I do think Israel won't make peace with the Palestinians (depending on which Palestine you mean: Gaza or the West Bank) until there is no danger of an external security threat by doing so. So for example peace with Hamas is impossible as long as (together with Hizbollah) she remains a proxy (albeit a rather tin-pot version compared with Hizbollah)of Iran. Interestingly, Israel has sought to bolster the Fatah West Bank government, suggesting it is seen as less of a threat. So yes, I do think perhaps peace with Palestinians goes hand in hand with certain external enemies. What do you think?

Concerning the Golan, Syria's activities in 1948, '67 and '73 suggest to me Israel feels holding on to it makes plain common sense. And Syria's reticence to engage Israel militarily since would seem to indicate this was a good foreign policy calls.

Yet I read various Israeli and Western reports of ongoing (albeit low-level) talks with Syria about the Golan's possible return. This suggests two things: Israel recognises Syria as an important local player, and Israel is also less interested in public posturing than Syria, whose rhetoric is far more belligerent. Why can't Syria do the same? (rhetoric does, after all, make an important difference). Or is Syria so locked into the Shia axis that she feels she cannot exercise a truly independent foreign policy?

Philip said...

On Syria, yes there is plenty of public posturing, but Syria's number one foreign policy concern is getting back the Golan Heights. All the side activities have to be seen in that context. It's important for two reasons: (1) It's Syria's sovereign territory under international law [this may not be much of an argument if you don't agree with international law, but then see it as the home of a large number of Druze Syrias, separated from their families - I can see no justification for Israel's colonisation with settlements on this territory], and (2) there are important water resources there, and in a region where water is scarce, that's important. Syria's condition for peace is the return of Golan - I don't think that's such an unreasonable thing. I'm sure there are actions that Israel would like in return - that's the nature of negotiation. So long as Israel refuses to consider giving back the Golan and receives no chastisement from the US, it seems perfectly rational that Syria would also not offer concessions.

[On the issue of Syria's activities, I guess the historical record needs to be consulted. Avi Shlaim's research points to Israeli military provocation - lobbing shells into Syria - as the underlying problem. I'm open to other evidence is you can suggest further reading.]

Philip said...

I think Israel will only make peace with the Palestinians (I personally see Gaza and the West Bank as a whole) when it is pressured to do so. Don't get me wrong, after 60 years of conflict it won't be easy, but I think the solution is two-fold: (1) Palestinians (and perhaps Arabs more generally) must recognise the existence of Israel (nb. not the 'right' to exist, but the 'fact' of existence), and (2) Israel must recognise the right of Palestinians to return and recognise that a great injustice has been done to them. Now this does not mean that they will in practice return, but the right must be recognised, and compensation made. Now, these two things must happen simultaneously. Arabs won't recognise Israe's existence until there is a quid pro quo, that's not irrational. I think too often people take one side or the other, when both sides have to act. [nb, I recognise Palestinian rights because the are people - the reason I don't recognise Israel's 'right' is because I think rights are something that only people can have, not states.]

The reason I come down harder on Israel, though, is because Israel holds all the cards, it has all the power, and it has used it irresponsibly. Instead of making peace it has provoked its neighbours and built the settlements. Of course, judgments on this require recourse to the historical record. My main source is Avi Shlaim. Have you read him? What would you suggest I read in addition?

Calvin L. Smith said...

Philip, sincere apologies for taking a week to get back you. Lots of activity on this blog since your post, as well as loads of pressure to finish several articles and chapters I’m writing, with deadlines looming (or having passed!).

Concerning the Golan, I understand Syria’s preoccupation with this. It seems in ’48 she was ill-equipped and unwittingly sucked into a wider Arab alliance against Israelt. However, in ’67 she arguably played a much more central role in the lead-up to war and paid the price by losing the Golan. (Good job Dayan didn’t go all the way to Damascus, as he had every chance to do, but for the danger of a wider conflagration involving the Soviets).

Given her mischief in ’67 and ’73 I’m pretty sure Syria won’t get it back easily without a cast-iron quid pro quo. The Golan overlooks the Galilee, has proved a security headache for Israel in the past, and (you mention water) is vital for Israel’s water security. Is it really realistic for Israel to give it back as long as Syria is part of a wider, anti-Israel Shia axis that includes Hizbollah and Iran, especially given how many times Syria has gone to war with Israel? So I doubt Israel will it give it back as long as this situation remains. International law aside, this is just plain military sense.

Yet ongoing Israeli-Syrian talks suggests Israel is serious about making peace with its north-eastern neighbour. Otherwise why talk with Syria? Cynically, it might be claimed such talks are mere Israeli grandstanding in a wider propaganda battle. But if so, why does Syria continue to talk to Israel? Meanwhile, I can think of better propaganda gestures Israel could make which would attract the world’s attention. Heaven knows Israel’s propaganda efforts are pretty dismal and I’m sure she’d want to maximise any potential benefit,, but frankly, the Golan is not foremost on people’s mind in the wider Israel-Palestinian conflict, so I do not believe the Israel-Syria talks are propaganda posturing. I think there are real talks, though admittedly at a pretty sporadic and low level. Israel knows there’ll never be peace with Syria without the return of the Golan, so that she talks suggests she acknowledges she will need to concede on this issue in the future. But international law aside, she will only do so when security permits. Israel, I think, is driven far more by Realpolitik. It is a pity some of the wider Arab world cannot engage her at a similarly pragmatic level. So much could be done so much faster.

Concerning the division of communities, yes, the civilians always suffer the most, don’t they? Such divisions seem to be a running theme of modern conflict. I agree Israel has not been particularly helpful opening the crossing at times, though it has opened it numerous times. I don’t know her motivation for this. After all, I understand the Druze are free to travel to Syria, but via Jordan, so it’s not quite like the Berlin Wall or anything. But officialdom everywhere seems to revel in making everyday people’s lives difficult, even in Syria, where I’m not allowed to visit with my current passport because it has Israeli stamps in it.

Reading the above, I’m sorry for such a lengthy response. I suggest we keep on talking about Israel-Syrian relations for now until we’ve exhausted that issue, then move to the other points you make. Otherwise the comments are going to be longer than the blog posts and we’ll lose the thread. What do you think?

Concerning Shlaim, I can’t comment as I haven’t read him. Isn’t he the revionist chappie?

Philip said...

Not to worry about taking time to respond.It gives me time to rethink my own view, too!

I think the thing to remember about Syria is that it is a profoundly rational actor in the region. And the government is open for business whenever Israel wants to seriously discuss peace.

The Shia axis is a marriage of convenience for Syria, not a marriage of love. True, it's been a long-lasting relationship, but Syria would kick out Hamas and Hezbollah and be cooler towards Iran tomorrow, if it got back the Golan. I really believe that's the case.

The usual argument used for why Israel engages in talks with Syria is that it's in order to take pressure off on the Palestinian issue. So that they can say, look! we're really trying! and therefore they can stall on the Palestine issue. Personally I find it quite a convincing argument.

Why do I think Israel is not serious about giving back the Golan Heights? I just doesn't seem to tally with its actions. If they wanted to give it back why would they colonise it with settlers? Why would they set up a viewing gallery where you can look at the buffer zone and the destroyed town of Quneitra? Why would they clear the landmines and start producing fruit in it?

I think you're right that both parties know it has to be returned if peace is to be had. And you're absolutely right about trust being the key issue between the two. However, I think that Syria is much more open for business on this than Israel is. And remember, Netanyahu is on record saying that he never wants to give it up.

(Shlaim is often referred to as a revisionist. Nevertheless, I think his credentials speak for themselves. And he's someone who fought in the 67 war. I would absolutely read him, even if you think you'll disagree with him, because he's such an important figure. 'The Iron Wall' is the book to read...

Calvin L. Smith said...

“The reason I come down harder on Israel, though, is because Israel holds all the cards.”

“I think that Syria is much more open for business on this than Israel is”.

Yet former Syrian president Hafiz Assad once told the British ambassador, “If I were prime minister of Israel with its present military superiority and the support of the world’s number one power, I would not make a single concession” (Barry, 14). Somewhat ironic in light of your comments above.

I agree Syria is pragmatic, though in a way alien to the Western mindset. Just finished reading Barry Rubin’s The Truth About Syria. He argues Syria is militarily weak but remains a regional player by advancing conflict through proxies (Syria’s support of various terrorist groups is well known), yet always pulling from the brink of open conflicts it can't win.

Rubin also traces a failing economy (lower GDP than Jordan, even Egypt), a multiethnic society with potential for Balkanisation, and Islamism. The Assad solution? To divert attention away from these internal fault lines by promoting an aggressive Arab nationalist to unite Syrians and quell dissent. Hafiz Assad was so canny he even managed to get his own Alawite sect, previously regarded as heterodox, into the mainstream and become the ruling elite. (So yes, I agree they could ditch the whole Shia thing in a flash if it suited them.) So Syria needs Israel as the bogeyman if it's not to collapse internally, its ruling elite deposed, or lose its regional status.

This begs the question, how serious is Syria about wanting peace? Normalisation with Israel would cause massive internal problems for Syria, certainly regional irrelevance. Thus, when in 2000 practically all the Golan was offered by Israel, but the Syrians also insisted on a 100 metre strip giving it access to the Sea of Galilee, this supports the view Syria is unwilling to make peace because it cannot. It would not survive. Barry lists many instances of Syria's bluff being called by Israel so that she shifts the goalposts because to make peace with Israel would be a disaster for Syria. The argument makes a lot of sense, and it may help Westerners regard Syria's belligerence as a means of stoping the Balkanisation of the country (and of course the elite retaining power).

I think you're right, Netanyahu won't return the Golan. After all, he is a champion of Eretz Yisrael Ha-Shlema (Greater Israel). But that doesn’t mean others in Israel won't consider it. Whatever one thinks of Israel, it is rather more pluralist than Syria (where expressing non-government views can bring one to the unwelcome attention of the Mukhabarat). Responses in Israel to the Middle East situation are far from homogenous.

I can’t help but feel, Philip, you’re being a little unfair about Israel never being willing to make peace deals. She has made two lasting deals with Egypt and Jordan when circumstances permitted, while Ehud Barak offered Syria and the Palestinians more than any other Israeli leader previously. You may not like what was on offer, but I see precious few such concessions emanating from Israel’s enemies.
I also think there's a danger in losing objectivity here so that Israel is always singled out. In Syria's case, she smashed the city of Hama, killing 10,000 people (some estimate 40,000), mostly civilians, to quell the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. This is nearly ten times those killed in the Gaza war, yet Syria only ever refers to Israel’s wars (again, the Israel bogeyman is the only way Syria can survive). Meanwhile, Syria’s treatment of the Palestinians has been pretty dismal, whether in Lebanon or silencing moderates threatening her dream of a Greater Syria. Too few people speak of Syria’s own expansionist designs, with a Palestinian state playing an integral part of a Greater Syria (much like her control over Lebanon).

Calvin L. Smith said...

I will take your advice and read Shlaim. Meanwhile, I’ve done a little research on his fellow New Historians, and while I do not see their post-Zionism working, nonetheless they are to be commended for presenting alternative and self-critical views of the conflict (pity we don’t see more of this from within Syria, but it is dangerous to do so). But a major flaw in their research seems to be complete reliance on Israeli historical archives with no reference to Arab archives. Don’t you think?

Felipe said...

I'm not convinced by what you say about Syria needing Israel as a bogeyman. Or at least, not completely, I think it's a factor to some extent, certainly. And I agree with many of the criticisms you make. I actually live in Syria, and I would be somewhat lacking in awareness if I were to think it was a perfect place. Far from it. I think James said earlier that I was an 'apologist'. That was unfair. But I do think that Syria is often mis-characterised and mis-represented. (You can read an interesting, long, and not always right, persepctive here:

But despite these faults, and even if given the chance any of Israel's enemies might do the same thing as Israel, that still doesn't make what Israel does right. And Israel's more extensive freedom expression, which has allowed people like Avi Shlaim to express themselves, is also to be commended, though again, it doesn't make Israel's foreign policy right.

Inidentally, I spoke to wife about this, and she is less confident than I am about Syria's seriousness in terms of making peace. Nevertheless, Syria is very rational. It will hold out for the most that it can get: Golan, restored relations with the US, getting rid of the Palestinian refugees, influence in Lebanon, WTO membership, etc. But ultimately, give the right terms, Syria would make peace. My wife and I simply differ on how much would have to be given. Syria gets a lot from its current foreign policy, especially prestige in the region, and Israel would have to offer a better deal.

If you were to speak to me privately about some of the things that you mention in the last paragraph I would be much more frank. But even so, that still doesn't make Israel's actions right. And that's the key thing: you can't simply point to others in order to get off the hook. Israel should give back the Golan as a matter of justice. It should recognise the right of return as a matter of justice. I think Syria would be a willing negotiating partner. Perhaps I rely to heavily on Shlaim, but he certainly would say that Israel is intransigent in terms of striking peace deals, though the criticism you make is fair. I'm not aware of the terms that Barak made to Syria. Are you talking about Madrid?

Calvin L. Smith said...

“I recognise Palestinian rights because they are people - the reason I don't recognise Israel's 'right' is because I think rights are something that only people can have, not states.”

“Israel should give back the Golan as a matter of justice.”

I suggest holding both these views concurrently is untenable. According to this logic, Syria, as a state has no “right” to the Golan at all. Actually, the history seems pretty clear. For years Syria did not believe Israel has a “right” to exist and sought her destruction. She therefore played a major role in instigating the 1967 war, rolling the dice and losing the Golan. I therefore respectfully suggest getting it back is nothing to do with justice but rather Realpolitik. It is a bargaining chip.

Concerning the other issues about Syria I would urge you to read Rubin, who includes a large section on her foreign policy. It will help balance out Shlaim I think.

“You can't simply point to others in order to get off the hook.”

We were talking about Syria and Israel making peace, and I was simply struck by how a country with such a checkered past condemns its neighbour while that very checkered past is not only at least partly responsible for the nature of relations between Israel and Syria, but also the situation the Palestinian people find themselves in. The house of Assad’s use of the Palestinian people for its own foreign policy and expansionist designs have a direct bearing on the whole Palestinian issue.

So no, I don't point out the wrongdoings of others simply to get off the hook. I do not agree with all Israel’s policies. Neither do many Israelis, but at least the debate is had there. Conversely (and this isn’t aimed at you, who seems willing to acknowledge Syria’s downfalls when they are pointed out), Israel’s critics who advance their cause by being apologists of her bitterest enemies must be prepared when they are challenged to remove the beam from their own eye.

On an unrelated note, (supongpo que, con los contactos e interés en Latioamérica hablas español), te pregunté algo aquí: Quería discutir algo contigo en privado relacionado a esa pregunta y el artículo que escribiste. Entonces, escríbame usando el correo electrónico aquí:

Felipe said...

I do have a copy of the Rubin book, so I promise I'll read it.

I think my statements aren't contradictory, and let me explain why. I can make the case for the return of the Golan by citing public international law. Under this system Israel must return the Golan as a matter of law. Alternatively we can jettison international law, which has many many faults, in which case I would make the argument that the Golan should be returned because that is what the people who live there want as people, or individuals. I think I prefer the second, but I'm willing to use the first argument too, because I think that international law as a system is a good thing, though it doesn't, at least in the context of states, provide 'rights'.

Under international law, while I wouldn't argue that Israel has a 'right to exist', I would nevertheless argue that as a matter of justice it should not be invaded or dismantled, but should be allowed to live in peace.

I think we may have taken this argument as far as it will go, however. Do you want to move on to discuss the points about Israel and Palestine I made here:

Quería sugerir que hablaramos por mail, así que su idea me parece bien. Le enviaré un correo ahora mismo.

Calvin L. Smith said...


"Golan should be returned because that is what the people who live there want as people, or individuals."

But what about what the individuals who make up Israel? Why do you not think they have collective rights? There seems to be an artificial separation of individual and state here when it comes to Israel. Or am I missing something? Also, care must be taken with this argument, otherwise Syria has no "right" as a state, to the Golan.

I agree with you that international law is imperfect. I certainly don't want to base what is moral, or develop a Christian worldview, on the basis of changing international law which simply reflects the majority societal view at any given moment in time.

I am happy to move on to the Palestinians, but that does not mean I will not explore the issue within the wider regional context. This is not because, as you have suggested, I seek to point to the wrongs of others to detract from Israel's wrongdoings, but rather because I think the situation the Palestinians find themselves in cannot be blamed solely on Israel. I sincerley believe this is a regional conflict, however much the Arab world has sought to suggest otherwise.

Felipe said...

If you don't mind I'll try to summarise where this discussion has got to.

It started with a denial that Israel was a racist state, though when contested, we seemed to agree that there are elements of Israel's behaviour that could be seen as racist, particularly with respect to West Bank Palestinians, though also to Arab Israelis.

You countered that it was unfair to say that many of these actions were racist because they were to do with security rather than really racist. In essence, these actions are no different from other actions that could have been taken as part of a racist campaign, but the difference is the motivation.

You asked therefore the question what Israel could do to protect its security without being racist. If it was a straight choice between nastry restrictions and security of life for its citizens, surely it was unfair to be too hard on Israel?

I countered by saying that the single most useful thing Israel could do to advance its security and not be seen as racist would be to make peace, implied in this is giving back the occupied territories (incidentally, Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert and Boaz Okon that this must be done if Israel is not to be an apartheid state).

We then began to discuss whether or not Israel and the Arabs have ever really tried to make peace with serious intent. I think we argued more or less to a stalemate on Syria and Israel. We agreed that blame lies on both sides, but still were unable to apportion it in quite the same quantities.

So with that in mind, we move on to the question of peace with Palestinians. It is important to establish this because it affects the calculation on whether Israel's actions can be perceived as racist. If Israel had no other choice but to enact certain things because of danger to its security then it is perhaps understandable. But if there was another feasible choice which was neglected, then I think we have to consider the possibility of racism as an explanatory factor.