Last Thursday I attended a talk on campus titled “Palestine/Israel: Is Just Peace Possible?” The speaker, Ali Abunimah, is a Palestinian-American journalist and the co-founder of Electronic Intifada. Mr. Abunimah presented a laundry list of numerous, racist Israeli policies in his answer to a question I asked. Though it made me feel uncomfortable to be faced with so many troubling facts about a country where I recently lived for two years, I did not try to deny them because I knew that, just as Mr. Abunimah said, they were facts.
He then asked me to respond to a hypothetical situation of the American government restricting land ownership of a minority group. When I said that such a policy would be unjust, Mr. Abunimah immediately questioned why this type of racist law would be unjust in America but not in Israel, regarding Palestinians. I spoke up affirming that both situations are equally disgusting. He did not expect this and was noticeably shocked as I continued, comparing the racist Israeli party of Avigdor Lieberman with the Tea Party, a vocal fringe group with limited legislative impact. Apparently Mr. Abunimah has never encountered the growing number of individuals who support the right for a Jewish state while criticizing disagreeable policy.
It is nothing new that over its 62 years Israel has passed racially limiting laws. What is important to realize about parliamentary governments is that multi-party coalitions only function with compromise. As abhorrent as legislation against non-Jews is, those laws are limited — the exception, not the rule.
Avigdor Lieberman recently proposed a very controversial oath of loyalty for new applicants for citizenship, for example. This oath was hotly debated and passed into law only after being forcefully dulled by the other parties until it was all but irrelevant. The oath remains troubling, but its implementation is a valueless gesture of compromise. The fact remains that six decades of war and terror have been responded to with these types of measures numbering few and far between.
Beyond the skewed perspective of Israeli law, Mr. Abunimah fell short in his discussion of Israel as a cohesive entity. Many times he invoked the name of Israel as the subject of a sentence. He said things like Israel insists, Israel claims, Israel denies. Rather than the name of a stalwart dictator, Israel is a state with an elected government of 120 lawmaking representatives. It is highly dysfunctional and obvious animosity exists between its members. It makes questionable decisions and outright mistakes, but Israel’s policies, like America’s, are subject to pressures facing its leaders.
A coalition government requires member parties to caucus together or the government falls. Though elected to a four-year term, the average government lasts only 25 months. This temporal discrepancy results from the lack of consensus between the many parties needed to achieve a majority vote. As a point of reference, the current coalition consists of six parties from left of center to far right, secular to religious. Israeli politicians who cannot agree enough to stay in power certainly do not agree about divisive laws of exclusion and racism.
When I submitted this piece, it was titled “Fringe Conservatives and the Lack of Israeli Consensus.” I’m not really sure why the news staff felt the need to change it and mention the peace process when my article is about Israel’s internal affairs.
Great piece Mike! Don’t mind the editors. Just doing their job.
Agreed. Great article. Israel faces consistent threats and of course has its faults. It is important to recognize those faults while at the same time constantly questioning those who simply seek to defame Israel’s image.
Maybe the concept of how a democracy works is beyond Abunimah’s comprehension. Maybe –like many Muslims– Abunimah thinks in terms of black and white. Maybe shades of gray are too difficult for him to get his arms around.
The Qur’an is nothing like the Talmud or Torah, eh? Ever hear about Imams debating the meaning of a Qur’anic verse? I didn’t think so, and if it did happen swords were probably used to settle the difference. (Just kidding…sort of.)
Nice article, thanks.