March 29, 2001
in this world has the right to put Israel on trial. No one. On the contrary,
Israel may have the right to put others on trial, but certainly no one has the right to
put the Jewish people and the state of Israel on trial.
Thus spake Israels prime minister, Ariel
Sharon, in response to a U.S. commission investigating the causes of violence in his
country. One is almost grateful for so blunt a statement of the double standard:
Israel has rights others dont have.
I was starting to get that impression anyway.
But its nice to have an authoritative confirmation.
Most press accounts of Sharons
statement quoted only the first sentence, omitting the revealing and
potentially embarrassing sentence that followed. It implies that Israel is not
subject to the same legal and moral standards as other nations.
Abraham Lincoln once noted with amusement
that although many (white) people spoke as if slavery were a blessing, it seemed to
be the only blessing nobody wanted for himself. In the same way, Israels
apologists will tell you how wonderful and democratic Israel is, how fair to its (oddly
ungrateful) Arab minority; but they never seem to want that equality for themselves.
I have never heard a Jew say: I wish gentiles in other countries would treat us
Jews exactly the way we treat Arabs in Israel.
complain about the Arabs refusal to acknowledge Israels right
to exist. But if any state can be said to have a right to exist, it must be
because it treats its subjects justly. If Israels right to exist
means the Jews right to oppress Arabs to impose a double standard
to the disadvantage of the Arabs then why on earth should the Arabs assent
to it? Like Sharon, the Israelis feel persecuted when they are denied the right to
The Israelis face a fundamental dilemma that
cant be resolved even by a Palestinian state: Israel would cease to exist if it
gave Arabs equal rights within its own boundaries. It keeps the deck demographically
stacked by according every Jew in the world the right of return: that
is, the right to claim Israeli citizenship at any time, thus maximizing the number of
Jewish citizens. But it refuses to accord the same right to Palestinian refugees
abroad, because if they returned to their homeland they would outnumber and
outvote the Jews. Then Israel would become the Palestinian state. So Israel
cant afford justice. Its right to exist is founded on the
exclusion of most natives of the land it claims, and on discrimination against the rest.
The Palestinians best bet is not
violence, but peaceful appeals to the Jewish conscience. At times that conscience
may seem to be dormant, and it will certainly remain dormant as long as the Jews in
Israel and elsewhere have to fear that a Palestinian majority would take revenge on
In all negotiations you have to leave your
adversary a safe and graceful way out. The guiltier he is, the more he needs
assurance of mercy if he makes concessions. But in their understandable fury, the
Palestinians are making the Jews even the most conscientious Jews
feel that they make concessions only at their own risk. The reason Ariel Sharon won a
landslide victory in the recent elections is that Palestinian violence has turned many
of Israels doves into hawks.
Many Americans who thought slavery was wrong
were nevertheless afraid of emancipation, because they feared that the freed slaves
would avenge themselves on whites. That was an understandable human predicament:
Who would do justice if it meant that his family might be slaughtered as a result? You
wont persuade a man by telling him: Give us our freedom, you tyrant,
so that we may get even with you. Perfect love casteth out fear, but fear can
cast out conscience even fear of justice.
The Jewish conscience is the
Palestinians greatest weapon, but they are wasting it by frightening the Jews
to death. The Jews know very well that the Palestinians regard them, with much
reason, as oppressing conquerors. But the conquerors can only be conquered by
peace. I dont think this is utopian advice; I think its hard realism.
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