By David Samel
Jerry Slater’s magnum opus on the history, present and future of Zionism has led to a large volume and variety of debate. He offers a lengthy defense of the creation and existence of a Jewish State despite recognizing the inherent injustice forced upon the indigenous Palestinian population. He concedes that this unfairness, which has taken the form of dispossession, military occupation and inequality, has been egregious and intolerable, but argues that it theoretically could have been kept to an acceptable level and could possibly be reduced to such level in the future. I think there are some serious flaws in his analysis that deserve attention.
First, Jerry thoroughly analyzes the history of Zionism as a prelude to making his case for the two-state solution as exclusive remedy for the conflict. I have no quarrel with this procedure, but rather than sticking to actual historical facts — the events that Palestinians have had to live with over the past century — he relies upon a parallel history of what might have been had Zionism reached its ends through less onerous means. He understands that “relocation” of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians was necessary to pave the way for a Jewish State, but theorizes that the trauma could have been reduced if only the Israelis had settled for the 55% of the land designated for them by the United Nations, thereby reducing the number of Palestinians living in the Jewish State; those Palestinians were offered bribes to leave their ancestral homeland; and those that refused were subject to “compulsory relocation” in an “essentially nonviolent” manner with the bribe money stuffed in their pockets.
This fantasy strikes me as poorly conceived and completely implausible. Jerry assumes that “the international community” and “Jewish supporters of Israel” would “surely” have financed this plan, but who would have implemented it? Ethnic cleansing most definitely was not part of the UN partition plan. He estimates that 50,000 Palestinians would have refused the bribes; how would they have been expelled “essentially nonviolently”? If Arab armies had tried to intervene to stop compulsory relocation, who would have fought them?
Even more importantly, so what? Why is Jerry bothering to conjure up a vision of a kinder and gentler nakhba? Where we go from here depends on what happened, not flights of imagination. Palestinians and the rest of the world have been living with the consequences of what really did happen, and the future must be guided by those realities.
Necessity of a Jewish State
Jerry’s most oft-repeated theme is that the long history of worldwide anti-Semitism made a Jewish State a necessity. He expertly disposes of most commonly heard pre-Holocaust justifications for the Jewish State in Palestine: biblical history, territorial rights, Balfour/League of Nations. But then, he claims that the exigencies of the Holocaust committed by Europeans gave rise to a Jewish right, borne of necessity, to dispossess Palestinians. He recognizes the injustice in that, but accepts that the Palestinians just have to live with it for the greater good. Jerry also argues that even today, Jews are uniquely vulnerable to outbreaks of anti-Semitism, so much so that they need more protection than other groups, many other groups, who seem, I guess superficially, to have it quite a bit rougher today.
I’m not sure any Palestinians would consider this argument to be “irrefutable,” as he claims it to be, but let’s bypass this issue for the time being. What I would like to address is the logical leap he makes with virtually no analysis whatsoever. If Jews truly are as uniquely imperiled as he says, and certainly they were far more imperiled at the time of Israel’s founding, Jerry simply assumes that having “their own state” was an obvious remedy that requires little or no elaboration. He concedes that Israel has not been a safe place for Jews for 63 years of its existence, but speculates that it might become a safe haven in the future he envisions of a “fair” two-state agreement.
Consider this hypothetical. If a young woman has to walk to work through a high crime area at night, purchasing a car might be a reasonable way to provide much-needed protection. However, if she’s a chronic drunk or terrible driver or the only car she can afford is a used Ford Pinto, this “solution” actually increases the chances that harm will come to her. So it is with Israel. Because of the manifest unfairness on the Zionist plan to take another people’s land for a Jewish State. and the even worse execution of that plan, causing catastrophe to an innocent indigenous population, Israel has always been one of the least safe places on Earth for Jews. Jerry’s insistence that it was an “irrefutable” argument in the post-World War II era that Jews needed their own state makes about as much sense as saying it is irrefutable that the young woman in my hypothetical needs a Pinto. At most, he can argue that Jews required special protection at that time, and still require the promise of such protection should there be another outbreak of virulent anti-Semitism (a point much more debatable than irrefutable). But the creation of a Jewish State by European immigrants who had dispossess people who have lived there for centuries was a frying pan into the fire (or perhaps fire into the frying pan) solution, confirmed by the last 63 years of insecurity.
One State v. Two State
My biggest objection to Jerry’s analysis is the fratricidal tone he takes with respect to one-state proponents, foreseeing dire consequences if they continue in their supposed folly. He claims that people who advocate for one truly democratic state are consigning Palestinians to perpetual misery in the current status quo. In his view, preference for one state implies “giving up” on two, and “condemn[ing Palestinians] to live indefinitely under Israeli occupation and repression.”
Once again, he offers no analysis to support this logical leap. If by some miracle Israel followed Jerry’s prescription and made genuine moves toward ending the occupation and creating a Palestinian state, how many one-staters would stand in the way and demand that Palestinians refuse that option and continue to suffer under occupation until they achieve deliverance to the one-state promised land? In a comment, Jerry claims to find it “appalling that many here, from the comfort of their own homes in the US or Europe, want to insist that the Palestinians just must maintain their maximal current demands, even if the practical consequence of doing so is to ensure a continuation of the occupation.” Who is presuming to insist that the Palestinians take any particular position? Who is insisting on a choice between one state or a continuation of the occupation? If anyone is insisting on anything, Jerry is insisting that Palestinian citizens of Israel accept permanent second-class status, and that Palestinians under occupation or in the Diaspora affirm the legitimacy of their own dispossession and the delegitimization of their right of return guaranteed under international law.
Jerry also insists that one-staters hold their tongue. Why should those of us who feel that a Jewish State, especially one with Israel’s awful history rather than the alternative history Jerry has imagined, is an anachronism whose continued existence cannot be ethically defended, refrain from voicing our opinion? Sure, the Palestinians living under occupation are much worse off than those living as second-class citizens, but demanding the kind of equal citizenship rights we take for granted here in the U.S. is not an obstacle to their relief. If anything, casting a spotlight on this overriding injustice is more likely to propel progress toward ending the far greater misery of the occupation than it is to retard it. If there is a growing chorus of one-staters, might not Israel become more flexible in easing the occupation or more amenable to a genuine two-state solution, in order to head off the more “extreme” solution of true democracy? Some prominent Israeli politicians have made a similar argument, that Israel faces a choice between two states and one apartheid state.
When the African National Congress opposed apartheid, it demanded full and equal rights, not simply relief from the worst aspects of apartheid. Demanding full and equal rights for Palestinians, which in my view is inconsistent with the notion of a Jewish State, might be an excellent way to move American and western public opinion. Moreover, Israel is refusing to abide by what has long been a worldwide consensus in favor of the 2ss not because of one-state proponents, but because it wants to keep holding as much territory as possible. Jerry has no basis for his bitter criticism of one-staters’ imagined willingness to sacrifice Palestinians on the altar of a “quixotic quest.” If he wants to defend his two-state position, fine, though I’m not at all convinced, but I do wish he would reconsider his overheated attacks on people who don’t find him all that irrefutable.
Finally, Jerry has the good sense to direct his ire not at Palestinians themselves but at their supporters who enjoy comfort and security, but his reasoning is equally applicable to Palestinians who advocate for one democratic state, who must be committing the same grave errors. Jerry is fond of making points with old jokes, so let me give it a try – please excuse the morbid taste. The Nazis catch two Jews hiding in the forest and bring them before a firing squad. One starts crying and begging for his life. “On your mark!” More sobbing, more begging. “Get set!” The other Jew turns and says, “Shh! Don’t make trouble.” The nakhba is 63 years old. For the last 43 years, Israel has inflicted a brutal military occupation on Palestinians. No Israeli government has made bona fide overtures toward ending the occupation, much less giving Palestinian citizens equal rights. Things are getting worse and the current government may be the worst of all. And Jerry is turning to Palestinians and their supporters who demand the full measure of what should be guaranteed to them as universal human rights and says, “Shh! Don’t make trouble.” One-staters might disagree with you, Jerry, but they’re not the problem.