Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Remba Responds to Tilly's Criticisms in "The One State Solution"

Gidon D. Remba Responds to Jennifer Tilly’s The One-State Solution Criticisms of His Essay in the Nation on Israel and the New Anti-Semitism

In "Anti-Semitism—New or Old? An Exchange," (The Nation, April 12, 2004), I responded to Oxford scholar Brian Klug’s “The Myth of the New Anti-Semitism.” While I agreed that advocacy of anti-Zionism and binationalism is not inherently anti-Semitic, and describe conditions under which binationalism is consistent with the basic rights of Israeli Jews, I take Klug to task for his failure to recognize the pervasiveness of anti-Jewish racism that today underlies much of the anti-Zionism and anti-Israel invective in the Arab world and on the European left. I maintained that much binational advocacy among Palestinians, Arabs and the Western left represents a species of political rhetoric which would, if realized in a unitary “democratic” state, result in an arrangement whereby Palestinians will form the majority and Israeli Jews at best a tolerated, subjugated minority, recapitulating the tragic fates of failed multi-ethnic polities like Lebanon, Bosnia and Yugoslavia (and now Iraq). As a form of anti-Jewish discrimination, it thus satisfies standard definitions of anti-Semitism, directed against Israeli Jews. I believe that a binational Palestinian-Israeli polity will have a reasonable likelihood of respecting the human rights of Palestinians and Israeli Jews only if it arises by mutual consent to confederate two working liberal democratic Israeli and Palestinian states. Any other approach to binationalism is at best naïve and unpracticable, at worst apt to sweep Palestinians and Israelis down to the next rung of the raging Middle Eastern inferno.

Klug’s rejoinder, while acknowledging some of my points, side-stepped the central questions: What are the criteria for appropriate use of the term “anti-Semitism”? And does contemporary Muslim and Arab violence against European Jews, and leftist and Arab rhetoric advocating the elimination of the Jewish state and its replacement with an Arab-majority state, share enough features with classical anti-Semitism to be reasonably considered a form of racism against Jews—even if it lacks some features of the classical phenomenon? Klug also mistakenly attributed to me a willingness to define anti-Semitism solely through reliance on dictionaries, a charge belied by my text. Finally, while he questioned whether I had fairly described the binational Palestinian-Israeli state likely to arise if the wishes of many anti-Zionist critics were realized, he offered no real counter-arguments to show that Israeli Jews’ human, political and civil rights would be fully respected in an Arab-majority binational state (particularly one created against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews).

My essay prompted a three-page attack in a new book by political scientist Virginia Tilly, The One-State Solution: A Breakthrough for Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Deadlock (University of Michigan Press, 2005). Tilly, who regards Israel an apartheid state which still relies on ethnic cleansing “for its preservation,” and who unashamedly places all blame for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on Zionism and Israel, egregiously misreads my arguments, charging me with the view that “‘binational advocacy’ is indeed ‘inherently anti-Jewish racism.’” When I reject the overweening optimism of the European left that a binational “secular democratic” state—particularly one coercively imposed on Israeli Jews by means of economic sanctions and boycotts against Israel—will vouchsafe their basic human and political rights, and am skeptical that Arab majority oppression and domination of an Israeli Jewish minority is avoidable under such circumstances, she charges me with “transparent racial stereotyping” and “demonizing” of the Arabs. Instead, my skepticism is born of the inescapable fact that nowhere in the Arab world does a state yet exist in which the human and civil rights of minorities are respected, or in which citizens are truly equal or free, not even remotely to the degree that they are in Western societies. Realism about the prospects for liberal democracy and human rights in Arab society hardly amounts to demonization or racial stereotyping of Arabs. Moreover, Tilly completely ignores the crucial distinction I introduced between coercive and consensual binationalism.

Finally, Tilly (who studiously ignores my position in Peace Now and my public criticism of many Israeli policies) trots out the ritual claim that the rejection of one-state arguments as anti-Semitic “equates the Jewish state with Jewish people and regards any criticism of the state (or its Jewishness) as anti-Semitic per se.” Setting aside the absurdity of Tilly’s contention that I or others who reject certain species of one-state proposals as leading to anti-Jewish discrimination equate all criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, the issue at stake is not “mere criticism” of the Jewishness of the state. The issue is rather wholesale proposals to coercively deprive Israeli Jews of national sovereignty and the likely fate of the Israeli Jewish community were such proposals realized (and the fact that such proposals effectively empower Palestinian nationalism without acknowledging this fact). This is a far cry from “criticism of the Jewishness of the state,” which I myself share in some respects, as evidenced in my essay "What is Zionism? A Peace Now Vision: Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State.” (Read the essay at )

In “What is Zionism?,” I explore the meaning of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, articulating principles for a progressive Zionism. The essay defends the view that it is both possible, morally and practically, for Israel to be a Jewish state and a state of equal citizens where the civil, political and economic rights of the non-Jewish Arab minority are accorded fully equal respect. It articulates this position through an examination of the Zionism of Herzl, Ahad Ha’am, and Israel’s (former) Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, among others. In defending a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, I suggest that it is incumbent on progressive Zionists and Palestinian nationalists alike to work towards the creation of two states which should seek to evolve a common civic egalitarian public culture to complement the particularistic aspects of their national cultures. Both should draw from their own cultures in the articulation of the common public culture to be shared by Jews and Arabs in Palestine-Israel.

For a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to succeed, I hold that both Israelis and Palestinians must begin to overcome the zero-sum game thinking inherent in nineteenth-century mythologies of nationalism and the absolutely sovereign nation-state. The kind of future Palestinians and Israelis should begin to construct is neither a single "bi-national" state, nor a conventional two-state arrangement, but an alternative in between, a third way, evolving over time, and by mutual consent. It must begin as two nation-states, which is the unmistakable will of both peoples, and evolve towards nation-states in a regional confederation. Both peoples would maintain continued allegiance to their own nation-states, largely self-governing, but start to move toward devolving some elements of national sovereignty into a cooperative supra-national regional political structure, with some similarities to the European Union.

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