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Some months ago we received an excellent book by Alex Grobman, Nations United: How the United Nations Undermines Israel and the West. Therein, Mr. Grobman provides a useful short history of Israel and an invaluable account of how the Soviet Union and Arab states used the auspices of the UN, the ideologies of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and, in particular, United Nations Resolution 3379 (which singled out Zionism as a form of racism) as weapons with which to distract their own restive internal populations and to attack Israel and its Western allies. He shows just how successful this strategy was and the degree to which it caught its targets off-guard, though we were finally able to repeal the resolution in the wake of the Gulf War alliance and the collapsing Iron Curtain. The book is remarkably thorough, passionately argued, and refreshingly fair and honest.
One function of Mr. Grobman's honesty though is that the main argument against the Resolution and against how Israel has been treated at the UN is not that there is no validity to the notion that Zionism entails a certain level of "racism" but that there is nothing unique about that and that there are certain historical reasons for it in Israel's case. Mr. Grobman describes Zionism as "an attempt to transform the Jewish people into becoming like all the other nations of the world" and as "an effort to enable Jews to live in their own land like every other nation." Zionism then is pretty indistinguishable from any other form of nationalism, except insofar as the reaction it has provoked, and nationalism is inextricably bound up with ideas of ethnicity.
The elements of nationalism (a less inflammatory term than racism) are easy enough to trace in Israel. Never mind that its central purpose is to provide a Jewish homeland, there are also policies like allowing any Jew in the world to make aliyah, while denying native Palestinians the "right of return," and Ariel Sharon's decision to disavow the drive for Eretz Israel and to create a Palestinian state in order to limit the number of Arabs within Israel's borders. While completely justified from the perspective of maintaining Israel's distinctively Jewish and democratic nature, such steps have undeniable racial components. What's most notable in this regard is that when, for example, the Scots seek to separate themselves from Great Britain, and polls show that the English overwhelmingly support seeing the back of them, we see none of the hysteria and rancor that Israel is subjected to for similarly nationalist sentiment. Or, to take another normal democratic ally in good standing, consider Japan, which has one of the most restrictive immigration policies in the free world, for no other reason than to preserve the nation's ethnic identity. Despite a recent past of mass murderous nationalist warfare against its neighbors, Japan's current policies go largely unremarked. Meanwhile, the Jewish nation, whose people are recent victims of genocide are vilified for trying to preserve their national identity. Reasonable folk can differ over the advisability of the respective policies pursued by Scotland, Japan and Israel, but it is obviously unreasonable -- and something quite a bit more sinister -- to single out Israel for criticism.
It is, however, at the point where we might question these nationalist policies that the big question comes into play: is it a good idea for Israel to seek to be just another nation and to orient its policies around a nationalist axis? As a threshold matter, treating Jews as an ethnically distinct people, as a biological nation, makes Judaism an intellectual support for precisely those nationalist ideas that undergird Applied Darwinism. From a purely Darwinian standpoint, what can have been "wrong" with a struggle between the Germanic people and the Jewish, however violent? And once we repudiate the merely biological view of mankind and invoke Judeo-Christian morality and Western tradition in its stead, we open several cans of worms. What moral basis can a state have for treating two ethically similar people differently simply because they differ ethnically? While a state need not extend citizenship rights to those who seek its destruction, on what basis may it deny those rights to those who embrace the premises upon which it functions and the ends for which it was founded? And these are only the sorts of theoretical/philosophical issues that we encounter. On the more practical front, it appears that Israel has only bought itself some time when it comes to demographics. Eventually, perhaps not too many years from now, Jews will be a minority and Arab Muslims a majority even within the more modest borders that are being finalized. If steps are not taken now to base Israel's future on a more inclusive set of ideals, then how can it integrate non-Jews and treat them as Israelis yet still expect to preserve the Zionist vision? And, if that preservation came to require a denial of democratic rights to the majority or even a large minority, then what will have become of the moral claims of Judaism? And ought we to expect an America that is not nationalist, is explicitly organized around Judeo-Christian ideals, and always has been the main force for liberalization/democratization in the world to retain its unusually close relationship with an Israel that may be forced by nationalist considerations to depart so drastically from the American model?
These are all questions that we ought to be grappling with now, especially those of us who love, admire and support Israel. But it is difficult to discuss them in calm and considered fashion, in no small part because Israel's enemies may welcome the admissions that are required. This might well be the final victory of the Zionism=Racism crowd, that they have so tainted public dialogue that we choose a comfortable silence rather than a difficult debate. That would be truly tragic.
-BOOK SITE: Nations United by Alex Grobman
-ESSAY: What College Students Need To Know about Israel: Rebutting those who distort history. (Dr. Alex Grobman, December 2006, Philadelphia Jewish Voice)
-REVIEW: of Nations United: How the United Nations Undermines Israel and the West by Alex Grobman (Lori Lowenthal Marcus, Philadelphia Jewish Voice)
-REVIEW: of Nations United (Steven Laib, Intellectual Conservative)
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