Monday, February 09, 2009

Racism According to Herzl

Herzl's vision of racism (original Hebrew version)
By Shlomo Avineri, Ha'aretz

In 1902, Theodor Herzl published his utopian novel "Altneuland" ("The Old New Land"), in which he described the Jewish state to be established in Palestine in 1923. In doing so, Herzl not only provided an idealized description of the Zionist movement's goal; he also provided the State of Israel - the product of Zionism - with a mirror for viewing itself in light of Herzl's vision. Not many national movements have such an efficient tool for self-scrutiny.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is the description of the election campaign that was to have taken place in 1923. The campaign focused on the rights of the country's non-Jewish inhabitants. Contrary to what is sometimes said of Zionism - that it ignored the existence of Arabs in the country - the book reveals not only an awareness of the existence of the Arab population; the Jewish state is predicated on the concept that all its inhabitants, regardless of religion, race or gender, enjoy equal rights and the right to vote. These rights are extended not only to Arabs, but to women, though at the time the book was written no Western democracy had given women the vote.

In the book, not only do the country's Arabs have the right to vote, some of them serve in key posts. Among them is one of the novel's heroes, an Arab engineer from Haifa named Rashid Bey. To use a term from our day, Herzl envisioned a state that would be both Jewish and democratic, both a Jewish nation state and a state of all its citizens.

A new party appeared in the 1923 campaign, headed by a man who had recently come to the country and wanted to annul his old citizenship and rescind the right to vote of all non-Jews. Herzl named the founder of the Jewish racist party Geyer (which in German means a bird that eats carrion), modeling the character and his ideology after the Viennese anti-Semitic leader Karl Lueger.

Geyer's argument was simple: This is a Jewish state, and only Jews should have the right to citizenship. Others can remain as tolerated residents, but they do not deserve equal political rights.

The depiction of the campaign in "Altneuland" is compelling: Geyer's racist party creates quite a stir. In one of the book's most dramatic moments, a confrontation takes place between Geyer's supporters and a number of the new society's liberal leaders. While Geyer claims the exclusivity of citizens' rights for Jews, the liberals justify giving equal rights to the Arab inhabitants based on liberal, universal principles and on Jewish sources ("Ye shall have one ordinance, both for the stranger and for him that was born in the land" - Numbers 9:14).

After a hard fought contest, the liberals win and the defeated Geyer leaves the country in shame. There is something very special in this description. In the classical utopias that were Herzl's guiding light, from Thomas More's "Utopia" to the 19th century utopias, it is always an ideal society that is depicted, without defects. In "Altneuland," in contrast, Herzl combined an ideal society with political realism. As one who had seen for himself the anti-European, anti-Jewish racism, he imagined that Jews could also be racists and inserted into his utopia the errant and disturbing image of a Jewish racist. But in contrast to Europe, where racism was victorious, in Zion and Jerusalem, it was defeated and the principles of equality and liberalism won.

A utopian novel? Contemporary reality? The moral of the story, of course, is crystal clear. It should be remembered that the motto of Altneuland is "If you will it, it is no dream." It is in our hands.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Why I'll Vote For Meretz

I have finally come to a decision who to vote for in Tuesday's Knesset elections. After careful consideration, I've come to the conclusion that for dovish Zionists, even the most moderate of them, there is no real choice. Meretz is our only option.

First of all, I'll explain why all the other parties are not worth a vote. Obviously, Likud and parties to the right of it are not an option for anyone who believes in the land for peace, two-state solution.

Between Benjamin Netanyahu, Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak, I'd rather see Tzipi Livni as prime minister. The two others are members of the "four worst Israeli prime ministers club", along with Ehud Olmert and Golda Meir, and both seem to be more hawkish than Livni. However, I will not vote for Kadima. Even if it becomes the largest party, the right wing will still be the largest parliamentary bloc, and Livni will not be able to form a government, unless Avigdor Lieberman decides to join her instead of a Likud government. Lieberman is Israel's Jorg Haider. His presence in the Israeli government will not only bring down chances of peace to zero, it will also endanger our democracy.

I will not vote for Labor, either. I am a member of the party and voted for it in 2006, despite my disdain for Amir Peretz, who was then head of the party. Back then, I knew Peretz would not become prime minister, so I voted for them at least so they'll be as large as possible. I'm not going to do that now. They have some excellent candidates, who I'd normally vote for happily (like I did in the primaries), but Barak is almost as hawkish as Netanyahu, and he has said he would not object to sitting in the same government as Lieberman. So a vote for Labor is a vote for Yisrael Beitenu.

Another option is the small list The Green Movement-Meimad. This is a joint list of two moderate left parties. One of them, Meimad, ran with Labor during the last couple of elections. The head of the joint list, Meimad chairman Michael Malchior, is one of the finest Knesset members we've had in recent years. Unlike the other environmental parties running this year, it isn't a one-issue party. It also tackles social and national security issues from a moderate point of view. The problem is that they may not cross the 2% threshold, so a vote for them may be a vote wasted.

Chadash is a communist and anti-Zionist party. Both are big no-noes for me. The other Arab parties are even further from my views.

That leaves me with Meretz, a party which is too naive regarding the Palestinians but seems to be the only Zionist party not naive at all regarding the danger posed by Avigdor Lieberman. They have pledged not to join a government where Yisrael Beitenu is also at the table. They are to the left of me on both national security/peace and socio-economic issues, but when all the rest are radically to the right of me, it will be good to hear at least a few voices for peace and justice in the Knesset. The issue where Meretz and I are in almost perfect agreement is secularism. Unfortunately, the party has neglected this issue lately, but hopefully will pick it up again in the 18th Knesset.

Meretz will probably remain in the opposition. That's fine with me. With Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, or with any government that includes Lieberman, a strong, sane opposition is important.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Arabs and Election 2009

One fifth of the citizens of Israel are Arabs. One fifth of the Knesset would be 24 MKs. However, the Arab parties have only 10 MKs in the outgoing Knesset, plus 4 more Arabs who represent Zionist parties. The Arab parties are expected to do even worse in the upcoming elections. About half the Arabs don't plan on voting.

"Why should I vote? By doing that I legitimize those who attack my people," one person was quoted in Ha'aretz as saying. This is backwards thinking. How would a vote for one of the Arab parties legitimize attacking Palestinians? As long as there are very few Arabs in the Knesset, they can be ignored. Arabs are the one group who needs the elections most. If they voted in higher percentages than Jewish citizens they could get more than 24 MKs, maybe even 30. Nobody can ignore a bloc that makes up one quarter of the Knesset.

The only ones who benefit from the Arab boycott of the elections are us Jewish Zionists. The truth is that I don't really mind that Arabs don't vote. It's their own problem. Having 20-something Arab MKs pushing for the right of return would be a nightmare.

Baruch Marzel's Election Day Provocation

The method of appointing poll station supervisors has never been a problem. The different parties are allocated positions in different polling sites around the country, and the parties themselves appoint their representatives. The board of elections has no say in the matter of personnel.

The method of appointing poll station supervisors has never been a problem. The different parties are allocated positions in different polling sites around the country, and the parties themselves appoint their representatives. The board of elections has no say in the matter of personnel.

Now, the National Union Party has decided to abuse the system. It has appointed Baruch Marzel, one of the most famous and infamous members of transferist far right, as head of a polling station in the Arab city of Umm al-Fahm. This is pure provocation and should be prevented. The board of elections should intervene. Even if it technically has nothing to do with the appointment of supervisors, it has the responsibility to make sure elections go as smoothly as possible. Everybody knows that if Marzel shows up, the election there will be disrupted by violent protest.

I think it is a good idea that right wingers, even radical right wingers, will act as observers in Arab towns, where election fraud is commonplace. I also think Arabs and far left wingers should be observers in ultra-Orthodox and right wing communities, where election fraud is just as rampant. Opposites should monitor each other. However, the observers should not be well-known figures. They should be people who can do their jobs quietly, without causing a stir.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Israeli Electoral Compass

Whether or not you're an Israeli citizen, you can check out which parties are closest to your political position using the Electoral Compass. Take the results with a grain of salt, since the results are quite simplistic. It would take a hundred questions to accurately place a person on the political spectrum.

My own results are mixed. Some things make sense, while others don't. According to the Electoral Compass, my views are closest to Meretz, with an overall score of 81%. I really am considering a vote this party (and not because of the test results). On religious issues we're 95% compatible, which makes perfect sense. On security issues the score was 95% as well, but I think that's an exaggeration. All the questions are about what I'd agree to at the end of the negotiation process, but there is nothing about the way to get there, which is where Meretz is more dovish than I am. On economic issues we're 67% compatible, which doesn't surprise me, since Meretz is a socialist party and I'm more of a US-style liberal.

Now here's the weird stuff. The next three parties are the Arab ones: the Islamist religious Ra'am-Ta'al (79% agreement), the communist Hadash (76%) and the nationalist Balad (69%). I supposedly agree with more than 90% of their security positions, again because the questions are about the end result and not the process itself. Also, there is no question about the right of return, where I'd be in direct opposition to all three parties. In addition, I'm supposedly in 85% agreement with Ra'am-Ta'al on religious issues, which is completely not the case. Apparently the Compass thinks the party shares my support for the separation of church/synagogue and state, when the truth is they support the creation of an Islamic caliphate.

My next results: In 4th place, Labor (68%), Kadima is fifth (66%), then the Green Movement-Meimad (57%), Torah Judaism (56%), Greens (53%), Likud (49%), Yisraeli Beitenu (48%), Pensioners (48%), Shas (39%), National Union (38%), and in last place Ha'Bait Ha'Yehudi (36%).

Not surprisingly, Shas and United Torah Judaism, the ultra-Orthodox parties, get a score of zero compatibility with me on religious issues. The other two religious parties don't fair too well, either. The National Union gets 15% and Ha'Bait Ha'Yehudi 5% on religion.