Peace and Nationalism in the Middle East

Matthew Yglesias has some interesting thoughts on conflicting values for progressives in the Israel-Palestinian conflict:

I was debating with Jon Chait at a J Street panel this morning on the subject of “what does it mean to be pro-Israel?” As expected, we disagreed on a number of points, most of which I was right on and he was wrong on. But one thing he said in his opening remarks that I really disagreed with was that there was an ambiguity running through the J Street constituency as to whether the group was or should be pro-Israel at all.

That just struck me as kind of nuts. My J Street button said “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace.” It’s not a subtle aspect of the messaging. But when we moved to the Q&A time it became clear that a number of people in the audience really were quite uncomfortable self-defining as “pro-Israel” in any sense and that others are uncomfortable with the basic Zionist concept of a Jewish national state. I was, of course, aware that those views existed but it had seemed to me that it was clear that that wasn’t what J Street is there to advocate for. Apparently, though, it wasn’t clear to everyone.

… Readers will know that I’m not a big fan of nationalism and I am a big fan of trans-national projects like the European Union and the United Nations. And it’s even true that I really kind of hope that hundreds of years from now there won’t be national states at all, instead we’ll all be lumped in with the Vulcans and the Andorians in a United Federation of Planets and off we’ll go. But there’s clearly no prospects for the abolition of the nation-state in the short-term. And the Jewish people’s claim to a nation-state is just as strong as the Finnish or Dutch or Thai claim. Or, for that matter, as the Palestinian claim. By far the best way to secure a just resolution of those conflicting claims is through a two-state solution—an independent Palestine, and a democratic Jewish Israel.

Spencer Ackerman is also taken aback at some J Streeters’ reluctance to identify themselves as pro-Israel, but wonders how much that matters if the policies being supported are, in fact, pro-Israel:

But OK; so a bunch of (largely) Jewish (largely) professional peaceniks don’t want to call themselves pro-Israel. Should we cease thinking of them as such?

I don’t really have any interest in affixing a label to people that they don’t embrace themselves. But I think the answer is that it would be shortsighted to view them outside the “pro-Israel” community. If Israel doesn’t get out of the West Bank soon, demographic realities will force Israel to make the most painful existential choice of its life: whether to abandon Jewish democracy or whether to abandon Jewish statehood in favor of a binational homeland. Both of these options, in fundamental ways, represent the end of Israel. Not from an Iranian nuclear weapon. Not from a super-empowered Palestinian intifada. But from political failure and international diplomatic failure, the end of Israel can, actually, be achieved.

This is not a hypothetical fear. Unless a settlement is reached before there are more Arabs between the Jordan and the Mediterranean — which is, I don’t know, ten years away? — it will be the case. Even before then, the Palestinian national movement would have very good incentives to stop pursuing the cause of an independent state, because they’d feel themselves to be the majority in a binational state. If they can force Israel to choose between its Jewishness and its democracy — a choice that risks overwhelming and perhaps untenable diplomatic isolation.

So any group or individual that pushes Israel and the U.S. to take steps to avoid that overwhelming and horrific existential choice? I think he/she/they ought to count, objectively speaking as pro-Israel. I am not going to say that someone who doesn’t is anti-Israel, even though that may be the implication of my argument. And that’s because Israel is already so awfully isolated and needs all the friends it can get. We ought to confront people of bad faith. But maybe terminology isn’t actually the way to do it. It’s a big tent, and it covers the Shtetl.

2 Responses to “Peace and Nationalism in the Middle East”

  1. Chief says:

    Can I say I am “pro-Israel” if I am for any plan that respects, allows and protects the rights of those people living in Israel to practice Judaism, if they so desire? And can I say that I am “pro-peace” if I am for a plan that respects and protects the rights those folks that chose not to follow Judaism to be secure in their homes and their land?

    These are definitely not mutually exclusive ideas.

  2. Ok, you’re right .. Conservatives are all a bunch of Racists, that’s why we hate Obamba .. this piece spells out our admission:

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