Sunday, January 14, 2007

Perhaps your Holocaust Denial Conference meant what you thought it meant (though perhaps not)

A lively conversation opened up after my last not-so-recent post between me and good J-Friend Becky T. Becky critiqued my (and Counterpunch's) analysis of Iran's recent-ish Holocaust Denial Conference. She argues, among other things, that being anti-Israel is effectively being anti-Jew (I hope that's a fair characterization), which I sort of agree with, sort of try to rebut. Becky clarifies some things on my assertion that one can be "anti-Israel" but not anti-Jew in that they may be against ethnic/religious discrimination, which it seems to me obviously takes place in Israel. Becky highlights the legal differences in immigration-related issues, and the complications involved with trying to keep Israel a Jewish State. My interpretation of her main point is that being a religious state is not an inherent or root problem of discrimination -- pointing to the state(ish) religion of the Church of England (whom many Brits ignore I think) and the open secret of the US' intensely religious/pro-Christian nature. (Or at least this implies that criticizing Israel for being a religious state is hypocritical in light of such examples.) We'll skip deconstruction of the C of E and US' non-state state religion, in favor of moving on to Becky's defense/critique (defensitique?) of pro-Jew immigration laws.
Certainly, Jews from the rest of the world can gain Israeli citizenship much more easily than non-Jews. This makes sense, if the purpose of the Jewish State's existence is to be a place of refuge for Jews in the diaspora. This has led to a lot of good for African (especially Ethiopian) and Russian Jews, who had the ability to leave desperate situations in their home countries and start fresh in Israel. Obviously, maintenance of a Jewish majority and these types of 'asylum' rights for Jews in Israel is important to world Jewry. So, I think it's somewhat understandable that if Israel loses it's Jewish majority (~80% as of 2003), it no longer functions as it was intended. I guess theoretically if there were no possible threat that Jews may be persecuted in any other place in the world ever again, it would no longer be necessary for Israel to try to maintain the demographics of the country.
She follows this by outlining the exact problems maintaining this has caused (and pointing out the largely secular character of most Israelis, despite the unproportional power the observant and Orthodox wield).

I guess my reaction is, well, one, agreement that this topic is of course almost completely shaped by the, er, "Palestinian Question", but two: given that maintaining a haven for one uniquely persecuted group is a noble goal, how much is that nobility compromised each time one compromises on the usual rights granted across ethnic/religious lines under international law? How is moral righteousness affected when the moral imperative to treat others justly and help them when they're in need are compromised? I don't have an easy answer, and the problem seems to be that neither does Israel (or, you know, anyone else). The problem with hard answers, of course, is that nobody likes to follow them to the difficult conclusions they lead to...

Relatedly, however, please check out another Counterpunch piece, by former Israeli Education Minister Shulamit Aloni, outlining why she thinks Israel does, in fact, have an apartheid. (I don't find her argument to be quite complete -- for the open-minded, check out the relevant chapters in Chomsky's book Failed States.)

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