Preparing public opinion for ethnic cleansing

Not too long ago, Peter Beinart chastised the American-Jewish establishment for, stretching the ostensible bond between liberal values and Zionism ever-closer to breaking point, and serving as enablers for ultra-right trends that would eventually destroy Israel as a democratic state. In particular, Beinart slammed the Jewish leadership’s attempts to smooth out the image of Avigdor Lieberman:

After Israel’s elections last February, for instance, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice-chairman of the Presidents’ Conference, explained that Avigdor Lieberman’s agenda was “far more moderate than the media has presented it.” Insisting that Lieberman bears no general animus toward Israeli Arabs, Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that “He’s not saying expel them. He’s not saying punish them.” (Permanently denying citizenship to their Arab spouses or jailing them if they publicly mourn on Israeli Independence Day evidently does not qualify as punishment.) The ADL has criticized anti-Arab bigotry in the past, and the American Jewish Committee, to its credit, warned that Lieberman’s proposed loyalty oath would “chill Israel’s democratic political debate.” But the Forwardsummed up the overall response of America’s communal Jewish leadership in its headline “Jewish Leaders Largely Silent on Lieberman’s Role in Government.”

Denial and trying to cover Lieberman’s commitment to ethnically cleansing Israeli citizens is bad enough, but at least it indicates the American Jewish leadership think their constituents wouldn’t support such a policy. Today, Jerry Haber (Magnes Zionist) came across what may be the first attempt to legitimise the policy itself to international and international Jewish opinion. Haber dedicates a meticulous, extensive post to a recent award-winning book by Rabbi Dr Daniel Gordis. Gordis is senior president of the Shalem Center, an ultra-right think tank that is for Netanyahu’s government what the Project for New American Century was for the Bush administration. Here are the relevant sections, quoted via Haber:

Rabbi Gordis admits at the outset of that discussion that the “mere suggestion of ‘transfer'” immediately evokes the thought of Meir Kahane and Avigdor Lieberman, and that “on the surface there are almost innumerable reasons to denounce transfer as immoral or unfeasible.” (All bolded emphasis is mine, not his) But instead of providing a single reason to consider transfer immoral, he talks briefly about its unfeasibility, especially with respect to the difficulties that Israel would face in the international arena. “Forced population transfers are nowconsidered an international crime by many authorities.” But the picture is not “nearly as one-sided as it is often portrayed.” Forced expulsion, though traumatic, “need not condemn you to poverty“. Moreover, “there are many cases of population transfer that have been conducted bloodlessly, and that have contributed to the creation of peace between formerly warring neighbors,” e. g. the transfer of population in Cyprus after the Turkish invasion of 1974.

And also,

…despite the great pain, these potentially agonizing solutions to an undeniable problem have to be raised…Those who seek to restore purpose to Israeli life will have to decide how to preserve Israel’s Jewish majority. For it is that majority that enables Israel to serve as such a beacon of hope for Jews. That, in turn, invariably will entail more than rhetoric. It will require abandoning the pretense that Israel is just like other countries, the charade that claims that Israel can deal with its minorities precisely as other democracies do…If Israelis genuinely believe in that purpose, they will then have to be willing to discuss what they are actually willing to do to protect the existence of the state that has saved the Jewish people.

Here we have the mechanics of preparing public opinion for ethnic cleansing laid almost bare: The doctrine of Israeli exceptionalism  is being tentatively extended to unilaterally disenfranchising a significant part of its population, forcibly expelling these people from their homes, into the “Palestinian state”. Moreover, this is presented as a challenge to the Israelis, “despite the great pain.” (This is particularly perverse, of course; an American empathises with the pain that will be felt by a native collective as it executes a crime against humanity against another native collective. My heart bleeds for the good rabbi). Furthermore, this is cast as possibly necessary for the state’s survival, and may even be an instrument of peace.

Legitimisers of Lieberman will be quick to point out that my use of the term “ethnic cleansing” is mistaken, if not deceiving; after all, he only suggests to redraw the borders, so that already Arab-majority areas are included into the future Palestinian state; and, indeed, the Israeli Arabs’ final destination is not a death camp or a faraway colony, but reuniting with the rest of the Palestinian collective in a Palestinian state of their own.

To the first point, my answer would be to invite you to take part in an exercise. Look at the map. Israel has for years been placing Jewish moshavim, kibbutzim and towns strategically in between Arab villages and towns in its territory. Take a pencil and try to bend the northernmost section of the Green Line so that it includes 50% of the Arab Israeli population, without including any of the Jewish areas. You see? For this plan to work, some of the communities will need to moved. My guess that it’s not going to be the Jewish ones.

As for the Palestinian state that will supposedly make the Israeli Arabs’ (involuntary) sacrifice worthwhile, all I can say is: Look at the news. No real, sovereign Palestinian state is on the table, and hasn’t been on the table for years. What is being discussed now is a shredded enclave, without an army, without control of airspace, without control of borders (international, or, a lot more likely, Israeli forces will divide the new “state” from its intended Jordanian border). “Moderate” Ehud Olmert demanded to keep the Israel Airforce flying over Palestinian airspace, and to retain control even over telecommunications. The Netanyahu administration believes Olmert had gone too far; According to a recent report, Netanyahu even wants to retain IDF bases near the Palestinian cities. You call that a state?

Finally, I use “ethnic cleansing” because rounding up a population of a certain ethnic origin and excluding it en masse from participation in the civic and economic life of their country is precisely what ethnic cleansing is about. It does not need to involve much bloodshed, and indeed, it usually  is not planned to at first. Simple ethnic cleansing can deteriorate rapidly into murderous ethnic cleansing if the targeted population stages an armed resistance, or of outside powers try to come to its aid; but even without that, mass expulsion of citizens based on their ethnic-cultural characteristic is a nightmare scenario.

And it would seem that this is the direction in which we are going: The establishment of an amputee Palestinian entity in some areas of the West Bank; and the artificial linking of the issue of Palestinian-Israeli civil and collective rights to this enclave. Indeed, as of this year, Israeli security forces have already included some elements of that scenario in their yearly training.  Chillingly, Dr Gordis implies that sometimes transfer can be preferable to avoid mass killing.

Drawing on previous historic experience, it’s not at all difficult to imagine it being legitimised through precisely that scenario. The past weeks alone have seen numerous clashes between Arabs and Jews, including senior rabbis issuing an edict prohibiting renting flats to Arabs (imagine American evangelists proscribing selling flats to blacks), and Jews in Safed literally staging a pogrom, including a shooting attack, against Israeli-Arab students in the city. If these events continue and escalate, a future government may well propose endorsing Lieberman’s plan – “for the Israeli Arabs’ own protection.”

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