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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Israeli government versus the Zionist project

Bradley Burston, at his usual excellent best, raises important and worrisome questions in Why Israel was created, why it still exists. Can Israel be killed by the greed, short sightedness and incompetence of its own leaders? We should add to the list below, discrimination against Reform and Conservative Jews that is preventing immigration from the United States, laws that make it difficult for non-Jews to join the Jewish people, lack of action on democracy, lack of action on demographic issues, lack of action to save the Jews of Russia and many more policy blunders that "just happen."
By Bradley Burston

One way or another, Israel will spend this summer fighting the last war.
Never has a prospective war been more expected. Well before the Second Lebanon War was over, the Third was already being confidently predicted by a broad consensus of experts.
But even if the predictions of a new war are proven mistaken, the last war is likely to remain a focus of the nation's attention though the summer and beyond. Inquiries on the government's wartime failings are likely to monopolize the attention of a prime minister whose every calculation is keyed to political survival.
At the same time, there is every danger that in dealing with the fallout of the last war, the government will find ways to refrain from working to resolve issues that go the very heart of why the state of Israel was created, and why it continues to exist.
The problems represent critical tests of the very idea of Zionism. As such, the government may have every interest in trying to skirt them, ignore them, or otherwise dodge them. Here are five:
1. The new Palestinian refugees - the settlers of Gaza
Israel was not created in order to settle and hold the West Bank. Ironically, however, the 2005 disengagement from Gaza may serve to keep the West Bank in Israel's hands indefinitely.
Any future peace prospects will hinge on Israel's treatment of the Jews it expelled from Gaza. The logic is simple. Israel has shown itself unable or unwilling to find adequate permanent housing and satisfactory employment for less than 2,000 families evacuated from an area for which a large majority of Israelis felt no affinity and which polls showed most had wanted to abandon years before. How can the government then expect to win support for the expulsion of tens of thousands in the West Bank, an area which many more Israelis consider traditionally Jewish land.
And this consideration is brought into even greater relief at a time when Qassam rockets are still being fired from abandoned settlements into Israel ? some of them striking areas to which evacuated settlers have been moved.
The situation is oddly advantageous for the larger settlement movement, which can rest assured that the treatment of Gaza settlers, and the overkill evacuation of the illegal Amona outpost in January, 2006, coupled with Qassams, virtually guarantee that present settlements will remain where they are.
As such, the situation bears peculiar reminders of the plight of Palestinian refugees still in Gaza. For sixty years, Arab states and fellow Palestinians made strenuous efforts to enshrine the misery of the Palestinian refugees. They blocked efforts to resettle them in improved housing, and generally took advantage of their own and Israel's inaction, holding the refugees hostage for their own ends.
2. The refugees from Darfur
Israel was not created as a refuge for all the world's threatened and displaced persons. Nonetheless, when peoples are threatened with genocide and appeal for help, Israel cannot turn its back.
Jews cannot continue to complain about the world's silence during the Holocaust, if they are willing to stand on the sidelines while another people is systematically slaughtered.
In recent months, refugees from the Sudan, currently the site of the signal human rights atrocity in all the world, have made their way on foot through the Sinai desert and across the border into Israel. Government agencies and the Knesset have ducked and deferred policy decisions regarding their status. Soldiers who have picked them up as they cross the border, have been instructed to simply take them to Negev cities and leave them there. The government cannot decide how - or when, or whether - to deport them. The Knesset cannot even decide whether to discuss the issue.
"We as Jews are obliged to help not only Jews." Nopel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel told Haaretz last year. "I was a refugee and therefore I am in favor of admitting refugees."
"I thought it was very laudable when Israel became the first country to admit the Vietnamese boat people. History constantly chooses a capital of human suffering, and Darfur is today the capital of human suffering. Israel should absorb refugees from Darfur, even a symbolic number."
3. The people of Sderot
Sderot is a test case for Israel, and for the world as well. It is a daily target of war crimes violations. The world should pressure Hamas to stop rocket attacks targeting civilians. The world has shown itself unwilling. Israel's military efforts have also been unable to stop the attacks.
In the present reality, protecting the people of Sderot and the western Negev must be a primary priority of the government. Resources must be marshaled, here and abroad, to make certain that homes, schools, and workplaces receive proper reinforcement, that children and adults receive needed psychological support.
Israelis must redouble their efforts to show the people of the western Negev that they are not an expendable appendage, but that their resistance to what Palestinians have laughably called "resistance" is crucial to the future of all Israelis.
4. Economic support of destitute Holocaust survivors
Over the past year, Israelis have learned in detail that large numbers of the hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors in the country are living in poverty. Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik has announced that she will seek to block passage of the State Budget unless and until the treasury agrees to address the needs of survivors.
If the effort fails, this will be the surest proof that the very foundation of the state has been sold to finance some Thatcherite ideal.
5. The end of the People of the Book
In large part, the Jewish people, and the state it created, are alive today because of education. Unsexy, not violent, the subject barely draws yawns in crisis-inured Israel. But public education is being allowed to die a slow death. When it does, the rest of this enterprise will not be far behind.

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