Criticizing Israel and the Fundamental Problem

Max Blumenthal is the 35-year-old son of former Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal. The younger Blumenthal published his second book in October. It’s called Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel.

In an interview at Salon, he discusses the right-ward shift in Israeli politics, the rise of some scary racism and the reaction to his book. The Amazon reviews indicate the reaction the book is getting:

5 stars…………71
4 stars…………..7
3 stars…………..3
2 stars…………..4
1 star…………..65

That’s what’s called a “distinct pattern”.

What interested me most about the interview was Blumenthal’s description of Israel as a “settler colonial ethnocracy”. That is, after all, an accurate description of colonial America’s treatment of both the native population and African slaves. It’s doubtful that the Indians or slaves would have considered the United States to be a straightforward constitutional democracy.

Blumenthal points out an important difference between America and Israel, however. He says that the Israeli government’s official policy is to maintain a Jewish population in the country of at least 70%. The United States has controlled immigration, but has never had a policy aiming at a specific percentage of the population being, for example, white Christians.

This demographic policy, Blumenthal argues, leads to oppressive policies toward Palestinians, non-Jewish Africans and, most recently, Bedouins:

The Jewish state requires [holding non-Jews] in detention centers like the Saronim, where thousands of non-Jewish Africans are staying right now in shipping containers in the Negev desert; or the Prawer Plan, which mandates the removal of 30- to 40,000 veteran [Bedouin] citizens of Israel to Indian reservation-style communities from their ancestral lands; or the fact that Palestinians face constant home demolitions — we’re talking about 26,000 home demolitions since 1967. The Jewish state mandates the creation of the separation wall, which is said to prevent “demographic spillover”; and it requires the Gaza Strip to be under siege perpetually, because 80 percent of its population is refugees who have legitimate claims to the land and property inside what is now the state of Israel.

(Note: Demonstrations against the Prawer Plan were in the news recently.)

I haven’t been able to confirm Israel’s 70% demographic target, but did find an article by Israel’s most respected demographer, Sergio DellaPergola, a professor at Hebrew University. He lays out the basic existential issue Israel faces (putting aside any threats from its neighbors):

…it has been suggested that [Israel] faces a conundrum because it has three fundamental goals, but can achieve only two of the three at the same time. The three goals are to preserve the Israeli state’s Jewish identity, democratic character, and territorial extent.

Thus, Israel can choose to apply a Jewish cultural identity to the whole territory and population between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, but in that case it cannot be a democracy. Israel can opt for the same territorial extension and apply to all residents the democratic principle of “one man, one vote,” but in that case it will not be a Jewish state. Or Israel can choose to be a Jewish and democratic state, but in that case it will have to withdraw sovereignty from significant parts of the territory and population.

Professor DellaPergola points out that 1947’s U.N. resolution 181 called for the establishment of a Jewish state, an Arab state and a U.N.-administered area around Jerusalem (in the diagram below, the proposed Jewish state is yellow and the Arab state is gray). The 1948-49 war resulted in Israel expanding its borders beyond those in the U.N. resolution. DellaPerfogla believes that “the real bone of contention is what happened in 1947-1949, not the outcome of the Six Day War in June 1967”.


If the non-Jews living in Palestine and surrounding regions back in 1947 had welcomed the creation of Israel, the Middle East would be a much calmer place today. They didn’t and it isn’t.

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