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Preparing for the best

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In this essay, capitalized “Democracy” means what it means in South Africa: equal rights for all the citizens of Palestine.  Democracy’s enemy is apartheid, the present form of government in Palestine.  Another term for apartheid in Palestine is Zionism, the ranks of former liberal Zionists swelling steadily as one by one we reluctantly, belatedly come to acknowledge the equation.  “Palestine” here means the land between the river and the sea. I don’t know what the land will actually be called under Democracy, though a geographic name like Palestine—the name the pre-1948 yishuv themselves used—would certainly be more fitting than a sectarian name like “Israel.”  If the name indeed turns out to be Palestine, Jewish citizens whose roots in the land go back 30 or 60 years will be no less Palestinian than Arab citizens whose roots go back five or ten centuries. Hilltop youth would become just another Palestinian police problem.  Tel Aviv and Birzeit Universities would both be Palestinian institutions of higher learning. My purpose in this post is not to rehearse the reasons why many observers believe Democracy is Palestine’s ultimate future. Rather I want to call attention to what seem to me to be obvious and urgent implications for today’s anti-apartheid struggle.

The urgent need for a government in waiting

Little time elapsed between when South African Democracy still seemed a far-off utopian dream and its ultimate triumph.  But the African National Congress was not caught off-guard.  For decades they’d been creating a government-in-waiting, so that when F.W. de Klerk’s Nationalist Party voluntarily surrendered power, it was to an established entity in whose commitment to just treatment they could have some confidence.  And how about Palestine’s new leadership: is it ready to govern on short notice?  Is an alternative to the apartheid regime being vigorously developed, an alternative at the same time just and practical?

The task will much more difficult in Palestine than in South Africa.  That’s because Jews and non-Jews are about equally numerous.  Any workable government will have to be a non-sectarian coalition to whom the apartheid leadership will reluctantly relinquish power despite having overwhelming superiority in armed force. The ANC, in contrast, represented 90 percent of the citizens and had no need to build a governing coalition with anti-apartheid whites.

A Democracy list?

A “list” in parliamentary elections with proportional representation is a grouping of parliamentary candidates standing together as a single political party or party coalition.  Elections to the Israeli Knesset and Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) are 100 percent and 50 percent by proportional representation, respectively.  Both venues are plausible if imperfect homes for the government in waiting.

In Israel it’s especially easy to create a list with real prospects of Knesset seats, as exemplified by political neophyte Yair Lapid and his brand-new Yesh Atid party, which has a good chance to gain seats in the upcoming elections.  Two of the sitting non-Jewish parties, Hadash (with communist roots) and Balad (Haneen Zouabi’s party), already have “Democratic” as part of their names and ideologies.  Hadash has always been explicitly a joint Jewish and non-Jewish party, and its four sitting MKs include one Jew (Dov Khenin) and three non-Jews.

Meanwhile, the PLC’s 66 list seats may be dominated by Hamas (29 members) and Fatah (28 members), but they also include Mustafa Barghouti’s secular Palestine National Initiative (2 seats) and Salam Fayyad’s and Hanan Ashrawi’s Third Way (2 seats).  Uri Davis, born to an Israeli Jewish family, calls himself Palestinian and has been elected to Fatah’s Revolutionary Council (though he is not a member of the PLC).

I don’t think there are rules that would explicitly prohibit a single Democracy party (as I’ll call it here) from standing for both the Knesset and the PLC, though of course the lists in the two elections would have different people.  The hypothetical party’s platform would have to be carefully worded so as to survive the inevitable attempt by right-wing Zionists to disqualify it from the Knesset.  But a vigorous assertion of core values of Democracy, especially equal rights for all citizens, could not be grounds for disqualification even in Israel’s increasingly right-wing politics.

A non-nationalist Democracy party would of course be tiny initially in both legislatures, with virtually no prospect of becoming part of a governing coalition.  But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t vigorously pursue small-d democracy initiatives in both venues, while at the same time keeping its eye on the prize, patiently paving the way for the big-D Democracy to come.

Academic boycott may stand in the way

Consider the extreme hypothetical case posited by the admirable Ahmed Moor on Mondoweiss on March 12, 2010: “Dr. Z is an anti-Zionist history lecturer at an Israeli institute of higher learning who actively contributes to the delegitimization of Zionism through his research. He feels strongly that Palestine/Israel ought to be one country and that Jewish privilege has no place in a modern democratic state. He is, in every way, an ally to the cause for equal rights in Palestine/Israel. So, why do I feel he should be boycotted?”  Why indeed?  Even if we agree with Moor’s “personal judgment…that Israeli academic institutions are not independent of…Zionist…political aims and goals,” is it wise to boycott the Neve Gordons of Israeli public discourse?  These rare academic prophets, along with non-academic activists like Jeff Halper, are, and must be seen to be, in the vanguard of a new, truly Palestinian democracy, in which Dr. Z and his university are no less Palestinian than Ahmed Moor.

The neoliberal threat

South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement may have triumphed politically, but it collapsed on the economic front.  The economic principles of the ANC’s 1955 Freedom Charter were abandoned in favor of a neoliberal regime that has created some of the bleakest economic disparity in the world today.  And much the same disaster, a second Nakba, looms in Palestine.  Silwan will be sacked no less surely if the City of David theme park is run by Disney than if it is run by Elad.  The neoliberal threat adds urgency to the need to create an alternative coalition government in waiting: a leadership with sufficient credibility among all Palestinians, including Jews, to guide the future Democracy firmly toward liberty and justice for all.

George Smith

I'm a retired biology professor and a member of Mid-Missourians for Justice in Palestine as well as Jewish Voice For Peace. I'm not religious or Jewish by birth. But my wife is Jewish and our sons are bar-mitzvahed, and I'm very engaged with Jewish culture and politics.

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20 Responses

  1. Gryfin on December 23, 2012, 10:41 am

    Excellent article that recognizes the emerging responsibilities of all sides given the direction events will inevitably take. The only bone to pick is with the term “non-Jews”. While the intended meaning is clear, it is never good to define people by what they are not rather than what they are. By doing so, one inherently assigns a subordinate or negative status to those described that way. I don’t think the writer intended that and admittedly I’ve used the term myself, but the unintentional meanings arising from term do not serve us well.

  2. pabelmont on December 23, 2012, 10:45 am

    George Smith writes: “Academic boycott may stand in the way [of Democracy]”.

    Well, this is not clear to me, even with the “may” in there for safety’s sake.

    Academic boycott of an entire nation (like sports boycott or cultural boycott) will inevitably sweep up (as objects of boycott) people of many opinions. The purpose of the boycott is to persuade the people of the entire nation to use their power — political contributions, bribes, democracy, revolution, terrorism, whatever — to change the policies and practices of their government to suit the desires of the boycotters.

    Academic boycott of Israel would intend to persuade academics to attempt to change the direction of Israeli policy. It should work that way on all academics, both those who already agreed with the desired new direction and those who did not.

    Academic boycott of Israeli professors would not (as I understand it) prevent those folks from speaking or publishing or sending e-mails or whatever, in short, would not entirely silence their voices. It might impede/prevent an Israeli academic from visiting a boycotting country and thus impede/prevent a useful conversation from occurring. This seems to me a small price to pay for what seems to me the desirable outcome of a successful boycott.

    One note on boycotts: BDS, as an example, is a movement attempting to do a very big job. It necessarily works incrementally — if at all. It does not threaten Israel with destruction — even if it calls for a total trade boycott on all Israeli trade. Why? Because there is a difference between a “call” and the achievement of the thing called for. Israel will have lots of time — far too much time — to react to BDS in the event BDS becomes 1000 times stronger than it is today. It will react first (as today) by seeking to discredit and defuse BDS. Later, if BDS prospers, Israel will react by trying to do what BDS is demanding.

    If the nations join BDS, by withdrawing ambassadors, suspending air transport, suspending issuance of visas, and finally by suspending trade, the present social BDS will be greatly magnified in its power. I hope for this. If boycott of Israeli academics or sports or culture or trade is part of this, it is all to the good.

    • smithgp on December 23, 2012, 12:46 pm

      Pabelmont: The “may” was not for safety, but to reflect the tentativeness of my partial opposition to academic boycott. And you bring up the very arguments that make my opposition tentative. But I would counter that in this boycott there is no coherent division of “us” (Palestinians and their supporters) versus “them” (Jewish Israelis). It is the apartheid system, not the Jewish population of Israel, that is the real target of boycott, and Israeli Jews will be among the boycott’s beneficiaries if it’s successful. Anti-Zionist Israeli profs like Drs. Z and G(ordon) must be full, unboycotted partners in this struggle.

      • Cliff on December 23, 2012, 1:21 pm

        Why is ‘Jewish’ Israelis a necessary emphasis in this equation?

        It’s not by accident or chance that ‘they’ are Jewish Israelis.

        This conflict isn’t an act of God or an ecological disaster.

        It is an ethno-religious conflict. Identity matters – but only insofar as it is historically relevant (and not chalked up to ‘DNA’).

        What do Israeli Jews think about the conflict and what are their actions? There aren’t 300 million Israeli Jews. There’s like 5 million. This isn’t a sea of diversity. And you’re required to serve in the IDF.

        If you are willing to let off the hook, identity – among other things – why target an apartheid system at all. Apartheid is all about identity. This conflict is all about identity and the real and imagined differences between the actors.

        Was there an academic boycott of SA?

        Are there historical precedents to this level of sensitivity to the occupying population? Both intellectually, emotionally and literally in the form of tactics?

      • Hostage on December 24, 2012, 12:51 pm

        Was there an academic boycott of SA?

        The American Association of University Professors published a long report which explained that AAUP limited its protests against apartheid in South Africa to resolutions of condemnation and to divestment, and economic boycotts, while steadfastly rejecting calls for academic or cultural boycotts.

        Are there historical precedents to this level of sensitivity to the occupying population?

        There would be obvious legal problems involved in any organized attempt to discriminate against the many resident aliens employed in this country on the basis of their “national origin” alone. The notion that you can boycott them on the basis of their “culture” – while ignoring their personal beliefs and practices – is equally problematic. There are laws that protect “members of the professions” or persons with “exceptional ability in the sciences or the arts” admitted to work in this country from exactly those forms of employment discrimination.

      • Hostage on December 24, 2012, 1:09 pm

        P.S. See for example
        *8 USC § 1324b – Unfair immigration-related employment practices. It and similar laws could apply to Israelis who have been granted the status of aliens who have been lawfully admitted for permanent or temporary residence.
        *Wendy D. Fox, “Aliens and the Right to Work: Congress Comes to Terms with the Problem of Employment Discrimination Against Aliens”, 65
        Wash. U. L. Q. 193 (1987).
        Available at:

  3. Mooser on December 23, 2012, 12:19 pm

    Yes sir, if there is any project for dismantling their own regime that the ZIonists will love, it’s this one. What an opportunity for Zionists to becomes moles in the one-state and ensure the conitinued dominance of the ZIonists.

    You can’t do any of this, heck, you shouldn’t do any of this until you can remove the criminals and criminality from the Zionist(what you might call “Israel”) regime. Remember, they shoot their own politicians for being inadequately Zionist.

    And all the good will, integrity, and egalitarianism in the world doesn’t make you bullet-proof.

    Yup, like I said, change your name to “Winston”

    • john h on December 23, 2012, 5:54 pm

      Keep your name, whenever I see it I know there’s a gem likely, as it proved to be this time.

      • Mooser on December 24, 2012, 12:41 pm

        “Keep your name, whenever I see it I know there’s a gem likely, as it proved to be this time.”

        Thank you, John h! I appreciate the vote of confidence.

  4. Mooser on December 23, 2012, 12:21 pm

    I don’t think there is any such accomodation as a “Jew-in-Law”. There might be, and I don’t know about it. Maybe Shmuel could tell us, he knows a lot more about than I ever will.
    Remember conversion is an option which is always open to you.

    • Shmuel on December 23, 2012, 12:58 pm


      Modern Judaism has gone beyond the either-you-is-or-you-ain’t approach to Jewish identity (or “accommodation”). The Reform Movement in particular has gone a long way to recognising the reality of Jewish families today, particularly when non-Jewish spouses play an active role in raising their children as Jews. I think the term “Jew-in-law” sums that up pretty well.

      • Mooser on December 24, 2012, 12:29 pm

        In that case, I bow to your deeper knowledge, and accept that much more ethically appealing policy, and welcome all Jew-in-laws to the tribe that will accept them as a member. Don’t know what got into me, Shmuel, thanks for hauling me up to the mark.
        Maybe it’s because my marriage was almost prevented by this problem. My wife-to-be asked my shyly, with lowered eyes, if I wanted her to consider conversion to Judaism. I nearly broke a rib laughing, and the wedding had to be delayed.
        But then again….I think about how much I really know about my own, uh, background. I may be a Jew-in-law myself!

  5. Shmuel on December 23, 2012, 12:50 pm

    Even if we agree with Moor’s “personal judgment…that Israeli academic institutions are not independent of…Zionist…political aims and goals,” is it wise to boycott the Neve Gordons of Israeli public discourse?

    Moor also wrote that “BDS is an expression of Palestinian agency”. As such, it possesses a leadership, strategy and policy. In the case of academic boycott, that leadership is PACBI (The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel), which advocates the boycott of Israeli institutions not individuals and does not, as a rule, make distinctions on the basis of political views (Omar Barghouti has called such criteria “McCarthyist”).

    The issue is addressed at length at the PACBI website.

  6. Bumblebye on December 23, 2012, 12:50 pm

    Why should the Israeli party structure and manner of its “democracy” be left intact??
    Shouldn’t the peopleS of Palestine first come together to develop a constitution satisfactory (but naturally, as a human institution, imperfect) to most, hopefully within which political parties need not be constrained by belonging to one or another ethnicity, or one or another religious grouping? Perhaps within this framing, constituencies rather than lists would be the preferred option. The multiplicity of parties, and their frequent changes/reinvention/creation seems to be a hindrance to even Jewish democracy in Israel – surely constant coalitions in a way thwart the will of the electorate to some degree, ensuring in the current situation the constant rightward surge.
    But certainly their should be people, exiles and not, working on a one state future in this way. Where is their funding to come from? How can they buld and sustain momentum without such?

    • smithgp on December 24, 2012, 5:11 am


      Of course I agree the the political regime under Democracy will have to be decided by citizens as a whole. My post wasn’t an argument for continuation of the current Israeli and Palestinian regimes! It was about what might be done now, under the current regimes, to help prepare for the change.

      You raise the usual arguments for and against proportional representation, but that wasn’t the subject of my post.

      Incidentally, whatever the form of the hypothetical new legislature, would it not be pleasing if it were called the Knesset, even by non-Jewish citizens? More generally, I hope the new Democracy will not embark on a project of de-Judaization parallel to Zionism’s ongoing project of Judaization. Like Ilan Pappe, I despise historicide in all its forms.

      • Bumblebye on December 24, 2012, 6:44 am

        “…I hope the new Democracy will not embark on a project of de-Judaization…”
        Wouldn’t that preserve privilege of Jews over others? Shouldn’t a new constitution lead to the availability of any property on the market to any buyer/renter who can afford it, rather than having to have a religious/ethnic qualification? Does an original owner in the new state have any right to lay claim to stolen/expropriated lands and to move into homes built on it? The process of Judaization has been entirely racist, on both sides of the Green Line, and most definitely should not be preserved! I would foresee a property price crash in a new one-state, driven by those who leave because they cannot bear their loss of privilege, and those whose fear for the future gets the better of them (it did happen in SA, after all). That might be a significant percentage of the population, who then may be replaced by returning Palestinian refugees – eroding the Jewish population to less than half the total. The current Israel is unsustainable, but the future one-state will almost certainly be much less Jewish, so “de-Judaization” will be a natural outcome in some towns and various areas.

      • smithgp on December 24, 2012, 9:36 am


        Sorry, I wasn’t clear when I used the term “de-Judaization.” In the context I meant the ideologically driven erasure of all traces of Palestine’s Zionist history. Your comment refers instead to the starkly non-symbolic adjustments that justice most urgently demands, and that will surely be the first business of a new government under Democracy. In particular, all property will surely be opened up to all citizens, especially the property held in trust for the Jewish people under Israel’s racist land administration.

        Your point about the threat of a housing market collapse and overall economic retrenchment is very well taken, and has been emphasized by other observers. It closely parallels the economic threat that would be the major factor persuading the Israeli Jewish establishment to agree to Democracy according to some scenarios. We can only hope that the new government will be able to head off disaster as much as possible. As implied by the last paragraph of my post, preparing to avert that “second Nakba” is one of the chief reasons why a government in waiting is needed.

      • Mooser on December 24, 2012, 12:36 pm

        “In the context I meant the ideologically driven erasure of all traces of Palestine’s Zionist history.
        As implied by the last paragraph of my post, preparing to avert that “second Nakba” is one of the chief reasons why a government in waiting is needed”

        Yup, Winston Smith. I think George has some funny idea about what actually goes on in Palestine. And, i get just a little pink-washed by that mention of a “second Nakba” (who are you quoting George? Hamas?) when Israel hasn’t recognised the first!! That is really something.

        Yup, Winston. He loves Big Bubbe. Not-a-Zionism at it’s finest.

      • Mooser on December 24, 2012, 12:39 pm

        “In particular, all property will surely be opened up to all citizens, especially the property held in trust for the Jewish people under Israel’s racist land administration.”

        That’s a great idea, so why don’t you go talk to the IDF guys guarding it. Go on, they won’t hurt you. God only gave them the land, and the guns, I’m sure they’ll be quite reasonable about giving it up.

  7. atime forpeace on December 23, 2012, 8:51 pm

    An assault on every front is the only way to assail the stronghold of the Neocons.

    Their power needs to be dispersed as far and wide as possible to create the conditions for a victory. We all know that in concentrated form they are lethal.

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