Making privilege an axiom, ‘Economist’ says Israel’s Jews won’t do what South Africa’s whites did

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This week’s edition of The Economist contains a feature article that, remarkably, takes on the much-ballyhooed demise of the two state solution, as well as the one state solution and BDS movement, head-on. It fits squarely in the “liberal Zionist sounding the alarm” genre that has become so popular these days, but at least it doesn’t ignore or simply gloss over challenges to the dominant discourse. Coming from a publication like The Economist, this is quite a bellwether. Still, it is suffused with problems. Here are just a few: 

The whole thing is shot through with the bugaboo of demographic balance that so perturbs “liberal” Zionists, who seem to purposefully ignore that apartheid is a qualitative rather than quantitative concern–as though having a regime that differentiates the rights it affords residents of the same territory on the basis of ethnicity is somehow palatable if the privileged section of the population is 50 percent plus one?

The author trots out interviews obtained from Hamas officials in examining the various factions that are in favor of one state, painting them as noxious constituents to the cause in addition to its more progressive advocates. But here we see the unnamed author making unsubstantiated claims and unsupported judgments about the group’s goals: “They still dream of a land where they hold sway… with Jews and Christians living there, if they are lucky, on sufferance.” Um, what? Says who? And when Mahmoud Zahar of Hamas says “We consider the whole of Palestine our land,” it is framed as an insidious statement–one gets the impression that we readers are supposed to be aghast that Palestinians would dare consider the places from which they were forcibly evicted 65 years (or less) ago to be “their” land. How nefarious, those Palestinians.

But perhaps most telling is the way in which the author, towards the end, so nakedly reflects the true nature of Western “conventional wisdom” on the conflict. In comparing Israel to South Africa, he/she says “In conceding the principle of one-person-one-vote South Africa’s whites knew that they were losing their political primacy for good. Israeli Jews will not do that.” And that’s it. Full stop, end of sentence–“Israeli Jews will not do that.” Shortly thereafter he/she states “It is barely conceivable that Jews, after running their own vibrant polity for half a century and praying for a return to their ancestral homeland for two millennia, would quietly submit to Palestinian majority rule, however idealistic its proponents.”

So there you have it–we can’t expect an egalitarian regime to emerge in Israel/Palestine because, well, “Israeli Jews will not do that.” And Israeli Jews can “hardly be expected” to engage in a fully democratic polity with their would-be compatriots, because, you see, that would be tantamount to “submission.” I can hardly think of a more conspicuous manifestation of privilege so unbridled that it bears the force of axiom. I mean, how racist is that? I guess I didn’t get the memo that told everyone that the political proclivities of Israeli Jews were unassailable when trying to remedy the injustice that those proclivities have wrought.

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Great article. Perceptive as always.

““Israeli Jews will not do that.”” This leaves war as the only solution. But there’s more of ‘them’ regionally than there is israelis. And ‘them’ now have killer weapons too. And ‘them’ ain’t afraid to die neither. Do the maths. The israelis may destroy many an Arab city in the process, but these cities will be rebuilt by native survivors. Whereas israel will be… devestated by a regional war, leading to mass exodus, collapsed economy… Read more »

Unsubstantiated? Article 31 of the Hamas charter, for starts. Has this been revoked? ‘Under the shadow of Islam it is possible for the members of the three religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism to coexist in safety and security. Safety and security can only prevail under the shadow of Islam, and recent and ancient history is the best witness to that effect. The members of other religions must desist from struggling against Islam over sovereignty in… Read more »

Austin, your review of Beinart’s book is still the best I’ve read so far – at any place. I just hope you’ll get to write here more often, as this article is an example of that. And speaking towards the topic… I’m curiously wondering why these “liberal Zionist concern trolls” as some of my friends like to call them fail to remember Jim Crow? African-Americans in the South were never in the majority in any… Read more »

“In conceding the principle of one-person-one-vote South Africa’s whites knew that they were losing their political primacy for good. Israeli Jews will not do that.” And that’s it. Full stop, end of sentence–“Israeli Jews will not do that.”

If they concentrate real hard they can avoid the fate of apartheid SA.