Even if you believe in the promise of the United States as much as I do, this week has been shocking. Today the Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of marriage equality– a few short years after no reasonable observer would have said such a thing was possible.
Earlier this week another miracle: a wave of white southern politicians called for the removal of the Confederate flag from official buildings as a symbol that fosters murderous hatred.
“I don’t think god wants us to stop there,” President Obama said just now in a religious speech about equality at the memorial for a pastor killed in the Charleston massacre.
The president said that the nine murders in the AME church last week should cause Americans to go further, to consider what we’re doing “to cause some of our children to hate.” And he asked us to forgive tens of thousands of black youths in prison and change an employment system where “Johnny” gets called back for a job interview “but not Jamal.”
All those who seek equality in our society have a heady feeling today: the American story is not done yet, our country is going to keep struggling forward; and prison reform is before us.
After the Supreme Court ruling this morning the president said that some change is incremental and some comes as a “thunderbolt,” and of course both thunderbolts this week are still crackling for us activists on the Palestine issue. The flag’s removal and the Supreme Court decision raise two questions: Is Israel capable of the changes that we have witnessed here? And when is America going to shift to recognize Palestinians as human beings and not terrorists?
The first question is easy to answer. No. Israel has shown itself incapable of taking steps toward true equality; and it never will so long as it is constituted as a Jewish state.
For decades it was able to pull off the tension of being a Jewish democracy because of its Labor governments and the kibbutzes that Bernie Sanders and Tony Judt and Noam Chomsky went out to work on, or because of the shadow of the Holocaust, or its usefulness during the Cold War, or because it wasn’t regularly massacring people under its control or limiting their movements. None of these conditions applies any longer. It has rightwing racist leaders who sharply limit the movements of Palestinians under its governance. Its Jewish citizens overwhelmingly approve massacres. Its leaders and proxies in the U.S. demand an endless cold war with Iran that entails the United States in a clash of civilizations.
Any reasonable person must acknowledge that every step Israel has taken in recent years has been away from democracy. If the moral arc bends towards justice, Israel’s bends toward intolerance. Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark explained this two years ago:
Has Israel ever been a democracy? And if we add the reasonable caveat that no country lives up to the best ideals of democracy, then maybe it’s better to ask, over these 65 years has Israel been tracing an arc that bends toward justice, speaking of Martin Luther King, of course. If the answer is No, could it be because no matter the potential merits and good will of the founding plan, the effort to establish and sustain the Jewish character of the intended Jewish democracy doomed the democratic character from the start, and it’s been spiraling downward ever since? For whatever the starting point was, I think we mostly agree that Israel has become less democratic in recent years, and every time the separation between religion and state dwindles, free speech is curtailed, or minority rights are trampled, it is … in the name of preserving the state’s Jewish character– that is, Jewish hegemony.