Peter Beinart says that leftwing advocates for a single state in Israel and Palestine are utopians; and to make his point, he asks what the army of “Israstine” will look like. I’ve seen him do it three times: here, here, and in yesterday’s Times.
[Y]ou have to believe that the “Israstine” army, composed of joint Jewish-Palestinian brigades, would hold together under enormous stress because its members are more loyal to “Israstine” than they are to being Jewish or Palestinian. That’s even more delusional than the two-state solution. More likely, “Israstine” would be civil war under a common flag.
I agree with Beinart: It’s hard to imagine. But before we do that thought experiment, let’s look at reality. What does the army of Israel look like right now? It is almost all Jewish and Druze. It does not represent 15 percent so of the Israeli population, Palestinian Muslims and Christians (beyond a handful from those communities).
The army of Israel looks a lot like the American army before it was desegregated 67 years ago. Actually worse than the Jim Crow American army; black men served in our army, in segregated units. The Tuskegee Airmen. But Palestinians don’t serve. Because they don’t have to and because they are not wanted: they are not thought likely to be loyal warriors for a Jewish state that is in conflict with other Palestinians.
And why would they want to? If the U.S. was constituted as a white Christian state, blacks and Jews surely wouldn’t want to serve in the US army.
Israel’s army shows that right now the country enforces Jim Crow laws worse than the American version that we buried 50 years ago.
As for Beinart’s critique of the one-state future as utopian, I agree that’s a real question. As Yousef Munayyer said in a debate with Beinart a few weeks back, none of the short term answers for Israel and Palestine look hopeful at all, and there are bound to be terrible problems on any road we go down. And don’t raise “bogeymen,” Munayyer said.
The future looks so scary because the conditions in Israel Palestine are reminiscent of revolutionary conditions in Algeria and the antebellum south, injustices so pronounced they produced enormous violence. (That’s why I support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, it is a nonviolent means of putting pressure on Israel so its Jewish nationalist regime will see the light and begin dismantling a system of discrimination against Palestinians.)
As for the army of Israstine, it is something of a debating trick. Do fears of an unknown future justify keeping people of color in worse-than-Jim-Crow conditions? Of course not. Imagine telling American blacks in the 60s we have to put the civil rights movement on ice because we don’t think blacks and whites will be able to live alongside one another as equals. They wouldn’t have accepted the argument. Americans who believe in equal rights here– and who supported desegregating our armed forces 7 decades ago– should stop enabling a system that makes Jews first class citizens and Arabs second class ones.