“No one in this world has the right to put Israel on trial. No one. On the contrary, Israel may have the right to put others on trial, but certainly no one has the right to put the Jewish people and the state of Israel on trial.”
Thus spake Israel’s prime minister, Ariel Sharon, in response to a U.S. commission investigating the causes of violence in his country. One is almost grateful for so blunt a statement of the double standard: Israel has rights others don’t have.
I was starting to get that impression anyway. But it’s nice to have an authoritative confirmation.
Most press accounts of Sharon’s statement quoted only the first sentence, omitting the revealing — and potentially embarrassing — sentence that followed. It implies that Israel is not subject to the same legal and moral standards as other nations.
Abraham Lincoln once noted with amusement that although many (white) people spoke as if slavery were a blessing, it seemed to be the only blessing nobody wanted for himself. In the same way, Israel’s apologists will tell you how wonderful and democratic Israel is, how fair to its (oddly ungrateful) Arab minority; but they never seem to want that equality for themselves. I have never heard a Jew say: “I wish gentiles in other countries would treat us Jews exactly the way we treat Arabs in Israel.”
The Israelis complain about the Arabs’ refusal to acknowledge Israel’s “right to exist.” But if any state can be said to have a right to exist, it must be because it treats its subjects justly. If Israel’s “right to exist” means the Jews’ right to oppress Arabs — to impose a double standard to the disadvantage of the Arabs — then why on earth should the Arabs assent to it? Like Sharon, the Israelis feel persecuted when they are denied the right to persecute.
The Israelis face a fundamental dilemma that can’t be resolved even by a Palestinian state: Israel would cease to exist if it gave Arabs equal rights within its own boundaries. It keeps the deck demographically stacked by according every Jew in the world the “right of return”: that is, the right to claim Israeli citizenship at any time, thus maximizing the number of Jewish citizens. But it refuses to accord the same right to Palestinian refugees abroad, because if they returned to their homeland they would outnumber and outvote the Jews. Then Israel would become the Palestinian state. So Israel can’t afford justice. Its “right to exist” is founded on the exclusion of most natives of the land it claims, and on discrimination against the rest.
The Palestinians’ best bet is not violence, but peaceful appeals to the Jewish conscience. At times that conscience may seem to be dormant, and it will certainly remain dormant as long as the Jews in Israel and elsewhere have to fear that a Palestinian majority would take revenge on them.
In all negotiations you have to leave your adversary a safe and graceful way out. The guiltier he is, the more he needs assurance of mercy if he makes concessions. But in their understandable fury, the Palestinians are making the Jews — even the most conscientious Jews — feel that they make concessions only at their own risk. The reason Ariel Sharon won a landslide victory in the recent elections is that Palestinian violence has turned many of Israel’s doves into hawks.
Many Americans who thought slavery was wrong were nevertheless afraid of emancipation, because they feared that the freed slaves would avenge themselves on whites. That was an understandable human predicament: Who would do justice if it meant that his family might be slaughtered as a result? You won’t persuade a man by telling him: “Give us our freedom, you tyrant, so that we may get even with you.” Perfect love casteth out fear, but fear can cast out conscience — even fear of justice.
The Jewish conscience is the Palestinians’ greatest weapon, but they are wasting it by frightening the Jews to death. The Jews know very well that the Palestinians regard them, with much reason, as oppressing conquerors. But the conquerors can only be conquered by peace. I don’t think this is utopian advice; I think it’s hard realism.