Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Israel Has a Right To Exist -- After That, It's All in Play

A new poll of American Jews just dropped, and it has some fascinating details that have everyone chatting.

To be sure, not everything is a bombshell. Much of the poll is pretty old hat: Jews are overwhelmingly Democrats. We like Biden. We detest Republicans. All of this is pretty dog bites man. Orthodox Jews have near polar opposite views from the rest of the Jewish community, which isn't quite dog bites man yet but is approaching that status. Jews think antisemitism is a significant problem, and far and away see it as a bigger problem on the right than the left -- that should be dog bites man, but you'd never know it from Jewish media coverage.

But on the Israel side of things, there were some genuinely notable findings -- most of which center around the surprising robustness of certain very harsh criticisms of Israel. A quarter of American Jews think Israel is an "apartheid state", and only 28% think such a view is antisemitic. A third think Israel's treatment of Palestinians is reminiscent of American racism, and a fifth think Israel is committing "genocide." For each of these, fewer than half of American Jews think the view in question is antisemitic (though majorities disagree with all of them). So these views are still very much a minority, but they're not negligible either -- more Jews think Israel is an apartheid state than plan to vote Republican in 2022, for instance.

The one outlier to all of this was the position that "Israel has no right to exist." Unlike "apartheid", "racism", or even "genocide", that position overwhelmingly was opposed and perceived as antisemitic by respondents -- 84% disagreed with it substantively, and 67% thought it was antisemitic. I'm not sure what makes that position such a glaring red line compared to others, but it is. I've always been a bit perplexed at those who really plant their feet on the "Israel has no right to exist" hill -- trolls and rabble-rousers I get, but there are people who really seem to think that asking one to affirm "Israel has a right to exist" represents some deep-cut barrier to a host of pro-Palestinian politics, when to my ears 95% of the time the demanding ask "do you agree Israel has a right to exist" can be neutralized by saying "yes" and moving on to specific policy briefs. This poll very much backs up my intuition. If you sharply criticize Israel, even say it is an apartheid state, a majority of American Jews won't think you're antisemitic and a non-negligible chunk will agree with you. If you say Israel has no right to exist at all, you're very much on your own.

The other interesting bit of information, to my eyes, was the poll's support for two-states versus one-state solutions in Israel/Palestine and (more importantly), disaggregating one-staters into those who think Palestinians should be allowed to vote in the unified state versus those who don't. Of these three options, two-states maintains strong primary with 61%, while the two one-state options (the poll calls them "annexation" and "one-state", though the more accurate labels would be "apartheid" and "non-apartheid") each get around 20%.

Like with the harsh Israel criticism, 20% is definitively a decisive minority, but it isn't a negligible one.  It can definitely exercise influence. And in some ways the two-staters are in a more awkward position because they have 20% dissidents hitting them from both sides -- those who want apartheid and those who want to abolish a Jewish state. The "center" (in quotes because the Jewish "center" is really just mainstream liberalism) can hold, but it will need to fight, because it is being squeezed from both ends. The left-wing one-staters have been dismissed as a fringe phenomenon, and they're not -- they're not the "silenced majority" either, but they're very much present and we can't put our heads in the sand about them anymore. The right-wing one-staters, for their part, are already inside the tent, but there's denialism about what they're actually asking for (explicit apartheid) -- we also need to stop being ostriches about who they are and what they stand for.

Finally, of relevance to my "pick your stick" post from a few months ago, the survey has some interesting data on the subject of foreign aid  to Israel. The short version is that strong majorities support continuing aid to Israel, but a substantial majority also favors conditioning aid so that it cannot be used to expand settlements. Peace Now recently became the first pro-Israel group to endorse the prospect of imposing aid conditions, and this poll suggests they have solid backing behind them (while falsifying the notion that American Jews want to cut Israel off outright).


LWE said...

So, how many people in the survey believe that Israel is an apartheid genocidal state that has the right to exist?

LWE said...

Although things like that are common in political surveys, with about 5% ending up saying some bizarre and contradictory things. As Twitter posters mentioned, a fifth thinking that Israel is committing genocide is highly eyebrow-raising either way.

Eliana said...

@LWE That's a very good question.

Erl said...

I think it's perfectly consistent to believe that Israel is committing apartheid and/or genocide and that it also has the right to exist. After all, the PRC is committing genocide right now, but I would never say that "China has no right to exist"—certainly Chinese people (however they collectively understand themselves) are entitled to constitute themselves as a nation & a state.

LWE said...

With China, things are complicated by the fact that there are two Chinas in the world right now (continental and Taiwan) + Singapore. So wishing to abolish PRC could be as simple as supporting Taiwan in its nominal wish to annex PRC.

It’s the apartheid statement, rather than the genocide, that is most incompatible with “right to exist” for me. Although you can define genocide in an “essentialist” way, it’s usually defined as a series of specific actions a state can stop doing, if it so wishes. But an apartheid state, for me, is one where the whole state structure needs abolition - I am comfortable with saying that old South Africa doesn’t exist any more as a state, despite some continuities with the new, ANC-ruled structure. For an apartheid state to continue to exist even after abolishing apartheid, the minority under apartheid needs to be really insignificant demographically, as not to actually affect state structure much - which is not the case with Palestinians in all Israel-ruled lands.

I guess you can say that the solution to Israeli apartheid is an independent Palestinian state in West Bank plus Gaza, but to me, continuing the South Africa analogy, it implies replacement of Israeli state by something else - the binational state of Israstine, the all-its-citizens state of Cisjordan, the Arabic republic of Palestine, Greater Syria from Sinai to Antakya, the UMESR (Union of Soviet Middle Eastern Republics), etc. Or am I wrong, and two-staters that think Israel is doing apartheid exist in noticeable numbers? If so, they’re willing to noticeably dilute the South African analogy.

Erl said...

With the PRC there are a number of wrinkles, sure—but I think the underlying point holds, which is it's perfectly consistent to favor a state ceasing a policy of genocide while respecting the right of the nationals of that state to continue to have a state, should they so choose.

And I think we disagree about South Africa! I don't think the fall of apartheid and the ANC coming to power was "the end of the South African state"—it was not partitioned, or ethnically cleansed, or even renamed. For that matter, the apartheid system specifically was not an essential, immutable feature of the South African state, but rather the result of a particular path of government and culture; I think a country can leave that path without being abolished.

A lot of this discussion, imo, comes back to the failures of our language in making the fine distinctions needed. For example, in the China case one can clearly distinguish between "free Tibet/Uyghurstan", "abolish the CCP", "abolish the PRC", and "abolish China"; but this is an unusually precise range of options, and even there it's easy to slip up. How much more complex in the case of most other countries (Israel among them), where the name of the nation, the name of the state, and the name of the regime are the same word, or very nearly.

Similarly, our vocabulary for crimes against peoples is deeply deficient. And, in particular, we tend to implicitly measure the commission of these crimes against an index case (for genocide, the Holocaust, for apartheid, South African Apartheid) which is chosen for being extraordinarily bad! This leads to a (counterproductive, in my opinion), tug of war where critics of a current crime against peoples attempt to stretch an analogy and defenders of the status quo take potshots at dissimilarities. But it's not clear to me that either of those exercises is meaningful.

To me it seems pretty clear that the current Israeli regime of laws re: Palestinians is a crime against peoples; probably belonging to the same general category as Apartheid, Jim Crow, and sundry empires' treatments of non-citizen subjects. Is the name of that category "apartheid"? I can see why advocates want to use that name; I might say "yes" on a poll that had two answers. But the current state of the language gives me the distinct sense of trying to perform computer repair while wearing boxing gloves.

Erl said...

David, you write: I've always been a bit perplexed at those who really plant their feet on the "Israel has no right to exist" hill.

In my experience—having seen these debates play out in lay fora a few times—I think it's a context shift thing.

The "right to exist" language is kind of weird; it's not really a feature of how we think or talk about other countries.

To the best of my understanding, it emerged between 48 and 67 as a way of talking about the Arab states' then-stated aim of dissolving the state of Israel by force. So "Israel has no right to exist" (or similar statements) is how Nasser, e.g., would imply "I feel totally fine invading Israel at my convenience"; and "Israel has a right to exist" basically cashed out as "I don't think Nasser should get to drive Egyptian tanks down the streets of Tel Aviv".

But of course the situation has dramatically changed since then; and so the context of the dueling slogans has become unmoored. So I see leftist critics of Israel (Jews and thoughtful ones!) bombarded with "so you deny Israel's right to exist"—and eventually they end up biting the bullet, with something like "countries don't have a right to exist" or "apartheid regimes don't have a right to exist" or so on. Which, it's very different for a private American Jew to say something like that in the present than it is for Abdul Nasser in the 1950s; even if they use the exact same language! But these positions are conflated.

To concoct an artificial example: does Finland have the right to exist? Who knows. It's objectively a strange-sounding question. If you asked me I'd think I was being drawn into an esoteric debate about the theories of Renand (or teed up for a switch over to Israel/Palestine, more realistically).

But if Vladimir Putin were in the habit of saying "Finland is an artificial State which must disappear", then, suddenly, I would probably acquire strong feelings about Finland's right to exist—and Finns abroad probably even more so!

Which, if a ~century down the line a critic of the Finnish government's reindeer policy (very relevant to the native Sami groups) found themselves challenged with "so you think Finland has no right to exist", they might, through a combination of confusion & defensiveness, start to understand that comment as harassment and refuse to assent to it.

Erl said...

A more general way of stating it might be:

If a state’s “right to exist” means its moral license to violate human rights in the supposed service of nation security, then no state has this right.

But if a state having “no right to exist” means that I support a military invasion by its customary enemies, and such actions as those enemies deem necessary to permanently dissolve it, then very few states have “no right to exist”, perhaps none.

Both of those conclusions seem to me pretty straightforward. But when one term equivocates between those two senses, it’s not surprising that it becomes a site of conflict.