Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Fitness Tests

Yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens, commenting on the brutal kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, stated that "a culture that too often openly celebrates martyrdom and murder is not fit for statehood." This column came across my Facebook feed last night, and I immediately noted its resonance with the neo-colonialist position of Daniel Doron. The nickel version is simply this: self-determination is not a cookie that we give to reward the good boys and girls. One's right to self-determination is unconditional -- one has it regardless of whether as "a culture" (to inevitably overgeneralize) one is good or bad. We deal with bad states all the time. And bad states with bad policies and bad worldviews and bad human rights records should be dealt with. But the solution is not "deprive their constituent populations of their right to vote."
There is a name for putting a people under the occupation and political control of an external sovereign, of whom they are not citizens and have limited political, social, and legal rights, until such time as they are deemed enlightened enough to be worthy of self-governance. Its name is colonialism, and its track record is not good.
Hold that thought.

Early today it was discovered that a Palestinian teenager was abducted and murdered in Jerusalem. This grisly discover occurred contemporaneously with a vicious campaign amongst some segments of the Israeli population calling for violent revenge and mass expulsions of Israeli Arabs. These were not all fringe figures: the General Secretary of Bnei Akiva, the world's largest Religious Zionist youth movement, put up a post calling for Israel to slaughter 300 Arab youth and take their foreskins as prizes (apparently he did not realize that Muslims, like Jews, circumcise their children).

The point of this post is not to say that Israeli culture celebrates death or anything of that nature. Just as President Abbas condemned the kidnapping of the Israeli teenagers, Prime Minister Netanyahu was firm in his condemnation of the "revenge" killing. There are enough people who seem to take comfort that their adversaries truly are an indistinguishable mass of monsters; I do not join them.

The point is that we play dangerous games when we start talking making sweeping statements about "cultures" and whether they "deserve" basic human rights. Anyone who is active in Zionist circles is, or should be, familiar with the favored tactics of Israel's adversaries, which begin from the fact that Israel's inception was not an idealized deliberative process as John Rawls would have envisioned and draw the conclusion that therefore Jews clearly don't "deserve" a state of their own. It's a reprehensible game, the terms of which act to openly encourage racist and anti-Semitic generalizations. Ultimately, it reinforces the very elements -- and they are elements, which are neither trivial nor stand-ins for the whole -- that view murder, mayhem, and incitement as positive goods.

Those, like Bret Stephens, who are up in arms about the barbarity not of the kidnappers themselves but entire swaths of Palestinian society are notably quiet when it comes to the brutalism of the Price Tag movement or calls by Jewish mobs for revenge on Arabs writ large. And vice versa -- those who view the most vicious and irredentist portions of Israeli society as emblematic of the whole are typically the first to excuse violent terrorism and genocidal impulses by Palestinians as legitimate resistance.

We play dangerous games in a land that does not need more danger.