Pride and Prejudice #3: My Response to David

Dear David,

Yes, it does indeed seem that the crux of our disagreement comes down to the historical issues surrounding the establishment of a Jewish state. Although I’m not a historian either, I am becoming increasingly sensitive to the ways in which we relate to our own history and how these perspectives impact on our reality today.

So yes, we do have very different views of the history of Israel’s founding – and as you put it, I am tempted to “counter your facts with my facts,” but I’ll refrain for now, only to say that those of us who have been raised on the Zionist narrative of events would do well to open our minds and our hearts to the reality of the Palestinian narrative as well. Otherwise I just don’t see how we will ever find a measure of justice for Palestinians – or peace for Jews.

On the most fundamental disagreement between us, you wrote:

But Brant, what really disturbs me is that I sense you are questioning whether the creation of a Jewish state in a territory with an indigenous Palestinian population is justified, given that inevitably, conflict would ensue.

Believe me, I’m disturbed by this as well. It has been a deeply painful experience to question the idea of Israel that has been so central to my Jewish identity for so long. But this is what it’s come to: I’ve reached the point in which I can’t help but question.

To be clear, I don’t disagree that the Jewish people have maintained a centuries-old attachment to this land – and I don’t disagree at all that we Jews should have a right to live in this land that we’ve long considered to be our ancient homeland. But I don’t believe that all this necessarily gives the Jewish people the “right” to have political sovereign control over it.

In this regard, I disagree strongly with Saul Singer when he writes about the Jewish people’s “legitimate claim to sovereignty.” What gives any people a “right” to sovereignty in a land? Let’s face it, when it come to these kinds of political claims, history has shown that might makes “right.” While I don’t think anyone can legitimately deny the Jewish claim to Israel as its ancestral homeland, it simply doesn’t follow that this religious/cultural connection ipso facto gives us the right of sovereign political control over it.

So yes, I am questioning whether by attaching 19th century European ethno-nationalism to Judaism, the Zionist movement was setting itself up for inevitable conflict. That’s invariably what nationalism does. You point out that there was “extreme Palestinian/Arab opposition to a Jewish state” and I certainly agree. But do we ever stop to consider why this might have been so?

Arab nations in general and Palestinians in particular had endured colonial control over the lands in which they lived for centuries. Following WW I, Britain and France extended the promise of decolonization to Arab nations – while at the very same time, the Zionist movement was increasing its own colonization of Palestine. How could Palestinian Arabs regard this with anything but alarm – especially since political Zionism was predicated upon the buildup of a Jewish majority in Palestine?

I see I’m slipping back into historical argumentation. So I’ll just end with this: where does all this leave us today? As I now see it, our insistence upon the “Jewish right” to Palestine will only prolong this 60-plus year old conflict. For me the important question is not “does Israel have the right to exist?” (or even, really, “does a Palestinian state have the right to exist?”) I believe the real question is “how can we find a way to extend civil rights, human rights, equality, and security for all inhabitants of Israel/Palestine?”

Like you, I hope against hope that this question can be sufficiently addressed through the peace process, culminating in a true and viable two-state solution. But I admit to growing cynicism on this front – and I truly fear the choice we will face should the peace process fail. For even if we disagree on the root causes of this conflict, I think we both agree that it would be beyond painful if it came to the point where are are forced to choose between an Jewish apartheid state ruled by a Jewish minority over a Palestinian majority or one secular democratic state of all its citizens.

So you see, David, these are the things that keep me up nights. But despite the painful issues involved, I’ve really appreciated this conversation. Please know that I’ve considered it, as they say in Pirke Avot, a “machloket l’shem shamayim” – a “debate for the sake of heaven.” I can only hope that it might, in some small way, inspire similar dialogues throughout our community.

In Friendship,


2 thoughts on “Pride and Prejudice #3: My Response to David

  1. YBD

    Ehud Olmert, Tzippi Livni and other Israeli politicians on what is called “the political Left” in Israel have repeatedly stated that “the creation of an independent Palestinian state as soon as possible is a vital interest of the state of Israel”. Now, can you imagine Abbas, Haniyeh, Fayyad and the others in the Palestinian leadership saying “did you hear that fellows? We had better reach an agreement with the Israelis quickly so that we can help them out!”. Does that Palestinian leadership really want to help Israel? To strengthen it? Of course not. The Arab goal is NOT to set up an independent Palestinian state living side by side with Israel. Any Arab who agreed to such a thing would be viewed as a sell-out (how popular is Sadat today in the Arab world?). Thus, the Arabs are going to keep pushing until they hope that we are forced to confront what referred to at the end of your piece….what you consider to be an unpalatable choice. You phrased it as an apartheid state or an bi-national state in which the Jews will be submerged. The Arab side believes that many of Israel’s supporters will then give up and abandon their support for the Zionist project leaving the state defeneless. The Arabs have patience, all Arabs are educated about their struggle against the Christian Crusaders which took 200 years to succeed.

    To most Israelis, it really boils down to a matter of faith. Israel will continue to grow and prosper in the absence of formal peace agreements, as it has until now. When Ben-Gurion arrived in Eretz Israel in 1905 or 06 there were 80,000 Jews in the country and something like 600,000 Arabs. People thought him mad when he told them that he intended to help build a Jewish state. But it came to pass. Similarly, faith brings us to believe that events will transpire that the Arabs will eventually view living under Israeli rule is the best thing for them, just as Puerto Ricans accept living under US rule without sovereignity is best for them. I know it sounds far fetched today, but the Israeli Arab leadership vehemently rejects having their towns and villages placed under Palestinian control (as has been proposed by Avigdor Lieberman) because they know they are far better off living in Israel. Events in the wider Middle East will play a major role in this. The inevitable failure of radical political Islam, which is perceived today to be in ascendancy will play a major role in this (radical political Islam will collapse just as Nasserite Pan-Arabism, which was also once viewed as “unstoppable” also collapsed) will give the local Palestinian Arab population the realization that radical anti-Israel policies are a failure and are ruining their lives and are nothing more than a dead end. We have to show the Arabs that this struggle is NOT a replay of the war against the Crusaders, and that we are native to this country, unlike the Crusaders.
    Once that happens, the relations between the Jews and Arabs of Eretz Israel can be peacefully arranged in a spirit of good will, without the Jews having to give up their national rights in the countyr
    But this will all take time and a lot of patience. The Jewish people have a long history, and I have no doubt we have the spiritual resources to continue in the long haul until we finally see the ultimate historic shift that will allow true peace to finally come.

  2. Dana

    The dialogue, this listening and responding, this is what we need to have. Thank you for providing this. There is so much name calling, so much emotion, so much personal nationalism in our conversation that we have ceased to listen to each other. I can only hope and pray that we will find a way to understand each other, and in understanding find peace. Thanks again for starting the real process.


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