Ahmed Moor on the One-State Solution

Last Thursday, Ta’anit Tzedek hosted a fascinating, stimulating conference call with Palestinian-American journalist Ahmed Moor. Moor, who was born in Gaza, has reported from Lebanon and Egypt and is currently a graduate student in public policy at Harvard.  He has been an outspoken advocate of a one-state solution in Israel/Palestine – and during our conversation he elaborated extensively on a subject not commonly countenanced in the American Jewish community.

We recorded the call and will be posting it on our website soon. In the meantime, I’ve transcribed portions of our conversation and have posted them below. Personally speaking, I find Moor’s way of thinking to be fresh and important and I believe these kinds of ideas deserve a fair hearing in our community.

On the notion that Israel must exist in order to safeguard Jewish culture:

First I want to address this idea that a Jewish state has a right to exist because Jewish culture is valuable.  Jewish culture is valuable. Hebrew culture is valuable. It is intrinsic – that’s true whether or not Newt Gingrich thinks it’s invented. But the question of whether culture needs to be mapped on a geographical space in a state environment, I think, is one that is open to discussion.

And so when we think about Jewish life here in America, I don’t know that many people would disagree with me when I say that some of the most vibrant examples of Jewish life are here in America, in the diaspora, amongst non-Jewish people. So right-wing Israelis like to make the argument that where Hitler failed, assimilation is going to succeed. Intermarriage is the biggest threat to the Jewish people, not Iran.

Well, if you believe that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people and that it’s the only state guarding Jewish culture, well then you are in a sense aligning yourself with those arguments.  It’s illiberal, fundamentally illiberal.  We know from American experience that a multiplicity of cultures can exist alongside one another and engage with one another and strengthen one another and maybe, even yes, impact one another in positive ways.

And when it comes to Palestine and Israel, American Jews say, “Well this is kind of the homeland of the Jewish people, it’s going to preserve Jewish culture for us,” but it’s almost a relationship apt to an amusement park. “I don’t want to live there – I want to experience it for two weeks. I want to take some of the symbols home with me, but I don’t really want to engage with it in the way that I do at home.”

Well, that’s unfair. No matter how much you value Jewish culture, and no matter how much you believe Israel needs to exist for the preservation of Jewish culture, if it’s a museum, which I don’t think it is, you’ve got to realize that your cultural progress is coming at the expense of somebody else’s freedom. And I think that there’s an asymmetry there in what matters.

On the notion that Israel should exist in case another Holocaust should occur – and Israelis’ fears that a one-state solution is just a pretext for “throwing them into the sea:”

I think that first we’ve got to look at the reality today. The status quo is about expelling Palestinians from Jerusalem, their land in the West Bank, and disenfranchising them in greater ways in Israel proper…So the reality is exactly the opposite. The status quo, the two-state solution process, is about pushing the Palestinians not into the sea, but in the other direction.

First I want to address Jewish American fear, and I hear this from a lot of Jewish Americans of a certain age, when they talk about the Holocaust, which is obviously an evil, genocidal but I want to emphasize, a historical act. I had the benefit of speaking with (New York Times columnist) Roger Cohen recently, and we talked about American Jewish life and I asked him whether he feels unsafe in America. And he was unequivocal: “Absolutely not, America is safe for the Jewish people, we’re welcome here, we’re part of the people, we’re part of the cultural fabric. We are America. America is us.”

Do you ever believe as American people that there’s ever going to be something like Kristallnacht or a pogrom targeting the Jewish people in America?  If the answer is yes, well then perhaps it’s time to move to Israel – and that’s what most right-wing Israelis say. If the answer is no, well then you’ve got to realize that you are opting for the preservation of an insurance policy, but the price of that insurance policy is being borne by another people. The Palestinians are paying the cost of a Jewish American insurance policy. There’s that asymmetry again. That doesn’t work. That’s not a moral position to take and it’s unsustainable.

As for Israelis’ fear about whether we seek to ethnically cleanse them, I think there’s again a gap in perceptions of realities. The Israelis are the ones with the guns. The Israelis are the ones with the American support. When the one-state solution is actualized, it’s going to be necessarily through Israeli consent. The idea that the Middle East or Palestine has to be in any way ethnically cleansed of Jewish people is a European action transplanted onto Palestine.

On Israeli historian Gershon Gorenberg’s recent claim that a one-state solution in Israel/Palestine would create civil war à la Lebanon:

Gershon’s fear is related directly to governmental structures – the way in which you structure multi-ethnic, multi-religious societies, or sectarian societies. In Lebanon I think it was structured exactly the wrong way. In Lebanon, whether you’re liberal or you’re somebody who’s more conservative, whether you believe in one policy versus another, the state almost compels you to vote along sectarian lines.

In Lebanon the Speaker of the Parliament has to be a Shia Muslim, the Prime Minister is a Sunni and the President has to be a Maronite Christian. That’s constitutionally true – that’s mandated. And so what that means is that you end up voting – where your vote is impactful and meaningful – is in your sectarian group. The Lebanese demography there is so sensitive – they haven’t had a national census since 1932 or 33, I think.

You have the American case, on the other hand – the structure of this country is along a federal basis. Federalism enabled this country to recover from the wounds of the Civil War and to persist for another 150 – 160 years since the Civil War ended.

It’s important that we think about questions like the ones Gershon is raising, but I don’t think that those questions necessarily stand in the way of a one-state solution. So there are good federal structures, confederal structures even, for dealing with ethnic or religious strife in democracy.

What I’m thinking of specifically is a state with four federal units: the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem is its own district, sort of like Washington DC, central Israel and the Negev and finally the West Bank and the Mediterranean corridor so now you’ve got four districts and Jerusalem. And each of those federal units would be defined geographically and every one of them, with the exception of the Strip, would be made up of minorities either of Jewish people or Palestinian people.

And so in the West Bank federal state you’d have an expression mostly of Palestinian culture. Why? Because 5 out of every 6 people on the West Bank are Palestinians. In the Gaza Strip you could have an expression of Palestinian culture. In the northwestern state there’s a big minority of Palestinian Israelis, but it’s primarily Jewish. I mean we’re talking about the Tel Aviv – Haifa corridor and that would be a majority Hebrew culture state. Same with the Negev.

So you have parity amongst the states because the states are defined geographically and you enable people over time to move for personal preference reasons. Over time your could get a drift across these federal lines, kind of like what happened in the States. You used to define yourself as an American 100 years ago as a South Carolinian or a New Yorker, but today your primary locus of identity is as an American when you deal with the rest of the world. This was the failure of Lebanon – instead of geographically defining the states, the individual community boundaries within Lebanon don’t allow for that drift, so what they’ve ended up with is kind of ossified sectarian structure.

So I don’t think it will be perfect, I don’t it will be easy, but the idea is that you grant people equal rights and give them the freedom to move back and forth across borders. They won’t initially, but they will eventually. That’s been the American experience.

On the political future of the one-state solution:

I heard an Israeli speak recently, an older guy, an activist, and he mentioned the one-state solution is about where he remembers the two-state solution was in the seventies. And so it’s really about changing discourse, changing people’s thought patterns. Lots of people will come into the one-state conversation because they’ve realized the two-state solution is unworkable and that apartheid is just not something they are capable of supporting.  We’ll achieve a critical mass. It’s impossible to predict how or when, but two states isn’t going to work and apartheid isn’t going to work. And so you can arrive at this position by default even if you don’t actually believe it’s the best thing anyway.

On cultural autonomy in one democratic state:

People talk about a unitarian model where it would be just one man/one vote and I think that’s a great model to think about. My biggest concern there would be preservation of cultural autonomy, which I think many people at this stage really, really value in that part of the world. Palestinians don’t want to give up what it means to be a Palestinian and I think Jewish Israelis have developed a Jewish kind of culture. I don’t know whether its an Ashkenazic culture or a Sephardic culture, I don’t know. It’s not for me to decide. But there is an Israeli culture and I think those people want to preserve it. And when American Jewish people talk about Jewish culture in Israel, that’s something they’d like to be capable of accessing. And so I’m concerned that the unitary system may not permit the kind of cultural autonomy that many people would like.

But we’re still in the early stages of imagining what it could look like and the question of how to get there really does hinge on people of good will standing up and saying no to apartheid.

On the Palestinian right of return:

The right of return today for the Palestinians is actually about the right to be able to go back and live in Palestine. Lots of people still remember native villages which no longer exist, so the practicalities of it are difficult to map out.

The right of return for the diaspora is more about, I think, official recognition of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 and in the period leading up to May 15 1948. It’s an official apology, reparations where appropriate and possible and just recognition. And I think the Jewish people probably understand this better than anybody. Once a historical injustice has been done to you as a people, recognition matters. Apologies matter. Reparations matter. Even symbolic measures matter a great deal.

When it comes to the practical implementation of the right of return, (Palestinian researcher) Salman Abu-Sitta has done really great work on identifying where refugees could return to.  Eitan Bronstein of Zochrot, an Israeli organization, has also done a lot of great work on the right of return…

Who do I believe will return to Palestine? I think most of us will not. The Palestinians in the diaspora have done pretty well for themselves. Palestinians in Jordan have done pretty well, the ones in Western Europe, in Latin America, in Northern America are doing pretty well. I think you could draw a direct analogy to the Jewish American diaspora. You want to go you want to visit, you want to go and hang out on the beach and go home to where you’re from.

The only missing group of Palestinian refugees who will actually return to Palestine if they have the opportunity are the 300,000 or 400,000 Palestinian refugees who live in Lebanon. Their lot really is very, very poor and the Lebanese state is racist in many ways in the way they interact with Palestinians there – it’s inexcusable, but that’s also the reality. And given the opportunity I think many of them will leave their squalid and impoverished camps and return to Palestine. But everywhere else, I think you’ll get kind of a vibrant interaction with a diaspora community and the country itself, which I think mirrors, in many ways, the Jewish experience.


12 Comments on “Ahmed Moor on the One-State Solution”

  1. MackQuigley says:

    “thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them:” Deut 7:2.
    Israel should have annexed Judea and Samaria in 1967 and imposed apartheid and expulsion – which would have been acceptable in the euphoria of victory and justifiably reciprocal to the expulsion of so many Jews from Arab countries in the years prior. But Meir and Dayan failed to capitalize on what God put into their hands because of their myopic secular pragmatism – they were eager to please the United Nations. What is left today is an unsolvable dilemma that will draw the entire world into World Wars 3 and 4. Israel is paying the price for not listening to God, so what does this “rabbi” do? He wastes his time talking to an Arab grad student to get the answer! When you find yourself in a hole, first stop digging.

  2. i_like_ike52 says:

    (1) It is not for Ahmed Moor to decide what is good for Jewish culture and what is the best way to preserve it, nor does he have a right to decide that the Jews don’t “need” a state. The Palestinians are always complaining when people like Gingrich supposedly decide for them about their Palestinian national identity, well it works both ways. The Jews have an internationally recognized historical right to a sovereign state in Eretz Israel and this is separate from the question about “preserving Jewish identity” or whatever.

    (2) Roger Cohen does not speak for American Jewry or world Jewry. He can jump up and down all he wants about how he feels at home in America. I was born in the US and then made aliyah and I am very grateful to the US which was good to me and my family and the the Jews of America AND Israel, but in looking a world Jewish history one must not use rose-colored glasses. Poland was very good to the Jews for several centuries and in the 19th and early 20th no country allowed the Jews to get ahead more than Germany, BUT IT DIDN’T LAST. I don’t know what is going to happen in the US two or three centuries from now. I do know that there are not a few people in the US who resent Jewish success there just as they resented it in the supposed “Golden Age in Spain” which ultimately brought it to an and, and in Poland and Germany as I mentioned above.

    (3) Moor can talk all he wants to about “federal structures” and “unitary states” and “cultural autonomy” and “liberal Constitututional arrangements” but they have NO REALITY IN THE MIDDLE EAST. Religious and ethnic minorities are under pressure in all the Arab/Muslim states of the Middle East. The Christian minority is in decline in most countries of the region. Democracy has not proven that it is going to take hold here, and that includes the two Palestinian regimes.

    (4) No Israeli government is going to accept the “Right of Return” of the refugees. Moor’s assumption that most won’t want to return is pure speculation. Polls of the refugees themselves are most unreliable. The ONLY solution is a realistic compromise peace between Israel and the Arab side (maybe the Palestinians will want a “one-state” solution with Jordan—why not?). Yes, there have been proposals that I find interesting about a condefederal system as was envisioned by the original UN partition plan of 1947 which spoke of a customs union and people with citizenship in one state having the right to live in the other while having free access across the border to the other state. But there has to be a sovereing Jewish state with an army and a Law of Return which gives all Jews the right to make aliyah. Nothing else will bring peace, certainly not Moor’s imaginary single state.

    (5) The Jewish people in Eretz Israel decided in 1948 to set up a state and in spite of the great pain and difficulty Arab violence intransigence managed to set up a state that works pretty well. The question about whether there should be a Jewish state is no longer open. Leaders of the Jewish community are not doing anyone any favors by making people think that it is.

    • Vicky says:

      Ike, your comparison between Newt Gingrich’s denial of Palestinian peoplehood and Ahmed Moor’s rejection of political Zionism isn’t logical. Ahmed Moor does not deny the existence of Jews and Jewish cultures, in the way that Gingrich denies the existence of Palestinian identity. In fact, in this speech Moor explicitly states that Jewish cultures are valuable. But he argues that political Zionism is not essential to Jewishness – and on a purely practical level, history proves him right. Political Zionism is a modern ideology, originating in the nineteenth century. Distinct Jewish cultures existed for centuries before it came along, so I don’t see how it’s possible to argue that it is somehow intrinsic to Jewishness.

      Political Zionism is a form of ethno-religious nationalism. In order to become a citizen of the state of Israel, you must either have at least one Jewish grandparent (and never have willingly practised any religion other than Judaism) or adopt a particular set of religious beliefs through conversion. Organisations that believe in making citizenship contingent on blood or belief or both do not usually enjoy a great reputation. These are the chilling ideas held by the Ku Klux Klan, for whom the only people who merit citizenship are WASPs – white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. The KKK is one of the most obvious examples of ethno-religious nationalism at work, but there are more subtle forms of it that are equally poisonous. In pre-Civil Rights Era America, there were many good upstanding citizens who frowned on the attacks carried out by the KKK and it sympathisers, but who nonetheless believed that the best solution to racial problems in America was to have a separate state for African-Americans, principally in order to secure a permanent white majority in the rest of the country. Recently I was going through the interview data collected in the massive study on the psychology of racism conducted by Theodor Adorno in 1950, and these attitudes keep recurring. They were common at one time.

      Similarly, in Israel today there are people who will carry out vicious attacks on Palestinians – and others who will frown on that, but nonetheless talk about ‘demographic threat’ and the need to preserve a distinct Jewish majority. Ethnic nationalism is ugly wherever it rears its head, and if anything, it corrodes a person’s identity rather than enriching it. You can’t infringe on the basic rights of others in this way without also harming yourself. It astonishes me that people sincerely expect me to treat political Zionism as a legitimate expression of Jewishness, when many of these same people would recoil from the ideas espoused by the British National Party – even though theirs is exactly the same sort of nationalism: citizenship applications to be judged on blood and belief, with justice and basic compassion coming in second.

      You say that the state of Israel works pretty well. Yes, it does – if you’re Jewish. If you’re a Palestinian-Israeli, a resident of East Jerusalem (with no vote, and therefore no political voice), or a resident of the other Occupied Territories, it doesn’t work so well. Israel never has been truly democratic; only democratic for Jews. If the move to the far right continues, soon even this description won’t be accurate any more. This is what ethno-religious nationalism is like. In Israel’s case, a second problem is added: a person who converts to Reform Judaism and decides to immigrate to Akko is accorded rights that aren’t given to displaced indigenous people who suffered terrible losses (both tangible and psychological) when they were expelled from that place. The injustice is staggering.

      It could be argued that such injustice isn’t compatible with Jewishness at all, and that a state with true Jewish qualities would want to redress this appalling situation. This prompts one final question: when people talk about the need to preserve Israel’s Jewish character by having two states, what exactly are they referring to? Israel’s own citizens can’t even agree on what it means to be Jewish. The hypothetical American convert I’ve just mentioned wouldn’t be accepted as legitimately Jewish by a good chunk of the population. Even those Jews whose status isn’t in question by anybody live out their heritage and culture in vastly different ways, to the point where a secular Jew from Tel Aviv has more in common with a secular Palestinian from Ramallah than he has with a haredi in Jerusalem. When you look at these nuances, it’s difficult to see the insistence on a majority Jewish population as anything but sheer xenophobia.

      • Richard Kahn says:

        “Organisations that believe in making citizenship contingent on blood or belief or both do not usually enjoy a great reputation.”

        That’s not what political Zionism says. The KKK believed that only WASPs should be given citizenship. In Israel, there are many, many citizens who are not Jews or who do not have Jewish descent. You know that.

        In any event, you’re not making an argument. Your argument consists of assuming that ethnic nationalism is bad because the KKK did it and then using that assumption to prove that ethnic nationalism is bad. It’s the classic guilt by association fallacy. You don’t justify it at all. I happen to think that ethnic nationalism can be good. Also, “it corrodes a person’s identity rather than enriching it” is not something that you can just state without backing up. I’m really sure it means anything, but if it does, it’s certainly not a trivial claim.

        Yes, those with Jewish descent and converts to Judaism have a leg up in citizenship. No, that’s not an awful crime against humanity. Jews have tried living without a state. Throughout the exile, we dreamed of a return to the land of Israel (a narrative denied by far too many Palestinians). We were continuously persecuted. We were able to return. It’s time for a new model. The new model needs to respect the rights of the Palestinians, of course. But ethnic nationalism is not inherently the utmost evil. The reason that people want to preserve a Jewish majority is that nobody really thinks that a Palestinian majority would treat the Jews kindly. It’s not pure xenophobia. Do you think a Palestinian majority would be benevolent to its Jewish minorities? Really?

      • i_like_ike52 says:

        The Palestinians themselves as well as most if not all of the rest of the Arab/Muslim states of the Middle East define themselves along ethnocentric and theological lines. The beginning of the Palestinians constitution states that the Palestinians are in integral part of the Arab world and they will work for Arab unity (so why do they need a separate independent state?). They also state that Muslim Sharia law is a basis for legislation and this law discriminates against non-Muslims. Thus non-Arabs and non-Muslims are told from the beginning that they have a different status than the rest of the population. Another example is Egypt, whose official name is “the Arab Republic of Egypt”.
        I haven’t seen any progressives protest these things. I can only conclude that if it is okay for the Palestinians and other Arabs to have ethnocentric states, why can’t the Jews?

  3. Wendy Carson says:

    This one of the most brilliant and just articles I’ve read on the possibility of a one state solution. Although not a popular idea because of the anger and politics of what is going on, for a moment think what an amazing feat that would be: cultures exchanging the wonderful richness of who they are and to be respected for it. Although I am realistic to feel that at this stage it is not possible, in least my lifetime, what a wonderful legacy that could be left to future generations to work toward together.

  4. Thank you so much for posting this, R’ Brant. I wish I could have been on the call! Right now my Thursdays are complicated (toddler, childcare, etc) but I’m glad the call happened and I really appreciate your sharing these notes.

  5. jon cocteauswain says:

    I don’t think it was mentioned, did not the “palestinians” reject the partition plan. In effect don’t they want a do over.. who is to say they won’t back out again.

  6. Ruth Neff says:

    Thank You Rabbi Brant,
    Such very interesting ideas and new ways of looking at the situation.
    Encouraging!
    Ruth Neff

  7. […] such as Ahmed Moor (co-editor with me on a book coming out in 2012 called After Zionism) talking constructively to a Jewish Rabbi about the one-state […]

  8. Clif Brown says:

    A single state is inevitable, it’s only a matter of how long before it arrives. The idea of keeping an entire population disenfranchised is an anachronism that will not be less so with time. To say that Israel is a democracy because there are some Arab Israelis doesn’t hold because Israel will never allow those folks to be anything other than a small minority. The ideas is a state for Jews. If some token Arabs can be accommodated, so much the better for appearance, but the facts still exist – Israel would love to see every Palestinian in the area gone – the testimony being the oppressive way they treat them daily and the relentless ethnic cleansing.

    The US gives Native Americans full citizenship, one day all Palestinians will have it too.

    The Zionist project is crumbling even as it loads up on ever more weaponry and points to Iran. Only the US remains a “friend” of Israel, as Israel continues a steady march to the right, extremism and rigidity. The ruins of Lifta may be erased but history can’t be. More samuud is called for but the result is inevitable – one state for all of the people, not a single group. Anything else is not a democracy, not compatible with human rights, and is un-American, no matter how many US politicians heap praise on it.

    For so long everyone was considered before the Jews, but the answer to that is not to consider Jews before everyone. Any group given power without responsibility will abuse it. We are all equally human and no group has a right to ride herd on another. Gandhi and MLK were landmark lives on the way to this understanding. Israel is marching smartly in reverse, repudiating all the religion stands for even as it claims to be the physical manifestation of the religion. It sanctimoniously holds up the treatment of Jews in the past to protect awful Israeli behavior at present. This monumental hypocrisy is transparent and will collapse.

  9. Ron Edwards says:

    A couple of short, strong books in support of the topic: Ali Abunimah’s One Country, and Joel Kovel’s Overcoming Zionism. The latter’s title may be a stopper for some, but I think it provides the best economic and ecological context. Virginia Tilley’s The One-State Solution is probably my choice for the big book.

    I think these authors have also made the right choice in not being terribly concerned about the exact organization of such a state, its name, or districts, or whatever. They focus directly on the disastrous outcomes of the current divisions.


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