Why I’m Presenting at Harvard’s One-State Conference

The Harvard Kennedy School is hosting a “One State Conference” this weekend and already the usual suspects are crying foul. Since I’m going to be speaking on a panel at the conference on Sunday, I thought it might be a good idea to weigh in with some thoughts.

I’ll begin with the stated vision/goals of the conference, according to student organizers:

To date, the only Israel/Palestine solution that has received a fair rehearsal in mainstream forums has been the two-state solution. Our conference will help to expand the range of academic debate on this issue. Thus, our main goal is to educate ourselves and others about the possible contours of a one-state solution and the challenges that stand in the way of its realization.

Sound reasonable? Not according to self-appointed Jewish community watchdogs like the ADL and NGO Monitor and the ubiquitous Alan Dershowitz and Jeffrey Goldberg.  According to the ADL, such a conference could only be interested in “the elimination of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people.”  Dershowitz referred to it as an “anti-Israel hate fest.” Goldberg thinks organizers share “a goal with Hamas: the elimination of Israel as a homeland and haven for Jews.”

Reading incendiary words such as these, I can’t help but be struck by the abject hysteria that gets regularly mistaken for public relations by the American Jewish establishment.

I find it fascinating that these concerned institutions and individuals are more than willing to rail against the wide eyed extremists and useful idiots participating in this conference, yet cannot take the time to ponder what might have brought us to this point in the first place.  Has Abe Foxman, for instance, ever called out Israel over its settlement policy that has by now made a mockery of a viable two-state solution?  Is Alan Dershowitz willing to bring half as much righteous anger to the concern that Israel is fast creating “one state” all by itself?

I wrote recently about the “ever-closing window” on the two state solution. We might still argue about whether or not the window has closed yet, but I think we can all agree that the prospect for a viable, equitable two state solution for Israel/Palestine is in serious jeopardy.

As I pointed out in my post, sooner or later we’ll be forced to choose between a patently undemocratic Jewish state that parcels out rights according to ethnicity and a democratic state in which equal rights are enjoyed by all its citizens. Given this scenario, is it unreasonable that people of good will seek to open conversations and suggest fresh, creative approaches that might ensure a better future for Israelis and Palestinians?

It’s even more ironic when you consider that notable and respected Israeli figures have been discussing a potential one state solution for some time. While the American Jewish establishment grows apoplectic at the very thought, Israeli society seems more than secure enough to tolerate the discussion.

As far back as 1991, for instance, respected Israeli/American political scientist Daniel J. Elazar promoted a one-state “federal solution” for Israel/Palestine (most notably in his book, “Two Peoples – One Land: Federal Solutions for Israel, the Palestinians, and Jordan.”) Meron Benvenisti, an Israeli political scientist who was Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem under Teddy Kollek from 1971 to 1978, has publicly advocated the idea of a bi-national state for several years. A more recent Israeli advocate of one state is Avrum Burg, former Speaker of the Knesset and chairman of the Jewish Agency, who wrote about the subject in a widely read 2011 op-ed in Ha’aretz.

It is even less widely-known in the American Jewish community that prominent numbers of the Israeli right wing, such as former Minister of Defense and Foreign Minister Moshe Arens and current Speaker of the Knesset Reuven Rivlin, have suggested the desirability of some form of a one-state solution. Granted, the solution advocated by Arens and Rivlin – an undivided state that nonetheless retains it’s exclusively Jewish character – differs significantly from the federalist or bi-national models promoted by Elazar, Benvenisti and Burg. Still, I believe these unlikely bedfellows share critical aspects in common: the conviction that a two-state solution is unworkable, a willingness to pursue fresh creative ideas, and – contrary to what many might claim – a hard-headed political realism.

Many of the conference’s critics have pointed out that secular multi-ethnic states simply do not work. Goldberg claims that it “barely works” in Belgium and Dershowitz points out that it failed in India and the former Yugoslavia.  Fine. If this is the criticism, then let’s put this issue on the table and discuss it – as we most certainly will be doing this weekend (most likely at the panels entitled “Nationhood and Cultural Identity: The Preservation of the Peoples” and “What are the Obstacles to the Realization of a One-State Solution?”) But must we seek to marginalize the conference for simply seeking to have the conversation?

There are also criticisms that the conference is too “one sided” and that the presenters are unduly “biased.”  In truth, the presenters in the conference represent a spectrum of opinions on this issue. Some (like Ali Abunimah) have openly advocated a one state solution, others (such as Stephen Walt) support a two state solution and some (like me) are agnostic on the issue.  But I know many of the presenters personally and have long admired many more. Contrary to the venom being slung their way, these are thoughtful – if sometimes controversial – people of good will.  While we are a diverse lot, I believe we share a common desire to broaden this scope of conversation and an eagerness to bring fresh new thinking to a painful and paralyzed status quo.

The student organizers of the conference have released an open letter to their critics. Here’s an excerpt:

The aim of this conference is to explore the possibility of different solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Invoking inflammatory language like “anti-semitism” and “destruction of Israel” to describe the ideas and speakers of the conference is not only incorrect and defamatory but serves to prevent rational discussion of ideas and preempt the effective exercise of speech.

I look forward to reporting on my experiences at the conference.

50 thoughts on “Why I’m Presenting at Harvard’s One-State Conference

  1. Brian Walt

    I am so pleased you will be there and am eager to hear your report on the critically important conversation that will take place. How did we reach the point where discussing different political possibilities is defined as an anti-Israel hate fest? Are people who are opposed to Israel’s current policies not allowed to envision possible alternatives? With the profound respect in our tradition for different viewpoints -the seventy “faces” of Torah/truth- it is indeed sad that so many mainstream Jews want to circumscribe or censor free dialogue and debate. Can’t wait to hear your report. Wish I could be there to learn, reflect, consider, be challenged and imagine!
    Your friend,


  2. Barbara Engel

    I am delighted you are speaking at the conference and I know you will provide a thoughtful creative and compassionate perspective. I hope you will come back hopeful about a broadened dialog and ready to share your conference experiences with those of us hungry for peace and new possibilities.

  3. Samuel Neff

    I am convinced that this kind of investigation is needed now, and I admire greatly the organizers of the conference, and you for taking on the challenge. Each time the Israeli government appeases the radicals in the government and in the settlements, any kind of democratic arrangement fades further from reality. The two-state solution has just about vanished; so it is appropriate to investigate how Israel can become a democratic state and a Jewish homeland without becoming apartheid,

  4. Maurice Harris

    Speaking as someone w/very J St politics, I appreciate your candor and courage, and I’ll be curious to hear your take on the conference. I’m uncomfortable in particular with Ali Abunimah because I went to a presentation he did a couple years ago at the Univ of Oregon, and it was, in my view, so distorted and demonizing of Israel that I found it quite wounding. He used videos making the analogy that the Israelis are like the evil “sky people” of the movie Avatar and the Palestinians the native “Navi” people (to me communicating to students the idea that Jews have as much connection to this land as aliens to a planet they’ve only come to for purposes of exploitation). This was shocking and very painful to me. He also showed a slide of the Israeli musician, Idan Reichel, not aware of who he was, and mocked him as a “stoner,” getting a big laugh from the audience. Even if in the end one-state proves to be right, I honestly found Abunimah’s presentation to be mean-spirited and untruthful in its cartoonish characterization of Israel and its utter ignoring of any valid Israeli or Jewish narrative. I felt totally erased as a Jew, and I say that as someone who spends most of his time getting upset w/the people to my right. I guess what I’d be curious to hear from your experience at the conference is to what degree this sort of dehumanizing and over-simplifying rhetoric and attitude is present. I’m genuinely interested in taking in your reflections on the conference, and, like you, I don’t agree w/demonizing people who want to try to talk about all sorts of potential political / social options for peace. For me the question is, is the discourse one that will admit the moral gray and the serious wrongdoing on all sides, or is it premised on the idea that 99% of the problem in Israel/Palestine is the result of just one “evil” – Zionism?

    In any event, as you said in your post, the huge irony is that the biggest proponents of one-state appear to me to be the sitting Israeli gov’t, since the enthusiasm for settlement building drives so many nails in the coffin of the two-state possibility. What a mess…

  5. Lia Rosen

    Yashir Koach, Brant– It’s a new edge for me to consider, and your writings help that consideration, thanks!

    All best from new Mexico– I have first seder with Talia Winokur! Lia

  6. Itai

    An excellent post. You forgot to mention incumbent minister of science and long time Likud party member Benny Begin (son of former right wing Israeli prime minister Menahem Begin), who has always advocated a one state solution in the form of a single Jewish state with a cultural autonomy for the Arabs. In fact this used to be the traditional line of the Likud party. For those who can read Hebrew i recommend Benny Begin’s excellent book “A Sad Story” (סיפור עצוב), a collection of his articles, published in the mainstream Israeli press (including e.g. Ha’aretz) during the 90’s, which brilliantly analyze in real time the doomed “Peace process” ensuing from the Oslo treatment.

  7. Wendy Carson

    I am beaming with pride at your going to such an amazing conference.i can hardly wait to hear the ideas that come.either direction if it heads towards peace and honor for all is fine I guess the dreamer in me thinks to the day that we all can live in one country that respects us all.good luck and keep all of us posted.

  8. Nancy Bruski

    Mazel Tov, Brant! I am delighted to hear that you will be speaking at what promises to be a very important conference. As someone not highly educated on the concept of a “one state solution” for Israel/Palestine, I will be most interested to hear your experiences there.
    Again, thanks so much for your leadership and thoughtful analysis and openness of thinking in regard to finding new paths to peace in the Middle East.

  9. Don Wagner

    Thanks for this thoughtful blog Brant, and once again,for your principled stand on an important and controversial issue. I like that you plead “agnostic” on the issue, which will probably draw heat from all sides, but is perhaps a good place to be as you enter the fray. I look forward to your post conference reports, Don Wagner

  10. Shloime Perel

    In my opinion, there will be a separate Palestinian state, apart from Israel. Justice and practicalities demand it. We should continue working for it and to end the occupation.

    In effect Gaza is now effectively a Palestinian state, even though it’s not defined as a state for all the Palestinians. Keep in mind, too, that the majority of Jordan’s population is Palestinian, even though the Palestinians as such don’t have state power there.

    It strikes me that Israel is the only country on earth whose existence is questioned, not only by others, but also by many Jews, be they Satmar, Naturei Karta or leftists who don’t accept Israel. To put it in a seemingly simplistic way: no one questions the existence of the United States, Germany, Ghana, Canada, Romania, etc, even though every state was established through domination and exploitation.

    Another point is that no other nationalism but Israel-oriented nationalism (Zionism) has a descriptive term. A person can be a U.S., Canadian, etc,
    nationalist but cannot be attacked through the use of a specific term. To be “anti-Zionist,” to use that term is a useful way to attack Israel as such.

    And in terms of all this, I can’t think of any other nation (if you considered the Jewish people a nation) that questions the existence of the country attached to its national history than its own members. These are basic questions that were already raised in the late 19th century in the disputes between Zionism, Socialist Zionism, the Bund and by Jews in the various European socialist parties.

    1. Irreverent

      From Shloime Perel: “no one questions the existence of the United States, Germany, Ghana, Canada, Romania, etc, even though every state was established through domination and exploitation… no other nationalism but Israel-oriented nationalism (Zionism) has a descriptive term. A person can be a U.S., Canadian, etc,nationalist but cannot be attacked through the use of a specific term. To be “anti-Zionist,” to use that term is a useful way to attack Israel as such.”

      Anyone can become a U.S. citizen by going through a simple naturalization procedure. In “Israel” that option is open only to those determined to be of Jewish descent. The counterpart to “zionist” is not “American nationalist” but “white supremacist.” Moreover, while in a certain context any opening may be regarded as a good thing, there is a difference between a federated “binational” state and a democratic secular state (like the U.S. on its good days) where every citizen has one vote. Palestine is one land. Partitioning a territory based on the ancestry of its residents has proven to be a formula for perpetual war. (And Palestine has been a single state since 1967: it is simply not democratic.)

      1. Jethro

        If Zionism is equivalent to “white supremacy” because Israel gives special citizenship access to members of the Jewish nation born outside its borders, then I’m afraid there are many other countries that are just as racist, and that the UN’s immigration standards are racist as well:

        In international law, a sovereign state has very broad scope for
        establishing and maintaining its policies of immigration and acquisition of citizenship by immigration. This principle is specifically anchored in the International Convention onthe Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1965, which broadly forbids any discrimination based on race, ethnicity or religion. Section 1 (3) of the Convention establishes that “[n]othing in thisConvention may be interpreted as affecting in any way the legal provisions of States Parties concerning nationality, citizenship or naturalization, provided that such provisions do not discriminate against any particular nationality.”

        “…Japanese citizenship is conferred jus sanguinis, and monolingual Japanese-speaking minorities often reside in Japan for generations under permanent residency status without acquiring citizenship in their country of birth.”…

        An Irish government Web site states: “If you are of the third or subsequent generation born abroad to an Irish citizen (in other words, one of your grandparents is an Irish citizen but none of your parents was born in Ireland), you may be entitled to become an Irish citizen”…

        • Armenia. “Individuals of Armenian origin shall acquire citizenship of the Republic of Armenia through a simplified procedure.”

        • Bulgaria. “Any person . . . whose descent from a Bulgarian citizen has been established by way of a court ruling shall be a Bulgarian citizen by origin.”

        • Finland. “The Finnish Aliens Act provides for persons who are of Finnish origin to receive permanent residence. This generally means Karelians and Ingrian Finns from the former Soviet Union, but United States, Canadian or Swedish nationals with Finnish ancestry can also apply.”

        This is only the beginning of a very long list. It is the United States that is unique in its citizenship policy, not Israel.

        • Germany. “German law allows persons of German descent living in Eastern Europe to return to Germany and acquire German citizenship.” My understanding is that this German descent may go back many generations. (Note that until recently, Germany’s citizenship law was less liberal than Israel’s, in that it did not allow people who were not ethnic Germans, including Turks who had lived in Germany for generations, to be become citizens.)

        • Greece. ” ‘Foreign persons of Greek origin’ who neither live in Greece nor hold Greek citizenship nor were necessarily born there, may become Greek citizens by enlisting in Greece’s military forces.”

        The above are not the only examples of course.

      2. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author


        I’m interested that you refer to Jews in the diaspora as “members of the Jewish nation born outside its borders.” This is classic Zionist doctrine, of course, but I doubt that most Jews around the world would refer to themselves in such a way. I’d wager the overwhelming majority of Jews in the diaspora would quite comfortably consider themselves “members” of the nations in which they actually live.

        The examples you give from other countries are fundamentally different from Israel’s law of return. Unlike other nations, Israel’s law does not apply to “foreign nationals” or people who have a familial connection to the nation. Israel’s law of return grants citizenship to individuals based exclusively on their religious affiliation.

        As such, Israel’s law essentially grants automatic citizenship to any Jew anywhere in the world, regardless of their actual country of origin, regardless of whether or not they have any familial connection to the state of Israel, regardless of whether or not they ever even visited there previously at all. Notably, someone who has religiously converted to Judaism can be granted Israeli citizenship (granted that the conversion is approved by Israel’s religious authorities).

        What makes this particularly unjust is that Palestinians living in the diaspora, most of whom do have a deep familial history to this land that go back for generations, are forbidden from ever returning to their homeland. (Even though their right of return has long been enshrined in international law.)

        This is the real crux of the issue – your comparisons to other countries’ laws of return only serve to obscure this essential injustice.

  11. Richard Witty

    As you noted there are a wide variety of prospective forms of one-state solution.

    With the presence of the UN, all nations on the planet can be considered as part of a larger state (subject to international law), or all members of the EU are no longer individual sovereign states, or states of the United States (that were sovereign for a short period, and retain some degree of sovereignty per the 10th amendment).

    A state within a federation is a bit skew to the definition of single-state.

    Even Netanyahu proposed an EU type trade federation for the Levant.

    That is not a new proposal.

    The confusion, and then desparation and reaction, occurs when the right of return to Palestinian diaspora and disenfranchised refugees is offered in the form of “to anywhere in historic Palestine”.

    When the right of return is proposed to “return to Israel”, as Israeli citizens, only a small minority of those with a prospective right to return, state that they would exercise it. They seem to feel that they would be foreigners, so why emigrate to be a minority.

    But, when proposed as to anywhere in a single sovereign greater Palestine, the demographics change, to a widespread desire to return, and then dominate electorally.

    So, where a right of return is offered to Israel, the demographics retain national majorities, Israelis have a land that they can call their own homeland. Where the right of return is offered to a unified single state (as Ali Abunimeh insists), there is then no longer Israel, as in Jewish majority self-governance, but only residence.

    To us American Jews, largely descended from early 20th century emigrants from Eastern Europe, that were never directly exposed to holocaust, and did not comprise the pioneers of Israeli formation, the single state along residential criteria seems reasonable, actually the only just approach.

    To the majority of Israelis, descended primarily from Eastern European survivors, and Arab world diaspora harrassed, the prospect of an Arab majority single state, is far far far less appealing.

    So, us liberal Zionists that regard the liberation of Eastern European and Arab world diaspora Jewry, in Israel as a good, the concept of a single state combined with the right of return, accurately appears as a denial of self-governance, more than an affirmation of broader self-governance.

  12. Jeremiah Haber

    Let me add my voice to the chorus of supporters, Rabbi Rosen. Your presence in and of itself is a kiddush ha-Shem.

    We have entered a new era in which creative solutions and new coalitions are vital to the well-being of Israelis and Palestinians, and all those who are concerned with the fate of Israel/Palestine

  13. umrayya

    Shloime Parel, Gaza does not possess even the most fundamental requirements to qualify even as a quasi-state, so no, it is not effectively or in any other way a Palestinian state or any kind of a state.

  14. boris furman

    In your words:
    “As I pointed out in my post, sooner or later we’ll be forced to choose between a patently undemocratic Jewish state that parcels out rights according to ethnicity and a democratic state in which equal rights are enjoyed by all its citizens.”
    That’s the comment of an agnostic going to a conference on a one state solution? Is that our only choice? Either a “patently undemocratic state” or a (non Jewish) “democratic state in which equal rights are enjoyed by all its citizens.”
    What American would choose the former over the latter? Never mind that since we don’t live there, we don’t get to choose.
    There are a lot of possible outcomes that are not all bad or all good. That’s what politics and diplomacy are all about. Nobody gets what they want. I hope you and the other panelists at the Kennedy School do a good job of discussing outcomes and ways to get there without reverting to mere advocacy.
    Good luck.

  15. Sylvia

    It is not only with the ADL, NGO Monitor, Alan Dershowitz and Jeffrey Goldberg that you will have to contend, but with the millions of Jews from Muslim countries with behind them centuries of experience in their former “one-states”. I can safely say that their quasi-majority would rather die standing that return to living on their knees. Never again.

  16. bataween

    One-state solution? What you really mean is another Arab-majority Muslim state. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.
    We Jews from Arab lands lived under Muslim rule for 14 centuries in a state of chronic insecurity and subjugation at times little different from serfdom. This is the prospect that awaits all non-Muslim minorities under sharia law. Sharia does not recognise civil rights for non-Muslims.
    We have not suffered, been uprooted, had our land and property stolen and spilled our blood just so that guilt-ridden US academics might sign away our freedoms, our independence, our rights to defend ourselves as Jews and determine our fate ourselves.

  17. umrayya

    Sylvia and Bataween – long time no see.

    I have had the pleasure of knowing, working with, and sharing recreational interests with quite a number of Arab Jews both in Arab countries and elsewhere, and I repeat what I have said many times before. Not all Jews have experienced life in Arab countries in the same way. I would not generalize so much.

  18. umrayya

    PS I would add that not all Arab Jews share the same vision and understanding of Jewish history in the Arab and Muslim worlds, I would also not generalize so much about that.

  19. umrayya

    Maurice, I am truly sorry you were hurt by Ali’s presentation. Many, many people have seen the film Avatar as an analogy to the Palestine story. That is not to deny that Jews have a historic, religious, and many feel a strong emotional connection to the Holy Land. It IS the case that the European Zionists who colonized and later took over Palestine were aliens from a different continent who had never set foot in Palestine and had no real-life understanding of the land as it was then, and no understanding, or in most cases concern for the existing native population. That is where the analogy lies.

    It is also the case that Palestine is central to Christianity, and, to a great extent because of its importance to Islam’s precursors, Judaism and Christianity, has great importance to Muslims. None of that diminishes its significance to Jews, and its significance to Jews does not erase its significance to others, including the Arabs and other Palestinians who inhabited it for generations and generations before Herzl conceived of the Jewish State.

  20. i_like_ike52

    As I have stated here before. the question of “do you support one state or not” was closed in 1948. The Jewish people in Eretz Israel, with the support of most of Jewry in the Exile, decided they wanted a Jewish-Zionist sovereign state and expended much blood, sweat and tears to bring it into being and it has been a big success. The Jewish population of Israel is now TEN times what it was in 1948. Almost half of world Jewry now lives in Israel . Israel is the only country with a growing Jewish population. The vast majority of Jewish cultural and religious thinking and activity takes place in Isarel.
    Thus, it is not legitimate for a Jew, particularly one who says he is “speaking as a Jew” to think that the question of whether there should be a sovereign Jewish-Zionist state in Eretz Israel. One who does so essentially is writing himself out of the Jewish collective. It is parallel to the situation of someone who says “I support the world-wide ‘one-state’ solution-that is, world government, so therefore I do not recognize the government of the country I live in” in defiance of his fellow citizens.
    I should point out that the large anti-Zionist Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) groups like Satmar keep their anti-Zionism on the purely ideological level and do not attempt to usurp the authority of the state nor do they attempt to delegitimze the other pro-Zionist Haredi groups. They would never participate in a conference such as this one. (The Neturei Karta was does politically work against the state is a tiny-splinter group that has been essentially ex-communicated by the main anti-Zionist Haredim).

    Richard Witty has made an important point….most of American Jewry, particlarly the progressive-Left seems to be deaf to the Israeli-Jewish experience. Israeli Jewish families, both religious and secular are far-more closely knit than American Jewish families (where Grandma and Grandpa are packed off to Florida) and the young have direct contact with the older generations that personally experienced the Holocaust, pogroms and the antisemitism of Europe, the Muslim MIddle East and Ethiopia, in addition to the wars Israel has had to endure with the Arabs. The mass wave of Palestinians terroism and its thousands of casualties are fresh in everyone’s minds.
    Fortunately, I believe most American Jews are aware of this and are thus willing to give Israelis the leadership position in the important questions of Israel’s future. While disagreements on Israeli policy regarding the Palestinians and internal policy are legitimate both inside Israel and among the Jews of the Exile, the question of Israel’s existence as a Jewish-Zionist state IS NOT open for discussion any more.

    American Jews who see in front of their eyes the ongoing demographic and spiritual decline of American Jewry should be a little more modest and not enter areas in which they are not qualified.

    1. Dan Solomon

      Hi Ike:

      You wrote that:
      “the question of Israel’s existence as a Jewish-Zionist state IS NOT open for discussion any more.”
      This may be true, but please consider the following. In the 1948 war much of the Palestinian population fled and/or was driven out of the territory that was to become Israel. This allowed for the formation of a state with a majority Jewish population. However it seems to me that the the Israeli policy of allowing settlements in the occupied territories is undoing much of this. That is, the two groups that were disentangled in 1948 are now being re-entangled as Israeli settlers move into Palestinian areas. In order to have a two state solution it would be necessary for the Israeli government to remove large numbers of these people back to Israel proper. It is a perception of some that this is not politically possible and therefore the two state solution is dead. This, I believe, is one reason that people are starting to discuss the possibility of a one state solution.

  21. Alan Stein

    I had to laugh at the reference to the alleged “‘ever-closing window’ on the two state solution.” I’ve been hearing that nonsense for decades.

    There will be a two-state (really a three-state) solution as soon as the Palestinian Arabs are ready. Until then, there’s basically nothing Israel can do.

  22. i_like_ike52

    Very few Jews from Arab countries call themselves “Arab Jews”. My son-in-law’s family came from Egypt and Yemen and they laughed when I said that it is popular in “progressives” ciricles to call these Jews “Arab Jews”. They pointed out that the non-Jewish Arabs always viewed Jews as aliens and NOT as “fellow Arabs”, even if they spoke Arabic.
    Secondly, if many Jews supposedly had it so good in the Arab countries, why did virtually all of them leave.

  23. P.S. Rayter

    Not all Jews living in Muslim countries have had the same experience. No; and not all Jews living under Nazi domination had the same experience, either. But the overwhelming majority in both situations had very similar experiences, and none of us want to repeat them or have our children, grandchildren, etc., repeat them. It’s easy for Jews living in safe countries thousands of miles away shrug off the dangers; not so much for those who actually have to face those dangers.
    As for a single “democratic state in which equal rights are enjoyed by all its citizens,” just which states shared by a majority of Muslims and people of other faiths do you have in mind? Do you read the newspapers?

  24. I_like_ike52

    To “Irreverant”-
    You said “The counterpart to “zionist” is not “American nationalist” but “white supremacist.”
    Thus, Israel, in your eyes, has no right to exist as a Zionist sovereign state.
    So, as you see it, Harvard’s Kennedy School has a right to hold a conference deciding whether it has a right to exist.
    Then please tell me why Pakistan, as self-proclaimed ethocentric and at least partly theocratic state that expelled MILLIONS of Hindus and Sikhs BY FORCE (not as a result of a defensive war) and which discriminates and even persecutes Christians (the blashpemy laws) and Shi’ite Muslims, does not have its existence questioned, why does not the Kennedy School debate whether it has a right to exist and why do American Jewish Leftist/Progressives not question why billions of dollars in their tax money goes to it annually? Only Israel has the “honor” of be deligitimized in this way. Why? Is it that Muslims are viewed as “too primitive” to be held to you high, universalist standards?

    1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author


      The Harvard conference is not debating Israel’s “right to exist.” As I wrote in my post, the conference is examining one potential method of political reconfiguration that might possibly lead to justice and equity for all its inhabitants. The question here is not does Israel have the “right” to exist but rather, how will might Israel exist differently going forward in a way that will respect the rights of all who live there?

      I agree with you that there are very serious human rights concerns in Pakistan. (I would however challenge your oversimplified characterization of it as “Pakistan’s expulsion of millions of Hindus and Sikhs. I think it would be much more accurate to say these expulsions occurred as a result of an ethnic conflict between factions in Pakistan, Kashmir and India following decolonization in 1947. Interestingly enough, what these two situations both have in common is the tragic legacy of British colonialism.) I also agree with you that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are deeply troubling from a Western/human rights point of view. (For more on this particular situation, here is a good article that goes into the issue with some depth.)

      Regarding Pakistan’s billions of dollars in aid from the US, I agree that there is definitely a connection with our relationship with Israel inasmuch as both countries are outposts of American empire abroad. But if you are looking to defend Israel (a nation that considers itself a member of the Western family of nations and the “only democracy in the Middle East,”) I would suggest you are doing Israel no favors when you say “well, things are also bad in Pakistan.”

      In the end, the extent to which a country is “legitimized” or “delegitimized” depends on its own actions. In that regard, I think it speaks volumes that when confronted with conferences such as this, Israel’s defenders cry “delegitimization!” and point their fingers elsewhere rather than to engage in the actual issue at hand.

  25. umrayya

    Pakistan…that expelled MILLIONS of Hindus and Sikhs BY FORCE…

    One wonders, Ike, whether you are as concerned about the Muslims who were forced out of India at the same time.

  26. Vicky

    Warmest wishes for the conference, Brant. If I’ve worked out the time difference correctly it should be just getting underway now. I hope your presentation goes smoothly and that the conference is a challenging thought-provoking event for everyone involved.

  27. RW

    I have been thinking for a while that a single state with fixed communal (whether religious, ethnic or a mix of both) representation regardless to actual population numbers, similar to the one set up in Bosnia, might be the best solution for Israel/Palestine, at least for the next couple of generations. Lebanon suffers from similar entrenched ethno-religious conflicts, and I know they do not update the proportions from the last census before the civil war, in order not to reward ethnic cleansing. Once Assad is gone, Syria will be in the same kind of morass.

    After WWII the only way people in Europe could feel secure from or refrain from communal reprisals against neighbors who had benefited (based on ethnicity) from Nazi occupation was to move borders and populations so as to separate ethnicities between international borders as much as possible–mutual, low-fatality, ethnic cleansing. After a couple of decades of peace people were ready to cooperate in starting the EU. People are still bitter about all kinds of atrocities during and after WWII, they just don’t feel like killing the next-door nationalities over it, and they’re okay with a fair number of those other people coming to live and work where they live. Maybe a key factor is that EU citizens usually retain their original citizenship and don’t naturalize in their country of residence, no matter how long they are resident there. Thus populations don’t feel that their ethno-national identity is being diluted or overwhelmed.

    I’d be interested to know if anyone at the conference is contemplating such a one-state solution, for example with representation fixed at 45% Jews, 30% Muslims (including Alawites), 15% Christians, and 5% other (Druze, Buddhists, anyone else).

  28. Marblecounter

    It is not just the “self-appointed Jewish community watchdogs” who believe that support for the One State Solution implies a striving for the elimination of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish People. If, as Irreverent states, zionist is the counterpart of white supremacist, then Israel’s elimination is the conference’s agenda. I hope you will address these concerns in your commentary.

  29. umrayya

    RW, government based on ethno-religious criteria was imposed on Lebanon by a colonial power, and has been a disaster for Lebanon. When the U.S. imposed it on Iraq it was a disaster for Iraq. Lebanon’s “entrenched ethno-religious conflicts” were in large measure caused, and have certainly been severely exacerbated by the government structure imposed by France. Despite stories to the contrary, the various peoples of Iraq lived together in a relatively pluralistic and harmonious society for millennia until the United States came in and empowered extremists on both sides by forcibly imposing its vision of a divided society. I don’t see how this kind of arrangement could possibly lead to a positive result in Israel/Palestine.

    1. boris furman

      “various peoples of Iraq lived together in a relatively pluralistic and harmonious society for millennia until the United States came in ”
      Does that include persecuting the Bahai, gassing the Kurds, harassing the Christians, bullying the Shia, and forcing out the Jews? All that was happening well before “the United States came in.”
      What world have you inhabited during the last 75 years?

  30. Shirin

    For starters, Boris, you are conflating Iran with Iraq, so you really don’t have all your facts straight.

    For another, you are making the very common mistake of confusing terrible treatment by the government of groups who pose political threats with sectarian conflict. The two are not the same at all. And the reality of what happened with regard to Iraqi Jews in the ’50’s (and the ’40’s as well) it was far from a matter for “forcing out” the Jews, and was really a very complex situation that was not helped at all by the Zionists.

    The world I have inhabited during (somewhat less than) the last 75 years very much includes Iraq, and my information comes from a combination of years of direct experience, direct contact with every imaginable flavor of Iraqi including no small number of Jews, combined with pretty extensive study. I don’t have a monolithic view of things as so many seem to have.

  31. Shirin

    PS Boris, I wonder if you are aware of the fact that since the United States invaded and occupied Iraq, and imposed sectarian-and-ethnic-based government and other systems the country has been largely “cleansed” of its ancient Christian communities, and that the remaining Christians no longer feel free to workship, celebrate their holidays, or display symbols of their faith. I wonder whether you are also aware that the Mandaeans, who like the Christians have been there for more than 2,000 years as a vibrant, and important part of the society and the economy, were virtually all murdered or driven out as a result of the changes forced by the Americans. I wonder whether you are also aware of the abuses suffered by ancient Christian communities in Kurdistan since the United States’ invasion and occupation. Somehow I suspect that you are not.

    1. boris furman

      I do not defend the American invasion of Iraq. I abhor it. I also don’t pretend to be an expert in Iraqi history. But the assertion that Iraqis got along nicely with their minority populations pre March 2003 does not have the ring of truth.

  32. Shirin

    First, Boris, thank you for your opposition to the invasion of Iraq. We certainly agree on that, and I appreciate your position on that more than I can say. It was one of the great crimes of this century so far.

    As for Iraqi history, and in particular Iraqi social history, I lived through some of it, and my family, friends, and acquaintances collectively lived through much more of it than I did, so I will insist upon clinging stubbornly to what my life experience and study have taught me. 🙂

    the assertion that Iraqis got along nicely with their minority populations…” is an interesting and revealing choice of wording in that it shows a division in your mind between Iraqis and “their minority populations”, as if they were two separate entities, one Iraqis, and one “everyone else”, who presumably are not Iraqis, at least not “really”. I can’t help remarking that this fits the model of Israel with its non-Jewish (and to an extent even today non-European) citizenry far better than it fits the model of a country such as Iraq in which more or less the same religious/ethno/linguistic peoples have experienced many continuous centuries and even millennia of history living in the same land together.

    The people who live in and are citizens of Iraq were and are Iraqis, and the concept of Iraqis and “minorities who live here” simply did not , and I believe still does not exist despite everything that has happened in the last 10-15 years. In fact, it would be an interesting question as to what, in your mind makes someone Iraqi versus “their minority populations”. I find I cannot wrap my mind around that idea, nor could any other Iraqi I know of. And Iraqi is an Iraqi is an Iraq independent of their religious persuasion or ethno-linguistic background.

    I will not belabor this further except to point out the historically very high rate of intermarriage in Iraq among virtually all groups as well as the fact that most of the large Arab tribes are mixed Sunni and Shi`a. Intermarriage between Arab and Kurd has historically also been very high both due to intermingling in urban areas as well as for the purpose of forming alliances. Of the top of my head I am personally acquainted with Arab/Turkoman, Muslim/Christian, Muslim/Jewish, and Christian/Yezidi marriages, and could probably recall other combinations if I gave it time and thought. There is scarcely any extended family that is purely one thing or the other either ethnically or religiously, and many if not most can boast of multiple religions/ethnicities. One study I recall from perhaps 20-30 years ago put the rate of Sunni/Shi`a intermarriage alone at 30%. That is not very far from the anecdotal evidence of my own personal experience.

    So yes, Iraqis have historically gotten along very well with each other, and in general mixed freely and comfortably.

  33. Shirin

    PS Boris, I realized that my statement about intermarriage could be interpreted as my portraying Iraq as some kind of great melting pot in which everyone marries everyone else, which is not accurate, and was not my intention. That is a risk when trying to condense a lot of information into a short comment.

    While there has historically been a relatively high rate of intermarriage in Iraq the great majority do marry within their own religious or ethnic group, and in fact tend to marry within the extended family. The rate of Shi`a-Sunni intermarriage has been the highest of any pairing because both are Muslims, just as the rate of Assyrian-Chaldean intermarriage, for example, would be higher than that of Christian-Muslim.

  34. Elaine Meyrial

    After having visited the West Bank and Israel this past November, I no longer believe that a two-state solution is possible. The feasibility of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state disappeared under the miles of settlements, “nature preserves”, by-pass roads, and restricted areas that parallel the Wall and divide the land. There is no Palestine left. Israelis have created one country from the sea to the Jordan River with the population divided evenly between Jewish and nonJewish residents.

    Thank you for your humanity and courage, Rabbi Rosen.

  35. ricardo couer de souris

    Why do you suppose that the 12 million Muslims who fled India during Partition – virtually at the same time as Middle East Partition – are not clamoring for a “right of return”, or accusing India of any of the other false clap-trap that Palestinians enlist to falsely brand Israel as an “aggressor” and a “Colonialist”? Could it be that India is a large enough country that they can successfully annihilate any such efforts, while Israel is tiny, powerless, and appears to be ripe for overthrow from without? And such action would – if engaged in by Israelis or Westerners – would be considered unlawful conquest. Should we send all the Jews of Israel back to Europe and the other Middle East countries they hail from so they can be slaughtered there? And how would we choose which ones, since most young Israelis come from very mixed heritage, despite the “apartheid” denigration constantly attached to them. This entire site is a travesty of fiction and tendentiousness masquerading as reason and fact.

    1. Vicky


      There were many refugees fleeing in all directions (Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, others…) who regarded Partition as the bitterest thing ever to happen to them. William Dalrymple’s beautiful book ‘City of Djinns’ contains an insight into the lives of elderly Muslims who fled Delhi and who now live in Pakistan. It wasn’t that all the refugees settled down quite happily in their newly determined homelands; there was a lot of pain for what was lost, and as Dalrymple’s interviews show, there still is. As the Partition Plan was actually drawn up by a British commission, it has routinely been referred to as a colonialist strategy.

      The difference between India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh and Israel/Palestine is that India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh all exist now as sovereign states. Palestine is an occupied territory, and the refugees living in that territory are conscious of both their initial dispossession and their ongoing occupation. I doubt that these people would agree with your assessment of Israel as ‘tiny and powerless’ – it’s the most militarily powerful country in the Middle East, and the refugees feel what that means whenever there is an army incursion into camp. Yet their campaign for the right to return is presented as some dreadful threat to life and limb, with Tavor-wielding soldiers as potential victims. Ben-Gurion said of the refugees: “The old will die and the young will forget.” That hasn’t happened, but to cease to be seen as a threat, the refugees need to make it happen – they need to dissolve without trace into surrounding societies and forget their history. Only when they have accomplished the last stage of their own dispossession will people living in a heavily militarised country be able to feel ‘safe’. It is not right or just to expect them to do that to themselves.

      The RoR does not mean that all or even most refugees would want to return. It just means that they want the freedom to choose. Even the most generous estimates suggest that fewer than one million refugees would opt for actual return. People have lives elsewhere now (even if those lives are very difficult) and it is not as easy as others might think to leave behind what you know. For a lot of them, RoR simply means an acknowledgment of their past and who they are as people. After six decades of cultural erasure and what has been termed ‘memoricide’, that is enough.

      As for most Israeli Jews being of mixed heritage, that is true – but not all heritages are equal. Many Jews who arrived from Arab countries in the aftermath of ’48 found themselves being deloused as soon as they arrived and transported to transit camps in freight trains, which was not exactly part of the European immigrant experience. One Arab Jewish immigrant, cited in Ammiel Alcalay’s ‘After Jews and Arabs: Remaking Levantine Culture’, describes her tearful arrival in such a camp: “Finally we reached the Sha’ar Ha’aliya camp, and we were taken in with other families, then they wrote down our names and ‘gave’ us new names. ‘Said’ became ‘Hayyim’, ‘Su’ad’ became ‘Tamar’ and I was renamed ‘Ahuva’ and so on…As I wandered amongst these tents, an elderly Iraqi waylaid me. ‘I have just one question,’ he said. ‘Are we immigrants or prisoners of war?'”

      A stark binary was set up between Arab and Jew: it was no longer possible to be both Jewish and Arab. That false binary still exists in modern Israel today, and it was created when Arab names were taken from these people and replaced with Hebrew ones. I don’t know how this fissure is ever going to be repaired, but I think that one multiethnic state might be more conducive to it than two states divided rigidly on ethno-religious grounds.

  36. Pingback: Time for Visions Beyond the Two State Solution « Shalom Rav

  37. Pingback: The Crimson’s Anti-Palestinian Bias | Ramy Abdeljabbar's Palestine and World News

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