Exclusivism Underlies Both Conflicts in Israel

Article excerpt

Americans in recent months have been treated to two apparently unrelated phenomena in the press regarding relations among the various branches of Judaism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On the one hand, they heard that a small group of Orthodox Jews in Israel excommunicated non-Orthodox Jews (Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist).

On the other hand, they hear that Israel is continually trying to Judaize Jerusalem by extending its borders and settling Jews in its "green" or disputed areas, while refusing to let Palestinians in these regions build and seeking to revoke their residency.

Occasionally Palestinian frustration explodes in violence, such as the suicide bombing in a crowded West Jerusalem market July 30. Israel responds by punishing all Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, preventing any from crossing into Israel for jobs or other needs. This deepens the poverty and unemployment in these areas, but most of all the despair that a better future is possible with Israel.

Most Americans read intra-Jewish squabbles and the Israeli-Palestinian clash as unrelated stories. Actually they are aspects of one story or one systemic problem. It is time for Palestinian Muslims, Christians and non-Orthodox Jews to talk together and recognize common interests.

For non-Orthodox Jews the problem is a monolithic definition of Judaism that excludes plurality. For Palestinians the problem within Israel and in the Occupied Territories is a monolithic definition of Israel as a Jewish state that excludes non-Jews or at a minimum tries to construct non-Jews as a negligible minority who cannot challenge Jewish majority rule. These two problems are allied and are converging.

Let me unpack the logic of each one and show their connection, starting with the Palestinian problem and then turning to the intra-Jewish problem.

The definition of Israel as a Jewish state from its beginning meant that Israeli Jews had to reduce to a minority what in 1948 was a Palestinian majority (600,000) in the areas given to Israel by the United Nations. They did this by driving most of the Palestinians into surrounding Arab lands, making sure that the area given Palestinians by the UN for a Palestinian state disappeared by partition, some of it as an expanded Israel, some under Jordan and some under Egypt. The remnant of Palestinians remaining in an expanded Israel (125,000) were given Israeli citizenship, but in a controlled and second-class status intended to prevent them from having land, power or prosperity.

In 1967, Israel conquered the additional sections of Palestine that were left under Egypt and Jordan in 1949. But they could not annex these territories outright because this would have given them close to a Palestinian majority (about 3.25 million). Rather they sought to drive out as many Palestinians as possible. They created new partitions of the Occupied Territories, settling some of the land with new Jewish settlements and creating mostly landless enclaves of Palestinians.

The dispute between the Labor Party and the Likud Party, Israel's major political parties, was whether to allow a form of limited self-rule to these Palestinian enclaves, short of being a real state, or whether to try to continue to take more land and eventually driven even these Palestinians out, allowing a Jewish majority to rule the whole. What we have seen in the settlement and residency disputes is an effort to do the latter for an expanded Jerusalem that reaches from Ramallah to Hebron.

For both the Palestinians in Israel (now 750,000) and the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories (2. …