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The Only Democracy? » Discrimination, Featured » Palestinian Return, Jewish Return, and Insufferable Western Bias

Palestinian Return, Jewish Return, and Insufferable Western Bias

This text is cross-posted from Daily Kos, where it was part of an ongoing debate.

First, we had user “soysauce” in a brilliant rec-list diary, countering the Bibi government’s slogan that it isn’t enough for Palestinians to recognize Israel – they need to recognize it as a Jewish state. To my understanding, the 2 main reasons soysauce cited against doing this, were 1. Discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, and 2. Relinquishing the Right of Return.

Then we had an impassioned defense by fizziks, countering that 1. Israel can be Jewish just like Italy is italian, etc., while not harming its Palestinian citizens, and 2. Palestinian right of return is equivalent to rolling history backwards, and we should instead look forward, let bygones be bygones, and craft solutions for the future.

To which soysauce already replied, regarding right of return, detailing the plight of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and explaining why it is both a moral and practical imperative to include their problem and their voices in any future “final” I-P arrangement.

Now here’s the (meta) deal. As is often seen in I-P pages, all 3 diaries are followed by long and passionate threads. But unlike the past, nearly the entire threads argue about the issues, rather than devolve into personal trashing. It’s not perfect, but that’s most of what I’ve seen. In the past, typically, a response diary like fizziks’ would not even appear. Trashing the threads would have been considered an adequate “defense strategy” for one’s positions – rather than state them clearly in a diary of your own. So thanks again to kos, and thanks to (nearly) everyone for trying to play by the new rules.


Now to the issue itself. I too will deal with right of return. Unfortunately, the “let bygones be bygones” line on Palestinian return is shared not just by mainstream Israelis and Diaspora Jews – but by nearly the entire Western elite, from Rick Perry (duh) through Tony Blair, all the way to Jimmy Carter (he states this rather baldly in his “Peace or Apartheid” book). Since Israel *does* have a vigorously-subsidized Jewish right of return in its laws, respected by the entire West, this means that the Western elites continue to tolerate and endorse absurdities like these:


Let us not fudge the point: by continuing to endorse Jewish return and Palestinian un-return, Western governments agree to their citizens being treated at different classes, whenever they want to travel or move to Israel-Palestine.

But this goes deeper. Because contrary to how fizziks opened his diary:

The same reason that Italy should be an Italian state,…

Israel is *by no means* “Jewish just like Italy is Italian.” I will leave aside the very interesting point fizziks alluded to later on: the quest to understand Jewish peoplehood, and whether current Jewish-Israeli identity (Modern-Hebrew speaking, military-dominated society, mostly secular and increasingly ignorant of Judaism, etc. etc.) can be seen as the chief, natural and inevitable incarnation of “Jewish peoplehood”, authorized to speak in its name through its nation-state political organs – as implied by the term “Jewish state” (short answer: no).

There’s a bigger, disturbingly farcical self-contradiction in the 1-2 punch of “Israel’s Jewish like Italy’s Italian, let bygones be bygones on Palestinian refugees”. Even if present-day Israel is the natural and inevitable culmination of Jewish Peoplehood, the fact remains that as recently as the mid-19th Century, less than 1% of the world’s Jews lived in what is now Israel-Palestine. And even this small population did not speak one single language or see itself as the seed of a modern nation. btw, they were also a small fraction (<5%) of I-P's overall population.

No, I am not opening a Pandora's box of "what if" or "who did what to whom" regarding the history of Zionism. Please don't open it in the thread. There is a much bigger point hiding here right in front of our eyes.

In order to reach from that point some 150 years ago, to us sitting today with nearly half the world’s Jews forming a 75% majority in Israel and settling beyond its borders, and us arguing whether “Israel is Jewish like Italy is Italian”, a lot of movin’ and shakin’ needed to take place. One part of that, as soysauce reminded, was the movin’ of some Palestinians out of the picture. But the other part was the moving in of Jews, whose only prior connection to the land was, um, yes, religion and collective memory, rather than any direct personal relationship to anyone present in the country in living memory.

We were made to feel that this radical transformation of world Jewry, its language and its self-identity has been normal and natural and legitimate – because of the sanctity of Jewish collective memory.

Memory of exile and destruction some 2000 years ago.

Now, the very same “enlightened” West who celebrates the amazing transformation of 2000-year-old collective Jewish memory into a cool modern nation-state, turns around and tells Palestinians: no, your 60-year old living memory of personal and collective exile and destruction, simply doesn’t count. Scrap it. It is bothersome and pestful. Just move on, will ya?

No one is telling Jews that hey, these Judeans in Roman times, they were fanatic extremists. Why couldn’t they read the political map and realize that the vassal-state arrangement offered by the Empire, with some tolerance of other gods being worshipped here and there (big deal! And what did Jews do during Bible times, according to the complaints of the prophets themselves?) ?? No, they had to go on a bloody rebellion, and then an even more fanatic, more bloody rebellion – and get themselves exiled. No one is telling Jews coming to claim their lost land 2000 years later, “hey, you had your chance and blew it. You brought it upon yourselves. And besides, the political shelf life for your claim is long expired.”

( to forestall any flames and false accusations in the thread – the paragraph above is a snark, a counter-factual to illustrate the point, if you will )


Everyone who matters in the West accepts the Jewish 2000-year memory and return as a natural order of things. Then the very same people kick the 60-year Palestinian refugee problem – which the West itself is the prime culprit for creating in the first place! – kick it in the butt, and treat it like a pest.

Sorry. As a fully-privileged Israeli Jew this is probably against my narrow material interests, but I’m with the Palestinians on this one. I know what it’s like to be treated by the West like a pest; why, this is precisely how they treated Jews until not so long ago. So I’d rather resolve it with the Palestinians the way we should have done from the start: honorably and collaboratively.

With the refugee problem solidly on the table.

And practically speaking, continuing to suppress the issue (as soysauce wrote) would be suicidal in the long run.

Because the West can scream with its hypocritical sanctimony until it gets blue in the face – but the Palestinians will not forget. Nor will the rest of the Arab world.

We Jews should know. After all, we are from the Middle East, and we haven’t forgotten either.

Happy New Jewish Year.

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Assaf Oron works as a statistician and moonlights (voluntarily) as a human-rights activist and blogger. He arrived in Seattle from Israel in 2002 for studies, and for now is sticking with the local greyness, dampness and uber-politeness, while plotting his glorious repatriation to the land of eternal sunshine and rudeness. Meanwhile, he tries to explain to anyone who cares to listen, what the Occupation is and why it must be ended now, not later. Assaf is webmaster for the Israeli human rights organization "Villages Group"

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