Because it is Ethnic Cleansing

Prime minister Netanyahu’s recent Facebook video, calling Palestinian demands for the expulsion of all Jews from their homes in Judea and Samaria “ethnic cleansing” is neither outrageous, as U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon described it, nor a gimmick as some in the Israeli press have called it.  Rather, it represents an important and long overdue resumption of Israel’s defense of her own moral position, an argument she abandoned four decades ago, blinded by a false peace process.

Defining the Palestinian goal of expelling every Jew from Judea and Samaria as ethnic cleansing is powerful because that is exactly what it is.  How else would one describe the proposed expulsion of over half a million Jews and the uprooting of dozens of towns in their entirety, if not ethnic cleansing?  Jews have lived in cities such as Hebron and Jerusalem continually for over 3,000 years, predating the Arab Conquest by two millennium. Proponents of such ethnic cleansing need to explain why a Jew does not have the same right to live in Hebron as does an Arab.  Their Western supporters, who would not countenance racial or religious segregation in their own cities, must explain why a Jew may not live in any neighborhood in Jerusalem he chooses.

The Obama Administration, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and other supporters of this proposed crime against humanity have reacted harshly to the Prime Minister’s statement precisely because they understand the inherent power of such a moral argument.  It exposes their policies as ethnic cleansing along with the anti-Semitic double standard underlying them.

For this very reason the Prime Minister’s ethnic cleansing argument must not remain a lone statement.  It can have profound impact on public opinion by reframing the debate, but only if consistently repeated at every opportunity.  If the Israeli government backs away from this argument under U.S. pressure, this accurate characterization of Palestinian plans for expulsion of the Jews as ethnic cleansing will be dismissed and discredited without the public ever having really examined it.

While Israeli leaders have made such moral arguments in their country’s defense in the past, they have not done so consistently.  A case in point is Prime Minister Netanyhau’s having correctly pointed out that the founder of the Palestinian national movement Haj Amin al-Husseni, was a Nazi collaborator, advisor to Adolf Hitler on the final solution and participant in the Holocaust.  When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry objected, perhaps out of genuine ignorance of the historical facts, Netanyahu simply dropped the subject.  Instead, he could have taken the opportunity to educate Israel’s critics, and expose the moral bankruptcy of their hectoring of Israel on the Palestinian issue.

Israel’s U.N. ambassador Danny Danon pushed back against Ban Ki Moon’s calling Netanyahu’s recent ethnic cleansing argument “outrageous” by saying that the Secretary General has a “distorted vision of the situation in Israel”.   Unfortunately, Danon did not repeat, or defend, Netanyau’s ethnic cleansing argument, a sign that the Israeli government may have already abandoned it.

It has long been a mystery to supporters of Israel, like myself, why the Israeli government has for so long remained silent in moral defense of Israel’s just cause.  Perhaps they did so out of fear of derailing, what they believed to be, a genuine peace process.  Whatever the reason, Israel abandoned the moral high ground decades ago, in favor of purely technical arguments such as where the border should run, and who will be in charge of security in which area.

In resisting growing international calls for ethnic cleansing against the Jews of Judea and Samaria Israeli governments have offered only reasons of security, if any at all.  They steadfastly refused to make their moral case, apparently blind to the inevitable damage caused to Israel’s moral standing. They abandoned Menachem Begin’s proud, unapologetic reiteration of The Jewish People’s ancient and historic right to The Land and thereby undermined Israel’s ability to hold on to it.

On rare instances when Israel made her moral argument she met with success.   In the summer of 2001, Israel was criticized by then Secretary of State, Colin Powell, for targeted assassinations of Hamas terrorist leaders in Gaza.   Prime Minister Sharon pointed out that the United States was engaged in precisely the same sort of anti-terrorist campaign herself.  Powell’s double standard became so obvious that both the press and Congress immediately questioned it.  Vice President Cheney and other members of the administration publicly came out in support of Israel’s position.  Within a short time the United States ceased all criticism of Israel’s targeted assassination of terrorist leaders and has never resumed it.  Such is the power of a moral argument.  If Israel stands her ground and consistently characterizes the expulsion of half a million Jews as what it is; ethnic cleansing, international support for it will quickly evaporate.

There was a time when overwhelming majorities in the Western World sympathized with Israel as a small nation, bravely standing up to great odds, against hostile neighbors bent on destroying her and on murdering the 6 million Jews of Israel.  Over decades this sympathy has eroded due to Israel’s abandonment of the moral plane to a completely false Palestinian narrative: A false characterization of the Jews as foreign occupiers in their own land, and a Palestinian People, of whom there is no historical record, as the original native inhabitants, and as victims rather than the instigators of the conflict.  All of Israel’s problems in the field of public relations flow from her failure to challenge this false narrative.

Stating Israel’s moral case in clear and consistent terms, and not backing down from it, are the key to ending Israel’s pariah status.  The restoration of Israel’s standing in the world, and ultimately her physical survival, depends on it.

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About the Author
Devin Sper was born and raised in New York and lived in Israel for 10 years. He holds a degree in Jewish History from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and served in the Israel Defense Forces. Devin Sper is the author of The Future of Israel, winner of a 2005 GLYPH award.
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