Israel is a place like no other. Jews ingathered from 70 diasporas established a state. There is no other national project like it. It would not have happened without a common denominator — and no, not just religion. The shared basis is in fact much broader. When Jews were expelled or persecuted, which happened often over the last 2,000 years, there were always other Jewish communities that took them in. That’s part of the Jewish DNA. It’s not a genetic matter, but one of history and heritage that created a shared ethos. The Zionist vision would not have materialized without it.
The process of blending and integrating was unbearably difficult. It included countless displays of superiority, discrimination, and even racism. During these early stages, the Sephardic Jews of the host community refused to treat the Ashkenazim as equals. Later, the Ashkenazim were patronizing to the Mizrachim. To this day, Israel suffers from residual integration difficulties and discrimination.
And despite everything, it is a success story. Intermarriage between descendants of Jews from Arab countries and Jews from Europe is around 35-40%. Is there any other society or country in the world that can boast such a model of integration? For the sake of comparison, in the United States, intermarriage between blacks and whites is still less than 5%.
The shared ethos creates solidarity. But what happens with those who are not part of the shared ethos? Israel, by definition, is the nation-state of the Jewish People, yet nearly 20% of its citizens are not Jewish. What is their place? And how is solidarity cultivated between majority and minority? It is not only Israel that is grappling with this problem. Most modern states arose on some shared basis of culture, religion, language, heritage, and history. And some believe that this shared basis comprises imagined nationalism. Over the past several decades, joining the long-time minorities who find themselves in modern countries are enormous communities of immigrants. Some of them blend into the ethos of the host countries, and some maintain cultural isolation.
The question of solidarity in the first half of the twenty-first century is therefore not a question of interest only to the Jewish people in Israel and the Diaspora, but also a lens through which to view a pressing international issue.
The “progressive dilemma”
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy established the Bureau of Immigration and National Identity. The appointed minister, Éric Besson, known for crossing party lines, asked to hold a discussion about the “republican idea of the enlightened, rational citizen, who bears the heritage of the Republic and has a connection to three fundamental values: freedom, equality, brotherhood.” The intellectual elites, together with the Socialist Party, responded with rage. Large portions of these elites are not fond of the concept of “nationalism.” The public at large, even if suspicious of Sarkozy’s motives, actually sided with the idea.
On the other side of the Channel, Britain initiated a similar discussion of “Britishness.” The discussion focused on a common denominator that included symbols, values and leaders. As in France, the discussion is really about belonging in the context of national identity, and, at least in part, is positioned as a counter-movement to the multicultural tradition that has characterized it in recent decades.
On occasion, international measures are published about at-risk vs. stable countries. The countries ranked as the most stable are Finland, Norway, Sweden, Ireland and Japan. One of the key characteristics of these countries is ethnic and/or cultural homogeneity. There is no minority undermining the hegemony. There is no group that wants to wave a different religious or national flag in some part of the country. One of the only countries that succeeds in integrating heterogeneity with stability is the United States, but, in contrast to the other countries mentioned, there is no solidarity there.
In 2004, David Goodhardt, editor of Prospect Magazine, published an article entitled “Discomfort of Strangers.” The article generated much public discussion, since Goodhardt is considered alternately a demagogue, fascist, or racist. In fact, he is a liberal intellectual, and it is difficult to dismiss his ideas offhand. His main claim is that there is tension, or, in essence, a contradiction, between solidarity and difference. The more a particular community or society takes in foreigners who are not part of the shared ethos, the more the value of community or national solidarity is eroded. Diversity does not create a multicultural society based on mutual respect and brotherhood, but rather increases alienation and separatism.
Goodhardt borrowed David Willet’s term “the progressive dilemma,” and posed it to the members of his camp as a simple question: “Welfare state, or cultural diversity?” They cannot coexist, because, according to Goodhardt’s logic, “If values become more diverse . . . it becomes more difficult to sustain the legitimacy of a universal risk-pooling welfare state. People ask: ‘Why should I pay for them when they are doing things that I wouldn’t do?’”
Is this xenophobia? Racism? An article by Professor David Laitin of Stanford, examined this question within the context of French society. Laitin sent employers applications from three candidates. The name of the first was Aurélie Ménard, a name that was patently native French. The second was Marie Diouf, whose surname is identified with Senegalese immigrants, while the first name suggests that the applicant is Christian. The third was Khadija Diouf, again Senegalese, but with a Muslim first name. The results established that between Aurélie and Marie there is no discrimination. Khadija, on the other hand, was clearly discriminated against. The employers simply did not want her. In other words, the discrimination was not based on ethnicity, color or nationality. Rather, it stemmed from hostility to Muslims.
This is the same hostility that manifests in European surveys, as in a 2013 survey conducted at Bielefeld University in Germany, revealing that 70% of Germans believe that Islamic values clash with Western values; there were studies with similar results in France and Britain around the same time, prior to the attack at Charlie Hebdo. And this hostility continues to escalate. The French, if I may, are not racists — perhaps even the opposite. They have no problem with foreigners, or with color; they have a problem with foreigners who refuse to integrate, or at least those whom they perceive in this manner.
Does discrimination perpetuate the low status of minorities, or is it members of the minority communities who are guilty of the alienation that excludes them? The automatic answer, even after the terrorist attacks in France, points an accusing finger at the strong societies. Even the President of the United States, Barack Obama, stated a few days after the attacks in Paris that the Europeans need to learn from the Americans how to integrate the Muslims. Needless to say, a random check of European media sources reveals that this is the position that dominates over 80% of the public discourse. “Terrorism must be condemned,” was the slogan repeatedly voiced by liberal interviewees on European television, “but we cannot forget that poverty and neglect and discrimination and alienation are pushing frustrated young people with no futures towards radicalization.” Author Salman Rushdie, whose patience for such comments has expired, called them “the ‘buts’ brigade.” They condemn terrorism and then add the “but,” which essentially rationalizes radicalism.
The problem of most of these intellectuals, who are usually sworn adherents of solidarity, and harsh critics of the idea of national sovereignty and identity, is that the facts have almost no effect on them. After all, the immigrants to Britain, France and Germany include not only Muslims, but also Chinese and Hindus, many of whom are extremely poor. And yet, after less than two generations, not one of these minorities has undergone any kind of radicalization. On the contrary, their absorption is astounding.
If the data are correct, the Hindus in Britain, for example, built themselves up through education. Today, they have achievements to show for it. They have surpassed not only the Whites, the “original” Brits, but also the Jews. Their skin color is similar to that of the Muslims. They also faced discrimination. But they did not make casting blame their preoccupation, or get bogged down in post-colonialist theories of racism and exclusion, and they overcame.
To what extent is the national majority prepared to include foreigners who oppose the shared ethos? These questions are the foundation of the discussion of “Britishness” in Britain, national identity in France, and the Zionist ideal in Israel. Willet’s “progressive dilemma” is essentially a national dilemma. A Conservative British politician and intellectual, Willets claimed already a decade ago that “the basis on which you can extract large sums of money in taxes and pay it out in benefits is that most people think the recipients are people like themselves, facing difficulties that they themselves could face. If values become more diverse . . . then it becomes more difficult to sustain the legitimacy of a universal risk-pooling welfare state . . . This is America vs. Sweden.”
By extension, in the case of Israel, for how long will the middle class agree to bear the tax burden for the ultra-Orthodox and Arab sectors, who live in a completely different world of values? The minority that stands out in Israel is the Arab minority. Here, as well, it is worth noting that there is a difference between Christians, Druze and Muslims in all that pertains to integration. The first, despite discrimination — which does exist — reach impressive achievements. In certain areas, they exceed the Jewish average. The Druze and Muslims are still lagging behind, to an almost equal extent, even though the former belong, at least in terms of military service, to the shared ethos, and the latter usually insist on refusing, and actively object, even if non-violently, to the shared ethos.
The answer lies, to a great extent, in cultural affairs. The Christians, for example, on the topic of women’s status, are usually closer to the liberal Jewish position, while no small percentage of the ultra-Orthodox sector, which in many senses resembles the Muslim and Druze sectors, maintains a distance from the shared ethos.
In another article, Goodhardt points out that London is being emptied of its veteran residents. The old-time Whites are not thrilled with the diversity and are running away. Welcoming strangers is nice for theorists and non-profits concerned with the rights of aliens. The reality on the ground is another story. Social capital, a concept associated with Robert Putnam, is dwindling, since diverse, multicultural, multiethnic communities enjoy much less solidarity. One can assume that it is no coincidence that British multiculturalism burgeoned under the Thatcher government. Apparently there is a connection between capitalism and a split society without a common ethos.
In the case of Israel, these problems are much greater than those of Europe, both externally and internally, and they are interconnected. Not only Europe and its minorities, but also the neighboring countries intensify the dilemma. Syria has fallen apart, politically as well as ethnically. The same can certainly be said for Iraq. The immediate conclusion is that without clear Jewish sovereignty — that is, a Jewish majority — Israel will also disintegrate.
And so, how can one maintain a democratic, liberal, egalitarian society while preserving a Jewish national identity? How can full equality be maintained for Israeli Arabs? How should we treat asylum-seekers? Professor John Mearsheimer claimed, writing about the Balkans, that “ethnically homogeneous states must be created . . . [which] would require drawing new borders and transferring populations . . .” for which, he believes, the superpowers should foot the bill. Mearsheimer, it should be recalled, does not belong to the generation of the 1940s, when population transfer was an acceptable practice.
Mearsheimer belongs to the elite of contemporary American academia. He is one of the authors of a book against the pro-Israel lobby, and an outspoken anti-Zionist. Thus, he is on the “right” side – neither fascist nor right-wing, and he is not alone, but part of an academic stream that espouses these views.
There is no need whatsoever to be pulled in this direction in the case of Israel. On the other hand, there are admittedly no ideal solutions – just dilemmas. It is possible and necessary to maintain a Jewish majority because the alternatives are worse; and at the same time it is imperative to aspire to the integration of the Israeli Arabs, while attempting to expand the shared ethos. This means, for example, accelerating the efforts to expand equality in every field, including affirmative action where possible, while rejecting, with as heavy a hand as necessary, Islamic and nationalistic trends.
All of these dilemmas stand in the balance. Their message is that every democratic society must deal with processes that are occurring in democratic and liberal countries. There is only one very preliminary conclusion for Israel: The sovereign-national model based on “Jewish and democratic” is not the best. It is simply the least of all evils.
This article is one of 17 important perspectives on the current state of the Israel-Diaspora relationship published in a special issue of Eretz Acheret magazine, in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and available free of charge to Times of Israel readers. Access the full digital edition at:
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