“Proudly” Democratic? Jewish? Really?

Election time in Israel is a season of forlorn hope for many American Jews, imagining, praying in our various ways one more time that our Israeli cousins will finally shift in a direction we can again support proudly as Jews, or at least tolerate without revulsion, that we can somehow together again be part of the same people that long saw itself as a light to nations.

So when I hear the Zionist Union coalition of Labor and Tzipi Livni’s party is running neck-and-neck with or even now leading Netanyahu’s Likud in polls, I’ll admit briefly feeling a smidgen of something like hope. But  I can’t forget Livni’s defining op-ed  in the Wall Street Journal last year, essentially pronouncing “our Palestinians” unready for democracy, another shot in the endless disgraceful effort to rationalize their subjugation. It is sadly hard to believe a government in which Livni is a leader, slated to serve two of four years as prime minister, could make a difference that matters for lasting two-state peace without brain surgery.

Few manifestoes better illustrate the colonial mindset that seems to lack connection with anything recognizable as Jewish teaching or values since the Book of Judges. Livni’s logic, supposedly emblematic of the “center” in Israeli politics today, sounds more like that of the many monster empires <em>Am Yisrael</em> (The Jewish People) defined itself against successively across our history.

Hamas’ 2006 victory in Arab Palestine’s only contested election was inherently illegitimate because Hamas cannot be a democratic party since, in Livni’s Manichean construction of reality, it is simply and inherently a “terrorist group.” Ditto Hezbollah.   Hamas and Hezbollah of course are multi-faceted social and political organizations, which is part of why they win elections and are pivotal influences in their societies.   People under occupation (or blockade, which is functionally similar) historically often “democratically” support violent resistance to their tormentors.

That these organizations have killed Israelis – often while perpetrators killed themselves – hardly reduces them to mere “terrorist groups” and nothing more any more than Israel’s far more ‘successful’ bi-annual Gaza killing sprees – which take the lives of vastly more innocents than Hamas could ever hope to – reduce the State of Israel to merely a “terrorist entity.”

That “governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed” has no significance for Livni as regards Palestine’s Arabs, </a> . With this psychology, many Israelis continue to view themselves as a “proud democracy” while occupying or blockading into desperate poverty between four and five million Arabs – though occupation and blockade are both acts of war to which virtually all Jews and virtually all Americans would support resistance by force anywhere else in the world but Palestine.  But once one becomes accustomed to wrongdoing, as our Talmud says, it becomes normal for us; unending occupation and blockade of Arab Palestine are classic illustrations.

Cousins: Ruling or blockading millions of unrepresented people while subjecting them to periodic decimation when they fight back:  It’s not democracy.

We let them vote or we let them go.

Or we understand we’re not a democracy.  We’re a tyranny.  “Colonialism” is the nicest description for tyranny over other peoples.

Much of the world wants this to be a post-colonial age, the great idea <em>Am Yisrael </em>pioneered when it broke the chains of slavery against Pharaoh in Egypt, which we celebrate soon as Passover – the idea that people can’t own other people – the vision the Jewish people championed for millennia.

Until now.  As we demand a permanent “special exception” for Israel.

Amazingly, many Israelis and supporters criticize Hamas and the PA for not holding their own Palestinian elections since 2006.  They must forget what happened last time.  Israel’s government showed its respect for democracy among the lowly by targeting most winners for arrest, still refusing to acknowledge, a la Livni, the winning faction.

And beyond the issue of democracy, a state that treasures Jewish lives while devaluing Arab lives – as demonstrated for example by the taking of the lives of 500 children in their homes and play spaces in Gaza last summer – seems no longer recognizably Jewish either, representing something profoundly different from and radically alien to historical Judaism.  Before last summer’s parody of “self’-defense,” I believed: “He who destroys a human life is as if he destroyed the whole world” was quintessential Jewish teaching. Jews are of course commanded to love “the other,” the stranger, as we were strangers in Egypt.  Calling today’s Israel a “Jewish state,” I’d argue, seems sadly anachronistic in this light. Today’s Israel seems more accurately a “post-Jewish” state.

There’s a worldwide struggle for the Jewish soul today between those who regard the Jewish people as bearers of a tradition of universal human values and those who view Judaism as a tribal military cult.  Netanyahu and Livni seem regrettably on the same side.

Of course it’s more complex than can be addressed comprehensively in any op-ed. There is a long and tragic history in Palestine we are all familiar with.   Great and terrible things happened in 1948 and 1967, before and since, yet, the key point is:

None of them can justify subjugating the Palestinians in perpetuity.

Israel’s policies meanwhile undermine Diaspora Jewry as nothing else has, especially among the young people who carry us into the future, hijacking Jewish identity and continually tying it to policies alien to, diametrically opposed to what most identifying Diaspora Jews see as the essence of who they are.  Netanyahu’s recent idiotic claim to speak for the entire Jewish people is particularly outrageous.  Jews outside Israel of course have no more influence on Israel’s disastrous governance than do millions of subject Arabs.

The trouble with the people crushed under our feet is they won’t stop biting.  It’s tough being a colonial power in a post-colonial age.  But on the eve of yet another Israeli election that should matter but almost certainly won’t, still not nearly tough enough.

About the Author
Steve Koppman was co-author of Treasury of American-Jewish Folklore (Rowman & Littlefield). He is a contributor to The Huffington Post and his satire, commentary and journalism have appeared in many publications including the San Francisco Chronicle, The Nation, The Chicago Tribune, The Village Voice, Newsday and others. His short plays have been produced throughout the U.S and he has contributed short fiction to literary and regional magazines and anthologies. He works as an analyst of the telecommunications industry, grew up in New York City and lives in Oakland, California.