For this past Sunday’s New York Times, Tom Friedman wrote an article entitled “The Full Israeli Experience”. Treating Friedman as an whipping boy has become popular in some circles in recent years, but for the Times to run such an opinion – in the widely read Sunday edition especially – its editors are lending credence to his close-minded and restricted view of the world. In doing so they promote misunderstanding and provide a buttress of support for national policies that are not in the American people’s interest.
Even without the obvious critique that the “full Israeli experience” cannot be accurately applied to the country’s mainstream national politics when only 80% of its population is represented, this article was hugely disappointing.
Tom Friedman argues that to be taken seriously in Israeli politics (and by virtue of the special relationship, American politics), you must understand the severity of Israel’s security situation. He argues that the “bastards for peace” approach of Ehud Barak is superior because it purports a re-trenchment in the ’67 borders and a serious effort to advance the peace process. This is a harmful simplification of the conflict.
The problem is that the conflict does not end with the ’67 borders. This is not a binary conflict in which agreed upon borders will make history go away. The two states are inextricably linked. This goes beyond the right of Palestinian refugees to return and potential conflicts over religious site. This is about the 1.5 million Palestinian citizens in Israel living as second-class citizens. A re-trenchment would mean that Israel would love the pressure from the international community to make serious change in its politics and become the true bastion of democracy it has always claimed to be.
The flaw in Friedman’s argument is best displayed with an example. Let’s use Egypt. In Egypt, Mohammad Morsi recently tried to acquire extra-presidential powers so he could advance the Muslim Brotherhood’s goal of codifying Shari’a law. This is something the United States, and many international freethinking progressive people oppose. Why do we oppose it though? Is it because Morsi would have become a dictator like Mubarak? Yes, partially. Is it because Shari’a law is what many Americans are actually afraid of and that there are deep seeded prejudices in the Western world against Islam? Probably. But, the real reason why Americans should have opposed Morsi claiming those extra powers is that at the heart of the American system of government and the root of liberalism is the belief that for all people to be free and equal, there can be no inherent link between a particular religion and the state. Unchecked state power in the hands of an Islamic party would generate institutional discrimination against any religious minorites.
This brings us back to Israel. What Morsi was trying to do, the battle he is waging with the Egyptian courts right now is the same one that was fought over the future of Israel in its nascence. Eventually David Ben Gurion won out and propagated his vision of the Jewish State. For 64 years, the “Jewish and Democratic” state has thrived in perpetual hypocrisy. First, the Palestinian minority lived under military rule with a separate legal system, now it is perceived by many as a “nest of terror…that should be exiled” as Nazerat Illit mayor Shimon Gafso recently stated.
This is an oppressed minority that lives with no real hope for change. Friedman, in his effort to create some weird fear-inducing paranoia on behalf of the Israeli people, has supported a strategy that would ensure the continued discrimination against 20% of Israel citizens.
Yes, there are militant extremists who openly advocate for Israel’s destruction. They are a small, but vocal minority. Failing to address these major issues of self-determination and democratic values would only validate their claims and swell their ranks. There is no righteousness in holding a supposed moral high ground when the human rights of millions are being attacked.
The path ahead may seem treacherous, but there is no better occasion to strive for harmony and justice than in the face of difficult times.