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March 15, 2007

Benefits bolster the case for reciprocity

http://www.jewishjournal.com/opinion/article/benefits_bolster_the_case_for_reciprocity_20070316

The past few months saw rising temperatures of accusations and counteraccusations among sections of the Jewish community. Leftist Jews criticized Israel, professor Alvin Rosenfeld criticized anti-Zionist Jews, the American Jewish Committee (AJCommittee) published Rosenfeld's article, Rob Eshman criticized Rosenfeld ("Shutting Jewish Mouths," Feb. 16) and Jewish Journal readers criticized Eshman (Letters, Feb. 23).

True, thus far it all fits the ordinary, lively Jewish debate to the tune of "Chad Gadya," and, honestly, I would not have mentioned it here, save for one ingredient that I thought deserves our attention -- somehow, the AJCommittee was the only player in the ring accused of the cardinal sin of "shutting Jewish mouths."

For the life of me, I fail to see why Rosenfeld's criticism of anti-Zionist Jews is stifling Jewish voices more than Eshman's criticism of Rosenfeld.

Eshman was right in asking: "Has the AJCommittee taken a stand against Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli minister who has called for the forced expulsion of Israeli Arabs from their towns?" Eshman was also right in comparing Lieberman to Tony Kushner and stating: "One could argue that Lieberman's opinions endanger a democratic Jewish state at least as much as Kushner's."

I would go even further and argue that both Kushner and Lieberman are racists, each in his own way. What I fail to understand, though, is why saying so to Kushner makes me a stifler of open debate, while accusing Lieberman turns me into a champion of lively discussion.

It is time that we articulate this symmetry as loudly as we can. Both Kushner (and Tony Judt and Jacqueline Rose) and Lieberman are racists, guilty of callous discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin -- Lieberman by denying Israeli Arabs their basic rights as individuals, Kushner by denying Israeli Jews their basic rights as a nation.

Lieberman targets Israeli Arabs for dispossession, while Kushner targets Israeli Jews for a genocidal experiment called a "one-state solution." The difference lies mainly in their respective modes of justification. Whereas Lieberman speaks in the name of "ein breira" (lacking alternative), Kushner speaks in the name of righteousness and morality. History is still undecided whom we should fear most.

But symmetry does not end here.

The vast majority of Jews do identify with the historical aspirations of their people and their right to self-determination. Are they prepared to grant Palestinians those same rights? Large sections of American Jewry, including the Zionist Organization of America, object to the idea of a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River. Is this broken symmetry justified? Is it wise?

The arguments against a Palestinian state are strong and familiar.

First and foremost, given the current sentiments and fragmentation of Palestinian society, such a state would be a serious threat to Israel's security. Second, from a historical viewpoint, Palestinian nationhood is a recent phenomenon; Palestinians did not cultivate distinct national identity till the turn of the 20th century. Even Rashid Khalidi's books, "Palestinian Identity" (1997) and "The Iron Cage" (2006), set out to discover and affirm Palestinian national roots, have uncovered a glaring void.

Unlike the Jews, Palestinians are not heirs to national holidays, national heroes or cultural lore connected with the land. There simply was no sense of peoplehood among Palestinians prior to their encounter with Zionism, and Golda Meir's famous saying, "There is no such thing as a Palestinian people," -- pardon my political incorrectness -- was not entirely void of historical reality.

Still, despite these differences and asymmetries, I argue that the Jewish community should reciprocate and support the idea of a Palestinian state.

Reciprocity empowers us with some of the high moral ground that we lost by winning the 1967 war. Reciprocity today is our most potent weapon in the fight against the delegitimization of Israel, because our adversaries are still imprisoned by a me-take-all mentality and the one-state delusion.

Saree Makdisi, Israel's No. 1 dehumanizer in Los Angeles, turns utterly grotesque when confronted with the challenge of reciprocity, (e.g., "Are Jews and Palestinians equally entitled to some sovereignty, in some part of Palestine?"). His latest column in the LA Times, on March 11, expresses his frustration in handling this challenge.

By forgiving the deficiencies of the Palestinian national narrative, we obtain forgiveness for our own deficiency -- physical absence of 1,800 years. Reciprocity is a reminder that nationhood is a state of mind, not a historical document.

Reciprocity of utopias does not compromise security conditions on the ground. Tough precautionary requirements on the process leading to a two-state utopia will be better accepted under the blessing of reciprocity.

An example of such a requirement could be a doctrine that no irreversible concession of one side (e.g., in territory or settlements), would be implemented without an equally irreversible concession of the other). On the Palestinian side, potential irreversible concessions include thorough uprooting of terrorist organizations, public recognition of Jewish historical ties to Eretz Yisrael, education and media programs in the spirit of shared nativity, permanent housing for refugees and more.

In summary, tactical steps need not be hindered by reciprocity, while advocacy and strategic vision will benefit from it immensely.

Judea Pearl is a UCLA professor and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, www.danielpearl.org. He is a co-author of "I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl" (Jewish Lights, 2004).

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