The newly-released North American Jewish Data Bank's 2010 World Jewish Population Report, edited by professors Sergio DellaPergola, Arnold Dashefsky and Ira Sheskin has been making waves. Critics on the right are charging that in claiming a non-Jewish majority exists between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, the report is slanted and unduly pessimistic. Critics on the left in the Diaspora will complain that the authors were too "old school" in defining what Jewish means.
There are, says the report, about 13 million Jews in the world with the largest concentration (5.7 million), as determined by Orthodox standards of religious law, living in Israel. Of the Diaspora's 7.7 million, most (5,275,000) "core" Jews -- meaning people who identify themselves as Jews, or who are identified as Jews by those they residing with, and who have no other monotheistic religion -- live in the United States. Eighty-two percent of all Jews live in either Israel or the America. Other countries with 100,000 or more Jews are France (483,500), Canada (375,000), United Kingdom (292,000), Russian Federation, (205,000), Argentina (182,300), Germany (119,000) and Australia (107,500).
With the singular exception of Israel, Jewish fertility continued to be low, the population continued to age, intermarriage continued to increase, and relatively few children of intermarried couples were being raised as Jews, according to DellaPergola. Consider, too, that roughly 42% of all recently married Jews outside of Israel have married out.
Zionists take satisfaction that Israel is not only the center of Jewish civilization but has become home to the world's largest Jewish population. Israel’s 5,703,700 Jews when combined with 312,800 halakhically non-Jewish members of Jewish households (mostly from the former Soviet Union) forms a combined population of 6 million. More Jews now live in Greater Tel Aviv than in Metro New York.
What worries many Zionists however is Israel's shrinking Jewish majority. The number of Arabs in pre-1967 Israel is 1,238,000. The combined Jewish and Arab population in sovereign Israel plus the West Bank and Gaza is 11,222,100 leaving the total core Jewish population between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River at just 50.8%; 49.8% counting 222,000 foreign workers. If the non-halakhically Jewish population is counted, the Jewish percentage climbs to 53.6 of the total in Israel and the territories; 58.5% after subtracting Gaza.
No matter how the data is juggled, insists DellaPergola, "The Jewish majority is constantly decreasing — if extant at all — over the whole territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and more particularly within the State of Israel."
DellaPergola has been challenged in the past for taking census numbers from the Palestinian Authority at face value. He has strongly defended the integrity of his data, though in this report DellaPergola appears to acknowledge that Palestinian figures had originally been "overestimated." Nevertheless, he concludes that the Palestinian Arab population in January 2010 stood at 3,670,000 about 2,200,000 in Judea and Samaria and 1,470,000 in Gaza. At the same time, he acknowledges that the Arab birthrate inside Israel proper and in the West Bank is slowly decreasing.
To complicate matters, not all of the halakhically Jewish numbers can necessarily be counted on by the Zionist enterprise. The ultra-Orthodox comprise about 8.5 percent of Israel's total population and are projected to grow to 17.5 percent within two decades. By 2020, 60% of Israeli youths eligible to serve in the IDF will be sitting on the sidelines because of draft exemptions granted to ultra-Orthodox youth.
Population surveys are intrinsically political documents. Experts with agendas will clash over methodology, data collection, definitions and interpretation. Diaspora liberals will lobby for a more "inclusive" criteria in defining Jews and a rosier interpretation of the Jewish predicament. DellaPergola admits that the U.S. Jewish population would jump to at least 6.7 million if the non-halachic criteria for defining Jews under Israel's Law of Return were applied in the American setting. Dismissing evidence to the contrary as tendentious, DellaPergola's Israeli critics and their American allies will argue that talk of Arabs outnumbering Jews is alarmist, that in any case, Israel's political system can be tweaked so that even an outsized Arab minority would be neither disenfranchised nor dominant.
On one point there is no dispute: DellaPergola's figures generate such visceral reactions because at stake is nothing less than Jewish continuity in the Diaspora and sovereignty in Israel.
Islam and Interfaith Relations
Old-fashioned anti-Semitism needs to be factored into the equation if Westerners are to comprehend the zero-sum nature of the Arab-Israel conflict. But the good news out of an ecumenical conclave held in the House of Lords [November 23] by the Children of Abraham organization and a British affiliate of Cairo's Al Azhar University is that a long-standing ban on Muslim-Jewish interfaith relations has been lifted. The fly in the ointment is that the decision did not explicitly mention Judaism by name. A spokesman for London-based Grand Mufti Sheikh Fawzi Al-Zifzaf, who drafted the ruling, explained that "the people who have taken the document forward have done so at great risk." No doubt.
A recent BBC Panorama program revealed that even today certain Muslim parochial schools providing part-time instruction to 5,000 children at 40 different locations in the UK have been using a curriculum of hate supplied by Saudi Arabia that among other things refer to Jews as looking like "monkeys and pigs." Pupils are further taught that Jews seek world domination. The Saudi ambassador in the U.S. reportedly told a Children of Abraham official that the texts did not truly represent the values of his country. Of course, youngsters educated outside the West, especially in fanatical Islamist regimes, are at even greater risk of being inculcated into the oldest hatred.
Speaking on his movement's Gaza-based television station recently [November 5] senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar offered viewers a twisted capsule history of the Jews from Pharaonic times to medieval Europe in order to demonstrate that anti-Semitism was the fault of the Jews themselves. Jews have faced a series of expulsions Zahar lectured, for sucking the blood of, and stealing from, non-Jews. One day, he declared, the Jews would be expelled "from the entire territory of Palestine, Allah willing." He cited the Koran as justifying the murder of Jews and to reiterate a recurring genocidal theme, developed in his  book, that the Jewish people had “no future between nations." There is no place for Jews anywhere in the Middle East, he said. "You are about to disappear." As a founding leader of Hamas and its former foreign minister, Zahar is merely mirroring the visceral Jew-hatred manifested in the movement's 1988 charter.
Plainly, Hamas's problem with a Jewish state is not rooted in politics, but in religious chauvinism. In more genteel form the comparatively moderate Palestinian camp headed by Mahmoud Abbas is no less invested in invalidating Jewish rights. Take a new study carried out on behalf of the Palestinian Authority which found that Jewish people have no authentic connection to the Western Wall. That makes Jews interlopers in the Mideast. No wonder that a recent poll conducted for The Israel Project found sixty percent of Palestinian Arabs felt that a "two state solution" should be a precursor to the phased destruction of Israel. A Pew survey earlier this year found more than 90% of Egyptians, Jordanians, Lebanese and Palestinians held hateful views toward Jews, while even 74% of non-Arab Muslims in Indonesia were hostile. Antagonism toward Jews is so widespread that one London newspaper eulogized Al-Azhar's Sheikh Mohammed Sayyid Tantawi who died in March, for his moderation – he had denounced the 9/11 attacks -- his description of Jews as "enemies of Allah" and "descendants of apes and pigs" notwithstanding.
Apologists for Muslim anti-Semitism argue that Islamic attitudes toward Jews had been benign even tolerant until the establishment of modern Israel – the Zionists' "original sin." In fact, the Jewish condition under Muslim rule ranged from one of peaceful inferiority to that of persecution and humiliation, in the assessment of Bernard Lewis's The Jews of Islam. Martin Gilbert has recently provided fresh historical evidence for Lewis's appraisal. Islamic civilization assigned Jews an institutionally inferior societal place as dhimmis and the Koran makes a number of disparaging references to Jews (though also a few positive ones).
It would be comforting to think that contemporary Muslim civilization is at least grappling with how to relate to Jews outside the framework of dhimmitude. If only the laudable, albeit, faint efforts of a relatively unknown Grand Mufti in Britain to explore a new relationship were not held in contempt by Islam's more influential holy men such as Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi whose broadcast on Al Jazeera, reach 40 million believers worldwide and who takes pride in boycotting interfaith conferences with Jews.
Referendum for Peace
Britons will be holding a national referendum early next year on electoral reform. The Arab League is supporting a referendum in war torn Sudan over independence for the south. When the Turkish parliament failed to amend the constitution by a sufficient majority the nation held a referendum in September to do so. And while the United States does not hold national referendums state "propositions" are not uncommon.
Yet the 65-33 vote in Israel's Knesset [on Monday, November 24] to require a referendum before ceding east Jerusalem, the Golan Heights or any other part of sovereign Israel should a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority or Syria be struck has kicked up a ruckus. The plebiscite would be held if the government was unable to muster 80 of parliament's 120 lawmakers to approve a withdrawal. In promoting the referendum, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued that it would prevent an irresponsible agreement, while facilitating strong public backing for one that satisfied Israel's national interests.
Arab reaction has been unenthusiastic. The Syrian Foreign Ministry found the law to be further proof that Israel was not interested in peace. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that "ending the occupation" could not be put to a referendum. A curious stance in that Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly raised the possibility of a Palestinian referendum and been lauded for doing so by Arabists in the American foreign policy community.
Israeli reactions have run along political lines. Both left and right saw passage as an impediment to the emergence of a Palestinian state. Technically, no referendum would be required for a West Bank pullback since Judea and Samaria have never been annexed to Israel. But settler leaders said the law was "very good news" in that any deal would likely be linked to land swaps in sovereign Israel. Haaretz editorialized that the law spit in the face of the international community. Peace Now threatened to challenge the constitutionality of the law. Kadima leader Tzipi Livni and 15 of her 28-member faction voted against the bill; Shaul Mofaz, who has announced plans to unseat her, was joined by 11 other party lawmakers in being conspicuously absent. Kadima's Otniel Schneller and Eli Aflalo voted for the bill. Labor leader Ehud Barak issued a strong statement against the bill, but also absented himself rather than vote with most of his faction against it. Likud, Yisrael Beitenu, Shas, and Habayit Hayehudi voted unanimously in favor; Meretz and the Arab parties voted unanimously against. The left's opposition is also somewhat curious in that it was Yitzhak Rabin who first raised the idea of a withdrawal referendum.
Whether referendums are generally a good idea is a matter for debate. They certainly provide the demos (people) kratos (rule) – direct power to legislate without intermediaries. America's political system is, of course, designed to keep unrefined power out of the hands of the masses for fear of the tyranny of the majority. Authoritarian leaders have been known to conduct and manipulate referendums to solidify their power. For example, in 1979 Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini legitimized the establishment of Iran's imperial theocracy by holding a popular plebiscite.
What does the referendum decision signify in the Israeli instance? Whether to withdraw to something approximating the 1949 Armistice Lines in exchange for an Arab commitment of, at best, a cold peace presents Israelis with an immense dilemma. Such boundaries would be very hard to defend especially if the West Bank falls to Hamas. A pullout ratified by a razor thin Knesset majority lubricated by political horse-trading would lack legitimacy and tear the fabric of Israel's society asunder. It's happened in the past: The 1993 Oslo Accords were approved with 61 MKs in favor 50 against and 8 abstentions. Oslo II, a follow-up agreement, passed 61-59 only after three neophyte opposition members were enticed to join Rabin's government in exchange for patronage appointments.
Of course, a referendum would be less imperative were Israel's political system less dysfunctional (all major parties agree on the need for fundamental electoral reform). Netanyahu, who was opposition leader at the time Rabin railroaded Oslo through the Knesset, clearly recognizes that any deal he signs with the Palestinians or Syrians would equally lack authenticity unless it achieved massive Knesset backing or popular support in a referendum.
For all the hoopla raised by the referendum law the reality is that Abbas still refuses to return to the negotiating table and Hamas makes no pretense about wanting peace altogether. The role Israeli Arabs (20 percent of the population) would have in a referendum is unclear. Israel's High Court could still decide that the referendum is unconstitutional. And of course, the Knesset could vote at anytime repeal to repeal the law by a simple majority. In short, champions of peace have little to fear and much to embrace in this law.
The blessing for the Promised Land was that it would flow with milk and honey, not abundant rainfall or copious petro-carbon deposits. Fortunately, within the next several years a series of desalination plants will help alleviate Israel's chronic water shortage while continued exploitation of off-shore gas fields should make the Jewish state energy independent – and more.
Since 2004, Israel has been tapping billions of cubic meters of gas from two deep-sea fields, Mari-B and Marine, just off its southern coast. But it is the still untapped fields off the country's northern coast, and so deep below the Mediterranean that robots will be needed to exploit them, that has truly captured the Israeli imagination. Leviathan, which is far out to sea, could come on-line in 2016, though Tamar and Dalit, smaller fields closer to the coast, could begin production in 2014.
These subterranean gas deposits have the potential of transforming Israel from a country completely dependent on foreign energy sources to a major global energy supplier. An Israeli pipeline could run via Cyprus to Greece providing Europe with gas for its winters and lessening the continent's dependency on Russia. Israeli liquefied gas could be shipped to India and China making them less dependent on Iran. At home, electrical plants could be retooled to operate on gas; electric (or hybrid) cars might supplant those running exclusively on petrol.
For now, however, Israel still imports $2 billion worth of gas annually from a privately owned Egyptian company. Coal needs to be imported to generate electricity; and petroleum is purchased on the world market. Until the mullahs came to power in 1979, Israel enjoyed a reliable supply of Iranian oil. Later, the Alma oil field in the Sinai, discovered and developed by Israel, could have provided energy independence, but was given up in the 1982 peace treaty with Egypt. Fortunately, most Israeli households use solar power to heat water.
Israel's foes have reacted predictably to its off-shore gas finds. Hezbollah, the hegemon of Lebanon, has been making threatening noises about the northern fields, while Palestinian advocates have claimed the southern fields as the patrimony of Hamas-dominated Gaza.
For Israel, striking gas is like winning the lottery – attendant with political, social and economic opportunities as well as pitfalls. The Tel Aviv stock market reacted euphorically as investors pondered the fortunes to be made. That led to a massive debate about who actually owned the gas cornucopia, the consortium of Israeli and American partners spearheaded by Yitzhak Teshuva who risked their capital (on searches that had for decades proved futile), or the "people." Back in 1952 the Knesset had legislated royalties of 12.5% on mining. The American government has been assessing royalties of 18.75% on off-shore oil and gas; in Norway the government takes a whopping 67 percent. Social campaigners demanded that the royalties be drastically hiked. Free marketers complained it was unfair to retroactively change the rules.
To sort out the division of spoils the Netanyahu government appointed a committee headed by economist Eytan Sheshinski. After seven months, and without inviting Teshuva to present his case, his panel decided that royalties should stay at 12.5%; that the tax exemption depletion allowance should be abolished; and that profits should not be taxed until investors had recovered 150% of their outlays.
These recommendations, which await a public hearing, cabinet debate and Knesset approval, have been lauded across the political spectrum from Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer to Labor's Shelly Yachimovich, a neo-socialist. So far Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party has been most vocal in expressing concern that the recommendations may discourage future energy exploration.
Even if a formula can be found that balances the rational need to provide incentives for entrepreneurs with the desires of ordinary citizens to benefit from the gas windfall there is still the question of precisely what the state will do with the money. Former Knesset member Michael Melchior has been lobbying for the revenues be channeled into a sovereign fund invested and earmarked to enhance the country's human potential. Anything would be better than dumping it into the general budget. There is, fortunately, time for considered judgment. Revenues from the northern fields will not begin flowing into the state's coffers for another 8-15 years, at the earliest.
Kadima in the Wings
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's apparent about-face capitulation to Obama administration pressure for an extension of the moratorium on West Bank settlement construction has resulted in roiling dissension within his Likud party and a sense of déjà vu. The possibility of another split within the party cannot be discounted.
The previous Likud schism occurred in November 2005 when Ariel Sharon founded the Kadima party as a political workaround after Likud members rejected his plan for a unilateral pullout from Gaza. After Sharon became incapacitated by a stroke, Ehud Olmert led Kadima in winning the 2006 elections by campaigning for a further unilateral separation this time from the Palestinians in the West Bank. However, aggression from Gaza and Lebanon (where Israel had in 2000 unilaterally withdrawn from a security zone) undermined the attraction of unilateralism and the policy was discarded.
Curiously, despite having lost its charismatic founder in Sharon and philosophical underpinning – unilateralism – the party has consolidated itself as a viable "third- way" alignment of pragmatists; basically a vehicle for running for office that has attracted politicians from Likud, Labor and beyond. Its Knesset line-up includes a West Bank settler and a Peace Now proponent. The New York Times has variously called Kadima "center-right" and "center-left."
It is widely understood that President Barack Obama would have preferred Israel's 2009 elections to have resulted in a Kadima-led government with Tzipi Livni (formerly of the Likud) at the helm. Washington is reportedly pressing Netanyahu to jettison right-wing coalition partners Yisrael Beitenu and Habayit Hayehudi and replace them with Kadima. This would presumably make Israel's negotiating stance more malleable. The flaw with this line of reasoning is that the previous Kadima government led by Olmert and Livni failed to close a deal with the Palestinian faction led by Mahmoud Abbas despite offering unprecedented territorial concessions on the grounds these were still insufficient.
What now for Kadima? Unlike other third-way parties that have come and gone, Kadima has demonstrated remarkable staying power. Partly this is because its leaders are no political novices, but in addition Kadima's arrival on the scene coincided with the evolution of a post-second intifada Israeli consensus that ending the conflict with the Palestinian Arabs was a vital national interest even if it resulted in the establishment of a "Palestine" alongside Israel.
Livni as opposition leader though photogenic has not emerged as a strong presence, furthering a reputation for indecisiveness established when she repeatedly hesitated to call for Olmert's resignation while he was enmeshed in a series of scandals and discredited by his handling of the Second Lebanon War. She also failed to form a government though Kadima won one more seat than Likud in the past election. And in a recent Knesset speech Livni took Netanyahu to task for his craven patronage of the ultra-Orthodox parties, only to have a haredi leader produce a draft agreement showing she had been equally ready to kowtow to their demands.
Livni is now being challenged by Shaul Mofaz, a former top general, whom she barely defeated for the party leadership in 2008. While her reputation for integrity is not an issue, Kadima is hardly a bastion of good-government reformists. Sharon had been investigated for wrongdoing on multiple occasions; Olmert is now on trial for corruption; policy chairman Haim Ramon was convicted of indecent behavior; Avraham Hirchson, a finance minister, went to prison for corruption. And in the latest incident, Tzahi Hanegbi, a party powerbroker, was forced to quit the Knesset this month having being found guilty of moral turpitude.
In spite of all this and the failure to articulate a coherent platform to replace unilateralism, Kadima and Likud continue to run neck and neck in public opinion surveys. Livni's confidantes have accused Netanyahu of spreading false rumors that Kadima is poised to join a unity government. She said that would not happen until Netanyahu accepted her conditions, though these have never been enunciated with much specificity. Still, Livni has pledged to give Netanyahu a political safety net if he goes ahead and extends the settlement freeze.
Strangely enough, Kadima's political nimbleness makes it attractive for disgruntled voters from left, center and right. Its success reflects the diminished expectations Israelis have of their elected officials. Ideological consistency, adherence to solemn campaign pledges, upstanding ethical behavior, even leadership excellence is no longer paramount. What seems to matter most is Kadima's ability to offer "pragmatism" -- whatever that may mean at any particular time.
The Brothers Lurk
November is a time for elections not just in the United States but also in Jordan and Egypt. Jordanians voted on November 9 to overwhelmingly fill the Chamber of Deputies with loyalists of King Abdullah II. Egyptians will go to the polls on November 28 to elect the People’s Assembly and there is little doubt that Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party will remain in control. As a result of short-sighted policies that have sidelined comparatively liberal reformist elements, the only viable opposition the Abdullah and Mubarak dynasties face comes from the benighted Moslem Brotherhood whose role in politics is severely restricted. Both leaders are mindful that Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the brotherhood, won 58% of the vote in free 2006 Palestinian Authority elections.
Founded in Egypt by Hasan al-Banna in 1928, the brotherhood preaches pan-Islam, a worldwide Caliphate, the application of Sharia law to daily life and politics and – jihad. In 1950s and 60s Sayyid Qutb fine-tuned the brotherhood's Sunni ideology to emphasize opposition to Western values. Naturally, anti-Zionism has been integral to the movement since the 1930s and remains a rallying cry.
The 21st century brotherhood aims for a legitimate persona, playing down calls to violence and dissociating from the movement's most infamous devotees, al-Qaida's Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin-Laden. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood while frank about Sharia law insists that "under current circumstances" it has no ambitions to rule the country.
On Election Day in Jordan, a national holiday, candidate posters were plastered around providing the facade of widespread political activity. Jordanian authorities in point of fact encouraged brotherhood candidates to participate. But the Islamic Action Front, the local brotherhood affiliate, declared an election boycott on the grounds that new rules favoring directly elected candidates over blocs and freshly gerrymandered districts limited the movement's electoral possibilities. Violence was low. Authorities welcomed outside election observers. Turnout was a credible 53 percent nationally though much lower in urban and heavily Palestinian areas that are brotherhood strongholds. The only missing elements were a genuine opposition and the prospect that the newly-elected parliament could exercise authority independent of the monarchy.
Despite facing internal censure a single brotherhood contender ignored the boycott to run and win. Notably, candidates across the political spectrum campaigned against the 1994 Jordan-Israel peace treaty and in support of resistance to "the Zionist entity." Jordan, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza comprise the original British Mandate for Palestine and most Jordanians are Palestinian Arabs. The king's backing comes mostly from tribal elements in the hinterlands.
In Egypt the brotherhood prefers participation to boycott. Independent candidates tied to the brotherhood have successfully filed paperwork to contest thirty percent of the seats in the assembly. In contrast to Jordan's more subtle strategy to the challenge posed by the brotherhood, Egyptian authorities have incarcerated brotherhood leaders and unleashed their heavies to beat-up brotherhood activists as they hang campaign posters. Foreign monitoring of the Egyptian polling will not be tolerated. This year, however, the ruling party is allowing intramural contests for the same constituency to create a semblance of competition. Despite similar obstacles in 2005, the brotherhood managed to capture 20 percent of the legislature.
Egypt's brotherhood has not been shy in playing the Israel card. Members have gotten themselves arrested in Port Said protesting Cairo's complicity in the quarantine of Hamas-controlled Gaza. Equally important, in both Egypt and Jordan the brotherhood mines for support among the great masses of economically downtrodden.
Neither regime appears in imminent danger of being destabilized by the brotherhood. At the same time, it is the pragmatism and patience of the Islamists that is most disquieting. One manifestation of its common sense approach: Islamist ecumenism best reflected in Hamas's theological justification for a Sunni-Shi'ite axis and alliance with Iran. Far from treating the Shi'ite Persian regime as schismatic, the Palestinian brothers have been emphasizing that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had himself translated the writings of Qutb into Persian.
What does all this mean? Unless Mideast autocrats can find the way and the wisdom to foster political institution-building, genuine republican government, and empower reformist elements prepared to reach an accommodation with modernity, sooner or later the fanatics will come to power. For Israel it would be preferable to face hard-hearted reformists across the bargaining table than jihadist across the battlefield. The other implication is that Iranian imperial ambitions, now dangerously melding with those of the brotherhood, need to be thwarted by the civilized world sooner rather than later.
With the cocktail hour over the audience settled into their plush chairs to enjoy a performance of the musical Piaf inaugurating the new cultural center in Ariel earlier this month [November 8]. This was no ordinary opening night however, because in a move that ignited a political firestorm in Israel, some of the country's top artists and intellectuals had signed a petition pledging to boycott the center because it is located in the West Bank 25 miles east of Tel Aviv.
The big name boycotters included novelists David Grossman, A. B. Yehoshua, Amos Oz, and Aharon Appelfeld, celebrated actress Hanna Maron, Batsheva dance company choreographer Ohad Naharin and film director Eytan Fox of Yossi & Jagger fame. They had all signed a statement terming Ariel "an illegal settlement" whose existence made peace impossible and fostered "apartheid."
Though the big names drew media coverage, the campaign was actually spearheaded by the minor playwright Vardit Shalfi. Her goal, she said, was to raise questions about "the legitimacy of the settlements." Shalfi told an interviewer that she would never set foot in Ariel though she would have no compunctions about appearing at a Jenin theater operated by a former Palestinian gunman. Why? One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, she explained.
The campaign quickly drew the support of radical academics such as Ben-Gurion University's Neve Gordon, an advocate of the international campaign of boycott and divestment of Israel. Indeed, the Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel encouraged the Ariel boycotters while the San Francisco-based Jewish Voice for Peace jumped on the bandwagon by soliciting supporting signatures of stalwart Israel-bashers Ed Asner, Venessa Redgrave and Tony Kushner.
While it's no secret where Israel's arts community leans politically it is doubtful the big names on the Zionist left would be comfortable shunning Ariel in the company of the Jewish Voice for Peace crowd which cannot bring itself to support Israel's existence within any boundaries. For even more extreme advocates of the Arab cause the Ariel boycott is "bogus" because the "focus on settlements" obscures the "complicity" of all "Israeli academic and cultural institutions" in a system of "colonial control and apartheid" endured by the endlessly suffering Palestinians.
Predictably, given negligible support for a settlement boycott among mainstream Israelis, Shalfi's campaign raised as much debate about the role of artists in society as it did about settlements. Culture minister Limor Livnat has announced plans for a new prize to be awarded for Zionist contributions to art. And some Knesset members have threatened legislation that would withhold state financing of projects associated with the boycotters. To which Yossi Beilin, a leading proponent of the "peace process," retorted that in a democracy artists deserved the largesse of government even when they expressed unpopular views.
Why launch the boycott now? The impending completion of the cultural center was one obvious reason. Moreover, settlement opponents find places such as Ariel (and Ma'ale Adummim, outside Jerusalem) particularly vexing. With a mixed secular-Orthodox population of 20,000, plus an additional 10,000 students including Arabs enrolled in the town's college, Ariel is not easily denigrated as far away, alien and inhabited by settler crazies. Indeed, its strategic location means that Israel would likely push hard to retain the town in any peace treaty. Thus the boycotter's aim was to chip away at Ariel's image as part of normative Israel.
With the left-in-politics unpopular, fragmented, leaderless and out of ideas, its prospects for a return to governmental power next to nil, settlement opponents sought to exert their influence via a sector of Israel's population seemingly impervious to the slings and arrows wrought by Palestinian intransigence.
Indeed, while the Ariel boycott kerfuffle raised tempers within the Israeli body politic it seemed almost beside the point in the larger scheme of things. Top Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar this week reiterated that for his organization settlements were hardly the issue. The Palestinian goal, he declared, must be the expulsion of the Jews from all the land. Meanwhile, the comparatively moderate Palestinian faction headed by Mahmoud Abbas again insisted that the Palestinians would never abandon their demand for the "right" of millions of Arab refugees and their descendants to "return" to the pre-1967 boundaries of Israel nor would they ever recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
The reason the curtain has come down on the boycotters is that ordinary Israelis simply don't accept the premise that Ariel – and settlements like it – are what's really keeping the Palestinians from making peace.
What's not Right
The twenty-five Jewish fanatics who last month paraded provocatively in the Israeli Arab town of Umm al-Fahm have been described as "right wing activists" and "far-right Israelis." Yet where – or whether – they belong on the Zionist political spectrum is not clear.
In pre-State days, the right embodied in the Jabotinsky movement was defined by its loyalty to Eretz Israel – as defined in the British Mandate for Palestine – and rooted Jewish civilizational values and nationalism. The movement has been unenthusiastic but not unwilling to sacrifice parts of the Jewish heartland for an accommodation with the Arabs.
In 1982 Menachem Begin withdrew from Sinai for a peace treaty with Egypt; in 2005 Ariel Sharon unilaterally pulled back from Gaza; and in his seminal 2009 Bar-Ilan speech Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel did not want to rule over the Palestinian Arabs in Judea and Samaria.
Why the break with Jabotinsky's original doctrine? Until 1977 the right-wing never led an Israeli government and enjoyed the luxury of ideologically purity. But as Sharon told intimates when he became the country's top decision maker, there are "things you see from here that you don't see from there." Such as the troubling demographic balance of Arabs and Jews west of the River Jordan; Israel's deepening diplomatic isolation; the emphatic need for foreign support in overcoming the existential threats posed by Iran and, not least, healing the deep cleavages within
Israel's body politic over the settlement enterprise. As the Jabotinsky right, founded, after all, by a 19th century classical liberal, was pulled toward pragmatism the political vacuum this created was filled largely by fervently Orthodox supporters of the slain Rabbi Meir Kahane. The youthful Kahane had begun his activism as a member of the Jabotinsky youth movement Betar. However, rigorous Orthodoxy and Zionist nationalism were never a natural fit. Many ultra-Orthodox Jews were and remain either non-Zionist or fervently anti-Zionist. The modern Orthodox were open to Zionism yet many of their old guard, such as Haim-Moshe Shapira, were unenthusiastic about settling the West Bank when the opportunity presented itself after the 1967 Six Day War.
When the U.S. born, originally modern Orthodox, Kahane moved to Israel in the early 1970s he sought an ideological home in the Jabotinsky camp led by Menachem Begin. When Begin declined Kahane formed the Kach party and ultimately won a single seat in the 1984 Knesset elections.
Kahane, whose platform called for the expulsion of the Arabs from Israel, charged Baruch Marzal, his parliamentary aide, with drawing ultra-Orthodox elements into his movement. Marzel's efforts helped spawn a novel messianic apocalyptic political concoction. Where left and right-wing Zionists historically saw the state as an instrument of Jewish self-determination, Kahaneists see it as an obstacle to the establishment of an anti-modern theocratic Jewish commonwealth. Thus what places Kahaneists outside the standard Zionist framework is not the vehemence with which they oppose government policy but their commitment to regime change.
Like all political movements, Kahaneists are not monolithic. Moshe Feiglin prefers working peacefully within the establishment in the belief that the Israeli electorate can be persuaded to embrace regime change if the impetus comes from within the Likud party. Daniella Weiss, on the other hand, has become an organizer of the "hilltop youth" some of whom have bizarrely embraced the anthem of the virulently anti-state Satmar hassidic sect.
In the Knesset, Kahane's legacy is carried forward singly by Michael Ben Ari of the Ichud Leumi. The splinter party's three other parliamentarians are not Kahaneists. How many of Ichud Leumi's 112,570 votes can be credited to Ben Ari is impossible to gauge. But in 2006 when Marzel himself ran unsuccessfully for the Knesset he garnered 25,000 votes.
Other right-wing Knesset parties including the modern Orthodox Habayit Hayehudi and the largely secular Russian Yisrael Beitenu stuck with Netanyahu after his Bar-Ilan address. Neither has much use for the Kahaneists. Habayit Hayehudi has attacked Marzel for "desecrating religious Zionism" while Marzel and Lieberman hold each other in disdain. Settler elder Elyakim Haetzni has condemned the kind of violence associated with the Kahaneists.
Today's Zionist right is hawkish on security issues, steadfastly opposes a return to the 1949 Armistice Lines and is dubious about Palestinian intentions. In contrast, those who would upend rather than reform Israel's dysfunctional political system, oppose territorial concessions on the basis of God's will, are violence-prone and seek to supplant modern Israel with a theocracy fit elsewhere on Israel's political spectrum.
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
I am a Jerusalem-based journalist and political scientist and a senior editor at The Jerusalem Report focusing on the Jewish World. I’m a former editorial page editor at The Jerusalem Post and was founding managing editor of Jewish Ideas Daily. Over the years I’ve written for Newsmax, Israel My Glory and a range of other outlets. I was also editorial director for www.balfour100.com and recently published THE BALFOUR DECLARATION SIXTY-SEVEN WORDS – 100 YEARS OF CONFLICT. Before making aliya in 1997, I worked in NYC government and as an adjunct assistant professor of political science. My memoir about growing up on the Lower East Side (well, it is more than about that) THE PATER: MY FATHER, MY JUDAISM, MY CHILDLESSNESS is available via online booksellers, Amazon kindle, and (select) in brick and mortar bookshops. By arrangement, I brief individuals and groups visiting Israel on the conflict and Jewish civilizational issues. Let me hear from you: email@example.com
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