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Op-Ed: The Resurrection of 'Zionism Is Racism'

Among the smear tactics and efforts to discredit the Jewish state by its enemies, there is one golden oldie that never seems to die. Much like the blood libel that has attached to the Jewish people since the Middle Ages, the ?Zionism is racism? canard clings to life, resuscitated by Israel's foes whenever an appropriate opportunity presents itself.
Published: Sunday, August 04, 2002 11:25 AM


Among the smear tactics and efforts to discredit the Jewish state by its enemies, there is one golden oldie that never seems to die. Much like the blood libel that has attached to the Jewish people since the Middle Ages, the ?Zionism is racism? canard clings to life, resuscitated by Israel's foes whenever an appropriate opportunity presents itself.

The latest opportunity for use of the slur came when the Israeli cabinet voted 15-2 to approve the establishment of exclusively Jewish towns in the Galilee. Yet, like most controversies involving Israel, the truth has become so muddied with fiction that an accurate chronology of the events leading to this would-be legislation has been lost .

The background to the decision is as follows: In September 1999, Adel Ka'adan, an Arab citizen of Israel, appealed to the High Court of Justice against the against the State of Israel and the Jewish Agency, in which he claimed that the Homeowner's Association of Katzir, a communal settlement in the Galilee, had refused to accept his family into the settlement on the grounds of his family being Arab. In March 2000, the High Court of Justice instructed the State to consider allocating a plot of land to the Ka'adan family. In the wake of this decision, the Ka'adan family was referred to the Katzir Association for admission procedures. The Association did not accept the Ka'adan family inasmuch as the Association believed that the Ka'adan family did not meet the admissions criteria. The situation has remained unchanged during the past several months.

For many years, the growing demographic ratio of Jews to Arabs has been of concern to all Israeli governments - both right and left - and in the wake of the High Court decision, Knesset member Rabbi Chaim Druckman has proposed a bill that would mandate the creation of all-Jewish towns in the Galilee. The firestorm unleashed by the cabinet approval of the bill was immediate. Within a day there were front page stories in the Los Angeles Times and News York Times, vitriolic attacks from Shimon Peres and Benyamin Ben-Eliezer and even a condemnation from a long retired (and silent) Benny Begin, the son of the former prime-minister Menachem Begin. All lacerated the bill as undemocratic.

Yet, it is only fair to present the other side of the story. A Jewish resident of Katzir, Gil Ronen, told reporters that the Arab family's motives in wanting to move to the Galilee town were clearly of a provocative nature: "They played soccer during the sounding of the siren on Memorial Day, they would walk around with reporters and tell us that they plan to get rid of us in democratic ways and said they would demand to build a mosque, and the like..."

That Arab governments' wish to take advantage of Israel's weakening demographic position in the Galilee has been made clear in numerous statements from both Palestinian Authority representatives and Arab leaders. In November 2001, PA Minister for Communications Imad Faluji, speaking in Ramallah, urged Arabs to buy land in the Galilee , "wherever and whenever we can so that in ten years we will control the areas." The leader of Hizbullah in Lebanon, Shiekh Hasssan Nasrallah was reported in April of this year urging Israeli Arabs to " build on their land, even you don't own it, so that the Zionists do not have access to it."

The decision comes in the wake of the October 2000 Arab uprising in the Galilee, in which 13 Arabs - all Israeli citizens - were killed during a three day long riot. This spurred much soul searching in Israel. The deaths had many on the left decrying the failure of Zionism to fulfill its promise, as offered in Israel's own Declaration of Independence, "to ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race or sex." The argument ran that discriminatory practices of the Israeli government had transformed Israeli Arabs into a fifth column and it characterized the riots as a natural outcome of State-sponsored prejudice.

One has to wonder how a more tainted point of view could be adduced. Racism in the Middle East, is, after-all, a relative concept. For compared to their brethren in surrounding countries, Israel's Arabs literally swim in human and political rights. The freest Arab press in the Middle East exists in Israel. Israeli Arabs have equal voting rights with Israeli Jews and it is one of the few places in the Arab world where women have the right to vote. Arabs currently hold 10 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Israeli Arabs have also held various government posts, including one who served as Israel's Consul-General in Atlanta. Ariel Sharon's cabinet includes the first Arab minister, Salah Tarif, a Druze, who serves as a minister without portfolio. Arabic, like Hebrew, is an official language in Israel. More than 300,000 Arab children attend Israeli schools. Today, there are also hundreds of Arab schools; whereas, at the time of Israel's founding, there was only one Arab high school in the entire country.

None of these rights seem to have made an impression on certain members of the Israeli left or the international media. That is because they refuse to view Israeli democracy as a unique historical experiment, but choose instead to compare it with the democratic traditions of the far more developed political culture of the United States. There the concepts of justice for all, and equality before the law have become enshrined as cardinal principles of democracy and it is tantamount to heresy to challenge them.

Yet, it is questionable whether Israel fits or should be made to fit into the category of an absolute democracy. Surrounded by enemies whose political systems are demonstrably undemocratic, forced to fight five major wars to defend its territory, the State of Israel, should , in fact, be viewed as a qualified democracy, a State in which the defense and protection of its majority population and the need to preserve the Jewish character of the only country to which Jews en masse have recently been welcomed, supersede the exigencies of full democracy. It cannot be forgotten that it took the United States a catastrophic civil war and then an anguished 100 year battle for civil rights to achieve its current level of democratic pluralism. If democracy therefore obeys its own rules of evolution, surely the Israelis should be cut some slack in order to grow their own fledgling experiment in Jewish democracy into maturity.

For that reason High Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak was wrong to proclaim at the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem in June, that his decision to permit the Arab purchase of a home in Katzir was " a Zionist ruling in the true sense of the term." Zionism is clearly not racism, but equally it does not conform to the indicia of absolute democracy. Certainly Israel must protect its minorities, but that does not mean that it should willfully surrender, for the sake of an idealized concept of democracy, the founding and primary principle of Zionism itself - the establishment of a Jewish home in the ancestral Jewish homeland.
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Avi Davis is the senior fellow of the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies in Los Angeles and the senior editorial columnist for the on-line magazine Jewsweek.com.