One recent comment on this blog has noted a Haaretz article that quotes a study critiquing the finances and political functioning and future of the Meretz-Yahad/ Democratic-Israel party. This has been seized upon with some glee by left-wing opponents of Israel, as if the supposed demise of this progressive peace-oriented party would be good for the Palestinian people whom they claim to champion. It’s probably been noted with pleasure by the Zionist right as well, but happily I haven’t heard from this quarter.
One criticism had to do with the very small share of the Israeli-Arab (or Israeli-Palestinian) vote that Meretz garners. This is a challenge, but readers should understand that Israel has three political blocs that are basically Arab parties (two are entirely Arab in orientation and a third is officially bi-national but mostly Arab). Longstanding arrangements and loyalties exist in various Arab communities that cause a substantial number of Arab voters to support Labor, Likud and even (at times) the National Religious Party.
Moreover, Meretz’s disinclination to join a government coalition with which it has principled differences (including the current Kadima-led government that it’s been invited to join more than once), means that it has no favors to offer supporters which come from being in the government. In the past, and probably still today, Labor, Likud and the NRP have garnered Arab votes because of such favors or the prospect of such favors.
This problem does not have to do with any disinclination by Israeli members of Meretz to refer to Arab Israelis as “Palestinian citizens of Israel” (notwithstanding the belief of our frequent kibbitzer and critic, Ted). Meretz activists are usually as PC in their nomenclature as leftists are in this country. Moreover, Meretz is both a Zionist party, endorsing the view that Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, and a bi-national party that advocates the promise of Israel’s declaration of independence for equality under the law for all of its citizens. Toward this end, Meretz practices affirmative action for Arab members. A seventh Knesset seat would have automatically gone to an Israeli Palestinian.
We’ve inquired with our contacts at the World Union of Meretz about that study reported in Haaretz. It was more or less an independent initiative of a Meretz member, not an authorized party document. Though it contains some valid criticisms, its methods were questionable. For example, Jumas (the new party leader, Chaim Oron) was quoted in Haaretz as saying that the report examined the party as if it were a money-making business, not a political party.
The parts that got reported in Haaretz were made to look “juicier” by taking them out of context. The Meretz debt is well under control (“the banks loves us,” we were told, because the party is scrupulous in paying off its loans on schedule), and is actually quite small when compared to the debt that’s been run up by other parties in Israel. The party was nowhere near bankruptcy, they said, and the financial recovery plan instituted in 2004 is being adhered to.
This is exactly what I meant about Meretz trying to square a circle:
“Meretz is both a Zionist party, endorsing the view that Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, and a bi-national party that advocates the promise of Israel’s declaration of independence for equality under the law for all of its citizens.”
Can you imagine declaring official support for the US as the national home for WASPs, but suggesting that all non-WASPs will have independence and equality (I don’t know, maybe some US white supremacists say that)? Meretz’s position, as well as this hypothetical US situation simply defy common sense.
Additionally on this: “The Meretz debt is well under control (“the banks loves us,” we were told, because the party is scrupulous in paying off its loans on schedule), and is actually quite small when compared to the debt that’s been run up by other parties in Israel.”
I sure hope that Meretz’s debt is quite small compared to the larger parties, because Meretz is a much smaller party. So much for seemingly reassuring statements!
The US is historically a WASP-majority country, but we would not like to enshrine this in law. One reason for this is that WASPs are not a historically-persecuted or vulnerable minority everywhere outside of the US; this is why Ted’s ‘thought experiment’ about WASPs does NOT relate to Israel and Jews.
Most countries (certainly almost all in Europe and Asia) have a long-standing ethnic/cultural majority. None of these majorities wish to become a minority. All the more if that majority has a long history of being oppressed as a minority. This should not prevent a political party mostly comprised of progressive or liberal-minded members of the majority from working for equality and fair treatment for fellow citizens of minority communities.
Sorry, but the idea of a majority “needing” to remain a majority, at the expense of a minority is not a reality that any of us should endorse in any situation. I’m repulsed by French, Spanish or Dutch, who want desperately to keep their countries white, by Egyptians who want to keep out Sudanese, and by anti-immigrant racists in the US.
Your vision of Israel as a majority Jewish state, even within the pre-67 borders is untenable in the long-term, and the only way it can be sustained is by more and more qrotesque measures.
As you know, the population growth rate of Palestinian citizens of Israel is much higher than that of Jews, and that population will eventually catch up to that of Jews. Thousands of Africans will continue to try to cross the border from Egypt as part of migratory movements that are occuring worldwide from the impoverished South to the wealthier North. And Israel is locking out hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were driven from their homes in 1948.
In other words, Israel must maintain a fortress and do battle against demographic and immigration trends as well as refugee rights in order to maintain a Jewish majority in the long-term. I see no way that this can this be sustained without increasingly grotesque and unacceptable measures, as the world more adopts conceps of universal human rights, equality for all people and abhores racism.
I understand your desire to maintain a majority status as a result of Jews history of persecution, but as years pass, the holocaust recedes, new generations are born and Israeli measures needed to preserve “a Jewish state” become more and more anachronistic, the concept becomes less and less defensible, especially as everyone who is prevented from exercising rights or entering Israel is a poorer person of color.
Even the attempt, which is likely ultimately to fail, to cement Palestinian citizens of Israel into the status of a minority in perpetuity, come hell or high water, is morally offensive, and incompatible with the concept of equality. There can be no equality when one the state is enshrined as of one people and the majority in perpetuity.
I really can’t imagine that in your heart of hearts you and Meretz don’t all recognize all this, at least if you do truly embrace the concepts of rights and non-discrimination that you claim to embrace.
When and if we arrive at a time that anti-Semitism is no longer a reality in this world, and especially among Islamic and Arab countries where it has become endemic, then Jews will no longer need a sovereign haven. This would be a great prospect to look forward to, but given the course of human history, I won’t hold my breath.
Until that time, Israel has as much right as any other sovereign state to decide who it admits to citizenship and who not. This may not meet the high-minded standards of some, but Israel is not alone in this “shortcoming” and given the long history of anti-Jewish oppression, we know why. In the meantime, a political party that works for equal rights for all Israel’s citizens should be applauded and saluted rather than constantly needled, criticized or scorned.
What will you and Meretz do at the time in the not too distant future when the number of Palestinian citizens of Israel exceeds the number of Jews due to demographic trends? Will you and Meretz work to prevent that from happening in order to preserve a Jewish majority in a Jewish state?
Can you explain how “a political party that works for equal rights for all Israel’s citizens” believes such a vision can occur in a Jewish state?
Anti-semitism, anti-zionism and anti-Israeli views have undoubtedly grown in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since the 90s (see Erlanger’s NY Times article today for the current reality), a period when Palestinians had hope for their future and for the realization of their rights.
While you write that anti-semitism in the Middle East requires a sovereign Jewish state, how do reconcile that with the reality that the failure to realize Palestinian rights, in part due to the actions of that sovereign Jewish state, aggravates anti-semitism?
I fully agree with Ted that Israeli government actions have contributed to the failure of a two-state solution to-date. Should a Palestinian-Israeli minority become a majority, the State of Israel would have to conform to the will of the majority or it ceases to be a democracy. I would hope that both sides of the ethnic divide in Israel come to respect each other’s rights and interests.
But the prospect of a Palestinian majority is only likely if there is a failure to secure a two-state solution. The Palestinian birthrate within Israel is likely to decline with the growth of economic prosperity, as occurs everywhere that economies advance.