Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Untying the Knots

Critism and Debate: Yes or NO?

In response to the June 4th broadcast of On the Media on PBS

where these questions are asked:

Does criticsm endanger Israel's security?

Does honest debate ever pose a danger to democracy?

I must start with this question:

Can a religious state be a democracy?

Without in any way questioning Israel's right to exist- I wonder, how is it that in America, a country based upon the principles of separation of church and state, nobody questions the fact that Israel is a religious state in which political preference is given to one group over another.

I remember once, in the good old days of Ronald Reagan when, if you can believe it, the American people actually debated whether it was right to support an apartheid South Africa… Jeane Kirkpatrick, our ambassador to the U.N., made this comment: South Africa is a democracy– but only for some of the people.

My dictionary definition for "democracy" reads, "a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state."

I'm sure Ms. Kirkpatrick would have argued that some people are just not eligible, but we all know what democracy means. It means equal rights for all.

Here we are in America trying to get equal rights for women, for gays, for religious and ethnic groups of all kinds– not always successfully… but it just seems that flaunting a religious ideology as a basis for democratic government is– if not totally antiquated thinking– then at least heading in the wrong direction.

On the other hand, maybe I am wrong about America. When I see large groups of people seriously debating a ban on a Muslim mosque close to the site of the World trade Center, I am forced to wonder whether they would feel the same way about a ban on a Catholic church close to the site of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. Timothy McVeigh was a Catholic.

Of course Christians, Jews, and Muslims cannot be regarded equivalently. There used to be many Christian countries, although most are now shedding that classification... and there still are many Muslin countries, some who pose a threat– real or imagined– to Israel. Judaism is not just a religion, it has become a racial and cultural entity, which has been artificially crystalized into one single state. But if you think it is true that all Jews are culturally the same people, then you don't know the difference between Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Sephardic, Ashkenazi, Hassid, Jews for Jesus, etc. Consider the fracas which arose in Israel shortly after the huge influx of uncircumcised Soviet Jewry in the late eighties and early nineties. How could such a little thing cause such a big problem.

In light of the Nazi holocaust Helen Thomas may not have been particularly sensitive or diplomatic in her recent comments, telling Jews to go back to Germany or Poland– but in all fairness the holocaust happened sixty five years ago, and if we can give her any credit for her normal good sense, then we might assume that what she meant was that most Jews are not racially or culturally from Israel– they are of European or some other descent. They are culturally German, or Polish, or Russian, or American… or even Indian… or Chinese.

So why are we creating this confluence of religion, race, and culture, and landing it all on this one tiny part of the world? No wonder there is so much hostility there, we are all putting a huge amount of pressure upon the people who have to share that small location.

Catholics in the U.S.A. or in South America, or in Africa, or in the Far East don't consider themselves all one people. Neither, I should suppose do Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists or Rastafarians… well maybe Rastafarians do.

I suppose what I am saying is that the Government of Israel is not a homogenized thinking machine, neither are the people of Israel. Just like America… and every other country on Earth, it is a complex and messy web of contradictions. So when we threaten its existence… who are we threatening? When we criticize it… who are we criticizing?

Personally, I believe this is a free universe and do not support anybody's right to authority or dominion over any part of it. Having said that, I do respect the power of each of those self proclaimed authorities and so I always carry my passport with me when I travel. Sorry, but I just don't understand what the word patriotism means, and I defy anyone to define it to my satisfaction… or their own, for that matter.

Israeli zealots are not the only ones who don't like to hear criticism, we have the Glen Becks and Bill O'Reillys, England has its Nick Griffins. These people are not serious thinkers, they are like children having temper tantrums when they are disagreed with.

Of course we must have debate and criticism, these are essential ingredients of anything approaching true democracy. Any adult knows that. And as much as we must encourage the children to take part in these debates, they also need to know when to sit quietly and listen, so that they can have something of value to inject into the conversation. Yes their ideas must be treated with respect, but they must also learn to respect the ideas of others.


Additional Note:

Hanin Zuabi is a female Arab-Israeli member of the Knesset who was onboard the boat Mavi Mamara of the Gaza aid flotilla, where nine activists were killed by Israeli commandos recently. When she was released from custody she returned to the Knesset to speak about her experiences aboard the boat. The reaction with which she was greeted within that supposedly political organization boggles the mind. She was physically set upon by fellow members of the Israeli parliament, and had to be protected by bodyguards within the chamber of the Knesset. She was also shouted at, called by abusive names and threatened with death. She has since been told that she might face criminal prosecution for having been on the boat, and that many of her privileges as a member of parliament, including her diplomatic passport are to be rescinded. Perhaps an even more surrealistic development is that there have been over five hundred calls for her execution on Facebook.

To call this kind of behavior democracy would be the greatest use of 'doublespeak' since George Orwell.

Watch Democrarcy Now broadcast on this subject