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A Back and Forth on Israel

By Matthew Yglesias  

"A Back and Forth on Israel"

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I got an email from a reader the other day saying:

I was wondering if you would consider opening up this question to response:

Do the people of Israel have a fundamental right to uphold and protect a Jewish state?

I ask, not because it necessarily precludes judging the nation’s recent actions in Gaza, but because the passion of the discussions on your blog and others seem to indicate, on some level, a disagreement on this point.

For example, I have noticed some commentators may say “of course, Israel has the right to defend itself”, and then go on to compare it to apartheid South Africa — which is problematic at the least, since nobody would say the Boers had a fundamental right to a Boer nation.

Ditto for criticism of Israel’s “racist immigration policy”, and so forth.

In reply, I said:

Sure. I don’t think Israel has any obligation to give in to, say, demands for an unrestricted Palestinian “right of return” to live within Israeli territory. Nor do I find it especially problematic that Israel uses Jewish ancestry as the basis for its immigration policy. Germany and other countries do the same.

But this is precisely what makes it so untenable for Israel to be exercising sovereign control over the Palestinian territories. What Israel is governing right now isn’t a Jewish state, it’s a binational state in which most of the Arab population is being denied its basic rights. We can see from the condition of the Israeli Arab population that Israel is perfectly capable of functioning as a Jewish state that respects the rights of a smallish Arab minority, but it’s obviously untenable to remain a Jewish state while granting full rights to the Gaza and West Bank Arabs. So under the circumstances, Israel has no choice but to cease governing and colonizing the territory in the West Bank and Gaza.

I’d say that’s a pretty conventional wisdom opinion in the United States. And even to some extent in Israel where really all the Labor and Kadima politicians acknowledge the basic reality of the point. But they’re not actually acting like they believe it nor does American policy really seem to reflect a belief in these points.

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