Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Israel, racism, absolutism, solutions

Adrian, has commented on the post below (Is Israel Racist?). My response is long, so I am putting it here as today's blog.

The original post analysis shows that there is a case to be made that Israel is a state founded on racist ideology, and that the behaviour of the Israeli Government towards the Palestinians is consistent with the inequitable behaviour that is consistent with racism.

I realise this is a controversial area, but please react to what I have written, not to the existing controversy out there.

I am not attacking Israel. I have simply tried to analyse objectively, keeping close to the exact meaning of the words racism, race, and Zionism. If anyone can show that the logic of the situation is not as I have shown it to be, I will be more than happy.

To summmarise again, Jews are (probably) a race, Zionism is a movement to establish and support a state for the Jewish race, and Israelis have been behaving in an unfair way to those not of their race.

The Probably is of interest, because "race" has several different meanings, and it is doubtful that there is a clear scientific basis for the word.

Adrian asks, "If you think Israel is racist because it is a Jewish state, then what of the Islamic states; Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia".

I agree, Islamic states create enormous human rights problems for their citizens. In many ways, Israel is a freer society than, say, Saudi Arabia. There is a difference, in that in Israel, there is conflation with descent ("race") and religion. The Islamic states are characterised by religion only. Although having said that, I would expect that a Caucasian convert to Islam might experience some common or garden discrimination when he goes out and about.

I agree that Iran is a repressive regime. Ahmadinajad's idiotic Holocaust denial and desire for nuclear weapons (not to mention power) was mentioned in the original piece. Adrian gives links to a Human Rights Watch report on Iran.

Adrian: "'Has Israel treated Palestinians unfairly?' I think you need to look at more than this years war to answer that".

We cannnot overlook this year's war.

The link you give to refutations of myths is informative, but on the other hand a pro-Palestinian could give an equally lengthy list of instances of unfair treatment within the State of Israel, and a longer list of complaints relating to the effects of the blockade of Gaza &c &c.

'Arabs in Israel have equal voting rights; in fact, it is one of the few places in the Middle East where Arab women may vote'

This is welcome, and promises well for the future, a good basis to build on.

The problem lies in absolutism. The pro-Palestinian line is that Israel is Zionist, Zionism is racism, therefore Israel must be done away with. The orthodox line is that God has promised the Land to the Jewish people form Dan even unto Beer-sheba. These absolutisms mean only one thing: continuation of the present misery ad infinitum, or all out war.

A more nuanced (new word, thanks Gordon) or relativistic line would be that there are indeed ideological and practical examples of racism in Israel's constitution and behaviour, and these must be amended. The Law of Return would be a good place to start.

This approach is well established in child psychology. You do not tell a child that it is a bad child for doing something; you tell it that the behavior is not helpful, and show the child a better way to respond to events.

We Greens can and must transcend the absolutist, pro-/anti-Israel divide.

First, we need always to distinguish between people and regime. We wish to see both communities flourish with enough water, food, homes, health and security. At the same time we can be as critical as need be for the failures of the Governments, of the Israeli Government, which has made a huge mistake in Operation Cast Lead, and of Hamas, with its absolutist ideology and provocative rocket attacks (though they reduced substantially in the ceasefire), and of the corrupt Fatah regime (have they cleaned up their act yet?).

Greens should seek to be even handed in its criticism of the regimes, and should be constructive in our analysis of the diplomatic efforts that are under way. As things stand, our policy statements lean towards condemnations of Israel.

Most importantly, though, we should open a new front at the level of the community. This is why we should adopt the Water Project, and put it forward as something that the EU should support with significant resources. This will empower the communities, benefiting them directly in economic and physical terms, because a new water regime means more food and more prosperity.

I hope that Adrian will get Reading Green Party to look at and adopt the Water Project. We need to get beyond the pro/anti debate and get behind the pro-peace and prosperity agenda.


Adrian Windisch said...

Thanks Richard, this is a much better, more nuanced piece. I said 'you need to look at more than this years war', I didn't say I support Israel in that war. I don't know any Green that supports Israel in that way. I condemned its actions at the time, along with those of Hamas.

You refer to the PLO, but its Hamas and Fatah that seem to be the leading players now. And they have been fighting each other, consolidating their power.

I agree that Water will be a huge source of conflict in the future, in Israel as well as other countries. I think resources are the source behind most wars, but you sometimes have to dig to learn that.

studentmedic said...


As the Green Party of England and Wales, there is a good reason for us to focus our criticisms on the Israeli government rather than Palestinian government, even if their actions were as bad as each other (which I don't think they are but I think that argument is getting tired and I have made it elsewhere)

Simply put, it is Israel which gets support in terms of military and other aid from the UK and EU and therefore we have something specific the UK government could stop in helping to avoid the loss of life. This fact needs to be recognized. The UK government provides no real support to the Palestinian side in this conflict and thus is partisan.

If we were the Green Party of Iran, you would have a better case for us being critical of the Palestinian cause, but to not side with the oppressed against the oppressor is quite a difficult stand to defend particularly when our own country is aiding the oppressor!



DocRichard said...

Hi Studentmedic, thanks for commenting.

Yes, our Government and the EU is guilty of sending arms to Israel, and this should stop.

I do not think it should be a case of which side the Green Party or indeed, all reasonable people, should take. It is a disorder in the situation, the relationship, the system, that we all should be addressing.

It is true that Israel kills more people than Hamas, that they have more deadly weapons, that they have nuclear weapons, that they have the Law of Return, that they take more water, are taking the land, etc. etc. etc. They are the oppressor, and there the case can be made that Israel is a racist state.

Israeli oppression is make worse by the Hamas rockets. Hamas is making pinprick attacks on Israel, causing its fellow Palestinians to receive massive, deadly beatings from Israel. We understand why Hamas is doing this, because of the way land has been taken from them, but it it still a stupid provocation that makes things worse.

And, yes, there are other points that can be made from bot sides, ad infinitum,

This still should not force us to "take sides", because the "sides" are at war, so to take sides is to endorse warfare, and warfare is the problem, not the solution.

We Greens are on the side of peaceful resolution of conflict, and on the side of sustainable, peaceful co-existence. This is possible, but to do it, the carrying capacity of the Land must be increased. This can be done by the Water Project. In doing so, attention will be diverted from mutual resentment to mutual improvement, and energy will be diverted from destruction to construction. The grassroots, community activity associated with the Water Project means that the people are giving true leadership to the politicians, and it is reasonable to suppose that the politicians will be more inclined to work together for peace because of the Water Project.

To make a fanstastical medical analogy: it is as if we are faced with a patient with a strange neurological disorder, where the right side of the body is attacking the left side of the body. The right hand is dominant, so the left side is suffering horribly. A surgeon takes a look, and says, "OK, I'm up for it. We amputate the right hand and right leg". But luckily a physician comes up with a medicine that re-establishes systemic harmony, and amputation is avoided.

The Green Party should advocate the medical, not the surgical, approach. (Although I am not against giving a bit muscle relaxant just to ease the symptoms, in the form of an arms embargo on both sides).

Anonymous said...

I fully support Israel in their actions against the fascistic Hamas.

I know where I'd rather live. Especially if I were female, gay, non-muslim etc.

DocRichard said...

Hi Anonnynonnyno
Any reasonable person can support Israel in defending itself effectively against Hamas rocket attacks (but note that they stopped during the ceasefire) suicide bombings &c.

No reasonable person can support Israel's counter productive and disproportionate attack on the people and infrastructure of Gaza, nor the continuing blockade.

You may prefer to live in Israel, but the point is that if you are not of a certain race, you do not have that option.

All reasonable persons will work for a real peace that benefits both sides, not "victory" for one side over the other.



Jacob Sanders said...

"You do not tell a child that it is a bad child for doing something; you tell it that the behavior is not helpful, and show the child a better way to respond to events."

Richard, have you considered the possibility that the founders of Israel do not stand in relation to you in a position analogous to that of a child looking up to a wise adult?

Israel provided a home in which the Jewish survivors of the holocaust could live in relative security and dignity, without having the people who had murdered their families as neighbours. If you can offer a better response to this 'event' - the Holocaust, than the creation of a Jewish state, tell us what it is, and show that it would have worked.

DocRichard said...

Dear Jacob

Thank you for commenting.

The example from child psychology (“You do not tell a child that it is a bad child for doing something; you tell it that the behaviour is not helpful, and show the child a better way to respond to events.")

is shorthand for this:

One of the established and effective methods to change human behaviour is to identify and specify the precise behaviour that is not creating a desirable result
(that is, harmful to others and/or oneself). It is not effective simply to give a condemnation of the person as a whole; in fact that approach can make the situation worse.

Of course, there is much more that lies beyond simple behaviour modification; the unwanted behaviour has its cause, usually in existential anxiety – the fear of non-existence in all its many forms. The need to feel secure must always be addressed. And there are a million more words that can be written about behaviour modification, but sometimes less is more, where psychology is concerned.

I hope this will make clear that I was giving an example of a principle, not trying to score a personal point of some kind.

JS: “Israel provided a home in which the Jewish survivors of the holocaust could live in relative security and dignity, without having the people who had murdered their families as neighbours”.

RL: I agree wholeheartedly and completely. (Although the other side would say “that doesn’t account for the immigration from other lands, and then the Israeli side would mention that they felt insecure because of anti-semitism, and so the argument would spiral back into the infinite regress of accusation and counter accusation that we are all too familiar with. We can avoid plunging repeatedly into this same quagmire, we have to look forward, not back).

If you remember, the point about the Holocaust was in a motion that I/we put to Conference in 2007 (?), but the potted history review, with its emphasis on the cycle of mutual antagonism, was rejected as incomplete or too simple.

JS: “If you can offer a better response to this 'event' - the Holocaust, than the creation of a Jewish state, tell us what it is, and show that it would have worked”.

RL: I cannot offer a better response, and have never tried to do so, because Israel is now a political fact. I see no point in thinking what might have been, only “How might this situation be made better?”

That is a question worth answering. Here are a few headlines. Others more expert than I will have many more.

1. Cease fire.
2. Lift the blockade, while at the same time imposing a total arms embargo on both sides.
3. Get aid in to Gaza
4. EU and USA give support to the Water Project to both sides, working as much as possible on bi-community cooperation.
5. Both sides study confidence building measures to be found here:

Peace in the Middle East is possible, but will only come if we really bend our minds to working constructively on the paths to peace. And we have reason to believe that co-operation on the Water Project is an important component to achieving peace.

Some people might say I am a bad person for thinking these thoughts.

Adrian Windisch said...

Responding to the comment by Student Medic; when you practice medicine do you ignore some sick people while treating others?

We would be accused of hypocrisy if we had standards as you suggest. Another analogy would be to convict criminals who have stolen more than a million, and ignore those lesser ones. Justice is for all.

Anonymous said...

no you're bad for your lame respone to Hamas' policy towards jews and their abuse of people they don't like, and for posting Twitters such as "Ahmedinajad was right".

The modern middle-class (pejorative term I know but I think you get my drift) "left" love to flirt with this kind of thing. I detest it.

DocRichard said...

Hi Anonnynonnyno.

I wrote of Hamas, "...its absolutist ideology and provocative rocket attacks (though they reduced substantially in the ceasefire)"

It is impractical to give a thorough run down of every crime of every group every time we mention them. I have read the Hamas Charter, an ugly document, and its problems can be summed up as "absolutism". That is its ideological problem, and in practical terms, "provocation" is the worst effect of their actions, because it brings down the wrath of Israel onto the civilian population of Gaza.

Ok, I twittered Ahmedinajad was right. You neglected to say that I added "Unfortunately" afterwards.

This thread has attracted a lot of comments, but nobody has tried to knock down the logic (which shows him right over racism, unfortunately): If Jews are a race, and only Jews are allowed to return to Israel, then Israel is a racist state.

The counter argument, unstated, seems to be this: "The West does not sell arms to racist states. The West sells arms to Israel. Therefore Israel is not a racist state."

I hope I do not need to point out the flaw in this latter syllogism to anyone.

I really wish that someone could undo the logic. It is not something I relish at all, and I have been getting stick back channel for writing it. It was first drawn to my attention by someone with whom I normally disagree. In the end though, it is best to deal with truth, rather than trying to cover it up because it is inconvenient.

Sadly, the discussion is focusing on the negative side, rather than the positive solutions implicit in the Water Project.

Adrian Windisch said...

Please correct your link, youve too many http's

DocRichard said...

Thanks Adrian. There is no edit facility for comments that I know of
so peeps will either have to click the link and delete one of the http://, or copy this:


RobB said...

These discussions can and usually can go on with little change in opinion on either side. I can see no logic though in blaming Hamas or Iran or anyone else but Israelli leaders and those who supported them for the oppression and depressing limbo the Palestinians living in the occupied territories face. Israel can at anytime unilaterally dismantle its wall and re-erect it if it wishes on the pre 1967 boundaries agreed by and accepted by almost all including Hamas and the surrounding Arab countries to make peace. Un peacekeepers could be used if necessary.
Until such an agreement is made I think there is little hope of peace in the ME. Palestinians may provoke Israel, but they have no power to change anything worthwhile, only Israel can do that and as the very humanistic Israelli pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim said (something like from memory)"After 50 years of occupying Palestine how much longer does Israel need to secure its borders."
Rob Brookes

Anonymous said...

Richard, I do not think you are correct in saying Jews are a 'race' - I am not sure the concept of 'race' is particularly helpful - it picked up a nasty meaning in the 19th century and a genocidal one in the 20th, and reflects inaccurate and destructive beliefs about the determination of human behaviour. In this context, the use of the concept of race is disingenuous - it means that even if Israel can be shown to treat minorities better than any other country in the region, it is Israel which deserves criticism, being 'racist' because you have defined Jews as a 'race.'

I have seen birth certificates of Kuwaiti Bedouin stating that no-one should take the holder to be a Kuwaiti - the fact that not only they, but their parents and grandparents lived in the country for as long as it has existed gives them no rights there. This is in sharp contrast to the more favourable position enjoyed by the Bedouin and other minorities in Israel.

In the United Arab Emirates, 80% of the population are foreigners - in a western country they would be called ethnic minorities but in the UAE they will always be foreigners, however many generations they are there for - if they lose their jobs they will have to leave the country. There is no need here to distinguish between 'race' and 'citizenship' - the only way to acquire citizenship is by descent.

In Saudi Arabia, no-one who is not a Muslim can ever attain citizenship - Palestinians are excluded whatever their religion, because their role is to be cannon fodder against Israel, not to live their own lives. There are roads in Saudi Arabia where non-Muslims cannot drive:

Syria is run by a dictatorship buttressed by secret police forces. The state ideology called National Socialism is taught in all schools.

These are just examples, but they damn the English Green Party in that it is obsessive about Israel while ignoring failures elsewhere and has not provided a convincing explanation, free of the taint of antisemitism, of why this is the case.

If you believe, as I do, that every human life is irreplacable, then killings in one place can never make killings elsewhere any less terrible. But if you really believe in the value of human life, why would 20 times as many deaths in Tamil Sri Lanka be so much less interesting than the Israeli intervention in Gaza?

The Green Party of England and Wales - in contrast to Green Parties elsewhere - demands the ultimate perfection of non-existence from Israel, while ignoring human rights atrocities elsewhere. That being the case, I find its claim to be concerned with protection of human rights to have very little foundation.

DocRichard said...


This is interesting. I will have a think about this.

Meanwhile, what do you think about the Water Project?

Adrian Windisch said...

With respect to the Israel-Palestinean conflict, Daniel Barenboim has spoken about the need for both sides to begin to understand each other:"There is no way Israel will deal with the Palestinians if the Palestinians do not understand the suffering of the Jewish people ... [N]ow fifty years after that we have to accept co-responsibility for Palestinian suffering. Until an Israeli leader is able to utter those words there will be no peace."

Anonymous said...

Richard, I've only read a little about the Water Project. It certainly sounds well worth supporting. What do you think is the best way to give it practical support? Should the European Union offer funding to get it started - could Green MEPs propose that in the Euro Parliament - or has that already been done? What was the outcome?

DocRichard said...

At the moment I am just trying to build up support for the idea in the Green Party. It is being led by FoE Middle East. Ideally, the Green Party should be putting this forward as a peace building initiative in the EuroElections on June 4th, giving us a political initiative, with a promise that our MEPs will take this idea forward in the EuroParliament, calling for Europe to adopt and expand the FoE initiative. Unfortunately, this has been dismissed as a possibility, and I have in fact been asked not to blog on this matter any more, and certainly not to put it forward in the public arena (I am on the SW Green Party Euro list). A far as I can see, it is because it is seen as a contentious matter.

I am convinced of the rightness of the case for a Water Project as a vehicle for peace, but it looks as if there is no chance that it will be adopted by the GP in this election, the only way forward that I can see is to form a pressure group within the Green Party to bring a motion to the next Conference calling for our MEPs to push for it.