Israel’s Nation-State Basic Law is Not Based on Religion

There are a few democratic countries that do not have formalized constitutions such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand and the State of Israel. These governments occasionally issue broad laws to outline the basic principles of government. Israel did just that in July 2018.

Israel’s 2018 Basic Law of the Nation-State of the Jewish People was interesting for what it omitted as much as for what it included.

The focus of the law was about the connection between the nation, the land and the people. Specifically, the law outlined the connection between the modern state of Israel, the Jewish people and the Jewish Holy Land.

But the law clearly omitted the religion of the Jews, Judaism.

The law had no preamble about the God of Judaism’s forefathers of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the way that Ireland begins its constitution about Jesus and the Trinity.

The law did not declare Judaism as the State of Israel’s official religion, nor did it declare that there was an official “church” or head rabbi in the country. Such laws are found in several democracies such as for Roman Catholicism in Costa Rica and for the Eastern Orthodox Church in Greece.

Israel’s Basic Law did not declare that the leader of the country needed to belong to the official government church. Such a law can be found in Denmark’s constitution regarding the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

The law did not mandate that Judaism must be taught in school, a law that is found about Catholicism in Malta.

The law did not even state that Israel’s laws are based on Jewish values and inspired by the Jewish prophets as was stated in the country’s Declaration of Independence. Such a statement about Christianity features prominently in the constitution of Norway. Panama’a constitution mentions “Christian morality,” while Peru’s constitution calls out the “Catholic Church as an important element in the historical, cultural, and moral formation” of the country.

As a matter of fact, the Basic Law seemed to go to pains to not even refer to religion.

The law refrained from using the words “God,” “Judaism,” “Holy Land,” “sacred,” or “religion” anywhere in the text. While the law declared the “Hatikvah” as the national anthem, that anthem similarly avoids using any religious language. That’s in sharp contrast to 34 democracies that use “God” or “Lord” in their anthems including Canada, Italy and Switzerland, and others that specifically refer to Christianity such as in the Netherlands and Romania .

The 2018 Basic Law simply detailed that the Jewish people were connected to the land of Israel because of history. Yet in doing so, the law opted to not also underscore the deep religious and unique connection that Jews have for all of the land of Israel, and particularly for Judaism’s holiest city of Jerusalem.


Seal of King Hezekiah found at the southern Temple Mount in Jerusalem
who reigned c.715 – 686 BCE

The emphasis of Israel’s 2018 Basic Law related to the essence of Jews are a people, not adherents to a religion. International law in 1920 recognized “the historical connexion of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.” In 2018, Israel took that same step of laying out the long and deep connection between the Jewish people to the land of Israel, realized in the modern state of Israel.


Tel Dan Stele from c.840 BCE found in southern Syria referring to the “House of David”

Jews are the modern Israelites that had kingdoms in Canaan, Israel and Judah. Israel’s 2018 Basic Law affirmed that historical connection between the people and the land, and laid out the initial markings which characterize the reincarnation of the indigenous people in the modern State of Israel.

It is remarkable that Israel chose not to define itself by religion when so many democracies do so.


Related First.One.Through articles:

A Response to Rashid Khalidi’s Distortions on the Balfour Declaration

750 Years of Continuous Jewish Jerusalem

Abbas’s Speech and the Window into Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism

From the Balfour Declaration to the San Remo Conference

In Defense of Foundation Principles

Squeezing Zionism

The UN’s Disinterest in Jewish Rights at Jewish Holy Places

Gimme that Old-Time Religion

Related First.One.Through videos:

Religious Democracies (music by Bob Marley)

God is a Zionist (music by Joan Osborne)

Subscribe YouTube channel: FirstOneThrough

Join Facebook group: FirstOne Through  Israel Analysis

Advertisements

The Time Factor in the Israeli-Arab Conflict

It is true. Time moves at a different pace for the players in the Middle East.

Looking for some proof?

  • The acting-President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas said in September 2016: “We ask Great Britain, as we approach 100 years since this infamous declaration, to draw the necessary lessons and to bear its historic, legal, political, material and moral responsibility for the consequences of this declaration, including an apology to the Palestinian people for the catastrophes, misery and injustice this declaration created and to act to rectify these disasters and remedy its consequences, including by the recognition of the state of Palestine.” No joke. He asked Great Britain to apologize for the Balfour Declaration from 100 years prior that sought to facilitate the emigration of Jews to their holy land.
  • A poll of Palestinians conducted in March 2018 found that only 9% of Palestinians believed that there would be peace with Israel within 100 years.

Whether 100 years into the past or 100 years into the future, the Palestinians view the situation as stagnant. They hold onto perceived injuries of 100 years ago as if they just occurred, and imagine that they will feel the same in a century as well.

Is the Arab-Israel Conflict inherently unsolvable, or is the nature of how Arabs in the Middle East consider time simply different than how Israel and western societies relate to it?

Democracy-versus-Dictatorship

Political matters typically require immediate attention, such as budgets, trade policies, military contracts and establishing treaties. Governments seek to move at the pace of life – in the present – so the protagonists act to effectuate policies under their administration and ideally witness the associated results.

That mode of thinking is actually only relevant in a democracy. A government with a finite term that must seek re-election from its citizens is vulnerable to having a short stint in office. Its “present” is fleeting. However, a dictatorship has no set term limit of being in office or caring much about the opinions of its populace. Its “present” might extend for decades.

Consider the lengths of time that Arab leaders have stayed in power in the Middle East:

  • Syria. Bashar al-Assad has been in power for 17 years and counting while he decimates his country. His father Hafez al-Assad was the leader for 29 years.
  • Jordan. King Abdullah II has been king for over 19 years. He took over from his father King Hussein who was king for 47 years.
  • Saudi Arabia. The monarchs of Saudi Arabia have all been from the same family for generations, starting with Ibn Saud in 1932.
  • Egypt. Hosni Mubarak ruled for almost 30 years until the Arab Spring swept him out. The country tried democracy electing Mohamed Morsi, but he was quickly kicked out after just a year in office.
  • Libya. Muammar Gadaffi headed the country for 42 years until he was killed.
  • Tunisia. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali ruled for 24 years until he was swept out by the Arab Spring

The list goes on, even for non-countries.

The Palestinian Authority held elections in 2005 to elect a president for a four-year term. The victor, Mahmoud Abbas, has not held elections since then and remains as the acting-President nine years after his term expired.

The leadership in the Arab world is entrenched. The only method of deposing the leaders and changing the direction of the country is often by assassination, coup or civil war, such as those raging in Syria and Yemen.

In contrast, democracies do not stay entrenched, as the citizens vote for new leaders every few years. Healthy, peaceful democracies have established term limits for the highest office. As such, the leaders in democracies are cognizant of the most precious resource – time. They know that they have a short window to take action and make their mark on society. They can stretch that time by being very mindful of their citizenry, but ultimately, the time remains short.

A dramatic contrast in the orientation of time between democracies and dictatorships.

Secular-versus-Religion

When it comes to the Middle East, religion plays a significant role in politics and government.

Many of the wars that rage in the Middle East stem from the divide within Islam between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Iran and Iraq are predominantly Shiite, while much of the rest of the region is Sunni.

The civil war in Syria is as much about the majority Sunni Muslims fighting the Shia dictator that rules the country, as it is about a country seeking a new direction. Saudi Arabia and Iran are fighting a proxy war in Yemen about the future direction of that country, whether it will be headed by Shia or Sunni leaders.

In the Middle East, the battle between religions and sects has the added layer of the sensitivity regarding holy sites.

The region is packed with holy sites for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The fights for control extend beyond physical land and resources, to the spiritual centers for different people.

These spiritual locations operate on a different plane. They exist beyond time.

When competing parties fight over control of holy sites, they operate in the dimension of the divine, and consequently engage in a timeless dance. The earthly connection to the Heavens is eternally rooted in a handful of discrete locations, and it is impossible to “walk away” from those anchors. To do so would be akin to being a traitor and apostate. Relinquishing a holy site to a another sect – or even worse, a different religion – would forever tarnish a person’s reputation and that of his entire family. It would be seen as the ultimate failure, an embarrassment.

Conversely, a person could achieve eternal honor by becoming a ‘shahid,’ a martyr in Arabic, by fighting to the death to protect and/or seize a religious site.

The risk-reward mathematics drives a bloody calculation. On one side, there is a consideration of compromise and relinquishing some control over holy land to enable a better day-to-day life for one’s people, but forever be viewed as a traitor to one’s religion. On the other, is the fight for a holy cause that may not yield any benefits for one’s community, but ensures a revered space within one’s society. Is a better job for a few years a worthy trade-off to an eternity with 72 virgins? (Out of curiosity, do they stay virgins for eternity, meaning there is never any sex?)

Israel and Palestinians

Within the Islamic world stretching from Morocco to Indonesia, lies the only Jewish State, Israel.

Israel is more than a little unique in the Middle East. As the sole true democracy, its leadership changes often according to the desire of the Israeli citizens. The prime minister and parliament (Knesset) may be right-of-center at one time, and left-of-center shortly thereafter.

The current Israeli Prime Minister is Benjamin Netanyahu who has won several elections, and may set a record for the longest serving leader of the country, perhaps passing David Ben Gurion if he stays in power until July 16, 2019. The democracy has not instituted term limits as it is still in a state of war with many of its neighbors.

The acting-President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas has been in power since 2005, not by winning several elections, but by not conducting any. If he had, he would have been thrown from office many years ago by a population that considers him to be both corrupt and ineffective at governing (he’s great at stealing).

Even without a country, Abbas is a dictator, holding onto power without the blessing of his constituents. He stands above his people and above the law as he tries to grasp at the penumbra on the holy land. He imagines himself a timeless champion fighting on behalf of nearly 2 billion Muslims worldwide against the “Zionist Invasion.”

From his vantage point, Abbas can look back in time 100 years as though he were talking to someone in the back seat of a car. The Balfour Declaration of 100 years ago is still yapping, and the Jews keep piling on and will seemingly overload the car over the next 100 years. Time only changes the number of Jews in the car, but will not change his attitude towards Jews regarding their rights to sit in the car, let alone take the wheel.

For their part, the Israelis have made many offers for peace both with Palestinian Arabs as well as Egypt and Jordan over the years. Leaders like Ehud Barak and Ehud Omert knew that they had short windows in office to make a better more peaceful future for their citizens. They attempted different approaches towards compromise with the PA, only to be shut down each time. Real compromises, even in the very small Jewish Holy Land, which received no responses.

Dictators like Abbas have a different calculus, especially since he will be second-guessed by dozens of other dictators that have an interest in Muslim holy sites in Israel. The attitude and approach cannot be moderated by time. The Palestinian Arabs feel the same way:

Time is irrelevant. Feelings trump facts and frustrate a pathway to peace. But it doesn’t matter. Peace is not the goal. Control of the land and the holy sites are paramount. Issues like the economy, security, healthcare and rights always rank at the bottom of every Palestinian poll.

The unaccomplished former US Secretary of State John Kerry understood the Arab world’s perception of time. Kerry suggested in January 2018 that the Palestinians “hold on and be strong,” and “play for time, that he [Abbas] will not break and will not yield to President [Donald] Trump’s demands.” Hey, Abbas! You are a dictator and Israel and the United States are democracies. You can wait it out. Screw today. Stick it out and wait for a better payday.

Play for time. Only democracies have a shot clock.


The Western World views time very differently than the Arab Middle East. As secular democracies, the West seeks to enjoy and improve life in the here-and-now, while the Arab Middle East is a world of religious dictatorships where time is not a critical factor. Any negotiations between parties that view time so differently must be mindful in considering short-term and long-term situations and goals, and adjust. Specifically, a democracy must adapt to either be willing to wait forever and show no rush towards concluding a deal (adopt the Arab approach), or demonstrate that time is an enemy to the dictatorship (force the Arabs to play with a shot clock too).

Israel has slowly learned the lesson. Will the rest of the West?


Related First.One.Through articles:

Failing Negotiation 101: The United States

Failing Negotiation 102: Europe

The Israeli Peace Process versus the Palestinian Divorce Proceedings

Delivery of the Fictional Palestinian Keys

Nikki Haley Channels Robert Aumann at the UN Security Council

The Parameters of Palestinian Dignity

Would You Rather Have Sovereignty or Control

The Proud Fathers of Palestinian Terrorists

Subscribe YouTube channel: FirstOneThrough

Join Facebook group: FirstOne Through Israel Analysis

The U.S. is Stealing Real Choices from the Voters

The United States of America prides itself on its democracy.

Americans strongly believe that the country gives its citizens the right to choose the course of their lives, much as they can choose to elect a leader of their liking. It is a mantra that President Abraham Lincoln encapsulated in his prayer for at Gettysburg in 1863, about freedom in the USA, “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from this earth.

Embedded in those words is the notion that ALL people have the ability to serve in the U.S. government for the benefit of ALL Americans.

But remarkably, there are some families that seemingly have a stranglehold on political office. They have names like Bush, Clinton, Kennedy and Cuomo. Brothers, sons, wives and cousins with the same last name show up as presidents, senators, governors and congressmen. Decade after decade.

The notion that any and all Americans have a shot at being a leader in government feels more like a fairy tale than a foundation principle of the country.

And it is rooted in corrupt mechanisms that those people in power use to cement their positions in government.

Governor Andrew Cuomo
and the Women’s Equality Party

Andrew Cuomo is the current Governor of the State of New York. He served as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Clinton Administration from 1997 to 2001 (often accused of creating the foundational mess for the great housing and stock market collapse in 2008-9 due to encouraging banks to provide housing loans to people whom could not afford them) before becoming Attorney General of New York and then Governor.

Not coincidentally, his father Mario Cuomo also served as governor of New York.

But it is not just the famous name, lineage and connections that help cement Andrew Cuomo in power (his brother Chris Cuomo is a famous TV journalist). It is also very much about his gaming the system in his favor.

In 2014, Governor Andrew Cuomo – the most powerful Democrat in the State of New York – decided to launch another separate political party. If that sounds too outrageous to be true, you haven’t looked into New York politics.

Noting how many women were voting Democratic, Andrew Cuomo created the Women’s Equality Party. A new party, beyond his Democratic Party, solely focused on women’s issues.

And who did the Women’s Equality Party support for governor? A woman? Of course not. It backed its creator, Andrew Cuomo.

When an average New Yorker went in to the voting booth to elect a governor in 2014, did he or she get to choose from a wide array of candidates? There were many parties listed on the ballot including the Green Party and the Independence Party and the Reform Party…. so many choices beyond the major Democratic and Republican Parties.

But the long list of parties posted a fiction. There was no choice.

Andrew Cuomo was not only listed as a candidate by the Democrats, but by the Working Families Party, the Independence Party, and the Women’s Equality Party. Rob Astorino of the Republican Party also showed up under the Conservative Party and the Stop-the Common-Core Party (now called the Reform Party).

Two individuals showed up seven times to voters!

How impressive these candidates must have been that so many parties endorsed them! And the Women’s Party endorsed Cuomo too! He must be extremely pro-women, even if no voter could recall anything he did for women as the sitting governor. (Of course there was no footnote on the voting form that Cuomo himself created and named this new party to ensnare those single-issue voters).

But the Cuomo machinations were not done.

You see, New York State has some funky rules for getting on the Voter Registration Form. A party must have at least 50,000 votes in the governor contest to appear as an “official party” over the next four years. For Cuomo’s new entity to get staying power, he needed to funnel some of the votes that would normally come to him via the Democratic, Working Families and Independence Parties to come through the Women’s Equality Party to establish it for the next several years.

And wouldn’t you be shocked to learn, that of the over 2 million votes that Cuomo received in 2014, just over 53,000 – barely enough – came from the Women’s Equality Party. Just enough to be on the New York Voter Registration Forms. What a happy coincidence! Wink.

Not only did New Yorkers have few choices for governor despite the multiple parties in the race, they were deceived and manipulated by Cuomo and the New York Board of Elections.

Libertarians – The Invisible Third Party

In the 2014 New York governor contest, the Green Party and Libertarian Party each promoted a distinct candidate not named Cuomo or Astorino. The Green Party candidate won almost 5% of the vote, but the Libertarian candidate only gathered 17,000 votes. Due to New York State rules of needing 50,000 votes to be an “official party,” the Libertarians are now invisible on New York State Voter Registration Forms.

VoterRegistration2015

The Libertarian Party had the third greatest number of votes in the 2016 presidential election. The Libertarians won more votes than all of the minor parties COMBINED.

But if you want to register as a Libertarian in New York, you have to skip over eight other choices and go to the “Other” category and type in “Libertarian.”

Don’t think there’s an impact? Here are the totals of registered voters in New York as of April 2018:

  • Democrat           6,201,033
  • Republican        2,823,758
  • Independent         481,831
  • Conservative        155,500
  • Working Families   46,453
  • Green                    29,787
  • Other                       7,329 (including Libertarian)
  • Women’s Equality    4,675

So how does the Women’s Equality Party get 53,000 votes when fewer than 5,000 people are registered with the party? Well there are over 2.6 million people that didn’t affiliate with any party. And of course, there’s Cuomo’s influence that helped make it happen.

It would have been so much easier to just be a politician from royalty and cook up your own political party…

The Majors at the Margins
and the Minors at the Edges

Voters are increasingly disillusioned by the Democratic and Republican Parties, which have become more and more extreme as they fight to appeal to the excited base at the margins through their respective primaries. As of 2017, Liberals accounted for 48% of the Democratic Party, dwarfing the middle of the road Conservative Democrats which are down to just 15% of the party (and shrinking). The Republicans’ situation is not better. To review the Republicans on the Judicial Committee which approves judges, is to look at a cast of characters that are all almost exclusively Conservative purists (only three of eleven members had a GovTracks rating of under 0.85 – Chuck Grassley; Lindsay Graham; and Ben Sasse).

Meanwhile the small niche single-issue parties like the Green Party continue on their extremist ways. They either push an extremist candidate like Jill Stein (Green Party), or endorse the Democrat or Republican candidate, to stay relevant and on the voter registration forms. Ideological purists on one hand, or tools of the establishment and election committees on the other.

The dynamic has led to a false array of choices which have become more extreme, and single issue marginal candidates. You can either binge watch Law & Order on Netflix or three different cable channels OR you can watch SproutTV and wait for the cable channels to drop it from the visible universe.

Needed Overhaul

It is time to dramatically overhaul our election system to bring genuine mainstream choices back to voters.

  1. Any political party that wins at least 2.5% of the votes in the last presidential election should be on every state’s voter registration form
  2. If a political party does not field a distinct candidate from the other parties for two consecutive election cycles, it gets removed from the state’s voter registration form
  3. If a political party does not field a distinct candidate from the other parties for three consecutive election cycles, it does not appear on the election form
  4. The threshold of reaching the voter registration form should be 1.0% of the gubernatorial election, not 50,000 (in New York). An absolute number is unfair, especially if few voters turn out, and it should become a standard for all states.
  5. Any candidate from any party that calls for violence against a U.S. citizen must be removed from the ballot. It is time to bring back the most basic level of civility.

The founding fathers of the United States imagined a country based on the principles of freedom and liberty and feared the abuse of power and the coercive nature of people who played games with election process, money and judges. President James Madison may have had Andrew Cuomo (and his family, appointees and political parties) in mind when he said:

“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

Americans are being robbed of quality moderate choices for leadership positions, and the runaway train seems to be just gathering steam.


Related First.One.Through articles:

Naked Democracy

Let’s Make America VOTE Again

Libertarian Validation and Absolution

In The Margins

In Defense of Foundation Principles

Losing Rights

A Country Divided

“Coastal Liberal Latte-sipping Politically-correct Out-of-touch Folks.”

Is Calling Someone a ‘Nazi’ Simply a ‘Poor Choice of Words?’ Ask a Westchester Democrat

Subscribe YouTube channel: FirstOneThrough

Join Facebook group: FirstOne Through Israel Analysis

Nakba 2: The Victory of a Democracy

The world has been long educated by Palestinian Arabs about the “Nakba”, the “disaster.” It was during 1948-9 when the newly established country of Israel withstood the onslaught of five Arab armies to not only survive, but to accumulate additional territory. All of that land was considered by the Arabs to be “Arab Land,” and Israel’s victory was not only an affront to their sensibilities as the rightful owners of the land, but was exacerbated by the fact that Israel did not allow the Arabs that left the region during the war – which they themselves had started – to return to their houses.

The Palestinian Nakba of 1948-9 was the founding of a Jewish State that the Arabs considered without merit, and the status of 711,000 Arabs who lost their homes to such foreign transplant. Adding insult to their situation was Egypt taking over Gaza without giving the local population citizenship. The Arabs on the west bank of the Jordan River at least got Jordanian citizenship.

In solidarity with their Arab brothers, over the following years the Arab countries from the MENA region evicted 1 million Jews from their midst, performing an ethnic cleansing of Jews for thousands of miles. Many of those Jews moved to Israel, to become citizens alongside the 160,000 Arabs who were already granted Israeli citizenship.


Israeli flags over Latrun Tank Museum,
scene of important battles in the Israeli War of Independence
(photo: First.One.Through)

The Palestinian Nakba would repeat in 1967.

Once again the surrounding Arab armies poised to destroy the Jewish State.

  • “The problem before the Arab countries is not whether the port of Eilat should be blockaded or how to blockade it – but how totally to exterminate the state of Israel for all time.”   –  President Gamal Abdel-Nasser of Egypt, May 25, 1967
  • The Syrian army, with its finger on the trigger, is united. I believe that the time has come to begin a battle of annihilation.”  –  Syrian Defense Minister Hafez Al-Assad (later President)
  • Those [Israelis] who survive will remain in Palestine. I estimate that none of them will survive.”  –  PLO Chairman Ahmed Shukhairy

However, once again Israel would defeat those that were ready to annihilate them. Once again the Israelis would take over more land. And once again the local Arab population would cry out to the world that they were the victims, and ask the world to isolate the Jewish State.

Nakba #2 left more of the local Arab population under Israeli authority. The Arabs in Gaza, Sinai, “West Bank”, and even the Golan Heights were no longer under Arab control or authoritarian rule. They were now subject to a democracy; and a Jewish one at that.

The Arabs claim that Nakba #1 had its roots in the western powers of Britain, France, Italy and Japan carving up the Ottoman Empire to fit their global ambitions. Those democracies chopped up “Arab land” (note that the Ottomans are not Arab) into fiefdoms and added an alien Jewish democracy squarely into the middle of it. To this day, Palestinian leadership asks Britain for an apology for the actions of 100 years ago, and Iranian leadership declares that the region needs to “cut out the cancer of Israel.

Nakba #2 of June 1967 continued to spread the foreign democracy into the Middle East, but only in part. Israel only annexed the eastern part of Jerusalem and gave everyone – Jews and non-Jews – in the area full rights. However, Israel declined to annex the other regions in the hope of trading portions of the land for peace. In 1979 it traded Sinai (which was never part of the Palestine Mandate) with Egypt for peace. It abandoned Gaza for war. And it negotiates with the Palestinian Authority about the future of the land east of the Green Line (EGL).

The short windows of Israeli control failed to instill long-term democratic values into the areas. Sinai is just another part of Egypt that is quickly removing the removing its Christian minority. Gaza is run by the terrorist group Hamas that is backed by the local radical Islamist population. And Area A of the West Bank where the Palestinian Authority has control, is managed by a corrupt regime that refuses to hold elections.

The newborn democracy survived an Arab onslaught in 1948, and the fledgling democracy would not be annihilated by the forces of hate and intolerance in 1967. While countries like the Islamic Republic of Iran still threaten to destroy the region’s only democracy, others have since given up on the pledge. Still, regrettably, Israel’s lessons of tolerance and democracy seem to be a hard tradition to instill in its neighbors.

For the Palestinians, the Nakba is that the foreign democracy still exists in their midst. For the western world, the disaster is that the Arabs in the region still cannot tolerate democracy.


Related First.One.Through articles:

A Flower in Terra Barbarus

The Undemocratic Nature of Fire and Water in the Middle East

Israel was never a British Colony; Judea and Samaria are not Israeli Colonies

750 Years of Continuous Jewish Jerusalem

Nicholas Kristof’s “Arab Land”

Israel, the Liberal Country of the Middle East

Stabbing the Palestinian “Right of Return”

Subscribe YouTube channel: FirstOneThrough

Join Facebook group: FirstOne Through  Israel Analysis

Israel’s Peers and Neighbors

Observers of Israel often consider the appropriate benchmark for the country. To whom should Israel be compared? Against the Western world or its neighbors in the Middle East?

Western World Peers

The arguments to compare Israel to western countries such as in Western Europe and North America are plentiful.

Democracy: Israel is a democracy in which all citizens of the country elect its leadership, similar to the western world. That is in stark contrast to its neighbors that have monarchies and dictatorships.

Freedoms: Israel believes in various freedoms, including of religion, assembly and press. Such freedoms are cornerstones of western values, but difficult to find elsewhere in the Middle East.

Economy: Israel’s economy is based on capitalism. It has been termed the “start-up nation” due to the tremendous number of companies that are launched by ordinary Israelis. This compares to the economies dominated by oil money controlled by governments among Israel’s neighbors.

The long list of commonalities is detailed in “Israel, the Liberal Country of the Middle East.”  The peer group for Israel according to its principles and values is indeed the western world, not the MENA region.

Neighbors in MENA
(Middle East and North Africa)
israel_surrounded_sm
Arab World

Israel resides in a predominantly Arab neighborhood.  The people of the Arabian Peninsula spread en masse from the region shortly after the founding of Islam, during the 6th and 7th centuries.  In some locations, like Turkey, the Arab invasion was repelled, even while the Islamic religion still took hold in the area.  There are now 22 Arab countries and 57 Muslim countries, most of which surround Israel.

muslim_distribution
Muslim World

While Israel is unique in being the only Jewish State in the world, it’s uniqueness is magnified within its neighborhood that is almost uniformly Arab and Muslim.  Many of these Muslim countries are governed by Sharia, Islamic law, while others have laws that are Sharia-inspired.  These laws have little in common with laws found in western countries.  This is even true where the British held Mandates after World War I, such as in Jordan and Iraq.

Judging Peers

English Common Law has a concept that a person should be judged by a group of one’s peers.  The rationale for this provision was to afford context and humanity to the cold rule of law.  As peers should know a defendant better than a judge, those individuals in the jury could fine-tune the rule of law for the specific case and party.

In the United States, the concept of “peers” has been adjusted to “neighbors.”  The jury pool in the US courts system pulls in people from an entire region.  The individuals in such neighborhood likely have a wide range of backgrounds, including: race; religion; occupation; wealth; political views, to name a few.  US law requires that any party that knows the defendant – presumably who are more likely to be “peers” – to be excluded from the jury so as to avoid favoritism.  As such, the US system has moved from a court of peers to one of neighbors.

What happens when one’s peer group and one’s neighbors have nothing in common?  An extreme example happens every day in the court of world opinion regarding Israel.

Judging Israel

Neighbors: Israel’s neighbors have opposed the very existence of the Jewish homeland since such concept became international law in the 1920 San Remo Conference and the 1922 British Mandate for Palestine.  Sporadic riots in the 1920s became a multi-year war 1936-9, when the Arabs convinced the British to roll back the essence of the laws to curtail Jewish immigration and cap the number of Jews in Palestine, as well as to limit where Jews could live.  When Israel declared independence in 1948, Arab armies from that surrounded Israel fought to destroy the country.

The parties have been at war ever since, with the exceptions of Egypt and Jordan which made peace with Israel in 1979 and 1994, respectively.

Today, the 57 Muslim nations that comprise the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), vote as a bloc at the United Nations, and consistently condemn Israel for anything and everything, as they view the “Zionist entity” as illegal and unjust.

Clearly, this is not a group of neighbors that can be used as a “jury of one’s peers” to assess whether Israel is acting appropriately in any given matter.

oic_11
Representatives of the OIC

Peers: Israel cares about the opinions of its peer group in western Europe, North America and Australia.  These countries share Israel’s values and have ongoing trading and commercial relationships with Israel.

Much of the criticism against Israel from its peer group relates to Israel’s activities in the disputed territories east of the Green Line (EGL/West Bank). Some governments claim that Israel “occupies” the Palestinian people and takes over “Arab land.” Those critics call out Israel for its use of its military and point to lopsided casualty figures in Israeli-Arab wars. They protest Israel’s use of roadblocks, the security barrier, and of house demolitions of terrorists.

The flaw of such commentary is that it inherently assumes that Israel’s peer group exists – or could exist – in the same environment as Israel.

A Mile in Their Shoes

As detailed in “Israel: Security in a Small Country,” Israel is almost 1/500th of the size of the United States, but has three times as many neighbors. It is half of the size of the Netherlands, but no Dutch neighbor refuses to recognize its right to exist. Israel may have a similar number of countries bordering it as Argentina, but none of Argentina’s neighbors have launched numerous wars against it over the past decades.  The United Kingdom may have knowledge of the region from managing the Palestine Mandate from 1924 to 1948, but when was the last time England had foreign tanks and fighters on its home soil?  France may have experienced terrorism, but is there a country working to obtain nuclear weapons that threatens to wipe it off the map?

In short, Israel’s values’ peers do not have comparable security issues.

conflict map
Israel’s values’ peer group of western Europe, North America and Australia
are peaceful relative to the raging conflicts in MENA

When countries in the western world do have moments of inflamed security concern, such as when France suffered from terrorist attacks in November 2015, that country quickly went on the offensive. It instituted curfews. It performed raids on apartments. It curtailed a range of freedoms…. much as Israel does when it confronts security concerns on a continual basis.

Members of French special police forces of the Research and Intervention Brigade (BRI) and forensic experts are seen near a raid zone in Saint-Denis, near Paris, France, November 18, 2015 during an operation to catch fugitives from Friday night's deadly attacks in the French capital. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann - RTS7R5L

Members of French special police forces of the Research and Intervention Brigade (BRI) and forensic experts are seen near a raid zone in Saint-Denis, near Paris, France, November 18, 2015 during an operation to catch fugitives from Friday night’s deadly attacks in the French capital. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann – RTS7R5L

After the United States was attacked on September 11, 2001, it went on a multi-year, multi-country war, which is still ongoing in Afghanistan.  Many more people have been killed in the US wars on terror, than were killed on 9/11.

Israel has faced more than a terrible day of violence; it has daily assaults.  Israel has faced more than just terrorism; it has existential threats.  And it has continued to confront these security concerns, ever since the country was reconstituted in the 20th century.

Israel’s peers have not walked a mile in Israel’s shoes.  They have simply put them on and taken an uncomfortable first step.  And as they have done so, they have shown their determination to protect their civilian population and way of life.


Israel shares the democratic values of much of the western world. The critics from Israel’s peer group should recognize and celebrate the society that Israel has been able to create inside the illiberal Middle East. Those peers must also come to recognize and differentiate between the peaceful environment in which they live and the hostile environment in which Israel resides.


Related First.One.Through articles:

A Flower in Terra Barbarus

Murderous Governments of the Middle East

Seeing Security through a Screen

Obama’s “Values” Red Herring

The Disproportionate Defenses of Israel and the Palestinian Authority

Subscribe YouTube channel: FirstOneThrough

Join Facebook group: FirstOne Through  Israel Analysis

A Native American, An African American and a Hispanic American walk into Israel…

Restoring the indigenous population to their land

Native Americans: Native Americans lived in the United States for millennia before Europeans discovered the land. Within a few hundred years, the Europeans overwhelmed the native population and effectively banished them from their lands and homes. To add insult to the injury, the invaders forced new religions onto the remaining tribes.

In the 20th century, Americans began to slowly reverse course and offered more rights to the Native Americans, including American citizenship in 1924. At present, the United States recognizes several hundred Native American tribes and gives them some degree of autonomy in lands of their own.

Jews: Jews have lived in the land of Israel for roughly 3700 years. They had two independent kingdoms in the land and built their holiest Temples there. Roughly 1900 years ago, Romans destroyed the Second Jewish Temple, forced conversion on thousands of Jews, banned Jews from Jerusalem, and renamed their holy land “Palestine”. While some Jews continued to live in the Holy Land, most were dispersed throughout the world.

In the 1800s Jews began to move back to their holy land in greater numbers. While much of the land had been taken over by Arabs who invaded Palestine in the 7th century, the world sought to reconstitute the Jewish homeland as so declared in the the 1922 League of Nations Mandate of Palestine.  The British assumed their Mandate of Palestine to encourage Jewish immigration, land ownership and citizenship in Palestine in 1924, the same year that America offered all Native Americans citizenship.

From Slavery

African Americans: While the Europeans came to conquer the New Worlds of North and South America, they brought Africans with them to be their slaves.  It took hundreds of years for the United States to abolish the inhuman treatment of African Americans.

Jews: The Jewish people became a nation when they emerged from hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt 3500 years ago.  It was only at that time that they received the Bible and entered the promised land.

On January 1, 1863, US President Abraham Lincoln freed the black slaves in America, and just three days later, he abolished the most anti-Semitic decree in US history when he overrode General U.S. Grant’s order to expel the Jews.  In one week, Lincoln actively asserted the self-evident rights and dreams in the US Constitution, “that all men are created equal,” including blacks and Jews.

MLK

Advancing Minorities’ Interests

Hispanic Americans: Hispanics were always a decent segment of the United States population from the earliest colonies.  However, in 1964 and 1965, new laws were passed in the United States which dramatically increased their number and visibility.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made discrimination unlawful, and the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 ended a quota system from certain countries.  With those actions, the number of immigrants coming to the USA from Latin America jumped from 9% to 44% from the 1950s to the 1980s.

Jews: Jews were an unwelcome minority in many countries in the world, and in many parts of the United States.  Golf Clubs, universities and private clubs would not admit any Jews – some publicly, and others, privately. The same laws that addressed inequalities for black and Hispanic minorities, also helped Jews in America.

Beyond America’s shores, just a few years after the acts of 1964 and 1965, the Kingdom of Jordan which had evicted and banned every Jew from the area of Palestine it conquered in 1949, attacked Israel again.  In so doing, it lost that region of Palestine it had illegally annexed, the “West Bank.”  Israel quickly repealed the anti-Semitic bans and welcomed Jews once more.

American Minorities Come to Israel

Minority groups in America “get” the Jewish State of Israel.  African-Americans understand a history of slavery and persecution.  Native Americans understand being torn from land, culture and religion.  Hispanic Americans understand being excluded.

When these groups look at Israel, they instinctively get why the world made some attempt to rectify the long history of expelling and murdering Jews throughout Europe, Russia and northern Africa.  They have sought the same kind of consideration themselves.

But even more, when they come to Israel – to the reconstituted Jewish State – they see a success story.  They see that the vanquished can be victorious.  Where the excluded are now the leaders.  Where the defenseless are now a military powerhouse. Where a forgotten language has been reestablished.  Where a barren land has become an environmental leader.  Where a bankrupt society has become a financial success story.

Minorities that come to Israel see a country where minorities count.  Where women account for 24% of the Israeli Knesset, compared to only 16% in the US Congress.  Where Arabs represent 14% of the Knesset, versus only 8% black representatives in the US Congress.

Martin Luther King saidPeace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect her right to exist, its territorial integrity and the right to use whatever sea lanes it needs. Israel is one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security, and that security must be a reality.

Israel is not just a success story for Jews; it is a beacon of hope for minorities around the world.


Related First.One.Through articles:

Israel, the Liberal Country of the Middle East

In Israel, the Winner is… Democracy

Subscribe YouTube channel: FirstOneThrough

Join Facebook group: FirstOne Through  Israel Analysis

Active and Reactive Provocations: Charlie Hebdo and the Temple Mount

Leaders of the Western World came to the defense of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in early 2015, after radical Islamists gunned down the staff in their offices. Those leaders stood in solidarity with the French in the name of freedom of speech. Yet those same leaders have not rallied to the side of Israel while Islamic radicals murder and attempt to murder Israelis for an even more basic principle.

empty-street-in-Jerusalem-during-Yom-Kippur
Empty Street in Jerusalem

Active Provocation

An act of active provocation is one in which the action itself is specifically designed to provoke and upset an individual or group. The person taking the action does not have any benefit from the activity, other than the enjoyment of upsetting someone.

For example, when Pamela Geller held a “Draw Mohammed” contest in Texas in May 2015, the event was designed to upset Muslims. The action of portraying the Islamic prophet in physical form is considered highly insulting to many Muslims, and several people came to the event with the goal of killing participants for the sacrilegious act.

While people came out in defense of Geller for exercising her right of free speech, few would argue that Geller had any personal benefit from her actions other than getting satisfaction in hurting the feelings of Muslims.

Reactive Provocation

Reactive provocation is significantly different from active provocation. Such activity has personal benefit and there is no intention of malice. For example, a person may eat a turkey sandwich which they truly enjoy, even though another person may be a vegetarian and find the action upsetting.

Everyone has sensitivities. How far could a society extend itself to ban certain “normal” activities because some people may be offended by the actions?

Would a government ban gay people from holding hands in public if it upsets the values of some religious people? Would it ban all meat because it upsets vegetarians?  It would be impossible to navigate such a world in which anyone could object and block any action.

America was founded on the principle of the “pursuit of happiness” and has defended such right in cases of active provocation such as Pamela Geller in the US and Charlie Hebdo abroad. How could it do less for situations of reactive provocations?

Western Values versus Personal Interest

Various western societies offer a wide spectrum of freedoms including, speech, assembly and religion meant to cover elements of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Western culture is designed to offer space for different people to live and interact, even if various belief systems are in conflict. The expectation is for tolerance of different and possibly offending views.

The raison d’etre of Charlie Hebdo is to offend. It’s cartoons are examples of active provocation whereby people deliberately upset others. While the comedic value of some of the pieces could be debated, the principle of freedom of speech is core to western society and fiercely protected. While writing a magazine is not a common activity, free speech is a daily activity of everyone, so the leaders of western countries stood together to defend active provocation and all forms of free speech.

hebdo march
World Leaders come out in solidarity with France
January 2015

In Israel, people also attempt to live with ordinary freedoms.  Like other democracies, they include freedom of speech, press, religion and assembly. But such freedoms sometimes offend radical Muslims.

The Temple Mount has maintained established visiting hours for Jews and non-Jews alike for any decades.  People of all faiths visit the site.  They do so as a natural act of visiting an incredible tourist site or because of religious conviction.  They do not visit as a pretext of causing offense to anyone.  If there are some Islamic extremists who are upset that Jews visit, that is a reaction based on that person’s anti-Semitic biases, an example of reactive provocation.

Muslims have become more worried about Jewish visitation to the Temple Mount which they consider holy as well.  The number of Jews visiting the Temple Mount doubled over the past five years to about 11,000 in 2014.  It is still a paltry sum compared to the estimated 4 million Muslims who come to the site each year. However, fears of the growing Jewish presence has made Muslims begin to attack Jews throughout Israel.

So why is the western world so cavalier about the carnage in Israel from Islamic radicals, while shaken to its core for the Hebdo killings? Is freedom of religion and access a lesser democratic value than speech?  Is France considered more western than Israel? Perhaps some believe that to be true.

It is also a fact that Europe and America do not have shrines holy to Islam, so the situation of the al Aqsa mosque is really a narrow problem for Israel to handle.  Western ambivalence may not be so much a function of values as it is proximity.

How embarrassing that the narrow scope of the champions of democracy shows that they are less interested with values than personal interests.  The world should loudly condemn Islamic terrorism and support freedoms which are enshrined in Israeli law and democratic ideals.


Related First One Through articles:

My Terrorism

I’m Offended, You’re Dead

Selective Speech

Visitor Rights on the Temple Mount

Subscribe YouTube channel: FirstOneThrough

Join Facebook group: FirstOne Through  Israel Analysis

In Israel, the Winner is… Democracy

Summary: Israeli citizens came out to vote on March 17, 2015. The winner in the midst of the total chaos in the Middle East, was once again, democracy.

 

The turbulent Middle East got a chance to see a democracy at work.

With a civil war in Syria which has thus far claimed 220,000 lives; with the Islamic State/ISIS destroying Iraq; Yemen and Libya quickly becoming failed states; Jordan becoming a giant refugee camp; Egypt flip-flopping between elections/ military take-overs/ elections in quick succession; and Iran on the verge of building nuclear weapons, a country in the heart of the Middle east with a diverse population and set of opinions took to the polls.

Bibi victory
Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu declaring victory

Great Voter Turnout. The 2015 Israeli election had an incredible voter turnout. The 71.8% turnout rate dwarfed the 54.9% in US 2012 presidential election and represented a sharp spike from the 67.7% 2013 Israeli turnout.

Majority in the Center. The political center captured the greatest number of votes. The center-right Likud party received 30 seats, center Kulanu had 10 seats, and center-left parties Yesh Atid with 11 and Labor got 24.  With a combined 75 seats in total (of the 120 seats in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset), Israelis predominantly voted for politically moderate parties over the more extreme right-wing and left-wing parties.

Minority representation. The Arab party, the Joint List, placed third in the election with 14 seats. The religious Jewish parties, Shas (7) and United Torah Judaism (6) had a similar total vote count.

Most Women in Parliament. The 20th Knesset will have 28 women, the greatest number ever.

Extreme parties. The far-right nationalist party Yisrael Beiteinu received 6 votes, and the far-left anti-national Arab Joint List received 14 seats. The right wing Israel Home received 8 seats and left-wing Meretz had 4 seats. The totals of 14 for the right-wing parties and 18 for the left-wing parties showed a bias for change in the fringes.

What’s Next for the Israeli Democracy.  If history proves a guide, Likud will be asked to form a coalition.  The Israeli election and transition to a new government should have many of the attributes of functioning democracies:

  • Citizens elected their representatives
    • Majority in the center
    • Minority representation
  • Smooth transition to new parliament
    • No military coup
    • No riots
  • New government will abide by past agreements

These are lessons and models for the chaotic Middle East.  Maybe one day the Palestinians will try it.


Related First One Through articles:

Abbas’s 10 year run at a 4 year presidential term: https://firstonethrough.wordpress.com/2014/09/30/the-disappointing-46-anniversary/

When Palestinians last went to the polls in 2006, they elected Hamas, an anti-Semitic jihadist party which went to war with the second place winner, Fatah. https://firstonethrough.wordpress.com/2014/09/04/its-the-democracy-stupid/

Israel, the Liberal Country in the Middle East