Financial Times writer Simon Kuper had an idea for a column. He wanted to show the parallels between the democratic “identity crisis” currently plaguing both the US and Israel, a thesis which would serve an indictment of both countries, especially the latter.
However, in doing so, Kuper resorted to what many columnists do when contemplating a seemingly brilliant idea, but one which is fundamentally flawed: cherry picking and distorting those historical and political dynamics which putatively support the pre-determined conclusion, while ignoring all evidence contradicting it.
The Aug. 3 piece is titled “Israel and the United States are battling identity crises”, with the strap line culled from the opening paragraph: “Could they both end with the dismantling of democracy?”.
After setting up the piece by alleging that “Benjamin Netanyahu’s bid to defang Israel’s Supreme Court prefigures Donald Trump’s plan to create an almighty American executive, with a justice department loyal to him”, his pseudo-historical analysis begins:
Both states were founded by a persecuted minority fleeing Europe. In both countries, the new arrivals killed or drove from their homes many of the inhabitants already living there. Both countries began as ethnostates which privileged the dominant ethnicity. In the early US, only white men with property were routinely allowed to vote. Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948 called it the “Jewish State”
To narrowly describe the events surrounding Israel’s founding as one in which Jews “drove from their homes many of the inhabitants already living there” in a manner similar to how the early Americans did so completely erases Jews’ indigenousness and continuous presence in the land.
It also ignores the fact that the war which resulted in the displacement of Palestinians was the result of the decision of Arab and Palestinian leaders to invade the nascent Jewish state after rejecting the UN plan to create both Jewish and Arab states – motivated by the antisemitic belief that even a tiny Jewish presence in the region was intolerable.
If the Arabs and Palestinians had accepted partition and not attempted to annihilate the newly-formed Jewish state, there likely wouldn’t have been even one Palestinian refugee.
Kuper also deceptively suggests that, like in the US, where only property owning males were initially allowed to vote, only Jews had this privilege at the state’s founding. In fact, Arab citizens of the state were – consistent with the principles of equality in the Declaration of Independence – granted the right to vote in the nation’s first elections for the Constituent Assembly in 1949.
The deeply flawed comparisons between Israel and the US continue:
Democracy didn’t apply to Palestinians in occupied territories, or to black people in the south under Jim Crow
Of course, after the war of 1948-49, Jordan controlled the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and Egypt controlled Gaza – a fact craftily elided by the language used by Kuper in his desire to impute to Israel (in the early decades of statehood) the racism that animated the Jim Crow south. This is especially dishonest given that it was the Arab states’ – with their desire for Israel’s annihilation – in those years who were the regional actors most animated by the racist belief that only one religious group was worthy of nationhood.
Kuper’s tortured analogy then becomes even more sinister by insinuating a moral similitude between white supremacy and Israel’s desire to remain the world’s only Jewish state.
Both states hit identity crises when the ethnic majority realised it risked becoming a minority. In the US, this happened through demographic change. The Census Bureau projects the country will be “minority white” by 2045. Meanwhile, Jews effectively became a minority on Israeli-controlled land once Netanyahu’s sequence of rightwing governments abandoned any notion of a Palestinian state.
First, the only way Kuper can maintain that “Jews effectively became a minority on Israeli controlled land” is by calculating Gaza’s two million plus Palestinian residents into the equation. But, Israel doesn’t control Gaza, as it withdrew from the territory – which is now ruled by Hamas – in 2005.
Also, Kuper’s evident belief that the notion of a Palestinian state was buried as the result of actions of Netanyahu is staggeringly ahistorical.
It ignores three Israeli offers of Palestinian statehood that were rejected by Palestinian leaders, and the decision by Palestinians to launch a long campaign of violence targeting Israeli civilians knowns as the 2nd Intifada (which began during the height of the peace process). The years long effort by Palestinian extremists to murder as many Jewish men, women and children as possible traumatised a generation of Israelis, rendering most far more skeptical of Palestinian intentions.
On top of that, Israelis learned, in the aftermath of the 2005 Gaza pull-out, that the impact of unilateral withdrawals from territories was not what most had assumed.
Kuper fails to acknowledge what events over the past several decades demonstrate: that Israel can not unilaterally extricate itself from the territories before there’s a dramatic change in Palestinian leadership and Palestinian attitudes towards peace.
Finally, Kuper writes:
It’s often said nowadays that Israel can be a Jewish state or a democracy, but it can’t be both. Similarly, the US can be a white-ruled ethnostate or a democracy, but not both. In both countries, about half the dominant ethnic group is tempted by an ethnostate.
Though we’ll ignore Kuper’s specious analysis of US political attitudes, what he appears to be arguing is that the belief in Israel’s right to continue existing as a Jewish state is somehow akin to the desire of racist white nationalists in the US to live in a white state.
In addition to the fact that Israel is a Jewish and democratic state, where a quarter of its citizens are non-Jewish yet enjoy equal rights, Kuper, by imputing racism to Zionism, is unwittingly placing himself in the camp of the fringe obsessives who, for some reason, aren’t bothered by dozens of Muslim and Christian states, yet can’t countenance the desire of a historically persecuted and miniscule minority to have but one state, one true safe-haven, one national home.
It may be “often said nowadays” that Zionism is racist, but the mere ubiquity of this sentiment doesn’t render it any less antisemitic.