Sunday, May 24, 2015

Professor David Bernstein Rejects the Jewish Values Obama Sees in Israel.

Professor David Bernstein of George Mason University ridicules the values Obama sees in Israel's founding vision: that the lessons learned from the hardships suffered by the Jewish people should inform how Israel treats the Palestinians. He disputes that Israel has any values to live up to.

Here is what he said in response to a commenter in the article linked above:
Funny, I went to five different Jewish days schools over 13 years of K to 12, and I never heard a word about Israel's "special mission in the world." Jews' mission to be essentially ambassadors for God, yes. Israel as a country, no, except to be a homeland for the Jewish people, which is itself a special mission, given 2,000 years of homelandless Jews. So I'm curious who told you that Israel has some other special mission in the world. .....
Bernstein's post responds to Obama's statement this past week that America supports Israel because we are impressed by its founding vision of equality and justice for all. That's naive, says Bernstein.  There is no such commitment by Israel. He implies that survival is all that matters when he says Israel's sole mission is to be the homeland for the Jewish people. As Al Davis, the late Oakland Raiders owner, used to say "Just win, baby. Win!" And Israel is winning, so what's the problem?

Israel is badly mistreating the Palestinians, that's the problem. Bernstein rightly points out that the Israeli democracy has made progress over the past sixty years with respect to the treatment of Mizrahi Jewish immigrants (from countries in North Africa and the Middle East), and that progress has been made in the treatment and advancement of ~20% of Palestinian Israelis.

Bernstein is pretty clearly correct that Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, and the kibbutzim and Labor Zionism were not paragons of the Jewish virtues Obama points to. But then Obama made no such claim. Bernstein is knocking down a straw man to the extent he claims Obama failed to recognize the true character of Meir, Dayan, and the kibbutzim. He was invoking their idealism.

Bernstein rightly agrees that Netanyahu's recent race-baiting in advance of the March 17 election to encourage his voters to turn out is indefensible.... even if that seems to imply some values.

Bernstein concludes his article with the curious aside that "'The occupation' is another matter." But the occupation is not "another matter." It's the main matter. It's the corrosive forty-eight-year presence that is driving racist Jewish nationalism as evidenced at the 2014 Jerusalem Day parade:

It's the soul corrupting injustices that result from arbitrary detentions, arrest, and military injustice documented in the Ra'anan Alexandrovicz film The Law in These Parts.  It's depriving 4.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza of freedom of movement, adequate health care, water, employment, civic resources, building permits and a political franchise.

As reported in the May 15, 2015 World Health Organization report on health conditions in the occupied Palestinian territories:
In 2014, the number of Palestinian fatalities and injuries resulting from violence associated with military occupation was the highest since 1967, amounting to 2333 deaths and 15 788 injuries – primarily occurring during the conflict in the Gaza Strip in July‒August 2014. The conflict had a significant impact on the daily life of Palestinians, with half a million people being displaced, of whom 100 000 remained homeless at the end of 2014, and some 22 000 homes being either totally destroyed or rendered uninhabitable.1 Widespread damage to infrastructure, including hospitals, clinics and ambulances,2 and educational, water and sanitation facilities,3 has limited access to basic services.
Professor Bernstein put scare quotes around the word "occupation," presumably because he's noting that Israel considers the West Bank not "occupied," but "disputed territory" and because Netanyahu has vowed there will be no Palestinian state to emerge on his watch, and that Israel will never give up any part of Jerusalem--whose borders have been vastly expanded since 1967--and the IDF will never leave the Jordan Valley. With 600,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank territory conquered by Israel in 1967, and settlement efforts ongoing and accelerating, Israel has effectively annexed the West Bank. By completely blockading the Gaza strip and depriving 1.7 million people living there from sufficient food, goods, and materials to thrive Israel has turned the Gaza strip into an open air prison where Israeli soldiers periodically shoot at civilians who wander too close to the prison walls and kill them (here is an example). All of which is to say Israel is depriving 4.5 million people of citizenship and the right to vote within its de facto borders for the past 48 years. 

Bernstein calls Obama's connection between Labor Zionism and the values of Tikkun Olam a stretch. One might also say that after 48 years of occupation and ongoing settlement in the West Bank, it is a stretch to call Israel a democracy. Unless Israel rededicates itself to those values that Obama has championed this past week, and adopts them as its North Star, the country will indeed begin to blend into the background examples of Lebanon and Syria. That is where a repudiation of values leads. 


  1. You don't know what "completely blockading" means. First, many tons of goods flow from Israel to Gaza almost every day. Second, Israel doesn't control Gaza's southern border, and so can't completely blockade it.

  2. Thank you for reading. You are talking semantics. I don't disagree with your last two sentences.