Dr. Kelly Ross on the State of Israel.

Dr. Kelly Ross on the State of Israel.

[This is a short version of his essay. In it he takes his basic viewpoint based on Kant and Fries and applies it to the situation in Israel. You can see right away his basic  approach is based on Kant's idea of individual moral autonomy.]

"Two questions are relevant: (1) Does Israel have a right to exist? and (2) Is Israel a just state? For the first question, we must also ask what it means. If Israel does not have a "right" to exist, does this mean that Jews don't have a right to live there and should be expelled or "driven into the sea"? The answers to all these questions, of course, depend on one's principles. In liberal and individualist terms, no state has a "right to exist." States exist, as Locke believed and Jefferson said, "to secure these rights," i.e. individual rights of life, liberty, and property. In those terms, Israeli Jews have every right to be where they are, in safety and security. Whether Israel then has the right to exist as such then depends on whether, in liberal terms, it is a just state. Unfortunately, the answer is that it isn't. Israeli Arabs may be freer, safer, wealthier, and more secure than the citizens of any Arab country, but they are not citizens in the same way, with the same duties and privileges, as Israeli Jews. Israel is not a liberal state, where all citizens have the same individual and interchangeable rights and responsibilities; it is an ethnic state, founded and devoted to the Jewish People, whose rights and obligations, as a group, are different from non-Jewish Israelis.

If Israel is not a just state, one might ask, does this mean that the Arab cause should simply be supported? Not if the Arab cause would fail to produce a state any more just than Israel. Israeli Arabs do not have much political power, but they have some. In Arab states, which are generally monarchies, dictatorships, or one party states, minorities (except in Lebanon), not to mention the mass of citizens, have little or no political power. If Israel were overthrown by force, it is hard to imagine, even if there was not a general massacre or expulsion, that a government could conceivably be established that would have the kind of freedom and political rights that would be necessary for a peaceful and equitable solution and for the communities to live together. What doesn't exist in any Arab state is not something that would be likely in a new Arab Palestine; and the way that Yasser Arafat ran the Palestinian Authority, with corruption, assassinations, etc., is not the kind of thing to suggest anything different. Arab countries simply do not have the kind of political tradition or cultural background that is necessary for democratic and liberal government. That a vicious, cynical, murderous tyrant like Saddam Hussein should be as popular as he was, and should have remained in power in Iraq so long as he did, is testament to the pathetic level of Arab moral maturity and political sophistication. We see this again, after the death of Yasser Arafat, when the radical Islamist and terrorist Hamas party won the general elections in the Palestinian Territories.

The Zionists, in short, bought themselves a world of trouble, and trouble for the rest of the world as well. Zionist ideology of collective national rights and aspirations was nothing special in 1900. It was never commensurable with the liberal principles of the Enlightenment, but now it pales in comparison to the overtly apocalyptic, totalitarian, and terrorist ideology of contemporary Militant Islâm -- in reaction, not just to Israel, but to the liberal, tolerant, commercial principles of Western states whose laws make no religious, ethnic, or national distinctions themselves. The anti-Israeli cause is now an anti-Western, anti-capitalist cause. Israel can identify itself with the West to benefit from this conflict, even if it is not the best representative of those Western values.

Much of the appeal of Zionism to Jews, then, was simply out of a sense of not being at the mercy of others. If you can protect yourself, you don't need to rely on the good will of people who, even if they actually are of good will, may change their minds or be replaced by lunatics. If nothing else, Israel changed the age-old impression of Jews as passive, frightened, weak, helpless, and, as any Nietzschean could tell you, contemptible. Instead, everyone knows what the Jewish army, the Jewish air force, and Jewish secret agents can do; and the hatred of the enemies of Israel has now for long been mixed with fear. Rather than a race of short, dark, stooped, and timid peddlers or bookworms, the modern Israeli emerges tall, golden, fit, confident, and forceful.

While it has always been possible to make reasonable arguments that are anti-Zionist without being anti-Semitic, at this point things are well beyond that. The Islamic world is awash with a tide of naked Jew-hatred and anti-Semitism that draws on every source available, freely recycling Tsarist, Nazi, and Soviet propaganda, even while trying to label Israelis as the true Nazis. Lofty moral critiques of settlement policies rub shoulders with portrayals of Jews as pigs. Westerns may not see much of this, which mainly exists in Arabic and the other languages of Islam and is carefully ignored, if not denied, by apologists speaking to European or American audiences. Fortunately, it is available to the curious and the concerned through tireless translation projects. Yet some of the worst stuff turns up in textbooks used in American, and not always Muslim, schools.

Which brings me back to necessity. Zionists may not have believed that there was ever anything but anti-Jewish hostility on the part of the Arabs, and the development of events has provided little evidence that such a judgment would have been wrong.

... Indeed, not long ago Palestinians seemed to have a clearer sense that they were being used by Arab governments. Even as many of those governments have now been overthrown, they may think that Islam promises a unified force behind them; but the appeal in all this is still to a pure ethic of violence, in which no sensible Israeli is ever likely to find a hint of good will, let alone an inducement to compromise their security. 

Recollecting arguments that I used to have, mainly in the late 60's and early 70's, with Israelis and American Jews, about Israel, one thing now strikes me as noteworthy and revealing. Although essentially taking a throughly pro-Palestianian position and denying the legitimacy of Israel, what I faced were always earnest arguments and never any kind of hostility, threat, insult, or abuse. I don't think I was ever even accused of anti-Semitism. This was driven home to me when I later ran afoul of Assyrian nationalists, whose initial response to questions about the historicity of their connection to ancient Assyria (which was annihilated in 609 BC) typically seemed to be threats and abuse, with strangely inappropriate doses of anti-Semitism thrown in. The behavior of the Assyrians seemed all too much like the attitude of Muslims who think that "insults" to Islam must be immediately met with deadly force. In general, I have never known Jews to be like that.

As Israel drifts towards a more conservative and more observant vision, the Temple Mount becomes more than just symbolic; but as contemporary Islâm becomes more militant, the same effect also occurs. Sharon's visit, therefore, was incendiary. Israeli forces had withdrawn from most cities in the West Bank and Gaza, but negotiations were reaching an impass on a final settlement. Arafat was still asking for a "right of return" for Palestinians. This was probably more than any Israeli government could grant. So violent struggle again became the Palestinian approach, with the growing use of suicide bombers, even including young women. This continued for several years, despite devastating military action by Israel, with episodes of reoccupying Palestinian cities and refugee camps, often leaving them in ruins, either as retaliation or in the attempt to hunt down the bomb makers. Accusations of massacres have not been confirmed by neutral observers, but looting and vandalism by Israeli troops seems to have occurred. Considering the terror and horror of the suicide attacks, one can hardly blame them, but it is certainly not making things any better. The more suffering and humiliation that the Israelis inflict, it may be that the more determined and hostile that the Palestinians become.

 Although Israel has had generally peaceful and normal relations with Egypt and Jordan, the sympathies of the Arab public at large are entirely for the Palestinians, and increasingly for Islamic militants. In a way, only the non-democratic nature of these countries may have stood in the way of the general renewal of war. It was always possible that radicals could overthrow moderate governments, as almost seemed to occur when Anwar Sadat was assassinated. By 2012, of course, the Mubarak regime in Egypt has been overthrown and the (strictly speaking illegal) Muslim Brotherhood elected in both parliament and presidency. The military has displayed some reluctance to give this government real power, but the trend is clearly headed towards the worst result of Islamic radicalism, belligerence, and terrorism. The Christian Copts come under frequent physical and judicial attacks. Although Israel continues to be upbraided by the Left, including some radical Jews, for not making peace with the Palestinians, accommodation is now what is furthest from the minds of Hamas and its radical allies. 

What the prudent course is for the Israelis is not obvious. If the Palestinians in general are really irredeemably hostile and unreconcilable to Israel, then a hermetic division of the country and a sealing off of Israel, as it was from 1948 to 1967, may be the only way to prevent terrorism. But this would also mean returning Israel to something like an island existence, from the countries with whom it could have safe intercourse. That is not a life and world that anyone would like to have. This would also give the Arab world the impression of a people at bay. A dangerous people, to be sure, since it is an open secret that Israel has nuclear weapons, but the way things are going, there are many Arabs, and certainly many Palestinians, who would settle for a great deal of mutual destruction if only Israel itself could be wiped out. This is the very stuff of the apocalypse.

Since I wrote the last paragraph in 2002, Israel has gone a long way towards just such a hermetic division. A wall is being constructed dividing Israel from Palestinian territory. This already seems to be largely effective in ending the infiltration of suicide bombers into Israel. However, it also encompasses more than pre-1967 Israel, including some West Bank settlements and strategic positions. This was vigorously protested by the Palestinian Authority and ruled illegal by the International Court in the Hague. On the other hand, Ariel Sharon removed Israeli settlements from Gaza, despite fierce resistance and protest from Israeli settlers. The wall implies that many West Bank settlements will be removed like the ones in Gaza. On Jerusalem, however, there seems to be no compromise contemplated. The wall will exclude some but include other majority Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, including the Old City.

The somber lesson of it all, however, is that collective rights easily produce large scale conflicts that often can be resolved only by force. With individual rights, conflicts are much smaller and can be addressed by the laws of property and contract. Where force is used in the large conflicts, it means war. Where force is used in the small conflicts, it is simply called "crime" -- or "self-defense," depending on the circumstances. The irony of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that the Palestinians, who would benefit the most from principles of individual rights, especially property rights, are politically in the camp of those who are the most hostile, not just to individual rights, but to the civilization and countries that are the originators and principal exemplars of such rights. After the modest hopes of the "Arab Spring" in 2011, it looks like the success of the radicals is making all of this much worse, not better. What Talleyrand said of one of Napoleon's judicial murders, we might now say of Palestinian and Islamic terrorism: "It is worse than a crime; it is a mistake.""