I’ve been a fan of John Kerry for a long time now, ever since I happened to be in the Senate hearing room in 1971 when he delivered his impassioned plea on behalf of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam?” he asked. “How do you ask a man to die for a mistake?”
Just because I’m a fan doesn’t mean I agree with everything he does, and I’ve been more than a little frustrated by his performance as secretary of state. But one soundbite from his speech last month on Israel resonates as powerfully as what he said that morning in 1971, and I hope it will have as lasting an effect on the American subconscious:
“Israel can either be Jewish or democratic—it cannot be both.”
To be sure, I’m giving Kerry a little more credit than he may deserve. He prefaced his powerful statement with, “if the choice is one state,” meaning “if Israel rejects the ‘two state solution.’” The statement, though, is true regardless of what does or doesn’t happen with the West Bank. And it’s true with respect not only to Judaism or Jews. It would be just as correct to say that a country cannot be both Catholic and democratic or both Muslim and democratic or for that matter, both atheist and democratic.
“Democratic” means more than just queuing up at a voting booth every now and then. It means the true freedom of people to choose how to live their lives, with full access to the information necessary to make that choice. When a state decides it will be Jewish or Catholic or atheist or whatever, it erases that choice.
Being “Jewish,” in the case of Israel, means quite a few things:
- It means full voting rights for Jews and no voting rights at all for most of the non-Jews in the territory controlled by the Israeli government.
- It means special government subsidies available only for Jews, with the tab paid by everyone else.
- It means that civil laws on marriage, burial, and so on are dictated by millennia-old Jewish dogma, rather than by what makes the most sense for human happiness today.
- It means special immigration rules favoring Jews and disfavoring everyone else.
None of that is democratic.
The point Kerry was making was more about demographics than about principles of democracy. The population inside Israel’s 1967 borders is today about 75 percent Jewish. But when you add in the territories Israel still controls from the 1967 conquest, territories that might have become a Palestinian state in a “two-state solution,” the ratio of Jews to non-Jews becomes very close to an even split—with a substantially higher non-Jewish birth rate. (Even without the population in the conquered territories, demographic projections show Israel becoming majority non-Jewish in twenty years.) Moreover, a large portion of the “Jewish” population even today is nonreligious, making the strain on state props for the Jewish God industry even more pronounced.
One little fact that Kerry and the other “two-state solution” fans conceal is we’ve already tried that idea, and it didn’t work. Prior to 1948, Britain administered a territory including both today’s Israel and today’s Jordan as a single unit. When Jewish terrorists succeeded in persuading Britain to leave, the territory was divided into two: a Jewish state and a Muslim state. That scheme utterly failed—first in 1948, when enraged Arabs fought against eviction from their homes, then again in 1956 and 1967, when Israel launched sneak attacks on its neighbors trying to expand its territory to include more of what they say God gave them (which, by the way, extends from central Turkey to southern Egypt to Kuwait). There is not the slightest reason to believe it will work any better now.
What’s needed is not a Jewish state or a Muslim state, but a neutral state. A state that lets Jews be Jews, Muslims be Muslims, and nonbelievers be nonbelievers. A state that lets all its residents vote and live where they feel like living. A state that doesn’t favor—monetarily or otherwise—people who have one take on the spirit world over people who have another. A state that enacts its laws based on what makes the most sense given the facts at hand, not based on what some God expert wrote down many centuries ago.
Now that Kerry is about to join the unemployed, maybe he could take a quick look around his Georgetown neighborhood and find an example of a state like that. A state that has attracted a Jewish population as large as that of Israel, despite an intense shame campaign for “Aliyah” from the Jewish God lobby.
Would establishing a neutral state in the territory controlled by Israel be easy? It would be Pollyannaish in the extreme to think so. But if the United States and other western donors were to say, “No more money for the terrorist-loving Palestinian Authority at all, and no more money for Israel until it ceases to be a ‘Jewish state’ and becomes a ‘neutral state,’” what would happen? The Israeli God lobby would hate it, but the Israeli public wouldn’t—a large majority of Israelis support separation of church and state. Israel’s neighbors Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon are terrified of the Muslim League and its offshoots, and it’s not at all farfetched to predict their enthusiastic support for a truly neutral Israel/Palestine experiment. Perilous as the path toward a neutral state might be, the realistic alternatives are far worse.
The hundreds of billions of dollars America has spent supporting Israel on the one hand, bribing Muslim governments not to hate us on the other, and defending ourselves against Islamists whose rage is rooted in our shoving an alien religion into their midst have been for nought. Wouldn’t it be better to try insisting on a neutral government, not that much different from our own, for a decade or so to see how that works out?