Israel Can Be Jewish, Democratic, and Committed to Human Rights, Without Contradiction

Dec. 16 2016

Looking to Israel’s Declaration of Independence for guidance, Ruth Gavison addresses the polarization within Israeli society that has resulted from fierce debates over identity, the status of the Palestinians, religion, and the like:

We [in Israel] have forgotten that democracy, human rights, and the Jewish state, [all of which are enshrined in the Declaration], go together very well. Jews used to understand this. Not only do they go together well, they are required for each other. The people who struggled to establish the Jewish state knew that they were going to have a democracy and they were very responsive to the idea of human rights. . . . But these three interlocking elements . . . are today viewed by many as totally distinct, with either major tensions or even outright contradiction among them.

So, increasingly, we find people who want to take one element of the complex vision . . . and make it primary. They give their primary ideal a very expansive interpretation. They demand that the other two elements be operative only within the constraints of the broadly-defined primary element. And this happens from all sides of the political and cultural spectrum. . . .

The “wisdom” of the Declaration, and of the decisions that the founding fathers and mothers made in the first decades of Israel, was their agreement to disagree. . . . The Declaration itself [thus] left many ideological questions open. . . . Who is a Jew? What role does the Jewish religion play in the new state? What is the relationship within Judaism among nationalism, culture, and religion? What is the status of the Arab minority and what are its rights? . . .

[These questions] were to be dealt with politically, by a series of arrangements that Israel made. Israel created a set of impressive democratic institutions and an independent court, but it refused to transform the elements of its vision into legal questions of principle. Whether Israel was a capitalist or a socialist country, a religious or non-religious country, whether God would feature in the Israeli constitution—all of these were things people did not want to decide on. And that agreement not to decide permitted Israel to move on to the urgent challenges [facing it].

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Read more at Fathom

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Declaration of Independence, Israeli democracy, Israeli politics

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy