11 August 2009

The Shift In Israeli Society~Roadblock to Peace

Here's a good op-ed piece on the latest Israel Democracy Institute poll of Israeli society. Written by Seth Freedman at the guardian excerpts follow:
Well over a million of Israel's population come from the former Soviet Union (FSU), representing more than 15% of the total population – hence the political views of the Russian immigrant community are not easily brushed under the carpet. Their collective stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is credited with sweeping Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu party into the upper echelons of power. Lieberman has become the poster boy of the Russian right.

three out of four citizens of Russian extraction support the transfer of Arabs out of Israel, an overwhelming display of hostility towards the original inhabitants of the state in which the Russians arrived a mere 20 years ago.

when viewed in the context of the attitudes of non-Russian Israelis, it becomes clear that while the FSU immigrants' opinions are undoubtedly hardline, the rest of Israel doesn't lag far behind – revealing just how wide the gulf is between mainstream Israeli public opinion and any kind of equitable and just settlement with the Palestinians. Over half of the Israeli Jews polled support the transfer of Arabs out of Israel, while 48% oppose any kind of retreat from settlements (compared with 64% of Russian interviewees). Such figures throw a spanner in the works of peace negotiations, since such ingrained nationalism gives carte blanche to Israeli leaders to take unyielding positions on the conflict if anything short of total acquiescence is offered by the Palestinian side.

In a country where over half of the dominant ethnic group wishes to expel those of a different racial profile, the goalposts have shifted so far as to render standard political groupings almost irrelevant. What would pass as rightwing thinking in western countries is deemed simply middle-of-the-road in Israel; anyone who would occupy the centre ground in more enlightened countries is portrayed as a radical leftist here, sidelined to the point of obscurity and their party's views paid not the slightest heed by the man on the street

it appears insane that a group of straight-off-the-boat immigrants such as the FSU olim should call overwhelmingly for displacing a group of fellow citizens who've been here for generations – but when considered against the raison d'etre of the Jewish state, their position becomes far easier to understand. However, to understand is not to excuse, and the core malaise at the heart of Israeli society is the unswerving belief that Israel has to be forever populated by a Jewish majority, and that only those of the right extraction qualify to stand at the state's helm and chart its course.

It is wholly immoral to demand that any racial group willingly roll over, play dead, and allow themselves to be subjugated by another people – as we Jews know firsthand, and have railed against throughout our history. Yet that is exactly what Israel's leaders assert must happen here and they have massive support from the electorate thanks to their ability to whip up the masses into a decades-old nationalistic frenzy.

Headlines might have focused on the Russian response to the poll, but missing the wood for the trees just perpetuates the underlying erosion taking place throughout Israeli society.

The only solution is for sectarianism to be sidelined and for all people of the region to be dealt with on a level playing field; whether that means one state or two depends on the terms of the settlement, but whatever settlement is reached must treat every concerned party as equal. However, given the dominant thinking on the Israeli street, such pipe dreams are as unlikely to become reality as ever before – Russians or no Russians, Israeli society is dooming itself and its neighbours to a future of conflict while such rank prejudice prevails.