Saturday, January 17, 2009
A Wild Proposal
One of the biggest mistakes people continually make in arguing about the present day situation of Israel is conflating the modern secular democratic nation-state, with the Biblical theocratic kingdom. This mistake is grave for all sides and everyone concerned. Let me explain.
For those in the West, particularly Christians in the West, the conflation of Israel with Biblical Israel brings up guilt-inducing images of the Holocaust. It is a reminder of centuries of institutionalized and theologically legitimized anti-semitism. Relations with Israel for Europe and the United States are an on-going attempt at atonement, to ease troubled consciences. As long as Israel is somehow mixed up in our heads with the mythical kingdom of yore, it is a stand-in for Judaism and ethnic Jews world wide. How we treat Israel, is how we treat Jews.
For those in the Middle East, particularly Muslims, the conflation of Israel with Biblical Israel is a terrifying spectre. So long as Israel is connected to that mythical past in their minds they cannot help but see Israel's behavior in light of Joshua's crusade (the word is chosen intentionally) to cleanse the land. The existence of Israel in its ideal Biblical state means the eradication of other religious and ethnic groups in the region. This is why, for them, the fight is always cast in such extreme terms. Israel has to be wiped from the map (according to Ahmadinejad) because this is Holy War, and they believe Israel intends exactly the same to them.
The problem with both of these views is that they are wildly off-base. Present day Israel is NOT the Kingdom of David. It is NOT God's people. It is a secular democratic nation state. It does not (and should not) represent either the ethnic descendents of Israel and Judah OR the religion of Judaism. It cannot serve, for the West, as a way to expiate our guilty conscience, and it is not, for the East, a movement of Holy War against Islam.
So here is my wild proposal - rename Israel. Reconstitute it explicitly as what it really is and what it always should have been: a secular democratic nation state with geographic rather than ethnic or religious boundaries. Ensure that the new state is explicitly chartered to serve the needs of all people within its boundaries without regard for religion or ethnicity, and hold that nation accountable for its behavior toward its citizens and its neighbors exactly as we would any other. Defend that nation from aggression on the part of its neighbors, and start a diplomatic blitzkrieg of the entire region recasting the entire situation in new terms. It is not Jew vs. Muslim. It is not Israeli vs. Palestinian. That was NEVER the issue, in fact.
There are various options for names. We could go with Palestine since that is what it was called for nearly 2000 years, before the creation of the new state. That would probably arouse suspicions that we were picking a side though, so other options include: Canaan and Philistia. Or perhaps it would be best to avoid anything with misleading historic associations at all. They could invent something entirely new. Call it: the Land of Hope.
Let's wipe the accumulated grime of projected fantasy from our lenses and realize that all of the conflict of the past 60 years has been caused by mass hallucination. We've been so busy dividing the region up along theological lines that we've utterly ignored the reality, which is that the lines are political and socio-economic, not religious or ethnic. Israel as we know it is not Israel as we imagine it once was.