Ethnic Cleansing: Why Bibi Was Quite Right — and Dangerously Wrong
“…[T]he Palestinian leadership actually demands a Palestinian state with one precondition: no Jews! There’s a phrase for that. It’s called ethnic cleansing. And this demand is outrageous. What is even more outrageous is that the world doesn’t find this outrageous. Some otherwise enlightened countries even promote this outrage.” — Benjamin Netanyahu, September 9, 2016.
Late last Friday, the Prime Minister’s Office — for no immediately obvious reason — released a video in which Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the frequently raised demand by the Palestinians that any future state of theirs must be devoid of Jews as “Ethnic Cleansing.”
The video produced an incandescent response from the Obama administration. Thus, US State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau berated Netanyahu in a Washington press conference last Friday. Disapprovingly, she proclaimed: “We obviously strongly disagree with the characterization that those who oppose settlement activity or view it as an obstacle to peace are somehow calling for ethnic cleansing of Jews from the West Bank,” She added tartly: “We believe that using that type of terminology is inappropriate and unhelpful.”
“Strongly disagree,” “inappropriate,” “unhelpful” is about as barbed and caustic as formal niceties of protocol allow diplomatic rebukes to get — especially when the target of the censure is, allegedly, a close ally.
Trudeau then went on to catalog a long list of so-called Israeli “transgressions,” denouncing “ongoing settlement activity [a]s an obstacle to peace” — as if that had any bearing on Netanyahu’s decrying Palestinian demands to purge Jews from existing settlements. Calling “on both sides to demonstrate with actions and policies a genuine commitment to the two-state solution” she lamented: “We have repeatedly expressed our strong concerns that trends on the ground continue to move in the opposite direction…”
Then, reading from an obviously pre-prepared document, she launched into a tirade, castigating Israel for building “thousands of [housing]units for Israelis in the West Bank;” seizing “West bank land for exclusive Israeli use; a dramatic escalation of demolitions of…Palestinian structures, displacing more than 1000 Palestinians” — conveniently omitting that the bulk of these demolitions were of structures initiated and funded by the EU, with the express purpose of flaunting Israeli authority and provoking Israeli response.
Alluding to nefarious Israeli intent, Trudeau added darkly: “…[T]his does raise real questions about Israel’s long-term intentions in the West Bank.”
Outrageous and outlandish
But the US wrath was not only outrageous; it was equally outlandish. Indeed, it did not even address the point that Netanyahu raised — and for which he was being so severely admonished.
After all, whatever one might believe regarding the legality of the Jewish communities in Judea-Samaria (pejoratively, known as “settlements”), or the prudence of their ongoing expansion, this is a totally separate issue from the admissibility of the presence of Jews within the frontiers of any future Palestinian entity.
This is particularly true, because not only is the legality of the Jewish communities a matter hotly debated by an array of prominent jurists and legal experts, but Trudeau herself states: “Settlements are a final-status issue that must be resolved in negotiations between the parties.”
And it is here that Netanyahu has put his finger precisely on the point: For it is the Palestinians’ clearly stated position on this “final-status issue” that the presence of Jews is so odious and objectionable that any future peace agreement is feasible only if Palestinian-controlled territory is totally purged of them.
Purposely conflating and obfuscating two separate issues
Thus, in its wrathful response to Netanyahu’s video, the administration is purposely conflating — and obfuscating — two entirely separate issues:
(a) Undisguised and un-denied Palestinian demands for Judeophobic ethnic cleansing; and
(b) The legal status and political significance of existing Jewish communities.
Accordingly, Netanyahu was being bitterly rebuked for what he didn’t refer to (i.e. the status of the “settlements”), while what he did refer to (i.e. Palestinian Judeophobic demands) was not even addressed.
This was hardly an inadvertent oversight on the part of the State Department — as Anne Bayefsky deftly points out in her “All Jews out of Palestine is not a peace plan,” (September 14, 2016). She argues that the reason for the “sudden [US] histrionics” is that “the charge of ethnic cleansing directed against Palestinians is the quintessential inconvenient truth.”
And indeed it is.
For to acknowledge the blatant Judeophobic —i ndeed, Judeocidal — impulses that characterize Palestinian society, and reflect themselves in their pervasive presence throughout all walks of Palestinian life, is to critically undermine the rationale of the two-state doctrine. After all, this is a doctrine that aims at creating a reality of two states, living harmoniously side-by-side in peace and prosperity. Clearly, it makes little sense to strive for such a reality if the enmity of one side is so profound and abiding that it cannot tolerate the presence of the other side’s citizens within its frontiers.
From the silly to the surreal
Thus, by raising the issue of Palestinian Judeophobic bigotry, Netanyahu’s video has induced public scrutiny of Palestinian society — something two-state advocates are understandably reluctant to do. For, indeed, the spectacle is not an encouraging one — hardly conducive to their vision of a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Hence the anger it has aroused.
The vehement responses the video elicited ranged from the silly, through the surreal, to the sinister. The mainstream media quickly rallied around the Bibi-bashing banner.
Thus, the LA Times headline blazoned: “U.S. slams Netanyahu after he equates opposition to Israeli settlements with ‘ethnic cleansing’” — which, of course, he didn’t. What he did was to equate the demand to remove all Jews from any prospective Palestinian state with ethnic cleansing – which, of course, it is.
Then there was the particularly disturbing and disappointing op-ed by the national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Jonathan Greenblatt, who took Netanyahu to task for invoking the term “ethnic cleansing.” He conceded that “Israel has many legitimate concerns about Palestinian policies and behavior, not the least of which is Palestinian [Authority] President Mahmoud Abbas’s rash accusations that Israel commits acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.”
“However,” he complained, “the charge that the Palestinians seek ‘ethnic cleansing’ of settlers is just not one of them.” But, of course, it is — unless you can think of another term for the coercive purge of a group of people because of their collective identity.
The Netanyahu video unleased a maelstrom of almost apoplectic radical left-wing ire. This expressed itself in an unsurprising knee-jerk display of “groupthink” in Haaretz, which, ironically, once advertised itself as the “paper for people who think.” It ran a frenzied anti-Bibi spate of largely similar and repetitive news reports and opinion pieces in rapid succession. The list of titles is instructive in itself:
“U.S. Slams Netanyahu’s ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ Video, Calling It ‘Inappropriate and Unhelpful’” (Barak Ravid, Sept. 10); “Netanyahu Accused of Twisting History in ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ Video (Jack Khoury and Barak Ravid, Sept. 10); “Netanyahu’s Claim of ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ Sets a Guinness Record for Chutzpah” (Chemi Shalev Sept. 10); “Yes, Netanyahu, Let’s Talk About Ethnic Cleansing (Gideon Levy, Sept. 11); “Netanyahu’s ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ Video Pushes Obama Closer to UN Security Council (Barak Ravid, Sept.11); “The Real Message Behind Netanyahu’s ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ Speech” (Yitzhak Laor ,Sept. 13); Where’s the outrage over Trump campaign’s shocking statement on ‘ethnic cleansing’? (Asher Schechter , Sept. 13); “Trump Would Be Proud of Netanyahu’s anti-Palestinian Ethnic Cleansing Canard” (Peter Beinart, Sep 14); “Netanyahu’s ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ Video Is Leading Us Down the Road to Masada Redux” (Nehemia Shtrasler Sept. 13).
All these portend the gloom and doom that will befall Israel because Netanyahu had the temerity to designate the demand to expel the members of a community from their homes because of their group affiliation, as “bigotry” — which it undeniably is.
Caveat: They ain’t Us
But not all the criticism against Netanyahu is without merit. Several critics took him to task for drawing a potential parallel between Israel’s Arab minority within pre-1967 lines and the Jewish communities located in Judea-Samaria. He raised the possibility that this could serve as a model for a peaceful future.
While this might be an enticing scenario to entertain in some parallel universe, where the Palestinian-Arabs are very different to those in this one, in the realities of today, and those likely to prevail in any policy-relevant future, it is a recipe for gory disaster.
Little imagination is required to envision the gruesome fate of any Jewish enclave inside Palestinian-Arab territory and subject to Palestinian-Arab authority — especially if there was no territorial contiguity with sovereign Israel. Indeed, according to far-left Peter Beinart, even the ultra-concessionary Tzipi Livni balked at the idea of abandoning Jews inside areas controlled by the Palestinians.
Now, although Beinart is not my preferred source of reference, he does raise a valid point in his previously cited Haaretz piece. He recalls talks that took place in 2008, in which the theoretical possibility of leaving Jewish communities within Palestinian territory was raised. Beinart notes that although these “discussions were speculative…the clear implication [was] that Israeli negotiators had a bigger problem with Jews remaining in a Palestinian state than did their Palestinian counterparts.”
And therein lies the perilous pitfall entailed in Israel disapprovingly brandishing the issue of allegedly implacable Palestinian demands for ethnic cleansing of Jews from any territory transferred to their control.
For, quite apart from the fact that transferring/abandoning Jews living under Jewish authority to live under alien sovereignty is the very antithesis of the Zionist ethos, there is another more immediate impediment: While non-Jewish minorities may well flourish in Israel, Jewish minorities in “Palestine” are very likely to be massacred. For the bitter truth is: They ain’t us.
The limits of gimmicks
Regrettably, for anyone who nominally endorses the Palestinian-Arabs’ claim to statehood, flaunting their ostensible demand for the “ethnic cleansing” is a gimmick of limited efficacy — for at least two reasons:
(a) If the Palestinians are indeed seen as an authentic national entity, then their demand to national independence cannot be conditioned on the form of government they choose to institute. It certainly cannot be made dependent on it having a tolerant, open society – just as this is not invoked to negate the sovereignty of an array of brutal tyrannies across the globe — whether Iran, Saudi Arabia or North Korea to name but a few. Strangely enough, I find myself in agreement with Beinart, when he states that “potential future misdeeds do not justify holding a people as non-citizens under foreign control.”
(b) It is far from certain that the Palestinians will continue insisting on purging all the Jewish residents in the territories to be transferred to their control. Indeed, they may well agree to it, even as a temporary tactic. Thus, corroborating Beinart’s earlier remark, Elias Zananiri, vice-chairman of the PLO Committee for Interaction with the Israeli Society, writes in his “Netanyahu’s ‘ethnic cleansing’ gimmick” (Sept. 13): “In the Annapolis peace conference in November 2007, the Palestinian side expressed readiness in principle to host those settlers who would choose to stay where they live in the West Bank. Of course, these settlers would live under Palestinian sovereignty and law.”
Clearly, if the Palestinian-Arabs were to drop their demand for having a “Judenrein” state but demanded that any non-Palestinian resident accept these conditions, with expulsion now no longer a demand, Israel would have with little reason to object.
Gimmicks are not policy
Thus, raising the issue of Palestinian Judeophobic bigotry is an effective measure only if it is invoked to permanently deny, not temporarily delay, Palestinian statehood. While gimmicks may well be effective in promoting policy, they are not a substitute for policy.
For Israel, such policy must be the total discreditation, deconstruction and delegitimization of the Palestinian narrative and the resultant claim for statehood. Insofar as the exposure of the scope and scale of the Palestinian Judeophobic bigotry can be used to promote this policy, it should be utilized.
Using it for other short-term, tactical purposes, is liable to be a dangerous double-edged sword.