Memo to Anti-Zionist Jews

(This post appeared on The Times of Israel blog platform on May 2, 2016)

If your anti-Zionism flows from a religious conviction that a Jewish state is a sacrilege if established before the coming of the messiah, read no further. I cannot alter your faith-based credo.

If your anti-Zionism flows from a conviction that the Jewish state of Israel is by its founding and nature a racist oppressor of Arabs, then I can try to dispel the “big lies” that have fueled that belief. Read on as I address the slogans and distortions that underlie efforts of anti-Zionists to demonize and delegitimize the state of Israel.

A fair definition of Zionism is a Jewish movement to reestablish sovereignty in part of the ancient Jewish homeland in Palestine in order to serve as a refuge for the multitude of Jews facing oppression in their foreign environs. In 1922, even before the Holocaust, the League of Nations acknowledged that centuries of inquisitions, mass expulsions, forced ghettoization, and pogroms warranted a Jewish refuge. Sparsely populated Palestine was an appropriate locus given the historical and ongoing connection of the Jewish people with that land.

Nothing in the Zionist vision entailed exploitation or expulsion of local Arab populations. The 1922 League of Nations mandate to Britain to manage the Palestine portion of the former Ottoman Empire endorsed Jews’ settlement in their ancient homeland but explicitly preserved the civil rights of existing non-Jewish communities. Israel’s 1948 declaration of independence pledged to develop the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants and to assure all inhabitants equal political and religious freedoms. The implementation of that vision is far from perfect, but it’s also far from the nefarious picture painted by anti-Zionist accusers.

The first anti-Zionist calumny is that Israel was founded as a colonialist enterprise intending to ethnically cleanse resident Arabs. A small Jewish presence remained in Palestine even after ancient diasporas. Starting in the 1860’s, more Jews migrated into sparsely populated Palestine (then a part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire) and purchased land for small, mostly agricultural enclaves. In the early 1900’s, those early Jewish settlers were joined by Russian migrants fleeing pogroms. In the 1930’s, German Jews fleeing Nazi persecution also sought refuge in Palestine. These 20th century Jewish migrants and refugees had equal legal and moral status with the many thousands of Arabs who were then migrating into Palestine from the surrounding Arab areas of Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt. During the early 20th century, both Jews and Arabs settled in Palestine and both ethnic groups revolted against the British mandatory rule that prevailed between 1922 and 1947.

In 1948, Israel agreed to a United Nations partition plan for Palestine under which Jewish residents would be sovereign over a small portion of original mandatory Palestine and Arabs would rule over another portion allotted to them by the U.N. (As noted, Israel agreed to equal rights for the Arab minority remaining under its sovereignty). Arabs rejected the partition and Arab armies from surrounding Arab countries promptly attacked the fledgling Jewish state vowing to drive the Jews into the sea. In the vast disruption prompted by the Arab-initiated war, several hundred thousand Arabs became refugees and hundreds of thousands of Jews were forced to leave their homes in North Africa and Arab countries. Hundreds of thousands of local Arabs chose not to flee in 1948 and they became the source of the 1.7 million Arabs who today are full citizens of Israel. Any notion of virulent Israeli colonialism is also belied by Israel’s relinquishment of the Sinai peninsula (via a 1979 peace treaty with Egypt), by its unilateral withdrawals from Gaza (2005) and south Lebanon (2000), and by prior offers to Yasser Arafat (Camp David 2000) and Mahmoud Abbas (2008) to relinquish over 90% of the West Bank.

The second anti-Zionist calumny is that Israel is an “apartheid” state. As a resident of Tel Aviv and a former law faculty member at Tel Aviv University, I am well situated to refute that malicious distortion. Israeli Arabs have full political rights and occupy 10 percent of the parliamentary seats. Arabs work in most sectors of the Israeli economy, including as lawyers, judges, physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and hi-tech engineers. Arabs constitute over 10 percent of university students. Arab shoppers regularly mingle with Jewish shoppers in malls and on public transportation. While there is considerable discrimination against Arabs in Israeli society that needs to be overcome, the current scene is far from apartheid.

The final anti-Zionist calumny is that Israel is engaged in a genocidal campaign against Palestinian Arabs in Gaza and in parts of the West Bank. As to Gaza, Israel in 2005 unilaterally withdrew settlers and armed forces from Gaza, hoping that the Gazans would exercise self-rule for self-benefit. Instead, Hamas violently seized control, ruthlessly suppressed all forms of freedom, and launched thousands of missiles wreaking havoc and trauma in Israel’s civilian border communities. In an effort to end the missile barrages, Israeli forces have invaded and bombed Gaza 3 times, inflicting heavy casualties.

There have been many civilian casualties in those Gaza invasions, as was the case in comparable allied operations in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Libya, and Yemen. When belligerents like Hamas (or ISIS) use mosques, schools, and other civilian structures for weapon storage and launchings, these misused structures become possible targets. Israel adheres to international legal standards of proportionality in selecting targets and takes steps (like telephoning possible civilian occupants) to avoid excessive collateral damage. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NX6vyT8RzMo&feature=player_embedded

Arab residents of parts of the West Bank are indeed subject to harsh Israeli control entailing serious limitations on travel, work access, and building. On occasion, either isolated soldiers or Jewish settlers exacerbate that harsh control via criminal acts of assault, vandalism, and even homicide. Such misdeeds are in no way part of Israeli policy and are subject to criminal punishment by Israeli authorities. Three Jewish terrorists were recently convicted for the vicious murder of a Palestinian teen in 2014. Two of them received life sentences. More Jewish extremists are now under indictment for criminal activities (including arson) directed against West Bank Arabs. An Israeli soldier who recently killed a disarmed Palestinian assailant is now facing homicide charges. All this refutes the notion that Israel is conducting a genocidal campaign toward Palestinians.

Many “liberal” Zionists are troubled by Israeli domination over more than 2 million Arab Palestinians in the West Bank and they therefore pursue a 2-state solution. People like Ari Shavit, Yair Lapid, Dennis Ross, and Alan Dershowitz are vocal critics of some of the Netanyahu government’s policies while still supporting Israel’s entitlement to secure borders and staunch defense of its citizens. These liberal Zionists recognize that Palestinian rejectionism toward prior peace offers and contemporary Palestinian incitement to violence against all Jews undermine the prospects of a peaceful resolution. These Zionist critics also recognize that anti-Zionism, the delegitimization of Israeli statehood, is counter-productive to the ultimate well being of both the Jewish and Arab populations of what was formerly mandatory Palestine. Any attempt to dismantle Israel would precipitate violent confrontation incalculably costly to all sides.

If you seek a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Arab conflict, I urge you to forego the counter-productive anti-Zionist position and to join the liberal Zionist ranks.

Ancient But Quaint Expressions

Over the course of 72 years, I’ve heard a multitude of colorful ways to express thoughts or describe phenomena. Too many of those choice expressions have already evaporated from my aging brain, but a modest number subsist. I think I owe it to posterity to record at least the most memorable and piquant examples. Posterity might well decide that it doesn’t need or want any reminder of these “classic” idioms, but at least I will have tried.

Keep in mind that my formative years for self-expression were the 1950’s and the 1960’s, so if you were born after 1970 your non-recognition of certain terms can be forgiven. Keep in mind also that we, the war-baby generation, were quite precocious as to profanity. As I look back at our lexicon of phrases, it’s quite amazing what crude and crass little suckers we were. If you’re averse to perpetuating profanity, keep this missive out of the hands of your impressionable grandchildren.

Some expressions never die. Just the other day I heard “Is the pope Catholic?” as a shorthand comment about an issue whose answer should be utterly self-evident. But that rhetorical question about the pope was a hackneyed phrase even 50 years ago. Some of us had a more colorful rejoinder to obviousness. We queried: “Do bears shit in the woods?” An even quainter expression that I’ve always favored is: “Does a hobby horse have a wooden asshole?”

As youngsters trying to cover up our various insecurities, we were adept at using crude and crass expressions to disparage or mock others around us. There was a vast array of put-downs for seemingly stupid statements. One common retort to perceived stupidity (dating from the 1960’s) was: “you don’t know diddilysquat” about that! The term “diddilysquat” was sometimes shortened to “squat,” as in “you don’t know squat about that.” Another derisive comment dating back to the 1950’s was: “you don’t know shit from shinola!” (Today, everyone wears running shoes, so you probably didn’t even know that shinola is shoe polish). Yet I always thought it was pretty evocative to tell a dolt encountered that he was so obtuse as to be unable to differentiate between excrement and dark shoe polish. The most evocative put-down, reserved for really outrageous ignorance, is: “you must be suffering from a cranial-rectal inversion.” What an elegant way to tell your unworthy adversary that their views are so distorted that their head must be lodged up their ass!

Our youthful crassness and vulgarity was not confined to mocking stupidity. Sometimes, the context was angry response to perceived provocation. We (meaning young males, as I never hung out with young females) had a vast repertoire of nasty rejoinders utilizing the words fuck or suck. “Fuck you” was a pallid starting point in our insult lexicon. Like George Carlin in one of his monologues, I marveled at the irony of telling an antagonist to go perform a pleasurable act. The hostile sexual imagery also provoked in me another wonderment. As many times as I heard “go fuck yourself,” it never failed to trigger wonder about the contortions entailed in accomplishing the prescribed action. A propos physical wonders, consider an angry command once directed at me to “go take a flying fuck in a donut.” Think about the intricate mechanics involved in penetrating the hole of an airborne donut! Along the same lines, I had a friend who referred to any disdained adversary as “needledick, the bug fucker.” (Male insecurity being as acute as it is, it was always provocative to mock the size of someone else’s member.)

Our youthful coarseness came out in other expressive contexts. In communicating the fact of a recent death, we were aware of social preferences for euphemisms like “passed away” or “entered into eternal rest.” Nonetheless, if reporting the death of a stranger or non-friend acquaintance, we resorted to more vivid expressions. Sometimes, we noted, as they did in cowboy movies, that decedent X had “bit the dust.” That colorful expression always seemed incongruous in an era in which most people died in bed or on paved surfaces rather than in dusty corrals. Perhaps our favorite death announcement was that X had “croaked.” That formulation would have been particularly apt if the decedent had died under conditions of respiratory distress like COPD, but our usage of “croaked” was not so confined. We also used the more stock term “kicked the bucket,” though I confess I never understood what bucket was involved. Back in the 1950’s, I heard the phrase “took a mort” to report a death. I liked the cosmopolitan element of injecting French into the pronouncement, but today the French usage would probably come across as pretentious rather than as a bon mot.

Callow, testosterone crazed youth that we were, we regularly fantasized about romantic conquest. Often we were smitten with some bedazzling female but totally incapable of transforming our adulation into an actual approach. We could, though, colorfully describe our yearning to our equally hapless colleagues. A yearning suitor would typically convey the intensity of his homage by stressing the level of sacrifice to which he was willing to go just to be received by the wondrous, intimidating female. For example, the suitor might say: “I would crawl a mile on my hands and knees” (sometimes adding snow or sand to the projected image) if “she” would just deign to receive me. This willingness to drag oneself a great distance was indeed a fitting expression of enamorment. But I once heard an even more evocative and convincing communication of homage and devotion. A besotted friend remarked: “I would stand in shit up to my neck just to watch one of her turds float by!” That, to me, represented the ultimate in self-sacrifice and dedication.

Did young women have comparable expressions regarding desired studs? Again, I wouldn’t know, as I didn’t hang out in those circles.

Don’t think that all was doom, gloom, hostility, and frustration in our youthful vocabulary. Occasionally, we found colorful ways to express great enjoyment. For example, we were sometimes “happy as a pig in shit.” As in: ‘I was happy as a pig in shit’ while writing this blog piece.

Whatever debt to posterity I might have had has now been paid. What are the chances that posterity will appreciate and utilize this assortment of piquant expressions? As we used to say in the face of overwhelming negative odds: “there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell.” Or “the chances are somewhere between zero and nil.” Or we might say: “there’s about as much chance of that as for a fart in a windstorm.” Given the crude tone of this collection, that last expression is particularly apt.

My Plan to Avoid the Ravages of Extreme Dementia

(This piece was first published on the blog of the Petrie-Flom Ethics Center at Harvard Law School in April 2015.)

The first signs of my friend Gertie’s descent into dementia were mild — confusion about days of the week and memory loss about recent events. These were troubling but understandable phenomena in my then 84 year-old friend. Aging inevitably entails some cognitive decline. Over time, though, her symptoms of mental deterioration worsened — disinterest in pursuits like reading and listening to music that had once occupied and entertained her, forgetting not just long-time friends, but even her devoted husband who had died years earlier, and obsessive repetition of certain thoughts and phrases. Now 89, Gertie barely recognizes the devoted caregivers around her. She cannot recall her distant or recent past, she no longer knows who or where she is. Gertie remains physically tenacious, with no life-threatening maladies. While dependent on assistance for dressing, eating, ambulating, bathing, and toileting, Gertie may continue in her mentally detached and dysfunctional limbo for years more.

I am determined to avoid Gertie’s fate. So I am now contemplating how to respond if and when I am diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s. My prime object is to avoid the precipitous mental deterioration accompanying advanced Alzheimer’s or similar dementia. My aversion is not based on prospective emotional distress and suffering. While some people in sharp mental decline may experience anxiety, frustration, embarrassment, confusion, or agitation, some, like Gertie, seem placid and indifferent to their debilitation. My aversion is grounded rather in my abhorrence of reduced mental function to a degree I deem intolerably demeaning. Such a status is unacceptable to me whether or not I would experience distress in a future demented state.

Keep in mind that I spent my work career as an academic. My personal satisfaction and self-image have flowed largely from intellectual functions like observation, reflection, and analysis. Inability to understand and process information is, for me, an intolerably undignified status. This preoccupation with future mental dysfunction reflects unwillingness to soil the lifetime image to be left with my survivors. I care mightily about posthumous recollections of my personality and I seek to shape my life trajectory (including a dying process) in a way that preserves a modicum of dignity.

I am not alone in a strong concern with prospective indignity associated with mental decline. Ezekiel Emanuel, a noted physician and ethics commentator, has expressed a determination to avoid the diminished function of a person over age 75. For him, his survivors’ recollection of his persona as “feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic” (at age 75 and beyond) would represent degradation that would indelibly soil his lifetime image. My own vision of intolerable indignity is not grounded in advanced age or physical decay, but rather in sharp intellectual deterioration thwarting my understanding and interacting with my surroundings. I also feel distaste for becoming a physical burden on others via necessary assistance in mobility, bathing, dressing, eating, and toileting. But my vision of intolerable indignity relates mainly to intellectual dysfunction. I wish to avoid incapacity to process information to a degree that renders me incompetent to make major life decisions such as where to live and whether to receive life-sustaining medical intervention.

Not everyone shares my extreme revulsion toward an end-of-life period immersed in mental dysfunction. Some people are resigned to subsisting under Alzheimer’s ravages (if and when such dementia comes) and they focus on advance planning aimed at treating their future incompetent persona humanely and in line with their (the planners’) values and preferences. For example, a person while still competent can designate a trusted agent to make future decisions and can express preferences about certain choices like type of living arrangement. (E.g., a wish to remain in home-based care as long as possible or a wish for group living as opposed to burdening a loved one). This advance planning can speak not only to residential locus, but also to type, extent, and financing of future medical care. Compassion and Choices, an organization focused on death with dignity, offers a model directive for treatment (or non-treatment) of someone stricken with Alzheimer’s or other dementia.

My own preference, at least after a definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is received, is never to reach the mentally debilitated stage when I am no longer in charge of my fate. Rather, I plan to engineer my self-deliverance (to use a euphemism for suicide as is appropriate to someone stricken with a fatal affliction accelerating their own demise) while still competent to do so. This will be my course as long as no reliable therapies are available.

My plan raises an exquisite timing dilemma. Like the vast majority of people, I have a powerful will to live and a capacity to adjust to changing circumstances, including deteriorating circumstances. In the early stages of dementia, I expect to retain both mental capacity to shape my own fate and sufficient intellectual satisfaction to warrant continued existence. At the same time, self-deliverance demands a firm mental resolve that may be eroded by increasing dementia. A hazard is that the drive to live will prevail to a point when the mental capacity no longer exists to carry out my preferred course of self-deliverance. (From that point on, I, like every mentally debilitated person, would be dependent on a surrogate decision maker’s adherence to instructions articulated while I was still mentally competent. I will explain more later about the post-competence fate of a person who slips into incompetency before executing a planned self-deliverance, but who has previously expressed a desire to avoid the extreme dysfunction of advanced Alzheimer’s.)

Timing is not the only dilemma that will face me as an early Alzheimer’s patient seeking to avoid the descent into advanced dementia. The means of self-arranged death poses a further difficulty. I am repulsed by the violent and often gruesome methods used to commit suicide – like guns, razors, and leaps from great heights. Such methods don’t fulfill my conception of a modicum of dignity in dying. And they entail not only significant failure rates, but also the hazard of leaving the person seeking to die lingering on in a worsened state.

Various right-to-die organizations suggest less taxing means of self-deliverance. The most common method is ingestion of a lethal drug leading to unconsciousness within minutes and death within hours. This requires selecting and accessing an effective barbiturate or opioid (as opposed to simply overdosing on sleeping pills and thus risking either waking up post-overdose or regurgitating the pills). The appropriate drugs are highly controlled substances usually available only by prescription. Most physicians won’t prescribe or furnish lethal substances that might generate regulatory inquiries about assisting suicide. Note that even in states that have legalized assisted suicide, the authorization to supply a lethal substance does not apply to an early-stage alzheimer’s patient; that patient doesn’t meet the criterion of terminal illness (death likely within 6 months) needed for authorized provision of a lethal substance. Reliance on internet or foreign suppliers of a lethal substance carries a risk of fraud and /or violations of legal regulations. Beyond the challenge of obtaining the lethal substance, additional hurdles loom. To avoid the complications occasionally associated with lethal drug ingestion (primarily vomiting), an anti-emetic may be a desirable precaution. Again, some medical guidance is appropriate. Perhaps I (or you) can find a physician friend or a retired medical person willing to offer clandestine guidance in obtaining and using an appropriate lethal drug. I haven’t yet lined up the requisite medical back-up for exit by poison and I am meanwhile weighing other options.

Another means of self-arranged death suggested by right-to-die advocates is called the helium method. A properly equipped patient who breathes in helium will lapse into unconsciousness within seconds and die within a half hour. The requisite equipment is not hard to obtain via hardware and party supply stores – a small tank of helium, a plastic hood (large roasting bag), and plastic tubing. The failure rate with a properly assembled helium hood is very low and instructive videos are readily available. Advocates acknowledge, though, that many people seeking self-deliverance are deterred from the helium method. I am one of them, having no confidence in my mechanical skills in arranging even the relatively simple helium apparatus in question. So while I don’t find the vision of a helium hood and a short period of gasping to be excessively distressful or undignified, I am unlikely to employ that methodology.

Another supposedly painless and reliable means of self-arranged death is called “ligature compression.” This involves applying and twisting a tourniquet to press the carotid arteries in one’s neck. This technique stops the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain and leads to fainting and death. I am not likely to be using ligature compression in my role as an early Alzheimer’s patient seeking to hasten death. I would again be worried about my mechanical skill in arranging and twisting the tourniquet in a fashion that maintains pressure on the carotids while avoiding the windpipe and associated choking.

So how will I accomplish my own demise if I reject the most commonly used and recommended methods of self-arranged death like drugs and helium? My current leaning, based on research and reflection, is to stop eating and drinking (SED). Strict cessation of nutrition and hydration will typically result in death within 10 to 14 days. The dehydration impacts brain function so that the person who stops eating and drinking will lapse into unconsciousness over the first 5 to 8 days. After several more days, the dehydration prompts death by cardiac malfunction and arrest.

While the SED process can theoretically be accomplished alone and requires only resolve to resist initial feelings of hunger and thirst, it makes great sense to enlist some help to provide palliative or comfort care during the process. Such palliative care greatly reduces any chance that SED will be a torturous process. I plan to employ a home health aide capable of performing tasks like keeping mouth and lips moist (to avoid cracked lips and to help overcome thirst), maintaining oral cleanliness (to avoid fungal infections), and administering sedation (to cope with delirium or agitation that sometimes occurs). This comfort care might also include analgesics or anti-emetics if there is any underlying condition that necessitates pain relief or nausea control.

For me, the cessation of eating and drinking offers a reasonably peaceful, painless, and dignified enough way to accelerate death. Any spectre of an agonizing death by starvation is dispelled by lots of anecdotal evidence in the context of degenerative disease patients facing protracted and distasteful dying processes who resorted to SED. These include advanced cancer patients as well as others stricken with ALS, Parkinson’s Disease, or M.S. Many fatally stricken medical patients have opted for SED to cut short a protracted and emotionally draining dying process that has become personally intolerable. That also would be my prerogative as a victim of Alzheimer’s.

Does SED constitute suicide and would my home health aides be vulnerable to charges of assisting suicide by cooperating with my death by dehydration? There is an overtone of
suicide present because a fasting patient is initiating a fatal course (death by dehydration) with the specific intent to die. Nonetheless, many legal and medical commentators view SED and its assistance as a perfectly legal course in the context of a competent person stricken with a fatal malady. Such a stricken patient is clearly entitled to forgo or detach any life-sustaining ventilation, dialysis, blood transfusions, or antibiotics; and the patient’s wish to die does not convert the acceleration of death to suicide. The stricken patient is legally permitted to manage medical intervention in order to control the timing of an unavoidable death.

A fatally stricken patient using SED is similarly invoking concepts of bodily integrity, self-determination, and dignity. That patient is resisting forced feeding or medically initiated nutrition and hydration in order to avoid or shorten an intolerable stage of a degenerative condition.

The commentators asserting that SED is a lawful variation of resistance to unwanted medical intervention cannot rely on any authoritative ruling by an upper level court because such courts have not addressed the issue. However, rulings by lower courts in the U.S., Canada, and Australia have upheld the prerogative of a patient invoking SED to resist any forced intervention. This legal support is a natural outcome, given sympathy with the plight of fatigued, fatally stricken patients and revulsion at the prospect of restraints to overcome a competent patient’s will and bodily integrity. A right-to-die organization like Compassion and Choices may be exaggerating slightly in asserting that SED is “well established by law,” but their claim of legality is still basically sound.

A more sobering claim sometimes made against SED is that it is an excessively undignified dying process. Critics point to the overall duration (up to 2 and 1/2 weeks), the erosion of mental clarity (delirium flowing from dehydration), and several days of unconscious lingering as dehumanizing and humiliating. SED, they claim, also imposes “a horrible vigil” on surrounding family watching the wasting or unconscious patient die. In lawsuits brought by dying patients challenging laws against assisted suicide, plaintiffs depict SED as a protracted ordeal for both patients and family.

I have read several anecdotal reports in which an SED dying process is described by observers as brutal. These negative accounts are usually explainable by absence of precautions such as sedatives for patient agitation or analgesics for preexisting pathologies afflicting the fasting patient. Sometimes, surrounding family members find the death watch to be hard and the patient can be distressed by this hardship imposed on loved ones.

My personal assessment is that SED is not an intolerably undignified, stressful, or prolonged process. That the process demands firm resolve on the part of the fasting individual seems appropriate to the fateful, somber circumstances. The dying person’s opportunity to reflect and retract is for me a positive aspect of the process. Mental disruption in the form of delirium or agitation can be managed with sedatives. A period of insensate lingering may not be ideal, but this is akin to the natural dying process that often occurs for end-stage medical patients. Patients dying of degenerative conditions like cancer or heart disease frequently lapse into coma as a form of natural anesthesia at the end stage. Several days of unconsciousness does not seem to me like an intolerable affront to dignity, as opposed to a permanently vegetative state or protracted coma in which unconsciousness continues for months or years.

The duration of an SED dying process over 10 to 14 days seems tough compared with the rapidity of ingestion of a fatal drug. Keep in mind, though, that even in jurisdictions that allow assisted suicide by prescription drugs, the process extends over weeks or months. There, procedural safeguards, including mandated periods for a patient’s medical examination, consultation, reflection, and reaffirmation, dictate that the process is a protracted one.

Of course a death watch can be traumatic for those surrounding the fasting patient and witnessing a loved one accelerating their own demise by rejecting food and drink. Final leave takings are by their nature hard. I will not expect attendance by anyone around me who finds the process too arduous. I will not even inform anyone who seems too delicate or vulnerable. I regret the prospect of emotional suffering for anyone who undertakes my death watch, but it doesn’t alter my resolve. For me, an important consolation is knowledge that through SED I will be sparing future caregivers years of burdensome and stressful watch over a highly debilitated persona (an advanced Alzheimer’s patient) who I refuse to become.

An important question is why “rush” to self-deliverance while still competent, thereby risking a premature demise while still enjoying life and with potential for additional satisfaction. Why not prepare advance instructions regarding a post-competence fate and then depend on a carefully chosen surrogate decision maker to ensure one’s demise well before reaching the depths of advanced Alzheimer’s? My first response is that I don’t want to subsist in a mentally deteriorated state (incompetent to make important decisions) even if that status might be described for some period as “pleasantly” deranged. Therefore, my Plan A is to self-deliver while still competent, at some stage of early Alzheimer’s. Another response is that reliance on surrogate decision making to accelerate my post-competence demise is a very uncertain and problematic path.

In theory, a designated health care agent can and should implement whatever advance health care instructions I lay out. So I can express in advance my distaste for subsistence in a demented state and dictate that no life-sustaining medical intervention should take place post-competency. My directive can explicitly reject not only mechanical intervention like a ventilator, but also simplistic medical steps like antibiotics for infections or artificial nutrition (an i.v.) for swallowing or digestive disorders. I am willing to assume that statutory constrictions in certain states’ health care decisions acts (limiting surrogate end-of-life medical decisions to “terminally ill” patients) would not pose an obstacle to implementation of my instructions for medical handling. Such statutes are not intended to constrict common-law prerogatives to shape one’s post-competence medical fate. Nonetheless, this course relying on advance instructions to a health care agent is not, for me, satisfactory. Multiple variables and hurdles stand in the way of surrogate rejection of life-extending medical intervention as an expeditious path to post-competence death.

For starters, the occurrence of potentially life-threatening disease or infection is largely fortuitous, a matter of happenstance. As Alzheimer’s runs its course, periodic infections may arise from conditions like incontinence, swallowing difficulties, immobility, and reduced immune response. But years could go by before an infection or some other potentially fatal malady sets in. As noted, I don’t wish to subsist as a mentally debilitated, incompetent person at all, let alone one lingering for years in that status.

Some people shaping their post-competence medical fate seek to overcome the happenstance of illness timing by instructing their health care agent to initiate a post-competence SED process – i.e., surrogate cessation of nutrition and hydration (the technique I plan to employ while still competent). A typical provision instructs future caregivers not to offer food or water or tube feeding to the now-incompetent patient once a designated stage of mental decline has been reached. The underlying theory seems to be that a competent person’s right to SED can be exercised post-competency by a surrogate decision maker who has been so instructed.

I have serious doubts that surrogate-initiated SED offers a viable technique for abbreviating a person’s unwanted, seriously demented existence. Recall that the exercise of SED (even by a competent person) requires a resolute will and back-up by a palliative caregiver capable of dealing with sedatives and analgesics. At a post-competency stage, the Alzheimer’s patient may well have forgotten her prior determination to avoid indignity and may well be experiencing modest satisfactions in life with no sense of degradation; she is not perceptibly suffering. Under such circumstances, the designated agent, surrounding family, and the attending palliative care provider may have serious compunctions about engineering SED and causing the ostensibly content individual to die from dehydration. Even if the now-incompetent patient previously dictated this course by explicit directive, caregivers tend to associate food and water with care and compassion and may well be uncomfortable implementing prior SED instructions for a helpless, ostensibly content person who has no recollection of her prior resolve. The now-incompetent patient may at this stage be willingly accepting food and may even request food or drink if that is withheld. Causing hunger or frustration to the hapless, uncomprehending patient by surrogate-initiated SED seems inhumane (though sedatives would be available as a palliative measure). And the patient’s current willingness to eat might be viewed as a de facto revocation of the advance directive to withhold food and drink. (Implementation of an SED advance directive would be even more problematic in the several states whose legislation appears to ban withdrawal of oral nutrition from incompetent patients or in cases when the patient is now located in a nursing home or institution that has conscientious objections to cessation of hand feeding).

My current thinking, then, is that in order to avoid years of intolerably undignified dementia, I will have to arrange my own death – probably by SED – while I still have the capacity to carry it out. Some people might deem this course an immoral deprivation of my prospective future persona’s potential for a modestly pleasurable existence in a demented status that might not be experienced as degrading and undignified. I have no qualms about the morality of my foreclosing a future demented life. As an adult, I have nurtured and developed a character and a life image. I have earned the prerogative of avoiding an intolerably undignified existence even if my future persona would not be palpably suffering in that condition. My life narrative belongs to me, not my hypothetical future persona.

Post-Election Reflections about Israel’s Center-Left

(This piece appeared in the Times of Israel opinion section on April 6, 2015)

Much of the commentary following Benjamin Netanyahu’s winning of 30 knesset seats (versus 22 predicted in pre-election polls) attributes the victory to “fear” on the part of Israeli voters. That fear is that the parties to the left of Netanyahu will give away the store if placed in charge of Israel’s fate. The underlying perception is that the left naively believes that only Israeli intransigence blocks permanent peace with the Palestinians. From the left’s supposed perspective, if Israel would only withdraw from most of Judea and Samaria and agree to Palestinian sovereignty there, all contending parties could grasp hands and sing Kumbaya.

If unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank were the Zionist Union’s (center-left) real position, public revulsion would be readily understandable. The great bulk of the Israeli public can’t reconcile unilateral withdrawal from territory with harsh historical facts. They don’t have to go back to Arab rejection of a 2-state solution in 1947-48 (with Arab states launching a war of destruction), or the founding of the PLO in 1964 (dedicated to violently reclaiming all of Palestine even before Israel occupied an inch of the West Bank), or the 1967 Arab rejection of negotiations to resolve the fate of the newly conquered West Bank. Israelis recall the Palestinian rejections of statehood offers in 2000 at Camp David and in 2008. And they have an indelible recollection of the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. That withdrawal was grounded on an expectation that Gaza’s residents would utilize the opportunity to peacefully self govern and would be deterred by Israeli military might from launching hostilities. That Gaza withdrawal instead engendered a violent takeover by Hamas (an entity dedicated to the violent destruction of Israel), imposition of harsh Sharia law, and the launching into Israel of many thousands of missiles wreaking such havoc on southern Israel’s civilian life that 3 military incursions have been necessary to try and quell those destructive barrages. A similar withdrawal from a “security strip” in southern Lebanon entailed Hezbollah’s further inroads into Lebanon and emplacement of rockets and missiles threatening Israel’s northern population.

Given these past traumas, it is no wonder that Israelis fear that facile concessions and/or unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) would have similar dangerous repercussions. Only this time the missiles would be launched from very short distances from Israel’s population concentrations. Add to the fear factor the recent advances of Islamic fundamentalism in nearby Syria, Iraq, and the Sinai desert. Consider also hostile Iran’s footholds in Israel’s environs – through Hezbollah’s emplacements in Lebanon and in the Syrian Golan.

Benjamin Netanyahu did make a concerted effort in the recent election campaign to play to Israelis’ security fears. He proclaimed that there would never be a Palestinian state “on his watch” and that he would take further steps to prevent such a development by building more of a Jewish presence in East Jerusalem. He shrilly condemned “anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian state today” as simply providing a launching pad for further attacks on Israel; he accused the left of burying their heads in the sand. Netanyahu warned that Arab voters were streaming to the polls, an alarm not so much racist as an effort to present a frightening specter flowing from the United Arab List’s preoccupation with Palestinian affairs rather than the welfare of Israel and its Arab citizens.

The impact of Netanyahu’s scare tactics actually fell primarily on the right-leaning part of the voting spectrum. The last pre-election public opinion polls showed the Zionist Union with 26 knesset seats versus 22 for the Likud. The possibility that the Zionist Union might outvote the Likud triggered Netanyahu’s frantic warnings. Following this end-stage scare campaign, the Likud ended up with 30 seats. The likelihood is that Netanyahu’s shrill rhetoric influenced right-leaning voters from the Bayit Yehudi (Naftali Bennett’s party) and Yachad (Eli Ishai’s party). They were impelled to vote for Netanyahu to reinforce his chances to garner the largest electoral bloc and thereby get the first chance to form a new governing coalition. Both Bayit Yehudi and Yachad ended up with fewer seats than indicated in the pre-election surveys.

Some evidence supports the thesis that the fear factor indeed moved voters toward Netanyahu. The geographical distribution of election results shows that in areas most affected by missile barrages – places like Shderot and Ashdod – the Likud outpolled the Zionist Union by a ratio of four or five to one.

A major irony of Netanyahu’s claims about the left’s willingness to give away the store is that the Zionist Union’s actual positions were attuned to Israel’s security concerns. Its platform expressed readiness to renew negotiations toward a 2-state solution, but with careful regard for Israel’s security needs. The platform includes provisions on demilitarization of any future Palestinian state, on disarmament of Hamas and other radical movements, and on preclusion of weaponry from Hezbollah. The only “concession” to the Palestinian side was willingness to freeze settlement building outside the blocs likely to be retained by Israel in any future 2-state deal. In short, the platform attended to security concerns while recognizing the warnings of many former heads of intelligence services and former generals that the biggest long-term threat to Israel’s wellbeing lies in absence of permanent resolution of Palestinian grievances.

The Zionist Union’s election campaign focused on domestic economic issues rather than frictions with the Palestinians. The downplay of peace prospects was understandable, given the Israeli public’s incredulity about Palestinian desire for a peaceful 2-state resolution. That doubt is grounded on the Palestinian Authority’s heralded rapprochements with Hamas and its increasingly bellicose rhetoric toward Israel.

With 20/20 hindsight, perhaps the better election strategy would have been to confront head-on the issue of negotiations with the Palestinians. The Zionist Union might have recycled Ariel Sharon’s 2005 speech at the United Nations, where he said:
The right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel does not mean disregarding the rights of others in the land. The Palestinians will always be our neighbors. * * * They are also entitled to freedom and to a national, sovereign existence in a state of their own. * * * It is possible to reach a fair compromise and coexistence in good neighborly relations between Jews and Arabs. * * * [However,] there will be no compromise on the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, with defensible borders in full security without threats and terror.
Of course, Sharon then slipped up when he unilaterally withdrew from Gaza without any security arrangements. He gave away the store in that instance.

It is the unenviable task of Isaac Herzog, Tzipi Livni, and like-minded people on the center-left to persuade Israeli voters (and the major world powers) that the vision of peaceful coexistence of Israel and a Palestinian state is not pie in the sky. The center-left’s task is to reassure that Israel’s extension of a peaceful hand toward negotiations would be circumscribed by constant awareness of Israel’s security needs – that it won’t give away the West Bank store. It must show that the real obstruction to a peaceful, 2-state resolution is Palestinian enmity and resistance to recognizing Israel’s right to subsist with security for its population.

Right now, the center-left’s task looks like mission impossible. Who in the Israeli electorate will be convinced about negotiations when daily reports arrive about Hamas’ continued missile rearmament, tunnel digging, and rededication to the goal of destroying Israel, all while the Palestinian Authority pursues hostile confrontation in international forums? To generate a negotiated end to Israeli domination over 2.5 million West Bank Arabs, the U.S., Europe, and all interested foreign powers will have to exert their influence on the Palestinians, as well as the Israelis, to undertake good-faith negotiations toward a 2-state solution. Without significant changes in tone on both sides, the long-term peace prospects look dismal.

On Annexing the West Bank

The Ill-considered Idea of Annexation
Norman L. Cantor

Some political forces in Israel urge annexation of all or a major part of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) as was previously done by Israel in 1981 with east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. For example, Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party, which has 11 parliamentary seats (out of 120) and is currently part of the ruling coalition, supports annexation of at least 60 per cent of Judea and Samaria. Likewise, some members of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party, including the coalition’s parliamentary whip Yariv Levin, support unilateral declaration of Israeli sovereignty over all or most of the West Bank.

Annexationists, as I will call them, assert a moral, legal, and historical Jewish right to settle in all of Judea and Samaria. The moral and historical foundations relate to the Jewish presence in that area going back thousands of years to the Hebrew tribes’ arrival and their evolution into Jewish kingdoms. Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria is also consistent with biblical promises to install Jewish control there. One biblical source (Genesis 15:18-21) would justify Jewish control from the Nile to the Euphrates and would encompass several modern Arab countries. The more modest biblical promise speaks to the land divided among the 12 tribes of Israel which would include Judea and Samaria (as well as green-line Israel, Gaza and part of Lebanon).

The legal foundation for Jewish presence on the West Bank lies principally in the 1922 League of Nations mandate authorizing British control of the Palestine portion of the former Ottoman Empire. The British mandate area included Judea and Samaria and the mandate provided for Jewish settlement toward a Jewish homeland in Palestine as endorsed in Britain’s 1917 Balfour declaration. That declaration had expressed British favor for “a national home” for the Jewish people to be created within Palestine by Jewish immigration, but without prejudice to the civil rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine. Between 1922 and 1948, a small part of the influx of Jews into mandatory Palestine occurred in areas of Judea and Samaria like Gush Etzion; Jews in Hebron date back even further. Thus, at the moment when Israel was established in 1948, there was some legitimate Jewish presence on the West Bank.

The permanent borders of the State of Israel are not etched in stone. The 1948 declaration of statehood did not specify borders and the borders prevailing from 1949 to 1967 were established along the armistice lines following the 1948-49 war of independence fought against invading Arab armies. Those armistice lines left Judea and Samaria within control of the State of Jordan. Between 1949 and 1967, Jordan asserted sovereignty over and controlled the West Bank. During the 6-day war of 1967, which Jordan chose to enter to assist Egypt, Israel conquered the area of Judea and Samaria and the new armistice lines left Israel in control of the West Bank. The new 1967 “border” between Israel and Jordan (the Jordan River) was not intended to be permanent. U.N. Security Council resolution 242 in November 1967 called for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory, but also called for secure boundaries for Israel; its drafters did not envisage strict return to pre-1967 boundaries. In short, there is legal room for adjustment of Israel’s boundaries from those prevailing between 1948 and 1967 and there’s some legal basis for a presence of Jews in Judea and Samaria. This is still a long way from entitlement to unilaterally annex all or a major part of the West Bank.

One obvious hurdle to annexation is demographic. Annexation of the entire West Bank would ostensibly entail permanent Israeli control of approximately 2.3 million Arab residents. In theory, a territorily expanded Israel could offer full citizenship to these Arab residents, just as Israel in 1948-49 bestowed full citizenship on all permanent residents, including Arabs and Beduins. In practice, annexationists, with rare exceptions, have no interest in according citizenship to another 2.3 million Arabs (beyond the existing 1.6 million Israeli Arabs).

Annexationists offer various solutions to the demographic obstacle. They would prefer to be free of physical entwinement with the West Bank Palestinian Arabs. Yet forced transfer (meaning mass expulsion of Arab residents from Judea and Samaria) is recognized to be beyond the moral and legal pale. The 1937 Peel Commission did favor the transfer of some Arabs as part of a suggested partition of mandatory Palestine, but not expulsion from Palestine.

An alternative annexationist idea is to promote Palestinian dispersion by providing economic incentives for Arab residents to leave Judea and Samaria. Such financial benefits would ostensibly favor the currently disadvantaged West Bank Arabs. Yet the economic incentive plan would fail. Even assuming the availability of financing, such an ethnically grounded dispersion effort would meet massive political opposition within the affected Arab population (as well as international condemnation). The ensuing resistance would doom the incentive idea to failure.

To grasp the depth of Arab resistance to dispersion, keep in mind that the great majority of the Arab residents of the West Bank have every right to be there. Some of these residents trace their roots in Palestine back hundreds of years. Another significant part of the Arab population are descendants of people who migrated to Palestine in the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century from surrounding areas like Egypt. I.e., their forbearers settled in Palestine under the Ottoman domain just as did some forbearers of current Jewish Israelis. Both the 1917 Balfour declaration and the 1922 League of Nations mandate explicitly reassured the existing non-Jewish communities about their civil rights. Also, hundreds of thousands of Arab residents of the West Bank are descendants of former residents of Israel proper who were displaced by the 1948 war, settled in Judea and Samaria, and legitimately remained there between 1949 and 1967 while subject to de facto Jordanian control of the area. That these refugees were cynically exploited for the last 64 years by the Arab states’ refusal to resettle them elsewhere does not diminish their moral and legal right to remain in their adopted homes in Judea and Samaria if they so choose.

The most common “solution” advanced by annexationists seeking to cope with 2.3 million Arab residents is to treat the West Bank Arabs as resident aliens with some form of limited self-rule. (Some annexationists would link Arab residents’ prospective autonomy to Jordanian citizenship. However, while Jordan willingly exercised control over the area between 1949 and 1967, Jordan currently has no interest in exercising any kind of sovereignty there, or having any kind of citizenship connection with the Arab residents of the West Bank). Moreover, many annexationists reject any form of non-Israeli sovereignty within Judea and Samaria and thus confine the Arab residents’ prospective status to a limited autonomy under Israeli hegemony.

This notion of limited Arab self-rule anticipates peaceful coexistence between the resident Jews (Israeli citizens) and the Arab residents of an annexed West Bank. However, relegation of this Arab population to an unequal, non-citizen status vis a vis their Jewish neighbors is a prescription for unending turmoil and resistance.

To understand universal Arab rejection of inferior political status for Arab residents in Judea and Samaria, consider the Palestinian Arab perspective starting almost 100 years ago. At the establishment of the British mandate in 1922, the population of all of Palestine included approximately 80,000 Jews and 700,000 Arabs. Ever since 1922, Arab leaders in Palestine feared that Jewish immigration would result in subordination or forced transfer of the Arab population. The violent Arab rebellion in 1936 was one index of resistance to feared non-Arab control. By the end of the British mandate in 1947, Palestine’s population numbers were 600,000 Jews and 1,250,000 Arabs. During the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli war, hundreds of thousands of Arabs were displaced from residence in Israel proper; many became part of the West Bank Arab population (grown today to 2.3 million). Since 1967, the Arab population of the West Bank has resisted Israeli presence in a variety of ways, sometimes violent. Israeli annexation of the West Bank, coupled with second class status for Arab residents, would entail continued resentment, resistance, and struggle.

David Ben Gurion understood the instability fated to plague any Israeli effort to control the Arab masses of the West Bank. In 1949, he turned down a plan to conquer the West Bank, recognizing the difficulty of co-opting and controlling its Arab residents. Post-1967 Israeli military control has only sharpened those residents’ feelings of humiliation and resentment over Israeli domination. The former heads of the Shin Bet security apparatus interviewed in the documentary film “The Gatekeepers” were unanimous in deeming an accommodation with Palestinian Arabs “a security imperative” for Israel’s long-term welfare.

Nor is resistance by the Arab residents the only danger facing Israeli annexation of Judea and Samaria. The bulk of the international community would view such annexation and partial subordination of the local population as an unacceptable form of ethnic exploitation as well as a breach of international law. All the major powers, including the United States, would be opposed. That opposition would ultimately engender not only political isolation for Israel but imposition of sanctions as was done to South Africa. Israel would be treated as a pariah state.

One proposed alternative to Arab residents’ rage over inferior status in the West Bank is the so-called 2-state solution. This approach entails creation of a new Palestinian Arab state with sovereignty over most of the West Bank as well as Gaza and part of Jerusalem. The current prospects of implementing this 2-state resolution of the fate of mandatory Palestine are bleak. Some Palestinian representatives, most notably Hamas (already controlling 1.6 million Gazan Arabs), utterly reject accommodation with Israel and seek to violently reclaim all of Palestine. While other Palestinian representatives purport to support the idea of a Palestinian state in 21% of mandatory Palestine (the West Bank and Gaza), their dedication to that goal is suspect. The common Palestinian insistence on a “right of return” for the millions of descendants of the hundreds of thousands of Arabs displaced from Israel in 1948 contradicts an accommodation with a Jewish state. Widespread demonization of Israelis within Palestinian political circles, mass media, and schools also communicates unwillingness to accept contemporary Israel. And even if there are Palestinian representatives genuinely committed to peaceful coexistence with Israel, their ability to rein in the fundamentalist militants like Hamas and Islamic Jihad is highly suspect. The percentage of Palestinians who see Tel Aviv as occupied territory ultimately to be violently liberated is uncertain. The chances of Hamas and its cohorts usurping any new Palestinian state and gaining control of the West Bank (in addition to Gaza) are significant. A hostile force controlling Judea and Samaria – within dozens of kilometers of Israel’s major population concentration — poses an enormous security threat to an Israel already confronting thousands of missiles in surrounding areas like Gaza and Lebanon.

Nor do the obstacles to a new Palestinian state lie solely in Arab rejectionism. The more than 300,000 Jewish Israeli residents of the West Bank jeopardize the viability of any such potential political entity. The current inter-twining of Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria leaves Arab population pockets looking like a non-contiguous archipelago. Arab mobility is also handicapped by a separation barrier that stifles free movement and burdens economic life. This mass Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria complicates if not eliminates the prospect for a stable 2-state solution. While evacuation of some Jewish areas pursuant to a comprehensive peace agreement might ease the demographic incongruities, settlers’ resistance to evacuation would be even more widespread and traumatic than in the prior evacuations of Jewish settlements in Sinai and Gaza.

The bottom line is that the long-term prospects for successful resolution of the fate of the West Bank appear discouraging. Both Israelis and Palestinian Arabs seem, for the time being, to be unready for any viable 2-state solution. Continuing reinforcement of Jewish settlement makes a successful 2-state resolution ever more improbable. At the same time, annexation of Judea and Samaria, with its inability to accommodate as citizens the 2.3 million Arab residents (to say nothing of the 1.6 million Gazans), is a prescription for unending turmoil.

A Ray of Light in Israeli Arab-Jewish Relations?

This piece appeared in “The Times of Israel” on March 13, 2013: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/a-ray-of-light-in-israeli-arab-jewish-relations/

Frictions, suspicions, and hostile incidents involving Arab-Jewish relations are all too common in Israel. Betar Jerusalem soccer fans are notorious for their racist opposition to any Arab or Muslim connection to their team as expressed not only by racist chants and demonstrations at Betar games, but by assaults on Arab workers and even an effort to burn down the club’s headquarters to protest hiring of Muslim players. Assaults by young Jews on Arabs (and by Arabs upon Jews) are also common, particularly in Jerusalem. Last week, several Haredi youths cursed and threw rocks at two teachers (one Jewish and one Arab) who had together come to Jerusalem on a condolence call to a colleague. An Arab woman was assaulted at a light-rail station. And Jewish youths in Tel Aviv assaulted an Arab municipal worker, requiring the worker’s hospitalization.

Given such background tensions and hostility, it is a delight to notice any development pointing toward reconciliation of Arabs and Jews within Israeli society. An article in the February 25 supplement to the newspaper Yediot Achronot highlights one such phenomenon – a considerable increase in Arab volunteers performing national service. The number of such Arab volunteers has grown from 100 in 2003 and 240 in 2005 to 2700 as of February 2013. That number is projected to increase to 3500 in 2014.

These national service volunteers work in a wide variety of settings. They serve as aides in health care institutions, schools, and public safety settings such as firefighting, first aid, and police stations. In short, these volunteers help provide critical services to the elderly, to children, and to the general public. Some volunteer placements are in the Arab sector, but most are not.

The impetus to join national service varies. Beyond the satisfaction from assisting people, some volunteers perceive their experience as a means of integration into the broader society – a way to lower social hurdles and shatter prejudicial stereotypes. Others see the service as an appropriate gesture of return for benefits that Israeli society provides to the general population such as national health insurance and a social security system.

The picture of Arab participation in national service is not all sweetness and light. Arab political leadership tends to vigorously oppose such service. Within the local Arab population, some voices deride and condemn the volunteers. An Arab woman who worked as a recruiter of national service volunteers was subjected to demonstrations at her home labeling her a traitor; the harassment from Arab sources eventually impelled her resignation. Yet she takes pride in the 340 people she successfully recruited and continues to support the program. (Yediot, 3/11/13). And the young Arab volunteers quoted in the Yediot article of February 25 contend that Arab sector perceptions of national service are changing. They report support and understanding about their national service choice from both family and peers.

National service is not a panacea for the frictions and tensions among Arabs and Jews in Israel. But the willingness of increasing numbers of Arab youth to seek a route to integration into the broader society and to simultaneously promote the general welfare is at least a positive ray of light.

My Dream about Israeli-Arab Voters

This piece appeared in the Jerusalem Post on Jan. 9, 2013
under the title: My Dream about Israeli Arab Voters

The other night I had a dream in which Arab voters were flocking to the polls and exercising political clout commensurate with their percentage within the Israeli population. In this dream, Arab parties emphasized mainstream issues of housing, education, and employment and regularly engineered a vigorous get-out-the-vote effort. Their capacity to garner 20 per cent of the vote – potentially 20 or more Knesset seats – created a common interest with a center-left bloc of Israeli parties. A center-left bloc expanded by these mainstream Arab parties offered a chance of ousting the Netanyahu controlled coalition and shifting governmental priorities from the territories back to the Galilee and Negev while promoting negotiations toward a 2-state solution of the conflict with the Palestinians. In my fantasy coalition, the Arab parties could extract concessions meeting socio-economic needs of the Arab sector, much like Shas has done for its constituency in recent governing coalitions.

The subconscious origins of my dream are easy to trace. I grew up in the U.S. of the 1950’s and 1960’s, when African-Americans, though only 18% of the population, launched a non-violent movement against oppressive, discriminatory conditions in housing, education, and employment. Blacks in their campaign utilized the courts (starting with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 invalidating separate public facilities), legislation (for example, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawing invidious employment discrimination), and vigorous voter registration to promote minority interests by electing sympathetic representatives to Congress, state legislatures, and city mayoralties. While such African-American ballot box efforts have not eliminated the overall social disadvantage of African-Americans, enormous advances have been made in creating educational and employment opportunity for black Americans. (Witness the elections of Barack Obama.) In the course of the struggle for African-American rights, dissident voices called for separatist governance or even violent resistance to the white-dominated political system. But black Americans rejected the demagogues like Stokely Carmichael and Eldridge Cleaver in favor of the non-violent, integrationist path of Martin Luther King. That successful history was doubtless the source of my recent dream.

Then I awoke to the reality of the Israeli political scene. The focus of the vocal Arab political sector is not economic or social advancement within Israel. The voices of Arab political figures are stridently raised to condemn all Israeli conduct that harms the interests of the Palestinian residents of Gaza and the West Bank. Though Israel’s entire southern population had for years been bombarded by thousands of rockets, missiles, and mortars from Gaza, Israeli Arab politicians treated Operation Cast Lead (and later Operation Pillar of Defense) as though they were unprovoked assaults. This lack of empathy with defense of their fellow Israeli citizens in the south is jarring; even the notoriously unbalanced Goldstone Report acknowledged that Hamas had precipitated “terror within the [Israeli] civilian population,” causing high rates of trauma, especially among children, and hundreds of injuries. (Indeed, because Hamas’ rockets had been purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets, the Goldstone Report denominated them as war crimes.) Nor do reigning Arab politicians promote the common social interest in increased social services by promoting either compulsory or voluntary national service. While increasing numbers of young Israeli Arabs do volunteer for national service, their political leaders have discouraged the phenomenon. The atmosphere created by hostile rejection of Israeli institutions is one in which a Muslim IDF soldier from an Arab village must hide his uniform and weapon when returning home in order to avoid abuse and threats from neighbors. (See Yediot Achronot, 12/30/12).

In the contemporary Israeli scene, Arab voters have not come close to exercising their potential political clout as 20% of the electorate. In 2009, only 53% of Israeli Arabs voted, succeeding in electing 12 Knesset members (as opposed to the potential 20 or more); those elected then largely marginalized themselves by their strident rhetoric. (Of course, some Arab voters support center-left Israeli parties in the thus far vain hope that those parties will become responsive to Arab sector social and economic interests).

This phenomenon of failing parliamentary representation has not gone unnoticed within the Israeli Arab community. In the current electoral race, two fledgling parties are seeking to rally Arab voters to elect Arab representatives with a focus on mainstream issues of improved housing, education and jobs while coexisting within Israeli society. An Israeli Arab party, called Hope for Change, is headed by a Bedouin named Atef Krenawi (who was formerly associated with the Likud Party). Another party, called Da’am, is headed by an Arab woman Asma Agbaria Zahalka and emphasizes social equality and workers’ welfare.

But if I were to wake up on January 23, 2013, and discover that either of these fledgling parties had passed the 2% threshold for Knesset representation, I would think that I had been dreaming again – just fantasizing that Israeli Arabs would embrace parliamentary struggle to advance their sectoral interests along with the general welfare of all citizens of the State of Israel.