Thursday, April 15, 2010
Gooses and Ganders
This right-wing Israeli poster reads: "Warning! PLO Agent in the White House!" and it shows President Obama being presented with a medallion by the Saudi king beneath the Palestinian flag.
A rather public pissing match has been taking place between the Obama adminstration and the right-wing Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu. It started with the frankly shocking dissing of Vice President Biden by the announcement of expanded Israeli "settlements" in East Jerusalem during his visit to Israel to prepare for the possibility of preparing for possible peace talk advance preparations. Netanyahu, fully bankrolled like all Israeli governments by the US, was then called home to DC for a behind-the-scenes chiding. Obama's much vaulted tough talk to Israel was shown to be so much impotent posturing. The current rumor seems to be that Obama is working up some unilateral American peace plan for the region that will somehow solve the problems that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators seem unwilling or unable to address.
I find it fascinating--and disturbing--that the simple idea of a democratic, secular state, a concept so central to American self-identity (accurately or not) is nowhere near the negotiating table. It's so fundamental to the hypocrisy and racism involved in the middle east that the core foundational values of secular democracy are actually supressed by the nation that claims to be the number one proponent of these values.
Years ago I enjoyed reading the fiction of Doris Lessing. A former Communist, she was an interesting, thought-provoking writer. She wrote a book in the 1980s about her journey to visit the mujahedeen resistance to the Soviets in Afghanistan. In it, and quite incidental to her story, is a description of an impoverished Afghan village. She describes the stream of human waste--of shit--running down the center of the village's streets since neither plumbing nor basic sanitation was available. She says something like "oh it's no big deal, you get used to it. This is just our Western value system being judgmental." (That's a complete paraphrase from memory.) And I thought, what utter crap. This woman would not go outside her house and shit in the street and think it's no big deal. It might be okay for the noble third-world exotics under her gaze, but it would not be okay for her. I understand, you visit a poor country, you poop where you gotta poop--there's a story about my stay in Nicaragua and the disturbing little wastebaskets next to every toilet you really don't want to hear--but you maintain your values about what proper sanitation should be: among other things there's good science behind using a toilet rather than the street. And frankly, this small trifle in this book caused me to question Lessing's work completely, because it revealed utter corruption in her worldview. In spinning her romance with the mujahedeen she allowed herself to embrace the irrational, and excuse for others conditions she would not accept for herself.
And so it is with Israel and many otherwise rational people. Let's set aside for a short moment all the discussion of violence and genocide and who did what to whom first and who lived where when. These are important discussions but let's set them aside: why do Americans, who claim to support secular democracy, oppose secular democracy in the "Holyland"? Why do people who opposed the barrier, the wall, in Berlin...support the wall between the State of Israel and the occupied territories?
Hey so there's an idea. What if that wall came down. What if there was separation of church and state between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean sea. What if one citizen had one vote, and nobody gets pushed into that sea. In our (flawed, for sure) Democratic Secular United States of America, religious minorities are depoliticized and so they flourish in absolute cultural freedom. Why is this not the solution for the Muslims, Jews, and Christians of the so-called Holyland? Just as sanitation methods like toilets are proven methods of fighting disease, so the democratic secular state is a proven method of fighting communal violence, of fighting injustice, of preserving minority identity. The Democratic Secular State of Palestine: it's really the only solution.
What's good for us geese is also good for those ganders, right?