Thursday, July 26, 2018


 Vic Rosenthal's Weekly Column


If you read a history book or today’s newspaper, you will see certain kinds of conflicts that repeat themselves, time and again. There are economic conflicts, situations in which one group wants something – land or property – that another group has. And there are ethnic/religious/racial conflicts, conflicts based on the perception of members of a different group as an enemy, simply because they belong to that group.

Very often there is a conflict in which both kinds of motivations are mixed, but it seems to me that the ethnic part brings a special kind of viciousness and persistence that is not found in purely economic conflicts. A purely economic conflict can operate on a rational level, where benefits are weighed against costs, while an ethnic one can escalate through a kind of feedback mechanism so that even suicidal actions can seem justified if they hurt the enemy. And they can go on forever.

Sometimes the leaders of a group will encourage ethnic hatred in order to motivate their people to fight for primarily economic objectives. It’s an effective technique, but sometimes the inter-group hatred gets out of control and conflict continues long after the economic motive is gone.

Ethnic conflicts are found throughout history. I think of the Hebrews and Amalek, the Armenians and the Turks, and of course the Jews and the Arabs in the land of Israel. In fact, it seems to me that nothing is more characteristic of humans than inter-group suspicion, hatred, and aggression.

Human attempts to change this fundamental behavior have consistently failed. The South African reconciliation process was intended to short-circuit the continuation of conflict associated with the end of apartheid by rehabilitating the victims, exposing the abuses, and punishing or in some cases giving amnesty to the perpetrators. While it seemed to have had a certain degree of success, recent events suggest that racial animosity is welling up there again.

In the US, 50 years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, the last major legislative achievement of the civil rights movement, feelings of animosity between blacks and whites are as strong or stronger than they were in 1968.

Need I add that antisemitism has reached levels throughout the world unmatched since the period prior to WWII? Or that conflicts between Muslims and non-Muslims have broken out almost everywhere there is an interface between them?

It’s time to stop treating this kind of behavior as an aberration and to realize that ethnic, religious, and racial hatred and aggression is normal human behavior, probably biologically based. So how can we act to minimize the damage it does?

The liberal and social-democratic establishment in the world thinks it has a solution: it is to increase diversity; that is, to mix ethnic, religious, and racial groups in every possible environment so that the members of the various groups will get to know each other and understand that they are all humans. Once they understand each other (the theory says), animosity and mistrust will dissipate. At the same time, the economic status of all groups should be improved so that none will be worse off than the others. If people understand each other and don’t envy other groups, the argument goes, there will be no room for conflict.

Unfortunately, this same establishment has also been at pains to promulgate a world-view in which certain groups are defined as oppressed by other groups. They believe that “oppressed” groups should be compensated by being given special advantages over the “oppressors,” or even (as in South Africa) by being given property confiscated from “oppressors.” Naturally, any improvement in relations brought about by diversity is immediately overwhelmed by the resentment this creates – among both the “oppressed” and “oppressor” groups).

There’s a fundamental problem with diversity itself. In a diverse environment, each group tries to maximize its power and ownership of common resources. This expresses itself as political divisiveness along ethnic lines, the situation so familiar to us in the Middle East. These political groups then provide a focus for conflict. Thus the presence of Arab members in Israel’s Knesset doesn’t serve to improve relations between Jews and Arabs, but rather brings about political conflict as those representatives look for issues with which to set themselves apart from the Jewish Knesset members – and become even more extreme in order to distinguish themselves from the other Arabs.

Promoting diversity, in other words, increases tensions, which leads to conflict. But there is an opposite approach, which is to move in the opposite direction from diversity, and reduce conflict by separating antagonistic groups.

How does this apply to the situation of Israel and the Palestinians?

Ze’ev Jabotinsky understood the inescapability of ethnic conflict between Jews and Arabs. His solution was that the creation of a Jewish majority and the establishment of Jewish sovereignty should be carried out despite Arab opposition, by force if necessary. Once those things were obtained and it was clear to the Arabs that they would not be given up, it might become possible to reach a modus vivendi with them.

Meir Kahane also understood. But he believed that it was impossible for a sovereign Jewish state to contain a sizeable Arab minority and survive. According to Kahane, coexistence is not an option.

Both Jabotinsky and Kahane disagreed with the liberal conventional wisdom that diversity, dialogue, and economic improvements could end ethnic/religious/racial hatred. Recent history, in Israel and other places, has borne them out.

We must understand that we will never make the Palestinians like us, or even stop wanting to kill us. Understanding won’t help, and neither will generous aid. Separation from them is the best way to reduce conflict.

What that would mean in practice is a hard question. The Left wants us to chop off part of our homeland, find some unspecified magic solution to the security nightmare that this would create, and everything would be fine. Except there is no magic solution, and the nightmare would be a deadly reality.

Martin Sherman has suggested (Part I and Part II, also FAQ I and FAQ II) that we incentivize emigration of the Arabs from the territories to third countries, financially and otherwise. Perhaps the only truly rational answer, and one which would probably produce the least misery for everyone involved, Sherman’s ideas have not gotten any traction among decision-makers in Israel or the US, and certainly not among the Palestinians.

Why do they hate us? It doesn’t matter. It’s not worth arguing about who started it and who’s right or wrong, except as an academic exercise. What is important is that the conflict is not amenable to solutions that don’t involve one or the other party stepping aside. Let it be them.




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