Opinion: Should Israel be a Jewish State?

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It's hard to find much new to say on the Israeli Palestinian conflict. The Israelis harp on the evils of terrorism, the Palestinians on the evils of occupation. The language of blame predominates, and is numbingly predictable. But the new school panel had at least one moment that took me aback.

The panel, sponsored by the new school and Harper's magazine on February 21st, was, shall we say, politically eclectic, from Prime Minister Sharon's official man in New York on the right, to MIT social critic Noam Chomsky on the left. It was something Chomsky said - and the audience response - that left me a little stunned.

By way of background, if you don't know, Noam Chomsky is a hero to many people on the left. Now 74 years old, he's been a scathing critic of u-s foreign policy and the corporate media for decades. Among his most common themes, the double standards the u-s government uses in its selective support of human rights.

He is also a relentless critic of the government of Israel for its treatment of Palestinians. I often agree with his critiques and find them principled. But on this panel, Chomsky revealed just how far he goes in opposing Israel:

He opposes its existence.

Listen to this 40 second excerpt from the Harper's panel. Keep in mind that at least half of the 500 people in the audience were there because they are Chomsky fans. you'll hear his comment and their enthusiastic reaction. Chomsky was talking about bill Clinton's final peace proposal, when he said…

Clip :40

Noam Chomsky plus audience reaction at the new school last month.

Chomsky was honest about his views. But let's also be honest about what they mean: the destruction of the state of Israel - not by violence, but by convincing the world that the very concept of Israel is fundamentally flawed.

And yes, there is something less than theoretically ideal about a democracy with a guaranteed ethnic majority. But it's no more flawed in Israel than it is, for example, in the Serb and Albanian enclaves of the former Yugoslavia - created, as Israel was and as Palestine eventually will be, to provide safe haven for various minorities.

And let's be honest: the real alternative to a Jewish state in Israel is not a multiculti democracy. It's an Arab state. The rest of the Middle East is comprised of such states, and they tend to be among the world's worst governments. even if the Arab world's most democratic state was established to replace Israel, it would no doubt become a hostile, discriminatory, perhaps murderous environment for the Jewish minority. Even Noam Chomsky must realize this. So he must not care.

For the record, I am a secular American Jew who is very critical of the Israeli government. I oppose all Jewish settlements on the West Bank and Gaza, and support a split Jerusalem. The Sharon right wouldn't have much use for me.

But if you're on the Chomsky left, consider this: I once heard Israel described as history's greatest example of affirmative action. I don't remember who said it, but I buy it.

Israel is a set-aside - a quota and a reparation rolled into one - established by the United Nations for a persecuted minority after the holocaust.

Today, even in war, the Palestinians accept the concept of a Jewish state.
the new Saudi peace proposal shows the Arab nations would finally do so too, when a land for peace treaty is signed.

But Noam Chomsky doesn't, and apparently, never will. so if he's your hero, fine. But let's just be honest about what he really wants.