Tsvi Bisk

Tsvi Bisk – The Optimistic Jew Chapter Six

The Optimistic Jew

The Future of Arab-Jewish Relations A robust policy must have clearly defined first principles to sustain itself over time. The first principle pertaining to our relations with the Arabs should be what is good for the Jews. In its modern context, this means what is good for Zionism. I have already defined Zionism as the collective option for individual Jews in Israel or in the Diaspora to integrate into modern life without sacrificing their Jewish identity. I do not define Zionism as the attempt to recreate the Kingdom of David, reconstruct the Temple, with attendant animal sacrifice, or construct a settlement everywhere the patriarch Abraham once rested his head.



The Optimistic Jew


The Future of Arab-Jewish Relations

A robust policy must have clearly defined first principles to sustain itself over time. The first principle pertaining to our relations with the Arabs should be what is good for the Jews. In its modern context, this means what is good for Zionism. I have already defined Zionism as the collective option for individual Jews in Israel or in the Diaspora to integrate into modern life without sacrificing their Jewish identity. I do not define Zionism as the attempt to recreate the Kingdom of David, reconstruct the Temple, with attendant animal sacrifice, or construct a settlement everywhere the patriarch Abraham once rested his head.

We should want peace because it is good for the Jews, not because self-appointed humanitarians will love us or because it will relieve accumulated Arab stress at being consistently defeated by the lowly Jew. I identify myself with the first generation of Jews without inherent guilt; I do not open my eyes in the morning and say, “We are guilty,” and then ask what we are guilty of.

I want peace because Jews will no longer be killed, Israel’s economy will prosper, tourism will rejuvenate, unemployment will decrease, our democracy will grow stronger, and the standards of our civil service will approach European levels. I do not want peace in order to win the Nobel Prize or to go to heaven. I do not consider peace the most important thing in human affairs. Survival is more important, security is more important, liberty is more important, justice is more important, freedom is more important, dignity and honor are more important, and constitutional democracy is more important. I am not willing to sacrifice any of the above in order to achieve peace.

I am for a peace that increases Israel’s security, its international political status, and its economic strength, thus enabling Israel to close the social ethnic gap. I believe in taking calculated tactical risks in order to achieve the above. I do not believe in taking strategic risks, calculated or otherwise. Any call for Jews to sacrifice or even risk sacrificing their vital interests in the name of peace should be rejected (self-sacrifice being the most grotesque form of human sacrifice).

I know that to achieve peace we must take into consideration the Palestinian concern for security, national liberty, justice, dignity, and honor. I know that we have not always paid proper respect to Palestinian concerns about these issues and that many Jews in Israel and the Diaspora have nothing but contempt for the aspirations of Palestinians. I distance myself from these people, not to gain international praise but because to achieve peace we must recognize and accommodate, to the best of our ability, legitimate Palestinian aspirations.

The Peace Process and Settlements

These views explain why, despite the second Intifada, I affirm the Madrid/Oslo process as being the crucial Zionist achievement of the 1990s. I reject the ideological settlement project in the occupied territories as being harmful to Zionism. I do not believe that Israelis and Diaspora Jews should support the peace process and oppose the settlements in order to please world opinion or placate the Arabs. We should support the peace process and call for the dismantling of the ideological settlements because this is good for us.

The Madrid/Oslo process raised Israel’s international political standing and strength and helped contribute to the robust economic growth of Israel throughout the 1990s. Israel’s economy is export driven, and during the 1990s, 60% of Israel’s export growth was to countries and markets we had not traded with prior to the Madrid/Oslo process. This economic growth was a major reason for the relatively successful absorption of close to one million immigrants from the former Soviet Union. These immigrants supplied close to 50% of Israel’s technical manpower needs during the 1990s. Their availability was a major cause for increased foreign investment in Israel’s technology sectors which, despite its inherent volatility, is the basis for future economic growth.

Another positive consequence of the Madrid/Oslo process was the breakdown of the Arab boycott, which had for some time been losing its effectiveness as Israel’s relative economic power grew and the relative economic influence of Arab oil power waned. The weakening of the boycott removed the final psychological barrier to international investment in Israel which grew substantially in the 1990s.

The Madrid/Oslo process was, therefore, a major contributor to Israel’s economy growing by one-third and its Jewish population growing by 20% during the 1990s. Madrid/Oslo has been good for the Jews, notwithstanding the failure to achieve a final peace or the subsequent outbreak of violence. We had seven years of violence before Oslo, several years of violence during Oslo, and there is no reason to assume that the second Intifada could have been avoided if we had not concluded Oslo.

The worst thing that could be said about Oslo is that it provided Israel with an opportunity to realize strategic Zionist aims while opening Israel up to severe tactical challenges that, while murderous and intolerable, do not present any real strategic dangers to Israel’s existence. On balance, Oslo has been a Zionist achievement.

The existence of the ideological settlements forecloses options for interim (unilateral) separation from or a final settlement with the Palestinians. Either option would be beneficial to Israel and the Jewish people. These settlements constitute a Gordian knot that we are constantly trying to untie, with endless bypass roads and tunnels and overpasses as well as costly security arrangements that divert Israel’s military assets away from areas of better use. The operational and logistic shortcomings of the second Lebanese War can be attributed, in large measure, to this misdirection of military assets.

A perverse logic is at work here. Many Israelis and Diaspora Jews assume that because the settlements are so obnoxious to the Arabs they must be good for the Jews. We have not considered that the settlements might be both obnoxious to the Arabs and dysfunctional to Jewish interests. Anything so harmful to Zionism, to our relationship with Arab countries and the world should be vigorously combated on purely Zionist grounds. A first step must be the unilateral removal of mini-settlements (unauthorized and authorized) located in a sea of hostile Arabs. Such a step would create maneuvering room for Israel, enabling it to take unilateral steps if future negotiations with the Palestinians do not bear fruit. Ironically, these settlements serve the Palestinian political cause because they limit Israel’s freedom of action, making it dependent on Palestinian agreement. That is why sophisticated Palestinian militants opposed the disengagement. The removal of the settlements does not mean removing the army or the occupation. Until there is a final peace arrangement I would oppose this. What it does is to allow a more efficient use of military assets – instead of guarding settlements the army would be able to concentrate on rooting out and intercepting terrorists, and destroying the terror infrastructure.



The Optimistic Jew

Principles for Future Relations with the Arab World

Jewish relations with the Arabs must be fair but firm, with an unconditional demand for reciprocity. What we should demand from ourselves regarding the Arabs we must demand from the Arabs regarding ourselves. Without fairness, we will not achieve peace. Without firmness, we will not prevail. Radical hawks and radical doves are equally mistaken.

Firmness refers not only to military firmness, but to a reciprocal moral standard. The attitudes of the Israeli Left in particular have often been too forgiving. Because peace means so much to them, they have often overlooked corruption, incompetence, and racism in Arab countries as well as in many self-governing bodies of Israel’s own Arab citizens. This misplaced tolerance must cease. We must adopt a policy of zero tolerance for Arab corruption and racism as well as their dismissive contempt for legitimate Jewish rights. A great moral failure of the Israeli Left has been its ultra-sensitivity and criticism of Jewish contempt for legitimate Arab rights and concerns, while overlooking the much greater Arab contempt for Jewish rights and concerns—indeed, contempt for the Jews per se.

Toward the Arab and Moslem world in general, we must become proactive, unapologetic lobbyists to end direct and indirect international funding to countries, projects, and educational systems that propagate anti-Semitic propaganda and that implement racist policies. We must become proactive in publicizing attitudes toward women in these countries. We must demand of the world and of ourselves a single standard. We may not succeed, but at least we will expose these activities and norms. This will help neutralize the posture of moral superiority of anti-Israeli propagandists, which puts so many Israeli and Jewish spokespeople on the defensive. We must force the Arabs to explain their behavior and actions and change the present state of affairs wherein we Jews are constantly forced to explain ours.

Can Israel be a Jewish and Democratic State?

Israel is a Jewish and a democratic state. Democracy for Israel is not just some abstract ideal – it is an absolute necessity. Israel would not earn the support of the United States and of American and European Jewry if we were like other Middle Eastern countries. We must reject the claim of Jewish extremists that either we are a Jewish state or a democratic state and that as long as we are at war we cannot afford the luxury of democracy. It is precisely because we are at war and require powerful democratic allies, that we must remain democratic.

We must also reject the attempts of Arab intellectuals as well as post-Zionist Jewish intellectuals to de-Zionize and de-Judaize the state by changing the national anthem, Hatikvah, and removing symbols such as the Star of David and the menorah. We must emphatically and unapologetically reject the demand that Israel become a state of all its citizens instead of a Jewish state. Israel can and must be both. Israel can and must be both a Jewish and a democratic state. If either of these components is removed from the equation, neither Israel nor the Jewish people will have a meaningful future.

The Importance of Symbols

The demand of Arab nationalists and Jewish post-Zionists to remove the Star of David from the Israeli flag as well as to replace the menorah as the national emblem and HaTikvah as the national anthem must be rejected. This demand does not reflect superior moral and democratic values. It reflects the residual historical contempt of Christianity and Islam for any Jewish pretension at political equality as well as the habitual obsequiousness of a certain breed of Jewish intellectual.

England, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Greece, Iceland, and Switzerland are all democratic countries, and all have Christian crosses in their national flags. Most have an official state religion. England and Denmark are structural theocracies: the queen is head of the Anglican Church in England, and the Parliament has ultimate control of the Lutheran Church in Denmark. These countries’ national mythologies, coats of arms, and holidays are not ethnically neutral; they reflect the dominant ethnic group, even while conferring freedom and equality to all their citizens, whatever their ethnicity. In this sense, Denmark is the country of the Lutheran Danes and of all its citizens, and no Jew or Moslem residing in Denmark or deracinated Danish intellectual would dare demand the removal of the cross from the flag.

India is the largest democracy in the world. Its flag has an ancient Hindu symbol, the dharma chakra, at its center, just as the Star of David is at the center of Israel’s flag. The state emblem of India is a representation of the top of a pillar built by Asoka, a Hindu who converted to Buddhism, just as the state emblem of Israel is a menorah. Some 20% of India’s population is non-Hindu and non-Buddhist, with more than 150 million Moslems and close to 20 million Christians whose rights as citizens are also constitutionally guaranteed. Could one imagine these non-Hindus attempting to carry on a public campaign to change the symbols of India?

India’s non-Hindus justifiably fight to translate their formal constitutional rights into equal treatment in practice. Israel’s Arabs should also fight to translate their formal constitutional rights into equal treatment in practice and not constantly accuse the Jews of racism because we desire one geographically insignificant state on the face of the planet whose national symbols are Jewish. By so doing Israeli Arabs would earn the support of many Jews. It is psychologically difficult to fight for the equal civil rights of people who deny you equal national rights.

Israel’s democratic model is Denmark, not the United States. Denmark should be a light unto the Jews, and we should strive to equal Denmark in its treatment of its non-Lutheran non-Danish population. We certainly do not want our models to be Pakistan, Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, or Tunisia, all of which contain the Islamic crescent in their flags, a fact that for some reason does not excite the indignation of European, Moslem, or deracinated Jewish intellectuals as being racist.

The Law of Return

And what of the Law of Return? How can a country that pretends to be democratic have a basic immigration law that favors one ethnic group over all others? Is this not a racist law by definition? In an imaginary world of absolutes, it might be so. In the real world of imperfect, empirical, historical context, it is the opposite of racism. In this real world, the Law of Return is a humanistic response to racism.

In its original formulation, the Law of Return guaranteed a safe haven for anyone who would have been exterminated as a Jew by Hitler. This included numerous individuals who had no self-definition or even self-knowledge that they had Jewish antecedents and were by definition not even Jews according to Jewish tradition. This makes it a real stretch of the imagination to call this a racist law – especially since it came in response to the “civilized” world’s failure to offer safe haven during the Nazi period. The countries of the West closed their borders, sentencing hundreds of thousands if not millions of Jews and others to death. For so-called intellectuals and humanists to attack as racist this most human and humane response to the moral failure of their own societies is an example of moral and intellectual dishonesty of immense proportions. For Jewish intellectuals to do so is an example of politically correct toadying reflecting a complete lack of self-respect.

But the Law of Return also has moral and historical justification independent of the Holocaust. It is an example of political affirmative action, which should not in itself offend politically correct postmodernists. The Jews suffered for 2,000 years because they had no safe geographical/political haven in which they had demographic, political, cultural, and economic hegemony. Zionism was born well before the Holocaust and is not dependent on the Holocaust for its justification. Zionism is dedicated to correcting the condition of Jewish disenfranchisement by creating and sustaining a Jewish state in which the Jewish people are able to guarantee their demographic, political, cultural, and economic hegemony. The Law of Return is an integral and necessary part of this guarantee, and its basic moral assumptions are similar to various affirmative action laws and programs in the West. When a minority is discriminated against over a long historical period in a vital area of human activities, they must be allowed to claim certain privileges to repair the damage. The Law of Return fits this definition and is, therefore, morally justified and by definition not racist. It is rather a mechanism to correct the racist inheritance of thousands of years of anti-Semitism.

It is interesting to note how many other countries in the world have similar laws and ponder why these do not arouse the indignation of international moralists. The following is a partial list:

  1. Armenia: the Declaration on Independence of Armenia declares that “Armenians living abroad are entitled to the citizenship of the Republic of Armenia”.
  2. China: Chinese immigration law gives priority to returning ethnic Chinese. The term Overseas Chinese may be defined narrowly to refer only to people of Han ethnicity.
  3. Finland: The Finnish Aliens Act provides for persons who are of Finnish origin to receive permanent residence.
  4. Germany: German law allows persons of German descent living in Eastern Europe to return to Germany and acquire German citizenship.
  5. India: (citizenship) is available to persons of Indian origin anywhere in the world as long as they have never been citizens of Pakistan or of Bangladesh.
  6. Ireland: Irish nationality law provides for Irish citizenship to be acquired on the basis of at least one Irish grandparent. If a person outside of Ireland who is entitled to claim Irish citizenship elects not to, that person may nonetheless pass that right on to her or his own children, even if the basis for the entitlement passed on is a single Irish grandparent.
  7. Lithuania: the Constitution of Lithuania states: “Every Lithuanian person may settle in Lithuania.”
  8. Poland: the Constitution of Poland, states: “Anyone whose Polish origin has been confirmed in accordance with statute may settle permanently in Poland.”
  9. Spain: Sephardi Jews, from wherever in the world, can claim Spanish citizenship. (Interesting that Spain can have a Law of Return for Jews but Israel cannot.)
  10. Taiwan: Taiwan’s immigration law gives priority to ethnic Chinese and encourages their return.

Other countries have similar laws. They all reflect a desire by various governments to guarantee a safe haven to Diaspora populations, particularly those assumed to be living under precarious conditions. Why are they any different from the Israeli Law of Return?

Jewish Attitudes toward Israeli Arabs

In regards to Israeli Arabs, we must adopt a creative policy based upon justice and equality before the law, nondiscrimination in the job market, and equal access to public budgets. But what should be our response to Israeli Arab leaders and intellectuals who call for the de-Judaizing of Israel? In my view we must say that Israel’s democracy permits any Israeli citizen to call for the destruction of the Jewish State by way of erasing all of its Jewish symbols. But this same democracy also enables us Jews to refrain from cooperating with those who deny the Jewish national right to a state founded on Jewish symbols and Jewish culture.

Israeli Arabs should always have equal rights and privileges under Israel’s democratic form of government and should not be discriminated against in Israeli courts or in regards to public budgets. Those Israeli Arabs or leaders who support the notion that Israel should cease to be a Jewish state, however, should not expect active civil or political cooperation from self-respecting Jews. For self-respecting democratic Jews, Israel’s Arab citizens have four options:

  1. To fight for equal implementation of laws and budgets within the framework of the Jewish State. If this is the chosen option, many democratic Jews will be their active partners.
  2. To continue to call for the destruction of the Jewish State, in which case respect for Arab rights will be completely passive and formal and Israeli Arabs will forego active cooperation from Jewish civil or political society. The status of Israeli Arabs who embrace such a position will be much the same as Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam or the Aryan Brotherhood in the United States: freedom of speech and assembly, yes, acceptance and cooperation, no.
  3. Voluntary emigration from Israel if its particular Jewish character is so odious to them. This is an accepted option: many English speakers have moved from francophone Quebec, not because their constitutional rights have been endangered but because they felt uncomfortable and not completely at home in French culture and society. Others have remained, adapted, and compromised. This same democratic option holds for those of Israel’s Arab citizens who cannot stomach the thought of living in a Jewish state. This option is in no way comparable to the controversial transfer policy advocated by certain segments of Israel’s radical right wing. No Israeli Arab would be “encouraged” to leave the country. Voluntary emigration, on the other hand, is an option for every citizen, Jewish or Arab. Indeed about a half million Jewish citizens have emigrated because various aspects of Israeli society did not suit them. This same option is open to Israel’s Arab citizens.
  4. To receive complete (not cultural) autonomy in areas presently under the jurisdiction of local Arab Councils. Those Israeli Arabs who opt for autonomy will cease to be Israeli citizens and will lose the right to vote for Israel’s Knesset. They will vote for their own Arab Agency (analogous to the Jewish Agency), with its own flag, symbols, and hymn, which will generate its own educational and development budgets and coordinate with the Jewish State by way of a common development authority which will deal with issues such as access to Israel’s highway, water, electrical, and sewage systems and the fees the Arab Agency will pay to the state for its share in their use. The Knesset, as the sovereign legislative body of the state, has the authority to pass laws rescinding Israeli sovereignty over areas with a substantial Arab or Jewish population. I mention Jewish because it is clear to many Israelis that in the near future, whether through peace or unilateral withdrawal, the Knesset will be forced to rescind sovereignty over most of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The West Bank never having been annexed will not require a similar legal procedure.
  5. Another alternative open to Israeli Arabs, as communities or as individuals, would be annexation to the Palestinian state, even in areas noncontiguous to the Palestinian state, thus becoming Palestinian citizens. If groups or individuals of Israeli Arabs opt for either one of these two options, the Jews will respect their choice—just as Slovakia’s decision to separate from the Czechs was respected. None of this will prejudice the constitutional rights of those Arabs who choose to remain citizens of the Jewish State.

Arab Corruption, Sexism, & Racism

Whenever the call for equality of budgets for Arabs is raised in Israel, we typically see a wave of Jewish-authored articles describing in detail the astounding corruption and administrative incompetence of Israeli Arab municipalities. The point of these articles is that before more money is funneled into the Arab sector we should guarantee higher standards of public behavior and transparency vis-à-vis public budgets dedicated to that sector.

Zero tolerance for these phenomena, as well as for the status of women in the Arab sector, are indeed moral imperatives. Excusing or overlooking these negative phenomena in the name of brotherhood and tolerance is politically correct multiculturalism gone wild. But we Jews should not hasten to adopt a stance of moral superiority. We encouraged and nurtured the traditional corruption of the Arab sector. Let us name it mukhtarism, after the traditional name for local Arab leadership, the mukhtar. We made the traditional corrupt leadership of the Arab communities our conduit to our Arab citizens rather than encouraging the development of modern concepts of citizenship, civic behavior and the status of women in the Arab community.

This has led to a situation contrary to the interests of the Zionist project. The inferior status of Arab women has produced a serious demographic challenge to Jews in Israel. The inferior level of Arab public administration and services has resulted in bitterness, which has indirectly contributed to radical tendencies in Israel’s Arab citizens.

The irony is that, despite our best efforts to prevent it, a new militant Israeli Arab parliamentary leadership has arisen. Their attitudes are semi-modern but cynical and bitter, with no great desire to encourage higher standards of citizenship in the Arab sector. Rather than engage in critical analyses of the effects of mukhtarism on Israeli Arab society, which might reflect a genuine concern for Israeli Arab welfare, they cynically exploit its consequences for their own political agenda in order to build their own political power. The Israeli Arab parliamentary lobby, rather than alleviating Israeli Arab distress through a combination of internal reform and external lobbying, has an interest in exacerbating this distress to generate the extremism necessary for their real agenda: support for the still vigorous dream of a Greater Palestine.

The Future

Future policy should incorporate the following:

  1. Affirmative action programs for Israeli Arab women in every area of Israeli life: education, advancement in public positions, hostels for battered Israeli Arab women, boarding schools for Arab girls being “socially abused” by their fathers by being kept out of school, and so on.
  2. Recognition of a Palestinian state and a rejection of the current interpretation of United Nations Resolution 194 calling for the repatriation of Palestinian refugees to their original homes. Accepting this interpretation would be tantamount to the suicide of the Jewish State.
  3. Total rejection of double standards in regards to the norms of governance in the Israeli Arab sector as well as in Arab countries.
  4. Reevaluation of the Israeli Arab job market. This means the active enlistment of skilled Israeli Arabs in public sector positions.

Such a policy would combine Jewish self-esteem with social justice for the Arab population and would reflect the fact that Israel is not only a Jewish state but also a democratic state with concern for all its citizens


tsvi bisk

Tsvi Bisk is an American­-Israeli futurist. He is the director of the Center for Strategic Futurist Thinking (www.futurist-thinking.co.il/) and contributing editor for strategic thinking for The Futurist magazine.

He is also the author of The Optimistic Jew: A Positive Vision for the Jewish People in the 21st Century.

Tsvi is available as a lecturer or as a scholar in residence as well as for strategic consulting


The Optimistic Jew

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