Israel

Lessons for Israel from antebellum America: Guest column #3

What follows is the third in a series comparing Israel past and present with other nations that had internal conflicts. It is by Realistic Dove Resident Scholar Tom Mitchell (I don’t actually know where he lives and we’ve never met in person, but I am sure he will be honored by the designation). For those less interested in historical arcana than I am, here is Tom’s politically hardnosed, “money” quote:

“In my opinion only a Labor-led government can negotiate a peace with the Palestinians. Labor is now at less than half its strength under Rabin in 1992. The same is true of Meretz. The lesson for Labor [from antebellum American politicis] is that it must forge a new center-right party or a close alliance with Meretz. Its appeal to Israeli voters must be on the basis of fear of the Arab birthrate and of erasing the Green Line. The Likud, like the antebellum Democrats, is the expansionist party. Appeals based on being nice to the Arabs or doing them a favor will fail. And such a strategy to be successful may require a precipitating event like the Kansas-Nebraska Act was in 1854.”

I don’t know if he is correct, but here is an excerpt that is worth reading, with a few explanatory notes inserted by me:

ANTEBELLUM AMERICA: LESSONS FOR ISRAEL

What we can conclude from the example of antebellum America is that fighter-politicians will continue to be produced in Israel for some time—up to 20 years after the conclusion of a peace with the Palestinians. This is of importance because every peace agreement with the Arabs (from the armistice agreements of 1949 to the Kissinger agreements of 1974-75, the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979 and the Oslo process) was negotiated by military politicians and serving generals. Thus, the future of this trend is of some importance.

It is also of importance because since 1974 the Labor Party has relied on military politicians—Arab fighters—to head their ticket in first or in second place. Since Golda Meir retired in 1974, Peres has been the only civilian leader elected prime minister for the Labor Party—and he had to split his term with Yitzhak Shamir.

The American Whig Party (1834-56) had this same fatal weakness. In twenty years the party fielded only two civilian presidential nominees and the second was shared with the American Party. Their only two elected presidents were both former generals (Harrison, Taylor) and both died prematurely in office. Only Henry Clay, the Whig leader, could have been elected president as a civilian—unfortunately he was their nominee in the wrong election and lost a close election in 1844.

The Whigs nominated their only remaining general in 1852 and he lost very badly. The Whigs were regenerated by merging with the antislavery Free Soil Party and northern Democrats to form an exclusively northern antislavery party, the Republicans. The Republicans combined Whig economic policy with Free Soil antislavery policy and quickly became the official opposition in their first election. They took the presidency in 1860 with a centrist candidate from a battleground state. The Republicans ran a racist campaign in 1856 and 1860, as did the Free Soilers in 1848, appealing to white fears of competition with slave labor in the West if slavery spread. [DF: this was Abe Lincoln’s party! The Democrats were the party defending slavery]

The Whig party collapsed because slavery causied a sectional divide between two wings of the party and because of inroads by nativists in the North. The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill made the North ripe for a sectional party. [DF: Among other things, the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1856 allowed the settlers to decide whether or not to have slavery within those territories]. The Republicans slightly pandered to the nativist American Party electorate after aiding in its split on sectional lines in 1856. The Republicans then scooped up the votes of the North Americans in 1860.

In my opinion only a Labor-led government can negotiate a peace with the Palestinians. Labor is now at less than half its strength under Rabin in 1992. The same is true of Meretz. The lesson for Labor is that it must forge a new center-right party or close alliance with Meretz. Its appeal to Israeli voters must be on the basis of fear of the Arab birthrate and of erasing the Green Line. The Likud, like the antebellum Democrats, is the expansionist party. Appeals based on being nice to the Arabs or doing them a favor will fail. And such a strategy to be successful may require a precipitating event like the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

6 thoughts on “Lessons for Israel from antebellum America: Guest column #3

  1. So… the only way to “peace” is for Israel’s pathetic left to coalesce around racist hysteria about the Arab birth rate, eh? God I love it when you Zionists (and related apologists) stand on principle. But I guess TM has a point, in the sense that the abolishment of slavery was really a nearly accidental outcome in a civil war that was essentially waged between two deeply racist parties. I’d rather remember the rebel slaves, John Brown, Nat Turner and the New York slave uprising of 1712 than the fatuous Lincolns and Grants who pathetically weaseled their ways into the history books as the heroes of that struggle. Maybe, in TM’s proposed plan, Barak or some other Laborite will sign a supposed peace agreement which will, by virtue of Zionist considerations, result in nothing more than a rump Bantustan “Palestine” (like Gaza but also in the WB) run by corrupt PA apparatchiks. It will be unstable and will no doubt collapse and lead to further crises, as this plan will never address the real issues: 1948, refugees, an equitable and viable division of the land. The only possibility for bringing about a long standing resolution rests on the same factor you point to as motivating Israeli public fears – Palestinian birth rates – in addition to international opprobrium which will rise as the racist basis of Zionist thinking is brought forward. These may eventually lead to the collapse of Zionist ethnocratic thinking and either through a federal or bi-national democratic state will have to be worked out – 1948 accepted, refugees returned or justly compensated.

  2. Kevin, weren’t most nation states in Europe based on racist “ethnographic thinking” at their inception? What current nation states do not have racist ethnographic features, except for the U.S.? Are there any that don’t automatically welcome back people from certain ethnographic backgrounds whose families have left, or who don’t have quotas on people of other ethnographic backrounds? If you are opposed to nationalism per se, why is it that only Jewish nationalism, and Jewish national identity, upsets you?

  3. Teddy, you must have misplaced your reading glasses. I said “ethnocratic thinking” not “ethnographic”. Very few nations that claim to be a democracy are also ethnocracies, as Israel is. In fact, I’d argue none are. So the issue with Israel is not a garden variety nationalism, but rather supremacist thinking developed around ethnic identity (I don’t really want to get into the ethno-religious nature of modern Jewish identity, but for the sake of brevity let’s term Jewish identity “ethnic”). Other forms of nationalism also do disturb me, but I address them in their own contexts. The problem with Israel is the hypocritical treatment it receives here and elsewhere, where it is treated as a legitimate democratic state, while in ways it acts more like Saudi Arabia, or Serbia under Milosevic. So I am a proponent of American-style reforms to Israel’s particular form of nationalism, which we call Zionism: one person one vote, equality under the law, equal access to the justice system for all, no discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion, national identity formed on the basis of citizenship and not on the basis of race or ethnicity. Even in the states of Western Europe, which once upon a time were ethnocentric or even ethnocractic, it is no longer the case that ethnicity is the basis for national identity (the EU has done away with the last traces of that history). So, as Tony Judt has argued, Israel’s an anachronism. Israel falls far short of its own claims, both in terms of ensuring the equality to own citizenry, as well as in terms of its treatment of the population it has been de facto exercising sovereignty over for over 40 years.

  4. “Israel’s an anachronism.”

    How modern is Hamas rule in Gaza?

    How modern is Fatah’s kleptocracy?

    How modern is Iran?

    What are Israel’s enemies? Some are feudal, some are corrupt, and some are ruled by religious fanatics.

  5. Jonathan,
    You’re wasting your time. Someone who would rather commemorate failures like John Brown, a terrorist and cattle thief who was a failure both as a businessman and as a revolutionary, and Nat Turner, who actually strengthened the slave regime for the next generation, instead of the people who actually ended slavery is more interested in political correctness and romantic gestures than he is in actually accomplishing something.

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