The conventional wisdom assumes that if Israelis and Palestinians cannot work out a two-state solution, the Jews will someday have to choose between democracy and independence. The specter of that choice has upset many of my fellow center-right, centrist, and left-of-center Zionist friends, since it means to them the end of Jewish statehood. But yesterday’s vote in the United Nations has convinced me that when that dreadful day comes, I’m going to choose independence over democracy.
Some Jews have celebrated the fact that the United Nations Security Council did not pass a Palestinian resolution demanding the establishment by 2017 of a Palestinian state in all of the West Bank with a capital in East Jerusalem. But under scrutiny, the vote displays the precariousness of Israel’s situation:
• Only the United States and Australia voted to protect Israel while negotiations continue.
• France, where the Jews first gained political and economic equality in the eighteenth century, voted to put Jewish lives in danger.
• Russia, where Tsars and Soviets persecuted the Jews in their own ways decade after decade, showed continued callousness to Jewish needs by voting yes.
• England – the land of the Balfour Declaration that a century ago paved the path for Jewish independence – just couldn’t make up its mind.
A key lesson of the Holocaust is the urgent necessity of an independent Jewish state with a strong standing army. Yesterday’s vote underscores how we cannot trust any country to be our protector – and how we cannot share sovereignty with a group whose leaders wish us dead.
For more than a decade, I’ve sympathized with Palestinian rights and supported a two-state solution. In fact, I have long expressed my anger at the mistreatment of Palestinians with my own personal boycott: I have refused to set foot on the West Bank even for important events like the weddings of friends.
A non-democratic Israel can still protect the rights of non-citizens to the fullest extent possible through its legislature and courts. An Arab majority in a future Israel run by Jews should have full freedom of speech and the press and religion. The checkpoints and curfews that currently create such a burden on Palestinians should be minimized. But we cannot grant the vote to people who would replace the Jewish state with yet another Arab one.
It is agonizing to know that the Jews may someday have to choose between independence and the democratic system that, as an American and a citizen of the world, I hold dear. But if – as it appears – in my lifetime we will not be able to sustain both, I’m going to choose, in the words of Hatikvah (Israel’s national anthem), lihyot am chofshi b’artzeinu – to be a free people in our Land.
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