Israel: Legitimacy and Behavior – an Analysis (11 December 2013)

by Lawrence Davidson, To the Point Analyses

Part I – Separating Legitimacy and Behavior

In the year 1762 the King of Prussia, Frederick II, launched an unprovoked attack on Austria with the aim of conquering the province of Silesia. One hundred and two years later, in 1864, Otto von Bismarck, then prime minister of Prussia, provoked a war with Denmark in order to seize the Danish provinces of Schleswig and Holstein. Since its founding, the United States has launched over 330 mostly unwarranted foreign military interventions around the globe. Concurrently the U.S. existed as a slave state until 1865 and then practiced institutional racism right up into the 1960s. Throughout all of this history the citizens of these countries never doubted the legitimacy of their nation-states. 

This discounting of violent and inhumane policies reflects a long tradition that asserts that if a state exists, that is, if it has a government that can exercise sovereignty over territory, it is automatically legitimate. In this way the idea of legitimacy has been separated from the fact of behavior. If you think about it, this is the equivalent of saying a killer is a legitimate member of society simply because he of she is alive and occupying space. In both cases it is true that the state and the person exist, but can either really be judged legitimate members of their respective communities apart from their behavior? In the case of criminals, no society separates legitimacy and behavior. Criminal behavior leads us to try to rehabilitate the offender or segregate him or her from the population through incarceration. Dealing with states which act in criminal ways is, of course, more complicated. 

Part II – The Zionist Gambit

Most Zionists play this game of separating legitimacy from behavior when they defend against those who question Israel’s right to be. For them, it should not matter if, like Prussia, Israel steals others’ land, and it should not matter if, like pre-civil rights America, Israel practices institutional racism. For most Zionists such behavior has nothing to do with Israel’s legitimacy as a country.  

Take, for instance, Leon Wieseltier, a well-known and highly educated American Zionist, who goes down this road of separating legitimacy from behavior in support of Israel. He does this in a 24 November 2013 New York Times Book review of Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel. …

continue reading at To the Point Analyses

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Filed under Lawrence Davidson, Palestine & Israel

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