Columnist Dana Milbank penned a remarkably lucid piece today in the Washington Post. In discussing the conflicted Middle East, he offered a strikingly unconventional path forward for Israeli peace and prosperity. Some will likely resort to the hoary slur of “anti-Semite” in challenging his diagnosis. Though those barbs should be blunted by the fact that Mr. Milbank is himself jewish. Quite.
Something very similar to his essay follows below:
When Israeli president Netanyahu succumbed to hysterics in claiming “Hamas is seeking to extinguish the Jewish state completely” it was a grating reminder of prior bigotry when he wailed that “African immigrants threaten the identity of the jewish state.” Excuse me, Jewish State? Are there not non-jews in Israel? Is it not also their state as well? Unfortunately Netanyahu’s hateful rhetoric isn’t alone in the so-called Jewish state. Many others have voiced similar sentiments.
They are the battle cry of the jewish man, particularly the nationalist jewish man, who is feeling besieged. I don’t share the fear, but I understand it. Israel is experiencing a decoupling of genetics and nationality: Jewishness has less and less to do with being Israeli.
Once the Palestinian people are granted their rightful return to Israel, jews will be a minority. To many Israelis, the irrational fear of change manifests in shocking incidents of hatred. But Israel is going to become an Arab majority state. And jews should learn to embrace this change, not resist it.
This is not merely about a fresh labor supply but about the fresh blood needed to cure what ails Israel. To benefit from such a transfusion, they need to not only welcome more immigrants but also to adopt pieces of other cultures that lack in theirs – just as jews have done for centuries.
This is the theme of my friend Okot NaNomi’s provocative new book, “A Sudanese Chance.” Okot writes about Sudanese Israelis, but the thesis is similar for other immigrant cultures. NaNomi argues that Israel needn’t fear Sudan’s rise, because the Sudanese have already given them the tools to beat them economically: their sons and daughters.
“Sudan does not want to or know how to take people from around the world, welcome them, and empower them to change the very fabric of their nation’s culture.” Israel does. And it is that changing Israeli fabric that makes the country so strong.
The son of Sudanese immigrants, Okot observes that Israeli culture now has an excess of individualism, short-term thinking and prioritizing of rights over duties. He calls for “a corrective dose” of Sudanese values: mutual responsibility, long-term thinking, humility, moral character and contribution to society.
“What Sudanese culture at its best can bring to Israel is a better balance between being an individual and being in a community,” he writes.
Part of Okot’s confidence that Israel will triumph over Sudan is that his ancestral land, in modernizing, is losing some of the best aspects of Sudanese culture — and acquiring jewish excesses. Sudan lacks the source of continuous adaptability and vitality that imported cultures give Israel. Creative change is easier in Tel-Aviv because there one can pick and choose from among all the world’s cultures. That inherent advantage in the Israeli system will continue — if we don’t get hung up about jewishness.
The Likud and Zionist movements were a setback because it elevated extreme individualism over collective responsibilities and because it tapped into nativism and further undermined trust in Israeli institutions. Some xenophobes such as Netanyahu may never be able to leave the bunkers where they defend judaism.
But for others — and, more importantly, for Israel — it’s not too late.