Did Florida’s Legislature endorse a one-state solution and Israeli citizenship for Palestinians?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a hotly debated issue—but not in the Florida Legislature.

Both houses of the state’s Legislature voted unanimously in February to stake out a bold position on the issue—but it’s not entirely clear what, exactly, Florida lawmakers were trying to say.

The resolution supports Israel’s “God-given right of self-governance and self-defense upon the entirety of its own lands” and says that the Jewish state is not “an occupier of the lands of others.” It concludes by saying that “peace can be afforded the region only through a whole and united Israel governed under one law for all people.”

The activists behind the measure say their goal was to affirm Israel’s right to determine what happens with the territories it captured in 1967 and the right of Israeli settlers to live anywhere in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem. But critics counter that the plain reading of the resolution ends up endorsing a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—with Palestinians in the West Bank being granted equal citizenship.

Such a prescription not only contradicts the stated policies of both the U.S. government and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it represents what leaders in both countries have described as an existential threat to Israel’s existence as a Jewish democratic state.

Supporters of the measure, however, denied that this was their intent.

“One law for all people—and by ‘all people’ we mean Israeli citizens,” said Joseph Sabag, executive director of the Florida chapter of the Zionism Organization of America, who helped organize lobbying efforts in Tallahassee to get the measure adopted.

Asked about suggestions that the text of Florida’s resolution seems to call for a one-state solution, one lawmaker said the reading did not occur to him.

“I would have to say, I did not focus on that,” said Rep. Jim Waldman, a Jewish Democrat from Coral Gables, who was one of more than 30 co-sponsors of the resolution in the Florida House of Representatives. “If it’s anything other than support for the State of Israel, then I would say shame on us for signing on.”

The Florida resolution is largely based on legislation that was approved unanimously by the South Carolina state House of Representatives last June.

At a January meeting in New Orleans, the Republican National Committee embraced a resolution identical to the one passed by the South Carolina lawmakers when it was proposed by a committee member from the state. An RNC spokesperson later stressed that the resolution does not bind the party since it is not part of its platform.

The RNC’s action, however, raised a few left-wing eyebrows.

“There is no interpretation possible other than that the RNC is also advocating complete Israeli annexation of the West Bank, including granting citizenship to the Palestinians living there,” wrote Mitchell Plitnick, a dovish blogger who first reported on the RNC’s action.

J Street tweeted that the RNC action “confirms the decades long bipartisan consensus on a two-state solution is shattered.”

But the author of the original South Carolina resolution said he was not calling for a one-state solution.

“We stand with Israel in its own self-determination over those lands,” said state Rep. Alan Clemmons, a Republican. “I think that really is the bottom line of what the resolution stands for.”

Clemmons, whose resolution was a model not only for Florida but other states now considering similar measures, told JTA that he was inspired to draft the measure following President Obama’s speech last May in which he said that future borders between Israel and a Palestinian state should be based on the 1967 lines with agreed-upon adjustments.

“I remember looking at my wife at the time and saying, ‘I just don’t know anybody that agrees with that position,’” Clemmons said. “We are Christians. We believe the Abrahamic covenant to mean what it says, that the land of Israel is an inheritance to the children of Israel, the Jews, for eternity. We take that quite literally.”

Clemmons, a real estate attorney from Myrtle Beach, says he regards the biblical claim to Israel as the “oldest recorded deed in history” and set out to draft a resolution that reflects this view.

The South Carolina resolution cites Leviticus in asserting a bibilical Jewish ownership of the land and asserts that “God has never rescinded his grant of said lands.”

The reference to “one law,” Clemmons said, was intended to refer narrowly to Jewish building rights, which he believes should be no different whether the Jew in question lives in Tel Aviv or in the West Bank.

“When it came up for debate, there was no debate,” Clemmons said. “It was voted on unanimously without objection.”

Sabag said the ZOA took the South Carolina resolution’s language and “enhanced it” before sending it along to Florida legislators and the leaderships of both the Republican and Democratic national committees.

The ZOA’s changes stripped out the reference to Leviticus and to God not having rescinded his promise and inserted language that explicitly mentions the 650,000 Jews who live in “Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem” and who “reside there legitimately.”

In its statement hailing the Florida Legislature’s passage of the resolution, the ZOA explained, “The mention of ‘one law for all people’ is a specific call for the Jews of Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem to be permitted the same rights of land use and development as Jews living elsewhere in Israel.”

The resolution, however, makes no mention of land use or development issues.

Morton Klein, the ZOA’s national president, acknowledged that given the way some have interpreted the “governed under one law for all people” line as calling for granting citizenship to West Bank Palestinians, it “was a poorly worded phrase.”

“It’s not so clear what it means,” Klein said. “I remember struggling with that phrase. It was not written very clearly.”

According to Klein, there is movement to have similar measures adopted in Pennsylvania and Ohio—both states that, like Florida, are sure to be crucial battlegrounds in the November presidential election. Sabag said the resolutions “will be addressed and clarified” as they are taken up elsewhere.

“It’s not in its final version,” Sabag said.

The resolution is one of several items taken up by the Florida Legislature in recent weeks that has commanded Jewish attention. A bill that intended to combat the application of Islamic law was opposed by many in the Jewish community out of fear that religious divorces decided by a rabbinical court also might be invalidated. The bill failed to come to a vote before the legislative session ended last Friday.

Also, a bill adopted March 1 allows students to deliver “inspirational messages” in schools, which critics decried as opening the door to school prayer. The Anti-Defamation League urged Gov. Rick Scott to veto the bill, saying the law is “unnecessary, divisive, and unconstitutional,” and would invite costly litigation.

Opinion: Harvard, Santorum and the one-state solution

This coming weekend, Harvard’s Kennedy School will host a ” target=”_hplink”>Israel Apartheid Week?  Its website says that it’s a student conference, “run solely by the student organizers, and students alone are responsible for all aspects of the program,” and that it “does not represent the views of the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University, or any Harvard school or center.”  The sponsoring student groups are Justice for Palestine, the Palestine Caucus, the Arab Caucus, the Progressive Caucus and the Association for Justice in the Middle East.

The disclaimer on the website came at the ” target=”_hplink”>said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the ADL, won’t fix this.  It’s not enough for Harvard to say – as Ellwood did, in response to a ” target=”_hplink”>He does believe in a one-state solution, though not the kind the conference organizers have in mind.  That one state is Israel.  “All the people who live in the West Bank,” ” target=”_hplink”>believes that universities are secular “indoctrination mills” where “62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it.”  He says that’s why President Obama wants more kids to go to college – to convert them to moral relativism. 

It’s not just Santorum.  From Newt Gingrich to Bill O’Reilly, the right says that elite universities are harming America because they substitute doubt for faith.  Pluralism is Satan’s game.  Considering a “balance of divergent views” – Harvard’s mission, and the creed of liberalism – is an assault on moral certainty.  (The reason that the “balanced” in Fox News’s slogan doesn’t also harm America must be that it’s just a slogan, not an epistemology.)

Elite, like liberal, was once a quality to aspire to.  You’d think that conservatives would welcome the enforcement of standards like intellectual excellence.  But it’s clear why they don’t.  What elites call excellence entails an open-mindedness that questions everything; free inquiry doesn’t put yellow tape around any kind of orthodoxy or assumption.

If that were categorically true, then a balance of divergent views on the comparative intellectual capacity of various racial groups would be welcome on campus, because both sides could freely make their cases.  Instead, it’s not, because there aren’t “both sides.”  Sez who?  Well, sez science, a method of understanding the world that elite universities aren’t embarrassed to privilege.  An exploration of the pros and cons of creationism is similarly beyond the academic pale, as is debating the existence of the holocaust, whose reality has been established by the fact-checking protocols that reasonable people use, which constitute a kind of science.

Whether Israelis and Palestinians could share a liberal democratic state that would still be a national homeland for the Jewish people: that’s a political question, not a scientific one.  I have a view about it (it can’t), which at least on that point puts me on the same side as the ADL.  I’m also dubious that the Harvard conference will present a balanced point of view.  After all, its stated goal is “to expand the range of academic debate” to include the one-state solution and “the challenges that stand in the way of its realization.”

But that agenda, with all due respect to the ADL, doesn’t make the topic taboo.  If Harvard were to cave on this, the Santorums win.  Universities can’t adjudicate political conflicts, any more than they can exempt their students from defending their beliefs.  The danger here isn’t delegitimizing the Jewish state.  The danger is undermining the democratic freedoms that Israel, the U.S. and American universities all rely on.

Marty Kaplan is the ” target=”_hplink”>USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Israel @ 60: Confronting denial

Each year, in preparation for Israel’s birthday, newspaper editors feel an uncontrolled urge, a divine calling in fact, to invite Arab writers to tell us why Israel should not exist.

This must give them some sort of satisfaction, such as we might have in inviting officials of the Flat Earth Society to tell us why the the earth is not, could not or should not really be round, and to do so precisely on Earth Day, lest the wisdom would escape anyone’s attention.

Evidently, the banalization of absurdity has its kicks. It is sporty, “out-of-the-box-ish,” admirably “Jewish” and, if only we were not dealing with a dangerous experiment involving the lives and dignity of millions of human beings, could easily have earned its authors the National Cuteness Award.

But the issue before us is an adult matter, and the result is a depressing Kafkaesque choreography in which Israel, the heart and soul of Jewish peoplehood, is put on trial for its very existence, while pro-coexistence commentators, if they are invited, deal with the future of Israel and its achievements, but leave the accusations unanswered.

There is some wisdom to ignoring insults and unfounded accusations. By answering one tacitly bestows credence, however minimal, upon the arguments that put you on the accused bench—the last bench that Israel’s birthday deserves, even ignoring her accusers’ record. So, perhaps it is wise to write chapter and verse about Israel’s achievements (as Tom Friedman did on June 8) and let the “colonial” and “apartheid” accusations hang there, unanswered, as living witnesses of the Orwellian mentality of the accusers?

I am not totally convinced.

I am concerned about the possibility that a non-negligible percentage of Los Angeles Times readers, especially the novice and the hasty, would interpret the publication of Saree Makdisi’s call for dismantling Israel (“Forget the Two-State Solution,” L.A. Times, Opinion, May 12) as evidence that his arguments and conclusions are deemed worthy of consideration in the eyes of the editors of the L.A. Times, whose judgment the public has entrusted to protect us from Flat Earth-type deformities. This concern became especially acute after reporters Richard Boudreaux and Ashraf Khalil (“For Some Palestinians, One State With Israel Is Better Than None,” L.A. Times, World News, May 8 ) had already touted the “one-state” slogans in the same newspaper, with unmistaken sympathy, under the cover of “World News.”

I am concerned because evil plans begin with evil images. Once the mind is jolted to envision deviant images it automatically constructs a belief structure that supports their feasibility and desirability. The first phase of Hitler’s strategy was to get people to envision, just envision, a world without Jews—the rest is history. Today we are witnessing a well-coordinated effort by enemies of coexistence to get people to envision, just envision, a world without Israel—the rest, they hope, will become history.

The American press seems to fall for it.

In fairness to the editors of the L.A. Times (unlike The Nation and The Christian Science Monitor), articles calling for the elimination of Israel are often balanced by articles calling for peaceful coexistence. But, ironically, this “balance” is precisely where the imbalance occurs, for it gives equal moral weight to an immoral provocation that every Jew in Israel considers a genocidal death threat, and most Jews in the world view as an assault on their personal dignity, national identity and historical destiny. After all, we do not rush to “balance” each celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day with articles by white supremacists, and we do not “balance” a hate speech with a lecture on peaceful breathing technique; a hate speech is balanced with a lecture on the evils of hate.

A true, albeit grotesque, moral balance would be demonstrated only if for every “down with Israel” writer the newspaper were to invite a “down with Palestinian statehood” writer. But editors may have strange takes on morality; for some, questioning the legitimacy of Israel’s existence is a mark of neutrality, while questioning the legitimacy of Palestinian aspirations is a social taboo.

Decency should somehow inform these editors that both “down with” calls are morally reprehensible and insulting to readers’ intelligence, hence, both should be purged from civil discourse and marginalized into the good company of white supremacy and Flat Earth rhetoric.

But until decency reigns, we can be sure to see them again at Israel’s birthdays, the predators of peace, paraded by the press, demanding their annual prey: Once more to envision, just envision, a world without Israel.

Ironically, in this context, Arab commentaries published around Yom HaAtzmaut can actually be of great service to Israel, for they provide a faithful mirror of the prevailing sentiments in the elite ranks of Palestinian society and thus gauge precisely how ready it is to accept a peace agreement, whatever its shape, as permanent.

This year, the L.A. Times (May 11), The Nation (May 26), The New York Times (May 18), the Washington Post (May 12), the Christian Science Monitor (May 30) and others lured an impressive group of Arab intellectuals into unveiling their worldview to American readers. These authors are highly educated, mostly secular champions of modernity and masters of communication—yet keenly attuned to grass-roots sentiments. Enticed by the limelight, and seemingly caught off guard, they revealed the naked landscape of the Palestinian mindset.

Sadly, what they revealed in 2008 is not what Mahmoud Abbas would have liked us to think. They revealed what we feared all along but were afraid to admit: The notion of a two-state solution never began to penetrate the surface of Palestinian consciousness.

In vain would one search these articles for an idea, or a shred of an idea, that morally justifies a two-state solution, or that acknowledges some historical ties of Jews to the land, or that makes an intellectual investment contrary to the greater Palestine agenda. One by one, the articles depict a culture forged by five generations of rejection and denial, a culture in which compromise means defeat and national identity means denying it to others.

This does not mean that the two-state solution is dead—after all, it is the only proposal worthy of the word “solution”—but it means that the current efforts to reach a peaceful settlement are absolutely futile unless they address the real obstacle: The ideological landscape as revealed to us by our Arab brethren on Yom HaAtzmaut.

Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation (www.danielpearl.org), named after his son. He and his wife Ruth are a co-editor of “I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl (Jewish Lights, 2004), winner of the National Jewish Book Award.