Friday, June 05, 2009

Does This Sound Familiar?

It was a genuinely ugly part of America's civil rights movement - the unwelcome integration of once exclusively-white neighbourhoods and organizations. There was even a phrase for it - "there goes the neighbourhood." It took several years but gradually it became unremarkable to see a black man swinging a golf club on courses where, a generation earlier, he might have been limited to merely carrying clubs.

I know from experience that a lot of the segregationists weren't truly bad, they were profoundly fearful. The genuinely bad core simply used fear to motivate a much larger following. (Fear is the ultimate tool of scoundrels and miscreants - think Cheney, think Harper).

All of these memories came flooding back today thanks to an article published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz under the headline, "We're Not Racist, We Just Don't Want Arabs," about Jewish residents of Galilee terrified at the prospect of Arab integration in the wake of the ruling by Israel's High Court that upheld the right of an Israeli Arab couple, to buy a house in the exclusively Jewish community notwithstanding the local admissions committee's objection.

Since then, some residents of Jewish communal settlements in the Galilee fear that the region's substantial Arab population might seek to buy property in their communities, where the standard of living is far higher, causing Jews to move out. In some areas of the Galilee this has already taken place: Portions of the once-exclusively Jewish town of Upper Nazareth are now populated by newcomers from the nearby Arab city of Nazareth.

"I agree that there is a problem, but whether this is the right way to deal with it, I am not sure," Zetler said yesterday. "Experience will tell. But there is a problem in the Galilee and people are challenging the political right of [Jewish] communities."

Perhaps nowhere in the Middle East has Obama's Cairo speech had more impact than in Israel. There are some, apparently a minority, who see it as a betrayal of America's historical loyalty to Israel. Plenty of others, however, see it as a welcome wake up call to Netanyahu:

Obama left no room for doubt: The United States supports Israel, yet the era of trickery, promises, and the gradual annexation in Judea and Samaria is over. The time has come for action; the time has come for moving towards a resolution of the Palestinian problem… Barack Obama's speech was meant to make it clear to Netanyahu who the master of the house is.

I suspect that Obama hopes to succeed by leaving Palestinian authorities in no doubt that he's their last, best hope for statehood in the foreseeable future. He's offering them the closest thing to a fair deal they may ever see but only if they're willing to reach out for it. After sixty years - three generations - of misery, a little hope can become contagious.

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