Moshe Arens is a longtime Likud wise man, having served as foreign minister and three tours as defense minister, but his compass is off this morning. Writing in Haaretz, Arens argues that forcing the settlers in Ulpana to leave their homes is wrong similarly to the way that uprooting settlers as part of disengaging from Gaza was unjust. This is a perfectly understandable viewpoint, albeit one I disagree with. The problem is that Arens then makes an unfortunate comparison which is incorrect on a number of levels. Arens writes:
The government decision involved a blatant violation of the civil rights of thousands of Israeli citizens, and a petition against it was filed with the High Court of Justice – the ultimate protector of the civil rights of Israeli citizens and all those living under Israeli sovereignty or Israeli jurisdiction, the ultimate arbiter of complaints against injustice and unlawful acts. The court, nevertheless, upheld the government’s decision.
In retrospect, the massive uprooting of so many Israeli citizens from their homes, by force, is now seen by many as a gross miscarriage of justice, similar to the case of the expulsion of U.S. citizens of Japanese origin from their homes in World War II. That government decision was also upheld by a supreme court and regretted in later years. In both cases, force was used against citizens who had violated no laws.
No matter what your view is of the Gaza disengagement, the comparison with Japanese internment during WWII is a bad one. To begin with, Arens’s characterization of what happened during WWII is ahistorical to an extreme degree. Arens asserts that Japanese-Americans were expelled from their homes and thus compares them to settlers in Gaza who were also expelled from their homes. The problem with this is that U.S. citizens of Japanese origin were not simply expelled from their homes; they were also put in detention camps. It was not a matter of only telling Japanese-Americans where they couldn’t go, but also confining them to a specific area and keeping them there by force. The settlers who were forced to leave Gaza were placed under no such restrictions. Once the disengagement was carried out, they were free to go and live in any place of their choosing in Israel. Arens purposely muddies the waters here by referring to “expulsion” without once mentioning internment, thereby creating a false parallel between the two cases. No doubt he is aware of the entire history of the treatment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, even if he is counting on the fact that some of his readers are not.
Furthermore, Arens’s comparison between the two cases does not work because the circumstances are too dissimilar. Gaza was not Israeli sovereign territory but was under Israeli military control and administrative jurisdiction. This gave the state a lot more leeway in how it made and carried out decisions related to Gaza, and enabled the government and the military to take unilateral actions in the name of national security that would not be allowed within Israel’s borders. In addition, all settlers in Gaza were ordered to leave regardless of their race, ethnic origin, or any other category, because the disengagement applied to any Israeli citizen residing within a defined territory. No distinctions were made between different types of citizens since the military directive was a blanket one.
In contrast, the executive order signed by FDR designated parts of the West Coast as military areas despite the fact that they were on sovereign U.S. soil and were not under attack or part of any arena in which warfare was taking place. Their legal status was more complicated during wartime, but nobody was asserting that they constituted permanent extra-judicial territory. Furthermore, Civilian Exclusion Order Number 34 removed from the Western U.S. all citizens of Japanese ancestry and only citizens of Japanese ancestry. This was not a military order related to a particular territory like the Gaza disengagement, but was rather a military order related to a particular group of people. The dissents in Korematsu (with the exception of Justice Jackson’s) did not object to the notion of expelling citizens from a particular area for reasonable national security reasons but were predicated on the fact that citizens were expelled and then interned in camps solely because of their ancestry without regard to any other factor. This is certainly not what happened in Gaza. Arens implies that Korematsu is now viewed as a “gross miscarriage of justice” because it uprooted citizens from their homes, but that is only a half-truth. It is viewed this way because it uprooted citizens from their homes and then also detained them, and both of these decisions were based solely on race. As Justice Murphy wrote in his dissenting opinion:
The judicial test of whether the Government, on a plea of military necessity, can validly deprive an individual of any of his constitutional rights is whether the deprivation is reasonably related to a public danger that is so “immediate, imminent, and impending” as not to admit of delay and not to permit the intervention of ordinary constitutional processes to alleviate the danger….Justification for the exclusion is sought, instead, mainly upon questionable racial and sociological grounds not ordinarily within the realm of expert military judgment.
The Gaza disengagement does not fit the facts of Japanese internment during WWII at all. The settlers were not deprived of their rights in any way (Israel has no constitution, which is a completely separate problem) since any right to live in Gaza disappeared once the order was given to evacuate a territory under military administrative control, and the settlers were not discriminated against in any way. Arens understandably wants to connect what is now universally viewed in the U.S. as a national disgrace to what he views as an Israeli national disgrace, but the situations are too completely different to successfully make that comparison without purposely misleading on the facts, as Arens does.
The settlers who were uprooted from Gaza in many ways got a raw deal. The state encouraged them to go there in the first place and subsidized their lives there, and then following the disengagement did an abysmal job of compensating them for their economic losses. Their standard of living has dropped dramatically and the government has not followed through on its efforts to make them whole again. Nevertheless, the comparison to Japanese internment during WWII is an atrocious one, and Arens undermines his larger argument by making it.