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The Baja Vote
Ken Layne's got mine. He was the one who suggested relocating all the Israeli Jews to Baja. They grew oranges in the desert once. Why can't they do it again? Here's what Layne says:

Here's the deal: that whole Israel/Arab thing is getting very ugly and a lot more people will die before Israel wins. Sure, Israel always wins, but what about the hassle? What about the lives lost, and the economic mess, and the general bummer of living in a Death Zone?

Does Israel really want to be the only functioning democracy in the Maniac Middle East, forever? And endlessly have to haggle and fight with the poor, backward dictatorships surrounding it? Hell, Israel doesn't even have oil. Other than the historical thing, there's not much to the Holy Land beyond desert, suicide bombers and some nice beaches.

That's why I'm asking you both to consider my big idea of moving Israel to the lovely and sparsely populated Mexican state of Baja California Sur. Presidente Fox, you're the first democratically elected leader of Mexico, and most Mexican Jews voted for you. Prime Minister Sharon, you're an old warrior who needs a vacation and a bucket of Corona beer on the beach. Israel has money and smarts. Mexico has a bright future but could use a few hundred billion in foreign investment.

Here's what Mark Twain had to say about Ottoman Empire-era Palestine in his 1869 book, The Innocents Abroad:

Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince. The hills are barren, they are dull of color, they are unpicturesque in shape. The valleys are unsightly deserts fringed with a feeble vegetation that has an expression about it of being sorrowful and despondent. The Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee sleep in the midst of a vast stretch of hill and plain wherein the eye rests upon no pleasant tint, no striking object, no soft picture dreaming in a purple haze or mottled with the shadows of the clouds. Every outline is harsh, every feature is distinct, there is no perspective — distance works no enchantment here. It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land.

Baja California Sur is the southernmost chunk of the California peninsula, a thin and sparsely populated strip of desert surrounded by the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean. An online travel guide describes it like this:

The northern part of the state is typically hot and extremely arid, with vegetation typified by desert shrubs and cactus .... Baja California Sur is largely unpopulated and has the least number of residents of any Mexican state. The population is primarily mestizo — people with a mix of Native American and European ancestry — and many people are recent immigrants. The state has virtually no indigenous population, and only a tiny minority speak an indigenous language.

Perfect. The Israelis could all take a sleeping pill on the plane and wake up in a place that looks much like home — minus the angry Palestinians and maniac bombers. The Palestinians could awake to a land without Jews...and without any sort of modern infrastructure or economy. (Happy Israeli Arabs would be welcomed in the nuevo Promised Land, just as they are welcomed in Los Angeles.)

Lower Baja California has only 420,000 residents, most in the capital city of La Paz and the booze resorts of San José del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas. But north of La Paz, it's pretty much uninhabited desert, just like British-controlled Palestine before the Zionists arrived and made the harsh land blossom with fruits, vegetables, software companies and night clubs.

Unlike the Holy Land and all its complications, Lower Baja has never been a center of anything but piracy and tequila binging. Francis Drake was one of the many pirates to land on Baja, long thought to be an island. The Spanish Jesuits finally made a few permanent settlements. There wasn't even a paved road from the Mexican mainland until a few decades ago. And check it out, Ariel: it's said that Sephardic Jews came to Baja to escape the freakin' Inquisition back in the 15th Century. (There's a 1973 book about this, but I can't find a copy.)

Baja California Sur has 46,920 square miles. Israel has 10,840 square miles — including the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Surely President Fox could spare a chunk of his least populated state for the sake of peace.

Would Israel rather be forever surrounded by hostile Islamic fundamentalists and progress-hating dictators or be a day's drive or one-hour flight from Southern California and all the friendly Jews and non-militant Muslims in Los Angeles?

Vicente, your lovely nation has a healthy Jewish community. Why not sell a piece of Lower Baja to a people who will pump billions into the region? The Jewish homeland will do more than make a thriving nation from this land — they'll bring a democratic model for all of Mexico.

We all know the fighting in Israel is never going to stop. And, with the high value for human life that's supposed to be part of the Jewish religion, is an old wall with a bunch of gum wrappers with wishes stuck in it in Jerusalem, and all the rest, really worth all the children who will be killed defending it?

Posted by aalkon at August 13, 2006 9:26 AM

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I can see some sense in the argument, but I can't see the slightest chance of it being put into effect.

Which is just as well. Suppose it was. The Baja incumbents are not all going to be happy about it. You'll buy some off with big money, but not all. So you'll have a new class of people with a grudge against the Jews. Some Israelis will take the opportunity to move ("Thanks for the Promised Land, JVWH, but we've been offered a better deal. So long and thanks for all the gefilte.") but a whole bunch won't budge. Then you've got all the onlookers who will object: "why should the Jews get all this land, but not us?" And finally, some of the current enemies of Israel will move too, because Israel 2 will support Israel 1 and therefore Israel 2 will be a new target. You'll get terrorist attacks in two sites instead of one.

It might be a good idea, if rationality were to prevail. That'll be right after pigs fly.

Posted by: Norman at August 13, 2006 5:46 AM

... but in an earlier post on this topic, the Goddess wrote:
Why should anyone care about the continuation of the Jewish people as a people? I'm more interested in seeing the world become less tribalistic and divisive.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

So the real answer to the Jewish question is for the Jews to assimilate, and cease to exist. Find a nice Nordic-blond mate, stop that barbaric practice of circumcision... Amy, why are you trying to foist The Zionist Menace upon innocent Latinos?

Sorry, this post is a bitterly flip joke following upon late stage about-to-lose-it assimilation.

Israel is the only piece of land upon which the Jews have any historical claim - a place where archaeologists dig in the ground and find artifacts with Hebrew writing, and other proof of the 2 Jewish kingdoms.

And EVEN THERE the enemies of the Jews have successfully convinced much of the world that we are interlopers and "colonists".

What sort of stability and authenticity does the Baja plan offer?

Oh, right - this is just a flip joke by assimilated American Jews who've already dumbed down their Jewishness to an easily fungible ethic label....

...sorry for taking it (and you, oh Goddess) so seriously. I'll go back into my bomb shelter now...

Posted by: Ben-David at August 13, 2006 6:47 AM

Should one kid die so anybody can hang onto a bunch of urns? Why not trade land for peace? Is it noble to fight an endless, winless battle in which everyone dies? I don't care whether Jews or anybody else assimilates. I consider people people, and it's only the stupid tribalistic, primitive god-believing actions of religious nuts of all kinds that reminds me otherwise.

I'm not Jewish. I was raised Jewish. I choose to be human and global rather than tribal. Is that silly and backward -- or modern and advanced?

Try to answer that without condescension and with logic. Oh, and without clinging to old, very pricey menorahs -- the price of which is a lot of dead children on both sides, and no end of that in sight.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 13, 2006 9:18 AM

Hey you!!! Hands off Baja Sur!!! It may seem like a desert to you, but I've spent many happy weekends in Santa Rosalia (site of a church designed by Gustav Eiffel), Mulege, La Paz (not just drinking margaritas and eating garlic soup, but diving and kayakking with pinnipeds), Todos Santos, and Los Cabos. The simple pleasures of Baja might not vanish entirely faced with a mass immigration of Israelis, but the place sure would never be the same again. A new take on "there goes the neighbourhood".

Posted by: Stu "El Inglés" Harris at August 13, 2006 9:34 AM

Shucks, I was still fighting the good fight back here:

Layne's wrong about one thing:

> Surely President Fox could
> spare a chunk of his least
> populated state for the sake
> of peace.

Nobody should be expected to do anything "for the sake of peace." If we want some fraction of 420,000 contented residents to voluntarily surrender Mexican citizenship (or to voluntarily move), they're going to have to be paid and paid dearly. That would be the moral underpinning of this new nation... What you call "authenticity". It's this failure to compensate that doomed the 1948 venture.

> Find a nice Nordic-blond

We like redheads here, but we like blonds, too. And brunettes. Hell, I like 'em gray. Mostly, we don't like being told which people we should and should not associate with. Or, in your word, "find." If there's a particular kind of person you want to associate with, have at it. But don't expect the world to set you up in your own nation, especially when 40% of the present population will be excluded.

> the only piece of land upon
> which the Jews have any
> historical claim

This is a stupid thing to say. As noted in the earlier thread, Jews have stakes in cultures across the globe. My neighbors are Jewish, and their mortgage is to die for; they got in with a 20-year fixed in '96. Oy!

> dumbed down their Jewishness
> to an easily fungible ethic
> label....

(Presumably that's a typo for 'ethnic'.) I don't think you quite realize how stupid that sounds to Americans. We're not about telling people which kinds of genes their children should have. Rhetoric about maintaining purity is going to be a tough sell to your patrons in the years ahead, as the Latins continue to flood the States and Arabs continue to flood Europe.

> What sort of stability...

It's a particularly grotesque hour for an Israeli to be speaking of stability.

Stu's right about La Paz, the diving is superb. But a good deli on the beach wooden hoit.

> That'll be right after pigs fly.

Probably true.

Posted by: Crid at August 13, 2006 10:01 AM

Whoops, it was BD who spoke of authenticity, not Layne or Alkon .

Posted by: Crid at August 13, 2006 10:21 AM

I'd classify this as one of those notions that may have sounded sort of amusing for about 30 seconds, but actually isn't.

Posted by: Cathy Seipp at August 13, 2006 10:22 AM

Crid - I'm sure you mean well, but:
1) please stop misinterpreting my responses to other posts as statements of my core beliefs.

2) the comments section of a blog does not offer enough scope for me to inform/correct your views - in particular, the lameness/shallowness of your discussing your neighbor's mortgage in the face of centuries of Jewish history - culminating in a post-Englightenment Europe that was every bit as accepting as America has been, yet still unleashed the Holocaust. There is a reason that the world - never over concerned with Jewish welfare - decided that the wandering had to stop.

3)You may very well have met many American Jews who, like our Goddess, are happy to assimilate and view Jewishness as primarily a matter of ethnicity. As an American, I am familiar with the trajectory of ethnic assimilation that is part of the American vision.

But Judaism still is for millions of people still a religion, not just an ethnicity. And religious and moral convinctions aren't like chopped liver and Yiddish or other cultural trappings - they aren't necessarily supposed to be given up in the name of assimilation.

Grateful as I am to America for its freedom and tolerance, I came to Israel - not to preserve my "ethnic purity" or "bloodline" - but to live in accordance with my moral conscience and sense of binding covenant with G-d.

I joined millions of Jews - most of whom did not enjoy the freedom and comfort of America (surprise! There actually are Jews besides the suburbanites you've met!). They were hounded out of their ancestral, centuries-held homes because of their religious beliefs, and sought a safe refuge where they could live according to their conscience, and defend themselves.

Kinda like the folks who founded America.

Do you see how lame and inadequate your citations of suburban harmony are in the face of this history?

You and The Goddess are perfectly free to think whatever you want about tribalism, etc. - kindly explain what the 7 millions Jews unwilling to give up being Jewish, and unwilling to live on their gentile neighbor's sufference - exactly how and where shall they live?

Posted by: Ben-David at August 13, 2006 10:23 AM

The Goddess wrote:
Should one kid die so anybody can hang onto a bunch of urns?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
40 percent of the Jews of Israel are refugees expelled from Arab lands, and their descendants. Another 40 percent are Holocaust survivors and their descendants.

Do you really think these people are here because of "a bunch of urns"?

Do you think I am?

More Goddess:
Why not trade land for peace?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
... uh, where have you been for the past 20 years?

There was this thing called The Oslo Peace Process, remember? Whose bloody unravelling demonstrated conclusively that Israel's Arab neighbors are not interested in coexistence.

Oslo followed 50+ years in which the Jews consistently accepted every territorial compromise brokered by the international community, and the Arabs refused any accommodation.

More Goddess:
Is it noble to fight an endless, winless battle in which everyone dies?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Uh, well, yes - people do die in wars.

But it's better to die fighting for one's self defense, than to die a martyr at the hands of one's "neighbors".

This basic human right of self-defence was long denied the Jews.

And this is by no means "unwinnable". We have cool, but stable, peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan. And the Arab world is not rushing to support the Palis as it used to - and will show less and less tolerance for terrorism as the region makes its plodding way towards modernity (or in the case of Lebanon, BACK to modernity).

Let's recall that the Brits tried to take back America in 1812 - and it would be accurate to start the period of American "conquest" with the French-and-Indian war. Israel is just barely 60 years old - we ain't doing so bad. If it takes a century of sticking our pushy Jewish elbows out to make a place for ourselves, I'm in.

But then again, I have a deep reason to stay Jewish, a desire to live freely as a Jew, and a faith that the establishment of Israel is part of a larger covenant.

Can you handle THAT last bit without condescension or dismissal on your part, oh Goddess?

Posted by: Ben-David at August 13, 2006 10:44 AM

I'm no more for some sort of Mexican Kelo for the Jews than I would be for anybody. There'd have to be an exchange of cash.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 13, 2006 10:45 AM

I wondered after Katrina if we could relocate all the refugees to Detroit, followed by a Marshall Plan of economic investment: it's a majority black city so there wouldn't be all the freaked-out Houstonians cavilling about the crimey menace, and it desperately needs population.
But when I asked if that was racist, everybody at the office said yes.

Posted by: rebecca at August 13, 2006 11:36 AM

> sort of amusing for about
> 30 seconds

A lifetime of war by the Mediterranean is even less amusing. I hadn't read the original piece until Amy linked it this morning. Discussing it elsewhere, Layne seemed to keep his tongue in his cheek. But it's time to consider novel perspectives, if only for the clarity they offer. If anyone seriously wants to try to buy a piece of Mexico for Jews to live in, we should listen to the sales pitch. We're tired of being told what's precious and what's not by people on either side of Israel's borders.

> I'm sure you mean well,

Tell the others. And my first wife.

> my responses to other posts
> as statements of my core
> beliefs.

Your patterns are your own. No one's putting words in your mouth.

> the comments section of a
> blog does not offer enough
> scope

I think you're saying "trust me". I don't.

> the world - never over
> concerned with Jewish
> welfare - decided that
> the wandering had to
> stop.

Apparently the world didn't decide that, did it? A few bogus international bodies and freshly-tested world powers decided to give it a shot, but it didn't work.

> for millions of people
> still a religion

Fine, fine, it's merely a faith. Without irony, you repeatedly try to sell an exclusionary, elitist perspective to the most inclusive, tolerant people who ever lived.

> Kinda like the folks
> who founded America.

Opah-leeze. Opah-fucking-leeze. Are you trying sell this with the avuncular voice of some grade-school history film?

If you wanna try it American-style, do this: First, approach an uncharted continent of stone-age peoples, settling in with literacy, technology and warfare techniques that are millennia beyond anything they've ever seen. Secondly, hammer them for generations with exotic diseases and microbes refined in centuries of global trade and miscegenation; when necessary, pepper your charitable donations of blankets with smallpox. Third, wipe out their food sources at every opportunity, and herd them onto reservations. Fourth, preclude their participation in the nascent economy by importing slaves and low-wage laborers. Fifth, find a cheap inebriant to which they're genetically defenseless, and pour it as fast as their throats can swallow. Having taken these steps, abject battles like we've seen over the last two weeks will be less necessary. (Until they figure out how to run casinos.)

If modern sensibilities and conditions preclude such an approach, you're going to have to come up with something a little more gentle. Stu & Layne are correct; La Paz is a lovely town! But the sidewalks are a little crumbly, and could stand some investment.

> exactly how and where shall
> they live?

West LA's nice... Made room for me. And others. Each of us has beliefs and heritage. Listen, if you insist that you don't have options, I think you're fucked.

I don't think you're fucked. Israeli Jews are the most connected, educated, disciplined people who ever lived.

Posted by: Crid at August 13, 2006 11:42 AM

"Mexican Kelo" is a breathtakingly concise and expressive locution.

Amy's world: We're all visitors on Planet Alkon.

Posted by: Crid at August 13, 2006 11:46 AM

Crid, I'm blushing. Thanks. It's a mutual admiration society, even when I disagree with you.

Ben-David writes:

But then again, I have a deep reason to stay Jewish, a desire to live freely as a Jew, and a faith that the establishment of Israel is part of a larger covenant.

Can you handle THAT last bit without condescension or dismissal on your part, oh Goddess?

My dismissal is right on. "Larger covenent"? With a dude whose proof of existence is right up there with that of the tooth fairy. It's not "I think, therefore I am." Yours is "I'm irrational, give me land."

It's pointless for any of us to argue with any religious people on this, because their defenses always come down to "because god said so." Well, until you prove there's a god, that's not going to work too well as a land deed. Not with me, and not with the other irrationals whose own, different Imaginary Friend told them they're cool, and you and everybody else suck, and they should kill everybody who isn't just like them. Isn't religion grand?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 13, 2006 1:34 PM

Wouldn't an Israel located in Baja be completely useless to the U.S., strategically?

Posted by: Lena at August 13, 2006 4:04 PM

Yes! That's part of its charm

Posted by: Crid at August 13, 2006 7:23 PM

Well, it's a good Plan B if the Middle East somehow ends up a uninhabitable wasteland of radioactive glass.

Posted by: Paul Hrissikopoulos at August 13, 2006 7:50 PM

Amy wrote:
It's pointless for any of us to argue with any religious people on this, because their defenses always come down to "because god said so."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

You and Crid have consistently skipped over every practical and historical point I have raised - and hammered exclusively on this notion of chosenness and exclusivity - as if these are purely Jewish inventions in world history!

It's clear that this exchange is following the trajectory of numerous tragicomic dialogues between assimilated Jews and Israelis (including my ultra-secular Israeli coworkers in hi-tech, who don't have my take on religious matters, but come back from trips to the states shaking their heads in disbelief at the self-abnegating stuff that liberals of Jewish descent spout).

It is not my religious convictions that make it impossible to discuss Israel's justified existence - but the blind spots resulting from your own choices about your Jewish identity, and your embrace of certain left/liberal tropes.

For Israel is nothing if not an assertion of Jewish nationhood - an assetion that the continued existence of the Jews, in all their uniqueness, is still justified. Yet these assertions are a direct challenge to the program of cultural - and eventually moral - assimilation that most American Jews have embraced.

Amy - do you see the non-sequitir between the posts asserting that the Palis aren't really an ethnic people - and the posts that still put the blame for the situation on Israel? Let's add it up:

- if we all agree that nationalism is a recently introduced concept in the mideast,

- and the Palis are an artificially created group, indistinguishable from Jordanians, and largely composed of migrants who moved West into Israel to work for the British a mere generation or 2 ago,

- and the Jews are authentically an ethnic/national group, with authentic ties to the land, and the majority of Israelis are TRULY refugees, with no place else to go "home" to,

- and if the lion's share of the "transfer of populations" has already taken place between the Jewish and "Palestinian" homelands (Israel and Jordan) - on a scale far smaller than, say the transfers of population between Germany and Russia after WWII, or between Turkey and Greece over Cyprus, or between India and Pakistan,

- and if one side of the conflict has consistently rejected territorial compromise,

..... then why is the "obvious" and "fair" solution another exile of the Jews? It would seem equally valid for the Jews to defend themselves against their aggressors, and secure peace by completing the "restoration" of Jordanian migrants to their country.

Why the knee-jerk insistence the Israel is illegitimate and at fault?

Bitter, repeated experience in discusssions like these has convinced me that this notion - that Jewish nationalism, is the root of all problems - is embedded deeply in your own world view. You believe it is so - despite your admirable clarity about the Palis - because Israel and what it symbolizes is a "root problem" for you as an "outward bound" Jew.

There are 7 million people with a well-established ethnic/cultural/historical identity - and a well-justified unwillingness to live any longer on the sufferance of others.

By your own admission, they are up against people with neither a valid ethnic identity, whose connection to the land they are living on is very recent.

The automatic delegitimization of Israel - of specifically Jewish "tribalism" - springs from the deep need to justify your own choices as a "former Jew" - and to negate the challenge to your choices that renewed Jewish nationalism proposes.

Posted by: Ben-David at August 14, 2006 12:28 AM

This isn't about who's to blame, it's about an unwinnable conflict, and thus, pointless violence. If there's no belief in god, tooth fairies, or Santa, life becomes more important than clinging to a piece of land -- when the outcome will only be more dead children on both sides.

Don't try cheap psychoanalysis of me. I think the belief, without evidence, in god, is stupid and primitive -- and that goes for whether the belief is by Jews, Christians, or anybody else. I really don't care whether there is or isn't a Jewish state or a state for anybody of any religion. I'm just anti-pointless war.

Absent belief that The Big Guy In The Sky deemed the Jews soooo much cooler (ie, "chosen") than everybody else, and the book, supposedly handed down by TBGITS, which says the Jews must cling to this land until they and all the Arabs are dead - which will inevitably happen -- a pragmatic, rational person would, at some point, suggest, "Gee...this seems to be an unwinnable conflict, perhaps an alternate approach should be taken."

And then we have your answer..."More maimed and dead children, please...until the Israelis finally nuke the Arabs and the Arabs nuke the Israelis, and there's only radioactive sand?" Brilliant!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 14, 2006 1:36 AM

pragmatic adj 1 concerned with what is practicable, expedient and convenient, rather than with theories and ideals; matter-of-fact; realistic. --Chambers

It's not pragmatic to propose a solution that is completely unrealistic, no matter how rational it is. The idea of relocating Israel to Baja California may be rational, but it's theoretical and idealistic rationality.

Posted by: Norman at August 14, 2006 6:51 AM

Yes, it's a bit Swiftian. The point is, what they're doing isn't working. There's going to be endless bloodshed until everyone is blasted off the planet. Something radical must be done...whether it's relocating Israel or something else. This is only an impossibility if people continue to accept the ridiculous status quo as a viable and rational solution -- which it's not.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 14, 2006 7:08 AM

> consistently skipped over
> every practical and
> historical point

You've been given a close reading and refuted. The "practicality" of greatest concern is that Israel has become a perpetual death machine, and their opponents are madmen who'll soon have nukes. Listen, if this was just a matter of convincing one particular nation --Syria, say, or maybe Syria and Iran-- to get with the program, I'd be for it. But there's this array of nations and cultures that use hatred of Israel to delay their own development. Your only response is that God thinks it's OK to kill as many people as necessary.

Posted by: Crid at August 14, 2006 9:41 AM

I still dunno why the USA should even care about this. Israel has certainly treated us shabbily over the years. The whole Middle East is nucking futs: just watch how they treat their own people. Scott Adams says it's the lack of air conditioning. Religion has merely disguised the plain lack of civility brought on by crowding, perceived and otherwise, and given people excuses to atrocity.

I mean, hello, theoretical audience, think about this a minute: why do I care how you bow and scrape, so much so that rather than do business - you sell fruit, I sell cheeses - we have to be sworn enemies?

When I say that your faith is a way for you to continue the sweaty, difficult work of living, not an excuse for heinous behavior, why do you deny that?

Maybe the sci-fi guys have it right: there are only so many worthy, complete consciousnesses to go around, and we're out of them.

Posted by: Radwaste at August 18, 2006 10:53 AM

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