Sunday, January 24, 2010

Blessed Art Thou, Who Resurrects the Dead

The reports of the demise of the Zionist left in Israel were not at all greatly exaggerated. The Left, which sold its soul to the "Peace Process," could not survive its death (or, which is the same, thing, its adoption by the rightwing Kadima and Likud parties).

The Zionist left "gave peace a chance at Camp David", and the Palestinians responded "by waging an Intifada of suicide bombers." It "gave peace a chance when the IDF withdrew from Gaza," and the Palestinians responded "by firing thousands of Kassam rockets." Frustrated by the Palestinians, hating the settlers (and the Russians, and the foreign workers, and the Mizrahiyim, and the "Dosim") the Zionist left – with a few important exceptions – escaped into its Gush Dan cocoon and its Tel-Aviv culture. The more socially-minded took on the problems such as the Environment, discrimination against Gays, the Sudanese refugees, etc., and forgot about the Palestinians. When the Israeli bombing of Gaza started, the Zionist left rallied around the flag, giving much-needed cover to the atrocities of the first few days of the war. And when those atrocities were documented by the world media, and Israeli NGOs, the majority of the Zionist left remained silent, only calling for an investigation after it had criticized, in harsh and intemperate tones, the report of an internationally respected Jewish jurist.

Who would have thought that the resurrection of the Zionist left – well, if not its actual redemption , then the beginning of its redemption – would have been caused by the displacement of a handful of Arabs in a neighborhood of Jerusalem, itself an old Israeli tradition? After all, while the Zionist left has consistently opposed many of the settlements (especially those whose founders were not of their own tribe), and while for years Peace Now's only raison d'être is its Settlement Watch, the anti-settlement activities of the Zionist Left have always been motivated by the desire to give peace a chance. For how could there be a "viable Palestinian state" with all those settlements preventing its creation?

It took the sickening injustice of Sheikh Jarrah – where the lawful Palestinian owners were evicted from their homes to make room for Jews on the basis of a principle that, if applied fairly, would evict hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes to make room for Palestinians – to rouse the Zionist left. Not all of it, of course, but the numbers are growing at the weekly demonstrations. And these demonstrations, unlike the ones at Bil'in and Nil'in, have a good number of Zionist left demonstrators.

The police's violent suppression of the protests have brought the protestors support from unsuspected quarters. Amnon Rubinstein, who has behaved in recent years like an Israeli Alan Dershowitz, has criticized the police for their harsh treatment of protestors. Even the rightwing Yehuda Glick, the head of the Temple Mount faction, has defended their rights to non-violent demonstration.

But for me, the important issue is the protestors actions – especially the identity of the protesters and not the police's reactions.

In today's YNET article here, two of the protestors identified at Friday's protest are Prof. Moshe Halbertal of the Hebrew University, and Avner Inbar, a doctoral student in philosophy. (Note, as a reader's request, the link is to the English report, which does not mention Halbertal. In the Hebrew version here, Halbertal is quoted as saying the following:)

I came here because I oppose settlements in the Arab neighborhoods of East Jeursalem. I think they harm the coexistence in the city and constitute an obstacle to its partition.

For those of my readers with short memories, Inbar was one of Halbertal's students, and an author of the letter criticizing Halbertal's article against the Goldstone report. See below or here

Perhaps I am a sentimentalist, but there is something stirring when professor and student, rav and talmid, who have widely diverging views on the Gaza Offensive, stand together to protest against such a blatant injustice as the Sheikh Jarrah evictions. True, Halbertal's own comment is more pragmatic than principled, more consequentialist than deontological, to use the philosophy jargon. Still, I would like to think that the student turned to his teacher and recited Victor Laslo's classic line to Rick at the end of Casablanca:

"Welcome back to the fight. This time I know our side will win."

Let's hope that the Zionist left, and especially its intellectuals, are coming back to the fight. Not the fight over some elusive Peace Process which always, and only serves the interest of the Israeli Occupation. But the fight against rank and blatant injustice, theft of land, deprivation of liberty and resources, abuse of power, tyranny of the weak, the whole litany of complaints of the brutal and lengthy Occupation.

For as long as the Palestinian people cannot live as free people in their land, how can any decent person support the aspiration of Jews to live as free people in their own land?

Is one people's hope and freedom inferior to the other's?



Unknown said...

One does not say hamtotzi in the hope bread will arrive soon. It may turn out what arrives is just mazonot. To also paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of the resurrection are exaggerated.

I hope we can all say "who resurrects the dead" with regard to the Zionist left "speedily and in our days".

childofabraham said...

to the best of my knowledge, there are very few in these protests of from the Zionist left and most are the same people that you see in Nialin, Bilin, South Hebron and Hebron. It is just a bit closer to home so some more people come, that is until shabbos comes in! Anyway, all are welcome- but one must give credit where credit is due

Jerry Haber said...

i defer to childofabraham since he is in a better position that I am to judge. I inferred from statements by Halbertal, Yossi Sarid, from the press coverage, from the support of Meretz, that the Zionist left was involved. (Check out the Meretz website).

But I don't want to give the impression that this is an initiative of the old guard, or that they are coming out in numbers, or busloads of Peace Now supporters are showing up (yet).

On the contrary, these demonstrations are being brought to you -- I am told -- by the same activists of Ta'ayush and the Anarchists (God bless them) that are responsible for the other demonstrations.

And let's not forget that in Jerusalem, the lines between Meretz and Hadash are not always so great -- especially when one is not talking about Zionist ideology but about settlers in East Jerusalem.

Still, from what I am hearing, the discourse here is mainly about human rights, not about peace -- and I hope that discourse is being adopted by the Zionist left. According to the Jerusalem Post, which interviewed Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann of the Rabbis for Human Rights:

Additionally, Grenimann said that the sight of so many young people taking part in the demonstrations effectively put to rest the notion that the Israeli Left was a victim of the second intifada and now comprised a few aging, Peace Now activists.

"It's really very noticeable," Grenimann said of the new, youthful character of the protests. "We're seeing a lot of young people and they're not all party hacks either. Many of them are students who are simply moved to action by what they see going on in the neighborhood."

To me that says a lot more than ideological affiliation. Whether the activists are Zionists, post-Zionists, or anti-Zionist, what brings them out to protest is the scandal of East Jerusalem.

Maybe, Eric, our labels have to be adjusted.

Unknown said...

When I read that Halbertal was there my jaw dropped considering the glossy ethical fig leaf he provided for Operation Cast Lead.

One wonders about the colloquy Inbar & Halbertal had before the latter agreed to protest against Sheikh Jarrah evictions. It shows that there are still a few principles in common bet. older Israeli Zionist liberals & those younger & farther to the left. Not many, but still a few.

But the ? is can Halbertal sustain & enlarge his perspective to see that the Occupation itself is evil & must go in order to end all these injustices & preserve the Zionist dream (or at least a remnant of it)??

Devir said...

1. If by the "left" you meant the Labour Party let me tell you I don't consider them "left" at all. Nor do I consider "left" any of the parties affiliated in the Socialist International ( except, maybe, the swedish social-democratic, at least when Olof Palme was alive...).
And this is even more visible nowadays.
Look what the Socialist Party government is doing in my country. Look at Zapatero in Spain. Look at what Schroeder did in Germany.
I don't acuse them of incompetence, on the contrary! Incompetence is when a wrong measure is taken by bad judgement ( or a good one is not taken ), by inexperience, etc. Not when it's on purpose, not when it obbeys to a plan. "They" have been very competent ruling for a minority in Portugal, in Israel and elsewhere. What hapens it's just that "they" DON'T RULE FOR US ( not even for that smaller part of "us" who are their voters ).
If someone is very competent governing against me ( or the social class to which I belong, for that matter ) I would rather like him to be incompetent...
I am glad you mentioned the Hadash. They are a minority in the Knesset and you may not agree with them but you must concede that the Left they represent is solid, coherent and does not the deplorable political pirouettes the other so-called "left" does...
2. " long as the Palestinian people cannot live as free people in their land, how can any decent person support the aspiration of Jews to live as free people in their own land? ..."
In Portugal , "mutatis mutandis", a similar thought took place among the anti-fascist oposers to the régime: we only got rid of Salazar's 48 years old terrible dictorship when we understood the regime was oppressing us, portuguese,as much as the peoples of "our" many colonies ( Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, etc .
We came to realize that our freedom was not superior to theirs.
And the "Carnations Revolution" ( April 25th, 1974 ) happened...

Avner said...


Halbertal knows perfectly well that the occupation is, as you say, "evil & must go". His position on the Goldstone report nothwithstanding, Halbertal is and has always been a staunch opponent of the occupation. Let's not reduce his positions to nonsense because of one point of (strong) disagreement. In fact, it took very little effort to bring him to Sheikh Jarrah: we just had to tell him about it.

To my mind, one of the most encouraging things about the nascent protest movement in Sheikh Jarrah is precisely the coming together of the "old guard" and the so-called radicals. The latter are still more conspicuous, as childofabraham suggests, but the former are no longer shunning the protests. Who knows, maybe MK's from the Labor party will finally take the plunge as well.

I doubt that we're witnessing the redemption of the left, but hopefully it's the beginning of something.


Jerry Haber said...

Avner, I said athalta de-geulah, not geula mammash. Maybe we are in the Ikveta De'Meshicha stage.

(You know I can't use those terms without gagging.)

And Richard, as you know, folks are complicated. I have strong disagreements with Moshe Halbertal. I remember the speech he gave calling for Ehud Barak to hang tough on Jerusalem before Barak left for Camp David. But he has shown support for Breaking the Silence and has been deeply concerned about the behavior of the IDF. As for Sheikh Jarrah, it should be a no-brainer for all Israelis who are not on the wacko ideological right.

Still, as I noted in the article, Halbertal was quoted as giving pragmatic reasons for his opposition, rather than appealing to principles of justice. I have no idea whether the quotation was accurate, or whether he said other things. I assume that he is offended by the injustice of the evictions. But all of us are tempted to adopt a pragmatic stance when discussing these matters, and I hope that more people will start shouting, "This is wrong" and not just "This will have bad consequences."