Sunday, May 16, 2010

Why "For the Sake of Zion" is Too Little, Too Late -- and Worse than the Bush Road Map

Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit has written a very interesting book called "Compromises and Rotten Compromises," which I hope to discuss later on this blog. I am reminded of it when I read the petition prepared by a bunch of credentialed liberal Zionists, who clearly had to compromise big-time in order to get agreed-upon wording for the petition, "For the Sake of Zion" which is circulating on the web. See here.

I also am reminded of Margalit's book because it opposes "sectarianism", the sort of ideological purity that banishes all deviants to the left and to the right. And I am very sympathetic to that opposition. Readers of this blog know that I am not a liberal Zionist as that phrase is generally understood. But I am a member of and a donor to the liberal Zionist organization J-Street. You see, I know that liberal Zionists are allies in the fight against the Israeli occupation and control of the West Bank and Gaza, although they will admit that have been no more successful in ending it than my non-statist Zionist crowd, or for that matter, anybody's crowd. Still, building coalitions is important, and while there are rotten compromises, compromises need not be lousy or rotten.

That is why there are petitions that I will sign even if I don't agree with all the sentiments expressed. There are petitions that although I will not personally sign I will urge others with whom I don't agree to sign. There are still other petitions that I won't sign but will shut up about.

And then there is "For the Sake of Zion," which, as liberal Zionist petitions go, represents several giant steps backward in American Jewry's understanding of what is needed to make some progress to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, it barely qualifies as a "liberal" Zionist document at all.

Of course, I have all sorts of objections to the tone and assumptions, the ritualistic bending-over-backwards to balance a fundamentally imbalanced situation, the by-now standard reference to Palestinian incitement, as if the Palestinians under a brutal occupation would be any more favorably disposed to the Israelis were they to be taught The Case for Israel (a book that has done more damage to support of Israel-Palestinian peace efforts -- especially since the Federations distributed that regurgitation of stale Israeli hasbara to Hillels and day schools -- than any schoolbook concocted by the PA). And although there are few certainties in life, the one thing absolutely certain to me is that Israel faces no external existential threat. Hizbollah? Hamas? Ahmadinejad? Are you folks serious?

But all right, all right, I can grit my teeth for the sake of finding some common ground in the spirit of bipartisanship that helped get health care through the Congress.

But not at the price of sekhel ha-yashar, "straight thinking." And there are sections of this petition that should be disavowed by anybody considering himself to be a liberal Zionist. At best, it is typical of liberal Zionism c. 1975, and it is no coincidence that most of the folks who signed it are retired or soon-to-be retired. Has nothing changed since then? As I have not spoken to the main authors, I don't know what they threw in to make more palatable to the Fox News crowd.

As a modern orthodox Jew, I naturally look over to the right, and I understand the pressures. Yet there are green lines that are not meant to be crossed.

Let me point to some passages that are deal-breakers in my eyes for any liberal Zionist. Consider the following paragraph with its tortuous syntax.

Advancing toward a two-state solution will require significant concessions and commitments by both sides. Among these: Terrorism must stop, and the Palestinians will need to set aside their claimed “right of return” to Israel, which would undermine the very notion of a Jewish state; they must vigorously oppose incitement against Israel. Israel, for its part, will need to dismantle the settlements considered illegal under Israeli law; protect Palestinians from maltreatment and violence by extreme elements of the settler community; set aside its insistence on exclusive sovereignty over all of expanded Jerusalem, including Arab neighborhoods, where, we anticipate, the designated capital of the new state of Palestine will be located."

Now what is this "advancing toward a two-state solution" business? Whatever it means, it cannot be plausibly read as closing the deal. And, indeed, there is no talk here of dismantling Israeli settlements beyond the "settlement blocs," with their (bizarre) privileged status, and which everybody agrees must occur in a two-state deal -- only settlements that have been recognized as illegal by Israel, i.e., outposts. Now removing outposts is already in the 2003 Bush road map. As Daniel C. Kurtzer wrote in the Washington Post:

Here are the facts: In 2003, the Israeli government accepted, with some reservations, the "road map" for peace, which imposed two requirements on Israel regarding settlements: "GOI [Government of Israel] immediately dismantles settlement outposts erected since March 2001. Consistent with the Mitchell Report, GOI freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements)."

So according to "For the Sake of Zion," Palestinians are required NOW, as they "advance towards peace," to renounce the right of return, despite the fact that Bush Road Map sees that as an end of conflict issue. What Bush did not require of the Palestinians, "For the Sake of Zion" does!

And while the Clinton bridge proposals suggested that Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem and the Haram al-Sharif would be under Palestinian sovereignty, the current petition already places the capital of the Palestinian State outside of Jordanian East Jerusalem -- into an Arab neighborhood in an expanded Jerusalem. Sheikh Jarrah or the Damascus Gate or Silwan are not in "expanded" Jerusalem (expanded by Israel); they are in Jerusalem. Of course, this comes under the rubric. "We anticipate". Well, amigos, I anticipate that this humiliating offer is the sort of lousy compromise that no Palestinian will accept. And that's why Bill Clinton, not exactly a stranger to liberal Zionism, didn't propose it.

And how seriously am I to take the call to immediately cease construction in the occupied territories, when that call was already made years ago by George W. Bush. This is what make you liberal Zionist?

When I saw that Bernard Henri-Levy and Alain Finkelkraut (with Daniel Cohn-Bendit) had coauthored an appeal calling for the Europe and the US to put pressure on Israel and the Palestinians (another word missing in the current petition) I initially dismissed it because of those gentlemen's track record. But then I read the appeal and I found it precisely the sort of appeal that liberal Zionists around the world should be writing. Short, to the point, without prejudging the end game except to emphasize a two-state solution.

"For the Sake of Zionism" is the opposite of that one. It does a disservice to liberal Zionism, to peace efforts in the Middle East, and ultimately, to the "state we hold so dear."

What a pity. My only consolation is that the petition will do little harm. And that the people who signed it, many of whom I know and like, will be embarrassed when they realize what they have signed.

I invite any of the writers of the petition to show me where I have offered an implausible reading of the petition.


Tobias said...

See, the problem I actually have with both petitions is very simple: They operate from the same basic assumption as even the most extreme Greater Israel fanatic does. Namely, that the power and well-being of the tribe are the only important considerations. The Palestinians are barely worth mentioning.

Occupation and colonizations are not wrong because they drag Israel's reputation into the mud and endanger its long-term stability.
They are wrong because the trample the rights of those who are on the receiving end.

Now, one might argue that a line of argument such as presented by these petitions could serve to sway people who don't care about the Palestinians in the first place.
Apart from the fact that such dishonesty is odious to me, it has a flipside, because it puts you, as I said, on the same level with the most brutal and fanatical colonizers. They will just say:
- Yes, our reputation may suffer, but we can just counter that with better hasbara.
- Yes, being intermingled with the Arabs will compromise stability, but we can just counter that with more and bigger walls.
- Yes, we should have peace, but it should be peace through superior firepower.

And so on. Adopting a platform which makes the tribal interests of Israel, rather than universal human rights, the sole guiding principle will simply give hardliners that much more opportunity to put their own solutions into practice.

Jerry Haber said...

Tobias, agreed. As you gathered, I was giving not my opinion of the petitions, but what would pass as the liberal Zionist option that could perhaps advance the cause of ending the occupation. Like you I am constantly astounded at how tribal considerations trump the liberal and progressive values of the liberal Zionist crowd. As I have written many times, I have yet to hear a liberal Zionist advocate a genuine two-state solution. You want two states and a compromise on core issues? Fine, let's sit down and see how we could come up with a reasonably just division of land and resources, after we have polled Jews and Palestinians world-wide about their desire to settle in Israel/Palestine. Then we talk about what government and security structures would be in place, with parity between the two states as an aspirational ideal, and trade-offs in a compromise for peace.

As you know, I am opposed to the ethnic character of the 1948 state. But I would not insist on changing that in order to proceed with a two-state settlement, provided that the Israeli citizenry agree to retain it.

But show me the Jewish two-stater who wants anything along those lines? Implicit in any of the so-called "realistic" proposals that "all know we are headed towards" is the permanent punishment of the Palestinians for not "recognizing the justice of Zionism" earlier. If you had only accepted the partition plan, see what you have received. Now you can't turn back history.....

michael said...

Implicit in any of the so-called "realistic" proposals that "all know we are headed towards" is the permanent punishment of the Palestinians for not "recognizing the justice of Zionism" earlier. If you had only accepted the partition plan, see what you have received. Now you can't turn back history.....

Few people seem to wonder why the supposedly generous terms of the past can't be repeated. Why not the original partition plan? Because it was accepted only tactically and disingenuously by Ben Gurion. Why not the terms supposedly rejected by Yasser Arafat? Because the real offer bears little resemblance to what was superficially reported, and the uninterrupted expansion of the settlements, especially post-Oslo, demonstrates the Israeli government's true intentions.

Or is it because Israel won its expanded territory as the legitimate spoils of war? But this argument legitimizes not only ethnic cleansing but also the recovery of the same territory by war. In effect, it says that what would be unrealistic or "unreasonable" for Palestinians following a peaceful path to expect would become perfectly reasonable if only they had sufficient resources of violence to deploy.

Unknown said...

I am pleased to read yr response to the petition was the same as my own. "Renounce the Right of Return?" What about Israel renouncing or at least constraining the Law of Return?

And the settlement language was, as you noted, laughable. Withdraw fr. settlements which ISRAEL considers illegal? What about settlements the rest of the world considers illegal??

A zoch in vey. This is meretricious nonsense. I don't know who wrote this, but those who signed it are people many of whom I've admired over a long period of time. But either they didn't read what they were signing, or they don't understand what they were signing, or else they're simply fooliing themselves that this statement has any real meaning or significance beyond assuaging their consciences that they're doing something useful (when they aren't).

So sad.

Lawrence Weinman said...

"The Case for Israel (a book that has done more damage to support of Israel-Palestinian peace efforts -- especially since the Federations distributed that regurgitation of stale Israeli hasbara to Hillels and day schools -- than any schoolbook concocted by the PA). "

Now how could anyone possibly take your analyses seriously with a statement like that.
a. if as many as 50,000 american jewish students opened that book I would be shocked. I dont think it is mandatory reading in many if any schools even if it was given as a gift to a day school or hillel library.
b. no matter how tendentious you think the presentation of history is in that book I can't see where you can find a single piece of outright incitement. Surely you would agree some of such material appears in Palestinian schoolbooks that are mandated for use in the schools.
c. at least if you were going to accuse some zionist materials of incitement to violence you could have chosen something that if it existed would have similar potential impact as a Palestinian maybe hebrew teaching materials in israeli classrooms that you find equivalent. (it would be great if you could make us aware of them)

would such grandiose distortions like your statement about the dershowitz pass muster in a paper presented to you by a student ? I'm new here and just trying to get a handle on your concepts of logic and evidence because so far I am mystified.

Jerry Haber said...

Lawrence, thank you for the time for making a comment.

I did not claim that the Case for Israel contains incitement. I said that its damage to the the peace process is much more serious than any incitement in a Palestinian textbook.

Let me briefly explain to you what I mean.

The Case for Israel is not tendentious history. It is a legal brief that is full of half-truths, omissions, distortions, attacks on straw men, and -- here is the point -- fosters a mind set that makes any sort of just peace impossible. It is the Case Against Israel, because if Dershowitz is right about his central thesis -- that Israel has a right to exist, and that the Occupation is necessary until the Arabs are ready for peace, then that is the best argument against the Jewish state -- for what nation has the right to self-determination at the expense and continuing occupation of another nation. Show me anywhere in the history of states since World War II where one state, for the sake of its security, had to permanently occupy another people, denying them the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Read more of my blog and you will see what I mean.

Now, as to the book's influence -- perhaps you are correct that it is less influential than I claimed. I certainly hope so. I know that I have seen the book in almost every Jewish home I have visited in the US, and I hang with non orthodox Jews. I also know that it was a New York Times bestseller, that it has been used by Hillels (and not just in their library) and day schools.

Of course, most American Jews are blessedly unfamiliar with it. But those who care about Israel know it.

And, finally, Lawrence, I have yet to see a single case of incitement in a Palestinian textbook that has had any effect on anybody. The idea that the Palestinians incite their children against Israel through textbooks is absurd, an Israeli concoction to deflect the real reason for Palestinian hatred of Israelis -- the forty three brutal occupation, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, and the contempt of the Zionist/Israeli settlers for the natives.

Or to put it another way, you don't have to be taught to hate in school if you are taught to hate in life.

Anyway, a soon-to-published study will show that the attitudes of both sides, Israeli and Palestinian, are detached from reality.