Monday, June 27, 2011

How Big Can the Communal Tent Be?

I recently participated in a conference that dealt with the question of Jewish peoplehood. One of the speakers noted that in the Bible there seem to be two models for the Jewish people, one based on family (Genesis), the other on religion (Exodus).

If one wishes to add to the concept of family the notion of shared historical experience, one gets to the distinction offered by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik between the covenant of fate and the covenant of destiny. According to Rabbi Soloveitchik, the People of Israel was forged initially in Egypt, i.e., prior to Sinai by their shared experience; that was their fate, their looking backward. Sinai provided them with another model of peoplehood, one formed by a covenantal religious community. They looked forward to a shared religious destiny. One could be a member of the former community without signing on to the latter community. Through this distinction Rabbi Soloveitchik broadened the Jewish community beyond that of a community determined by religion.

Even a family often has its renegades. At the conference we discussed texts dealing with various categories of social deviance in the Jewish tradition, apostate, heretic, sabbath-violator, etc. Because the conference was under the auspices of a liberal institution, there was sympathy for the inclusive position that you can be a member of the tribe, even a member of the tribe in good standing, without affirming theological doctrines or observing Jewish law. There was little sympathy for doctrinal litmus tests. What mattered was whether you consciously distanced yourself from the community – like the wicked of the four sons in the Passover Haggadah, who excludes himself from the community and hence is criticized (but he is still there at the Seder.)

The institution sponsoring the conference is now engaged in a big project that will attempt to “civilize” discourse on Israel among American Jewish groups and individuals. Whether you are J Street or Z Street, Peace Now or ZOA, there should be some respectful communal space in which the dialogue can continue, according to those involved with the project.

Will the institution decide that there are limits to this inclusiveness? Will it say that groups and individuals can take no steps, or support no polices, that threatens Israel’s well-being in any way (such as asking Justin Bieber to cancel his concert). Will Jews be able to support criticism of Israel from gentile quarters. What of those who question the merit of the Zionist regime founded in 1948? What of the position that gives he Palestinian refugees the choice to return to their homes? Does one have to be a Zionist, or, at the very least, not speak in public about reservations from Zionism? Can you question whether Israel has been good for the Jewish people. Can you suggest that its actions provide fertile ground for anti-Semitism? Must criticism of Israel, when offered, be discrete and loving.

I know many committed liberal Jews who are usually tolerant of all sorts of Jewish doctrinal deviations. Yet they become intolerant Torquemadas when they talk about leftwing Jewish critics of Israel, even those who are motivated by their Judaism to criticize Israel’s policies. Why is this the case? I think that there are three answers. First, the image of a weak Israel surrounded by the powerful Arabs has become so central to the identity of many American Jews (the ones who care!) that they literally believe that Israel faces serious external existential threats. Now this is truly one of the most ridiculous claims on the face of the earth, but when it comes to your existence or the existence of your loved ones, the liberal mask often drops. Even if they are intensely uncomfortable with Israel’s actions, they are afraid that their criticism will be used to weaken the Jewish state significantly (cf. Elie Wiesel.) Add to this the claim that the survival of the Jewish people depends upon Israel – not a ridiculous claim, just one completely without basis – and you understand the vehemence of those attempts to exclude and delegitimize the critics of Israel.

What galls Jews most is the forging of alliances outside the Jewish community, especially with Arabs and with liberal Christians. How many times have I been told, “Jerry, you have some good criticisms, but you have to understand that they are being manipulated and exploited by anti-Semites’? Or: “Your support of the Global BDS Movement means that you support those people who want to throw Jews into the sea.” My answer to that is to say that I don’t endorse people; I endorse principles, and there is nothing in the principles of the Global BDS Movement that is remotely connected by any stretch of the imagination with throwing Jews into the sea – in fact, to suggest otherwise is the height of bigotry. And if there were people in the movement who were anti-Semitic, so what? Do I have to agree with every thing anybody says who supports some of the principles I support?

I have yet to hear somebody say that one cannot be pro-settlement because Christian evangelicals view settlement activity as a necessity step in the conversion of the Jews. I think it would be inappropriate for a Jews to be pro-settlement for that reason, and whether one wishes to form coalitions with such people is an open question.

I have been asked whether, in the name of tolerance of Jewish viewpoints, I would give Jews for Jesus a place at the communal table. Or Jews for the Lubavicher Rebbe. These are good questions, and there are no easy answers. Groups always draw lines; I am not against that. I am against making Zionism and support of Israel into such a dogma that those who question it are shunned as heretics, and their organizations booted. To change that situation, there are concrete steps that these individuals and organizations should take. Here is what I suggest:

1. Keep trying to engage, and when the other side refuses to play, be prepared to embarrass them publically.

2. Keep making the arguments within and without the Jewish community against the dogmas

3. Make your case civilly and respectfully, understanding that your opponent is driven by fear and tribalism. Take those fears seriously.

4. Try not to become a one-issue Jew. It’s not that this is illegitimate; it simply detracts from your effect. People are complicated, and I have found that I have things in common with the most rightwing Jews, even those who read this blog. That shouldn’t be important but it is…if you are family.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The New Yale Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism Hopes to Be Scholarly – For a Change

I have been in academia for over thirty years, and I never saw anything as fast as Yale’s damage control over its decision to axe the Yale Interdisciplinary Initiative for the Study of Anti-Semitism. After a little over a week of there being – God forbid – no plan for a center for the study of anti-Semitism at Yale, a new center was announced.

This blog was one of the harshest critics of YIISA. It couldn’t understand how a great institution like Yale could lend its name to an advocacy group that dealt in Islamaphobia. (Maybe it should have been called, the “Yale Indisciplinary Initiative for the Support of Anti-Semitism” ).

In what follows, please pay attention to the following paragraph, by Charles Small, the discredited director of the now-defunct Initiative, who comments on the fiasco of a conference that he helped plan:

Small blamed radical Islamic and extreme left wing bloggers for the bad publicity the conference got. He pointed out that it was the largest conference on antisemitism ever, and it would have been absurd for the conference to ignore Muslim antisemitism.

Who says the blogosphere has no impact? Small continues:

“It appears that Yale, unlike YIISA, is not willing to engage in a comprehensive examination of the current crisis facing living Jews, but instead is comfortable with reexamining the plight of Jews who perished at the hands of antisemites,” Small said. “The role of a true scholar and intellectual is to shed light where there is darkness, which is why we at YIISA are committed to critical engaged scholarship with a broader approach to the complex, and at times controversial context of contemporary global antisemitism.”

Sociology Professor Jeffrey Alexander, a member of the YIISA faculty governance committee, said that Small’s use of the phrase “engaged scholarship” revealed YIISA's focus on politics over scholarship. YIISA was "definitely" too political, in his view, which reduced its appeal to the broader Yale population, causing it to fail the review of its academic standards.

“The reason [for YIISA’s lack of success] was that it was political, had a strong political orientation,” Alexander said. “[This orientation] was to defend the policies of the current conservative government [of Israel], and the whole post ‘67 tendency of Israel’s foreign policy, which is to occupy conquered territories, to continue the settlement movement.”

He said that Small saw antisemitism scholarship as a tool to discredit Arab critics of Israeli foreign policy. Small disagreed, telling the News Thursday that YIISA never had a political agenda. He cited the wide variety of ideologies and opinions among YIISA faculty as evidence that the initiative was not singlemindedly Zionist.

That last line is ridiculous. The whole thrust of that conference was singlemindedly Zionist. He should say, who were the non-Muslims participating who were not staunch supporters of Israel.

Here’s the article from today’s Yale Daily News:

Yale's replacement for the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism, the Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism, aims to have a more scholarly focus than its predecessor, which has been called too political for an academic environment.

Yale announced in early June that YIISA would not continue because it lacked sufficient academic interest from students and faculty, prompting public outcry from newspaper columnists and Jewish groups such as the Anti-Discrimination League. In its place, Yale will introduce YPSA, Provost Peter Salovey announced in a Sunday email.

YSPA will aim to bring a renewed scholarly focus to the study of antisemitism, Salovey told the News Tuesday. The new program will be headed by Professor Maurice Samuels, director of graduate studies for the French department and an expert on French Jews.

“I’m very impressed with what Professor Samuels has planned for YPSA and think it will attract many of our faculty members due to its scholarly focus on both historical and contemporary issues,” Salovey said.

Though administrators maintain that they decided to discontinue YIISA because it was not supporting enough faculty research or student courses, critics have accused Yale of canceling YIISA because it focused on combatting Muslim antisemitism.

Charles Small, executive director and founder of YIISA, released a statement that YIISA had been publishing articles at a "high caliber," contesting Salovey's claim that YIISA had not produced enough scholarly papers. In Small's view, the real reason for the administration's decision to close YIISA was the initiative's focus on modern antisemitic countries, such as Iran, because the administration would prefer to study only historial examples of antisemitism so as to avoid controversy.

“It appears that Yale, unlike YIISA, is not willing to engage in a comprehensive examination of the current crisis facing living Jews, but instead is comfortable with reexamining the plight of Jews who perished at the hands of antisemites,” Small said. “The role of a true scholar and intellectual is to shed light where there is darkness, which is why we at YIISA are committed to critical engaged scholarship with a broader approach to the complex, and at times controversial context of contemporary global antisemitism.”

Sociology Professor Jeffrey Alexander, a member of the YIISA faculty governance committee, said that Small’s use of the phrase “engaged scholarship” revealed YIISA's focus on politics over scholarship. YIISA was "definitely" too political, in his view, which reduced its appeal to the broader Yale population, causing it to fail the review of its academic standards.

“The reason [for YIISA’s lack of success] was that it was political, had a strong political orientation,” Alexander said. “[This orientation] was to defend the policies of the current conservative government [of Israel], and the whole post ‘67 tendency of Israel’s foreign policy, which is to occupy conquered territories, to continue the settlement movement.”

He said that Small saw antisemitism scholarship as a tool to discredit Arab critics of Israeli foreign policy. Small disagreed, telling the News Thursday that YIISA never had a political agenda. He cited the wide variety of ideologies and opinions among YIISA faculty as evidence that the initiative was not singlemindedly Zionist.

Alexander said he was hopeful that Samuels, with his “impeccable” academic credentials, would be able to make YPSA more scholarly and reputable.

While the curriculum for YPSA is still in the works, Samuels said it will focus on research and not policy work — giving grants to faculty and students, creating a faculty reading group, and recruiting a visiting scholar to teach a class each year.

Samuels said he would like YPSA to host an annual conference on antisemitism, with the inaugural one slated for spring 2012, probably on the topic of French antisemitism.

Last year's YIISA conference, Global Antisemitism: A Crisis of Modernity, made Yale administration concerned about the YIISA'S work, Economics Professor Gustav Ranis said.

Ranis became the co-chair of the YIISA faculty governance committee set up in the wake of the conference. He said that the faculty governance committee tried to push YIISA in a more academic direction to attract more interest from non-Jewish students and faculty, but "ran out of time." Samuels and Alexander were also members of the faculty governance committee.

Small blamed radical Islamic and extreme left wing bloggers for the bad publicity the conference got. He pointed out that it was the largest conference on antisemitism ever, and it would have been absurd for the conference to ignore Muslim antisemitism.

"Could you imagine if we'd had the same conference in 1938 at Yale University. Would we have been called anti-german, anti-Christian, and perhaps Communists?" Small said. "Today we've been called neoconservatives, racists, apartheid supporters, and advocates not scholars."

He added that YIISA was against all forms of racism.

Natalia Emanuel ’12, a student intern at YIISA, said that ending YIISA is a step backward given the current state of anti-Semitism in the world. But she was relieved to hear about YPSA.

“As long as the reformulated YIISA is allowed to explore bias and its implications with honesty – even when some aspects are charged – I believe this center can do a tremendous amount of good work,” Emanuel said.

The original YIISA may may still exist in some context only not at Yale. Small said that he has been in contact with other academic institutions and aims to relocate YIISA to one of them.

YIISA was the first interdisciplinary program to study antisemitism at a North American university.

Let’s hope it is the last.

(h/t to Ali G)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Boola! Boola! Yale Decides that It’s Curtains for the Yale Initiative for the Study of Anti-Semitism

Update, June 10: Antony Lerman, a scholar of anti-Semitism, has written a very good post on the Yale decision, against the backdrop of the politicization of the study of anti-Semitism. For more substance (and more length) please read his in addition to mine.

"When the sons of Eli break through the line/That is the sign we hail/Bull Dog! Bull Dog! Bow-wow-wow!/ Eli Yale"

                                    -- Cole Porter

Sorry for that burst of filial love for my alma mater. But the Yale Daily News is reporting that Yale has decided not to renew the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism.

The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA), which has operated since 2006, will not continue next year, Director of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies Donald Green said in a statement.

The decision to end the program has met criticism from groups across the nation that show support for Jewish people, such as the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League. But Green, a political science professor, said YIISA generated little scholarly work that earned publication in highly regarded journals, and its courses attracted few students.

"YIISA suffered the same fate as other initially promising programs… that were eventually terminated at ISPS because they failed to meet high standards for research and instruction," Green said, citing the Center for the Study of Race, Inequality and Politics as another example of an underachieving program.

In other words, the program was crappy. And so it was axed. Good for Yale. And good for the serious study of anti-Semitism.

The moral of this story? Take an important phenomenon which is worthy of study and have it hijacked by people with an ideological agenda, who organize conferences that revel in Islamaphobia and rightwing Zionism, mixing mediocre academics and non-academics with serious scholars, all of whom have axes to grind – in short, trivialize anti-Semitism in order to silence critics of Israel – and sooner or later, God willing, real academics will write it off as an embarrassment.

For my criticisms of the pseudo-scholarly hate-fest organized last year, see my post here.

I have no objection at all to a Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism, though a Center for the Study of Racism, including Anti-Semitism as one of several phenomena, would suit my tastes better. And I agree with Abe Foxman that it would be better to try to fix the YIISA then to end it – but not for his reasons:

"The decision to end the Center was a bad one on its own terms, but it is even worse because it leaves the impression that the anti-Jewish forces in the world achieved a significant victory," Foxman    said.

For Foxman the Initiative was to have been a Yale Anti-Defamation League, combating world anti-Semites, rather than a serious intellectual endeavor.

May I suggest to Mr. Foxman that if the anti-Jewish forces in the world have achieved a significant victory, it's because the intellectual poverty of the Initiative had become a shonde for the Jews and for the goyyim.

Let Yale study anti-Semitism – but let Yale do it seriously, and not put on conferences like the one I criticized.

And, please, Yale – hang tough when the alumni donors start making phone calls.

h/t to Mairav Zonszein

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Some of What’s Wrong With the Liberal Zionist Vision of the Two State Solution

Liberal Zionists in Israel and the diaspora have, for many years, put forth a vision of two states in historic Palestine, i.e., a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian state. The borders between the states would be the 49 armistice line (the "green line"), with land swaps to recognize "demographic realities," i.e., the half a million Jewish settlers who have settled over the green line since 1967. In exchange for the settlement blocs, the Palestinians would be given land within pre-67 Israel "of equal quality," a concept that is left vague. They would be asked to recognize the state of Israel as a Jewish state, to forego the right to return given them by Resolution 194 and international law, and to keep their state nonmilitarized.

This view is not only accepted by liberal Zionists (Jews and non-Jews are included within that description, as well as any one who believes in Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state – I can't think of any better description for that view than Zionist) It has also been accepted by some Palestinians and their allies who see it as preferable to the status quo. It is not half a loaf; it is more like half a slice. But, the argument goes, it is better than nothing.

What I would like to argue briefly is that the liberal Zionist vision of the two-state solution is not morally justifiable, and a peace agreement along its lines constitutes what Avishai Margalit calls, although not with reference to the liberal Zionist vision, a rotten compromise. Margalit distinguishes between bad compromises, which are justifiable or excusable for the sake of peace even when the principles of justice are violated, and rotten compromises, which either result in, or preserve, an inhuman system. The cases of inhuman systems he gives (slavery, racist tyranny) are worse, I believe, than the current system of Israeli occupation – but what that system shares in common with the more extreme versions is the dehumanization of those under occupation. I wish to argue that a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians that produces a Palestinian state that is only marginally better than occupation, and in which there is still a significant degree of Israeli control, hence, of dehumanization, would be, if not a rotten compromise, than something perilously close to it.

I grant that, at first glance, the liberal Zionist vision of the two-state solution tries to end the dehumanization of the Palestinians. After all, it is claimed, the withdrawal of the IDF would give the Palestinians control over their own lives. They would not be bound by all the restrictions, e.g., immigration, decisions taken without their representation, that are placed upon them now. They could stand on their own two feet.

But this is a liberal Zionist illusion, based on the underlying liberal Zionist myth that the Palestinians have nothing to fear from the Israelis provided that the former behave themselves. In fact – as the disengagement from Gaza has abundantly shown – the issue is not whether there is an IDF military presence, or even a settlers' presence on the West Bank. The issue is whether Israel has effective control over the Palestinian state by virtue of its military and economic power. By "effective control" I don't mean "total control". Israel has never had total control over the Palestinians – nor is that fact remarkable. American slaveholders never had total control over their slaves, as the slave rebellions and other acts of resistance amply show. But it is abundantly clear, and has been pointed out by many, that the liberal-Zionist vision doesn't take into account Palestinian security needs – beyond having them outsourced to countries friendly to Israel. And a truncated non-militarized Palestine with security guarantees for Israel would not guarantee a sufficient level of dignity, security, and independence that a peace agreement must provide in order for it not to represent a rotten compromise. If the Palestinian leadership accepts such a compromise, out of weakness, so much the worse for them.

The liberal Zionist vision is indeed motivated by moral concerns. The vision recognizes that it is morally wrong, not just inexpedient, for Israel to have day to day control over the lives of Palestinians. It is less concerned with the measure of effective control Israel will have over the future Palestinian state, and indirectly, on the lives of the Palestinians living within it. I don't think it is concerned with that at all.

The strange thing about the compromise offered by liberal Zionist groups like J Street is that it is not really a compromise at all. In a compromise, both groups give up things that are dear to them in order reach agreement. Yet in the liberal Zionist vision of the Two State solution, the Israeli side gives up things that the liberal Zionist wants to give up in the first place – the West Bank and Gaza. The liberal Zionist does not mind sharing Jerusalem, nor does it mind withdrawing from the West Bank and Gaza – on the contrary, it argues such a withdrawal to be in Israel's long-term interests. The liberal Zionists, in order to sell the plan to not-so-liberal Zionists, argue that in the worse case scenario, Israel's security would not be seriously threatened after such a withdrawal. So in fact, the liberal Zionist vision combines moral concern with the Palestinians under occupation with concern for the future of the Jewish state if the occupation continues. It offers to the Palestinians things that it is not interested in to begin with – and presents these as painful compromises.

This comment has been made often by the West Bank settlers. When the Oslo Accord spoke of "Gaza first" a popular rightwing bumper sticker was, "Tel Aviv first." The framers of Oslo were criticized for offering things that the rightwing was interested in keeping, but that they weren't.

If the Palestinians are asked to make painful compromises, then so should the Israelis. That should take some of the sting off of what the Palestinians are forced, through their weakness, to offer.

Let me take this back to the issue of land swaps. The liberal vision of land swaps is to give Palestinians land as compensation for the land of the settlement blocs. Let's take one "uncontroversial" settlement bloc for liberal Zionists – the settlements over the Green Line near Jerusalem. Now I ask you seriously – what lands in Israel could possibly compensate for these strategically settled areas, areas that were settled not only to provide more housing for Jews but to keep Jerusalem within effective Jewish control for perpetuity? Before 1967, Jerusalem was a circle split in two (unequal) parts, Jewish and Arab. With the settlement blocs, Jerusalem is now a Jewish bagel with a bite out of it; a tiny part of the hole is Arab. Given Jerusalem's national, religious and strategic importance, what does Israel plan to give in exchange? Land contiguous to Gaza? Land from the Lachish district.?

The integration of the settlement blocs around Jerusalem into Israel radically alters Jerusalem – and even were the Palestinian state offered all of the Negev from Beer Sheva to Eilat, that would not be begin to compensate.

That is why I suggested that in exchange for the Palestinians losing most of Jerusalem and its environs – a painful compromise – it should demand that Israel receive a significant number of Palestinian refugees. Now nobody in Israel wants this – which is precisely why it would be viewed by the Palestinians as a sacrifice worthy of their sacrifice. Or if not the refugees, then prime territory around Tel Aviv, or in the area between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

The response to this will be that I am making peace impossible. But my response to that is that the peace is not the end game – dignity and self-determination are. It is about time that liberal Zionists stop arguing that "peace is so close, if only we could find out the way to it" and start looking not so much at principles of absolute justice – the weaker party will never get that – but the minimum requirements of an agreement for dignity, humanity, and self-determination.

And to my one-state friends, I want to make clear that I am not endorsing a two-state solution. I am calling for liberal Zionists to examine the adequacy of the two-state solution that they are endorsing, and not just from the frame of reference of the liberal Zionist.

I didn't always feel this way. On the eve of Camp David II, I went to a demonstration in support of Prime Minister Barak at the Prime Minister residence. I heard him talk about settlement blocs, and I said to myself – Heck, if the Palestinians accept it, who am I, an Israeli, to be more Palestinian than they are? Isn't it more important to end the occupation, get an agreement, and start working together again? Isn't any deal better than no deal?

Not when that deal represents a rotten, or near rotten compromise. As a liberal Zionist, ask yourself how you feel if you were asked to give up most of Jerusalem, settle a million Palestinian refugees, and accept external controls on your security.

What would you be willing to give up for peace?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What’s Wrong With Israel’s Keeping Settlement Blocs?

Some readers (and J Street folks) were puzzled by the tone and content of my previous post. After all, what's the difference, I was asked, between settlements and settlement blocs? And if there will be land swaps between the Palestinian and Israeli states, what difference does it make precisely where the land is swapped? At the end of the day, Israel and Palestine will have the same proportion of historic Palestine (without the Hashemite kingdom of Trans-Jordan) as guaranteed by the 1967 lines. Can't I cut J Street a little slack here – in order to get a Palestinian state off the ground? Both the Palestinians and the Americans want to focus first on borders. Doesn't that mean that an agreement is closer on the border issue than on other core issues?

So let me briefly set matters straight.

Settlement blocs vs. settlements. The moral argument for keeping Jewish settlers where they are, even though their settlement beyond the green line is recognized as illegal, is simply – it is too hard too move them. That, of course, refers to the settlements themselves. But if they are going to stay where they are, the argument goes, their security and growth require that not only do they stay put, but they be situated in "blocs". I am not sure who first came up with the idea of bloc, but historically it may have been related to the Ezion bloc of settlements, which fell to the Arab fighters in the 47-8 war. The Ezion bloc was one of the first areas to be settled after the 1967 war. The fate of the that bloc is instructive; in the name of returning to settlements that had been captured, the Ezion bloc over the years has tripled in territory. The land on which the city of Efrat, for example, was built, has nothing to do with the original bloc of settlements – and yet it is now automatically included in the settlement bloc (except in the Geneva Initiative map.)

If the settlements are illegal, then settlement blocs are worse – because they are a naked attempt to maximize not only the settlements but the areas between the settlements and – this is important – break up the territorial contiguity of the Palestinians state. Defenders of Israel always like to say that, in terms of percentages, the settlement blocs constitute a relatively small part of the West Bank. Even if that were true, the issue is not how much territory but where it is located.

This is particularly true of the blocs around Jerusalem and the Ariel bloc in the north. No Palestinian mini-state could ever arise were the Ariel bloc annexed, or were the Maaleh Adumim bloc annexed – much less if there is contiguous Jewish settlement in the E1 project linking Maaleh Adumim to Jerusalem

For a standard defense of annexing the five major settlement blocs, check out Mitchell Bard's explanation and map here. Bard writes

Would the incorporation of settlement blocs prevent the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state? A look at a map shows that it would not. The total area of these communities is only about 1.5% of the West Bank. A kidney-shaped state linked to the Gaza Strip by a secure passage would be contiguous. Some argue that the E1 project linking Ma'ale Adumim to Jerusalem would cutoff east Jerusalem, but even that is not necessarily true as Israel has proposed constructing a four-lane underpass to guarantee free passage between the West Bank and the Arab sections of Jerusalem.

Please look at the Bard's map, which is taken from the (pro-Israel Washington Institute of Near Eastern Policy). Look, for example, at Jerusalem prior to 1967, divided between Israelis and Palestinians, and the Jerusalem proposed now, which would leave East Jerusalem an enclave surrounded by massive Jewish settlement. But, more importantly, consider what constitutes "contiguity" according to Bard – a four-lane underpass!

Now consider why Israel ambassador Michael Oren recently considered the 49 armistice lines to be "indefensible" – despite the fact that not only were they successfully defended, they were expanded upon in 1967

Israel's borders at the time were demarcated by the armistice lines established at the end of Israel's war of independence 18 years earlier. These lines left Israel a mere 9 miles wide at its most populous area. Israelis faced mountains to the east and the sea to their backs and, in West Jerusalem, were virtually surrounded by hostile forces. In 1948, Arab troops nearly cut the country in half at its narrow waist and laid siege to Jerusalem, depriving 100,000 Jews of food and water.

How long would it take Israel to take control of a 4 lane highway, thereby cutting the Palestinian mini-state in two? Would Ben Gurion have accepted a state that had the contiguity afforded by a four-lane underpass?

The Palestinian state must be contiguous, which means that it must have contiguous and defensible territory between its various parts. Palestinian security needs are no less important than Israel's security needs; only a racist or tribalist would think otherwise.

To the argument that is immoral to move settlers, I reply that it is immoral to keep Palestinians in refugee camps. Let Israel absorb the settlement blocs, and let the Palestinians absorb Jewish owned territory in such a way that there is roughly parity in the resultant states. Any two-state solution has to take into consideration not only the demographic and security needs of the Israelis, but the demographic and the security needs of the Palestinians, including the refugees. We can start by settling half a million Palestinian refugees in choice Jewish state owned lands that have not been acquired from Palestinians Israelis – and then let's redraw the map of Israel to reflect the demographic realities of the Palestinian Arabs (including those of the diaspora), and the Israelis (including those of the Jewish diaspora.)

This would not be the ideal solution but a lot fairer than the one proposed by the Israeli "left" and the American administration. If their proposal is accepted by the PA leadership, then Jews and Palestinians should join hands to oppose the concessions of the PA.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Has J Street Abandoned the Two-State Solution?

Last Saturday night there was a protest in Tel-Aviv, ostensibly in favor of Palestinian "statehood". For most Israelis, a two state solution means one real Jewish state, and a second, quasi, Palestinian state. Heck, that's true not just for most Israelis for successive American administrations. But even those administrations would not go so far as support the idea that in a future peace settlement that gives birth to a quasi state (which, I pray to God, will never come about – and so far He has answered my prayers), the large settlement blocs would be annexed to Israel and what's left of the West Bank (and Gaza?) would be part of a Palestinian bantustan, oops, I mean "state" with "land swaps".

Yet J Street has not only embraced the ridiculous notion that the large settlement blocs – and that has to include Ariel in the North – will be annexed to Israel, it has dishonestly interpreted this to be consonant with Pres. Obama's policy.

How so? I received an email from J Street praising a poster of the Nationalist Left movement (available through J Street in English here) in Israel that says, "We get the settlement blocs; they get a state." Now, no United States administration has said that in a future peace accord with the Palestinians, the settlement blocs would stay in Israel's possession, EVEN ASSUMING LAND SWAPS. By all accounts, the City of Ariel in the North is a large settlement bloc. Gush Etzion is certainly a large settlement bloc, and the Geneva Iniative's map of borders, left Efrat – part of Gush Etzion – outside of Israel. It's true that the Nationalist Left movement claims to support the Obama formulation of 67 borders with land swaps against Bibi's naysaying. It is also true that the National Left's idea of settlement blocs no doubt differs from that of Bibi. But let's make this perfectly clear – one either can annex the major settlement blocs OR have a viable Palestinian state; one cannot do both. And not surprisingly, the Nationalist Left's formulation is claimed to be valid whether there is a peace agreement or not. In other words, that movement holds that Israel can withdraw from the West Bank and annex the settlment blocs, even without a deal. Where J Street should be pushing the idea that the settlement blocs are the major obstancle to peace, precisely because they are illegal blocs of settlements, they have allied themselves with the Nationalist Left, which is not in the camp of the Obama administration, and which wants to purify the loathsome settlements as if it is not big deal – just "demographic realities", to use the Nationalist Left's term.

In explaining the Nationalist Left's slogan, J Street's Carinne Luck writes:

By settlement blocs, the poster means that the large Jewish population centers just over the 1967 lines that would be swapped for territory currently on the Israeli side of the lines. "Them" means the Palestinians. An Israeli political movement called the National Left (Smol Leumi) developed the poster.

This formulation mirrors the one that President Obama laid out in his speech and has been the policy of the U.S. Government for decades. Experts agree it is the most viable model for a two-state solution, as well as the only way to secure Israel's future as a Jewish, democratic homeland

Well, Efrat is a large population center over the 1967 line. Is J Street supporting making the annexation of Efrat a deal breaker? What "experts" is Luck referring to? Where has President Obama ever said that the "settlement blocs" will be annexed to Israel? I will be happy to make a contribution ot J Street if Carinne or anybody else finds that language there in an administration statement.

Heck, I haven't even seen J Street use the language of "settlement blocs," which is the Israeli phrase that maximizes territory (since you can be a small settlement within a bloc.) What J Street says on its website is as follows:

The borders should allow for many existing settlements, (which could account for as many as three-quarters of all settlers) to be part of Israel's future recognized sovereign territory.

That's hardly the language of "settlement blocs."

So what is J Street doing? Are they just clueless? Trying to put something over an uninformed American Jewish electorate? Hoping that a poster with Obama will make them look kosher?

Or…perhaps, like the Nationalist Left, they are proposing a ridiculous, non-starter of a solution, one that even the most pro-Israeli, pro-peace Palestinian government imaginable would rightly reject.

Has J Street abandoned a credible Two-State Solution? Or did they just make one of the gaffes for which they have become well-known?

h/t to Child of Abraham