Tuesday, December 24, 2013

When Bashing Anti-Zionists Borders on the Anti-Semitic

An article that appeared in Tablet, defending International Hillel’s decision to bar events and groups that do not toe the Zionist line, used arguments that reminded me of classic anti-Semitic tropes, like “They sound high-minded in public, but among themselves they plot to get us,” or “They are indistinguishable from each other, so if one of them commits a crime, they are collectively responsible.”

Ok, maybe I am over-sensitive, another so-called characteristic of Jews. Maybe I shouldn’t be playing the anti-Semitism card. But read this  passage, where the author claims to define the true goal of the anti-Zionist:

It is important, in other words, to be clear what we’re talking about when we say “anti-Zionist.” As a correspondent here for many years, I have had enough contact with activists involved in anti-Israel campaigns to understand that many or most of them are not concerned with returning Israel to its 1967 borders, but rather answer to this description. These people certainly do not have nuclear bombs, and they use words like “inclusiveness,” “democracy,” and “rights” in ways that scramble the radar of liberals in the West. But their goal is to destroy the state of Israel, and they are generally willing to tell you that if you are listening.

Now I am willing to bet that the author never in his life ever heard a Palestinian activist who talks about “inclusiveness,” “democracy” and “rights” say that his or her goal is to destroy the state of Israel. “Replace the Zionist regime with a more liberal, democratic regime for all its citizens” is not the same as destroying a state.  Ronald Reagan thought the Soviet Union was a bad thing, an evil empire, and he longed for regime change. But he never talked about destroying it.

Here’s another way the author characterizes the goals of the anti-Zionist, which are that

More than 6 million Jews who have found a refuge and a home here will have that home taken away, that a century of Hebrew culture will end, and that the entire Jewish people will go back to living by the whims of Muslim and Christian majorities.

Let’s leave aside the author’s self-contradictory admission that a non-Jewish Palestine had close to forty years of Hebrew culture before the establishment of the state of Israel.  Who are the anti-Zionist groups that Hillel doesn’t allow in the doors who say anything like this? Jewish Voice for Peace, which talks in its mission statement about self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians? The Palestinian civil society organizations that signed the BDS call in 2005, a call that requires the existence of the State of Israel for its goals to make any sense.

Surprise, surprise, there aren’t any – which is why the  author doesn’t actually link to any website, or give any evidence, besides his “Trust me, I know.”So he has to say instead that the language of rights is a ruse, that these groups, many of whom are in trouble with both the PA and the Hamas because they stick out their necks for human rights, are secretly plotting the destruction of Israel and taking the homes away from six million Jews  In fact, “if you are listening” (i.e., if you can crack their secret code), they are willing to tell you this!

But wait, there’s another reason, according to our anti-Zionism expert,  why those who  partner with anti-Zionist groups should not be given a place at the Hillel table. It seems that anti-Zionists  are not committed to civil debate because one of their number, Ali Abunimeh, once heckled Ehud Olmert, and, presumably, they’re all like that. (As if Mr. Abunimeh never himself participated in a civil debate….)

The shrill, hysterical, and ultimately ridiculous, demonization of anti-Zionism – which for decades was the norm among world Jewry, and to this day, is an option among the orthodox  and reform – is the flip side of the sanctification of Zionism as a Jewish, indeed, moral value.  What follows from that beatification?  If you happen to be a Palestinian who doesn’t accept the right of the Jews to a state; in other words, if you don’t accept the right of your conqueror to dispossess you,  you are ispo facto immoral.  Small wonder that Prime Minister Netanyahu insists not only that Jews be Zionist, but that the Palestinian people become Zionist, by recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.

For years I have considered myself a Zionist, and I still do. But, Ribono shel Olam/Master of the Universe, with Zionists like the author of the Tablet article, it’s a wonder I’m still on that team.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Eric Alterman and the Legacy of Yeshayahu Leibowitz

In his shrill response to Max Blumenthal’s letter to the Nation, Eric Alterman continues to question Blumenthal’s claim that the Israeli thinker Yeshayahu Leibowitz was revered by the Israeli left.  He takes issue with what I wrote in the post below, which Blumenthal had quoted.

I have no desire to respond to Alterman’s defense of his claim that “Jews all over the world ‘revered’ Leibowitz for the brilliance of his Talmud exegesis” except to reiterate the accepted scholarly (and obvious) view that Leibowitz’s writings on Jewish philosophy do not constitute Talmudic exegesis. Obviously as  a philosopher writing about Judaism, Leibowitz occasionally cites and creatively interprets the Talmud, as does Martin Buber and  Michael Waltzer. But this doesn’t make him, or them,  brilliant Talmudic exegetes. 

As for being revered by “Jews all over the world,” I wish Leibowitz were better known outside of Israel. I have been teaching his thought for over thirty years, and I attended his public lectures in Jerusalem. Enter any synagogue in the US (including orthodox) and ask Jews if they have heard of Yeshayahu Leibowitz, and you will generally encounter blank stares. The philosopher’s sister Nehamah is much better known, especially among the orthodox. And pace Alterman, how many Jew outside of Israel are familiar with Ha-Entziklopedia ha-Ivrit  (the Hebrew Encyclopedia, which he may be confusing with the Encyclopedia Judaica) of which Leibowitz was once editor-in-chief?

In any event, I claimed that Alterman was confused about Leibowitz. It turns out that the Leibowitz with which Alterman is acquainted is the Jewish philosopher whom he studied in a New York yeshiva and whose philosophy merited an entry in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Full disclosure:  I am one of  SEP's editors on Jewish philosophy.) That apparently explains his surprise at Blumenthal’s claim that Leibowitz was revered by the Israeli left.

But the Leibowitz known and revered by the Israeli left was the outspoken moral critic who foresaw already in 1969 how the Occupation would cause Israeli society to rot,  who accordingly demanded an immediate total Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines without a peace agreement, who referred to the nationalist fervor around the conquest of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, as “fascism,” who coined the memorable term “Diskotel” for the religio-nationalist infatuation with the Western Wall (‘Kotel,’ in Hebrew), who called the religious Zionist settlers “worshippers of stones and trees” (i.e., idolaters), and who claimed that the Israeli public enjoyed the murder of Arabs in Beirut in 1982, predicting that Ariel Sharon and others would establish concentration camps for him and his ilk. (Much of the above can be found in Leibowitz's book advertised here and on a Hebrew website here; for a good English website devoted to his multifaceted career see here.)

Alterman correctly remarks that Leibowitz was not awarded the Israel Prize because of his “Judaeo-Nazi” statement, but he neglects to point out that he did not attend the ceremony because of the public outcry over the award. But again, Blumenthal’s point was about Leibowitz’s fame among the Israeli left, not the Israeli public at large, or scholars of Jewish thought.

Was Leibowitz indeed revered by the Israeli left? On the centennary of Leibowitz’s birth in 2003, and at the height of the Second Intifada, the Haaretz magazine section published a cover article whose inside headline began, “What remains of the worship of Yeshayahu Leibowitz?” That “worship” was not of the Leibowitz the philosopher but of the sharp-tongued social critic who railed against the establishment. The fact that the Left did not understand that critique in context of Leibowitz’s religious philosophy is irrelevant to that reverence. 

Is Leibowitz now revered by the Left? Two months ago Haaretz’s intrepid columnist and critic Gideon Levy delivered a birthday tribute to that grand Israeli leftist, Ury Avnery, saying, “Avnery was one of the first to utter the words that everyone mumbles now – ‘two states for two peoples.’ Together with Yeshayahu Leibowitz and the radical socialist organization Matzpen he was the pillar of fire that went before the camp.” 

From Leibowitz and Matzpen to Avnery and Levy there is an Israeli tradition of harsh criticism of mainstream Zionist policies towards the Palestinians. Leibowitz’s moral criticism against the actions of the Israeli army and its government began already in the early fifties. This earned him the reverence of the left. 

Perhaps I did Alterman an injustice for inferring that he did not know the above. He gave his readers no reason to believe that he did.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Blumenthal’s Goliath and PEP Critics like Eric Alterman

Update: My original claim of Alterman's ignorance when it comes to Israel was uncharitable, and I have changed it below.  I simply was astounded that he questioned Blumenthal's claim that Leibowitz was revered by the Israeli left -- something known by anybody familiar with the Israeli left -- as well as by his other claims about Leibowitz. I will respond to his clarification at a later time.

I read half of Max Blumenthal’s new book Goliath on Shabbat, and I would like to send a copy to every Jew I know, especially every PEP Jew I know  (“PEP” means “progressive except for Palestine.” ) This is the sort of book that even if you want to diss it, you can't dismiss it. To quote PEP critic, Eric Alterman, the book is "mostly technically accurate". And that should be enough to make anybody's hair stand on end.

Clearly, Alterman and other leftwing American secularists can't accept the unstated conclusion of the reportage that some of the fundamental problems of Israel are not due to a bunch of right-wing religious fanatics and nationalist Russians – not even due to Bibi and his crowd – but that, on the contrary, to core Zionist principles of the Ben Gurion school.  As Ari Shavit put it bluntly in this week’s New Yorker, you could not have a Jewish state without inducing the mass departure of the native Palestinians in strategic areas like Lydda and elsewhere.  And that is one of the foundations of the State of Israel today for all Israelis, left and right. Anybody who opposes the return of Palestinians refugees to their homes, or allowing their immigration and naturalization, because of a “demographic threat” justifies post factum that ethnic cleansing. (There may be other humanitarian reasons for opposing such a mass return, but that’s another issue.) That is the inexorable logic of Ben Gurionism that managed to refashion Zionism in its image. That is the core philosophy of the 1948 regime. It was not the core philosophy of Zionism before the 40s. 

In his response to Goliath, Alterman  reveals himself to be an am-haaretz (ignoramus) on key issues . My favorite howler is his criticism of Blumenthal's appeal to the philosopher Yeshayah Leibowitz. Alterman writes:
Jews all over the world “revered” Liebowitz (sic!) for the brilliance of his Talmud exegesis, not—as Blumenthal might wish—because he called Israeli soldiers “Nazis” and told them not to serve.
Alterman (or his research assistant) may be interested to learn that Yeshayah Leibowitz didn’t  write any Talmudic exegesis and was NOT revered by Jews all over the world -- in fact, virtually nobody outside of Israel knew who he was, despite his being considered 20th on a list of influential Israelis. I don't know whether Alterman's informant confused Yeshayahu with his sister Nehamah, who was indeed revered by Jews for her books on Biblical (not Talmudic) exegesis, or whether the informant may be confusing him with the orthodox theologian, Rabbi Soloveitchik.  [UPDATE: One reader has suggested that he was mixing Leibowitz up with Saul Lieberman or Emanuel Levinas.]

By the way, Leibowitz didn’t call Israeli soldiers Nazis.  He said that were they to do the things that they were said to have done in Lebanon, then they would be acting like Judeo-Nazis. And yes, he counseled soldiers who asked him  to refuse to serve in an immoral war. 

That, sadly, speaks volumes about the ignorance of the American Jewish leftwing Zionist. 
In fact, as books go on this subject, I thought Blumenthal's book pretty moderate -- yes, there is the occasional sarcasm and yes, it is pretty much only the dirty laundry, of which there is a lot.  Most of it is reportage with the obvious implication of advocacy. It is certainly not charitable or even-handed to the colonizer (although it is not particularly charitable to Hamas or the PA either. When will the hasbara trolls who “review” books on Amazon learn that the story  is not just about one ethnic group vs. another but also about civil society and civilians vs. politicians and leaders?)  

But when Alterman says that one has to take into account the "context" I wonder whether he read the book. The book is ALL about context, it is the context of the sort of Zionist ideology that never left Israel (except dying down maybe for a few years in the early eighties) and which has come back with a vengeance.

The difference between an American leftie like Alterman and somebody like Blumenthal is partly generational but mostly experiential. Alterman clearly doesn’t read Haaretz or YNET daily; he hasn’t spent months in the Occupied Territories; he gets his reporting on Israel from the mainstream media.

There are many others of his generation like him.  These are the “I-oppose-the-Occupation; I-support-Peace-Now;-I-believe-in-Two-States-I hate-Bibi” crowd who can’t get past their self-imposed veil of ignorance. And it is self-imposed. If you want to write a criticism of Blumenthal, tfadal, go ahead.  There is enough to criticize.

But first, as Hillel said, Go study. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Reading Lustick More Carefully

Readers:  This piece, with a few  changes, appears on Open Zion here.

Defenders of the US backed  peace process  confuse  the thesis articulated by Ian Lustick in his  “Two-State Illusion”  with those of one-staters like Ali Abunimah or Virginia Tilley.  Lustick states correctly that attempts to negotiate the partition of Palestine into two states have failed since the 1930s; he explains briefly why that has been the case; and he challenges the notion that a viable deal can be negotiated that provides the minimum requirements for both Israelis and Palestinians.  That is hardly new or radical, although its prominent placement in the NY Times guarantees that it will be seen by “Jews in their cocoon,” following Peter Beinart.

But most of Lustick’s detractors assume that he is arguing on principle for a one-state solution despite the fact that he explicitly suggests that the road to two states may lead not through a negotiated solution but through an interim one-state arrangement that is less unjust to one side than the current status quo. “Such outcomes develop organically; they are not implemented by diplomats overnight.”  From my reading of Lustick I infer that he would not be adverse to a two-state solution if it addressed satisfactorily the core issues, provided peace and security to both sides, and achieved the overwhelming support of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples (including, of course, the Israeli and Palestinian diasporas).  That sort of two state solution has never been any where near the negotiating table, as I explained here, primarily because of the power disparities between the two sides to the negotiation. 

I am not interested with Lustick’s pro-Israel critics  who continue to delude  themselves into thinking that they support a two-state solution, when what they really support is a strong state of Israel controlling a collection of emasculated Palestinian bantustans that they wish to call a state.  Their clinging to the two-state illusion is the chief impediment to a viable two-state solution, even more than those who, like cabinet minister Naftali Benet, have declared the Palestinian state dead. 

But what of those supporters of Israeli and Palestinian self-determination who genuinely believe that both peoples will receive the maximum amount of power and self-determination in their own states?

Hussein Ibish and Saliba Sarsar fall into the latter category.  Although they too misread Lustick as a principled one-stater, they are correct to perceive that he opposes two-state negotiations under current circumstances and for the foreseeable future.  The problem is that they react in a knee-jerk two-state fashion, relying on old arguments and out-of-date evidence, to support the possibility of a two-state solution emerging from the negotiations. It is one thing to say that two states are the best outcome; it is quite another to say that US brokered negotiations between Israel and the PA are the best way to get there, or even that the Clinton parameters (and, I would claim, even the Geneva Initiative) provides a real Palestinian state.

For example, they write, “one of the most compelling aspects of the two-state solution is that a solid majority of both Palestinians and Israelis alike have shown, in virtually every poll taken in the past twenty years and more, that they are in favor of peace based on two states.”  It’s time to lay this claim to rest.  For one thing, it ignores recent polling in which the Israelis have fairly conclusively rejected even the minimalist picture of a Palestinian state. Thus in July 2013 the Peace Index poll found that “the majority of Jewish respondents, to different extents, is not prepared to concede to the Palestinians on any of the four problems that stand at the heart of the conflict,” borders, Arab refugees, Jerusalem, and settlement evacuations . The data of the  August 2013 poll strengthen the “previous finding that there is currently no sweeping support for the two-state solution and indicate that the Israeli public is not losing sleep over the basic premise of the negotiations that without two states a bi-national reality will emerge.”  Close to 77% of the Jewish public oppose Israeli recognition in principle of the right of return, with a small number of Palestinians refugees being allowed to return and compensation being offered for others.”  For another, when Palestinians think of two states, they think of a state that will look more or less like Israel, something that virtually no Israeli (or their supporters) wish.

Ibish and Sarsar claim that the Israel-Palestinian negotiations represent “the only practical of means achieving the minimum goals of each party” without giving a single argument why they believe this to be the case and without countering  the historical record and the current circumstances, where one party – Israel – is simply not interested. Nor can the hardening of positions in Israel can be attributed to Israeli insecurity. On the contrary, history indicated that when Israelis feel most secure, their negotiating positions harden (cf. post 48 and post 67)  Until Ibish and Sarsar articulate how Israel can be effectively weakened so that the prospects of successful negotiations are enhanced, they are not serving their cause well.

What Ibish, Sarsar, and Lustick share is a genuine desire to end the daily horrors of occupation and exile that have been the fate of the Palestinians since 1948.  On the historical level Prof. Lustick is correct; there is no reason to believe that this round of negotiations will do anything besides hurting the Palestinians – unless the Palestinians can parlay them into advancing the idea of a genuine Palestinian state, and not the desert mirage offered them by their Israelis. It is not the fact that there is an international consensus for a two-state solution that should be emphasized, but rather that there is an international consensus for a Palestinian state.  According to a recent poll, most Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank would prefer living in an independent state than in one state in which Jews and Arabs are considered equal. Can you blame them? After all, how many  Zionist displaced persons would have preferred living in post-war Germany or Poland with guaranteed equality for Jews and non-Jews to living in their own state where they lived as free people? That number appears to be dropping, though, as Palestinians realize what they are likely to get in the two-state process.  In fact, serious supporters of a two-state solution should hope that the current round of negotiations, like all its predecessors, fail lest the  successful operation may kill the patient.  The worst thing for the Palestinians would be to receive a state that does not answer their minimal desires and needs, because their leaders, in weakness and out of self-interest, were forced to accept a bad deal.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Parable of the Wife Abuser

For years a husband abused his wife. Whenever his neighbors threatened to go to the police he would say, “Why are you concerned with me? In this neighborhood right now there are murders, robberies, and rapes. Go deal with them and leave me alone.”

For insight into the the psychology of the wife-abuser read this piece by David Harris of the American Jewish Committee.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Rabbi Benjamin on the Palestinian Refugees

To the reader: At a time when the United States is pondering a strike against Syria, ostensibly to warn President Assad against further use of chemical weapons, it may seem odd to translate a piece that was written in October 1950 about the Palestinian refugees.  But it is not odd, for two reasons: first, the problem of the refugees will be with us well after the current crises in Syria and  Egypt have been resolved.  Second, and more importantly, “Rabbi Benjamin,” one of the pen names of the orthodox Jewish, Zionist, publicist , editor, and literary critic, Yehoshua Radler-Feldman (1880-1957), not only discusses the specific issue of the Palestinian refugees, but tells us how to go about addressing any issue of this sort.  Of course, he will be dismissed as a moral naif and visionary. Yet how many orthodox Jews do you know who would say that the three formative events in their moral development were the Dreyfus trial, the rise of Nazism, and the massacre at Deir Yassin?



Rabbi Benjamin in 1953

On the Question of Our Relation to the Arab Refugees – Part One

Ideological Foundations. Premises. Conclusions. Explanation and Commentary

A. Ideological Foundations

1. All men are brothers.

2. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

3. Jews and Arabs belong to one family, the Semitic family.

4. The sacred right of a man and a people to its homeland is not abrogated by departure, expulsion, or flight, whether voluntarily or through compulsion.

B. Premises.

1. The war between the Jews and the Arabs was the result of corrupt and distorted views that prevailed among the two peoples, and the corrupt political policies of their teachers and leaders.

2. The Arabs lost the battle because in their essence they are advocates of peace; they had no true desire for war, nor did they prepare for it.

3. They fled by the hundreds of thousands during wartime from their homes because they feared “Deir Yassinism,” and because they believed their exodus to be temporary.

4. The Arab refugees have the right to return to the land so as to be rehabillitated in the land as citizens with equal rights.

5. The cost of the rehabilitation has to be born by the State of Israel.

6. Their rehabilitation, like that of Jewish refugees, must come about through a general plan motivated by pure human good will.

7. Those Arab refugees who do not wish to return have the right to demand appropriate compensation.

C. Conclusions

1. The Arab-Jewish war was a war between brothers, an erroneous war, brought about by the fascist spirit that had become dominant in the world, and among Israel and the Arabs.

2. Israel’s [current] policy towards the Arab refugees is the direct continuation of the corrupt line of thinking that led to the war with all its negative consequences.

3. The continuation of this policy in the future means the militarization of Israel and the associated negative phenomena: moral corruption, fascist chauvinism, the fear of new wars and the renewal [of old ones], blood and tears, fraternal sacrifices, an economy of poverty, nakedness, and deprivation for generations.

4. The abandonment of this policy and a return to the policy of love and equality, justice and equity, will bring undoubtedly true peace between Jews and Arabs, will remove the negative consequences, and will contribute importantly to world peace

5. The return of the Arab refugees based on love and equality will revive the economy of the state, and will serve as the foundation of economic, cultural, and moral flourishing together: the messianic days.

6. Until that return has been arranged, any honest man who uses the “abandoned property” (houses, fields, movables, etc.) should know that this is essentially stolen property. If he has no choice, and he is forced to use it, he should set aside the appropriate “user fees” in order to remove them at the first opportunity to the rightful owners, as befits an honest man who is careful not to profit from highway robbery.

D. Explanation and Commentary

1. The foundation of foundations and the root of roots -- the foundation of faith and the root of hope – are two first principles that are in essence one – [that of] Unity and Love. All the darkness, all the tragedies, all the failures that have come into world from ancient times until the present, throughout the entire world and its regions – can be traced to the abandonment of this principle. The return to it is the cornerstone of mending the world (tikun ha-olam). This is nothing new, nor does it require any explanation or commentary. Every honest man understands this as self-evident (the dishonest man will draw no benefit from explanation; he prefers to remain lawless.) If, in any event, darkness prevails throughout the world, it is not due to a lack of understanding the principle, but rather to a lack of commitment and dedication to it. Everybody admits the principle, but they neither immerse themselves in it, nor cleave unto it.. They don’t understand that from the moment they separate themselves from the principle, they separate themselves from the light, and from life. They think that the principle is good in theory but not in practice. They hold that in practice it is good keep the principle frozen until the end of days, the messianic days. They profess the principle externally with their lips; they even understand that until the principle prevails in the world, darkness will not cease to exist. But at the same time they do the opposite. They listen to erroneous teachers and deceptive leaders, who teach them the principle of Separation: racial, national, religious, class, color, sexual, factional, and party separation. So the darkness in the world increases. Great men of all generations have stumbled because of it: prophets, philosophers, scientists, sages, religious and political leaders, etc., as one of the great prophets of all generations said: “For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13).

When we understand all this, we see no other way before us except that which has been shown to us by the human luminaries of every generation: Repentance (teshuvah), the return to the fountain of living waters, to the source of truth – to the first principle. All opposing principles are nothing but “broken cisterns that can hold no water.” The opposite principles, with all their beauty and glitter, are of no use. They are drugs of intoxication and slumber. Redemption and salvation with not come from them.

The Jewish-Arab problem is nothing but an instance of the general framework. For every honest man and advocate of truth, there is no other way but to return to the first principle – with all its inherent difficulty. For just as it is difficult for one who smokes and drinks to refrain from smoking and drinking, so too, it is difficult for people who have been raised from their youth on the principle of Separation to return to the sacred principle of Unity. It is easy to profess externally the principle of fraternity and equality as long as it is in the abstract. But it is difficult when it appears concretely in relation to fundamental facts in the form of man whose name is Mustafa or Ahmad, who demands equal rights with Yair or Yizhar, and when you have the power to thwart his demand and to deny his right. But it is in the overcoming of the difficulty that man, the people, and the generation are tested. On this overcoming depends redemption.

(From Ner: the Journal of the Ihud Association, vol. 2, Oct. 1950)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Peace Talks Regardless of BDS and BDS Regardless of Peace Talks

Rather than write up my take on the Kerry announcement (I’m basically with Harvard’s Steve Walt and Jewish Voice for Peace’s Sydney Levy ), I would rather answer the question, “Why will this round of peace talks be different from previous rounds – if they actually take place?”

The answer is that we have now entered into era of governmental BDS against Israel, I mean the European Union’s decision not to advance funding, grants, and financial instruments to Israeli individuals or institutions that have locations on territories captured by Israel in 1967. (I was told that Hebrew University, which has a campus on Mt. Scopus on territory that it owned (at least some of it) in the pre-state period is exempt. But I didn’t see that in the EU’s guidelines)

Some have suggested that the EU’s guidelines weighed heavily on Israel’s decision to join the peace talks, or that it emboldened the PA. I really have no way to determine whether that is true. I can say, as somebody who followed Israel’s rather hysterical reaction to the EU’s statement, that we now have a rather big governmental entity – the European Union – that has jumped on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions bandwagon – without the US as so much offering a peep of protest.

I should make it clear that neither the EU, much less its member statements, are formally boycotting Israel. As Daniel Levy correctly pointed out in the New York  Times, the actual financial impact of the guidelines will be probably rather small.  But the psychological impact has been huge. For one thing the EU guidelines bring back the Green Line, without any talk of settlement blocs, greater Jerusalem, or land swaps. The Jerusalem suburbs of Gilo and much of Ramot are over the Green Line – so an Israeli company with branches in those Jerusalem suburbs are potentially affected. For another, I haven’t heard anybody object to the EU guidelines outside of Israel, certainly nobody in the US government seems upset about them.

For years the US brokered peace process not only failed – it served the interests of Israeli expansionism.  Many reasons can be given for this failure, but surely one of the most important has been the failure of the US to act as anything but, in Aaron David Miller’s oft-quoted phrase, Israel’s lawyer.  He was referring to Dennis Ross, whose way of encouraging the Israelis was throwing at them huge military hardware, which they often turned down. Ross’s motto appears to have been “All carrots, all the time.” Now, perhaps, there will be a division of labor with the Europeans playing the Bad Cop and the US the Good Cop (for the Israelis, of course.)

Will there be progress? That depends on what you think progress consists of. I hope the US peace process fails  because the Clinton parameters on which it has been based represent a rotten compromise that sacrifices the Palestinian people’s legitimate dreams and aspirations to be a free people in their land. But the peace process, if it gets off the ground, will give the BDS movement needed time to continue to gather steam.  It brings the Israel-Palestine issue back into the public spotlight, exactly where the criminals who steal Palestinian land don’t want it to be.  The era of the governmental sanctions against  Israel  settlements has begun. As an American, I am sorry that the US didn’t take  the lead. But at least the US, because of its interest in the peace process, is smart enough to let the bad cop Europe do its work.

Rabin famously said that Israel should fight terror as if there was no peace process, and continue the peace process as if there were no terror.  We will now have BDS as if there is no peace process and the peace process as if there is no BDS. Much to Israel’s chagrin, the linkage between the peace process and protection from BDS has been broken. Or perhaps the linkage between the peace process and BDS has been established. Call me an optimist, but that’s got to be good news.

Friday, July 12, 2013

A Modest Proposal for the Solution of the Palestinian Refugee Problem

These days all eyes are focused on Egypt. Over the last few months all eyes have been focused on Syria. Wherever the next Arab crisis will be, you can be sure that all eyes will not be focused on the Palestinians.  I just heard MK Naftali Benet (Jewish Home) say on the radio that he was in China, and while he was asked repeatedly about Israeli hi-tech, nobody asked him about the Palestinians. 

Yet this doesn’t mean that Israelis themselves aren’t talking about Palestinians. MK Tzipi Hotoveli (Likud) has recently come out in favor of annexing the West Bank and giving the Palestinians full citizen rights, provided that the demographic balance is not tilted in their favor. How will she ensure that? Her answer is that the Palestinians will be allowed to become citizens only after there is massive aliyah of Jews. I am not sure how massive; she accepts the rightwing dogma that there are “only” 1 1/2 million Palestinians on the West Bank. Keeping the demographic balance at 80 per cent Jewish to 20 per cent Arab would require the aliyah of around six million Jews. And the likelihood of that is…? I shudder to think what  Israel would have to do to the Palestinians in order to raise the level of anti-Semitic attacks in the world  to a level that would convince that many Jews to make aliyah.  And what, according to Hotoveli, would happen to the Israeli Palestinians within Israel if the demographic balance is altered by continuing Israeli Jewish emigration. Would she be in favor of forced expulsion to keep the current Jewish/Arab balance within Israel? Sterilization?  Incentives for smaller families?

On the moderate right, the Haifa U. geographer Arnon Sofer laments that in 2020 the Negev will be Bedouin, the Galilee will be predominantly Arab, the West Bank will be in a state of apartheid, Jerusalem will be 50% Arab and 80% non- and anti-Zionist, and the State of Israel will be, in effect, the State of Greater Tel Aviv, an ecological (and traffic) nightmare.  I resist the opportunity to say that this is the best news I have heard for a long time, but pessimist that I am, I am sticking with Benet.

And what about the liberal Zionists? Most still argue for a two-state solution, claiming  that Israel can’t be a Jewish state and democratic with so many Palestinians. 

So here’s my “modest proposal”:  Israel should say to the Palestinians, “We will repatriate up to 1 million refugees over the next ten years as permanent residents without citizen rights.”  If that sounds too harsh, we can adopt a nineteenth century curial approach that will reduce Palestinian  political power by denying them “one man – one vote.” Palestinians would be restored to their lands, or when that it is not possible, they would receive generous compensation and vocational training.  The peril-to-democracy argument won’t apply since they won’t vote.

I can already hear the objections. Who knows if these permanent residents won’t one day clamor for citizenship rights? Why should Palestinian non-citizens be given financial compensation and job training when there are so many Israelis – Jews and Palestinians – unemployed?   What sort of democracy rules over so many people with out giving them real voting rights?

Uh…next question?

Look at it this way.  Supporters of Israel are always talking about the demographic threat. Yet with 20% of the population within Israel Palestine, do the Palestinians have any real political power?  Have they ever been part of a government coalition?  Arab participation in the 2013 elections went up 3%…to 56%, much lower than the Jewish sector. What would be so bad if they were 30% or 40% of the population but without voting rights, or unable to alter the Jewish character of the country?

In fact, the more Jewish the country is by constitutional law, the less one has to fear the “demographic threat.”  Some settlers have realized this, and they have no problem with the massive return of Palestinians, since they don’t mind living in apartheid land anyway.

Why won’t this happen? Very simple. Israelis won’t let Palestinians in because they don’t want more Arabs, or because they don’t want to admit responsibility for the Nakbah, not because they believe in democracy.  Democracy is another one of the many weapons used by the liberal Zionists against the Palestinians. It allows them to argue for the law of return for Jewish foreigners and against the right of return for Palestinian natives.  In fact, I know at least one liberal Zionist who desperately wants to see the creation of a Palestinian state with the same sort of illiberal citizenship laws that Israel has  – so she can feel better about compromising her own liberalism.

How many Palestinians living in refugee camps for the last sixty-five years -- without citizenship -- wouldn’t jump to return to their homeland – without citizenship.

Please, liberal Zionists – don’t use the “democracy argument” against the return of Palestinians to their homeland.

And, for those of you are not familiar with the phrase, “A Modest Proposal,” please read here

Sunday, June 9, 2013

What Sand and Shumsky Share in Common–And Why It’s Important

It’s open season on Prof. Shlomo Sand of Tel Aviv University in the pages of Haaretz, following the publication of his latest book, How and Why I Stopped Being a Jew. The thesis of the book is that there is no such thing as secular Jewish experience (although he grants that there are people who have fashioned for themselves a secular Jewish identity), that being Jewish is fundamentally and foundationally a religious category. He certainly is right about that in the case of Israel, where the secular founders insisted on preserving a religious criterion for determining who is a Jew, and hence who is a member of the nation represented by the state.  In the eyes of Israeli law, one can only become a member of the Jewish people through birth or through religious conversion, and this has practical implications, such as the pressure placed on the religious courts to facilitate the conversion of Israeli citizens from the Former Soviet Union, so that they can be members of the Jewish nation and hence the recipients of rights and privileges accorded in Israel to Jews alone. Of course, saying that Jewish people is exclusively a religious category does not imply that only religious  Jews are Jewish. Pork-eating atheists are considered Jews even by the orthodox,  but only if they became a Jew through birth or through religious conversion.

But that’s not what I wish to talk about in this post. Rather I wish to discuss the recent exchange in Haaretz by Dimitri Shumsky and Shlomo Sand, in which the former argues for a Jewish/Palestinian binational state, and the latter for a civic Israeli nationalism  Both Shumsky and Sand go at each other with the passion of Leninists and Trotskyites, but lost in the battle is how much they share in common. Neither Shumsky’s Jewish-Palestinian binationalism nor Sand’s Israeli nationalism is palatable to the old guard of Jewish nationalist/liberal Zionists in Haaretz’s' stable, like Shlomo Avineri, Alexander Yakobson, or Yehuda Bauer.

Let’s start with Shumsky’s pat on Sand’s back:

Sands’ …declared political intentions − undermining the exclusive reservation of sovereignty in Israel for one group of its citizens and endeavoring to transfer sovereignty to all the state’s citizens − are very admirable.

What Sand doesn’t get, says Shumsky, is the depth of Jewish and Palestinian national identity that most Israelis, Jews and Palestinians, feel.  Their concrete experience  is of belonging to a group that extends beyond the State of Israel.  To substitute an “Israeli nationalism” (maybe experienced by Sand and a few other progressive universalists like him) for this reality is a fantasy .  It is akin to the 20th century Canaanite movement. The only way Israel can truly be a state of all its citizens is not by divorcing an Israeli national identity from its Jewish and  Palestinian constituents but by negotiating rights for both national groups in an Israeli federation.

Shumsky ends,

Will this [binationalism] put an end to the “Jewish state?” Absolutely not, if only because the idea of “Israeliness” carries with it the baggage of clear Jewish ethnic-religiousness. It is clear that the Palestinian citizens of the state, who join together in a covenant with the Jewish citizens within the framework of the “Israeli federation,” will be required to yield a much larger emotional concession than the Jews.

Sand’s response is basically to deny Shumsky’s concept of membership in a  nation, both with respect to the Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, respectively.  Merely identifying with other members of a group, its history, language, etc., is not a sufficient basis for nationalism, and in the case of so-called Jewish nationalism, the problem is worse because of the religious element mentioned above.

Where Shumsky calls Israeli nationalism an “illusion”, Sand calls Jewish and Palestinian nationalism (in  the sense that all Jews and Palestinians are members of common nations) “fictitious”.  Shumsky accuses Sand of “Canaanism”; Sand accuses Shumsky of the benighted and outdated binationalism of Brit Shalom and the Shomer ha-Tzair, which was already detached from the everyday experience of Jews and Arabs under the British mandate.

What do they agree upon, besides the illegitimacy of the current state of affairs, in which the state is goverend within an an illiberal religious-ethnic exclusivist nationalist framework?

Both make the important point that there is an Israeliness that is more than a concomitant feature of citizenship. From the standpoint of Israeli citizenship there is no difference between M.K. Ahmed Tibi, a Russian Christian from the former Soviet Union, an Ethiopian Israeli, and an American Israeli like myself.  Yet there is no doubt in my mind that Tibi is much more Israeli than any of us, and, for that matter, much more Israeli than almost any American Israeli I know, including Dore Gold and Michael Oren.  So Israeliness is not merely a function of citizenship, since some citizens have much more of it than others. Tibi likes to say that he is an Israeli by citizenship but a Palestinian by nationality. He says this for nationalistic reason, and he is entitled to his self-definition. But in my opinion, he is not an Israeli merely through the fact of citizenship. He has a Palestinian Israeli identity that is largely the product of his Palestinian Israeli experiences.

That there is Israeliness, and that it is not coextensive with citizenship, suggests that it could be the bases for a shared national civic identity, were there a will to foster such an identity, e.g., in the educational system, in civics classes, etc.    Not every Israeli citizen may buy into that shared national identity in the way that Shlomo Sand (or I) would; maybe most would not.

The problem is that the reigning Zionist ethos sees the formation of an Israeli national identity as a threat to the very existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish state. (Never mind that “Israel” means “the Jewish people.”)

And this is the liberal paradox.On the one hand, many liberal Israeli Jews are proud that Israel has Palestinian writers like Emile Habibi, Anton Shammas, and Sayed Kashua. But their pride in them is not one of national pride as fellow Israelis but rather as the pride of Jews who have created a state where non-Jewish minority writers can win recognition writing in Hebrew.  To me, that’s like an enlightened Christian in eighteenth-century Prussia being proud that his culture could produce a Mendelssohn, not because he saw him as an equal Prussian, but rather in a paternalistic, pat-on-his-enlightened-back way.

For Sand’s Israeli nationalistic vision to become reality it is not enough to for Israelis to live a shared experience, although that is a necessary and inevitable condition. The vision needs to be accepted as a desirable goal, at least by the liberal members of the society, and fostered by the state and other institutions. There will always be Jewish and Palestinians nationalists opposed to the vision, but liberals should embrace it. Whereas for Shumsky’s vision to become reality, one needs a much thinner view of Jewish and Palestinian nationalism than both leaderships have been advocating; I would prefer something like trans-national communitarianism. The Law of Return would have to be scrapped altogether, or modified to give limited priority in immigration to persecuted Jews and Palestinians (I prefer the former alternative.) Shumsky’s view is thicker than mine – he wants to retain the Law of Return – but moves like that are entirely unnecessary, certainly to preserve the Jewish cultural heritage. Multinational states don’t need sweeping citizenship laws like the Law of Return for the preservation of their ethnic nationalities.

The Law of Return was a bad law from its inception; the only good thing to say about is that it is practically irrelevant today.

I am sure that Shlomo Sand wouldn’t be happy with an Israel as a Jewish state in the weak sense, any more than most American liberals would be happy with the United States as a Christian state in the weak sense in which it is seen today by millions of conservative Christian Americans.  But I am also sure he would be much happier with that kind of “Jewish” state, a state in which Jews and Palestinians felt comfortable and at home because those are the dominant cultures, than with the current religio-ethnic exclusivist state that is a throwback to the early nineteenth century states with their established religions. Sand actually would like to see two republics, one Israeli and the other Palestinian, and it is clear that in the former the Jewish element would be preponderant. And surely Shumsky could live with that because whether there is a constitutional nod to Jewish and Palestinian national identities or not, the facts on the ground would bolster group identities, and hence group identifications beyond Israel’s borders. These facts on the ground don’t need a lot of the heavy baggage that Ben Gurion and his associates  saddled the state with.

The possibility for common ground between Shumsky and Sand is greater than may appear from their vituperative attacks on each other.

And that common ground is the Promised Land.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Why Jerry Haber is Not Hershel Goldwasser

On Friday it was revealed that Rabbi Dr. Michael Broyde -- according to Haaretz, “arguably the single most prominent young Orthodox rabbi in America” -- had created an electronic “sock-puppet” known as Rabbi Herschel Goldwasser.  Goldwasser (a persona initially shared with a friend whose identity Rabbi Broyde does not wish to divulge)  had written pieces, commented on other's’ pieces, and at times offered praise for Rabbi Broyde. He had even joined the forum of a rival rabbinical organization.

Rabbi Broyde has expressed regret for the clandestine forum membership but doesn’t see what’s wrong with “writing under a pseudonym”.  According to the interview in Haaretz

[R. Broyde] defended the practice of adopting a false name under which to publish articles or books, citing examples as varied as Orthodox rabbis, Lewis Carroll and Stephen King.

“Presenting an idea independent of the author is not a deep problem. Sometimes you want people to examine ideas independent of the person who said them,” Broyde said. “It’s not unethical to use a different name.”

Asked if he considered it lying, Broyde said, “I don’t view writing under the name Hershel Goldwasser as lying. It’s a technical untruth, so I guess you can call it lying. But it’s a well-accepted social convention.”

Rabbi Broyde is not guilty of lying; but he is guilty of geneivat da’at/ deception, which is not a “well-accepted social convention.”  “Hershel Goldwasser” is not really a nom de plume because  nobody could know that it was a nom de plume.  Compare this with Samuel Clemens and Asher Ginzberg, who never concealed the fact that they wrote as  Mark Twain and Ahad-Haam, respectively. They wrote under a pen name, but they made it clear that it was a pen name. That’s the social convention

Had Rabbi Broyde chosen a user name like “Rabbi Akiva” or “Moshe Rabbenu” or “Moses Isserles,” the other readers would know that there is something afoot. And so he deceived the readers with a sock puppet.  Even though some of the deception may have have been harmless and merely puerile or in poor taste, it hardly becomes a prominent cleric.

Had Rabbi Broyde said, “Only under a pen name can I articulate positions that would seem heretical in my community,” I would be a bit more understanding. But he has given those of us who write under bona fide pen names an undeserved bad name.

Since my first post on the Magnes Zionist blog six years ago, I have written as “Jerry Haber” (without the quotation marks), and now I am publishing in print under that name. If you want to understand why I publish under a pen name, just read my profile. I never concealed that “Jeremiah Haber” was a pen name, and while some people had problems figuring out the real guy behind the invented persona  (much to my astonishment), at least they knew that Jerry was invented. Until recently, you had to click to find out the real guy; now he has his picture and name up there.

There are good and bad reasons for writing under a nom de plume, but it’s only deception when nobody knows that it’s a nom de plume. Rabbi Broyde should have called a spade a spade: he wrote under an invented alias to throw his readers off the scent.      

Monday, March 11, 2013

Who Is a Liberal Zionist?

Readers, this piece appeared today on Open Zion here.

When I appealed to liberal Zionists to support the global BDS movement, I assumed that the movement called for ending Israeli control over the West Bank and Gaza and Israeli discrimination against non-Jewish citizens, primarily Palestinians, within Israel. I also thought that liberal Zionists accepted these goals (see Mira Sucharov here), and that the central disagreement between liberal Zionists and the global BDS movement was over the third goal, the right of return of Palestinians to Palestine in accordance with U.N. Resolution 194.

My assumptions appear to have been unwarranted. Peter Beinart, answering in the name of liberal Zionists, has problems with the language of the BDS movement’s first goal to “end Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands,” for the language could include the Golan Heights, and anything over the Green Line, including the settlement blocs that the Palestinian Authority has, under duress, agreed in principle to cede to Israel. Beinart also has a problem with the language of its second goal, the “fundamental right of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality,” since that could mean an end to the Law of Return.

It’s funny how people read… When I read the global BDS statement, I was surprised to learn that it implied the recognition of the continuing existence, indeed, legitimacy, of the State of Israel. After all, the call for Israel to end its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands presupposes that there are Arab lands that Israel is not occupying and colonizing—otherwise where would Israel be? And the call for the fundamental right of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality presupposes that they are citizens of the state of Israel, i.e., the state of the Jewish people, since “Israel” and the “Jewish People” are synonyms. Imagine a similar call in which the black citizens of an ethnic nationalist country called “Afrikaaner Land “ are not urged to rise up and replace the settler-state with something else, but rather to become equal Afrikaaners.

The truth is that both his reading and my reading are pilpulistic, as are the attempts by two-staters like Mira Sucharov and Norman Finkelstein to view the global BDS movement as essentially a one-state movement. One-staters in the global BDS movement, like Omar Barghouti and Abu Abunimah, are not reticent about saying they are one-staters. But the language they have chosen to endorse indicates that they wish to build a broad base coalition among nationalists and post-nationalists and anti-nationalists to stop the continuing violation of fundamental Palestinian human and civil rights. And that language recognizes the strong continuing support for two states among the Palestinian people, as well as among some of the organizations that make up the BDS National Committee (BNC), the Palestinian committee that guides the global BDS movement.

I am afraid that this is what many liberal Zionists miss. The real dispute is not between the one-staters and the two-staters, but between those who hold that the collective right of a settler people to self-determination trumps the human and civil rights of the indigenous natives, and those who do not. According to the former, the only hope for Palestinian self-determination is to accept Israel’s generous offer of a “state”, and to rely for its security on strangers (s.v. the Geneva Initiative’s multi-national force) and the kindness of the Israelis who have treated them, to put it mildly, rather shabbily over the last 65 years.

One would have expected a liberal Zionist opponent of the global BDS movement to argue about the dangers of BDS to the State of Israel or to the prospects of peace, as did Gil Troy, for example. But Beinart is troubled by the implications of the statement for the Golan Heights and the Law of Return. This strikes me as odd. If Israeli negotiators were to offer to return the Golan Heights and amend the Law of Return, would he break ranks with them? It’s one thing for a liberal Zionist to accord Israel’s Declaration of Independence the status of sacred scripture; it’s quite another to do so with the Clinton Parameters.

Beinart presents a viewpoint that is typical among Israeli writers of an older Zionist generation. He mentions Alexander Yakobson and Amnon Rubenstein; one could also include Ruth Gavison, Shlomo Avineri, and others. Such liberal Zionists either see no tension between their liberal principles and Zionism, or, recognizing a tension, compromise their liberal values in the name of Zionism, provided they can justify such a compromise with superficial comparisons to other states, and “X-does-it-so-why-not-us?” arguments.

A case in point is the uncompromising acceptance of the Law of Return, a citizenship eligibility law that is unparalleled in its illiberality because it views members of a religious group as potential returning citizens to a state that never existed, by virtue of their, or their grandparent’s, religious affiliation. Add to this the 1952 Nationality Law, and it turns out that a seventh-generation Palestinian Arab honeymooning in Paris at the time of the declaration of Israel’s independence is legally barred from citizenship unless she performs a religious conversion to Judaism. Any similarities between such laws and laws that “provide preferential immigration policies for a certain ethnic group” are completely coincidental. You don’t become eligible for citizenship anywhere else in the world but Israel solely by virtue of religious conversion.

Ditto for much of Israel’s illiberal relationship between religion and state, despite the far-fetched comparisons offered by the old guard of liberal Zionists. My favorite is Shlomo Avineri’s penchant for pointing out that some European countries have crosses on their flags and that the Queen of England is the head of the Anglican Church. I, for one, would eagerly crown the President of Israel “King of Judaism” if that meant that Israel, like Great Britain, could have civil marriage.

Can anyone call herself “liberal” and support Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, which in addition to being a contravention of international law and the Fourth Geneva convention involved the expulsion of many of its inhabitants, and the continual exploitation of its resources? (Like all illegal annexationists, Israel doesn’t consider its annexation illegal.) Here Beinart implies that it would be morally problematic to return the Golan to the “monstrous regime of Bashar Assad, or the chaos that may follow him,” not suggesting that there may be another alternative, such as handing over administration of the Golan to the Arab league or even the U.N. or NATO or the U.S. temporarily, or, for that matter, for Israel to act like a temporary occupier and not an annexationist. Israel may be in possession of the Golan Heights, but it is hardly in possession of the moral high ground to know where the occupied would be better off, especially when Israel has exploited the resources of the territory, moved its citizens there, and expelled many of the 7,000 Palestinian refugees from 1948 who were living there in 1967, making them refugees who are now being shelled by the “monstrous regime of Bashar Assad.”

Many liberal Zionists support a so-called “two-state” solution that doesn’t provide the Palestinians with anything remotely resembling a state, certainly not one whose mandate is to provide security to its inhabitants. Ask any Israeli, no, ask any Zionist, no, ask most human beings whether they would accept a state on 22 percent of their homeland, in land patches connected by bridges and tunnels, without the means to protect themselves from a militarily powerful state on its border with powerful and proven irredentist tendencies.

But who, then, was my call intended for, if not for such liberal Zionists? Actually, it was intended for the liberal Zionists who believe that Israelis and Palestinians deserve their own states, but who refuse to make one subservient to the other, who believe that the Palestinian people have no less a right to live as free people in their homeland of Palestine than do the Jews. Such liberal Zionists hold that Palestine should be divided into two states, but they want the division to be equitable, or close to equitable, with some sort of parity of power between the sides. They believe the wellbeing and security of the Palestinians is as important a value as the wellbeing and security of the Israelis. Such liberal Zionists refuse to take advantage of the power differential in negotiations, but negotiate with the good of both parties in mind. Such liberal Zionists support the State of Israel but are willing to take responsibility for changing the Zionist mentality that to this very day prevents Israelis from seeing the responsibilities that they have as conquering settlers to a native population whose country was quite literally wiped off the map. Are there liberal Zionists like that? You bet there are. Some of them are at the forefront of the fight for Palestinian rights within Israel and within the Occupied Territories.

My call is intended to appeal to those liberal Zionists who understand that some of the principles guiding the Eastern European founders of Israel do not pass muster in what today (or then) is considered a liberal state. Real liberal Zionists in Israel are dissatisfied with Israel’s ethnic exclusivism, just as real liberals in America were dissatisfied with slavery, segregation, and institutionalized discrimination.

Of course, there will be disagreements between liberals on what laws and institutions are inherently illiberal. I for one can easily envision a state of Israel that has amended the Law of Return in ways suggested by Chaim Gans in his book, A Just Zionism, e.g., that would give preference in immigration to both homeland groups, Jew and Palestinian, as well as victims of persecution. I can envision a two-state solution in which Israel would remain a Jewish state but would shed its ethnic exclusivist ethos in favor of a state of all its citizens and would foster the culture and shared Israeli identity of its homeland minority. I could live in such a state and even take pride in it, despite the fact that I, personally, may not find it to be the optimal solution for both Palestinians and Israelis.

At the end of the day, my post was not about ideology as much as it was about tactics. Given Beinart’s reservations, I am willing to alter my call as follows: Will liberal Zionists and Palestinian activists join hands in a BDS campaign against Israel as long as they can find common ground?

Heck, they can even have parallel, coordinated campaigns or organizations, if they like. That’s not “normalization”—that’s coordinated struggle.

Or will they use their ideological differences to thwart the prospect of joint or coordinated action, like firefighters arguing over what extinguisher to buy as the house burns to the ground?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Liberal Zionists Should Support BDS

Readers, this post appeared last week in Open Zion here and was answered by Peter Beinart here. I plan to respond to his response later. 

Liberal Zionists want to end Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza, abolish institutional discrimination between the Jewish and non-Jewish citizens of Israel, and witness the establishment of a Palestinian state that will allow Palestinians to live as a free and secure people in their own homeland. As liberals, they insist on preserving the civil and human rights of both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. These objectives are virtually identical with two of the three aims of the Palestinian BDS National Committee. The sticking point is the third, which is “respecting, protecting, and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in U.N. resolution 194.”

I don’t agree with Mira Sucharov that an endorsement of the Palestinian right of return is incompatible with the State of Israel having a Jewish character or that such an endorsement will lead to millions of Palestinians returning to their homes and properties. Conjuring up that scenario (which has zero likelihood of coming about) allows Zionists to justify the demographic cap of “only 20 percent Arab” that they consider necessary for the continued existence of a Jewish ethnic state.
Still, I realize that the right of return is a red flag for the vast majority of liberal Zionists, who use it to explain why they won’t endorse the Palestinian BDS movement. So let me argue why I think this is the wrong approach for them to take.
Liberal Zionists have three options, as I see it:
1. They can continue to oppose BDS and support liberal organizations as effective as J Street, shaking their heads at reports in the New York Times about the latest Israeli settlement expansions, and placing their faith in a U.S. administration that has done nothing to stem Israel’s inexorable march toward a state that is Jewish and democratic and apartheid: Jewish for the Palestinian Israelis, democratic for the Jewish Israelis, and apartheid for the Palestinians living under the control of the military and the settlers. They can continue to defer for generations the moral scandal of the Palestinian refugees, a problem created when Israel unilaterally barred their return to their homes, populated its state with Jewish immigrants, and made use of their Palestinian property in defiance of international law and U.N. resolutions (not to mention the Balfour Declaration).
2. Or, publicly eschewing the Palestinian BDS movement, they can practice their own “targeted BDS” or “Zionist BDS,” focusing their efforts on boycotting products produced in the Occupied Territories, like SodaStream and Ahava beauty products, or supporting divestment from companies like Caterpillar that benefit from the Occupation. (Some of them may extend this to Israeli agricultural companies.)
3. Or they can express solidarity with the global BDS movement as a non-violent protest movement emerging from Palestinian civil society, while at the same time making known their reservations about endorsing the right of return. In other words, they can join hands with the global BDS movement in its efforts to end the occupation and institutional discrimination against Palestinians, while agreeing to disagree about the right of return. Two out of three aims is basis enough for joint action.
In a post written three years ago, I tried to persuade liberal Zionists to offer support, if only qualified, to the BDS movement. As I anticipated, my “bridge proposal” was criticized by both sides for conceding too much to the other. The liberal Zionists gave the standard arguments: BDS will harden the Israelis, strengthen the right wing, and hurt the peace camp. Adopting the tactics of the “demonizers” will only make the Israeli left less relevant (if that’s possible). Some called the BDS movement potentially dangerous to Israel. Others called it weak and ineffectual, a minor annoyance. I was told that liberal Zionists can only have influence if they stay within the tribe, ally themselves with “moderate Palestinians” like Salam Fayyad (who has endorsed BDS in the territories) and distance themselves from the Palestinian one-staters. And then there is Eric Alterman’s view that the Palestinians’ “only hope can come by convincing Jewish Israelis that the risks and benefits of peace outweigh the risks and benefits of continued conflict.” That’s going to be a tough sell when Israelis are doing quite well without peace. They have shown that they can handle the occasional intifada, and they know that the benefits of occupation outweigh the risks of ending it—especially when there’s no external pressure to do so.  
Neither segregation in the South nor apartheid in South Africa ended when blacks convinced the majority of whites to end it. Concerted action, including but not limited to boycotts, divestment, and sanctions, were instrumental in convincing a few white people in power that the status quo was untenable. It took an intifada to convince Yitzhak Rabin that the occupation was untenable.
The BDS movement is currently the only game “out of town,” i.e., outside of human rights activism and political organization within Israel and the territories. And it has been partly effective. Israelis, except for the hard-core settlers and the ultra-Orthodox, care deeply about their image. Every cancellation of a concert by a fading rock star, or of a lecture by a protesting academic, is front-page news. The artistic boycott of theaters in the settlements, the European supermarket boycott, the various divestment campaigns—all have tremendous psychological value. We are now at the stage when major Christian denominations, European supermarkets, andTIAA-CREF are contemplating some form of BDS. Even those individuals who boycott shitake mushrooms from Tekoa make a statement.
BDS, in fact, may be the best hope for liberal Zionists who haven’t given in entirely to ethnic loyalties or to a blind faith in an illusory and never ending “peace process” that serves only one side, the powerful one.
Traditional Jews are familiar with the problem of the agunah, the “chained wife” whose husband refuses to divorce her unless it is on his terms. Both sides may have legitimate grievances. But according to Jewish law, the power of divorce lies entirely with the husband; the wife is powerless to effect anything on her own. If the husband refuses until he is able to extort his terms from the other side, Jewish law empowers the court to force him to “voluntarily” divorce his wife. In the old days, recalcitrant husbands would be flogged. Today, communities publicly shame them, and in Israel they are jailed. (Just yesterday my shul rabbi publicly shamed a recalcitrant husband, and community protests have been organized against the offender.)
In the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, both sides have legitimate grievances. But in terms of the power equation, Israel is the recalcitrant husband and the Palestinian people, the agunah. Shame and ostracism are not guaranteed to be effective; like the recalcitrant husband, Israel may indeed dig in. But as an Israeli I have more faith in my country than that. As I wrote above, Israel is acutely sensitive to its public image, and most Israelis want to be part of the community of nations. A broad coalition between Palestinians and Jews, occasionally acting together, occasionally acting in parallel, may be the best hope for allowing the divorce that liberal Zionists feel is important for both sides.
At the very least, by endorsing the BDS movement, albeit with reservations, liberal Zionists will have publicly declared their moral priorities and will have importantly set limits to their ethnic loyalties.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

What's So Wrong with BDS

Readers, this appeared in Open Zion here last week.

Controversial speakers appearing on campus are as American as apple pie. So why are critics riled up about an event organized by the Brooklyn College chapter of Students for Justice for Palestine, where Prof. Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti are explaining and defending the Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment (BDS) movement against Israel?

Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz complains that the event is co-sponsored by the political science department, which is inappropriate for an academic unit, unless it sponsors all sides of a controversial issue. For him the co-sponsorship implies an endorsement of a political view that may have a chilling effect—indeed, an adverse career effect—on opponents of that view within the department.

I can sympathize with the claim that academic units should not co-sponsor events with student groups, although many universities, including Harvard, permit it, and I am not aware that Prof. Dershowitz has spoken out against this practice on other issues besides the Middle East. As the director of a Jewish Studies program that houses Israel Studies, I have instituted a policy against co-sponsorships with student groups (although we occasionally contribute modest sums for refreshments, which is what student groups are often looking for anyway).

But forget the co-sponsorship issue: What if the political science department had on its own initiative invited Butler and Barghouti to explain the aims of the BDS movement to its faculty and students? Prof. Dershowitz doesn’t just object apparently to a department “endorsing” a controversial speaker. He also objects to a department even sponsoring a controversial speaker unless opposing views are presented—an unusual and impossible demand for departments.
I suspect that the real reason for the Brooklyn College brouhaha is the belief among mainstream Israel supporters that those who support BDS belong to the extremist, loony fringe of Israel-haters. Free speech may require that they be allowed to speak on campus when invited by student groups, and, indeed, they appear regularly not only at colleges like Berkeley and San Francisco State, and but also at Penn and Harvard. But a respectable institution should publicly disavow their positions and relegate the event to a room in the crowded Student Union.
The real issue here is not freedom of speech for controversial ideas but rather the presentation of the BDS movement as beyond the pale.
I have written elsewhere about why liberal Zionists should consider supporting the global BDS movement. To the claim that the BDS movement is anti-Israeli I pose the question, “Was the BDS movement in South Africa anti-South African?” For many whites and most Afrikaaners, and the South African government at the time, the answer would have been yes. For them, apartheid was an essential part of the South African regime. Dismantle apartheid, and the country, no matter what its name, would never be the same. Yet it was possible for those who opposed apartheid to contemplate a better place for all South Africans, blacks, whites, and colored. For them the BDS movement against apartheid was not directed against the South African people but against the policies of its government.
The global BDS movement has adopted three goals (rarely mentioned by its critics): ending the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the separation barrier; granting full civil rights and equality to the Arab minority within Israel; and respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in U.N. resolution 194. The three goals correspond to the three main sectors of the Palestinian people today. There is no goal of the abolition of the State of Israel, or even its transformation into one secular democratic state. In fact, those who support BDS against Israel have somewhat similar aims as those who supported BDS in South Africa. Both groups wanted and want to bring about fundamental changes in their respective societies in a non-violent manner.
One can disagree with the desirability or the consequences of some of these goals. Certainly one can disagree about the utility or efficacy of BDS as a tactic. But there is nothing odious or despicable about the goals or the tactic.
Some opponents of BDS will object, “We have no problem with criticism of Israel, as long as it is constructive and recognizes Israel’s legitimate security needs. But BDS aims not only to weaken the state, itself an immoral goal, but also to delegitimize its very existence. Indeed, many who endorse the BDS movement are in favor of replacing the Jewish state with a secular Palestinian state. That’s what places it beyond the pale of respectable discourse at universities, and what makes it deeply offensive to some students, even if it is protected by free speech.”
Arguing in this manner is troubling for two reasons. For one thing, it insinuates that the supporters of BDS hide their real agenda, the destruction of the State of Israel and the subjugation or exile of its Jewish inhabitants, under the cloak of human rights and international law. Second, it reads the desire to see a better regime or regimes for both Israelis and Palestinians as the wish to relegate the Jews to a second-class citizenship in a secular Palestine.
The question at stake here is not whether extreme positions should be allowed to be heard but rather whether BDS or One State advocacy are extreme positions. Prof. Dershowitz opposes the BDS advocate on one extreme and the radical settler zealot on the other. But the settler’s opposite counterpart is not the advocate of BDS, nor even the advocate of one state for Palestinians and Israelis, but rather one who would deny Israeli Jews any place in Palestine—just as the opposite extreme from the white supremacist in South Africa was not those South African blacks who wished to replace the apartheid ethos with the belief that blacks and whites should have equal rights in a shared society. In the Israeli-Palestinan conflict, the “middle” is not the domain of the two-staters but rather of all those who see both sides as entitled to control over their own security, lives and liberty, whatever the political arrangement, one state or two. “Neither to rule, nor to be ruled” as the old socialist Zionist slogan went.
This is why it is important that discussions and debates over BDS go mainstream and are not marginalized by the self-appointed arbiters of the acceptable and the unacceptable. The boundaries of discussion on Israel/Palestine are changing, albeit slowly. The longer the Palestinian people are deprived of their rights, the harder it will be to justify the current boundaries of discourse. The New York Times correctly complains that “the sad truth is that there is more honest discussion about American-Israeli policy in Israel than in this country.” But the terms of reference for such a discussion should not be limited to what is acceptable discourse in Israel. The diverse voices of the Palestinian people and their supporters, not to mention the supporters of the civil rights of both Israelis and Palestinians, should be heard in this country—not just in alternative media but in the public sphere.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

How Jews Should Relate to Palestine

Yesterday I was speaking with a young graduate student in Islamic studies, an orthodox Jew,  who told me that the question arose in one of his courses, "Where is Safed?" to which the professor replied, "In Palestine."

His story reminded me of the one told by the Palestinian-American, Ahmed Moor, who, when telling a fellow undergrad that he and his family  were from Palestine, met with the reaction,  "Palestine doesn't exist."

Well, Palestine, from the Mediterranean to the Jordan river, does exist and will continue to exist, even if the State of Israel is recognized by the entire world -- including the Palestinians themselves -- as a legitimate and sovereign state. And the first people to understand this should be the Jews. For Jews have called the same land that the Palestinians call "Palestine" Eretz Yisrael/the Land of Israel, even  when their communities in Palestine were tiny. For  homeland and political sovereignty are two distinct concepts.

For the Palestinians, the State of Israel will always be at best a political entity whose founding ideology was foreign to Palestine, whose founders conquered Palestine and expelled most its inhabitants, and who allowed the remaining inhabitants to remain as second-class citizens under a military government while their lands were taken away. Israeli Jews at best will be legitimated as Jews of Palestine. And there is historical precedent. Poland remained Poland for the Poles, despite disappearing after it was partitioned  by Austria, Prussia, and Russia. I am not referring merely to the Kingdom of Poland, I am referring to the homeland of the Poles, "the sacred landscape," to use Meron Benveniste's term.

People of good will on both sides recognize that their narrative is not shared by the other. But that does not mean that each should be compelled to give up their narrative. As an Israeli Jew, one sympathetic and supportive of the Palestinian cause, I recognize the continuing existence of Palestine, not on some truncated spots of the West Bank and Gaza, but on the entire land of Palestine. LIke Benveniste, I feel saddened by the Israelis who don't know what they have lost by attempting to wipe this Palestine off the map. Fortunately, that attempt is doomed to fail, as long as Palestine continues to be remembered.

From a purely visceral standpoint, it is sometimes difficult for me to hear references to Palestine, because I was raised to believe that anybody who talked about "Palestine" wanted to drive my people into the sea. That, of course, is rubbish. I don't thing it is wrong or not politicallly correct to talk about Eretz Yisrael, or to treat it as the promised land of the Jews. That has nothing to do with the regime that governs the Holy Land.

As a religious Jew, I believe that the Jew qua Jew has three homes: the state of which she is a citizen; the Jewish community of which she is a participant, and the land of Israel. Jews do not need political sovereignty in an exclusivist ethnic state in order to feel at home in that land. In fact, increasingly I am feeling less at home in the State of Israel, then in the United States.

But I do feel at home in my home in Jerusalem in Eretz Yisrael, and I would like to be welcomed by Palestinians as a Jews, and, yes, as an Israeli, living in Palestine. In fact, I would like both homelands to be shared homelands.

Recognizing the State of Israel, and recognizing the rights of Israeli citizens of that state, does not mean -- should not mean -- relinquishing the notion that the State of Israel occupies part of the historic homeland of the Palestinians. As an orthodox Jew I believe that the West Bank is part of Eretz Yisrael, as is southern Lebanon and parts of Syria and Jordan.But that means nothing with regard to the question of the best political regime(s) for Eretz Yisrael and Palestine.

As for the Zionists, despite all their efforts to wipe all traces of Palestine off the map, and to replace it with the State of Israel, they were successful only in getting rid of mandatory Palestine. Palestine as homeland remains as long as the Palestinians and others honor it in their collective memory.