Monday, June 23, 2014

My Response to U Wash Progressive Zionists

Dear Shahar and Ruth,

Thank you for answering my call to respond.

We clearly disagree over principles and tactics. On principles, I have maintained consistently for some time that the fundamental question is not what sort of political arrangement is best for the peoples of Israel/Palestine, although clearly that is a very important question. The fundamental question is how best to guarantee life, liberty, and the flourishing of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples in whatever framework that emerges,  two states, federation, one state, etc.  I have no a priori commitment to any particular state or configuration of states.

I wonder whether progressive Zionists are really pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian (as J Street U says). If they were, they would not consistently favor Israel’s security over Palestine’s security; they would support two-state proposals that empower Palestinian (more territory, end of settlement blocs, control of resources, a strong defense force, etc.) Instead, what they seem to be concerned with primarily is the flourishing of the Zionist state in such a way as not to hurt others, like the Palestinians.  They have genuine sympathy for the Palestinians, and they don’t want Israel to control Palestinian destiny. But when push comes to shove, it seems to me that their motivation (whether they realize it or not) is first what’s best for the Jewish state, and second what’s the best deal they can get for the Palestinians, given their unshaken  commitment to the Jewish state.

You state honestly in your response that you oppose the aim of the global BDS movement that calls for civil equality for Israeli Jewish and Arab citizens – presumably, because that would in some way threaten the Jewishness of the Jewish state. You seem to be willing, in principle, to support a state that creates a class of citizens who are excluded from the nation represented by that state. You bear no ill will to those citizen-aliens, and I am sure you would be happy to see their lot improved. But equality is out of the question because the state has to be Jewish in the sense that Israel today is Jewish. For the same reason, you presumably agree with the majority of Israelis who believe that Israel is a state of the Jewish people and not of the Israeli people. Here, too, we disagree.

All that said, there is an issue that is more pressing than the political and ideological ones, and that is the end of a brutal, immoral Occupation that screams to heaven daily.  And here we also disagree, if not over the principle of ending the Occupation, then over its urgency.  Many liberal Zionists are deeply upset over the Occupation, but appear not to feel any real urgency about it.  You, for example, will not support a limited divestment resolution with with you  agree, because in its preamble, mention is made of the global BDS movement, and there are members of that movement, and supporters of the resolution, who want to replace the State of Israel with a democratic state of all its citizens. Until a divestment resolution comes along that is entirely detached from the global BDS movement, you will stand with more conservative groups like Standwithus -- not because you  agree with Standwithus – you clearly don’t – but because at the end of the day, on a vote that does not allow for nuance or middle ground, you vote with those who don’t recognize that there is an occupation, much less an immoral one.

I fully understand and respect the desire to stand on principle. I also understand the predicament of standing with groups with whom one does not agree. It’s not the progressive Zionist’s fault that on this issue they are caught in the middle. 

But there are several options for progressive Zionists on campus faced with the situation that you were faced with: The first is to negotiate over a divestment resolution that focuses entirely on the Occupation,  that it is not explicitly linked to the global BDS movement. When that fails, the second is to offer one’s own divestment resolution and ask others to join on one’s own terms. And when that fails, the third option is simply to abstain on the grounds that opposing the resolution will be rightly interpreted as a victory for Israel and the current government.

This, of course, brings us to the question of tactics. As ineffective as the global BDS movement has been to end the occupation, J Street’s “middle way” has done even less.  J Street U’s have been instrumental in bringing the ugly face of the Occupation to campuses, and that is indeed praiseworthy. I should have been more charitable in my initial post about that.

But acting on principle carries with it consequences, and in this case, the consequences were clear – a defeat for the Palestinians and their supporters.

Surely you are not happy about that.

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