A few weeks ago, Jewish Voices for Peace, a Jewish peace group that supports the boycott of Israeli products as a non-violent protest against the occupation rented a room at the 14th Street Y in Manhattan for a meeting. JVP has been marginalized for years even by Jewish leftist organizations such as J-Street. Under pressure the Y rescinded its invitation and the meeting was cancelled. The ostensible reason was that the Y feared the meeting would draw a large crowd (JVP is quite a small organization). Others claimed it was because of JVP's stance on boycotts. The truth is beside the point.
Most telling in Naomi Zeveloff’s article about the cancellation “Y Scraps Pro-Boycott Jewish Group’s Event” is the last line: "Mainstream Jewish groups say that JVP belongs outside of the Jewish communal tent because it does not endorse a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
Someone should write a history of the two-state solution. This is not only because it is an interesting and important idea, but because it has moved so quickly in Jewish circles from being anathema to being a dogma of the Jewish mainstream.
When an early Jewish peace group in America, Breira, advocated two states in the early 1970s, it was decimated by the mainstream Jewish media. When Peace Now in Israel argued for two states in the late 1970s and early 1980s it was sharply criticized, not only by the emerging settler “right,” but even by the left-of-center Labor Party. When Hillary Clinton spoke of two states with East Jerusalem as the capitol of Palestine in her 2000 senatorial campaign, she was harshly criticized by the Jewish media in New York as being anti-Israel. And it wasn’t until June 14, 2009 that Prime Minister Netanyahu reluctantly uttered the term “two-states” in his now famous Bar Ilan speech. Before that, and some argue even after, he was against two-states and in favor of limited autonomy for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Presently both Netanyahu and Abbas are in favor of two states, albeit both want it only on their terms. Both sides mistrust the other, and rightfully so. Yet to be a part of the mainstream of both sides these days, one must utter the dogma of two states even as one disbelieves it is possible or works against its realization.
The less likely the reality of two-states, the more it becomes a dogma. The second-century Christian theologian Tertullian once said “It is certain because it is impossible.” It seems regarding the two-state solution we can say “I support it because it is impossible.” The more we believe it will never happen, the more we claim that it must and that anyone who claims otherwise is outside the mainstream and thus illegitimate.
The absurdity of the two-state dogma among mainstream American Jews (according to Tertullian all dogmas are “absurd”) showed itself in the Y’s treatment of JVP.
It is true that JVP does not reflexively support a two-state solution. They support (whether as a single state or one of two) a liberal democratic Israel where all citizens are treated equally and given full rights supported by a constitution; kind of like the United States (flaws notwithstanding). What is ironic about this is that JVP is not the only Jewish group against the reigning, two-state consensus. Some members of the ruling Likud party, parties to the right of Likud such as Bayit ha-Yehudi, as well as many settler groups, are also one-staters; they just envision a non-democratic state, or an Arabrein state, or one where Jews are legally given rights denied to non-Jews. Netanyahu’s Palestinian autonomy model that he advocated until 2009 (supported by Ariel Sharon as well) is a one-state solution. In fact, what we have now as the status quo is a one-state solution. Would “mainstream Jewish groups” deny groups supporting settlers access to Jewish communal space because they “do not endorse a two-state solution”? One would hardly think so. These groups meet in synagogues and community centers all over America and some are even supported by elected members of the United States Congress. A few years ago I noticed weekly Torah pamphlets published by the late Meir Kahane’s KACH party readily available in a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Chicago.
Perhaps the difference is that many of these rightist groups utter the two-state dogma while doing everything to prevent it from happening. It reminds me of the answer given by the young school-boy in Cambridge, Massachusetts to William James’s question, “Can you tell me what faith is?” The boy responded, “Faith is believing in something you know isn’t true.” It is easy to utter a dogma you don’t believe in when you know it will never happen. James would call that “bad faith.” So as the reality of a two-state solution slips away, many who oppose it now make it the litmus test for being in the mainstream. The fact that those who utter the dogma still support groups that oppose it matters little. Whatever one thinks of JVP, at least it has the integrity not to succumb to the “bad faith” of so much of the Jewish mainstream: believing in a dogma you know will not happen. As is so often the case in religious history, it is the heretic who shows the weakness of the believer.
CORRECTION: This article originally claimed that Jewish Voices for Peace advocates for a one-state solution; in fact, they remain neutral on the point, though they do "oppose discrimination against non-Jews in Israel" and "reject arguments for either a one-state or a two-state solution that are based in ensuring dominance of one group over another." We regret the error.
Matthew Kalman broke the story of physicist Stephen Hawking’s boycott of Israel. Then Cambridge University tried to falsely deny it.