Open Zion

12.11.12

Daniel Gordis Has It Backwards

For a long time, Daniel Gordis has been telling us to get real. He has written numerous books about getting used to a war without end, and has joined a growing chorus of commentators who preach despair against hope, realism in place of reconciliation. Rabbis are put on notice that they must not talk about peace in synagogue, unless it comes from our prayers, which contain almost as many mentions of the forbidden word as the name of our God. "The gaping disconnect between the world that these rabbis pretend exists and the one that actually exists," he warns in a salvo published by Haaretz against American Jewish leaders, "renders their message both irrelevant and myopically dangerous."

We Jews might be a peace-loving people, but as the Psalmists tell us, there is no love without the chase, and without the chase, all that remains is empty pronouncements of our merits. And it is Jewish merit that lies at the heart of the world according to Gordis, that efflorescent "light unto the nations" that shines forth from Zion despite the brutal realities of life in the dark neighborhood.

"Responsible leadership does not deny reality," Gordis writes in the essay. "It first acknowledges what exists, and only then tries to imagine what we can do to create a better world." But what is this realism that our leaders are supposed to acknowledge before bettering the world? Is it the realism that builds on road-maps or biblical maps? Is it the realism that punishes Palestinians for supporting a U.N. resolution that recognizes Israel alongside Palestine? Is it the realpolitik that in this era of uncertainty works to build alliances with friends rather than burning them on every end?

Or are we supposed to accept the realism that pits itself against peace by acquiescing to an infantile building game of settlement blocs? Is it the realism that will extend a temporary occupation into a never-ending system of control and discrimination? Is it this realism that allows us to accommodate ourselves to the fruits of occupation—the burning of olive groves and mosques, the culture of holy harassment that has come to typify day-to-day life in Judea and Samaria?

Such cynical realism demands that Palestinians forget their losses, while we fetishize our memories. It makes Palestinian West Bankers dependent on Israeli utilities and then punishes them by withholding revenues. It means destroying Bedouin villages in the place where Jews civilize the desert. It commands us to assassinate their leaders until there is no partner left for peace.

Our realism must be so real until it becomes their realism: they must understand that they will pay for the losses of ‘48 and ‘67 with truncated borders. They must be real and accept that their state must "take into account" settlement growth, as if some force of nature sprouted Jewish cities over the green line. They must realise that Oslo was a failure, period; that all their leaders are failures; that the Second Intifada is their final surrender to the reality of statelessness.

Realism justifiably says that they must renounce violence, but when they adopt passive resistance they must renounce that too. Realism means they must acknowledge that the occupation has ended because a government report has named it something else. Realism demands that they must accept that their future state is a state even if it is cut into pieces, severed from their population centres by suburbs and archaeological sites that expose only one ancient layer of the past: ours.

To be sure, there is more than enough reality to make the pursuit of peace hit any number of walls, both holy and unholy ones. Political change is accelerating at the speed of technology, adding unfamiliarity and uncertainty into the mix of things to fear. Emboldened by the last round of war, factions of Hamas compete for who can spout the most invective against Israel.

"Does anyone really imagine that Israeli concessions in the West Bank can curb this sort of hatred?" Gordis asks.

There we have it; the only reality that counts, divorced from any other reality. Their innate hatred against Israel, brought to us quote by quote from NGO Monitor and the like, that exist to bear the baddest of tidings. "Jews do not easily surrender hopes for peace," Gordis writes, but Jews in droves have. He showcases the latest member of the club, Leon Wieseltier, who at least admits that the dimming light from Zion has contributed to the verdict of despair.

Peace, however, will not appear from thin air as a new reality that will come to Israel like the long-awaited messiah, while in the meantime the Palestinians suffer the tribulations of an addictive occupation. Peace is not something that we wait for the other side to do, while we pay lip-service to it as a nice idea, or a quaint liturgical embellishment.

The prophets of doom who have given up on solutions have got it wrong. It is they who are myopic, because the end of peace is worse than war.