People keep asking me: “Have you seen the news? Has Bibi actually frozen settlements? What does this mean?”
“This” refers to news that Prime Minister Netanyahu at some point in the recent past (it’s not clear precisely when) instructed his Minister of Construction, Uri Ariel, to hold off on promoting new settlement plans. And “this” also refers to the confirmation issued by my colleagues at Peace Now, to the effect that in the wake of President Obama’s March visit to Israel and the West Bank, there have been no new tenders issued for settlement construction and no new approvals of settlement construction plans.
So has Bibi frozen settlements? Categorically not.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks to journalists during his visit to the east Jerusalem Jewish settlement of Gilo on October 23, 2012, in Jerusalem. (Gali Tibbon - Pool / Getty Images)
As Peace Now has documented, settlement construction in the West Bank continues apace—as in, at the same fast clip as before the Obama visit. How is this possible? Because Netanyahu and his previous government went on a settlement binge in the period before the Obama visit. Peace Now documented that during the period between the January 22 elections in Israel and the March 18 swearing in of the new government, plans were advanced for the approval of more than 1,500 new settlement housing units, many in isolated areas of the West Bank.
So what does this non-freeze mean?
Back in January, with Obama re-elected, Bibi had every interest in ensuring that he could both continue expanding settlements and present himself and his new government as a serious, constructive partner for the new Obama administration. And that is precisely what is transpiring today, as Bibi lets it be known that he is holding back the settlement surge.
"This is the same municipality that is used as a tool to oppress the Palestinian residents in the east of the city and provides them mainly with house demolition services."
--Gush Shalom calls on singer not to perform tonight at Jerusalem Municipality in honor of 'Jerusalem Day.
- Israeli stabs Palestinian taxi driver in Jerusalem - A Palestinian taxi driver was stabbed by an Israeli passenger in Jerusalem on Monday, Israeli police said. The attacker fled the scene. (Maan)
- Report: Prisoner X scuttled operation to return bodies of Israeli MIAs in Lebanon - Australian Broadcasting Corporation claims Ben Zygier, eager to impress his Mossad superiors, revealed name of a Lebanese double agent, blowing a major operation to return bodies of soldiers captured after battle of Sultan Yacoub. (Haaretz+ and Ynet)
- Israel to negotiate renewal of cooperation with UN Human Rights Council- At Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's instruction, an envoy will visit Geneva in the coming weeks to reach understanding that will allow Israel to take part in the council's annual hearing. (Haaretz+)
- Netanyahu, in Shanghai, looks to boost business cooperation with China - Speaking to a crowd of Israeli and Chinese businesspeople, the prime minister emphasized government support of private enterprise between the two nations. (Haaretz+)
- Israel looking to renew charter flights to Turkey, amid ongoing reconciliation talks - Shin Bet, Turkish officials move closer to agreement on security arrangements. (Haaretz+)
- Stephen Hawking boycotts Israeli academic conference, Guardian reports- After initially agreeing to join conference hosted by President Shimon Peres, Palestinian colleagues convinced Hawking to pull out in protest of Israel's policies, according to the report in The Guardian. (Haaretz)
- Deputy Education Minister invited Morgan Freeman to Israel - Following the call by Arab students that the film star boycott the Hebrew University for racism, MK Avi Wartzman wrote the actor telling him the claims were baseless and inviting him to find out for himself. (NRG Hebrew)
Ten days ago, the Jerusalem Post held a conference in New York, and inadvertently exposed the most important trend in American Jewish politics: the collapse of the “pro-Israel” center.
It happened when Alan Dershowitz began telling the crowd about his plan to revive negotiations in pursuit of a two state solution. Dershowitz is legendary for his ferocious attacks on Israel critics like Jimmy Carter and Richard Goldstone. But at the Jerusalem Post conference, he found himself under attack as the audience booed and jeered his claim that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas might negotiate in good faith. The crowd was far more impressed with Dershowitz’s co-panelist, Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick, who demanded permanent Israeli control over the West Bank and condensed her solution to Iran’s nuclear program into two words: “bombs away.” She got a standing ovation.
People arrive to attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference in Washington on March 3, 2013. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images)
To understand the incident’s significance, it’s important to understand that Dershowitz—along with people like Abe Foxman and Dennis Ross and institutions like AIPAC—defines the American Jewish mainstream. For more than a decade, that mainstream has been liberal on domestic issues, secular in its approach to Israel, rhetorically supportive of the two-state solution and adamant that the failure to achieve that solution rests with the Palestinians. And for more than a decade, support for this American Jewish mainstream has depended on a particular species of American Jew: the “secular tribalist.”
For secular tribalists, Zionism is less an outgrowth of religious commitment than an alternative Jewish identity in place of religious commitment. Their tribalism makes them instinctive defenders of Israeli action. But their secularism puts them at odds with the GOP on key domestic issues, and inclines them to root their support for Israel in the language of democracy and security, not theology. This in turn inclines them to support the two-state solution—at least rhetorically—because they don’t see controlling the West Bank as a religious imperative.
Although it seems lost in the mists of time, it really isn’t so long ago that the mention of Israel did not immediately prompt the associations “occupation,” “conflict,” “terror,” or “Palestinians.” The word that popped into one’s mind when the topic of Israel came up was always “kibbutz.” Those days are long gone, which is deeply regrettable to this writer, a long-term kibbutz observer and admirer, but sadly it must be admitted that the change is appropriate. Our problem with the Palestinians is by far the most pressing and important problem that we Israelis face, and this is reflected in the way people see us. Nevertheless, the old Israel is still around and it pays to take a look at it from time to time.
These thoughts came to me as I read Globalization of Communes by Yaacov Oved (Transaction, New Jersey, 2013), a comprehensive account of intentional societies around the world. At this time, when the all-conquering free market structure is facing an international crisis, it is surely worthwhile to take a look at one of the few alternative ways of organizing society. Despite the current travails of the capitalist system, it is probable that cooperative and communal structures will remain a minority phenomenon in our world, but there is much to learn from their experience. Moreover, Israel, which was built with cooperative structures, and which has hosted the kibbutz movement for a century, is probably the most instructive example.
In a country of immigrants and refugees, kibbutzniks were the status group—instantly recognizable in their open shirts, khaki pants, and twin-strapped biblical sandals. (B. Anthony Stewart, National Geographic/Getty)
Oved’s book, which is truly global in its scope, is only marginally about Israel’s kibbutz movement, but I venture to suggest that only a kibbutz member could have written it. A professor emeritus at Tel Aviv University and a noted historian of the anarchist movement and the communal scene, Oved is more than qualified to instruct us, but it is his experience of more than fifty years of communal living, as a member of Kibbutz Palmachim, that gives the book its remarkable insights.
The excitement provoked by a totally insignificant statement made by an Arab Gulf Prime Minister in Washington last week is the best proof of the moribund situation of the attempt to establish a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani said that "comparable and mutual agreed minor swaps of the land" were "possible." Tzipi Livni, Israel's Minister of Justice and chief peace negotiator, described the statement as "very positive news," while Secretary of State John Kerry called it a "big step." These descriptions constitute a gross exaggeration; in fact, if the statement marked any sort of step at all, it was a step backward.
US Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani after a meeting with the Arab League at Blair House in Washington, DC, on April 29, 2013. (Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images)
The Arab Peace Initiative may have some value if it is more moderate than the official Palestinian position. If the Arab League is even more extreme than the PLO itself, the inevitable consequence will be the hardening of the Palestinian position. Just as Mahmoud Abbas could not be more accommodating than President Obama on settlements back in 2009, he cannot now be more flexible than al-Thani on “land swaps.”
Last week at Open Zion, I shared my disappointment over Women of the Wall’s abandonment of the Sharansky plan following the Jerusalem District court ruling allowing the group to continue to pray as they see fit in the women’s section of the Western Wall plaza. Two days later, Anat Hoffman published an op-ed declaring that she is now “in full support of [Sharansky’s] efforts and [intends] to be a willing and constructive partner.”
Meanwhile, another short-lived tempest followed, when Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein declared his rejection of the Jerusalem Court decision. Several hours later, he backed down. Now, Religious Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett is planning to draft new regulations around prayer at the Wall, in consultation with Women of the Wall.
Members of the religious group 'Women of the Wall,' during a prayer marking the first day of the Jewish month of Iyar at the Western Wall on April 11, 2013 in Jerusalem's Old City, Israel. (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)
There are several takeaways here. The first is that supporters of organizations often impute farther-reaching goals to the organization than do the members themselves. Consider Hoffman’s original wording: the Sharansky plan, she said, “is not relevant for us.” Once the Jerusalem Court had granted Women of the Wall the right to pray as they wish, Hoffman considered her work done.
In last week’s post, I recounted the incident of my then 7-year-old daughter being angered by having to hive off to the women’s section at the Kotel. What I didn’t mention was that I attempted to mollify her not by promising her a toy or a treat, but by telling her about the great work done by Women of the Wall and promising that we would support them. In retrospect, I realize that while I deeply admire their cause, it is hardly identical to the kind of egalitarian Judaism I ultimately practice.
"But in this affair, the army is showing itself once more as the willing indentured servant of the settlers by allowing them to take over the place gradually on various ludicrous pretexts.”
--Dror Etkes, an independent researcher of settlement expansion, on an IDF commander's decision to give an abandoned outpost, which Palestinians wanted for a hospital, to settlers for outdoor performances.
- Clashes as Israelis visit Nablus holy site - More than 1,000 Israelis visited Joseph's Tomb near Balata refugee camp east of Nablus guarded by Israeli forces on Sunday night. Clashes erupted between Israeli forces and Palestinians. Three Palestinian teenagers suffered tear-gas inhalation and were transferred to hospital. (Maan)
- Settlers tour Al-Aqsa mosque compound - A group of some 40 settlers toured the compound escorted by Israeli police officers to commemorate the eve of Jerusalem Day, a national holiday in Israel celebrating the "unification" of the city. Clashes broke out between Israeli forces and Muslim women barred from accessing the mosque, after soldiers verbally insulted the women and pushed them. One woman was taken to hospital for treatment. (Maan)
- Israeli forces demolish Hebron wells, electric network - Israeli forces on Monday morning damaged agriculture lands and destroyed an electric network and water wells in Beit Ula village west of Hebron, officials said. (Maan)
- Israeli ministers endorse controversial plan to relocate Bedouin - The Ministerial Committee on Legislation overcame serious disagreements to approve a legal framework for moving the Bedouin into recognized communities; vote had been postponed two weeks to allow Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi to study the issue. (Haaretz+ and Maan)
- Israeli ministers back bill to stymie no-confidence motions - Yisrael Beiteinu proposal would also raise the threshold for a party to enter the Knesset, effectively making it harder for Arab parties to secure representation. (Haaretz+ and Ynet)
- Israeli ministers back law calling libel against IDF a criminal offense - Ministerial Committee for Legislation endorses 'Jenin Jenin' law, meant to exact a legal price for defamation of Israeli soldiers, named after the 2002 movie implicating the IDF in a massacre in the West Bank city. (Haaretz+)
- IDF allows Israeli settlers to renovate abandoned base in Gush Etzion - Palestinians sought to build hospital on site that is now used by settlers to stage events. (Haaretz+)
Israel reportedly struck at Syrian weapon stockpiles and facilities twice in the last week, in the wee hours of Thursday and Sunday morning, apparently attacking Iranian-supplied weapons bound for Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shia group in neighboring Lebanon that's also been helping prop up Syria's embattled government. The U.S. should have seen the attacks coming and though it did not receive early warning from Israel, the Obama administration said it backed Israel's rights to act in its interests. Nonetheless, the strikes, for which Israel has not taken official credit, heightened an already furious U.S. debate about whether Barack Obama should further involve the U.S. in Syria's civil war. The Israeli attacks, though, don't speak directly to U.S. involvement. Israel is acting on its own imperatives: the national security objective of keeping advanced weapons systems out of Hezbollah's hands and, as reported by the New York Times, to send a message to Iran. Neither of these sync exactly with the top stated goals of American intervention advocates. The absence of an Israeli focus on the humanitarian intervention became clear when a Netanyahu aide told Israeli radio that the strikes were "only against Hezbollah, not against the Syrian regime." And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even reportedly reached out via backchannels to the Syrian government to reassure it that Israel wasn't seeking to destabilize the regime. That hardly resembles the U.S. tack, where advocates of increased U.S. action are explicit about humanitarian aims and trying to topple Bashar Assad's government and even Obama, who's avoided robust military engagement in Syria, has called for Assad to step down.
In this image taken from video obtained from the Ugarit News, smoke and fire fill the the skyline over Damascus, Syria, early Sunday, May 5, 2013 after an Israeli airstrike. (Ugarit News via AP video)
So what does Israel's attack mean for American intervention? One of the arguments for intervention arising from the Syria strikes relies on a bit of sophistry. "The Russian-supplied air defense systems are not as good as said," Sen. Patrick Leahy said on a Sunday show. "Keep in mind the Israelis are using weapons supplied by us." His colleague from across the aisle, the relentlessly pro-intervention John McCain, made similar arguments: “The Israelis seem to be able to penetrate [Syrian air defenses] fairly easily," McCain told Fox News. But Israeli penetration of Syrian airspace, insofar as its happened, does not correspond to the actions that would be required to set up a no-fly zone. Daniel Trombly has done yeoman's work in outlining the disparities: "You cannot create a persistent NFZ through repetitive raiding in the Israeli style, because these raids rely on minimizing time over Syrian airspace and avoiding air-to-air combat," he wrote. "NFZs, to be effective, must do precisely the opposite." Deferring to Trombly's post and looking at several other astute analyses, Michael Koplow concludes: "[N]one of this is to say that the U.S. is not up to the job, or that the Syrian military is an awesomely fearsome fighting force, or that our capabilities are anything short of allowing us to do pretty much whatever we set out to do. What I am saying is that pointing to what Israel has just done and using that as definitive proof of anything related to a potential U.S. no-fly zone is taking the wrong frame of reference as a lesson."
In addition to Trombly and Kolplow, reports in two recent issues of the New Yorker color in some of the difficulties with proposed U.S. involvement in Syria. And article in this week's New Yorker shows how few clean and easy ways there are to secure chemical weapons, a top aim of some intervention advocates. "The weapons facilities are dispersed across dozens of sites," wrote Dexter Filkins. "Bombing the facilities could result in many civilian casualties and the release of clouds of deadly chemicals. And there is no guarantee that a bombing campaign would destroy all the sites." What else can be done? A ground operation that the Pentagon says would require 70,000 troops? That hardly sounds appealing. Filkins runs through the gamut of other options, too: he recalls how a no-fly zone wouldn't have stopped the slaughter in Libya, and required what was termed a "no-drive zone" around the rebel capitol of Benghazi. But Syria doesn't have a clearcut rebel seat of government and, what's more, some of the most brutal slaughtering of civilians happens in divided cities and towns, where rebel- and regime-held neighborhoods are intertwined. In addition to Filkins's reporting, Luke Mogelson's recent New Yorker story reported from Syria illustrates these issues: in the country's largest city, Aleppo, the River Queiq divides the turf of the regime and rebels. And even on the regime side of the river, Assad's forces likely live and operate among civilians who don't fight, but might be sympathetic to rebels. How does one patrol a war of that sort from the air? Lastly there is the option of arming the rebels: both New Yorker pieces ably demonstrate the complications around this issue—which stands as another example of Israel being bearish on direct involvement in the civil war.
A recent CNN segment on the sharply rising numbers of French aliyah—immigration—to Israel draws attention to a very real and alarming issue. It is also lazy chickenshit reporting. Whenever a news story about anti-Semitism is this poorly executed—especially by such a powerful news organization—it just gives skeptics and deniers fuel to quash reports of rising anti-Semitism. And in France, the deniers are just as problematic as actual anti-Semitic violence.
Yes, the CNN report is right—both French aliyah numbers and reports of anti-Semitic violence are on the rise. But CNN is right only by accident, and we can’t have that. As the saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day; that doesn’t mean you should run out and buy one.
A picture taken on September 2, 2012 shows Mulhouse's Grand Synagogue in Mulhouse, eastern France, while members of the Jewish community are listening to a speech during its inauguration ceremony. (Sebastien Bozon / AFP / Getty Images)
First of all, the report—delivered by journalist Jim Bitterman—says that “according to a Jewish security agency [in France], anti-Semitic attacks were up 60 percent in 2012.” What exactly is a Jewish security agency? The Mossad? And does he mean the violence increased by 60 percent from 2011 to 2012, or over the previous decade, or what?
Oh, maybe he means this report by France’s SPCJ (Protection Service of the Jewish Community), but why do I have to do his footnoting for him? The report does state that anti-Semitic acts went up from 389 in 2011 to 614 in 2012, which is a 58 percent increase. Yes, that’s a lot. So much so, in fact, that it might have been worth being less cagey about the source, especially since it’s a highly respected one.
If anyone thought that Aryeh Deri’s conviction for bribery and fraud would have prevented him from returning to the highest levels of Haredi and national politics in Israel, they’ve just been proven wrong. Deri is back at the helm of Shas.
Former senior Israeli cabinet minister and Shas party founder Aryeh Deri is welcomed to his Jerusalem home by joyous supporters after his release on parole July 15, 2002. Deri was freed after serving two-thirds of his three-year sentence for a range of corruption charges. (David Silverman / Getty Images)
This wasn’t completely unexpected: Deri was the boy wonder of Shas, having helped found the party in the 1980s as a Sephardic breakaway from the more established Haredi but Ashkenazi-dominated party, Agudat Israel. Under his leadership Shas became the most important Orthodox institutional player in national politics. Shas’s ultimate leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, cherished him dearly, while the party’s constituents adored him. His appointment as the sole leader of Shas is a good thing, because he’ll contribute to a dampening down of the over-heated rhetoric and rising tensions between the Haredi and other sectors as represented by Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid.
Prior to Likud’s victory in the 1977 election, socialist-Zionist ideas were predominant and their supporters tried to advance them as much as possible. But with the emergence of a genuine alternative to the Labor Party, Israeli politics became polarized between the two large parties, with the smaller ones—including the religious Zionists and the Haredi—now playing them off against each other. The Haredi demands, especially, exacerbated this process as they came to be seen as parties only interested in the health of their own communities while trying to impose their narrow understandings of Judaism and Jewishness on the rest of the society.
My family and I have been living in the West Bank for the last four years. But we’ve decided to take some time away. We’re moving to America, so that I can take up a post-doctoral position at the University of Notre Dame. Moving from the West Bank to South Bend, Indiana—I imagine we're in for a big culture shock.
Before I go, I thought it might be interesting or even informative to share with the readers of Open Zion some of the more surprising things that we're going miss—and not going to miss—about life here in the Occupied Territories.
Israel's security fence snakes along the Green Line border with the West Bank, as it turns north-east from the Israeli red-roofed community of Bat Hefer on January 30, 2004. (David Silverman / Getty Images)
Racial diversity: When you live in a settlement like mine, you know that all of your neighbors are Jewish. But those Jews might be of any number of racial and ethnic backgrounds. We live in a religious settlement among religious Ashkenazi Jews, Sephardi Jews, Yemenite Jews, and Ethiopian Jews. There are a number of Peruvian converts, and their children, in our town, who were of Native Peruvian ethnicity. Furthermore, I here had the pleasure of teaching a number of young Chinese men who had Jewish ancestors and had chosen to convert to Judaism. In the Ashkenazi community in which I grew up in England, a Sephardi Jew was something of a rarity, let alone a black or far-eastern Jew. Growing up here, among religious Jews of many racial backgrounds, my children know first-hand that the Jewish people is a multi-racial and multi-cultural people; that Jewish fraternity is colorblind.
Being a stereotype buster: There was nothing more fun, in conversation, than being able to describe myself as an anti-occupation, left-wing, religious settler. That list of adjectives just left people so confused. And I like to confuse people. Most people fail to realize that the Jews who live beyond the Green Line are a pretty diverse bunch. Describing myself as an anti-occupation, left-wing, religious Jew who lives in Indiana won’t be as much fun, or as corrective to people’s biases.
I bought a pair of tickets to Dudu Tassa and the Andalusia Orchestra performing the works of Tassa's grandfather and great-uncle, the Al-Kuwaiti Brothers, the forgotten Jewish maestros of Baghdad. The tickets set me back two Yitzhak Ben-Tzvis, the equivalent of one Zalman Shazar, which is to say two 100-shekel bills or one 200-shekel bill. By next year, when Israel's new banknotes are in circulation, that will be two Leah Goldbergs or one Nathan Alterman. Poets are replacing politicians on our money.
The concert cost considerably less than classical European music does at the same Jerusalem hall. Marginalized culture comes at a discount, and its icons don't appear on cash. The chances that portraits of Daud and Saleh al-Kuwaiti will ever adorn a 200-shekel bill seem slim. But you never know. After much controversy, Jerusalem has named a street after dissident philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz. The gates of commemoration are forever open.
The new NIS 50 banknote featuring the poet Shaul Tchernichovsky. (Bank of Israel)
The Leibowitz fuss had barely ended when the shouting about the banknotes began. Last week, at the Bank of Israel's request, the cabinet voted to approve the new bills. The poets Rachel Bluwstein—usually known only by her first name—and Shaul Tchernichovsky will appear on the 20- and 50-shekel notes, completing a quartet with Goldberg and Alterman. Arye Deri of the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox Shas party, now in opposition, demanded to know why only Ashkenazi poets were honored. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded that the next set of banknotes—likely to be issued in another 15 or so years—would include one with an image of Rabbi Yehudah Halevi.
- MKs work to revive 'nation-state' bill - Two MKs seek to remove controversial elements from the scrapped bill and send it back to the Knesset. Original bill called for Jewish religious law and for dropping Arabic as an official language. (Israel Hayom)
- Danes, Finns upgrade Palestinian diplomatic status - Foreign ministers of Denmark, Finland decide to upgrade status of Palestinian missions in their countries so 'Palestine gets the same status' as other embassies. (Agencies,Ynet)
- Fayyad denies criticizing Palestinian Authority in New York Times interview - Outgoing Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who was quoted slamming the Palestinian leadership, says was misled by correspondent. (Haaretz andIsrael Hayom)
- British Jewish groups slam Bedouin settlement bill ahead of discussions - While the government seeks to advance legislation of a bill that would see tens of thousands of Bedouin resettled, British Jewish youth groups and Israeli rights organization say the law would unjustly displace thousands. (Israel Hayom)
- Hamas rejects Arab League initiative for Israeli-Palestinian peace - Ismail Haniyeh says outsiders cannot decide the fate of the Palestinians, stressing: 'Palestine is not a property, it is not for sale, not for a swap and cannot be traded.' (Agencies, Haaretz)
- 536 pine trees in (E.) Jerusalem get the ax without a permit - When a local resident asked to see the permit for cutting down the trees, workmen showed her a permit that had been issued and then revoked. [The trees are on Har Homa, the controversial neighborhood built on a hill between Jerusalem and Bethelehem over the Green Line - OH] (Haaretz+)
- Jerusalem interchange named after Benzion Netanyahu, PM's late father - WATCH: At inaugural ceremony, PM says state is making efforts to connect Jerusalem with rest of Israel; municipality expedites junction's naming process, circumventing city’s usual rules. [Of interest, the interchange links two Jewish neighborhoods beyond the Green Line to Hwy 443, which is also in the West Bank. - OH] (Haaretz+)
- Atmosphere of terror reigned under Lieberman, says ex-deputy FM - Danny Ayalon, the central witness in the fraud trial against the former foreign minister, says ministry officials still reluctant to speak out against their ex-boss since he may yet return to his post. (Haaretz+)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is right, er, I mean correct. He recently reiterated his willingness to negotiate with the Palestinians—without preconditions—and identified the core problem. “Until the Palestinians recognize our right to exist as a national state, no matter what the borders, and until they declare that the conflict is over, there will not be peace,” Netanyahu said. “Unless these things happen, even if we reach an agreement, it will serve to keep the conflict going by other means.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes his speech in front of a poster of the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin during a meeting of his Likud party's Central Committee on September 25, 2005 in Tel Aviv. (David Silverman / Getty Images)
These comments demonstrate that his late father was not the only Netanyahu who knew his history. While Israel has made its own mistakes and presented its own obstacles in the way of peace, these shortcoming do not compare to the ongoing, systematic refusal reflected in much Palestinian discourse and throughout much of the Arab world to accept Israel’s basic right to exist.
This Palestinian refusal to recognize the Jewish state derailed the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan, which proposed dividing the contested area into a Jewish and Arab entity, with Jerusalem internationalized. In his important but often overlooked book “Palestine Betrayed,” Professor Efraim Karsh notes that many moderate Palestinian Arabs who had good working relationships and friendships with Palestinian Jews (both sides were Palestinians then), were betrayed in 1947 and 1948 by their extremist leaders. Anti-Semitic fanatics like Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, rejected any compromise and violently bullied many moderates, leading to war.
This broader Arab refusal to recognize the Jewish state led to the three nos of Khartoum, following the 1967 Israeli victory. The message was clear: no to negotiation, no to recognition, no to compromise.
I spent last Tuesday night in Tel Aviv at an Intelligence Squared debate on the topic: “If Israel continues on its current course, it cannot remain a democratic Jewish state.” We argued yes; our opponents—who included former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Dan Gillerman—argued no.
The responsibility for Israel’s continued control of the West Bank, Gillerman insisted, rests largely with the Palestinians. Israel, he declared, has already produced five “De Klerks”—Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert—leaders willing to cede land and midwife a Palestinian state. But the Palestinians have not yet produced “a Mandela,” a leader truly dedicated to nonviolence and the two state solution.
This photograph, taken on May 1, 2013, shows a tent in the Palestinian village of Susiya in the southern West Bank. (Peter Beinart)
Put aside the fact that by Gillerman’s standards, Nelson Mandela—a man who for decades advocated armed struggle in pursuit of a one state solution—wasn’t a “Mandela” either. Or that Sharon’s chief of staff, Dov Weisglass, famously argued that his boss’s decision to dismantle settlements in the Gaza Strip was designed to “prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.” What gobsmacked me was the analogy itself. To suggest that Israel needs “De Klerks” and the Palestinians need “Mandelas” is to compare Israel to apartheid South Africa. If an elected official or Jewish leader served up that analogy in the United States, they’d likely find themselves looking for work. When Jimmy Carter used the term in his 2006 book, Peace or Apartheid—despite insisting that he was referring only to the West Bank and not Israel proper—the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman called him “bigoted.” For using the far-less incendiary phrase “Jewish lobby,” Chuck Hagel almost lost his bid to run the Pentagon earlier this year.
But here was a former Israeli ambassador to the U.N. using the analogy casually. And Gillerman is not alone. In 2010, Ehud Barak predicted that “If…millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.” In 2007, Ehud Olmert warned that “when the two state solution collapses” Israel will “face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights.”
Let me absolutely clear: I do not think Israel is an apartheid state. Inside its original boundaries, Israel offers Palestinians citizenship and the right to vote. There are Palestinian citizens in the Knesset and on Israel’s Supreme Court. None of this was true in apartheid South Africa. As I’ve written, and argued countless times, calling Israel an apartheid state debases the term because if Israel deserves to be tarred with this unique epithet, various other Middle Eastern countries deserve it more.
Matthew Kalman broke the story of physicist Stephen Hawking’s boycott of Israel. Then Cambridge University tried to falsely deny it.