My Friend Y

Peace Process Problem: The Average Israeli

Daniel Gavron explains how apathy over the peace process hampers John Kerry's efforts.

Was it the speech of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to the American Jewish Committee (rightly described as “impassioned” by Sigal Samuel in these pages) that elicited the subsequent condemnation of an Israeli cabinet minister by that august organization? We can speculate, but will never know for certain whether or not the AJC’s criticism of Economics Minister Naftali Bennett’s dismissal of the two-state solution was a result of Kerry’s address. However it is clear that, as he flies into Israel on yet another journey to promote peace, Kerry also has a problem with the Jews on this side of the pond. Even if he manages to bring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the negotiating table, he won’t find much enthusiasm for his efforts here in Israel.

There are many reasons for this, but I would like to pinpoint the case of my good friend Y. The Secretary does not know Y, and there is no reason that he should. But I suggest that Y represents a serious part of Kerry’s problem.

A few weeks ago, Y informed me that he had cancelled his subscription to Haaretz, Israel’s prestige newspaper, and taken out one with the mass-circulation Yediot Aharonot. In his view, Haaretz was too full of “negative” reports of the behavior of the IDF and the settlers in the West Bank; Yediot was more “balanced.” To be fair to Yediot, it does report the bad news from the territories, albeit not always very prominently, and it is sometimes strongly critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but is not as outspoken as its rival in recording unsavory events and condemning current policies.

Haaretz does indeed publish horrifying reports about the behavior of our soldiers and settlers, and it deserves praise for its courage, but, in point of fact, it doesn’t tell its readers the half of it. On my computer screen I receive information from Betselem, the organization that reports on Israel’s actions in the occupied territories, Gisha, which keeps an eye on Gaza, the Moked, which monitors individual abuses of Palestinians, ICHAD, which keeps tabs on the demolition of Palestinian homes, and a handful of other NGOs. The various reports that I force myself to read almost every day add up to a ghastly picture of violence and abuse that provokes a sense of outrage, but Y does not feel outrage, or even discomfort. He is ignorant—and happy to be ignorant—of what is going on only a few miles from where he lives. Things seem to be quiet in the Palestinian territories, or at least no Israelis are being killed there right now. Anyway Y has deliberately disengaged from the one source that might tell him differently.

I would argue that it is Y, and the millions of Israelis like him, who are Kerry’s problem, rather than the religious settlers and other right-wingers, who, although energetic and effective in pursuing their agenda, are still a minority in this country. Y is by no means a right-wing hawk, but he is willfully blind, deaf and dumb. Not in the least religious, he is a mainstream Israeli, “in favor of peace and against the settlements.” But, like so many of his fellow citizens, he has lost interest in peace with the Palestinians, which he judges impossible and, in point of fact, not all that important.

Y is a representative of the Israeli majority: he served in the army and for many years in the reserve, he worked at a socially useful job from which he has now retired. He pays his taxes, obeys the law, votes in elections, raises his children and worries about their future, but he refuses to relate in any way to the existential problem that we are facing.

I don’t want to give the impression that Y is socially unaware. On the contrary, when it doesn’t impact on the Palestinians, he takes a lively interest in the economic and political scene here in Israel. He reads the media financial columns and he is proud of the way he handles his portfolio of stocks. He is very pleased with the recent electoral success of Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party. He approves of Lapid’s appointment as finance minister and is enthusiastic about his unexpected alliance with Naphtali Bennett (the above-mentioned right-wing religious leader condemned by the AJC). He thinks their tie-up is “the most interesting thing that has happened here in recent years,” and hopes they will move together toward facilitating the integration of the ultra-Orthodox into the Israeli work force. On these and other matters he is a concerned and active participant in our society, but he is not in the least bit interested about the ongoing activities in this region of the American secretary of state.

Personally, as an Israeli citizen, I am grateful to John Kerry for the enormous effort he is putting into reviving the peace process. Moreover I think he has a fairly good chance of kick starting Israeli-Palestinian talks, but, if the secretary is to achieve lasting results, he needs a pro-peace tailwind from Israeli public opinion and, as things stand there is not much chance of that. Until Y and company remove their earplugs and blindfolds, they will not understand the urgency of Kerry’s mission and therefore will not afford him the support that he needs so much and to which he is surely entitled.