by Barry Rubin
I can only laugh at the idea of dilettante Peter Beinart and J Street as leader of the anti-Israel (oops, I meant save-Israel-from-itself) movement. After all, imagine people parading as self-defined heroes while peddling ideas that have absolutely nothing to do with reality. But behind the stupid ideas is a very poisonous hidden agenda.
We live in an age of intellectual absurdity in which a book by someone who has no notion of Israeli reality and who is, at best, decades (I’d say three) out of date is treated as if he could possibly be of some relevance. Or an organization that has literally never made a single pro-Israel initiative claims to be the country’s best friends.
Contrary to the title of Beinart’s book, there is no crisis of Zionism, certainly not in the way he and similarly thinking American Jews believe. The crisis is simply that Israel has become an actually existing country that is defined by an Israel-Jewish patriotism based on a historical Zionism. In fact, regarding Israel itself, Zionism has been so successful that it simply isn’t needed in the same way as it was in 1947.
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Regarding American Jews, the problem is that of the left-wing — almost always people who consciously know they are on the other side and their tool of choice on Israel is a sledgehammer — and those liberals they have fooled, not Zionism. This “new” approach is based on the debate of the 1970s and 1980s, more specifically the 1974-1992 era.
At that time, there were three points of contention that Beinart and others try to revive in a totally different world:
- Continuation of
the occupation endangered Israel’s soul and society through hubris,
brutalization, fanatical religiosity, and ambitious nationalism.
- If Israel didn’t
make peace and get rid of the territories as fast as possible it would be
destroyed by…well, it isn’t exactly clear by whom, since its enemies had failed
so continually and were weaker than they’d been in the past. But this meant
that Israel had to rush to make peace at any price.
- There was a
wonderful opportunity to achieve a stable, just, and lasting peace. Merely
offer the Palestinians and Arabs a reasonable settlement—particularly a
Palestinian state—and a peace agreement would quickly follow.
This way of thinking has long since been discredited by the experiences of the failed peace process and radicalized regional politics. First, Israel withdrew from large portions of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, putting virtually all Palestinians under self-rule. Later, it pulled out of the Gaza Strip completely. There was no more “occupation” as there had been in the 1967-1993 period.
Second, we discovered that the Palestinians and Syria weren’t eager for peace. During the peace process era, the hardline propaganda, hate, and intransigence continued virtually uninterrupted on the other side. It became clear that Israel was not threatened by a refusal to take big risks and make concessions, rather the threat came from making deadly arrangements out of good intentions or even a dangerously bad “peace” deal that would leave the country worse off.
Third, most Israelis concluded that they didn’t want most of the territory captured in 1967. There was an Israeli consensus to keep much of east Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and some small areas of the West Bank along the border. But in exchange for real peace, they were ready to give up a lot, something like 100 percent of the Gaza Strip and 95 plus percent of the West Bank.
The same new thinking applied to accepting a two-state solution. Let the Palestinians have their state, even let Fatah or the PLO rule it if they only left us alone and ended the conflict. But that wasn’t going to happen. There was no intransigence or “Greater Israel” ambition to poison Israel. The experience and these changes left Israel with a clear conscience, not the “clear conscience” of those so distant that these issues were a mere abstraction but that of people who knew they sometimes made mistakes and had to take tough decisions to survive.
Fourth, the West generally broke its promises to Israel, showing that it was not dependable. The understanding was for Israel to make big concessions and take big risks knowing that if that failed, the West would acknowledge Israel as the good guys and back it fully. Yet Israelis saw that the more risks Israel took, concessions it gave, and casualties it suffered, the more it was slandered and delegitimized in large parts of the West (including by the very people who pretend to save it from itself). The supposed winning formula — pull back, turn over, concede and you will be secure and happy–didn’t work. The Obama administration fully proved this reality.
Fifth, the 2000-2005 terrorist-based intifada and the radical response to Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza reinforced these lessons, as did the growing Islamism that openly advocated war, terrorism, and genocide against Israel.
Sixth, the “Arab Spring” was a last straw, with revolutionary Islamists seizing power, Turkey changing sides, Iran building a sphere of influence and going full-speed-ahead on nuclear weapons, as well as a U.S. leadership on which Israel couldn’t depend. If ever there was a time for not making concessions and being starry-eyed over peace, our present day is that time.
The majority of Israelis say: I don’t want the settlements. I want a two-state solution. But unfortunately I know that the leadership and majority of Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims want to destroy us, not to get a Palestinian state. They are getting more radical, due to their own thinking and social issues. We cannot get any reasonable deal and any deal that might happen would be used by them as a more advantageous springboard for continuing the conflict against us.
That is why the Israeli peacenik left collapsed and Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister. It wasn’t that Israel had moved to the right but that reality had done so.
Thus, the problem of American liberal Jews is not to save Israel from reactionary religious extremists and hardline rightists but to come to terms with the views of the majority of Israelis, the centrists and those left of center.
Yet these points that shape Israeli thinking, problems, and reality have almost never been explained in the American mass media or universities. Many Jews have never heard the above argument but simply absorbed the anti-Israel message so prevalent in those two institutions.
The real story, then, is the crisis of a portion of American Jewry—often a more publicly visible and powerful portion–who have forgotten (or never knew) Jewish history. Some of them push the ignorance of the real Israel and Israeli reality in the universities and media; others merely believe what they are being told daily. They would go to a rally about fighting “Islamophobia” but would be horrified by the idea of going to a rally about fighting revolutionary Islamist antisemitism.
Along the lines of their thinking we would have to rewrite the Haggadah along these lines:
For we have not
merely projected our paranoiac thinking that just one alone has risen against
us to destroy us, but we’ve been so overwhelmed with irrational fear that we
think in every generation they rise against us to destroy us; even though they
are just standing around doing nothing except occasional texting and discussing
the big game on television last night. But fortunately the left-wing critics,
blessed be They, verbally attack us, help our enemies, and launch boycotts
against us which save us from our own stupidity
Another part of their problem with Israel is that it is, in a sense, too “Jewish” and at odds with their preferred ideology. They want Israel to be what they want America and Europe to be. Yet instead it is too religious; too traditional; too much of a nation-state; too willing to defend itself; and too willing to recognize its enemies even if they are non-white, non-Western, and non-Christian.
If your definition of proper Jewishness is to be like Berkeley and Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Israel is not going to make the grade. On the contrary, Israel seems too much like the South, Midwest, or non-urban areas where people cling to their guns and religion and don’t eagerly turn over large portions of their territory to armed hostile forces that openly proclaim their goal of exterminating them.
I wrote the above paragraph in a style that (hopefully) would be funny but I think it is absolutely true. By being so “primitive,” it embarrasses them, like a Harvard professor whose relatives from the Ozark show up in their pickup truck toting shotguns and going to church.
Yet beyond all of this there is one more point to be understood that is of the greatest importance: the program of this sacrifice (I mean, “save”) Israel for its own good. That is the very strange program of calling for a boycott of the settlements.
Boycotting the settlements will not affect the settlements, or Israel, or the policies of Israel’s Middle Eastern enemies, and it won’t promote the cause of peace. True, this is an attractive strategy because it sounds moderate and supportive of “mainstream” Israel. But that’s only part of it.
No, the main reason is that it will promote the cause of delegitimizing Israel.
The goal is to change the narrative. Instead of blaming the Palestinian leadership’s, Arab regimes’, and revolutionary Islamists’ rejection of Israel’s existence, refusal to make compromises, glorification of terrorism, demonization of Israel, and refusal even won’t negotiate, the fault lies with Israel. They don’t have to change at all. It’s Israel that has to make more concessions and take even more risks.
According to this conception it is Israeli settlements that block peace. They force the other side to reject a deal, neglecting the fact that if they had made a deal the territory would have been handed over to the Palestinians and the settlements dismantled. If only the settlements went away, we are told, peace would quickly arrive, rather than understanding that if only the Palestinians made peace the settlements would go away
The strategy signals that the way to get peace is to ignore the real behavior and doctrines of Israel’s enemies and instead to punish Israel.
And suppose Israel doesn’t unilaterally dismantle the settlements? What is this movement’s next step? To boycott the country that won’t listen to them; to blame it for antisemitism, and to turn one’s face away from it. This year we are in the land of boycott, sanction, and divest from the settlements; next year in boycott-Jerusalem land!
Thus, the diagnosis being offered is false and slanderous toward Israel and the solution being presented is false and dangerous to Israel. The goal is to get American Jews to adopt the basic anti-Israel narrative that paints Israel as the villain responsible for the lack of peace and ultimately delegitimizes Israel’s survival.
Have no illusions. This Trojan Horse movement and its nonsensical arguments should be exposed. Every North American and European Jew should at least have the opportunity to hear the truth.
the Centrality of Settlements
- 737 BCE, Jews
establish settlements, leading Assyrians to invade.
- 587 BCE, Jews
build new apartments in settlements. In response, Babylonians conquer land and
exile the Jews.
- 70 CE, Jewish
settlements produce Dead Sea Scrolls. Left-wing pseudo-intellectuals do not
boycott. Temple Falls.
- 1096 CE Jews think
about establishing settlements. Crusades begin and Jews are massacred.
- 1648 CE Jews in
Ukraine make kugel on settlements in Ukraine. Cossacks begin armed boycott
- 1917 CE Shocked by
Jews clinging to their religion, reactionary Zionism, and pseudo-revolutionary
Bundism, heroic Bolshevik Jews save the day by helping bring about the Russian
Revolution, close down synagogues, outlaw Yiddish, and put Zionists and
Bundists into concentration camps.
Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs
(GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International
Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.