The Crisis of Jewish Democracy

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April 2, 2010

This article has been corrected. The paragraph beginning “Those days are over” has been corrected to read, “Now, Abraham Foxman, CUFI chief John Hagee, AIPAC and other forces that have stated their opposition to the two-state solution…”

The masks are off, and the reality of the Israel-Palestine conflict is becoming apparent for all to see.

This is not, in fact, a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs. It is a conflict between those who want peace and those who value other things well above it.

Everyone wants peace, of course. From the left to the right, the devout to the secular, the nationalist to the humanist, they all want peace. The question is what they are willing to do and to give up for peace. There, we have a great deal of variety.

On the Palestinian side, the leadership of the PA has shown a lot of timidity when it comes to having national conversations about difficult issues like Jerusalem, borders and especially the return of refugees to Israel. This last is the most crucial, as official Palestinian policy continues to champion the Right of Return while their leaders tell their interlocutors that they will give this up in practice.

The recent naming of a square in Ramallah after Dalal Mughrabi is another example. Next to the daily violence of the occupation, it is merely an insult. But Israelis saw it as another declaration of Palestinian refusal to live in peace, and a glorification of violence against Israelis. Mughrabi led an attempted attack on the Israeli Defense Ministry that fell way short of its goal, but resulted in the deaths of 37 Israeli civilians and one American, as well as herself and some ten of her followers.

Hamas, of course, is interested in nothing but continuing the struggle and holding on to its increasingly unpopular position of power in Gaza.

But the myth, for many, is that Israel and her supporters in the global Jewish community are prepared to make great sacrifices and do what needs to be done for peace, if the Palestinians would only cooperate. However, recent events show the disdain for a two-state solution in anything but principle and the fear of peace that has taken hold in the leadership of both the Israeli government and much of the increasingly unrepresentative Jewish so-called “mainstream.”

Repeated polls show that a majority of American Jews support a Palestinian state and a two-state solution. A recent Dahaf does a better job of describing the dichotomy between most Israelis and their leaders.

The Dahaf poll asks about a two-state solution that includes Palestinian return only to Palestine, a shared Jerusalem, where what is Jewish is Israeli and what is Arab is Palestinian, land swaps to allow Israel to annex the large settlement blocs. It also proposes that the Old City be jointly administered by Israel, Palestine and the US, with the holy sites being under the same controls they are now.

63% of Israeli Jews supported this, and 82% supported with “some improvements.” Of the 97 (out of 120) Knesset members polled, 54% opposed this, and 51% opposed even with some improvements.

This official sentiment is reflected in the rhetoric that accuses Barack Obama of “appeasement” of the Arabs and siding against Israel. It is also reflected in the Israeli government’s hysterocial reaction to Obama’s insistence that Israel not change the situation on the ground in Jerusalem, an attempt to stop Israel from mooting precisely the solution that is described in the poll.

The constant declarations from Netanyahu, and the more militant ones from other members of his government, reflect a belief that Jerusalem can be taken off the table, and a feeling that there is nothing here to discuss—that Israel will keep Jerusalem no matter what.

That is a view that is clearly opposed to peace. Likud MKs Ayoob Kara and Tzipi Hotovely both made explicit statements that Israel will never leave Hebron, which clearly means that there can be no substantive Israeli exit from the West Bank.

And this is hardly confined to Israel. AIPAC and other lobbying groups are making the argument that Obama is asking Israel for concessions while asking nothing of the Palestinians. This turns reality upside down. The PA has been working effectively with Jordan and the US to train its security forces, and even Israel has repeatedly praised the results. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has put together a state-building plan that has won universal acclaim and support. The record is not perfect, but it is absolutely unprecedented for a people living under military occupation to take security steps like the ones the PA has in aid of the occupier.

Abe Foxman has gone after General David Petraeus, stopping just short of calling him a Jew-hater. Other activists have made it clear that Israel should be fighting against Obama’s demands.

Let’s be clear about what’s being said here. These so-called “pro-Israel” voices are calling for Israel to stand fast against a two-state solution. Their call is nothing less than a call to turn Israel into what its harshest critics say it already is: an apartheid state.

This is not actually a grim warning I’m issuing here. It’s a celebration. This has been the battle that has been going on for years. Unfortunately, the weakness of pro-peace, and genuinely pro-Israel voices, coupled with the louder cries of more radical groups that see Israel as the sole cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict, has allowed these fascist Jews to portray themselves as pursuers of peace.

Those days are over. Now that J Street has shown real political muscle and the Obama administration has taken a clear stance in support of Israeli security and peace, the charade is over. Now, Abraham Foxman, CUFI chief John Hagee, AIPAC and other forces that have stated their opposition to the two-state solution cannot continue to claim that they want peace when what they want is Israeli control of the West Bank.

I’ll close where I started, with the Palestinians. There is still much work for them to do. Fayyad’s plan must reach fruition, and the 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza must be brought back into the fold so there is a single Palestinian entity. They need also to stop making Obama’s task more difficult with poorly-timed and ill-conceived statements, such as naming squares in Ramallah after dead guerrillas with lots of civilian blood on their hands. Abbas must stop raising his own demands as long as Obama is staking out positions that are favorable for negotiations.

Right now, the party that wants peace the most is the United States. There’s nothing wrong with that, despite the old canard against that notion. Even Congress is realizing that something has to change. A rather innocuous letter written by AIPAC supporting Israel and asking that disputes be handled out of the public eye garnered 327 signatures in the House of Representatives. That means more than 100 members didn’t sign it, a figure that is much higher than would have been the case in the past.

This is what must be made clear: those who are opposing Obama are opposing peace. They know it, even if they can’t say it for obvious reasons. We must make it clear, because it’s the truth.

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