David Ben-Gurion Spins in His Grave

Thousands of Israelis are camping out on the nation’s streets, protesting over the country’s acute shortage of affordable housing.  Reading through a useful story from JTA, I was struck by this comment:

“What is very troubling for Netanyahu is that this is not a left wing versus right wing protest. It’s one of the few issues that cuts across all political spectrums,” said Sam Lehman-Wilzig, a Bar-Ilan University political scientist.

He noted that in Israel it’s unusual for socioeconomic issues to take priority over political-security issues.

Netanyahu “is definitely nervous,” Lehman-Wilzig said, “and he should be nervous.”

Here, in three sentences, is the explanation for the collapse of Israel’s Labor Party.  Founded by David Ben-Gurion as Mapai, an acronym for “Israel Worker’s Party,” it built the social democratic foundations of the country’s welfare state.  But it now lacks any coherent philosophy.  A few years ago, Ehud Barak followed his election as party head by buying a multimillion dollar condo in Tel Aviv.

Why do tends of thousands of working-class Mizrahi and Russian Jews vote Likud or Shas?  Because Labor gives them nothing to vote for.  Now, when thousands march for affordable housing, what passes for the Israeli “left” has nothing to say.  Ben-Gurion and the rest Israel’s founders would be appalled.

Memo to Prime Minister Netanyahu

At the end of the day, warts and all, and any other metaphors you wish, Israel’s greatest strength in the court of public opinion (not to mention morality) is that it is a liberal democracy.  It is a free country.

That’s why when you pass a law banning calls for boycotting goods produced in settlements it is not only a profoundly immoral idea, but a deeply stupid one.

No one — least of all American Jews — should purchase goods produced in settlements.

Okay, Bibi: the ball’s in your court.  Come and get me.

Simple Answers to Stupid Questions: Zionism Department

Sometimes it’s easy to overthink things.  Sullivan asks:

My own view is that the interests of the US require pressuring Israel to agree to a reasonable two-state solution soon. Maybe I’m wrong. But could a Jewish person convinced of the same argument remain a Jew in good standing?

Yes.  Next question?

Is a commitment to Zionism in defense of Greater Israel a disqualifier from being part of the Jewish people?

No, but it is a disqualifier from being intelligent.

Andrew’s own position is evolving, so maybe they are harder for him.  But for those of us who follow the issue, this really isn’t that hard.  I confess  to being continually surprised by essays on both sides lauded by their supporters as “courageous,” which say absolutely nothing new.

Geuninely new and interesting ideas, such as Sari Nusseibeh’s inspired suggestion for having both peoples vote on an American proposal, get no traction because they shift the paradigm and so cannot be understood.  So we just rehash the old arguments, watch Zionism self-destruct, and return to Yavneh.

Helping Dalal Rusrus

[Addition 8:40pm May 29: Gershom Gorenberg writes that he just received word from a military spokesman that the permit has been granted. It was the right decision, made more likely by good people paying attention.]

One joy made possible by the internet is the relationship you can form with a distant friend or colleagues you may never actually meet in person. I feel that way about Gershom Gorenberg, the great Israeli journalist and impresario of southjerusalem.com. His book Accidental Empire is terrific, as is so much of his other work.

Gershom and others are helping a young Palestinian girl named Dalal Rusrus, who requires sophisticated medical care available in Israel for a serious brain disorder. After an active campaign to help her gain access to Jerusalem, she was hospitalized for two weeks at Alyn Hospital. She needs to come back for follow-up care tomorrow May 30. Unfortunately, Israeli authorities have turned down her parents’ requests to enter Jerusalem to bring her to the hospital.

I just emailed the Israeli Defense Force spokesman Lt.-Col. Avital Leibovitz (Foreign Press Branch) idfnadesk@idf.gov.il and Capt. Amir Koren d.manhaz@gmail.com of the Civil Administration requesting that they reconsider or revisit this issue so that this family can access the care Dalal needs.

Helping one disabled child will not address the huge differences between Palestinians and Israelis. This is still critical for one family. It is also critical in a larger way. It illustrates one way that good people on each side can demonstrate good-will and empathy, and more than that, to extend important practical help, to others across the occupation line. In my view, these human connections are quite essential.

When I get discouraged by negative events such as Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Washington speech or the spate of hateful statements by Hamas spokesmen*, I take heart that there are good people on the scene, sending a very different and more humane message from both sides of the line in a very difficult time.

You can find more information on her story here, here, here and here:

Here are the identification card numbers of those affected.
Osama Rusrus 909512386
Sunya Rusrus 903627057
Dalal Rusrus 420037004

* Update I certainly do not regard Netanyahu’s statements as morally equivalent to Hamas’s hate-filled rhetoric. I do believe Netanyahu’s rhetoric and actions on the ground are not what I would like to see from the elected leader of a democratic Jewish state.

Netanyahu’s catastrophic leadership

Every year I become more alarmed about Israel’s future, not least because of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s intransigent response to a changing world

Saturday’s Wall Street Journal includes the headline “Netanyahu delivers rare public rebuke to U.S. President.” The papers report that Netanyahu publicly rejected the concept of 1967 borders as non-negotiable. Israeli aides were quoted to say that “Obama apparently does not understand the reality in the Mideast.” Netanyahu will address a joint session of Congress, where he is expected to rally support for a hard-line Israeli approach to the peace process which, predictably and intentionally, won’t go anywhere.

In the short-run, Netanyahu may have tactical leverage to resist American pressure over settlements and other matters. In the long-run, he is pursuing a catastrophic course, both for Israel and for the United States. Continue reading “Netanyahu’s catastrophic leadership”

You don’t have to be Jewish…

… to love Levy’s Rye Bread, or a Zionist to hate Hamas.

… to love Levy’s, say the classic ads.


And you don’t have to be a Zionist to hate Hamas.

The proclamation that Hamas will never recognize the existence of any Israeli state, even within the 1967 borders is a declaration of war to the death. Under those circumstances, I know who ought to be doing the dying.

Yes, I understand why Fatah decided it had to make a deal with Hamas. But choices have consequences. International recognition of a Palestinian state should be conditional on the willingness of the leadership of that state to make peace, if peace is offered. Hamas lacks that willingness. When they change their mind, or Fatah is strong enough to kick them out of the coalition, then let’s talk about recognizing Palestine: whether Bibi is ready or not.

For now, though, if the Obama Administration was looking for a good excuse for a UN veto this September, they just found it.

Here’s a plan:  Lock al-Zahhar* and Avigdor Lieberman in a room, with one knife. Then all we need is someone to stand outside to shoot the survivor. After that, the peace process might go more smoothly.



What is a Zionist? And can it include the “one-state solution”?

Mark claims he’s not a Zionist anymore.  I’ll chalk it up to justifiable pique at being called a Nazi sympathizer by Jewish fascists.

The most basic definition of Zionism is that you believe in a Jewish state in Palestine.  If you believe in Israel within the 1967 borders, then you’re a Zionist.  Mark rightfully objects that the Likud, the Haredim, and the Liebermans have hijacked the brand.  He’s right.  But we musn’t give into hijackers, right?

You can actually be a Zionist and not believe in Israel within the 1967 borders.  This would be a form of “binational Zionism,” as exemplified by the Brit Shalom group before 1948.  Brit Shalom, known in Arabic as Tahalof Essalam, included such luminaries as philosopher Martin Buber, historian Gershom Scholem, activist Henrietta Szold, and Hebrew University President Judah Magnes.  Its sort of Zionism stressed the aspect of the Jewish cultural mandate to return to the land, but rejected the emphasis on statehood.  On some days, the distinguished writer Ahad Ha’am embraced this concept of Zionism.

One major reason why Brit Shalom got nowhere was the refusal of any Arabs to join it.  Now, of course, we hear from many intellectuals that they embrace a “one-state solution.”  I would be more persuaded of such a “solution” were it not for the fact that the Arab world remains the globe’s only region without a stable democracy, and states sharply divided by ethnicity anywhere have horrific and appalling records.  If the best that the one-staters can do is recommend another Lebanon, then, as Mark and Sam Goldwyn would say, “include me out.”

Over the long run, the death of statist Zionism might be the most lasting legacy of the Arab Spring, if it ever gets that far.  If Israel found itself surrounded by a series of stable Arab liberal democracies, then one next logical step would be further economic and political integration on an EU model.  If you went back to 1911, and told Frenchmen that one hundred years from then, Europe would be economically and politically integrated and that France and Germany would have open borders, they would have told you that you were insane.  But this sort of integration only became possible after firm and deep German democratization, the common enemy of Soviet Russia, and the constant presence of US troops.  (A couple of world wars didn’t hurt, either, but it was the outcome of those wars, not the wars themselves, that changed things).

So if you are really a one-stater, your focus should not be on delegitimizing Israel, but rather on fostering Arab liberalism.  This most assuredly does not mean that anyone should overlook Israel’s horrid and unethical policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians; rather, it is to say that one-staters should concentrate on changing the Arab world.  They aren’t, which leads me to suspect that they are not particularly focused on a real one-state solution.  In American criminal law, “recklessness” refers to “a state of mind in which a person does not care about the consequences of his or her actions.”  One-staters, unless they are actually attempting to think through and prevent the spectre of anti-Jewish oppression that would surely result from a one-state Palestine, are reckless.  Again: include me out.

A few years ago, an Israeli correspondent asked Edward Sa’id: “So what you envision is a totally new situation in which a Jewish minority would live peacefully within an Arab context?” Said: “Yes. I believe it is viable. A Jewish minority can survive the way other minorities in the Arab world survived.” To Sa’id’s confidence, Martin Kramer had the best response: “Introduce this man to an Iraqi Kurd.”  Or, for that matter, a Saudi Shi’ite.  Or a Sudanese Black African.  Or a Darfurian.  Or an Algerian or Moroccan Berber.

Last thing: the irony in all of this is that the greatest practical advocates of the one-state solution are all members of the current Israeli government.  As always, Hizbullah votes Likud.  This is why, at the end of the day, the Revisionists are not Zionists: they are anti-Zionists.  And we should not hesitate to say so.

Note from a former Zionist

When defending Israel requires Jews to start talking about collective guilt, I have to say “Include me out.”

Peter Beinart gave a very good talk – at once eloquent and morally and intellectually serious – at UCLA Hillel last night. The talk explored the complexity of loving Israel and yet disapproving of the pattern of ethnic subordination that characterizes Israeli rule over the West Bank. Beinart mentioned the fact that settler violence against Palestinians sometimes fits any plausible definition of “terrorism” – attacks on innocents to make a political point – and that very few of those attacks ever lead to law enforcement action against the perpetrators.

The response from part of the audience left me sick to my stomach. The basic theme – stated in so many words by one participant – was “they brought it on themselves.” To hear Jews talking about collective ethnic guilt in tones worthy of Der Sturmer was really more than I could handle.  I left after being personally accused of indifference to the Shoah because I refused to profess indifference to the suffering of Arabs.

And today I learn that Tony Kushner – whose views about Israel seem roughly to track mine – has been denied an honorary degree by a minority of the trustees of the City University of New York, based on a typical cowardly wingnut smear job, launched without warning in a way that gave Kushner no chance to defend himself.

I know most Israelis don’t deserve their worst American defenders, but if the result of having to defend Israel is that Jews start acting like bullies and sounding like Nazis, at some point the price gets to be too high.

Like Beinart, I support the continued existence of a democratic and Jewish Israel within, roughly, its 1967 boundaries; unlike him, I can no longer count myself a Zionist.* In the immortal words of Sam Goldwyn, “Include me out.”

* Footnote That won’t keep me from completing the fairly major task I accepted on behalf of the Israeli Education Ministry; I’m on the committee doing a review of all of the public-policy degree programs in Israeli universities. As it happens, an earlier version of the committee was dissolved over accusations that someone on it was “anti-Zionist.” Beinart reports an attempt by an NGO, egged on by the current Education Minister, to purge “anti-Zionist” faculty from Israeli universities; our committee ran into no evidence that the effort had dented any of the departments we reviewed, but it’s another bad sign.


Plague-on-both-your-houses-Dept.: UC Hastings Law School

This seems to me to be a pretty blatant attack on academic freedom.  George Bisharat, a professor at the UC Hastings School of Law, organized a conference entitled “Litigating Palestine: Can Courts Secure Palestinian Rights?”  It’s pretty much what you’d expect: lots of speakers decrying Israel, advocating BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) against Israel, and detailing how to sue Israel in a variety of fora.  Nothing to waste your time on, but pretty standard fare.

But then the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Committee kicked up a fuss by protesting, not outside the conference, but the Hastings’ Board of Directors, who are appointed by California’s Governor.  They demanded that the school remove its official sponsorship of the conference and that the board forbid the Dean from giving a welcoming speech.  And that’s exactly what the Board did.

Look: a full-time member of the Hastings faculty, with nearly-unanimous approval of that faculty, decided to put on the conference. That’s the way these things are supposed to be done.  Then a politically-appointed board tells the Dean that he can’t speak there, and removes the school’s name from it (the article doesn’t say anything about funding).  That’s not the way these things are supposed to be done.  A faculty needs to make the relevant intellectual decisions for a school.  It’s not clear to me what sorts of rights the Dean has in terms of convening the conference, but this is really a bad sign.  Politically-appointed boards are supposed to provide general direction, raise money, and make overall policy decisions.  They aren’t supposed to be telling faculty what is good or not good to say (although of course individual boardmembers can express their opinions in their personal capacity).  A number of UCLA Law School faculty are circulating a letter of support for the determinations of the Hastings faculty, and I was happy to sign it.

That said, Professor Bisharat hasn’t helped his cause much with statements like this.  One of the Jewish Community Relations Committee’s complaints was that everyone at the conference was anti-Israel and that no one speaking offered the pro-Israeli perspective, which is essentially true.  Bisharat’s response?

If you had a conference on Holocaust reparation cases, you wouldn’t include Holocaust deniers.
Well, that’s just lovely: comparing supporters of Israel to Holocaust deniers, and thereby suggesting that Israel’s policies regarding the Palestinians are like what the Nazis did to the Jews.  It certainly gives creedence to the JCRC’s claim that the conference has little intellectual or moral merit.
I’ve met Bisharat before: he’s not a bomb thrower, and for the most part is a pretty careful lawyer and serious scholar.  But as his CV and writings make clear, he has devoted large portions of his career to undermining Israel.  He is a firm believer in the “one-state solution” for Israel and Palestine, and he is smart enough to know that such a “solution” essentially means the exile of hundreds of thousands of Jews and death of hundreds of thousands more.  He’s certainly entitled to advocate for that.  But no one should be fooled about the meaning and nature of the conference, or even briefly entertain the notion that it will advance Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Vissi d’arte…

The same edition of The Economist in which Keith found the fascinating article about judges’ lunches (reminds me of the classic Brecht line, in Blitzstein’s translation, “first feed the face, and then talk right and wrong“) has a truly heartbreaking story from the West Bank.  Just read it.

[Update 17/IV: Here’s the original. In this case Blitzstein is pretty close, as he is not always: Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral.”]