Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Almost Literally the Least I Can Do to Support the Israel/Palestine Peace Process

By Mike Dorf

Tomorrow, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators resume peace talks.  As part of his assiduous efforts leading to these talks, Secretary of State John Kerry called for American Jews to express public support for the peace process.  As one such American Jew with what I regard as views that are fairly typical of what might be regarded as the "silent majority" of American Jews, I herewith submit my endorsement of such talks, with an aim of establishing something like the following: (1) A Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank to the east of the green line, with land swaps as necessary to compensate for the most-difficult-to-dismantle-or-relocate settlements; (2) security guarantees for Israel and Palestine; (3) Israeli access to Jewish holy sites in east Jerusalem, coupled with some arrangement that enables both Israel and Palestine to claim some measure of sovereignty in east Jerusalem; and (4) a full right of return for Palestinians to Palestine, with some scheme of compensation for Palestinians and their descendants with credible claims to pre-1948 homes in contemporary Israel.  That is more or less the only deal that has been on the table since the mid-1990s, and it should be blindingly obvious that it would represent a major improvement for both sides, relative to the status quo.

Having issued the foregoing endorsement, I can't resist adding an additional thought about the nature of American Jewish public opinion.  I refer to my views above as reflecting those of a "silent majority" of American Jews because the major American Jewish organizations that purport to speak for us in fact represent a minority view.  Strong evidence for that proposition can be found in many places, including Peter Beinart's 2012 book, The Crisis of Zionism.  The book was predictably criticized by the right, but also from some fellow liberals.  For example, Jonathan Rosen's NY Times book review called out Beinart for focusing on Israeli policies without paying adequate attention to Palestinian and broader Arab rejection of land-for-peace measures.  I want to put aside the substance of Beinart's claims about what brought Israel and Palestine to their current situation, to focus on his claims about American Jewish public opinion.

Beinart's basic view is this: From the early 20th century through the late 1960s (with the Six-Day War serving as a turning point), American Jewish organizations saw Zionism as an outgrowth of liberalism, and the organizations accordingly supported liberal Israeli policies and criticized illiberal ones. However, with the waning of anti-Semitism in America, American liberal Jews increasingly found other outlets for their liberalism.  Thus, whereas Louis Brandeis channeled his liberal energies through distinctly Jewish organizations, modern-day American Jewish liberals are more likely to channel their liberal energies through universalist organizations like the ACLU or Amnesty International.  As a consequence, the major Jewish organizations are left with support from illiberal or at least conservative Jewish Americans, who see the whole point of such support as defending Israel from anti-Semitic existential threats.  Some of these organizations, such as the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, were once liberal, and so they struggle to reconcile their nominally liberal formal commitments with illiberal Israeli policies--especially the occupation and settlements.  But others, especially AIPAC, were never liberal to begin with.  Meanwhile, with religiosity waning among non-Orthodox Jews, a sense of historical victimhood--tied especially to the Holocaust--came to serve as the primary affiliation for many American Jews.  Victimhood replaced both religion and liberalism.

I think that story is essentially correct but I would offer two amendments.  The first concerns Beinart's failure to acknowledge how deep the fear-based affiliation goes, even for pervasively liberal American Jews.  I believe that is what fueled Rosen's strongly negative reaction to Beinart's book--the sense that Beinart does not take seriously the real security threats Israel faces.  Even many liberals active in J Street (an American Jewish organization that supports Israel but opposes the occupation) or Peace Now (an Israeli peace movement) who favor a two-state solution as the best possible outcome worry about the fact that Israel's Arab neighbors were hostile to Israel before 1967, not just in response to the occupation.  Times and attitudes change, and so there is reason for hope, but the difference between Israel's supporters who favor a peace process aiming at a two-state solution and those who oppose it is not simply a difference between those who worry about security versus those who care about justice for Palestinians.  It's a matter of degree and assessment of the alternatives.

Second, I think it's not quite accurate to characterize American Jews on the right with respect to Israel as illiberal.  No doubt that is true of a considerable number of Israeli hawks and at least some American Jewish supporters of Likud.  But in my experience, the sorts of people that Beinart describes are better understood as neocons who see themselves as having remained true to liberal values when most liberals made a wrong turn.  I can explain the attitude I have in mind best through an analogy to domestic politics.

Consider the position of contemporary conservative Supreme Court Justices on matters of free speech and race.  They would say--and they do say--that their positions favoring corporate speech and opposing affirmative action are the logical implications of Warren-Court-era liberalism, while characterizing contemporary "liberal" support for campaign finance limits and race-based affirmative action as a betrayal of the earlier values.  And mostly they believe that.

The same is largely true of the sorts of people who are active in and donors to AIPAC and the like.  At about the same time that American liberals were moving beyond formal equality in matters of speech and race, people on the left, especially in Europe but to some extent in the U.S. as well, came to see Israel less as a haven for an historically oppressed people and more as an imperialist outpost.  American Jews who take an Israel-right-or-wrong position believe that they have remained consistent in their support for Israel, whereas others have taken a dangerous wrong turn.

In my own experience, most of these people continue to be relatively liberal on U.S. domestic issues, even as the Republican Party has attempted to lure Jewish voters by portraying itself (at least in the last few elections) as the better friend of Israel.  It largely hasn't worked because Democratic elected officials tend to be just as staunchly in the Israel-right-or-wrong camp as Republican ones.  Thus, AIPAC types who continue to be liberal on domestic issues can vote for Democrats, while those who have drifted rightward on other issues, or were always down-the-line conservatives, can support Republicans.

Accordingly, while I stand by my claim that more American Jews hold views like those favored by J Street than views like those favored by AIPAC, the differences are somewhat more subtle, and the lines more fluid, than the differences between the organizations.


D. Ghirlandaio said...

The question I always ask liberal Zionists begins with a quote from Peter Beinart:
"I'm not asking Israel to be Utopian. I'm not asking it to allow Palestinians who were forced out (or fled) in 1948 to return to their homes. I'm not even asking it to allow full, equal citizenship to Arab Israelis, since that would require Israel no longer being a Jewish state. I'm actually pretty willing to compromise my liberalism for Israel's security and for its status as a Jewish state. What I am asking is that Israel not do things that foreclose the possibility of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, because if it is does that it will become--and I'm quoting Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak here--an 'apartheid state.'"

You defend liberalism here but not in elsewhere. Do you defend arguments for "a German state for A German people"? The difference of course is that ethnic Germans like Palestinians Arabs have been on their land continuously for more than 2000 years. But I don't defend the rights of ethnic Germans, I defend the rights of citizens of Germany, which (finally) after the changes in 2000 AD now include Germans of Turkish descent.

Tell me honestly that you defend your right to "return" to Jaffa over the rights of a Palestinian who was born there in 1938, and now living in a refugee camp beyond Israeli borders.

The two state solution may be a logical and barbarous necessity but little else.

Michael C. Dorf said...

That's a fair question. On first principles, if I were a 19th century Zionist,I would support a state with no ethnic or religious criteria for immigration or citizenship. If I thought it would work,I would support a one-state solution today. But that is even less of an option for Israel and Palestine than it is for India and Pakistan (and Bangladesh), for the Czech republic and Slovakia, or for the former Yugoslav countries. I agree that these are all brutal realities.

The Dismal Political Economist said...

As an American Jew who is likely similar to Mr. Dorf in education and socio-economic characteristics and who is likely similar to him with respect to political/economic beliefs I appreciate this commentary and I agree with his statement of the issues and potential solution of the Israeli/Arab conflict.

However I do not understand what people like Mr. Dorf mean when they talk about ‘security guarantees for Israel’. The threat to Israel is not from invasion by an Arab or Persian nation, the threat is an unrelenting war by terrorism (with a much less threat that some Arab/Persian nation would unilaterally bomb Israel with nuclear weapons). These terrorists are largely stateless and combating their threat by means of a ‘security guarantee’ is not something I understand. The United States already provides a de facto guarantee of Israel’s security but other than providing intelligence information it does nothing to prevent suicide bombings, terrorist attacks and rocket attacks because it cannot do anything to prevent them. Perhaps Mr. Dorf can expand on what he means here.

One lesson of the 20th century is that the Jewish people can only rely on a guarantee of security from one source, the Jewish people. And the two most important words that the rest of the world can hear from Israel, and indeed from all Jews everywhere are these, Never Again.

Michael C. Dorf said...

I agree with TDPE that the major security threat Israel faces and would face following the creation of a Palestinian State is/would be terrorism. I also think that the effective security cooperation between Israel and the PA shows that the creation of a sovereign Palestine would increase rather than diminish Israeli security overall. Nonetheless, the complete withdrawal of the IDF from the West Bank would potentially leave Israel dependent on Palestinian efforts to stem security risks in a way that it is not now. Think about the relationship between Pakistan and Kashmiri terrorists on the Indian side as the model for the fears that animate Israelis who voice this concern. Again, I think that a Palestinian sovereign government would have excellent incentives to address such risks, and that (as in Kashmir) politics/diplomacy rather than the stationing of troops provides greater security, but it is also clear that any deal that Israel would agree to would have to include some sort of military guarantees. My own hope would be that over time this would come to be seen as unnecessary.

D. Ghirlandaio said...

This sadly is too easy.

If you were a 19th century Zionist you would give equal status to recent European immigrants and native residents. The closest equivalent would be to give Roma escaping European persecution equal status to natives in Rajasthan.

But of course not all 19th century Zionists wanted to move to Palestine; there were plans to buy land in Latvia or Africa. Israel Zangwill, associated with if not the author of the line "a land without people for a people without land" in the end opposed the move, because Palestine was populated.

And you should research the history of the breakup of Czechoslovakia, which was authored by self-serving leadership, with many citizens on both sides opposed.

On Kerry and Israel, the announcement of settlement expansion should be enough to settle that. But there's the history. On truces with Hamas, see MIT's Nancy Kanwisher for an analysis, and Helena Cobban. http://justworldnews.org/?p=2321
You should read her. Google her, and her husband, William Quandt. [I don't link to Arab commentary when arguing with Zionists, it raises too many red flags.] On Hamas itself see Yaakov Peri "We did not create it, but we did not hinder its creation." And google Mubarak Awad.

Responding the The Dismal Political Hack, see Gideon Levy on Netanyahu's lies, which don't begin with the lie of his name and don't end with it.

According to Ted Koppel in the WSJ, Israel has asked the US to guarantee the safety of the Saudi monarchy. So how many Jews live in Saudi, and how many, even now, in Iran? What's the name of the Jewish member of the Iranian parliament? Not an easy job, but where else in the ME outside Israel does the job exist? Google Ahmad Tibi + LA Times. Helen Thomas asked Barack Obama in his first presidential press conference if he could name a country in the middle east that had nuclear weapons. His answer was "I don't want to speculate."

Dismal, do you live in Israel? I drink a couple of times a week with an Sephardi Israeli fascist who goes on and on about how much he hates Ashkenazim who defend Israel without ever going to fight. And he grew up fighting, in Israel. He's a fascist and admits it. He reveres Jabotinsky and says he respects Hezbollah, as Eichmann respected Jewish leaders, as idealists. If you're a real Zionist then go and fight for the Jewish people. And by the way when I tell him that Israel is now in the position of backing Al Qaeda against Hezbollah he laughs and agrees, because you can always trust your greatest enemies. Do you agree?

Both your responses are absurd, either as liberalism in the one case, or simply as logic on the other. The obstacle to peace is Israel, abetted by its erstwhile "liberal" defenders.

The majority of the people on this planet look at my name and say I'm Jewish. Jews ask me about my mother and say I'm not. Nazi's will say I'm a Jew and Jews will Say I'm not. Uri Avnery says the "Jews want to live by themselves." So where do I go? What am I?
My father looked like an Arab. Dismal, what do you look like? I'm willing to bet you look more like Karol Wojtyla.

D. Ghirlandaio said...

A coda courtesy of Helena Cobban.

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