Culture, Israel

Gideon Levy declares the "death of the left" and the end of Zionism

Yesterday in Ha’aretz Gideon Levy passionately wrote of the path of the traditional Israeli left over the last 9 years and determined that the left, as we know it, has gone to the wayside and everything deemed right and just of Zionism has slipped away. Levy laments the days gone by of a vocal and active society that displayed its will through gatherings and demonstrations in the public arena.
Reading his piece I was especially struck by this passage:

On the fringes of this masked ball existed another left, the marginal left – determined and courageous, but minuscule and not legitimate. The gap between it and the left was supposedly Zionism. Hadash, Gush Shalom and others like them are outside the camp. Why? Because they are “not Zionist.”
And what is Zionism nowadays? An archaic and outdated concept born in a different reality, a vague and delusive concept marking the difference between the permitted and the proscribed. Does Zionism mean settlement in the territories? Occupation? The legitimization of every act of violence and injustice? The left stammered. Any statement critical of Zionism, even the Zionism of the occupation, was considered a taboo that the left did not dare break. The right grabbed a monopoly on Zionism, leaving the left with its self-righteousness.
A Jewish and democratic state? The Zionist left said yes automatically, fudging the difference between the two and not daring to give either priority. Legitimization for every war? The Zionist left stammered again – yes to the beginning and no to the continuation, or something like that. Solving the refugee problem and the right of return? Acknowledgment of the wrongdoing of 1948? Unmentionable. This left has now, rightly, reached the end of its road.


Reading Levy’s article forced me to reflect on my personal relationship to Zionist ideology and the Jewish state in a very real and deep sense.
I was reminded of being a teenager and believing adamantly in a one-(Jewish) state solution, intensely embracing the notion of a Jewish army and proving to the world that we are not “weak.”
Instantly I was brought back to exploring labor Zionism in its purest form–making the desert bloom with hard work, sweat and even blood and tears. I recalled roaming the quiet streets of Bethlehem and Hebron, and celebrating Shavuot with a dear friend in Shiloh. I even was brought back to the sounds and emotions of the explosion that went off no more than 20 yards from the building I was in, as I poured milk into my breakfast cereal.
I was brought back to passionately embracing secular Jewish culture, proudly defying and denying Judaism confident that Zionism, as an ideology, was the messiah and Medinat Yisrael the third Temple. I could hear myself saying that a part of my soul was in another land, that my being was not complete anywhere else. That a place I was not raised, where I had no family, I nonetheless had roots and was home. I remembered, very clearly, making the decision after one year of college to purchase a one-way ticket to Tel Aviv; and I remembered just as clearly the decision to purchase a one-way ticket to Chicago.
I remembered being in Iceland, in a gas station/diner, watching muted news with Icelandic closed-captioning, and seeing the limp, bloodied and brutalized bodies of Israeli soldiers being dropped by Palestinians from a window. I recalled being a loud and organized Zionist and Jewish presence on a less-than-welcoming college campus; having friendships end because I was a “ZioNazi.” I remembered arguing about the merits of the “separation barrier” in front of a giant wooden wall erected outside the campus library, blocking students from entering and debating about the necessity of checkpoints beside a barricade of students holding broom handles and checking identification before students entered the cafeteria.
I was brought back to endless conversations that would inevitably end in shouts and red faces, and saying things like “If you don’t side with Israel in this conflict, you simply don’t know enough about it.”
Then I recalled sitting in front of a computer working in a summer job at a Reform synagogue working as the rabbi’s assistant, reading international reports on the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers and extreme warfare in Lebanon, and for the first time I couldn’t rationalize it. I couldn’t argue or debate for the merit or necessity of it. I watched, from afar, the Israel I loved morph into an unfamiliar place. A country I once longed for and sought to live and raise a family, I could not draw near to. I had to begin to rationalize for myself how I could love the land and not the State.
The internal dialogues rushed back about what it meant to recognize, acknowledge and learn about a story that I had not yet opened my ears or eyes to. What it meant to put aside defensiveness and listen to the other side. And eventually, what it meant to come to terms with putting aside an ideology I could no longer identify with.
Through Gideon Levy’s words, my Zionist life flashed before my eyes. Until reading this, I think I desired a resurrection of that life. It feels now that I can peacefully lay it to rest. My love for Zion is real and it is strong, but that does not make me a Zionist. My love for the land of Israel as the root and wellspring of the Jewish people and the glory of the Most High is real and it is strong, but that does not make me a friend of the State of Israel.
And you know what? That’s ok. It doesn’t make me an enemy to the Jewish people. It doesn’t make me an anti-Semite. It doesn’t make me a self-hating Jew (whatever that means, and can someone tell me? I really don’t get it). It doesn’t even make me anti-Israel or anti-Zionist. I know I’m not alone. And I also know that many of us feel like we’re better off not saying it publicly. I say, enough is enough.

63 thoughts on “Gideon Levy declares the "death of the left" and the end of Zionism

  1. I don’t know whether to say mazal tov or refuah shleimah, but I guess it’s nice you have a feeling of clarity. Better to got through life more sure of yourself than confused – actually, no, I don’t agree with that statement either. But I think there’s something nice about how you feel here, even if I strongly disagree with just about everything you wrote (and more with about every word Gideon Levy ever writes). For me, a Zionism which still seeks peace with it’s neighbors, is ready to make the steps needed bring forth such a peace, but still will maintain a Jewish majority and Jewish run state with a Jewish force to protect its citizens, is very much justified, and for me – irreligious as I may be – the proper Jewish thing to support and actively take part in in our day and age. The difference between your writings and the writings of Gideon Levy, is that as far as I can tell, you write from a position of love of Judaism and the Jewish people, while Gideon Levy consistently writes (and speaks in his appearances on “Moetzet Hachachamim”) from a position of hatred and anger. It’s more refreshing to read what you have to write.

  2. I wish I read Justin (and KFJ for that matter) regurly in Ha’arezt, instead of having to read Gideon Levy’s unadulterated Israel-hatred.

  3. My favorite part of the Levy article was his biblical allusion:
    “But the voice was the voice of the left while the hands were the hands of the right.”
    I see no hatred here. Levy is clearly in pain over what has become of his country and what is being done in the name of his noble tradition. For many years, Israel has sought regional supremacy at the expense of peace. Witness the triumph of Herzl’s Political Zionism over Ahad Ha’am’s Cultural Zionism. The former has turned Israel into an ugly, militaristic state that brutally rules another people group and violently pursues what it sees as its interests. Speaking truth to power about this issue is the responsibility of every moral human being. As American Jews we have a special responsibility to criticize Israel, for our community has provided Israel the political cover necessary to arrive at the current calamitous situation. I commend you for speaking out, Justin and I validate your journey to this perspective.

  4. There is such hatred in his voice for “the right”, but in truth there is no difference today between the right and left in Israel – these are just slogans. In reality the right and left both function hand in hand, overtaken by events like chickens with their heads cut off.
    How many weapons did Netanyahu pass to Arafat? How many did Barak? Who ordered the evacuation of Gaza (against campaign promises)? Who HASN’T silently endorsed settlements?
    These terms, “left” and “right” are red herrings. There is a broad center in Israel which is no longer capable of setting priorities for the nation, and implementing policies of substance. We’re left with mass confusion, speckled with opportunistic rape of the system. We give Judea and Samaria to the Arabs and then build settlements. We say we are against ethnic cleansing, but do so to our own people, and threaten to do even more. We refuse to expel 1.5 million Arabs from Israel, but refuse to allow them to integrate in the state. We allow the Israeli-Arabs autonomy in education and social services, and then act surprised that they act like they are not citizens of Israel. We pass weapons to the PA and then bomb them when the weapons are turned on us. We talk about a Palestinian state and then surround that state with walls and import Thai workers to eliminate our dependence on Palestinian labor – destroying any economic viability of a Palestinian state.
    Gideon Levy doesn’t have pragmatic answers. His passionate rage is a result of utter confusion sown by contradicting policies, haphazard priorities, and endless political maneuvering.
    The Palestinians are the least of our problems. We need to clean house and reject pandemic confusion as doctrinal principal of Israeli affairs.

  5. Reports of the Zionist Left’s demise are greatly exaggerated. We are, however, facing a leadership vacuum, losing the numbers game between aliyah and yerida, and hanging our heads in shame at times when we should be raising our voices.
    My big hope is that among the dozens of friends who’ve lost their big $$ jobs in the past few months (and the thousands like them across the country) folks will look at life in Israel and no longer see the economic disadvantages. It’s a beautiful country with a lot of opportunity and a need for activists. You’re exactly right that you can hate the State and not be anti-Israel. You can hate an alcoholic or abusive parent but that doesn’t mean you give up on them if there’s any possibility of redemption. But if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.
    Jewish Israel isn’t going anywhere, but its future is still wide open. If we disengage or walk away from the opportunity to shape that future we are responsible for whatever nasty ideologies and outcomes result.

  6. Levy has the only pragmatic answer; a just two state solution on the basis of international law, as presented in the Saudi initiative, and reaffirmed yearly by the vast majority of the world though the UN. Levy’s passion comes from decades of beating his head against the wall self-perpetuating mass delusion which continues to deprive Israel of peace.

  7. Great post. Though part of me wants to say – hey, Hadash has been around for a long time. It doesn’t suddenly get legitimate because Gidon says so. It sounds as though he really really wishes that there would still be a Zionist left (that isn’t dead) so that he wouldn’t have to be stuck in the corner with those Arab lovers from Hadash.
    His discomfort worries me. Then again, maybe it’s just nostalgia for a time when the wine and cheese crowd in Ramat Aviv was politically significant.

  8. Levy, are you just being a poor loser? You don’t get what you want so you claim that Zionism is finished? as if leftist Zionism is THE ONLY Zionism. Pathetic.
    The media here is currently going through severe withdrawal. They had some wonderful years of Sharon and Olmert with connections at the top of the political ladder and great influence. Now, they fear that they will have to deal with their hated Likud and Yisrael Beitenu (who they have tried to ignore for so long – who cares about olim, right?)
    Their dream of a Palestinian state (at the expense of the religious settlers) has been distanced by the majority of voters. One Labour member of knesset was aksed for a somment. He said bluntly something like – you should not press us during the ‘shiva’ (week long mourning).

  9. Kyleb,
    The Saudi solution is neither just nor pragmatic, while the UN – the beacon of hope and freedom that it is – is completely irrelevant. The very notion that we Jews need to be taking advice from our enemies is absurd.
    Sivio,
    I agree with you that we have the opportunity to shape Israel’s future, and should do so. On the other hand, I think we should reconsider the dialectic of “with us or against us”, “if you’re not the solution then you’re the problem”, etc.. That could be a justification or pretense for great injustice. We’re talking about fellow Jews, not enemies. We are ALL the solution and we need everyone – secular and religious, kibutzniks and settlers – to sustain our national covenant (no matter how frustrating it may be at times).
    I think what EVERY Jew can agree upon is that we need to root our corruption, cronyism and abuse of power in the State – it is the source of so much suffering and waste, for Jews and non-Jews. Let’s start there, by demanding respect for the law of the land.

  10. Taking the West Bank settlement by settlement isn’t pragmatic, and it is making more enemies all the time. as for the UN, there hands are tied by US veto power, but otherwise they would impose sanctions and embargoes to persuade Israel to conform to international law, much the same as was done to end apartheid in South Africa. That is all the Saudi proposal suggests as well, that is what it will take to bring peace to this conflict, and there is no practicality in avoiding it as all that bring is more and more terrorism.

  11. The Saudi proposal is a wish list for destroying the Jewish state. You want us to invite 5 million Palestinians to settle in Israel, withdraw to ’67 borders, give up Jerusalem, ethnically cleanse half a million Jews… and for what? For peace? Peace with who? PFLP? NFLP? Hamas? PRCs? Al Aqsa Martyrs? Who speaks for the Palestinians? Who will stop the mortar teams when Netanya is being bombarded from Tulkarm? Who will stop the snipers picking off Jewish school girls in Jerusalem? Shall we let you decide where we pray too?
    The Saudi plan was tried before. Between 1948-1967 the Jewish state existed according to the Saudi plan. For that, we got terrorism, mortars, assassinations, bombings, endless waves of fedayeen murdering families in their sleep… funerals and more funerals.
    No, the Saudi plan is a suicide pact. We have all we need to solve the current problems ourselves. We just need to wake up and take action.

  12. “as if leftist Zionism is THE ONLY Zionism. Pathetic.”
    No, he was saying that for years the Right claimed RIGHT-WING Zionism as THE ONLY Zionism. Did you not read? Classic example of transferring criticisms onto the critic.

  13. “You want us to invite 5 million Palestinians to settle in Israel, withdraw to ‘67 borders…”
    I want to to provide those refugees reasonable compensation in exchange for their right of return to what is their legal homes within those ‘67 borders, in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194, as could have been done back in 1948 to end this conflict long before the the terrorist organizations you mention were formed.
    “…give up Jerusalem…”
    Only the half that is legally part of Palestine, as affirmed by the International Court of Justice ruling on the separation barrier and decades of UN general assembly resolutions.
    “…ethnically cleanse half a million Jews…”
    Those who would choose renounce their Israeli citizenship for Palestinian citizenship should obviously be granted that right, though the vast majority would obviously rather move to Israel or elsewhere, which they should be compensated for doing so.
    “…and for what? For peace? Peace with who?”
    Peace with those millions of people we keep perpetuating conflict with by holding them defenceless under overwhelming military occupation while continuing to colonize across what little of their homeland is left, along with normalized relations with the Arab world at large. Best I can tell, we are building towards the untenable situation of either having to ethnically cleanse millions of Palestinians or grant them all Israeli citizenship, and hence I’d much rather implement a just two-state solution before that wind of opportunity closes.
    What do you hope to gain by continuing to disregard the rights of those millions of Palestinians as this conquest continues?

  14. kyleb writes:
    I want to to provide those refugees reasonable compensation in exchange for their right of return to what is their legal homes within those ‘67 borders, in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194, as could have been done back in 1948 to end this conflict long before the the terrorist organizations you mention were formed.
    To end this conflict? The 1948 conflict began before they even became refugees!

  15. If by the “1948 conflict” you mean the Arab nations declaring war on Israel, Haganah along with Irgun and Lehi had already drove out hundreds of thousands of Palestinians at that point.
    Of course you can note that this conflict started decades before that. The start of the conflict is the inception of this conquest over Palestine, and continuing it to this day only serves to deprive Israel of peace. Here is a quote from a previous entry on this blog which put’s the issue in simple terms:
    “The Zionist project was to create a Jewish state, which would be a democracy, on the full historic Jewish homeland. Two of these three things are currently feasible. Which would you drop?”
    http://jewschool.com/2009/02/06/15133/gershom-gorenberg-at-sixth-i/

  16. Kyleb, I appreciate your candor and reject the basic facts on which you structure your argument.
    In addition, I do not accept the notion of a “demographic threat”, on two foundations.
    First, I am not threatened by women giving birth to children. i love kids. No, I, as a Jew, am threatened by grown men who launch rockets at my cities, blow up my buses and night clubs and will do all they can to kill me. In 2000 years of exile, no one has ever needed a reason to kill Jews in order to do so, and as far as I’m concerned, that has not changed.
    Second, I don’t accept conventional wisdom – based on decades old projections, not hard data – that there is a “demographic threat”.
    http://www.biu.ac.il/SOC/besa/perspectives15.html

  17. I would appreciate it if you could candidly present your position rather than beating around it by pontificating on about what you reject. You say you love kids, but those grown men who launch rockets at Israel were once kids who have been denied civil rights by Israel their entire lives while having their homeland colonized out from under them by overwhelming military force, as millions more Palestinian kids are living that same deprived childhood today. What solution to this cycle of violence do you propose, or what goal do you hope to serve as we continue to perpetuate it?

  18. I would just like to point something out.
    I am 26 years old. I wasn’t around in 1886 or 1929 or even 1948.
    I did not build the State of Israel. I did not plow the rocky soil or drain the swamps or fight for the survival of the nascent Jewish state.
    I have inherited my people the way they are, and I have inherited the Land as it is. I love both and I will fight for both. I reject the idea that I must revisit, revise or reinterpret history from someone else’s arbitrary “go” point to find moral certitude in who I am as a Jew, and what I’m doing in the Land.
    I will build the Jewish nation as I believe is just and good, as I have no doubt those who came before me did in their time and in their way. Every generation of Jews stands on the shoulders of giants, and so it is with us.
    Now that it is our turn to stand, the situation is simple – we are not leaving. Once this is accepted, the pieces of peace and prosperity will fit seamlessly, for everyone.

  19. Victor-
    What is ‘just and good’ in your eyes? I don’t think Kyleb (or anyone here) is saying Jews should leave Israel, just that we, as a people, should govern with the justice and equity that is inherent in our tradition’s ethical values.
    Kyleb brings up some great points, in terms of our responsibilities as Jews today regarding the acts and choices of our ancestors. As you say, we stand on giants, and we have the obligation to right their wrongs.

  20. Anyone who speaks of solutions is delusional. We can only speak of obligations. The overriding obligation of any government, and especially a Jewish government is the preservation of life, both Jewish and non-Jewish. We must look at the situation pragmatically and think, which policies help preserve life, and which endanger life.
    Does throwing more money and weapons at Fatah thugs help preserve life, or does this endanger life? Does allowing certain settlers to shoot at Palestinians picking olives preserve life, or does this endanger life? Does stopping short of achieving military objectives in war preserve life, or endanger it?
    To all these questions, and many more, there are simple, pragmatic answers. This is not about solutions – those will come with time – it is about the most basic and vital of obligations.

  21. And as to denying the rights of millions of Palestinians though their entire lives while colonizing their homeland out from under them by overwhelming military force, what do you “believe is just and good” in that?

  22. Kyleb,
    If Israel had used “overwhelming military force” we would not be having this conversation. The issue is precisely that very underwhelming military force, drawn out over four decades, has been used as a substitute for conventional conflict resolution, where one party is defeated.
    If Israel had annexed the West Bank and Gaza in ’67, instead of waiting year after year to trade them back to the Arab nations in exchange for pieces of paper with shiny seals of peace, these territories, and their residents would today be fully integrated into the State.
    The protracted suffering of the Palestinians is a direct result of successive, indecisive Israeli leaders and conflicting, confusing priorities. Where you see “colonization”, I see the absence of a coherent plan of what to do with the territories – to annex them or relinquish them.
    Where you see Palestinian children growing up into terrorists, I see a felahe culture that produced peaceful civil leaders during the First Intifada, who were all murdered and the rest of the population radicalized after Israel allowed Arafat and the PLO back from Tunis, and armed them to the teeth.
    The issue is not whether the Palestinians are suffering – they are. Nor is it that Israel is a warmongering, imperialist, apartheid, colonialist settler state – it’s not. The issue, Kaleb, is that there exists a smorgasbord of incoherent and incompatible Israeli policies with regards to Judea, Samaria and Gaza, and the ultimate status of their inhabitants.
    As I wrote above, in such an environment, where policy pandemonium reigns, “solutions” are for the delusional. We can only speak of obligations – the most basic of which is preservation of life – and demand that the State of Israel accept this obligation as binding and superior to the mythical quest for a ribbon cutting ceremony called “solution”.
    Because in truth, Kaleb, all the solutions in the world, their enactment and sustainability, are predicated on upholding that simple, basic and vital obligation (or its betrayal) – the preservation of life. So why bother with solutions? Let’s start at the source.

  23. It is interesting to compare America and Israel. During WWII, the US put Japanese American into camps. After 911, Bush authorized torture and extraordinary rendition. America is not perfect, but it is still a democracy.
    I think that the Israelis have certainly behaved much better than we would under similar circumstances.
    I think that Zionism can withstand Netanyahu and even Lieberaman.

  24. I think that Zionism can withstand Netanyahu and even Lieberaman.
    Please elaborate on this point. I would like to learn what a secular redemptive ideology born in the mind’s eye of 19th century European coffee shop intelligentsia for a Paris in Palestine has to do with anything, much less two Israeli leaders who together represent some 42% of the electorate.
    Is it really all that useful to get bogged down in a war of personalities? Show me a single Israeli leader, left or right, who has pragmatic solutions.

  25. Susan, you’d do well to read this Kadima: We agree with Lieberman on 90% of issues – and then tell me how it fits the narrative you set up earlier.
    In fact, it seems that if not for disgust for his personality, Lieberman would receive substantial support in the progressive Jewish community. According to that article, Yisrael Beitenu supports civil marriage and relaxed conversion standards.
    A week after labeling him a Fascist Nazi Devil, Kadima is negotiating with him to take the Defense or Foreign Policy portfolio!
    This is the endless politicking standing in place of coherent policy of which I’ve written before. The parties and personalities maneuver around each other endlessly, without articulating a single vision around which Israeli voters can unite or reject.

  26. “If Israel had used “overwhelming military force” we would not be having this conversation.”
    Israel has always exploited it’s vast military superiority to facilitate the conquest over Palestine, overwhelming the ingenious population which is left incapable of resisting.
    “The issue is not … that Israel is a warmongering, imperialist, apartheid, colonialist settler state – it’s not.”
    The issue is that the majority of Israelis share your compulsion to focus on the intent of the populous while overlooking the actions of the state. Hell is paved with good intentions.
    “…Kaleb…Kaleb…”
    Are you misspelling my username to slander me as a dog here?
    “Show me a single Israeli leader, left or right, who has pragmatic solutions.”
    There is no point in doing that, as you have already demstarted your utter disdain for pramagtism with your previous comments, most notably:
    “Anyone who speaks of solutions is delusional.”
    Am I to take it you are holding out for the Moshiach?
    Also, Susan, Israelis are behaving like our American forefathers did among many others throughout history; denying the rights of the indigenous population while colonizing their homeland out from under them. There is a lot to be learned from such historical comparisons, and having studied much of such history myself, I have no interest in continuing to repeat it.

  27. Victor-
    you’re still not saying anything, you’re just dismissing what other people say. it seems like you live in Israel? Did you serve? the soldiers i know, no matter what their politics, bring back stories of incredible moral acts (like cleaning toilets in houses that were commandeered before they left) and also of incredibly brutal acts that traumatized the individuals ordered to perform them.
    Plus, I don’t think any of us who have not experienced living under military occupation, as Kyleb has tried to get across a few times now, can understand the psychology of it and the trauma and terror experienced by those who are forced to endure it. I’m not trying to make light of the trauma and terror experienced by Israelis over the years, but it is fundamentally different in nature.
    If you did not serve, or if you are not from Israel, have you ever visited the territories, even before the barrier began to stifle them further and cut them off from fields and orchards (I’m not saying it doesn’t work to protect Israelis, but I don’t know if it is just).
    Also, I think you’re wrong about the lack of a solution. Look at Northern Ireland, look at the Balkans. There are lots of examples around the world of peoples fighting for decades and coming to terms. Peace and ‘friendly relations’ are different things. I don’t think the Israeli and Egyptian or Jordanian governments are incredibly friendly, but there is peace.
    I’m really curious, Victor, what your pragmatic obligations look like in positive statements, rather than rejections of other people’s opinions.

  28. Kyleb, I apologize for misspelling your name. It wasn’t intentional.
    You seem to think it an injustice that Palestinians do not have the weapons to defeat the Jews. This is an imbalance between two people, not an injustice. An imbalance I both support and strengthen.
    Again, I reject the basic notions on which you structure your arguments. I’m not going to support your people as they wage war against mine.
    As for the rest, what I wrote above stands unchallenged. We in Israel have become a graveyard for solutions. There can be no solution when one side is committed to endangering life on the other side.
    If you set “peace” as a goal, then it can be used as justification for any solution. If all the Jews in Israel shot themselves in the head tomorrow, G-d forbid, or migrated to China, that too would bring “peace”, but not one acceptable to me.
    Peace is not a goal. It is a state of being, a byproduct. The preservation of life is a goal, a moral and religious obligation. That is the only foundation on which solutions can be built, and under which peace can emerge.
    So, again, let’s review Israeli policies and reject those which endanger life, both Jewish and non-Jewish. As I wrote above, and I can add to this list…
    Does throwing more money and weapons at Fatah thugs help preserve life, or does this endanger life? Does allowing certain settlers to shoot at Palestinians picking olives preserve life, or does this endanger life? Does stopping short of achieving military objectives in war preserve life, or endanger it?
    If you want solutions, then answer these questions.

  29. Justin, I think the examples you cited only reinforce the lack of solutions as things stand. The Balkans were pacified through ethnic cleansing, civil war and genocide. Surely that is not a solution you are advocating. Northern Ireland was never a concern central to the stability and viability of Britain as a nation-state.
    With respect, I would argue that my points relating to preservation of life are the most pragmatic and positive in nature.
    I agree with you, Kyleb and many others that the Palestinians are suffering. There is no question in my mind that the situation as it stands now is an injustice. It is not acceptable, on moral or religious grounds, to place millions of people in a situation of siege and ceaseless war for decades. This is now how you fight war. This is not how you fight counter-insurgency. The question is, how do we untangle incoherent Israeli policy, identify core Jewish interests and secure those interests in a way that protects life on all sides.

  30. Victor-
    talk to britons who lived during the height of the nra bombings and they may tell you something different. the solution in the balkans was to stop the ethnic cleansing, it was the problem, not the solution. If northern ireland was not a central concern to the british, than why did bloody sunday happen? why did they invest so much money, resources and soldiers’ lives? You may want to read up on those conflicts a bit more. We like to say that this conflict is unique in the world, but it’s not. it actually shows striking resemblance to other unbalanced conflicts.
    And I think you’re comment that the Palestinians deserve to be defenseless, that’s just a little scary to me. Why should anyone deserve to be defenseless? it is precisely the defenselessness that lead to the misguided use of terror to achieve political gains (which NEVER works) No one that I have seen contribute to Jewschool conversations supports the methods that many of the Palestinian resistance groups utilize, but don’t all people have the right to self-defense? All occupied people resist, the world over, it is human nature to throw off your occupier. whether you’re a native american, or an american colonist, or irish or tibetan or czech or afghani. it has always been like that (even in the ancient world) and it will be as long as people occupy other peoples’ land and lives

  31. Justin, I’ve drawn vastly different lessons from the conflicts you’ve mentioned. To the British, the fate of Northern Ireland, while important, did not constitute a matter of survival. Nations devote considerable resources to all sorts of endeavors – Obama is about to double our forces in Afghanistan – that may be important to their overall foreign policy, but do not equate to an existential threat.
    Furthermore, I would strongly urge you to look at a modern day map of what was Yugoslavia. The ethnic violence ceased once it largely completed its aims – the transfer of ethnic populations to their respective enclaves. It was only after this transfer had taken place, and the violence subsided, that international peacekeepers deployed.
    You speak of “defenselessness”, but who are the Palestinians to defend themselves from? Who is threatening them, that they need to defend themselves? The only other people there are Jews. Are you implying the Palestinians should be armed to fight Jews? That, because terrorism is unpleasant, we should give them real weapons with which to kill us?
    On the one hand, you seem to say that terrorism is unattractive and indefensible, and on the other you acknowledge that Palestinians have a right to engage in it.
    I’m very confused by what you wrote, and perhaps you can clarify it for me. You seem to accept the Palestinian moral position, that they are an occupied people, resisting illegal colonization and aggression. In such a case, how is it possible for you defend Israel in the least? I am genuinely interested in how you are able to fuse these two ideas in your mind – the legitimacy of Palestinian violence and the survival of the State of Israel and its Jewish inhabitants.
    Please explain it to me, seriously.
    From my perspective, this is precisely the sort of incoherent policy making that has created confusion on the ground and led to four decades of needless suffering on all sides.

  32. the issue of the right to self-defense and the moral nature of the form of self-defense chosen are two separate issues. The Palestinians are threatened, attacked and violated by the Israeli army. If tanks rolled through my street, I’d fight back. If an army came and arrested people based on their ethnicity, gender and age, not whether or not they are guilty of any crime, I’d fight back. Just like the Jews fought against the Nazis (not equating Israel to Nazis, just as occupiers) or the British or the feladin. All people have a right to defend themselves. Take the Sudanese rebel groups in Darfur, for example. They utilize questionable tactics, but can anyone deny them the right to defend themselves from the jinjaweed and the Khartoum government?
    I never said that Israel should arm the Palestinians. But if you put them under occupation and stop basic necessities from coming into their villages, people are going to use whatever is at their disposal. I don’t think there is a right and wrong in this conflict. There is only wrong at this point.
    I think that there are lots of ways for people to defend themselves, violent and peaceful, and not all of them involve intentionally seeking to willfully kill innocent civilians. But their poor choice of tactic does not remove their right to defend themselves. House demolitions, open-air imprisonment (separation barrier), military raids, blockade–these are all attacks on the civilian population and amount to collective punishment. They did not need to choose sniper attacks, hijacking and suicide bombing as their tactics, but I do not believe that the extremist violent resistance groups do (historically) actually speak for a majority of the Palestinian people, who for the extent of the peace-process overwhelmingly support a negotiated settlement.
    The reason the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans went on as long as it did is because (the US gave the green light) the world did not stop it until it was too late. I fear a similar end to this conflict.
    I’m pretty confused why Jews have the right to defend themselves and Palestinians don’t, in your mind. I do accept the Palestinian narrative you described, it is the fact of history and our current situation. I’m not a pacifist. I will defend the right of Israelis to defend themselves because they have the right to self-determination and security like all other peoples that choose to have a state, including the Palestinians. But I will never defend the right of any state to occupy another people and steal their land with violence, deceit and subterfuge.
    Be it China, Russia, Israel or any other post-ww2 army that occupies territories that are not their own.
    If people are attacking people (take away the labels, they’re irrelevant) those being attacked have a right to fight back. You’re clearly not advocating the approach taken by Thoreau, Gandhi or Dr. King. Or do you expect the Palestinians to lie down and let their land be taken away from them?
    It’s no secret amongst those that read what I write here that I’m not a supporter of Zionism, it seems like from what you wrote before that it’s not Zionist ideology that drives you either. I don’t defend Israel. I direct you to the post you’re commenting on… did you read it? I am an observant Jew, I have a love for eretz yisroel and tzion, these things have nothing to do with the State of Israel except that the State of Israel happens to be on the same land as eretz yisroel. But for some, it might as well have been Uganda or Uruguay, but eretz yisroel will always be eretz yisroel. Zionism is not a concept from the Jewish tradition, as you mentioned, it is borne out of 19th century European nationalism. Napoleon was the first to conceive of a Jewish nation-state in Palestine, the Tanakh tells us of a short lived monarchic commonwealth (which it also warned against), not a nation-state. To me, the holiness of the land is irrelevant of who rules it or what flag flies over it or what the name of the state is. Heck, we’re not even the ones who names it “The Holy Land”. The acts of the State of Israel do not represent the holiness of our tradition.
    I don’t want Jews to be killed, or anyone else, including Palestinians. But I do believe that military targets that threaten populations are legitimate targets according to international law, which Israel signed up for.
    The comparison between N. Ireland and Afghanistan is erroneous. N. Ireland is part of a colony that the British refused to let go of, and therefore experienced relentless terrorism, until they determined that they would be better off negotiating a cold peace rather than live in a hot war. We invaded Afghanistan and are now trying to clean up a mess we made. VERY different situations. It’s also erroneous for me to have brought it, on second thought, because N. Ireland remains occupied land, all they negotiated was a semblance of sovereignty without self-determination. They are still a British colony. Hopefully the Palestinians will end up with their own state, be it a one(shared)-, two-, three- or even four-state solution (Muslim Palestine in Gaza, secular Palestine in West Bank, Religious Israel in settlement block/J’slem, secular Israel elsewhere).
    Are you claiming that Israel’s occupation is legal?

  33. “You seem to think it an injustice that Palestinians do not have the weapons to defeat the Jews.”
    You have a vivid imagination which keeps to from comprehending what I do say, and instead leave you arguing misrepresentations of my thoughts.

  34. “it is precisely the defenselessness that lead to the misguided use of terror to achieve political gains (which NEVER works)”
    Sometimes it does work. Sometimes even when it doesn’t it’s worth doing. Sometimes it’s not misguided.

  35. Justin, you’re a Jew and I love you. It’s obvious to me that you have a good heart and I’m proud that there are Jews such as you, who value justice and express empathy for the suffering of others.
    You are right, I think political Zionism was a fad that is long overdue for retirement. Yes, the Land is holy, and yes, you, and I and many others love it – yes it is the eternal and immutable inheritance of the Jewish people – but this is not why it must be defended now.
    As a Jew, an observant one, as you said, are you familiar with the concept of pikuach hanefesh, particularly as ruled in Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 329:6?

  36. I’ll wager Justin comprehends the difference between defending human life and imposing subjugation on millions of humans in defence of a conquest over their homeland.

  37. Jason, how has the occupation of the palestinian territories brought israelis any defense? measures such as the separation barrier, checkpoints, curfews, mass arrests, et al are precisely because the occupation has brought terror, not security.

  38. Justin, I understand your point, but when as a government you have to respond to each incident as it is, despite the larger historical picture, there is clearly an element of self-defence. If an enemy is shooting at your citizens, even if some people think that shooting is justified, the government still has to protect its citizens. When rockets are being fired from Gaza at people in Sderot, or buses or cafes are being blown up in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, you can point to the larger (and perhaps much more critical) issue of the occupation, and the feeling of anger felt by Palestinians at consistent Israeli domination over them. And, I personally think that the fighting won’t fully stop until there are steps taken to address those issues. However, military steps in the immediate stages can and in my humble opinion SHOULD be used to stop those from trying to kill your people.
    It would be like, if as a police force, you don’t address murder by trying to physically prevent the murder from taking place, but only contacting a psychologist to address why the person wants to murser. Both are needed.
    But there is 100% an element of pikuach nefesh that a government has as its constant and immediate responsibility.

  39. yes, you are right, Jason. Especially to incidents like what happened from Gaza and Lebanon in ’06 or Gaza or few weeks ago. The question is not if Israel has a RIGHT to respond, most agree they do. The issue people have is with HOW Israel responds. Yes there are some that think Israel should never respond and would rather see it destroyed, and then there are those that think that the Palestinians should accept their fate and lay down their resistance. Both of those viewpoints are wrong. I’m not disagreeing with you that Israel should protect its citizens, I just can’t believe that is its ultimate motivation, because it doesn’t take a doctorate in political science and international relations to know that their methods don’t work for bringing peace. Unless they ultimately ethnically cleanse the region (God forbid) they are only digging themselves deeper

  40. Justin, I mostly agree with what you just said. I think at times its hard to say whether Israeli actions have ONLY caused even greater security challenges. I think it’s true, Israel has failed in bringing full peace and security to its citizens, but it is still surviving in a region that is pretty fucking hostile to its existence (which I think we’ve all got out opinions as to why this hostility exists). So, in my opinion, Israeli security decisions must be doing at least SOMETHING right.
    But I personally – for myself – feel I can admit all of what you wrote and yet still reconcile those feelings with still being a proud Zionist, and support a state with a Jewish majority in the historical Land of Israel (though it doesn’t have to be in all of it), a state run by Jews and protected by Jews, with a strong identity with Jewish History and Judaism (without being a halachic theocracy) – while still trying as much as reasonable to make the non-Jewish citizens of the state feel welcome there too. Gideon Levy seems (from what I can tell having read him pretty consistently for the last 3 years or so) to very much disagree.

  41. Jason, I think the issue is whether that majority is natural or enforced. a natural Jewish majority, I don’t have any problem with, and from what i’ve read of Levy I think he’d agree. The issue is not whether or not Jews have a state, it’s what they do with it. Levy has stayed in Israel, he must identify as Israeli. Many have chosen to leave. My issue is that it is not part of democratic values to enforce an ethnic majority. That has other names, none of which we’d be comfortable with. I know of no state on the planet that lives by democratic values that has an enforced ethnic majority (although many Americans would like that to be the case in the states)

  42. Jason-
    Also, I did not read Levy in his first 10 years at ha’aretz, but i’ve read him for the last ten or so, and he has consistently grown more and more frustrated as the occupation has dug its roots deeper and deeper into palestinian life and israeli psyche

  43. Justin, Jason…
    You both seem to agree, as do I, that the occupation is not a solution. It seems the overwhelming conclusion of a majority of Jews is that we must end the occupation by relinquishing the territories. May I ask, have either of you considered the opposite – ending the occupation by annexing the territories and normalizing life for their Palestinian inhabitants?
    Of course, we’ll run into issues of demography, which some Jews are especially sensitive about, and rightly so. Some Palestinians, especially in the West, proudly declare the demographic issue as their most important long term weapon.
    I’ve written above that I neither accept the present reality of a “demographic threat” (I posted a link to a study which invalidates it as founded on decade old optimistic PA projections, not hard data), nor do I accept that I must fear and punish children to preserve Israel.
    However, given 60 years of conflict, why must a one state solution be implemented overnight, or over the course of a year, or five years? Were Israel to announce its intention to annex the territories over a 25 or 50 year process that integrates them economically, politically and culturally, this would give sufficient time for a new generation to grow that is ready for full, peaceful integration. It can be accomplished village by village – building roads, sewers, providing social services, introducing a new education curriculum, etc.
    Most importantly, such a process would take the wind out of those who demand violent resistance. The competition among Palestinians will become not one of who will kill more Jews, but who will prepare their community, their village, to integrate most effectively and to take advantage of what Israel can offer. The borders should be opened so that those who do not wish to become Israeli citizens are given the chance to emigrate.
    What do you guys think?
    I should say that while embracing Palestinian society with open arms, I have no sympathy or mercy for those who wish to kill Jews. If such a process were to be implemented – and perhaps the Palestinians could hold a referendum whether they wish to proceed with a long-term integration – those individuals who refuse to abide by peaceful means must be dealt with harshly, severely, and finally.

  44. As Golda said, there will be peace when the Arabs love their children more than they hate the Jews. Unfortunately, that means never! Or not until Islam is reformed, or Israel is destroyed. Their hatred stems from the Muslim holy book, with its violent and supremacist tenets. (Dar al Harb, dhimmi, infidel, etc., etc.) kyleb, why start your definition of “indigenous” 100 years ago? Don’t you accept the findings of biblical archaeology?

  45. Victor,
    let’s be clear, what you’re talking about is a one-state solution. That means ALL citizens have equal democratic votes. Personally, I have no problem with that. But, well, I don’t count because I’m not an Israeli citizen, don’t want to be and don’t plan to be. Is this one of those “pragmatic” obligations you’ve been speaking about? Because I think an overwhelming majority of your Jewish fellow-Israelis would not agree to such an arrangement. It is, however, in my opinion the only just solution. But, well, justice usually has had little to do with international politics.

  46. BY-
    first of all, there’s no such thing as “biblical archaeology,” it is called in the field Syrio-Levantine archaeology. Second, the findings of what you call “biblical archaeology” generally show that what the Bible says happened didn’t. Third, the Torah and Talmud also advocate mistreatment and even violence towards those outside the fold. Fourth, as far as I was told by an Israeli friend of mine (who may be right or wrong) that infamous quote from Golda Meir was never actually spoken. Fifth, the Arab population has been residing on the Mediterranean coast for 1500+ years, FAR longer than the European Jews, who have resided in Europe for just as long as Arabs have resided in Palestine. Sixth, if you’re so convinced that Arabs are filled with hatred, why do you respond from the same place? Fighting fire with fire only causes more fire.

  47. Justin, my primary consideration in supporting such an idea is preservation of life, on all sides. I think there’s something to be said for the notion that one day the Palestinians will wake up, surrounded by Jewish villages, and accept that the Jews are going nowhere, and that it’s time to build a new reality together.
    I have several Palestinian friends, one close one – some highly educated, some are felahin. I honestly do not believe they have internalized that the Jews are there to stay. I think it’s fair to say that for some, they believe with sufficient pressure (which at times means violence) and determination, they can force most of the Jews “back where they came from”. The entire society is in shock, and has been since 1948. Israeli policies have not helped in this respect – we’ve kept them essentially in a state of siege for 40+ years. But that is the reality – most believe in violence to achieve political aims.
    I’ll give you an example. I was watching video of a friend’s Palestinian wedding a couple of weeks ago. Some of the young people (Palestinians) were speaking Hebrew, fluently. They were doing so to avoid their parents understanding what they were saying. Hebrew is now practically required in Palestinian universities. There is a growing understanding that they cannot escape Israel’s shadow, and that they need to learn how to coexist with the Jews. It is a positive sign, from my perspective, but only a tiny step forward. If only we could introduce Arabic as a mandatory 2nd or 3rd language (with English) for Jewish kids. Who needs French or Spanish anymore?
    Anyway, I’m getting off subject.
    The key to everything I proposed earlier was the time frame, which is not something most people consider when they think of the one state solution. Why pretend that we can erase 60 years of conflict and blood overnight? Let’s announce our intention to annex the West Bank on a flexible time-table, 40 years, with benchmarks and goals. In the meantime, the Palestinians can initiate some self rule and prepare for integration.

  48. Decades of attempting to pummel Palestinians into submission has only strengthened their resolve, asking them nicely to submit while keeping them under martial law and competing for integration while Israel tactically martians a Jewish majority isn’t going to accomplish anything. Furthermore, a one-state solution can’t rightly work all at once either, regardless of demographic issue, there is far too much tension on both sides to simply slap them together. Hence then need to draw a line in the dirt to divide the land into two sovereign nations. That will be a cold peace at first, with some bent on disrupting it on both sides. However, as long as either side is allowed to gain anything from attacking the other, the animosity will pass in time. Perhaps some decades down the line, the Arab league could become the Semitic league, I would have wagered it would be as much by now if Israel had facilitated the establishment of a Palestinian state from the start of the occupation rather than setting it on the path of colonization instead.
    “Third, the Torah and Talmud also advocate mistreatment and even violence towards those outside the fold.”
    To some they do, it comes down to how one chooses to consider the context.
    “Fifth, the Arab population has been residing on the Mediterranean coast for 1500+ years, FAR longer than the European Jews, who have resided in Europe for just as long as Arabs have resided in Palestine.”
    Actually, those we now call “Arabs” are the descendants of the other Semitic people who have lived in the region along side Jews since pre-Biblical times. Some of their ancestors were Jews whose descendants later converted to Christianity and/or Islam in more recent history. This is clear not only by historical record, but though DNA studies of Palestinians, such as the one reported here:
    http://bric.postech.ac.kr/science/97now/00_10now/001030a.html
    So, no Ben-Yahood, I am not the one drawing arbitrary lines to define indigenous here.

  49. I am fascinated by how such scientific evidence and the historical record which substitutes it are little known, while misconceptions of Palestinians being immigrants along with those of Ashkenazic Jews being completely foreign continue to saturate both sides of this conflict. Pondering the issue reminds me of a statement Wavy Gravy made at Woodstock:
    “…the one major thing that you have to remember tonight, when you go back up in the woods to go to sleep, or if you stay here, is that; the man next to you is your brother, and you damn well better treat each other that way. Because if you don’t, then we blow the whole thing. But we’ve got it, right there.”

  50. I’ve read studies that Palestinians and Jews (yes, Ashkenazi Jews) are more closely related – genetically – than Palestinians and Arabs, or Jews and Europeans.
    Kyleb, the history of the Levant from the beginning the Jewish exile to the present day is a personal interest of mine. I have a felahe friend from a small village I won’t mention, but which is near Ramallah and is very well known in Torah. Anyway, she and I discuss sometimes the history of her village. The Romans did not focus much on the countryside – they mostly exterminated or drove out the Jews in the major population centers, but many small villages went unnoticed.
    With the destruction of the Temple and organized priestly service, Judaism was facing catastrophe. No doubt by the time the Muslim invaders came in the 7th century, Jewish identity was not strong enough to resist a forced conversion program.
    It is titillating to imagine – using a matrilineal approach – how many Palestinians are in fact technically Jews.

  51. Especially since the Arabs believe you pass identity and religion from the father… they would have specifically targeted the Jewish women for marriage in order to breed out Jewish identity. Little did they know through the women is how we roll 😉

  52. “Kyleb, the history of the Levant from the beginning the Jewish exile to the present day is a personal interest of mine.”
    Selectively so, as you dementedly have no interest in acknowledging; the effects of centuries of Pagan and Cristian rule in the region prior to the emergence if Islam, the fact that Islamic rule generally didn’t engage in forced conversion, or that Jews fought along side Arabs to defend the region from Crusaders. Granted, such details of history go a long way towards spoiling your compulsion for subjugating Palestinians into integration with Jewish rule rather than respecting them as having no less right to self determination as anyone else.

  53. Islamic rule generally didn’t engage in forced conversion
    Now you’re just being silly. How did you think the Arabs, Persians, North Africans and others adopted Islam? It wasn’t all flowers and candy, let me tell ya’.
    Why are you angry about integrating the Jews and Arabs in one country? Why is it so important for the Palestinians to achieve a racially pure nation? After all, Israel is not going to be kicking its Arabs out, right? But the Palestinians should somehow receive a racially exclusive state?
    This is backward, unhelpful thinking, and I urge you to reconsider.

  54. If you insist on speaking in absolutes, Islamic rule was more was more flowers and candy than than forced conversion. How do you think nearly a million Jews lived all across Muslim lands prior to the establishment of Israel? How do you think Jewish culture flushed in Span under Islamic rule?
    Also, as I stated previously in regard to the settlers:
    “Those who would choose renounce their Israeli citizenship for Palestinian citizenship should obviously be granted that right, though the vast majority would obviously rather move to Israel or elsewhere, which they should be compensated for doing so.”
    Furthermore, I would prefer a single state with equal rights for all. However:
    “…a one-state solution can’t rightly work all at once either, regardless of demographic issue, there is far too much tension on both sides to simply slap them together. Hence then need to draw a line in the dirt to divide the land into two sovereign nations.”
    Put simply, I am not angry, and I have no interest in racial purity, but none in ethnic dominance either. My interest rest in that pragmatism we discussed earlier. Granted, it seems you are not only compelled to ignore not only whatever parts of historical record it takes to keep your finger pointed at others, but even what was said a few posts back. So, is this all the further our conversation can go?

  55. “But the Palestinians should somehow receive a racially exclusive state?”
    You mean the settlers can’t become Palestinians? The only people who want two “racially pure” states are of Liberman’s ilk. There can be Jewish Palestinians just like there are Arab Israelis.
    The above statement, of course, is an insane pipe dream that assumes settlers ever want to integrate with people amongst whom they dwell.

  56. About the talk of racially exclusive states:
    To talk about this issue, you have to understand what is at the core of both Israeli/Jewish nationalism and the Palestinian faux nationalism. The Palestinian nationalism, which is a very intriguing modern phenomenon, borne of their oppression and expulsions (Jordan, Syria, anyone? and yes, Israel is included) at the hands of other powers is not rooted in a deep connection to the land or even a shared culture (the Palestinians have no distinct culture, it is Arab culture), it is rooted in fierce opposition to the people who have wronged them. At this point in time, that would be Israel and the jews. As such, a palestinian state could not possibly include jews–it would undermine the ethos of the state itself.
    The same cannot be said for Israel and jewish nationalism (and this is a good thing) which is rooted in a deep connection to the land and dare I say it, even spiritual, biblical attachment as well as a shared peoplehood. Israel can tolerate arabs living within the state as long as they can live in peace.

  57. “Given your tone, yes, that’s that.”
    Surely you weren’t wanting me to levy false accusations in flagrant contradiction to your stated position, and then accuse you of “backward, unhelpful thinking” based on such michartersations? While that is demonstratedly the tone you favor for yourself, I have no compulsion to engage in such willful ignorance and incessant finger-pointing, and I doubt you’d take kindly to being addressed in that fashion anyway.

  58. Noah, with respect, I think you have much to learn about Palestinians and Palestinian culture. Perhaps with regard to the city Arabs, some of your remarks have validity. For the fellahin, the villagers, they are very much rooted to the land, and could list a litany of differences between themselves and Syrian, Bedouin, Egyptian or other Arabs.
    There is a sad component to their tale. Islamist thinking has deeply penetrated Palestinian culture. A hundred years ago Islam was background noise, a spiritual force in people’s lives, but not a sole guiding one. The Palestinians traditionally have many un-Islamic traditions that infiltrated or were passed along from Jews and idolatrous nations. If you go in the villages you’ll see a lot of young women are not wearing a traditional thob – which varies village to village, as well as by region – but prefer a more Islamic hijab.
    Also, as young people leave the villages and head to the cities or abroad, little is left of the old generation that has a deep reverence and connection to the land. Today’s city Arabs will sit in a coffee shop in Ramallah and claim that the Jews have no right to be in the land. If you go in the villages and speak to the old people, who grew up playing in essentially Jewish ruins, finding Jewish artifacts, hearing stories about Jewish ghosts, the Jews to them are natural to the land.
    Unfortunately, Palestinian culture is dying. It is being replaced with a more homogenized al-Jazeera/Arab/Islamic culture.
    Kyleb: We’ll have plenty of times to start fresh again. I’m not coming at you to fight. If I’ve caused you offense, I apologize. From my perspective, I am having a conversation with someone and they start treating me like a hostile witness, when I didn’t even know we were in court. Till next time.

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