Israel, Politics

Jewish boat to Ashdod achieves pageantry

the jewish boat to gaza boarded
The British catamaran Irene, the “Jewish boat to Gaza,” was diverted to Ashdod without incident and without capturing world attention as during Israel’s boarding of the Turkish Mavi Marmara. This was the second boat following the Marmara to be diverted. Predictions of a media circus failed to bear fruit.
Apparently, the global media is bored of this stunt already. Frankly, I am too. It stinks of pageantry, now that both sides now how the game is played. The boat announces their operating rules, the IDF states its intent to intercept, both sides play nice, and the Gaza blockade goes on. Which is not to say the stunt abjectly failed to raise awareness, nor that the violent prior episode was in any way preferable. (God forbid!)
Pageantry consumes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When I volunteered to cover a house demolition in East Jerusalem in late 2004, then too the roles were clear. The family applied for a permit, knowing they’d be denied. The Jerusalem municipality took their fee and considered their application, knowing they didn’t grant permits to Arabs as policy. The family built anyway, knowing the one-room hovel would be demolished. And indeed, the municipality sent over two dozen Border Police along with the demolitions crane, knowing the family would resist. The family called in demonstrators to help them resist, knowing their home would ultimately fall. The police removed the activists non-violently, knowing the press stink that would follow if one were harmed. The demonstration happened; the demolition happened. Everybody knew their role. Pageantry.
It’s an infuriating constant. I am enraged that the state-imposed impoverishment and economic stagnation of 1.5 million Gazans has achieved epic banality. It burns my heart that few in America seem to give a shit either way, pro or con. Unless a protest has a new, creative gimmick, it will be ignored. It’s also a crying shame that the organizers of the flotillas are harmful to and a distraction from the importance of the message. Utter predictability fosters inhumane callousness. “Israel fatigue” turns away so many passionate, progressive and particularly young Jews. We’ve seen these headlines before. It’s the pageantry that kills us.

Pageantry is also a disgusting aspect of our Jewish communal dynamics closer to home. As Netanyahu reveals himself an unsurprising enemy of the peace process — doing what we all knew all along he would do — the American Jewish leadership tries to portray him as a leader for peace. I pray that all across America, Jewish leaders slapped their foreheads in unison as they realized the lines they’d have to regurgitate in his defense. This is my least favorite rerun. And when I see it, I want to change the channel. (Read: I want different Jewish leadership.) Pageantry.
As Peter Beinart just said in The Daily Beast, “So let’s get this straight. When Netanyahu agrees to a settlement moratorium, it’s a sign of his commitment to peace. And now that he has let the moratorium end? It’sstill a sign of his commitment to peace because, as AIPAC now insists, negotiations must proceed without preconditions…To be labeled a champion of peace by the American Jewish establishment, it turns out, a prime minister of Israel only really has to do one thing: be prime minister of Israel.”
There is one way out of the scriptbook and it is not to be found in “awareness” building like the Irene or the Mavi Marmara. Enough people are “aware” already to affect change. These people — you, readers — who know must act. It is certain that at every step, the American Jewish dinosaurs will fight peace tooth and nail. In the press, in Congress, in our community. We don’t need to convince anybody of anything! We need only activate those who already agree with us.
I know that Israel is a downer topic. I know that you’re on too many listservs. I know you care about things other than Israel. I know that your Jewish quota of involvements is full already. But if there were one issue that you, an American Jew, can make a bigger impact than any other social justice cause on earth, it is this one. We need you to be involved.
And as to the headlines recently: I personally don’t care to listen to whiny proclamations by the left that the peace process is doomed. It might be or it might not. If it succeeds, fuckin’ great! If it doesn’t, then why were you sitting on your haunches when you should have been recruiting, building, training and advocating? If you aren’t plugged in somewhere to fight back, or have no advocacy of your own planned, then you play an important, scripted part of this pageant.
Fight the pageant and find your own voice!

13 thoughts on “Jewish boat to Ashdod achieves pageantry

  1. Your continuing premise is that Israel has not made the concessions necessary for peace. Is that true?

    It is becoming increasingly clear that eliciting unilateral concessions from Israel – concessions that Israel has already accepted upon itself under the terms of a final settlement – accomplishes little for the prospects of peace. At Camp David, Annapolis and now under Obama’s stewardship, successive Israeli Prime Ministers, and the Israeli people, have committed themselves to the internationally recognized parameters of peace. These parameters, while obligating Israel to relinquish territory, also require the Palestinians to renounce all claims against the Jewish state, and compromise on Jerusalem and refugees. In each cycle of negotiations, American and European pressure is brought to bear on Israel, and Israel reiterates and accepts its obligations. To date, however, and under a variety of excuses, Palestinian obligations under the parameters of peace are met with diversions, obfuscations and rejection by both the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian people. In the interest of a final settlement, it is time that the full weight of American and European pressure is brought to bear against those Palestinian demands which are incompatible with the parameters of peace. Only then, when the Palestinian government and people accept their responsibilities, will progress towards a final peace be achieved.

  2. What a dismissive and whiny post! Heaven forbid that someone might bore you with their “pageantry.”Here’s a thought-maybe part of the problem is that you feel entitled to judge and dismiss the work of other activists. It’s difficult to measure the real-world impact of these sorts of events, but I think it’s pretty clear that the tragic outcome of the Mavi Marmara forced Israel to ease up on the blockade.How did you ever lose sight of the fact that those were real people who were losing their home? How did you forget that the activists who resisted the demolition were doing something brave and important? Your anger and frustration is misdirected. Focus it on the people who are keeping us all in this situation, not those of us who are genuinely trying to make a difference.

  3. I really appreciate this post. Although I do somewhat agree with Eli I think your sentiment about the saturation of awareness is dead on. I can certainly empathize with your frustration over what seems like an insurmountable cycle that exists only to perpetuate the status quo. And with in that structure there are necessarily the activists and the bloggers.
    That being said I think it is a dangerous assertion to make when you, at the same time, do not present any ideas of what the “action” you so desperately plead for should look like. Don’t get me wrong I am at a loss for ideas myself, but then again I don’t blog. Maybe though this is the type of writing a lot of us need to see.

  4. Victor – Bibi talks a reluctant talk, but he walks a backwards walk. No, I don’t see him, his administration, his Gaza blockade, or his harpooning of negotiations as true partners for peace. At best, he’s another Menachem Begin, who was dragged to the negotiating table by his allies and historical necessity.
    Eli – Here’s a thought-maybe part of the problem is that you feel entitled to judge and dismiss the work of other activists.
    …How did you ever lose sight of the fact that those were real people who were losing their home? How did you forget that the activists who resisted the demolition were doing something brave and important? Your anger and frustration is misdirected.

    I can judge and I will and I do and I should. If you feel particularly defensive about the Jewish boat to Gaza, then I sympathize. It was a good idea whose effect has now been mitigated by the apathy of so many. If you read a little more closely, I’m clearly angry at the dynamic, not the activists in question.
    I keep my experience in Beit Hanina close to my heart every day. It only bothers me that everyone else has other things in life to care about than my obsessions. But looking back, we were being self-important and expressing “solidarity” which helped the family in question but was ultimately a waste of time. All the the time that we spent protesting demolitions was a waste. What did we gain? One news story on Al-Jazeera? A waste.
    That’s why I came back home to America. Because that work was a waste of my time. I needed to be here in America, building a base that would support an American administration that would make peace a priority. Except for making me feel better that I was “on the ground” and getting a re-education, I don’t believe that work is the most important battlefield.

  5. I’m glad that you’ve found a form of activism that works for you, but it’s not a question of ‘either or’, it’s ‘both and’. You’re so wrong that your time spent protesting the demolitions was wasted. The effects of such actions are difficult to measure, but I conducted an interview with a 9 year old Palestinian boy in Ramallah last summer and the only reason that he knew there were good Jews in the world was the presence of Jewish activists in the West Bank.Do you honestly believe that the family members who you stood beside don’t remember that there were Jews standing with them? So you can cavalierly refer to such activism as a waste, but it’s not and it’s certainly not self-important. What is self-important is arguing that only activism in the United States is effective.Although, I must say, it seems to me that nothing has changed in Washington. Talk about pageantry! The real pageantry is the never-ending peace process.

  6. I agree with you. Netanyahu doesn’t want a Palestinian state, but you can’t expect him to want it more than the Palestinians themselves. I don’t think there are many Israelis who think of a Palestinian state as a positive outcome, even if it is a necessary one. That’s what separates the Israeli leadership and the Israeli people from the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian people. Under the right convergence of factors, a threshold reached multiple times in the past decade alone, the Israelis are willing to make the concessions demanded of them.
    Is this true for the Palestinians? Have they ever faced the kind of international pressure necessary to break, once and for all, the myth of “return of refugees”? Will the people abide by such political decisions without a boot on their neck? Is their civil society preparing the population for the eventuality of self-rule and an end to all claims?
    You talk about changing specific Israeli policies – Gaza, settlements – but getting bogged down in the minutia of these is counterproductive, as the Jordanian king recently made clear, when these policies can be made irrelevant under the shadow of a final deal, which deals with borders, refugees, Jerusalem, an end to hostilities and all other outstanding issues.
    When the chips are down, which party is willing to bite the bullet and sign, and which party isn’t? President Obama is starting to get it. Are you?
    I know you’re an optimistic guy. I know you want peace, passionately, and you work for it. But at some point you have to be able to draw a line between where you are and where you want to be. So far, all you’re concluding is that Israel should be forced to concede unilaterally what it has already determined to concede under the terms of a final deal. Is that progress? Is Israel going to impose peace on itself? Or are you preparing the ground for a repeat of Gaza?
    Without holding the Palestinians accountable for their obligations, no Israeli concessions will suffice. You know that. And precisely because Palestinians concessions are in the realm of the conceptual and intellectual – claims, narrative, rights, etc. – they must begin to make down-payments now by preparing their leadership and people psychologically. Instead, you parrot their excuses and give credibility to their obfuscations. Your demands on Israel absolve the Palestinians of having to come to terms with their responsibilities, for why should they sacrifice their claims and narrative when Israel is willing to give it to them for nothing.
    There are some who think that Israel must withdraw from all territories regardless of what the Palestinians do. If Iran and Hamas wants a second rocket pad in Ramallah then so be it. Israel will just have to learn to live with rockets raining down on its cities, because the occupation is uniquely evil and must be ended, even at the cost of national suicide. I don’t think you believe that. I think you’re pragmatic enough to understand how reckless Israeli concessions can lead to a war, a real war the likes of which the Palestinians have never seen, and whose brunt they will bear.
    You don’t have to explain it to me, or to anyone else, but make sure that you can draw that straight line from where you are to where we all want to be.

  7. the myth of “return of refugees”
    what the hell does that mean??? the Right of Return is a symbolic gesture. When polled most Palestinians have said that they would not choose to return to Israel. It is an identical symbolic gesture as demanding the Palestinians recognize Israel as “the Jewish State”. So dropping the “myth” (whatever on earth and in heaven you mean by that ridiculous statement) of one should drop the “myth” of the other.

  8. 8 Jews. That’s it. Granted they looked younger than Beinart, but still.
    Eight Jews wouldn’t have been able to give aid to the inside of a Torah never mind Gaza.

  9. So dropping the “myth” (whatever on earth and in heaven you mean by that ridiculous statement) of one should drop the “myth” of the other.
    Agreed. The Palestinians shouldn’t be expected to sign a treaty that says Israel is a state for the Jews–that’s a question for Israelis to decide. Likewise, no Israeli prime minister will ever be able to sign a treaty which recognizes a Palestinian “right of return,” even if it only applies to one Palestinian today, because doing so would open up the continuation of this conflict, until ever single person who wishes to move into Israel under that “right of return,” has has/her legal right satisfied.
    The Palestinians are just going to have to forgo the “right of return,” just like the Israelis will have to give up control over the Temple Mount (and maybe even Western Wall)—everybody is going to have to make painful concessions for a deal to work.

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