Jewish leftists—or “liberals” as they tend to call themselves—have been freaking out since conservative coalitions started winning elections in Israel in 1977. In countless books, articles, interviews, and speeches, they tell—with clockwork regularity—the same story of an Israel that was once enlightened but has descended into belligerent nationalism, become the bad guy of its neighborhood, and consistently spurned the olive branch of peace that its neighbors are always offering it.
The latest Gaza war in July and August provided, of course, yet another occasion for Jewish liberals to sound these themes. They apply the same template they’ve been applying for decades and don’t let themselves get confused by the facts. Here I’ve assembled five particularly dazzling pearls of their wisdom.
To the New York Times’s Roger Cohen I’ve had to give a double honor: two of the five statements I’ve chosen are his.
On August 9, Cohen quoted an Israeli woman who wrote to him that Israelis and Palestinians “have to sit and talk. We have to live with one another.”
Cohen then asked:
What do such words amount to? No more than confetti in a gale, perhaps, scattered by the force of Hamas, and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and the unblushing Jewish advocates of forcible removal of Palestinians from Gaza, the West Bank and even Israel itself.
There you have it. Yes, there are bad forces in the Middle East like Hamas and Islamic State—but they have their equivalents in Israel. It’s a liberal twitch; if one were to acknowledge that there are elements in the region that are actually worse than Israel, then the Israel-as-bully house of cards might teeter.
Problem is, who are these “unblushing Jewish advocates of forced removal…”? I live in Israel, follow the news, and don’t know who Cohen’s talking about. The most right-wing member of Israel’s current 120-member Knesset, Moshe Feiglin, proposed—and his is a lone voice—offering each Gazan family $100,000 to leave, without forcing anyone. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has often suggested that, in a final Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, some heavily Arab-populated parts of Israel should become part of the Palestinian state—without being “removed” or having to go anywhere at all.
But why bother with facts when Cohen can invent these “unblushing advocates”? Perhaps he doesn’t have the spine to present Israel as it is—a democracy under attack; he might then have to defend Israel and sound too “tribal.”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akRU56DhwGo
On September 8, Cohen, summing up his view of the summer’s war, offered his sage advice on how to prevent further such wars:
That…necessitates Palestinian unity and renunciation of violence. It also hinges on a change in the Israeli calculus that settlement extension, a divided Palestinian movement, and vacuous blah-blah on a two-state peace are in its interest, whatever the intermittent cost in blood.
Again, Cohen portrays the sides as equivalent; if Israel doesn’t want wars against terrorist organizations in the future, it will have to reform itself. But let’s just focus on Cohen’s nostrums for the Palestinians: “unity and renunciation of violence.”
Since the beginnings of a Palestinian national movement in the 1920s and 1930s, that movement has seen periods of severe, sometimes murderous discord, and the last decade or so has been one of them. During the Fatah-Hamas miniwar in Gaza in 2007, members of the respective sides threw each other off tall buildings. During the latest Gaza war, Fatah members say that Hamas members harassed, beat, and sometimes killed them. Now, maybe if we could get these guys to read some vacuous blah-blah from Roger Cohen…
As for renouncing violence, the Israel Security Agency reported that in 2013 Palestinians perpetrated 1,271 violent attacks in the West Bank, 201 with firearms. During the seven weeks of the Gaza war, Hamas and other terrorist organizations fired 4,500 rockets and mortars at Israel, tried to attack Israelis via tunnels, and so on. The result has been a dramatic, unprecedented increase in Hamas’s popularity among the Palestinians. Already this month, inspired by the Gazan example, Palestinians in Jerusalem have attacked gas stations, stores, and passing cars with rocks and Molotov cocktails.
Jewish liberals don’t like such a reality. It may come as a shocker to Roger Cohen and his comrades, but Israelis don’t either. We’re a bit less glib, though, regarding what can be done about it.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EDW88CBo-8
On July 26, British Jewish journalist Jonathan Freedland wrote in the New York Review of Books that:
there is a weariness in the liberal Zionist fraternity. Privately, people admit to growing tired of defending Israeli military action when it comes at such a heavy cost in civilian life, its futility confirmed by the frequency with which it has to be repeated. Operation Cast Lead was in 2008-2009. Operation Pillar of Defense followed in 2012. And here we are again in 2014.
Yes, and to those three Gaza wars we can add—just in this century—Operation Defensive Shield (2002-2005) against West Bank and Gaza terror and the Second Lebanon War (2006) against Hizballah terror. And yes, another thing to apologize for is that in each of these conflicts—every one of them fought against terrorist organizations that hide among civilians—there were more casualties on the other side than on the Israeli side.
Is Jonathan Freedland saying he has a remedy for this, a way for Israel to exist in the Middle East without having to engage in “military action”? Something that, for sixty-six years, Israeli governments of right and left, think tanks, pontificating journalists and so on have not been able to come up with?
If so, Freedland should take the next plane to Tel Aviv, try to set up some meetings in Jerusalem, and give Israel’s top decision-makers his remedy. We would all love to hear it.
Or if Freedland is saying he doesn’t have a magic formula by which Israel could live just as tranquilly as, say, Britain (though of course it hasn’t been so tranquil there either lately), but is just “weary”—or, as I would put it, doesn’t have the backbone to remain loyal to the Jewish state—he should say that, too.
On August 22 another British Jewish liberal Israel-basher, Antony Lerman, published a New York Times article explaining why he could no longer be a “Zionist.” (For Lerman, it seems to mean someone who lives outside of Israel but consents to Israel’s existence.) As Lerman intoned:
The only Zionism of any consequence today is xenophobic and exclusionary, a Jewish ethno-nationalism inspired by religious messianism. It is carrying out an open-ended project of national self-realization to be achieved through colonization and purification of the tribe.
I won’t waste too much effort on this nonsense but will make a few comments. “Exclusionary”: Israel is a full-fledged democracy that grants full rights to minorities. Members of its Arab minority serve in its parliament, cabinet, Supreme Court, diplomatic corps, and officer corps. A poll this year found 63.5% of Israeli Arabs calling Israel “a good place to live.”
“Religious messianism”: A few decades ago the very small Gush Emunim settlement movement propounded messianism as one reason for Israelis to settle the West Bank. At present, messianism has vanished from the public Israeli discourse. I do not know a single Israeli who could be considered anything even approximating a religious messianist. True, if I lived in an ideological West Bank settlement, whose members make up a couple of percentage points of the population, I might know a few.
I could continue, but suffice it to say that it’s shameful that “liberals” like Lerman write such malicious claptrap about the Jewish state.
This is a generation of Arab, Palestinian and Israeli leaders who are experts at building tunnels and walls. None of them ever took the course on bridges and gates.
Ye olde equivalence again. True, Palestinians built tunnels from Gaza into Israel, via which they were planning a mega-attack of murder and kidnapping, and this is bad. But, after all, who’s to say Israel’s any better. After all, it builds “walls.”
The reference is primarily, of course, to Israel’s security fence in the West Bank, on which building began in 2002 at the height of the Second Intifada, a genocidal assault of suicide bombings and other terror that killed over a thousand Israelis and injured many thousands. It was the combination of the fence and Operation Defensive Shield that eventually defeated the Second Intifada and drastically reduced terror within Israel.
But why make distinctions? For Friedman, the tunnels, whose sole purpose was to kill and kidnap people, and the wall, whose sole purpose is to protect people, are the same. Acknowledging the difference between the tunnels and the wall would land Friedman in that place where Jewish liberals of his ilk do not want to be: having to tell the truth about Israel and display some character and decency when writing about it.