A dear person who was a role model for me many years ago in Washington D.C. during my early years in the Habonim Labor Zionist youth movement, has been very generous by sending some of my letters and comments to a sizable “political” e-mail list of her own. Recently I received a pessimistic mail from her about the future of the Israeli Left. She titled the e-mail subject heading with: “Frankly, I’m not sure if there is anyone else to talk to.”
I wrote her back:
My response is …..riddled with the difficult task of reacting to some of the very short but terribly troublesome things you wrote:
“Frankly, I’m not sure if there is anyone else to talk to.” (that was the subject heading of your e-mail.)
“You must be suffering.” (meaning me, and you are so right.)
You also wrote: “My feeling is that it feels nuts to work for a two state solution here [in the U.S.], ie. J street, while in Israel less and less people believe that it is possible, ve' tov lehem kmo she zeh achshav.”
First, be rest assured, I am definitely suffering as each year places me within a smaller political minority and puts into further question my ability to foresee any possibility of a political and social turning point within our Israeli public.
We are evolving into a racist public. I include here those of us who are openly and actively racist, those of us who passively support our racism, and also those of us who are not happy with our racism but are too passive or seemingly too busy to come out openly and actively to refute and oppose our racism.
More than half our Jewish high school students think that Arab Israelis should not have equal rights to Jewish Israelis. This is no surprise in a country where children of Ethiopian Jews are quarantined in separate schools by some communities or sit at home in some others while searching for schools ready to accept them. Our Media vilifies and our politicians decry the occurrences, but the reality continues to exist and grow.
There is no active “leftist” opposition within our national politics. Our government is leading us to a scenario where there will be no viable two-state modus-vivendi. We seem to be straying into a swamp which will be called a “one state solution” with a tremendous amount of discriminatory policies and laws, backed up by “necessary” oppression of Palestinian “citizens” or “non-citizens”, and constantly peppered by internal underground movements permeated with a belief in the effectiveness of violence as therapy for despair or vengeance.
As a Zionist I came to a realization long ago that a national consciousness is not a matter of “right” or “wrong”. Also, one national consciousness can have a completely different set of roots and rules than another, and still be true and real. Our own national consciousness is seeped in a combination of history, religion, fate, suffering, and long-term memory. These elements gave us the “need” and created the "will" to seize the historic opportunity that was offered us by a world that didn’t want us but was entering an age of nationalism and self-determination. But our voyage into modern nationalism is no truer nor more real or more justified than the national consciousness of the Palestinian people who were ripped apart from the larger Arab-Moslem consciousness, as were all other Arab nations in the Middle-East at the end of the First World War. Their newer and more localized national consciousness was born within borders foisted on them by colonial powers, was created out of the torn remnants of a greater Arab consciousness, was instigated further through their antagonism to our own reignited national consciousness within the same borders, and was sealed with the trauma created by the success of our own national aspirations. Our national consciousness may be thousands of years old, and theirs barely one hundred. Yet one is no more just or righteous or deeply felt.
Till we Israelis recognize and come to terms with the symmetric “validity” of both our and their national consciousness, we won't readily make the steps needed for a mutual arrangement with the Palestinians; till the Palestinians gain their aspirations for national self-determination, they will be unable to come to terms with the reality of an Israeli nation. Unfortunately, both these conditions seem to be floating hopelessly further and further away.
With a government and its policies that are supported by a stable majority of our Israeli public, and with no strong and loud political opposition, we have no intention of creating the conditions for a viable two-State reality. We temporarily freeze some expansion in the conquered territories in order to show how good we are, while actually continuing to build and expand and expropriate under the guise of various sundry (il)legal excuses. By doing so, we are hastening the day when a one-state solution will be the only default left for us. That One-State will either contain a true Apartheid concoction of sorts, or will be some type of democratic formation that will erase the last vestiges of a Jewish Homeland. Neither case will be void of constant and abundant internal violence and bloodshed.
There is therefore much possible justification when you write me: “that it feels nuts to work for a two state solution here, ie. J street, while in Israel less and less people believe that it is possible, ve' tov lehem kmo she zeh achshav. ”
And yet…….it may be a false appraisal of what people believe and what is yet possible. I don’t think our problem is based on Israelis who don’t believe a two-state solution is possible. That would be like saying most Israelis believe there is “no one to talk to”. And the truth is that most Israelis today do think there is “someone” to talk to in the Palestinian Authority. But the loud voices of leadership on the political scene make it consistently and constantly clear that they do not want to talk about the things which need talking about. And this vocal leadership is the backbone of our government and its policies. This leadership, taking along with it so much of our public, fears the concessions that result out of compromise, but is also wary of the condemnations which result out of a one-sided refusal to negotiate and compromise. It is much better to raise the ante to a point where “the other side” will be unable to accept participation in a dialogue. Then we could always claim “Its not our fault. Its them!”
Therefore we announce our agreement to a two-state solution, while demanding not only that they recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel, but that they announce Israel to be the Jewish State. (regardless of the 20% Arab-Israeli citizens; regardless of the fact that the State of Israel can define itself from within itself, and with no need of a definition by a neighboring state; regardless of the fact that till now it sufficed us to define the State of Israel as the Jewish Homeland, but also the State of all its people.) Therefore we announce a temporary freeze on building of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, while also announcing as loud as we can that building will continue with extra vigor as soon as the freeze period is finished. Therefore we exclude Greater Jerusalem from the freeze and openly, vocally and physically, step up our Jewish building and settlement in East Jerusalem, even into the very confines of Arab neighborhoods, and meanwhile also doing our best to enlarge the borders of Greater Jerusalem within its occupied territory. Therefore we take no steps whatsoever to encourage some belief within the Palestinian leadership that we are serious about moving to a two-state solution (such as depopulating the so-called illegitimate settlements, or curbing all announcements of new building in east Jerusalem, or a long list of other trust-building possibilities). We are consciously and deliberately trying to pay lip-service to what the world wants to hear, while programmatically and just as deliberately demanding and doing everything that will make it difficult or impossible for the Palestinian Authority to trust in our honest intensions towards a two-state solution. This is how we’ve kept them away from any official or non-official negotiation table since the Netanyahu government took office.
Today there is “someone” to talk to more than ever before. Today (even more than in the past) we are the ones who are looking for ways not to talk to that “someone”. And we are succeeding very nicely.
In other words, it is not true that “less and less people believe that it is possible” to create a two-state solution. In truth, less and less people WANT that creation and are quite satisfied with our government’s successful attempts at avoiding such a creation.
The Messianic fringe movement of Zionism which erupted to the forefront of Israeli politics in 1967 was fueled by all sectors of our political scene – branches of religious Zionism, offshoots of the Revisionists, and an emotional sector of Labor. Religious Zionism adopted the premise that God had begun the process of our Final Redemption (Geula) and will lead us now to the fulfillment of His contract with Abraham which will widen our borders from the Euphrates and unto the stream of Egypt. This fulfillment will also bring the nations of the world to recognize the righteousness of Israel and will bring peace and justice and wellbeing unto the world. Therefore we have no right to oppose this process of redemption, and we cannot give back any land which is part of our promise from God. There is no need to debate the rights and wrongs or the possibilities of compromise. With the advent of Zionism, the miracle of the State in ’48 and our expansion in ’67, we are now bound to God’s process of redemption.
So many of us “left-wing humanistic/secular” Jews assume the above paragraph belongs only to a fringe element of our Jewish society in Israel. That assumption is false. The belief that we are in the midst of God’s process of “Geula”, a process we are forbidden to divert, and therefore All Will End Well, has permeated the bulk of Religious Zionism. It has also profoundly affected the bulk of right-wing traditional and secular Jews here in Israel, some consciously and many more sub-consciously. It is a concept which goes beyond our historical bond to the Land of Israel. It is a concept not in the hands of man, but one that emanates from God. It is therefore a concept that doesn’t rely on reason, nor even on morality. It relies on belief alone. This is a concept which underlies so many of the other (and louder) reasons for being uncompromising in our political stance towards the Palestinians (reasons such as: security, “no one to talk to”, etc…). This is the concept which has driven Religious Zionism since ’67, and has infected the veins of traditional and secular right wing politics. This is what we’re up against.
Can this be changed ??
During our lifetime changes occurred that seemed far from imminent only moments before they occurred: The Walls of Berlin fell along with the Cold War; South Africa and apartheid………..; a black President in the U.S.?? Evidently, much of history can only be learned backwards. Forecasters of both weather and history can be wrong.
I think we haven’t yet progressed beyond the point of no return, though who knows how close we are to that destination. It means the voice of our dwindling minority group needs to hold its head above water and continue to write and to whisper and to talk and to yell and to act and to organize and to reorganize until either history passes us by or history suddenly decides to try a minority opinion.
But I also don’t think History will change course without helpful outside interference, including by the world Jewish public (J-Street seems to be one good example), and including by supporting countries (e.g. the U.S.A. ……is there anyone else ??), and including by economic pressure (yes, my fingers trembled a little as I wrote that. Though I’d prefer the use of carrots rather than the stick. But will carrots work?). Unfortunately things may change only once our Israeli public begins understanding that things are not going well for us (once again my fingers tremble at these words). And I do think things will get worse. This is not meant as a wish! Perhaps it’s a foolish attempt at forecasting history.
Evidently, I’ve rambled way more than I meant to when at last responding to your letter. I guess you simply gave me the opportunity to tell someone what I think. Because here too “frankly, I’m not sure if there is anyone else to talk to.” (that was the subject heading of your e-mail.) I guess I've poured it all on you.
It was good hearing from you. Wish you all the best,