Lerman, Not Up to the Challenge?
Without providing facts or examples, Lerman’s biting critique of Israel constitutes a lapse into meaningless and pretentious rhetoric. Sounds good, and can inspire rage, but what does it really mean? And why are such things being written as our compatriots over almost half the country are running for cover under a rain of missiles from Gaza?
I agree with Antony Lerman when he writes that “liberal Zionists are at a crossroads” (NYT, 22.8.2014). They must decide how to align themselves with Israel, or not, as a “brave new world” seeps up through the cracks and crevices of the parched earth of our conflict-laden globe. Unfortunately, he concludes that there is no place for liberalism in the Israel of today, hinting that the left abandon their post as he has done. His argument is characterized by baseless pompous declarations. And his conclusion is unfortunate for all of us, for, even though I do not count myself among their numbers, Israel loses an important counterbalance if liberal Zionists do not reassess their position and if they give up their voice altogether.
Liberal Zionists, he claims, feel unbearably torn when Israel is at war, but he does not say what they are torn between. I assume that he means that they feel torn by the obvious need for Israel to defend herself and their wish that Israel be above all that ghastly earthbound stuff of which war is made up.
What is incomprehensible to me is how he makes it appear that the current war against Hamas (at least he does not erroneously state that this is a war against the Gazan population) was initiated by Netanyahu, who pulled the justification for war out of thin air like a magician pulls a rabbit from a hat. Does Lerman believe that this was a one-sided Israel-initiated war? Do missiles launched from Gaza since 2001, and over and over again a short time after each previous campaign aimed at bringing security to the south, not constitute an act of aggression against Israel? Does the Hamas declaration to exterminate the Jewish people not constitute an act of aggression against Israel? Does the Hamas kidnapping and murder of three Israeli youth not constitute an act of aggression against Israel? How can Lerman say that “what Israel is doing [in Gaza] can’t be reconciled with their humanism”? Is it more humane to continue to turn the other cheek and allow ourselves to be bashed on the head over and over again? Furthermore, is there no place in the mind of a liberal Zionist for Hamas to take responsibility for its own actions and, therefore, for the results of those actions?
Oh yes. I know – the solution to our being bashed on the head is to TALK with Hamas. Sorry, I’m not sure I know how to talk with someone who is expecting the trees and rocks to declare where I am hiding when he sets out to kill me – aside from Jewish trees, of course. (If you don’t understand what I am talking about here, please refer to Hamas Charter.)
According to Lerman, liberal Zionism seeks an end to the (purported) occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, supports a free Palestinian state alongside a Jewish state “with a permanent Jewish majority,” and stands with Israel in situations of threat. Therefore, he cries out against what he sees as “attacks on freedom of speech and human rights organizations in Israel, the land-grabbing settler movement, a growing strain of anti-Arab and anti-immigrant racism, extremist politics and a powerful intolerant religious right”. Wow! That’s a mouthful! I read through the rest of the article looking for evidence upon which he bases these claims. Rather than provide such evidence, he amazingly states further on: “The only Zionism of any consequence today is xenophobic and exclusionary, a Jewish ethno-nationalism inspired by religious messianism. . . [whereby] national self-realization [is] achieved through colonization and purification of the tribe.” I would write here ‘double-wow’, but I fear the response of my pedantic writer friends who would edit out any such expletive as unbecoming use of the language. Come to think of it, I don’t care anymore: Double-WOW!
If I am not mistaken the xenophobic, exclusionary religious messianism can be found in the likes of Neturei Karta who visited Ahmadinejad and agreed with him that Israel has no right to exist. In Mea Shearim, they hang up signs from their balconies on one side of the street to the other side that proclaim to pray for the demise of the modern State of Israel. Since when do these people have any influence on any Israeli government?
Did Mr. Lerman not pay attention when, in 2005, the IDF pulled kicking and screaming religious settlers through the doorways of their homes and from the roofs of synagogues in order to make Gaza Judenrein for the Palestinians? God forbid that Arabs should have to live with Jews unless they absolutely have to (such as in Israel proper)! And, Mr. Lerman, is the insistence on the ethnic cleansing of Jews moral and acceptable? Is that humanity at its best?
If, by messianic extremists, Mr. Lerman is referring to the settlers, then he does not remember who actually began the West Bank and Gaza settlement movement: the Labor Party. On the West Bank, settlement entailed renewing Jewish communities from which their residents had been evacuated as a result of earlier conflicts together with settlements that would enhance security along the narrow corridor that was highly vulnerable to attack by the Arabs. What did the liberal Zionists say in 1967? Did they only begin to oppose the settlement policy after the Likud rose to leadership of the coalition in the Knesset in 1977?
Lerman states that Israel “offers the Palestinians no path to national self-determination, no justice for their expulsion in 1948, nor for the occupation and the denial of their rights”. I contend, firstly, that Israel does not need to offer the Palestinians a path to national self-determination, because the path we would offer would not be their own path. In fact, Israel gave them the chance to develop their own independent path to self-determination when we vacated Gaza (and four West Bank settlements) and they held elections in 2006. The path they chose involved a violent seizure of power by Hamas in Gaza, followed by a reign of terror both against Israel and against their own civilian population, beginning with throwing Fatah members off the roofs of tall buildings or putting them under house arrest. THAT was their path to self-determination. What has that to do with us? Are Israeli Jews to blame for Palestinian violence against Palestinians?
Secondly, “no justice for their expulsion in 1948”? Pardon me? And is there justice for the violent expulsion of Jews from Arab lands, and the confiscation of Jewish property? Is the destruction of Jewish communities in parts of Mandatory Palestine a thing of no consequence to Jews or to Israel? Does Lerman not recognize the cynical abuse of the newly invented Palestinian people as a political pawn in the hands of the Arabs against Israel rather than absorbing them into any one of the 22 already existing Arab states?
I will contend with the third issue, that of the Israeli so-called occupation of the West Bank and denial of the human rights in a separate post.
According to Mr. Lerman, the left wing of Israel’s political spectrum is “now comatose” and “has become insignificant”. This means, for him, that Diaspora liberal Zionists are left without any political group in Israel who can represent them and their beliefs regarding what is best for Israel. Who is he blaming for that? And why and how has that happened?
Perhaps the erosion of the left can be attributed to the fact that that its adherents have rigidly adhered to beliefs and opinions that are no longer suited to contemporary reality. The parties and organizations on the left, as well as in the center and on the right, need to stand or fall on their own merits and the quality of the leadership they offer. The Labor Party was beaten by Menachem Begin in 1977 because it was not in tune with its voters; so much out of synch were they that Yigal Yadin and his “Dash” party managed to grab 16 seats from discontented traditional Labor voters, and THAT is what brought the Likud into power. The downfall of the left was totally the left’s fault. In a way, it is not all a bad thing, because Begin brokered for us a peace treaty with Egypt that I doubt anyone else could have accomplished.
The betrayal by Dash, whereby Yadin forfeited his party’s list of platform items in exchange for the opportunity to be Vice Prime Minister, hardened the Israeli public, I think. In view of that, it is quite remarkable that we gave another upstart nonpolitician a chance to prove himself capable of bringing something new to the political table and Lapid and Yesh Atid got 19 seats, again tipping the scales in the coalition government. I think people were hoping Labor would offer something they could vote for (I know that I was) but they didn’t, and Lapid garnered many of their votes, as well as Likud votes.
Unable to find a leftist political party in Israel with enough clout to make a difference, Mr. Lerman looks to American Jewry to balance the right-leaning government here. The veteran organizations such as AIPAC, the AJC and the ADL, Lerman laments, have “swung to the right” and are “unquestioning” in their support of Israel. Are they really “unquestioning” or is possible that Lerman is simply not privy to their debates regarding Israeli policy before they make public statements? Does he not attribute to them any capacity for critical thinking? He scornfully refers to them as “a raft of largely self-appointed community leaders” and points to new organizations, such as J Street in America and Yachad in the UK, as the new “great white hope” for the Israeli left; I wonder if these are not also “a raft of largely self-appointed community leaders”, albeit with an agenda with which he concurs. I wonder how much debate goes on behind the closed doors of these organizations or if they are not made up of people who, a priori, think Israel has lost its soul.
Lerman hoped that if Diaspora Jews expressed their disagreement regarding Israeli policies, “liberal Zionism could influence the Israeli government to change its policies toward the Palestinians” (as if they have the right to do so). But he did not mean to have Diaspora Jews influence Israeli government policies when the Diaspora organizations shifted to the right. It was not THAT Diaspora that he meant.
I don’t understand Lerman’s contention that “beleaguered liberal Zionists . . . are increasingly under pressure from Jewish dissenters on the left, like Jewish Voice for Peace, Jews for Justice for Palestinians and Independent Jewish Voices”, unless he is suggesting that these groups propose a one-state solution rather than the more sane two-state solution the liberal Zionists have traditionally supported. And still, I don’t understand why Lerman suggests that they are under pressure from these other organizations.
Lerman’s voice joins those who complain of the growing fascist nature of Israel and he liltingly decries the “disgraceful antics of the antidemocratic forces that are setting Israel’s political agenda”. How manipulative it is to accuse Israel of being antidemocratic because his voice has faded into the background as many leftists move center and right. He does not give examples of any “disgraceful antics”, nor how so-called “anti-democratic forces” are setting our agenda. Therefore, I have no way of assessing the validity or lack of validity of his statements.
I am sorry that Lerman has been vilified by “the right-wing Jewish establishment” (in Britain? in the USA? in Israel?), and called a self-hating Jew. Nobody should be called names for expressing opinions and I have written a blog post on the inappropriateness of calling critics of Israel self-hating Jews.
Lerman claims to have begun to reassess his relationship with Israel and Zionism in the 1980s, as if that is a bad thing. I think it is a very good thing to periodically rethink and reanalyze what we know and what we believe. He is bitter about things not having gone the way he thinks they should have, but did he ever consider the possibility that he was, perhaps, mistaken?
Photo Credit: By B’Tselem; Baz Ratner, Reuters [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
This first appeared in the Times of Israel blogs, under the title: Since When Is a Challenge a Bad Thing? Response to Antony Lerman.