Saturday, January 02, 2010


Happy New Year everybody. This should be a time of relaxing and rejoicing, and not necessarily in that order. However, the Empathic Rationalist is a portion of cyberspace where the words “relaxing” and “rejoicing” do not invariably come to mind. So, if I may steal a term from Annie Hall, let the “total heavy-osity” begin!

Today’s blog-post involves an especially festive topic. Lately, I’ve been spending a fair amount of time corresponding with Palestinians and other advocates of the Palestinians’ cause. I’ve been arguing to them, for example, that any path to peace must involve their willingness to recognize Israel not merely as one of two states that emerge from the partition of historical Palestine, but as a “Jewish” state. While this concept is anathema to the Palestinians I’ve met – they view it as inherently racist and discriminatory -- I have taken it upon myself to explain (a) why that assessment is short-sighted, and (b) that even if Zionism does not comport with their ideals, it is a fact on the ground, and if they want peace, they had better accept it as a permanent part of the landscape.

So far, it’s safe to say that I have changed precisely zero minds in my attempt to spread the gospel of Zionism, and that should surprise nobody. Zionism may not be to the Palestinians what Nazism is to the Jews, but as “isms” go, it’s way down on their list. Such a pity. Given the history of violence in the region, I don’t see how Israelis can be expected to set aside the kind of space Palestinians need to create a viable state of their own unless the Palestinians embrace Israel’s claim to its own state. After all, as long as Palestinians continue to decry the idea of Israel’s “Jewish” character, how can Israelis feel secure that after a partition takes place, the Palestinians will not simply assert their claims to the land that has been set aside for Israel? And if a peace treaty will not put an end to the Palestinian assertions that they are being discriminated against by a racist regime, what exactly does Israel gain by making the concessions that any peace treaty would inevitably entail?

In short, as enemies not just of the way the Jewish state has been behaving in practice but of the very principle of Zionism, the Palestinian community is, in my view, gravely misguided, at least if it is hoping for Middle East peace. Perhaps there are those among the Palestinians who agree with me that Zionism as a principle is not the enemy, but if they exist, the cat has certainly got their tongues. All this does is play into the hands of the right-wingers in the Jewish community. They act with the same defiance as their Palestinian counterparts – the one side stubbornly refusing to talk peace “without security” and the other side stubbornly refusing to talk peace “without justice.” The symmetry of the endless-war scenario appears to be almost perfect, and so those of us who truly place peace first often feel like we’re wasting our time. After all, who are we to disturb the universe insofar as it exhibits perfect symmetry? Nevertheless, when it comes to peace in the Holy Land, the only thing more insane than rolling the proverbial boulder up this hill is giving up the fight, showing up to synagogue, and having the chutzpah to “pray” for peace. So the fight continues, year after year, with few results to show for our efforts.

With those sobering thoughts in mind, this unabashed Zionist must turn to an especially sobering sub-topic. I am referring to the one-year anniversary of what the Arabs call “The Gaza Massacre.”

I trust you recall the war. It began in the last week of December 2008, and ended in the third week of January of 2009. In those four weeks, well over a thousand Palestinians lost their lives, whereas the Israeli death toll totaled 13. When we in America fight wars with such disparate death tolls, they are invariably popular, at least on these shores. And as you might imagine, the Gaza War was popular in Israel. But to say that it has had a devastating impact on Israel’s credibility internationally is an understatement. Indeed, as a result of that war, the chorus of anti-Israeli criticism among progressive American Jews has increased geometrically. Some of these critics have even given up their support of Zionism; that’s how disgusted they are with the Government of Israel and the recent rightward shift among the Israeli people.

If I were able, it would be my pleasure to defend the way Israel conducted the Gaza War, just as I constantly defend Israel’s claim to a secure Jewish state, including its right to wall itself off from suicide bombers. Clearly, I would have no trouble defending Israel’s right to fight back against the Hamas rockets, which terrorized towns in southwest Israel. But it is one thing to support Israel’s right to fight back, and something far different to give Israel carte blanche as to how to fight back. Defensive wars, to be just, must be proportionate to the threat that they are addressing. And in the case of the Gaza War, I see no reason to dispute the claims of the international community that Israel’s counter-attack was anything but proportionate.

I attended a briefing by two U.S. Congressmen who visited Gaza after the war. They reported that Israel is depriving its residents of what can only be called basic foods. When you add to those reports that the War resulted in injuries to many thousands of Gazans, the displacement of many tens of thousands of Gazans from their homes, and the property damage of billions of dollars, the conclusion is inescapable that the people of Gaza are living in an impoverished prison colony, even though most are not suspected of any crimes. This situation is deeply tragic, and it is particularly so for those of us who love Israel and identify with its raison d’ĂȘtre.

Occasionally, I have wondered if much of what we are hearing about the plight of Gaza isn’t the result of biased, anti-Israel propaganda. But then I am faced with one inescapable truth: the Israeli Government had the opportunity to allow neutral witnesses to enter into Gaza during the War but prohibited them from doing so. I am referring to the media. As you may recall, requests were made by members of the 4th Estate to report on the conflict, but Israel denied them access because the situation there was deemed too dangerous, even though the reporters were obviously well aware of the risks and were willing to assume them. That reaction on the part of the Israeli Government made me livid. Given how much that nation cares about international opinion, why would it deny journalists the right to report on such a critical story unless it had something embarrassing to hide? How, under the circumstances, are we supposed to give the vanquishers of Gaza the benefit of the doubt?

For me, Israel has essentially panicked and treated the entire Gazan people as collateral damage of their battle with Hamas. They must snap out of that mentality if they hope to maintain any international support for the Zionist cause. As for the idea that Israel can wage a war in which roughly 100 Palestinians for every 1 Israeli and in which international journalists are not permitted to report on the conflict, a government must always be accountable, and this is particularly important during times of war … especially when the government is waging a war against another nation that is relatively defenseless by comparison.

All who read this blog post owe it to the people of Gaza to study for yourselves the Gaza War and the plight of post-war Gaza. If you believe that Israel is justified in the way it has dealt with that region, feel free to express your views, and I will be all ears. But if not, please don’t sit idly by. Join an organization – like J-Street or Yes-MEP – whose membership is not anti-Israel but is also unafraid of standing up to Israel when it goes too far.

Being “pro-Israel” does not mean supporting whatever Israel does. It means supporting the policies and practices that are in Israel’s long-term best interests. It is difficult to imagine that the Gaza War will be among Israel’s proudest moments. Now that we are marking the one-year anniversary of that war, friends of the Jewish State should study what happened so that Israel’s mistakes are not repeated and so that the people of Gaza can be treated as humanely as possible from this moment forward.

No comments: