Saturday, April 19, 2014

Anti-Normalization and the New Normal

I’ve got Middle East peace on the brain today.  Tonight, I’m headed to the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, the largest mosque in the Washington, D.C. area, for an interfaith Seder.   It’s a wonderful event, spearheaded by my friend Andrea Barron.   Andrea and I don’t agree on much when it comes to Middle East politics, but we agree on this: “normalization” is a good thing. 

Are you unfamiliar with the term “normalization” in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?  If so, I envy you, because whenever I contemplate that term, I simply get furious.   In case you haven’t heard about it, check out this link    As you’ll read there, “normalization” has become a derogatory word among many Palestinians, and refers to “the process of building open and reciprocal relations with Israel in all fields, including the political, economic, social, cultural, educational, legal, and security fields.”  In other words, when Jews and Palestinians get together to sing, dance, talk about issues, celebrate the Exodus, you name it … it’s a bad, bad thing.  And that is because, allegedly, it encourages everyone to believe that the status quo, which is seen as the outgrowth of the seizure of Palestinian land by a foreign invader, is an acceptable, “normal” situation.  

Recently, when Palestinian university students planned a trip to Auschwitz, they were criticized because – you guessed it – this was an expression of “normalization” behavior.   This travesty was recently chronicled in the Washington Post:   Not long ago, I attended a wonderful concert sponsored by a group called Heartbeat Jerusalem, which brings together young Israeli Jewish and Palestinian musicians who can really rock.  Their music inspired me to imagine a Middle East in which Jews and Arabs see themselves as cousins instead of enemies.  And yet, what did I learn after the concert?  That Heartbeat has now come under fire for promoting “normalization.”   

                The anti-normalization movement is just one form of the growing trend among the Hard Left to de-legitimize Israel and turn it into a pariah state – kind of like North Korea but without any ties to Dennis Rodman.  My guess is that this movement is soon going to split anti-Israel forces into a schism between the BDS gang who simply support boycotting, divesting from, and sanctioning Israel, and the anti-normalization gang who want to put Israel under a Spinoza-like ex-communication. (My hero was such a persona non-grata that members of his community were forbidden from standing within six feet from him or being under the same roof as the guy.)  Pretty soon, the BDSers will be calling themselves “moderates” because they are willing to get together with Zionists like me and tell us why Zionism is misguided … but at least they are willing to speak to us.  

                Fortunately, the anti-normalization craze has yet to become the new normal in the Middle East Peace movement.  But believe me, this attitude and its little brother, BDS, have left quite a mark.   Taken together, they have convinced most of my fellow peaceniks that if Israel wants peace with the Palestinians, they can ask precious little from the Palestinians in return.   Perhaps the best example of this trend is the reaction of the peace movement toward Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians accept Israel as a Jewish state.  That demand sounds like no big deal to me.   It’s vague enough that a Palestinian who truly wants peace should be able to affirm it without letting go of the Palestinian narrative.  Hell, even Yasser Arafat was willing to say that he would accept Israel as a Jewish State.   See for yourself:  

                But Arafat is dead and buried.  And now the “new normal” is that the idea of accepting Israel as a Jewish State is a non-starter for Palestinians.  What’s more, peacenik organizations like J-Street balk at asking the Palestinians to make a concession on that point – at least not now.   Take a look at J-Street’s statement on the subject; you’ll find it to be the epitome of milquetoast:  

                Folks, I have heard a zillion and one justifications for why Israel shouldn’t be a Jewish State.  And while I buy none of them, I can certainly appreciate why a portion of the Palestinian community would continue to oppose that notion.  What’s more, I’ve heard a zillion and one justifications for why the Palestinian negotiators cannot accept Israel as a Jewish State at this point in the negotiations.   And while I buy none of them, I can certainly appreciate why the Palestinian negotiators might disagree with me.  But here’s what I cannot for the life of me stomach: why I am unaware of one single prominent Palestinian who is willing to support the idea of Israel as a Jewish State -- other than the dead Mr. Arafat.   Are the radical Israel-haters so dominant that they are scaring the Palestinian moderates into silence?   Or am I just that far out-of-touch with the moderate-Palestinian position these days?

                Either way, for a guy who spends as much time in the interfaith movement and the peace movement as I do, these are very troubling questions to ask.   Perhaps someone can shed some light for me tonight at the Seder.   In any event, whether I get some answers or don’t, this much I can continue to say:  Long live Israel as a Jewish State.  It has an honored place in my vision of a peaceful and just world.

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