A very close friend of mine, Shelly Schreter has allowed me to re-publish his essay “Thirteen Propositions about Zionism and Israel” below. He also begins with a preface.
Shelly is an ardent Zionist yet a very committed orthodox Jew who although originally from my home town Montreal has lived in Israel for the last 25 years or more.
He every strongly opposes the current right wing government but also has few good things to say about the left. I don’t agree with most of his points however there is enough there for me to support. I highly respect him and his opinion and as such I am re-blogging his piece here and welcome everyone’s input.
Dear friends and family,
Recent events provoked me to set down some of my views about Israel, Palestine, BDS, etc. in the attached piece. The ideas have been articulated before, including by me, though some of the formulations are updated. It just seemed like restating the basics was necessary at this time of widespread confusion, and this is my attempt at doing it.
At 2500 words, this is too long for publication, and I don’t have the time to craft an op-ed article or smooth narrative out of it. I can only submit it for your examination, and hope that you find it of interest, whether or not you agree with its arguments. Your feedback will of course be welcomed. And you are free to share it with anyone you like. May I take this opportunity to wish you all a happy Pesach holiday. Be well,
At 2500 words, this is too long for publication, and I don’t have the time to craft an op-ed article or smooth narrative out of it. I can only submit it for your examination, and hope that you find it of interest, whether or not you agree with its arguments. Your feedback will of course be welcomed. And you are free to share it with anyone you like. May I take this opportunity to wish you all a happy Pesach holiday.
Thirteen Propositions about Zionism and Israel
Shelly Schreter March, 2016
There is tremendous self-deception and denial in the Jewish world today about Zionism, Israel’s future, the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), BDS, the idea of a Jewish state, and the requirements for Israel’s security. We have lost the pragmatic common sense and clear-sighted evaluation of political realities which enabled earlier generations to create and sustain the Jewish state. This is an attempt to recover that earlier vision, while we still have a chance to save the Jewish state, and thereby the Jewish people: the stakes are “only” everything.
This is an advocacy piece, and strong statements will be made. Both left and right should find what to oppose here. First, two points of general principle, followed by the specifics of our conflict with the Palestinians.
- What matters are the actual consequences of a political position, not its intentions. History is full of political programs which have boomeranged and seriously missed what their advocates were aiming for. A political vision is only as good as the accuracy of its analysis and the implementability of its prescriptions in response to the issues it addresses.
- Priorities are necessary, and have to be clear and shared, for a political vision to have any chance of success. You can’t have everything, and must agree on what is more and less essential. Refusal to do that, in favour of total or apocalyptic programs, is a classic formula for failure and disaster.
- The one-state solution, whether proposed by Jewish “patriots” or Arab and other enemies of the Jewish state, is no solution: it is the guarantee of endless civil war. Locking two rival and antagonistic peoples, neither of which is going away, into the hateful embrace of a joint state is a monster scenario, a human rights horror. Anyone who imagines that a bi-national state of Israel/Palestine could avoid such an outcome is either a fool or a knave. No one who actually cares about either people could wish such a terrible fate upon them.
- Only a two-state solution can provide for the survival of a Jewish state and justice for the Palestinians in a state of their own. Both people need the degree of self-determination that only a political nation-state, with all its flaws, can offer. How can the next requirement, in order of priority – security for both nation-states – be provided? Most Israelis, after vigorous debate, would accept two states, provided their well-grounded fears about security could be addressed satisfactorily. Many Palestinians are in a similar place, even after long years of indoctrination through official media and educational systems, and the experience of occupation, dispossession and expropriation. Mutual hatred abounds, but so does a basic hunger for a measure of justice and a reasonable degree of protection one from the other.
- The Israeli peace camp, by failing to address the security issue seriously enough, has contributed to its relegation to political marginality. Of course there were Yitzchak Rabin and other military authority-figures, but on the whole the Israeli left has appeared “soft” on security, if not at times cavalier and detached from reality. It is true that this issue is tailor-made to the needs of the political right, but the absence of a coherent and compelling defense doctrine on the Left has undermined its electoral appeal fatefully. When compounded by issues of intra-Jewish ethnic prejudice (Ashkenazim and Mizrachim), elitist cultural styles and long-term socio-economic realities, the Right and its religious allies have held political ascendancy in Israel for most of the last 4 decades. Palestinian terror tactics have deeply undermined the legitimacy of the Left’s arguments. This is further exacerbated by Jewish/Israeli left-wingers who trash the two-state prescription by ceding victory to the Right (“too late to reverse the settlements”), and projecting a single state in which Arabs will eventually win the internal power struggle. The smugness of their “see-what-you-have-done?” argument makes them even more hateful to the Israeli electorate, who have no illusions about the fate of non-Muslim or non-Arab minorities in Arab countries.
- The Israeli Right has NO answer for what to do with all those Arabs. Learning nothing from the post-colonial era following World War II, they have fantasized that improving the economic status of the Palestinians in the West Bank would convince them to support, or at least reluctantly accept, Jewish domination. They have been disappointed when that did not happen. Some have fantasized that the inconvenient Arabs would gradually disappear, perhaps aided by incentives – positive (monetary aid packages, aka bribes) or negative (making their lives so miserable as to motivate mass emigration). A small but growing fringe group has undertaken violent initiatives to impel Arabs to depart. Practically no one thinks of ever giving them voting or other basic civil rights. How can a degeneration into some version of apartheid be avoided? The Jewish right-wing belief that the situation, even if not ideal, is still “manageable”, is daily belied by terror attacks which show no sign of ending. Some argue that the demographics are trending in favour of the Jews, since Arab birth rates are declining. This pretends that the massive Jewish birth rate among haredim who dissent from the State of Israel makes a difference, or that a Jewish-dominated state with a 40 or 45% minority of unwilling Arabs could avoid the ravages of civil war. Some still imagine that the Palestinians don’t exist, that they are an artificial construct of the larger Arab opposition to Jews and Zionism, that they would evaporate if not for the life-support of international organizations and Arab regimes diverting attention from their own criminality. In a way, they are just as irrelevant as the Israel-haters trying to reverse Israel’s creation. Too late, haters of both sides, history has moved on. In brief: The Israeli Right has no answer.
- Israel and Zionism cannot be sustained without the basic support of the democratic nations of the world, without the ability to demonstrate the essential justice and rightness of their cause. This was true in 1948, but is it still today? Russia and China and other nations do what they like without worrying about such things, don’t they? It is easy to sneer at the role of morality or “rightness” in international relations, but lunatic to deny it altogether. Israel is hardly Russia or China. It is at best a strong regional power, heavily dependent on American support. Ancient Israel was not in such a different position, as it had to maneuver delicately between the superpower competitions of its era in order to survive, and lost everything when it made fatal mistakes in assessing its political alternatives. Israel is right to depend primarily on its own military ability to defend itself against malicious neighbours. But that ability in turn strongly depends on the basic goodwill of the public in North America, Western Europe and other democratic nations, who accept that Jews are a people, deserving the right to self-determination and self-defense. The struggle on campuses and in the media of these countries to undermine this belief is critical, since that is where the attitudes of future elites are being shaped. It is also central for preserving Israel’s most important, long-term strategic asset: the support of the Jewish people around the world.
- Separation from the Palestinians, while preserving key self-defense assets, is Israel’s most important strategic need. As recent events confirm again, the status quo in the West Bank is not sustainable or “manageable” over time. It is clear how high a price Israel pays externally for perpetuating its rule over the West Bank. Make no mistake: on the principle of “if it walks like a duck”, this is an occupation. Less obvious to many supporters of Israel, perhaps, is the internal price Israel pays. Occupation corrupts, and Israeli society daily exhibits more and more of the costs of sending many of its young people to occupy a resistant Palestinian nation. Some criticize Israel’s public relations efforts, as if that were the problem, rather than its symptom. Israel’s ability to make its case to the world is crippled by its status as occupier and ethnic cleanser of the Palestinians. Far from being an asset, its West Bank settlements and their expansion are a liability which undermines Israel’s self-defense capacity. To use public relations terminology: Israel can market a narrative of legitimate self-defense against enemies determined to destroy it, as it did before 1967. Israel cannot succeed in marketing a narrative of gradual annexation, expropriation and expulsion of native populations. These are fatally “damaged goods”. This is not only immoral, it is inevitably a losing formulation, an enormous gift to BDS and all the Israel-haters contending that Israel’s very existence is a crime, an “original sin”. Israel cannot afford these costs, cannot continue sustaining them – and survive.
- Basic internal consensus and international support are ultimately more important defense assets for Israel than total control of the West Bank, and certainly more than the continuing expansion of the Jewish settlements there. This is where the issue of priorities is most keenly in play. The left cannot deny that losing control of the hill country in the West Bank, or the area within conventional rocket range of Ben Gurion Airport (to use a critical example), represents a real security risk. My own front door in Ra’anana is within mortar range (nothing fancier needed) of the West Bank. All this has to be weighed in a careful analysis against the costs of our present trajectory, which is rapidly eroding our international support and deepening the already-dangerous divisions within Israeli society. What good will controlling the heights over Israel’s Coastal Plain be, if the Western and specifically the American consensus on re-arming Israel in case of war is broken, and if the internal schisms and corruptions within Israel have brought us to the point of societal breakdown? What good will it do to defend the precious vessel of our sovereignty with one hand, while shattering its internal viability and integrity with the other? Civilian settlements had a function for self-defense and staking a viable claim in the heroic pre-State era. But when West Bank settlements today present sitting-duck targets requiring major military assets to defend, and provide a convenient focus for the growing international isolation of Israel, while absorbing massive internal resources at the expense of health, welfare, education, housing, transportation and other systems, then where is the sense?!? Security is basic, and the Gaza experience is cautionary and deeply disturbing. However, Israel has solved such problems before, never hermetically or perfectly, but enough to enable life and growth to proceed vigorously. Demilitarization of the West Bank is a goal which can be pursued internationally, and policed by NATO – and by the IDF. None of this is perfect or costless, it is only vastly preferable to the alternatives. Again: priorities.
- “Hanging on until the Arabs come to their senses”, in terms of the West Bank settlements, is a dangerous myth, which some believe innocently while others exploit cynically. It is no holding pattern; it is a long-term campaign to change conditions on the ground. Either way, its effect (and in many cases its declared purpose) is to render the two-state solution impossible, and it thereby threatens Israel’s basic existential interests. If there is no Palestinian state, neither eventually will there be a Jewish state, and no amount of denial or fantasizing can avert that. It is indisputably true that Israel has to be strong to survive in its brutal neighbourhood. But displays of strength alone will never bring the Arabs to a readiness for compromise. When that is the sole strategy, all we achieve is to increase their hatred and determination to persist in the struggle to eliminate us. It reinforces the sense of rightness of their cause and of fighting injustice which bolsters them and their growing international support. And on the other hand, it mortgages Israeli society to the maintenance of unviable and dysfunctional settlements, whose residents have no intention of serving as bargaining-chips in some future negotiation. Thus, scaling back the settlements to the large blocs adjacent to the 1967 borders, and agreeing to resolve the conflict in a series of swaps (along the lines of known parameters), would have another crucial strategic benefit for Israel: averting the civil war which threatens if we do not.
- Reminder of basics: Zionism was a movement to liberate the Jewish people from intolerable, unlivable circumstances. It was NOT a movement to liberate the territory of the ancient Land of Israel. Jewish self-determination and sovereignty were not achievable anywhere else but in the ancient homeland, as history proved. The Land of Israel was a means to a critical end, to a survivalist need, but not an end in itself. Confusion over that basic point threatens the one Jewish state we do have. This profoundly mistaken idea is a distortion to which all nationalist movements are potentially vulnerable, if not aware and vigilant. Its zealots must be prevented from kidnapping the pragmatic, progressive Zionism which nurtured the creation of the Jewish state.
- Inevitable Conclusion: Jews or Israelis who advocate a one-state solution in one form or another, or who pursue policies which render the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state alongside Israel increasingly impossible, are contributing in effect to the demise of the Jewish state. In that sense, and tragically contrary to their conscious intentions, they are in effect anti-Zionist, and should be repudiated. Their intentions cannot in any way compensate for the damage they cause or the threat that they pose. And by extension, political leaders or anyone else who tries to promote the two-state format, opposing the settlements while supporting Israel’s basic existence and right to self-defense, must be recognized as the true friends of Israel that they really are.
- BDS are precisely the kind of one-staters making the conflict more intractable and extreme. They are lying to their adherents, by pretending to oppose Israel’s policies, when in fact their opposition is to Israel’s very existence. As such, they are one more example in the long line of failed Arab intellectuals and politicians who led the Palestinians and well-intentioned supporters down the path of futility, pursuing one dead-end after another, and leaving the Palestinian people trapped in miserable refugee camps for generations, exploited by their hypocritical Arab brothers, and enslaved by pathological ideologies of victimhood and glory or salvation through death. The extremists of both the Palestinian and Jewish camps are dangerous parasites who validate one another’s sick narratives and perpetuate a toxic conflict, while in fact obscenely dependent upon one another. Both brainwash their adherents into believing that total solutions are desirable and attainable, rather than giant death-traps. They should all be exposed and discarded, while progressive elements on both sides do the hard work of figuring out how to co-exist in mutual security, hopefully evolving one day into genuine peace. The Jewish state is a fact, and is not going away or apologizing for its existence. The exact same is true of the Palestinian people. Let’s all deal with it.