Critique of Israeli Left and A Step Back for Pro-Occupation


Lobbying Groups


February 14, 2005

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Today’s Contents:

<>Good morning to the Israeli left (Ha’aretz) Gideon Levy’s scathing critique of the Israeli left

<>Bush Policy Catches Groups Unprepared (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) Anti-peace lobbying groups try to adjust to the “New Bush”

[JPN Editor note: Two of our editors, Lincoln Shlensky and Rela Mazali, had somewhat different reactions to the article by Gideon Levy below. In a slight departure from our usual format, there are two editor’s comments before the article. – MP]

[JPN Commentary: In this scathing essay from Sunday’s “Haaretz” (below), journalist Gideon Levy castigates the Zionist Israeli left for four years during which it has remained shockingly silent. The Israeli liberal left failed, he opines, to oppose Israeli military brutality towards the Palestinians even when the evidence of large-scale misconduct was plainly obvious to the rest of the world (with the exception of most American leaders, apparently). What’s worse, in tepid statements that have begun to emanate from the liberal Israeli left, the question of responsibility for the last four years of violence remains a tender topic. As checkpoints became the face of Israeli occupation, as olive trees were uprooted, homes bulldozed, an apartheid wall and Jewish-only roads built, as overwhelming lethal force was used in open confrontations and extra-judicial assassinations carried out routinely, Levy wonders how the Zionist left can hold up its head and meekly exclaim that it’s time for both sides “to change consciousness and feelings.”

The demand for “balance” has long been the bogeyman of peace-making efforts. In my view, it is absolutely necessary to condemn violent and illegal actions carried out by both sides: neither the rampant deaths of civilians in military actions (”collateral damage”) nor in suicide bombings can be excused, much less justified. Both Palestinians and Israelis have a collective accounting — in Hebrew, “heshbon nefesh” — to do in the wake of such acts, and both parties have grave responsibilities to undertake in settling the conflict. At the same time, Levy points out a salient feature of this conflict that cannot be brushed aside, as much as Israeli and American leaders feel it convenient to do so: there has never been anything like a parity of power in this conflict. One side has always had tremendously superior force at its disposal, and has continued to oppress the other side in the most profound and egregious ways. Palestinians have not been living anything approaching “normal lives” during these last four years. They have been under intense, unremitting and devastating economic, psychological and military pressure. The depth of their suffering is unimaginable to most Israelis, who have continued to lead nearly normal lives, or to anyone else, for that matter. Many Palestinian children and adults will likely suffer post-traumatic disorders for years to come. As their land has been expropriated, their humiliations increased, their access to medical care, schools, and even basic necessities sharply constricted, and their lives made unbearable in thousands of ways large and small, the outside world, like the Israeli liberal left, has simply thrown up its hands.

There has never been any “balance” in the way that this conflict has afflicted the two sides. There is no “balance” in responsibility for the misery: those with the most power always have the greatest latitude to alter the material reality. Nor is there any “balance” in what must be done to relieve the suffering and achieve a just resolution. The occupation must end. It is that simple. And it is this simple but obvious idea that all too often gets shunted aside while the next round of high-profile diplomacy receives the obsequious attentions of the press and politicians. To extend Levy’s commentary: when we (Israelis, Americans, Europeans, Arabs, Jews, and citizens of the world) all take our power and responsibilities seriously, we begin to glimpse the still-distant outlines of justice and peace. -LS]

[JPN Commentary: Gideon Levy’s work is widely recognized as outstanding in its systematic depiction of the detailed, concrete reality of Palestinian life under Israel’s violent occupation. He is one of very few Israeli journalists who consistently expose the crimes and human rights violations committed by Israel, denying the public in Israel and abroad the potential excuse that, “We didn’t know”. This is not, however, the case regarding the active, anti-occupation movement in Israel. By no means huge, this movement nevertheless comprises many thousands in Israel and has been active in protesting atrocities and demonstrating against various developments throughout and indeed since before the Intifada. However, its actions, almost consistently, go unreported or are seriously underreported. To cite a few random examples from my own first-hand experience: Just weeks into the Intifada, while a good deal of what Levy calls “the Zionist left” was reportedly confused and paralyzed by the narrative of “Barak’s generous offer” to which the Palestinians supposedly responded with violence, New Profile and the nascent Coalition of Women for Peace organized a line of 500 women, declaring “We refuse to be enemies,” along the Wadi Ara road where, a few weeks earlier, Palestinian citizens of Israel had been shot dead by police. The Hebrew media, including journalists like Levy, did not report the event. Perhaps because it didn’t sit well with the theory of the “disoriented left”. Later the same year, on the December anniversary of the first Intifada, and again on the June anniversary of the ‘67 war that began the occupation, thousands marched with the Coalition of Women for Peace in the streets of Jerusalem. Again, the press was silent. Even the arrests of over 20 demonstrators practicing civil disobedience opposite the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv in protest against the closures, was not reported by the press.

Last summer, Levy declared in an op-ed that the refusers’ movement, resisting military service, had run its course and was, in practical terms, defunct. I phoned him personally to take issue but failed to change his preconceived idea of what counts as refusal. The definition of refusal presupposed by his piece was limited to openly declared refusal, explicitly protesting the occupation. This form of refusal, though extremely significant, was and is only one of the varied and complex self-definitions of refusal adhered to and practiced by young refusers. Many of these avoid enlisting through various routes, without going to prison or openly confronting the military, only to state their views later through political activism. In any case, though, the broad-based movement of so-called “grey refusal” stretches far beyond these activists, as a significant unfolding social phenomenon which Israeli media dismissively marginalizes and pathologizes under the label of “shirkers”. It has and is already affecting military planning in Israel and is gradually changing the face of Israeli society.

Journalists’ recurring dismissal, or at best minimization, of the struggling anti-occupation left actively disseminate the public perception that “there is no left”, and that “protest makes no difference anyway, there’s nothing I can do”. It is a distinct case of journalism at least partly forming reality rather than “simply reporting” it, and in fact contributing to both the perception and reality that Levy more or less writes off as “a few small brave organizations”. As such, it is, itself, part of the process of erasure and silencing that Levy criticizes in this piece. Granted, the size of the active, radical left in Israel is modest. But the resistance and anti-occupation work throughout the Intifada have been considerably more substantial, present and persistent than their dismissive media reflections. In my view, the media, Levy included, is part of the reason why this resistance has failed to achieve greater numbers and visibility and a broader resonance. – RM]

Good morning to the Israeli left

By Gideon Levy


Good morning to the Israeli left. After an eternally long hibernation, we are starting to hear the sounds of its awakening. Only when the wind is once again blowing in its direction – and not because of anything it did – does the extra-parliamentary left dare to come out of the closet where it locked itself up more than four years ago.

Perhaps one should welcome these signs of awakening, but it is impossible not to hold it accountable for its lengthy, disgraceful and cowardly silence that abandoned the street to the right and the settlers. For more than four years Israel has been doing anything it wanted in the occupied areas, practically without any domestic criticism. It killed and demolished, uprooted and brutalized, and practically nobody protested. The world saw what was going on and shouted about it. But not us. When Israel desperately needed an alternative view, a clear sound of protest, practically nothing was heard, not a peep, except from a few small and brave organizations.

So it is difficult to forgive those who were silent, looked away and wrapped themselves in indifference, thus depicting Israel as monolithically supporting the government. The rustling noises that are beginning to be heard from the Zionist left are too late to clear it of its responsibility: With its silence until now it became a partner to all the government did during those damnable years. With the evaporation of the Labor Party and the fear and impotence that gripped the other bodies of the Zionist left, the only active element in society was the settlers. Thus the government managed to continue its brutal policies and the settlers nurtured their enterprise without disruption.

Now, under cover of a prime minister from the right, the left suddenly has remembered that it also has something to say, as a weak, pale echo of Ariel Sharon. The first to speak up, as usual, were the writers of the avant-garde, at the head of the camp. In a properly stylish advertisement a few days ago, Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, David Grossman, Meir Shalev, Agi Mishol and a few other elite writers called out for “a change in consciousness and feeling.”

What change? What consciousness? They also called for a renewal of the political negotiations, a very daring move after the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, and proposed the government recognize the suffering of the Palestinian people, in exchange, of course, for their recognition of our suffering.

A group of filmmakers and musicians joined in that call, but with one difference. At least in the advertisement from Daniel Barenboim, Pinhas Zuckerman and Zubin Mehta, there is at least an admission that the occupation is the direct source of the suffering of the Palestinian people and there is a clear call in their ad for an end to it; the authors weren’t ready to go that far.

It’s hard to believe: After nearly 38 years of occupation and four years of intifada, the leading writers of the peace camp are still dividing the responsibility for what is happening symmetrically between the two sides: “In our eyes, each of the sides bears some of the responsibility for the injustice, the suffering and the tragic situation in which the two nations are trapped,” they wrote with self-righteousness.

That “we’re all guilty” approach is no less outrageous than the silence that went on and on and on. How does one break the silence of the peace camp? Attribute the same measure of responsibility to the occupier and occupied, the powerful and the weak. Call both the soldiers at the checkpoints and their subjects, whose lives are beneath the soldiers’ feet, “to change consciousness and feeling” even before the checkpoint is lifted; preach to the assassin and the assassinated to fall into each other’s arms; draw parallels between a nation whose economic, cultural, social and emotional lives were completely destroyed and a nation in which the vast majority of people can go on with their lives as if nothing has happened; a people that has been imprisoned and humiliated, versus a free people in their own sovereign state.

Even without counting casualties – three times as many on the Palestinian side – there is no room for comparison, not of the extent of the suffering nor of the measure of responsibility. Can’t the writers see the decisive weight of responsibility that lies on the occupier’s side for the creation of the injustice, or did they not summon up the courage to admit as much, lest it anger the readers?

Immediately after the authors awoke, Peace Now came out of its faint. In another two weeks, it has been said, it will be returning to the street and squares. “The Coalition of the Majority,” the umbrella organization of the left and the protest groups (oxymoronic titles if ever there were) is to convene a mass demonstration. Why didn’t they do it beforehand, in the dark years of assassinations and demolitions when the need was far more critical? The explanations and excuses are ridiculous: the desire to maintain as broad a common denominator as possible and the fear of failure.

But the silence was the greatest failure of all. It is impossible not to ask now where everyone was for the 346 children that Israel killed. What prevented them from protesting when 112 wanted men were assassinated without trial and another 521 innocent passersby were killed at the same time? The demolition of half of Rafah, the uprooting of olive trees in the West Bank, the erection of the wall, the apartheid roads for Jews only, the imprisonment of an entire nation behind checkpoints for years – none of it awakened most of the artists or the “coalition of the majority.” They were silent. They were afraid. They were complicit.

The alternative voices, the voices of the protest movements and authors, have a vital role in society that goes far beyond merely what they say. They are supposed to pave the way and protect the pluralistic and democratic character of the state. But after four and a half years in which society spoke in one uniform voice, the disgraceful silence on the left, the camp that only awakens under the patronage of the prime minister, shows it is a cowardly, frightened camp.

[JPN Commentary: This article from the Jewish Times scratches the surface of the surprising change in tactics from the Bush Administration in the past two weeks. Clearly, AIPAC and similar pro-occupation advocacy groups have been taken aback by US stances lately.

It is important to note here that the changes are surface, not fundamental. There continues to be no significant push on Israel toward the fundamental goals that a permanent settlement would require-withdrawal from the West Bank as well as Gaza, sharing Jerusalem and a just resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue. There is also no movement on stopping the daily machinations of the occupation, such as home demolitions, checkpoints and the ongoing construction of the wall. Still, no shooting and no bombing is better than shooting and bombing.

Clearly, the American moves in recent weeks were not in line with the wishes of pro-occupation forces and are geared more toward supporting Mahmoud Abbas and his fledgling attempts to cobble together a Palestinian government. Coupled with the continuing FBI investigation of AIPAC’s role in passing classified information to Israel, an ongoing dispute, that has been virtually unreported, over Israeli sales of technology to China and the upcoming departure of Douglas Feith (one of the leading neoconservatives of the first four Bush years), this would seem to present an opportunity for more reasonable pro-peace voices to be heard in Washington.

Much has also been discussed about the aid being given to the Palestinians. The annual aid of $75 million is being more than quadrupled. Beyond four times that annual aid, which totals $300 million, there is an additional $50 million outlay. Initially, last year, Israel asked for a similar sum to be given to the Palestinians, but that it be used to facilitate crossings through the wall it is building. This was rejected. Israel then asked for this sum to be used for “high-tech checkpoints”. Thus far, Israel has not specified where these checkpoints would be, but American officials claim they will be on the Green Line. Some reports have proposed that the $180 million that Israel has requested in supplemental aid would cover this, so it remains unclear as to where this money would come from exactly.

This, of course, makes a very big difference, as to whether the Palestinians are being asked to facilitate the building of the wall or whether it is simply money that would other wise go to Israel but is being “given” to the Palestinians to make their aid package look better. It is also crucial to watch for where these so-called “high-tech checkpoints” are placed. If indeed they are on the Green Line, this should actually be a plus-it indicates that the US is making efforts to turn the Green Line into a real border between Israel and a Palestinian state. If they are anywhere else, then they are simply another way of entrenching the occupation. Despite rhetoric suggesting that such checkpoints would ease passage and therefore ease the burden on Palestinians, any move to invest in the continuation of the occupation must be opposed.

The declarations at Sharm el Sheikh are encouraging, but without meaningful action they will amount to nothing. As Israeli Knesset Member Yossi Sarid said in the Israeli daily, Yediot Akhoronot last week, “The Occupation is a crime against humanity, just as terrorism is. They both need to stop as soon as possible, and for good.” The apparent shift in tone by the Bush administration is a signal for us to push harder for real change in American policy. It’s long overdue. – MP]

Bush Policy Catches Groups Unprepared

Ron Kampeas
Special to the Jewish Times

FEBRUARY 12, 2005


Like any first-born confronted with the end of only-child status, the pro-Israel community in Washington is learning to deal with the Bush administration’s new baby: a plan for a viable Palestinian state.

Many of Israel’s friends on Capitol Hill maintained a sullen silence last week when Congress passed two resolutions essentially welcoming the prospect of Palestinian statehood, and when President Bush almost quintupled aid to the Palestinians in hopes of achieving that state.

Most conspicuous in its silence was the pro-Israel powerhouse, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which issued a tepid commendation of the resolutions — after the fact, and only when reporters asked.

AIPAC officials say privately that the initiatives are par for the course and that there was little point in opposing them, given their origin in the White House. They would have preferred to wait a month or so to see if new Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas makes good on his pledge to stop terrorism and end anti-Israel incitement — but otherwise, the pro-Israel community is on board, they say.

It might not have a choice. Bush is making renewed talks between Israel and the Palestinians a centerpiece of his second-term foreign policy. As a result, the man who last year was lauded by many in the Jewish community as the most pro-Israel president in history is marching into uncharted territory, unabashedly advocating a Palestinian state.

“We are working to achieve new successes, particularly in Arab-Israeli diplomacy,” U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a keynote policy speech in Paris, where Bush hopes to repair alliances frayed by the Iraq war. “America and Europe both support a two-state solution — an independent and democratic Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace with the Jewish state of Israel.”

Rice had met separately with Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon; the following day, the two declared their intention to end violence. They are each to meet separately with Bush at the White House in the spring.

Many pro-Israel groups, chief among them AIPAC, have become accustomed to extracting the best deal possible for Israel from Congress and the administration, and to encountering profound skepticism about the Palestinians.

That may have hobbled them, said Seymour Reich, new president of the Israel Policy Forum and a past chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

“I have no doubt that AIPAC’s skepticism of Palestinian efforts in the past has been justified, but AIPAC, like others, has to take another look and give Mahmoud Abbas a chance to encourage him to stop terrorism and to be a full-fledged partner of Sharon,” Reich said.

Americans for Peace Now, which enthusiastically endorsed the congressional resolutions and the proposal for $350 million in aid to the Palestinians, said there was a new game in town.

“This is Bush driving the policy, having a Senate leadership that is willing to allow him to take the lead, and a White House that is capable of overcoming resistance in the House of Representatives, where many are far from supportive of the peace process,” said Lewis Roth, APN’s executive director.

At least one group has pronounced itself loudly in opposition to the initiatives. “We urge the Bush administration and Congress to stop this folly and stop the funding of the Palestinian Authority terrorist regime until they fulfill their 11-year-old obligations” from the Oslo peace accords, Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, said in a statement.

Bush’s proposal to spend $350 million similarly caught the community off guard.

There had been talk for weeks that Bush would seek to raise the annual $75 million disbursement to the Palestinians to $200 million. No one knew Bush would go as high as $350 million until just hours before his State of the Union speech.

Furthermore, the State Department, which had frozen projects since the October 2003 killing of three Americans riding with a U.S. diplomatic convoy in the Gaza Strip, is dipping into about $400 million in preapproved funds, even though the killing hasn’t been solved.

About $40 million of that money will go immediately to infrastructure and education projects. So will much of the $350 million, though $50 million of it is to be set aside for Israel to spend on high-tech transit stations between Israeli and Palestinian areas.

Much of the anxiety arises from how Bush plans to spend the rest. The State Department already has had to quash a report that Rice is raising money for pensions for “retired” terrorists.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, whose leaders will be in Israel next week for their annual mission, said it would probe how the money is to be spent.

“We’re going to look at that, at what measures Israel expects of the Palestinians,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, the group’s executive vice chairman.

Jewish Peace News Editors: 
Judith Norman
Alistair Welchman
Mitchell Plitnick
Lincoln Shlensky
Ami Kronfeld
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai

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