Thursday, February 18, 2010

In Memoriam: the Israeli Left

Professor Carlo Strenger, Ph.D., profiled by Yaacov here, has published an obituary, of sorts, in Haaretz.  In it, he mourns the current "paralysis" of the Israeli left, its political rejection by broad majorities of Israel's society - despite equally large majorities tentatively supporting the Left's prescriptions - and attributes all this to the dismal, bloody failure of the Camp David 2000 peace process. Today, he says, the vast majority of Israeli Jews desire two states for two peoples, as they have for decades; they simply no longer believe this outcome to be possible through negotiations.

Left unsaid by him is that, deprived of a negotiated resolution to the conflict, the Israeli people attempted to impose a two state solution through unilateral disengagement, first from Gaza, then to be followed by a forced evacuation of all but the permanent West Bank settlement blocks. Like so many other choices the nation has made in the past decade, the disengagement plan, along the security barrier which crowned it, were not acts of aggression or strength, but rather exhaustion, desperation and despair. It is a hard reality to internalize, after the much hyped euphoria of peace, that another people have condemned you and your children to endless war.


In the summer of 2004, a friend and I spent a night on a beach in Tel Aviv, having missed the last bus back to my relatives in Netanya. Organized Palestinian violence was being neutralized by an IDF that had adapted, too late to prevent the murder of one thousand Israeli Jews, Arabs, Druze, Bedouin, tourists, students, thousands more of Palestinians, innocent and guilty, in counter-operations, but early enough to prevent many more. I was in Israel on one of the many programs available to young American Jews to explore the country. During the course of the trip, in a spontaneous act, our Russian-speaking guide made a phone call, rerouted the bus, and ushered us into a Jerusalem hotel lobby.

As a fellow former Soviet Jew, Natan Sharansky is personal hero of mine, in the sense that we are still allowed, or allow ourselves heroes. To think, in Gulag, a man of his size survived - at six feet, one inch, I towered above him as I would an average 12 year old boy - and yet how great his will was, and is. Sharansky has proven, eternally, that one need not be a terrorist to be a freedom fighter.

He spoke to us for an hour, candidly. It was the closest I have been to an Israeli decision maker - at the time, he was Minister of Absorption (of Jewish refugees) - and I have no reason to doubt that what he told us was premised on the security and policy briefings and discussions to which the entire Israeli cabinet is privy.

Having achieved the maximum Israeli concessions during Camp David negotiations, and acting on his own assessment of Israeli societal weaknesses, Arafat launched a terror war to depopulate Israel of Jews. First a trickle would leave, the best and brightest with foreign passports, to avoid the bombings. As buses, restaurants and malls were targeted, as mother and fathers understood that a phone call from the morgue was all that separated them from the death of their children, panic and fear would set in, driving away investment, plunging the economy into recession, paralyzing the state and sending Israel's leaders groveling to the Muqatta for peace. Arafat would have been merciful, as Arabs generally are to their conquered.

I'm not an Israeli, but as a Jew in the American heartland I sympathize with Professor Strenger. The Israeli right is an abject failure; a boorish salad of slogans divorced of pragmatic policy solutions. At least Kahane was honest. I do not believe in ethnically cleansing Arabs, just as I don't believe in ethnically cleansing Jews, but one must appreciate Kahane's commitment to dealing with reality. "Jordan is Palestine", on the other hand, is not a policy. Outlasting a moderately hostile American President by conceding just enough concessions to stave off a complete diplomatic collapse is not a success. Crying "anti-semitism", shaming foreign dignitaries, threatening regimes, endless bungling and embarrassments... these are not signs of competence in international relations. The only right of substance - the only people living and fighting for their ideals, day in and day out - are the settlers.

Yet, the intellectual morass of the right does not excuse, in the least, the irresponsible, vindictive nihilism of the left. Writes Professor Strenger:
First-time visitors from abroad are often surprised: based on what they see in the news they expect a backward, theocratic police state, and instead they find a vibrant, liberal country. They meet outgoing, curious, ambitious people who are open to the world. They see an economy based on entrepreneurship and a cultural scene that is dominated by liberal voices.
What accounts for such huge disparities between perceptions of Israeli society in the global media and the reality? Will no one from the left take even a modicum of responsibility for incessantly feeding the beast of international ire? Must one point out which political class dominates the foreign-funded "human rights organizations" that have created a sport, nay, a competitive marketplace of shocking the world with hyperbole-laced allegations of Israeli crimes? Is it the Israeli right that incompetently managed one war and so bungled the diplomacy and public relations for the second as to provide half a decade of lingering distaste with Israeli policy even among the nation's staunchest allies?

If the right has a functional ideology with a dysfunctional platform, then the left offers an empirically, experimentally, definitively, without any doubt whatsoever failed ideology, attached to an anonymous extortion note, using letters clipped out of newspapers: "JoIn uS Or eLse..." Intimidation rooted in narcissism. No thanks.

Update: A Haaretz reader, Hitbager ba`eish, from Kfar Sava, responds:
I supported 2 states for 2 peoples, I celebrated Oslo, I voted Labour more often than not. Then the Intifada came, came to my home town, came to my neighborhood, and came deadly. It was the most painful wakeup call I have ever had to deal with. All of the ideas that I had taken for granted were crushed, or rather, blown up; body parts everywhere. Most of us have grown up and accepted this bitter reality. The Arabs don`t want 2 states for 2 people. They want us dead and gone. This is what happened to the left; the ex-left.

1 comment:

  1. Victor
    off topic - here is Christopher Hitchens (I read him with a long spoon) on the Moazzem Begg story - it made something clear to me I wasn't aware of: according to Hitchens Amnesty started with a clearly defined agenda/goal/purpose. And then it branched out to everything it considered an injustice - from my experience with stuff like that I'd assume that they never got together to adjust their guide lines and make them strict again - possibly they can't - it would make them lose too many members, create an uproar, destroy the work of decades, would leave the miserables of the earth alone etc. etc. so if the Israelis have to suffer for it they can't help it - the hypocrits
    Silke
    http://www.slate.com/id/2244802/

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