A Daily Analysis
By Marc Schulman
May 23, 2010-Israel Engages in Major Civil Defense Drill- Thoughts on Peter Beinharts Article "The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment"
The news from Israel today has been dominated by the intense war drill that is taking place throughout Israel this week. The drill is designed to prepare Israelis for a potential scenario that includes attacks on all three fronts; with a significant number of missiles hitting Tel Aviv, other cities, as well as bases throughout Israel. With Hezbollah currently being outfitted with long range missiles this scenario is considered a very real possibility should war break out.
The top story of the weekend in Israel was the decision to deny Noam Chomsky, the well known "far left" professor, permission to enter Israel to speak at Birzeit University. The decision was considered a mistake by most observors. As a result of the decision Chomsky received tremendous press. He was interviewed for the first time ever by Israeli TV. This was the cause of a public relations disaster. Blame for the incident has been placed on a low level bureacrat. The Israeli government has apologized. Unfortunately, once again, this incident shows the lack of priority being given to the whole question of Hasbara by the Israeli government as a whole. It turns out that when a representative sample of the Israeli public was asked this weekend whether those who do not think Israel should remain a Jewish state should be allowed to enter Israel, 72% responded "No" and only 16% favored allowing those to enter.
Which brings me to the major story I wish to address tonight. This story has not been taking place in Israel, but rather been about Israel in the US Press. The conversation was initiated in an article by Peter Beinhart, that appeared recently in the New York Review of Books, entitled "The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment".
The article also sparked an interesting exchange between Beinhart and Jefferey Goldberg on the Atlantic's Web site:Goldblog vs. Peter Beinhart Here, I will add my two cents into this argument. First, let me admit upfront, that I am by far one the biggest critics of the American Jewish Establishment. I believe they have failed, miserably, over the last 40 years, in all sorts of areas. My opinions on this matter were established back when I was 17 years old, and had my first significant interactions with the establishment. These initial opinions and conclusions and have not been changed in the subsequent decades. I am also not a great fan of the Netanyahu government. However, I found the Beinhart article, interesting, but completely misguided.
Beinhart raises a very fundamental issue; one I have been grappling with my whole life–– What can or should American Jews, who do not live with the consequences of their actions, be permitted to say about the actions of the Israeli government). However, this fundamental question is irrelevant to Beinhart's central point. Does Beinhart really think that if Jewsih organizations were more critical of Israel then college students (who he says are currently uninterested in Israel) would suddenly care? Does he think the actions of the American Jewish organizations have any effect on this segment of the Jews? That is shear non-sense, most college students do not even know of the existence of these Jewish organizations. It is possible that some of them have heard of the power of the “Jewish Lobby” in Washington, but almost all are blissfully unaware of the actions of the feeble American Jewish Establishement. Not to digress, but with the exception of AIPAC, and very few other organizations, most of the Jewish establishment is a pitful shadow of their former selves (which in many cases was not all that impressive at their height).
The only "organization: that can have any effect on the indifference of college students connection to the state of Israeli is THE STATE OF ISRAEL itself, by its actions. The second point Beinhart is missing, is whether you like or dislike the Netanyahu government, it has only been in power for less than a year and half. Before that, the Israeli government was led by Ehud Olmert. While Olmert was clearly a flawed Prime Minister, he did offer the Palestinians an almost complete withdrawal from the West Bank. Before Olmert was Sharon, who replaced Barak after the outbreak of the Second Intifada. However, it was Sharon who unilaterally withdrew from Gaza. Before Sharon was Barak who offered Arafat almost all that Arafat could have wished for, but from whom Barak could not even get a counter offer. It is therefore very hard to blame the disconnect with Israel on the intransigence of the Israeli government over the past ten years. One can certainly not blame the disconnect between college students and Israel all on the Netanyahu government. They have simply not been in office that long. The third point that Beinhart misses completely is the psychology of the Israel public. Israelis did not wake up one day and embrace a right wing ideology. The current right wing movement ideology has moved steadily to the center over the past 15 years (with the exception of the religious settlers movement). It has been the events over this same time period that have made Israelis incredibly skeptical, and even paranoid regarding the intentions of the Palestinians.
In the immediate aftermath of Oslo, most Israelis were convinced that peace was around the corner and that Israel was on a steady path to reach a final peace settlement; a peace settlement that the overwhelming majority of Israelis would have supported. However, when the Palestinians rejected Barak’s Camp David proposals, their "counter--offer" was the second intifada (in which hundreds of Israelis were killed by bombers in all of Israel’s cities). Israel pulled out of Lebanon completely in May of 2000. The UN certified that Israel was now in compliance with all UN resolutions relating to Lebanon and had fully withdrawn from those territories. Hezbollah however, was not willing to agree they had won and disarm. Instead, Hezbollah created the bogus issue of the Shaba Farms, so they could continue their confrontations with Israel. All this led to the Second Lebanon War.
The story continues with Israel’s pull out from Gaza. Israel pulled out of every last meter of Gaza. They uprooted Israeli settlements that had been there for over 25 years. However, that was not enough. Instead of peace on its border with Gaza, Israel began to suffer constant missile fire from inside Gaza. Since the early 80’s I have been a proponent of unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, believing that once we were out, if even one shell landed on Israel we would be justified in leveling the Gaza Strip. Events have not turned out that way. Israel has learned the hard way that if any “innocent civilians” should die in the course of a "Just War", it will be held to a standard that no other nation has ever been held to, and it would be accused of war crimes.
So what is the average Israeli to think... that withdrawing is beneficial? That we can trust agreements Israel reaches with Palestinians? That it should put Ben-Gurion airport within Qassam range of a newly independent Palestinian territory?
I understand the world's impatience. I understand the impatience of other Jews. I am impatient. I learned 30 years ago, first hand, how demoralizing and ultimately immoral, occupation can be. Israel has been in charge of the West Bank for 42 years, occupying people who do not want to be occupied. It’s a terrible problem that has presented moral dilemmas for all of these years; some handled well and some less so. Israel has made its share of mistakes over these years. However, ultimately there are only two ways to end wars. One way to end a war is to totally vanquishing your enemies, like the Allies did in World War II, and the second is to reach a compromise.
For 63 years Israel has been willing to compromise. During these same 63 years, we have seen a steady unwillingness on the part of the Palestinians to accept the basic tenet of the 1947 UN Partition Plan: The establishment of a Jewish State in part of Mandatory Palestine. While we do not have the luxury of sitting on our hands until that happens, it is time for those who claim they know what is best for Israel to start pressing the Palestinians on this core issue. Only then will they truly be able to call any Israeli government intransigent. For there is no Israeli who wants to see the scenarios being played out in the drills taking place this week to come true. Nearly every Israeli would be willing to make the concessions necessary on the Israel's part to reach peace, but they must know that those sacrifices will not be in vain.