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Letter from the Hotel Zamenhof

June 11th, 2010by Gershom Gorenberg · 11 Comments · Culture and Ideas, Politics and Policy

On Being Shocked, Shocked to Learn That Israel Is Not a Liberal Utopia

Gershom Gorenberg

My new column is up at the American Prospect:

Meyer Landsman lives in the Hotel Zamenhof. Landsman is the hero of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, in which the Jews lost the 1948 war in Palestine and have taken refuge in a Jewish autonomous region of Alaska. The run-down hotel is named for L.L. Zamenhof, the Russian-born Jew who invented Esperanto in order to bring world understanding and peace. In other words,The Yiddish Policemen's Union Landsman’s residence is a liberal Jewish dream that has seen much better days.

I remembered this while reading Chabon’s New York Times article, “Chosen, Not Special,” a response to the Israel Navy’s ill-considered raid on the flotilla to Gaza last week. The article describes the shock that Jews feel when they discover that Jews can act as stupidly as other people. The novel, in my view, alludes to more basic kinds of American Jewish surprise with the State of Israel, including half-repressed disbelief in its very existence.

I’ll get to the novel in a moment. First, let me note that Chabon’s Times article is part of the sudden wave of American Jewish soul-searching about Israel — or sudden public attention to such soul-searching. Astonishment at the flotilla fiasco is one reason that more U.S. Jews are talking about their relationship problems with Israel. But lest we forget, Peter Beinart’s purportedly groundbreaking essay in The New York Review of Books was published even before the flotilla affair. …

What strikes me as I listen to the family fight between the hawkish Jewish establishment and other American Jews — the pro-peace Zionists, the furious anti-Zionists, the “don’t ask me about Israel” non-Zionists — is that they’re all dealing with a shared family problem: They have a hard time fitting Israel as it actually is into some of their deepest assumptions about the world. The easiest way for me to explain runs through Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America and Chabon’s Yiddish Policemen’s Union.

Read the rest here, and come back to South Jerusalem to comment. (The weather’s better here than in Sitka)

Reading Shaul Magid, Kevin Jon Heller, MJ Rosenberg, Leon Wieseltier, Daniel Gordis

Gershom Gorenberg

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11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Gregory Pollock // Jun 11, 2010 at 10:15 am

    “Next to the civilian casualties from America’s wars in Iraq or Vietnam, the Israeli invasion of Gaza pales”

    Has power ever knelled at its own mistakes? The dead in Iraq, colatteral damage during search for WMD, have now been converted into history’s necessary sacrifice for democracy to come. If Bush had just said this as reason going in, or Congress so approved by that reason, maybe I could bear it from my bulletless living room. But the WMD error does not politically exist in the United States. Germany preserved its camps as policy of rememberance. Has any other country done that?

    I have come to believe that progress cannot bear its past and continue. Yet I see in Israel a social technology of rememberance which could be employed not just to mourn the dead which slowly made Israel be, no matter how many centuries earlier they lived; but could as well be used to remember its own acts. But I recall a line of Alexsander Solzhenitsyn: the line seperating good and evil crosses every heart; and who would cut out a piece of his own heart? The solution, I hope is this: not to cut out one’s own heart, but let the young move that line as they form their own heart.

    Social cultural difference can save us from our victories. Diaspora is a false unity which lets the line of the heart shift. When we are all One, there is nothing to see at all.

  • 2 Clif // Jun 11, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    If more and more people can be convinced that the system of belief is correct, than clearly it must, after all be correct.

    Can we arrange for this to be inscribed on all national monuments worldwide? Doesn’t go hand in glove with power? Doesn’t it apply also to the individual – aren’t there many examples of politicians who have lied to themselves so long their believe it – or at least convince themselves that it is benign?

    The problem for Jews who identify themselves as such is that Israel never allows them to get out of that frying pan of unending confrontation, whether or not they live there. It is always waving its flag in front of them asking “who ARE you anyway?”

    Now the beauty of the American situation was that Anglo power was so overwhelming that the period of soul-searching (for that minority of Americans who felt it) wasn’t endless. God was on our side, we swept a few barbarians off the map and, hey! let’s get on with farming and ranching and thumbing through the mail-order catalog! The land wasn’t empty any more than Palestine was but suddenly, it really was empty. A great big welcome mat was suddenly seen that the forward thinking knew had really been there all along.

    But Israel is in a fix. The will-power of those 19th century Americans is there and a good dose of God fills out the comparison along with a fabulous technology advantage. But the barbarians are all over the place and taking the land has slowed to a crawl. No sooner can one open up a welcome mat than there are rocks being thrown at it.

    Those early Americans who went on and on about being favored by history were right. Darned if they didn’t pull the whole thing off and come up shining to lecture the rest of the world about freedom, liberty, and the whole nine yards.

    But wait – passing on freedom and liberty – Vietnam…Iraq…Afghanistan…yeah, ok, so there is still a little stickiness and a few barbarians around.

  • 3 dave // Jun 11, 2010 at 9:31 pm

    I was never much for talmudic discussions about semantics. I also read Chabon’s Yiddish Policemen’s Union and his recent essay, which in my opinion said a whole lot of nothing. Chabon is a great fiction writer, but he’s a cloistered academic. He sits in a room and plumbs the depths of his imagination for a living. That’s a fine diasporal thing to do, but Israel is very much in the real world, that’s what makes it so exciting, too exciting sometimes (and I’ll note that Israel has its share of people who exist in a form of religious fundamentalist escapism, and who unfortunately have a large say in Israel’s statecraft).

    While Yiddish Policemen’s Union and Plot Against America are fine works of fiction, they are the product of ‘Yiddish’ diasporal minds. Israel on the other hand, is comprised of Jews from over one hundred different countries speaking just as many languages. Of all the utopian ideals set forth by the first generation Zionists, the only one that has been realized is that the nation speaks Hebrew as its language (which is a remarkable feat if you think about it).
    How’s Philip Roth’s Hebrew? How’s Chabon’s?

    Anyway, Israel is evolving its own identity, and American Jews are increasingly not of one voice about the country, etc, etc. That’s really nothing new, as Gershom says. I wonder how much Gershom is aware of the hostility towards Zionism that young Jews are facing these days on campus and in the media. I’m not some ‘Israel is always right’ guy, I’m someone who lives in an American campus town and sees and hears what is happening.
    To presume that young Jews are taking in all sides of the debate and carefully reaching their own reasoned conclusions isn’t really an accurate picture of how things work. They’re walking on campus, reading and listening to media, and getting such an unfavorable impression of Israel that they’re debating whether Israel is responsible for 50% of the world’s problems or 80%, whether Israel’s founders are comparable to the Nazis or to the founders of South Africa, and whether Israel is a mistake that needs to be dismantled ASAP, or a mistake which can be possibly be mitigated by a huge mea culpa from American Jews. Israel itself is a toxic word, and if you’re Jewish, you have to either distance yourself from Israel or be labeled a Zionist.
    BTW, just to appreciate how much things have changed in 25 years, ask a random survey of “politically aware” Americans on campus what the term “Zionist” means, and you’ll probably be very surprised. It’s gone from meaning someone who supports a Jewish homeland to a vaguely defined but undoubtedly negative label for someone who supports an outmoded and racist ideology, akin to what an apartheid era South Africa supporter would have been called in 1985.

    In other words, this ‘discussion’ taking place in Jewish America, in my opinion, is not so much an informed discussion per se, but rather a shallow back and forth over the most over-hyped conflict on earth. And it all boils down to the old diasporal obsequiousness and the need to be accepted: “Yes, I agree that the botched raid of the Turkish ship is a war crime worthy of dominating a UN session and world headlines, and clearly Israel is the biggest obstacle to world peace, and I hear you when you say the only reason the world lets them get away with it is because of Holocaust guilt and The Lobby’s stranglehold on Western free speech and thought….I hear you loud and clear, but please, please look and see that we’re not all like that. Look at us, please. Some of us repudiate Zionism altogether, so don’t hate us, we’re with you (Finkelstein, Adam Shapiro, et al).
    Some of us understand that Israel is a mistake and a sin, but we’ll exert every effort to make sure that its crimes are kept on the front burner and a lion’s share of the world’s resources are devoted to fixing its sin of creation, and just to show how much we hate ‘those kind of Zionists’, we’ll gratuitously declare our independence from their stranglehold (J-Street et al).”

    I was in favor of Oslo, but I’ve learned some lessons. One lesson I learned is that it is the height of hubris to presume that a roomful of Western intellectuals can manifest a just and fair solution that makes both sides happy, simply by drawing a borderline in the right place and throwing so much money at the problem that it will go away.
    I’m offended that people so naive, people who think the only problem with Oslo was that right wing Zionists sabotaged it, think that they not only have a moral right to brashly declare traditional Zionists to be old and in the way, but to presume that by giving us another version of Oslo they are presenting us with the magic solution to end the conflict.

    In reality, it’s foolish to think that Chabon has any answers, or that the USA has the unlimited time and money to sink into a utopian experiment in two-statism and the patience to wait it out until finally the Palestinians and the Arab world are happy and declare an end to world hostility.
    In reality, a botched raid on one ship that was hell bent for violent resistance is an insignificant speck in the ongoing picture of Turkey’s disengagement from the west and reorientation to the Middle East. There’s really nothing much Israel can do about that either way. And yet, judging by fickle world headline opinion and the hand-wringing of the progressive wing of concerned Jewry, you’d think that whether or not the sun rises the next day entirely depends on how Israel responds.

    “If only Israel had been nicer, Turkey might still be secular.” Preposterous isn’t it?
    If any outside entity is to blame, it’s the EU for compelling Turkey to go through all the political reforms that took the military out of political life and got Ertegun out of jail, after which the EU said ‘thanks anyway, but after careful consideration, you’re just not EU material’.
    Whether or not a different approach from the EU would have kept Turkey from falling out of the western orbit is certainly debatable. But the point is, the idea that Israel responding to a provocation with lethal force (or even Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon forcing the Turkish ambassador to sit in a short chair) is the catalyst that brought all this on is simply ludicrous.
    And yet…and yet…how much of this discussion, how much of Chabon’s op-ed piece and everything else written by wise men and women in recent days is based on this very supposition, whether overtly or subconsciously?
    The real story here is the changes in Turkey, or it is about what sometimes happens when activists enter a war zone and defy orders. And yet, we’ve somehow made it all about the Jews. Again.

  • 4 chet // Jun 12, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    Dave – a fine, insightful post.

    But…

    You fail to mention the primary concern of those who are critical of Israel’s actions and policies – the occupation. Forty-three years of ignoring UNSC resolutions and defying international law while blatantly forcing Palestinians off their land in order to re-settle it with Jews from Eastern Europe and Brooklyn and humiliating them at every turn have converted me (and I believe many like me) from being staunch supporters of Israel into an avowed opponent of Zionism. This opposition in no way stems from Israelis being Jews, but rather from how the Israeli state has evolved into a brutal oppressor – I am deeply resentful of the conflation of my criticism of Israeli actions and policies with accusations of anti-semitism as I continue to admire the achievements of Jews and value my Jewish friends dearly.
    Before the Flotilla debacle, Israel’s intransigence in failing to alleviate the suffering of the Gazans caused by its blockade in the face of universal world opinion condemning it was distressing, but its senseless and vicious attack on those whose only crime was to attempt to deliver humanitarian aid and to focus world attention on the blockade have caused world denunciation of gigantic proportions. Again, this extremely negative reaction is not directed at Israelis as Jews, but rather at Israelis as citizens of an outlaw state which refuses to conform to norms expected of a civilized democracy.

  • 5 Suzanne // Jun 13, 2010 at 12:59 am

    Re: Gershom Gorenberg’s article- I very much appreciate it. My thoughts:

    Many of these American Jews (and their parents) worked very hard to help Israel come into being, even went there, sent their children there to help build the state- had a deep emotional investment, high ideals, evolved ideals, Enlightenment/American ideals, and the totally admirable wish not to treat others as Jews have themselves been treated. But those are evidently not shared or they are trumped by a troubling psychosis:

    Not only can’t American Jews get over the shock that Jews can be stupid, Chabon is telling us, they can’t get over the shock that Jews can have sovereignty and power.

    And hiding behind that shock is another, hinted at by Landsman holing up in the Hotel Zamenhof and made much more explicit by Peter Beinart’s essay: the bone-deep surprise that Jews, now in charge of their very own country, can be illiberal.
    It’s the astonishment of seeing Jewish conservatives, fundamentalists, quasi-fascists and militarists who run for office in that country and even form governments.

    It does take awhile to get used to having sovereignty and power, especially given Jewish history. But also there is a troubling psychosis in Israel that has emerged and I fear taken complete hold, which can become the prevailing ethos for the foreseeable future. It can last indefinitely, block easy evolutionary changes, and bring more suffering and tragedy.

    I don’t care about that more than I care about what is wrong with American foreign policy, American hegemony in the world and the problems we create or help create, one of which is ennabling Israel to move in the direction it has .

    I also agree there is this stubborn notion that Jews must behave better than all the rest. But Americans should also- and so should everyone feel that way about themselves. But also there is the countervailing notion coming from Israel that anything can be done and excused in the name of survival.

    After 60+ years some supporters here aresimply getting tired of waiting and wishing and even associating themselves with Israel as they watch what seems a nation self-destructing, or morphing into something different, not so inspiring. Thus disengagement.

    * To Dave- thanks for a thoughtful ambitious comment.

  • 6 Clif // Jun 13, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    Dave – you question people falling into a prejudice – but don’t they always? Wasn’t there a real fondness for communism, a real hope for it to succeed, that turned into a crusade to crush it? So was there a real communism all along, or did it change or was it subverted? How could Joe Public know?

    What astounds me is that these day we have the Internet and yet for all the ballyhoo, where is the effect on prejudice?

    If people want to find out about anything there are many sources of information readily available. That’s why I always tell people to go to this or that site to find out what is really going on in the occupied territories. But do most people seek out truth or merely reinforcement of prejudice?

    If you regret what you feel are the clothes that Israel or zionism are being forced to wear in America then offer sources that refute it; that escape the historical narrative and sit firmly in the present and answer the question: what are Israel’s deeds that should form our opinion of the nation?

    The thing that can’t be brushed under the rug, that is indicting Israel, is the facts on the ground that were supposed to cement a Greater Israel. Many of the wounds you describe are self-inflicted from a relentless policy that is having consequences.

  • 7 dave // Jun 18, 2010 at 9:16 pm

    Clif, you’re right, political trends come and go. 20 years ago few in America and even Europe were questioning the legitimacy of Israel, despite the recency of the Lebanon War, the ongoing occupation and settlement enterprise, a government that not only wouldn’t talk to the Palestinians, but actually made referencing the PLO illegal.
    If you would have told me then that within a matter of years Israel would be forging ahead with peace talks, recognizing the PLO, evacuating from major chunks of the territories, seriously discussing a two state solution, and leaving the last little swatch of occupied Lebanon, I would have been very optimistic.

    And yet, it is only after all this that Israel is faced with a greater delegitimization than ever before.
    Those are the deeds that should perhaps inform a balanced opinion of the nation.
    But again, I’m not particularly interested in debating with people who are in the habit of judging nations in such a way. I’ve been following this conflict for 25 years in real time, as well as studying the history of it.
    Unfortunately, where I see Israel facing the greatest consequences in world public opinion are from the Oslo fallout. People forget when Israel evacuates territories and lets in the PLO to govern. They only remember when Israel goes back in to re-occupy. That’s the lesson I’ve learned. Not only did Israel’s image suffer, but Israelis suffered. The death toll from suicide bombings in the first couple of the second intifada was the worst civilian death toll Israel has ever faced since statehood. Israelis probably don’t care about the ‘consequences’ of world judgment of them as much as they care about the suicide bombings they had to endure and the soldiers’ deaths they suffered in re-occupation.

    I have to admit, the Oslo debacle and all that followed has indelibly colored my views. I now understand viscerally the hard-line Israeli types I never could understand before. Not that I’m right wing or a proponent of Greater Israel, but my innocence is gone, as is theirs. I no longer believe there is anything fair or logical or rational about this. It’s still a fight. And in real terms, while it’s nice to have left leaning progressives not angry at Israel, it’s not essential. Those tough, cynical Israelis understand that, and so do I.
    Western progressives who feel Zionism is a trend whose time has come and gone aren’t in it for the long haul. They are involved because they are ‘politically aware’ and they are looking for a fight to be part of. If it were the 60s, they’d be protesting Vietnam. If it were the 80s, they’d be protesting South Africa. If they succeed in crushing Zionism, they’ll quickly move onto something else. Let’s be honest, they’re interested in this because they want to yell at Zionists and express outrage at Israelis, not because they really care about Palestinians. They’ll forget about Palestinians just as quickly as they forgot about the Oslo years.
    But the Zionists are in this for the long haul. This is their issue. While anti-Zionists can crow about getting Elvis Costello to boycott Israel and making Israel unpopular on campus, that’s not a game changer. Sadly, the more Israel becomes marginalized, the less it will appeal to secular, progressive types both Jewish and non Jewish. Of course, that’s what antizionists want, for Israel to become so extreme that eventually it just turns itself into the ultimate pariah. But the real dynamic in play there is Israeli demographics, not what happens on western campuses.

    Suzanne made some particularly insightful observations about this direction Israel seems to be going.

    So yes, clif, the internet is a remarkable tool, and we can all see what’s going on in the world and make our own judgments like never before. Apparently you’ve seen some outrageous things in the internet era that have made you feel so negatively about Zionism.
    I’m sure you’ve heard of the Mohamed Al Dura affair. Now, I’m not much for conspiracies, but it is really quite remarkable how that story was spun by French news and how it played across the world, particularly the Muslim world. That footage seemed to set the tone for the entire second intifada, and indeed seemed to make the devolution to violence unstoppable. And yet, the story couldn’t be more inaccurate. The world saw Israeli soldiers pin down a father and son and shoot at them for forty minutes, not stopping until they were dead, and all for no reason except that they were Palestinian and the IDF kills them for sport.
    Now of course we realize that it is more likely they were killed by Palestinian forces than by the IDF, and that they were caught in a crossfire that was initiated by PA police opening fire on an IDF building.
    But none of that matters. The world saw what it wanted to see, thanks to the internet. So no, I’m not surprised one bit that prejudice doesn’t disappear in the age of the internet. I’m a realist. Another shock is that having democracy in the Middle East seems to make things worse rather than better. Who would have thought it?

    So, back to the original point, I’m not sure why Zionism has such a bad name now compared to 20 years ago. You seem to think there’s a logical and justified explanation. I have a hunch it has to do with the Al Dura shooting, as well as the ‘Jenin Massacre’, and other shock images rather than reason and rationale. Also, there is that strange alliance between Muslim groups and the progressive left, which would never exist outside of the I/P conflict.

    I certainly concur with most readers of this site that Israel does an awful job of PR, that its entire governmental system is atrocious, and particularly this current government, and that there are very disturbing social and demographic trends among Israeli’s Jewish population that don’t portend well for its future.

    Nonetheless, they did the right thing with Oslo, and shouldn’t be castigated the way they are for the fallout. Nor should they be prematurely forced into another round of two-state solution
    utopianism by outsiders who think they know what is best. I’m amazed that the same people who criticize the folly of trying to build a new Middle East by overthrowing Saddam Hussein and re-building Iraq from the ground up, somehow think that inventing a Palestine on two non-contiguous pieces of land, and a Palestine that will be happy with what it has and be non-belligerent to boot, is somehow just around the corner…if only Israel would compromise a little more.
    I guess the last 10-20 years have taught us each different lessons.

  • 8 Gregory Pollock // Jun 20, 2010 at 11:42 am

    If I die from the bullet of a young killer
    …or in a bomb explosion while I’m checking the price
    of cucumbers in the market, don’t dare say
    that my blood permits you to justify your wrongs.

    Meir Wieseltier (Israel Prize recipient in 2000)
    [translated from the Hebrew by Shirely Kaufman, poem dated 1984]

    This quote abstracts from history, exits history, leaves us, well me, anyway, at an event, not another sortie in war needing two sides to be, each side with its angry, resolute history of why things must be. A deconstruction of cause through cause, pushing blame back in time until the only responsibility is enduring your side’s point total. No, that shattered body once looking at cucumbers is just there. We can paint our narratives around it; or we can try to escape history’s trap (a bit) by taking it just as it is. A destroyed life, erased from all but the world of memory.

    I do not think there is a single Israel. States can at times take on a personality–Nazi Germany did. But they can change too, significantly so. Nor do I think there a single Palestine. These are not single because historical narrative is not single. Which is why people fight so hard for their narrative–there are alternatives. When we assert a narrative we are trying to change others–and create ourselves. I find, that as Israeli bashing ascends a new peak, I no longer want to play. My opinions have not changed, really; I am too stupid for that. But I know that bashing will lead nowhere. If I deny what has created present Israeli State policy I cannot expect change within its polity.

    And I think Dave above is right that the suicide bombing war of the 2nd Intifada pivoted Israeli policy across Labor, Likud and Kadima. Israel is facing one of the strangest, yet effective, mutations of violence in humankind. It is so unfathomable that Americans could not quite believe its cultural migration into occupied Iraq. Condi Rice finally chanted better they blow themselves up there than here, American here. Suicide missions do exist in the military, but mostly under extreme conditions, being fired upon, breaking others free. But walking calmly into a marketplace and blowing oneself up? Not so much abomination (unless one is surviving present at the scene) as irrationally impossible, almost a violation of any social physics worth teaching. Yet it happened, continues to happen. And we talk all around it, never asking how it can be sustained.

    Consider Israel’s first response in the 2nd Intifada: since Arafat’s Authority would not stop them (however that was to be done), Israeli helicopters fired rockets into Authority police stations–thereby damaging the material and social resources of those who were supposed to stop the phenomenon. Israeli policy reduced the standing of the Authority, the only ones available to punish. How could not the supporters, in network or ideology, of those enabling suicide bombers not thereby be strengthened? The bomber was met with a cold hysteria–which is what they wanted. But they did blow themsleves up, again, again.

    For all the international anger at Israel, we should still hear them, their resolve to remove fear, to defend, to make a place of peace–for their families at this moment. Gaza is blockaded because of that. Gazan missiles fired into Israel are emblem for something more terrifying. And the truth as sure as death is that this fear will always lurk near us now. The Gazan blockade shows us what that fear can make us do.

    I have no solution. But I will not fortress my world by declaring Oslo a failure. I would rather face this fear as a cancer we do not understand. Every attempt to face our violence–not Israel’s violence, not Palestinian violence, our violence–is terrifying. Yet without that, what would be the prospects of your children this day?

    But many have died to bring us to this place, not all in glorious war against the Nazis. Many died in experimental failure. And I do not live in Israel. So while we bash Israel (and I do not think the pressure should stop) perhaps we should remind ourselves who will most likely pay the price of failed hope.

    Rabin paid that bill too.

  • 9 dave // Jun 21, 2010 at 4:19 am

    Great post, Gregory.

    Good account of the advent of suicide bombing in Israel and how Israel struggles to find ways of responding to it. Indeed, there is much to be critical of with Israel. It becomes clearer and clearer that they don’t really know what they’re doing. The success and the aura of invincibility projected by the Six Day War has been dwindling with each passing episode. Entebbe and the attack on the Osirek reactor aside, if we look at Israel’s other high profile wars of choice since then–the revenge against the Munich Olympics hostage killers, the invasion of Lebanon, the second invasion of Lebanon, the Gaza War, the flotilla blockade–it seems Israel gets progressively less for its buck with each action. Unfortunately, nationalistic populism plays well in Israel, and thus leaders basically have to promise ‘tough responses’ to ensure popularity, even Labor leaders. As Thomas Friedman recently wrote, Israel isn’t exactly using its laudatory creative skills to approach this problem.
    When Mitzna ran against Sharon in the early 2000s, he pledged to remove Israel from Gaza and was roundly lambasted and defeated. Within months after winning, Sharon announced plans to evacuate Gaza. And now after all these measures to protect its blockade of Gaza, Israel gone ahead and announced it will lift the blockade, barring weapons of course.
    If only Israel had a cohesive plan for dealing with the post-1967 territories, but it doesn’t. In fact it has the absolute opposite of a cohesive plan.
    Gershom wrote about it so well in “The Accidental Empire”.
    Look at what happened under Teddy Kollek’s Jerusalem. I doubt there is a better example of Israeli unilateralism, ethnic cleansing, and all the other wrongs of occupation than that which occurred under his Jerusalem. And yet, because he was moderate and practical and not steeped in gung ho religious nationalism, he was able to to affect changes in Jerusalem that the world community didn’t really object to.
    Contrast that with hilltop youth encouraged by elected MKs to set up outposts and to harass Palestinians just for the hell of it, and all the rest. In the end, what benefit does Israel get from that, and how much damage does it do to Israel’s standing?
    In The Accidental Empire, Gershom points out one crucial difference in post-1967 Israel, the Labor Pioneer youth were not interested in setting up outposts over the Green Line, and eventually the religious stepped in and politicians competed to champion their cause.
    That changing of the guard is indicative of all of Israeli society as well. The left is now filling more of a post-Zionist role, while the religious right have become the Zionists. Simply looking at who comprise the elite combat officers in the IDF indicates the extent of that change.

    Sadly, back in the 80s it was thought that if only Israel would give up on the territories, then peace could happen. But Oslo has taught me that that isn’t even close to true. That’s why I consider Oslo a failure. And yet, I assume Israel will have to do it again, if for no other reason than it cannot come up with any better ideas on its own.

    The Six Day War, looked at from a revisionist perspective, could be seen as Israel’s ultimate war of colonial aggression or whatever you want to call it. They launched a surprise attack and methodically picked off their enemies one by one and snatched up chunks of their territory. And yet, for various reasons, the Western world celebrated that and lauded Israel.
    Conversely, the 1973 Yom Kippur War could be seen as Israel’s ultimate war of self preservation. In that war, Israel was surprise attacked and Israel took huge losses of killed in action and made territorial concessions. And yet, that was the war during and after which Israel became unpopular in the world.
    Some people try to assign a cause and response effect to the world’s obsession with castigating Israel. But as the 67/73 example indicates, it’s not always the case.
    I apply the same analogy to pre-Oslo and post-Oslo Israel. Israel is getting way more castigation post-Oslo; after it tried to do the right thing, however imperfectly or incomplete the effort.
    There is no logic to the selective outrage at Israel vented by ‘world opinion’. One factor that can’t be ignored is the differential in Arab power. In 1973, the Arab world was able to flex power through OPEC and make the world listen unlike pre-1973.
    And the same is true now. Israel was much weaker against Palestinian militancy after Oslo when it handed over land and guns to the PA. And yet, the world didn’t care one iota, and Israel was forced to take relatively heavy casualties merely to get back to the positions it held before bravely taking a chance on ceding power to the PA.
    Once Israel cedes land, it will be in an undeniably weaker position. Whatever goodwill it hopes to gain from the world community from such a gesture will be like a candle in the wind.
    Personally, I don’t see any possibility in the near future of a viable Palestinian state living peacefully alongside Israel on two pieces of land. I just don’t.
    If it were up to me, given the current realities, I’d have Israel hold onto all the land it could for as long as possible. The old saying is land for peace, but once Israel gives up land, it has nothing else to give, and so far it looks pretty clear that giving up land does not equal peace.
    The future is still unwritten. Jordan might not be a Hashemite kingdom forever. And in Europe, I foresee a new wave of right wing, xenophobic, anti-Muslim governments coming in over the next thirty years, so the current (imo ridiculous) European attitudes, ie Israel has the right to defend itself from terrorism as long as it doesn’t use weapons, checkpoints, informants, or embargoes might change.
    Unfortunately, in the meantime Israel is doing everything wrong. Going back to gregory’s example, after the suicide bombing campaign was underway, the best response Israel could come up with was targetting PA infrastructure. Frankly, I’m okay with that. I don’t know what else they could have done, what with the premium the world community places on avoiding civilian deaths and collective punishment, and also the fact that the PA by and large did betray its stated objectives vis a vis cooperation with Israel. But it was clearly an imperfect response. And of course, what happens the minute Hamas takes power in Gaza?Israel goes back to championing the PA.

    I never liked Ariel Sharon throughout his career, but he was the last smart leader Israel had. They would be in a much better position to weather the next 10-20 years if he had still been around, imo.

  • 10 Gregory Pollock // Jun 22, 2010 at 3:39 am

    Bombings occurred under Rabin, during early Oslo. Rabin barreled ahead. “Break their bones” Rabin, obviously ill to shake Arafat’s hand at Camp David, refused to retaliate. I think he realized that the granting of land to Fatah was a drug of limited duration. When the euphoria wore off, poverty and dearth of social organization would still be there. The Authority had to be completed to regulate, curtail, Palestinian violence. The election of Bibi stopped all that. I cannot say that what appeared to be Rabin’s strategy would have worked; but I do suspect that violence may ultimately only be managed by an autonomous Authority–unless one is willing to blockade the lives of millions without end.

    The election of Hamas told us something of Fatah/Authority social structure–and we ignored it under Bush’s global terror war doctrine. Dealing with an elected Hamas in the Legislative Council would have entailed risk. Isolating them has destroyed the promise of institutional regulation. If the West continues to shun Hamas as it has evolved we will be saying that indigenous regulation is impossible or undesirable. Israel will occupy and contain until something breaks; and something will break, for life will find a way to grow. The very imperative which created Zionism, which lead to the homecoming, which lead to Israel, is also in its enemies. Something to greatly fear, that one does not hold a monopoly of that kind of power.

    Israel is at the vanguard of social development. Its confrontation with Islam, something I vaguely worried over for decades, now faces the West generally. I do not believe biological containment will work any more than history’s previous trials, such as in the case of the British Crown’s response to Puritanism. The Palestine slow war is, as Dave I think implies, as much a confrontation within Israel as between Palestinians and Israel. I do not think Israel may continue to confront the latter to avoid its own House. And so I see hope in that young Arab Israeli MK woman on the Gaza flotilla. Granting Arabs citizenship removes some control from the grantor. In religious metaphor, God’s creation of Man gains power through the very act of creation, leaving God and Man in unending dispute.

    I return once again to suicide bombing in the second Intifada. Early instances in 2000 are not identical to latter instances, at the height of that war, for the latter were shaped in part by the Israeli State’s response to the former. Yes, yet more blame on Israel who weeps. But, when fighting cancer, one may make things worse, actually help its spread. In politics we want simple answers, clear final solutions; but what is needed now is declared risk. We (whoever that “we” is, certainly not including me) must tell those hostage to all this, the Israeli polity, that outcome is not certain. If you want to remove the perpetual, periodic destruction, you will have to endure blood in risk. I have said on this blog that I am a fan(atic) of Gandhi. But Gandhi failed in the partition, where I have in memory some 1 million died. The British warned him, but he did not believe. Risk it truly is and will always be.

    In the present case, though, I think/hope/imagine the crisis is easier. Jewish Israelis must face their Arab citizens or deny western democracy. That will spillover into the larger land conflict. But some in Israel, both Jew and Arab, must begin that internal contention. What comes out of this will not be perfect, but better than what is. Perfection is for fortresses, in which one ultimately starves.

    Please continue your written speculations, Dave, Suzanne, Chris, all others. Who knows? Maybe you will give someone an idea to take a step, the only world forward I know of.

    hated on all sides
    making path unforseen
    middle way

    Benjamin Suzuki

    (please forgive Suzuki’s delusive self indulgence)

  • 11 Neil Blonstein // Mar 24, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    A short greeting from a progressive, US born, 11 years in Israel, President of the Esperanto Society of New York. Thanks for naming your article Letter from Hotel Zamenhof.

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