Counter-Demonstration– “Necessary Stories” column from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

Last Friday, as I mulled over whether to go to the weekly Sheikh Jarrah demonstration, I came across a poem by Natan Zach that I clipped from the newspaper last summer. Zach, whose poems often find him alone in his apartment, afraid to connect and frozen in inaction, declares: “Greater is the courage to wait / Than the courage to pour out one’s heart.” Indeed. As has happened every Friday so far, I decided not to go, and then felt guilty for the rest of the weekend.

illustration by Avi Katz
By all rights I should be in Sheikh Jarrah every Friday. The cause is just and important. And it’s the in place to be for every self-respecting progressive Zionist. I’ve written op-eds, blog posts, and satires in support of the campaign to halt the eviction of Palestinian tenants from their East Jerusalem homes and against the idiotic policy of settling Jews in Arab neighborhoods. But I’ve got complex issues with political demonstrations. Every time I go to demonstrate, I feel like demonstrating against my fellow demonstrators.

I could tell the story of my life as a chronicle of demonstrations past, demonstrations missed, and demonstrations attended but regretted afterward. My first protest march occurred some time in my grade school years. It was sponsored by Suburban Maryland Fair Housing, a civil rights organization my parents rooted for. My father took me, but officially he was there on business. Despite his strongly-held liberal views, he felt that, as a newspaper reporter, participating in a political demonstration might call his objectivity into question. When I inherited his profession, I inherited his excuse.

The first major demonstration I didn’t attend was at the Chicago Democratic Party convention in August 1968. Dad, then a reporter in the Washington bureau of The Cleveland Plain Dealer, was sent to cover the convention. One of my Mom’s favorite cousins, Jane, lived in nearby Milwaukee, so we drove up to Wisconsin a few days before the convention began. My brother, sister, and I stayed with Mom in Milwaukee and frolicked in Cousin Jane’s backyard swimming pool with her three sons. Dad descended to Chicago.

Cousin Jane’s oldest son, Michael, was getting uncomfortably close to draft age. It was hardly surprising, then, that Jane and Michael both fervently opposed the war and avidly supported Eugene McCarthy’s insurgent peace campaign for the Democratic nomination. I don’t remember if, in the end, she let Michael go to Chicago to join the Yippie demonstrators outside the convention hall. I do remember, though, that Michael tried to convince me to join him. As we watched the footage of Mayor Daley’s police beating up the demonstrators, I begged off.

My adolescence began the next year, at the very tip-tail end of the radical 1960s (my bar mitzvah weekend, in July 1969, was framed by Ted Kennedy’s drive off a bridge near Chappaquiddick and the Apollo 11 moon landing). I didn’t rebel, and largely held to the principles taught me by my parents. Dad thought (correctly, as it turned out) that the Communist threat was very real. Furthermore, he deeply respected Lyndon Johnson for the major role he played in gaining equal rights for blacks. So as long as Johnson was president, and for a while afterward, he supported the Vietnam War (incorrectly, as he later acknowledged). Consequently, when my friends participated in the Moratorium March on Washington that November, I stayed home.

If I was not much of an activist, I was a very good fellow-traveler. I hung out in high school with the long-haired, pot-smoking, anti-establishment crowd. I did the hair part, but I carefully avoided the cannabis and had a more nuanced view of politics than a kid my age by rights should have had. When my high school’s chief hippie announced a convocation in a nearby park with local radical favorite son Rennie Davis, one of the Chicago Seven, I showed up with a handful of others. A policeman kept an eye on us. I meekly objected when Davis kept calling him a pig.

The last big student demonstration of the activist era at Duke University took place during my freshman year. I attended that one—against a nefarious plan hatched by the university’s president, Terry Sanford, to close the forestry school and the primate center. But I got upset when the radicals on the speakers’ platform called Sanford a racist and fascist. This seemed to me more than a bit unfair to the man who, as North Carolina’s governor in the early 1960s, had enforced desegregation when it was hugely unpopular and even sent his son to an integrated public school. The demonstration achieved its goals—the facilities stayed open—but it left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

When I came to Israel, right after graduating from college, there was a lot to demonstrate about. I spent my first year in an indigent small town in the country’s north and saw first-hand how Israel’s ruling establishment had largely forgotten an entire swath of its population. And I was convinced that the government was not pursuing peace negotiations with the Arabs with the seriousness that the country’s precarious situation required. When I moved to Jerusalem a year later I attended my first Peace Now demonstration. After completing my mandatory army service, much of which I spent in Lebanon in the aftermath of the first Lebanon War, I joined a new religious peace group, Netivot Shalom, and became a regular participant in its demonstrations for peace, against Israeli settlement in the territories, and against the political and theological excesses of the religious and rabbinic establishment.

For me as a demonstrator, it was a golden age. The issues were clear and the growing groundswell for peace and social justice ensured that the radicals and eccentrics were far outnumbered by reasonable people. I took my small children, as my parents had taken me.

As for many others who had attended those demonstrations with me, the failure of the second Camp David summit and the subsequent outbreak of the Second Intifada dealt me a body blow. The bloody wave of suicide terrorism that the Palestinians seemed to think would break the will of the Israeli public had the opposite effect, on me as on many others. It made me want to fight, not talk. I no longer felt very motivated to demonstrate for peace talks. Every so often I went to a demonstration—when I got really mad at my country’s insane settlement policy and its unwillingness to see that peace was not a gift to the Palestinians but something our country desperately needed. But each time I felt uncomfortable and out of place. I’d be there with a handful of friends and everyone else seemed to be somewhere to the left of anarchism.

More and more often, I found excuses to stay home. I was a journalist and needed to preserve my objectivity. I had too much work, not enough time, and needed to support my family. I did not wish to be associated with the anti-Zionists, Communists, and anarchists that seemed to dominate every rally. So I stayed home, and felt bad about it.

Then came Sheikh Jarrah. For years, right-wing religious groups had, with state support, been setting up colonies in the middle of Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem, further complicating an already dangerous and inflammatory situation in the city in which I lived. As often as not, settlement movements claimed homes that had once, before the War of Independence, been owned by Jews. They painted this as the reclamation of stolen Jewish property, an ultimate act of justice for the Jews. But, in fact, it was a manifestly anti-Zionist policy, because it asserted that claims predating 1948 were valid. In other words, it was tantamount to supporting the Palestinians’ right of return to their lost property in Israel.

Even though this had been going on for years and years, something happened when a court ruled a year and a half ago that the Palestinian residents of two houses claimed by the settlers were to be evicted. People started demonstrating again. As Zach says in his poem: “With pain one can seize / people’s hearts, which you can’t if you wait.” Lots of people I knew were going. Famous people were going. Respectable people, veteran Zionists like the poet Haim Guri and Eli Weisel.

But I didn’t go. The demonstrations were on Friday afternoons just before Shabbat, the most pressured time of the week. And our expenses were up and our income down, so I needed every available moment to work.

One Friday last summer there was a demonstration earlier in the day, not in East Jerusalem but in downtown West Jerusalem. I went. It turned out that the Sheikh Jarrah demonstration had been attached to the weekly demonstration by Women in Black, a radical group that I’ve never had any sympathy for. When a student standing next to me unfurled an Israeli flag, one of the Women in Black complained to a policeman that we were ruining their demonstration by sullying it with Zionism. The cooperative, if confused, officer asked the student to take it down but the student refused. The policeman decided not to make an issue of it, but then a Communist with a red flag came up and stood on my other side, and I again wondered what the hell I was doing there.

In his poem, Zach waits. He hangs a picture, straightens out his rug, reads the mail. Anything but go out, anything but take action. The poem alludes ironically to Milton’s Sonnet XIX, “When I Consider How My Light is Spent,” in which the poet laments the blindness that prevented this most political of poets from doing his part to bring God’s kingdom to earth. In the end, he comes to terms with the role that God has assigned him.

I’ll probably get over to Sheikh Jarrah some Friday, but most weeks I’ll continue to say home, as neurotic as Zach and as frustrated as Milton. “Judge yourself,” the Hebrew poet writes at the end of his poem, “if it is a necessity. But remember: this is not the main thing.” Or, to paraphrase Milton’s final line, “They also serve who only sit and write.”

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16 thoughts on “Counter-Demonstration– “Necessary Stories” column from The Jerusalem Report

  1. Haim, I wish you and Gershom would make a statement – perhaps you did and I missed it – that lays out your view of Zionism. From all that I have read from many sources, it seems clear that a journalist looking at it in the way described in your post would have to report that it was a pre-meditated plan to displace people and take over a land through all available means – a kind of “buy if we can, kill if we must” project with the end justifying any and all means, including the manipulation of displaced Jews from Nazi Germany.

    It had rough going at first (pre-WWII) then took off with the aid of events and people connected with the war.

    Then it entered a new expansionary phase, which, though it seemed another chapter to outsiders, was actually in the minds of many of the earliest Zionists: the takeover of “greater” Israel.

    What runs through my mind is that no matter how harmed one may be, it doesn’t justify harming another who has nothing to do with the harm suffered. If my neighbor burns down my house and beats me within an inch of my life, I’m not justified in going to another city and throwing someone else out of their home to provide a new one for me.

    The Crusaders were convinced they were taking the “holy land” in the name of Christ from the infidel. Not being one to give historical credence to the Bible, this makes no sense to me but I understand that there was nothing BUT the Bible to go by at the time. Scriptures were all anyone anywhere really had to go by without the light of science/archeology we have today.

    And that’s the conundrum for me. We now know how little factual basis there is for mythologies once considered absolute fact and this has been the case since before the advent of Zionism. I say this because I don’t consider “because God says so” as a legitimate motive for modern human behavior and a poor, though understandable one in ancient times.

    So how does Zionism square with throwing people out – either initially or in the latest incarnation of settlement? How can Zionism be accepted by anyone but those who benefit from it? Golda Meir is supposed to have said “How can the Arabs make it necessary for us to kill their children?”, an indication of blindness to anything but one view. Zionism seems the very repudiation of doing unto others as one would have done to oneself.

    So I hope you will help me understand your perplexing mix of Zionism with progressivism. Tell us how you counter YBD’s assertion that giving up the occupied territories is only an invitation to question the whole Zionist project. And how do you handle the extreme arrogance of the settlers who clearly consider the Palestinians as little more than litter to be cleared from the lands to which they have no right.

  2. From the piece:

    “The bloody wave of suicide terrorism that the Palestinians seemed to think would break the will of the Israeli public had the opposite effect, on me as on many others. It made me want to fight, not talk. I no longer felt very motivated to demonstrate for peace talks. ”

    We live in a hell of group labels which force us to take predefined sides. Suicide bombing did come, in a torrent, so much so that I could no longer hear of them. But “Palestinians” did not launch them, no more so than “Jews” sieged Gaza, later bombarding it in Lead Cast. There must be causal reasons for the genesis of suicide bombing. Nothing is gained, much lost, when we taint a group label with responsibility. I have come to believe that these labels persist partly by blinding inquiry into social cause. We are not meant to understand, but conform (consider Spinoza’s advice in his Treatise on Understanding–do not wax indignant, but understand).

    The fight against violence will leave you with few allies. Gandhi fought his own from the start. If you want to find a nonviolent path you must be prepared to walk through all, or most, labels. Doing so, you will be hated on all sides created by these labels. And people earn their existence through labels.

    You, Haim, and Chris (above) may be ready to fight over Zionism. I think it foolish. I care about the person being harmed at the moment. From what little I know of Sheikh Jarrah, the point is not who owned the land/housing before 48, but who was evicted after in good faith having lived there for–how many?–years. The point of Sheikh Jarrah transcending the immediate famlies is that harm voids label(s). The demonstrations are against the trap of label. We are all afraid to remove ourselves from the comfort of social support in label. We know not where we will be, who we will be. But that is the fight, as much against the strange urban East Jerusalem settlers as against ourselves. But I sit in the United States.

    Some early Zionists purchased land from Arabs. Not all of its history is direct usurptation. Many Arab absentee landlords willingly sold, caring not for their former tenants. What the point of blame? Is it not the puppet mastering of labels, dancing our indignation to other ends, to keep the righteous fight going, our reason, so we are told, for being. Israel is not going away. Local Arabs will not either. Apartheid will not be oblivion (but, again, I sit in the United States). Nothing will be gained by declaring Zionism racism, or by declaring anti-Zionism a progrom.

    Sheikh Jarrah is a pause on all our labeled imperatives. Let others defend their group (did not the assassin of Rabin do this?). Wrong is beyond all that. Walk through all your self made labels. Find a way, just this once, in this here, to see only persons. Otherwise you enable the master of us all.

  3. Greg: I agree that the actual concrete current situation is what must be addressed but the political world moves under the views that frame a situation. People are swayed by ideologies and these ideologies in motion are what create the concrete events.

    What happened in WWII was decisive in creating Israel. Zionists knew it could be and they worked to exploit it. They succeeded.

    The problem is that the picture created has, in America, been so thoroughly implanted in the mind of the citizenry that they have not been able to see the horror of reality for the Palestinians.

    I don’t call for Zionism to be rolled back and Israel dis-established but I do question how the current settlement drive can be distinguished from Zionism. Gershom has said that modern Israel is not the Yishuv, but clearly many think it is, even if they don’t put it in that way. How does he come to his view that it isn’t?

    What is most disturbing to me is the equation –
    Israel = all the Jews/Judaism. THIS is the central problem for me. How did a minority of Jews who were consumed with the creation of a state come to claim they represent, and their state represents, all Jews everywhere? Where does this group get off telling Jews they should feel guilty if they don’t support Israel. Where does this group get the right to yell “anti-Semite!” and anyone who doesn’t agree with the current Israeli administration.

    This BS is driving America into isolation in the world. America owes Israel nothing more than it owes any other country in the world. The Israeli agenda is not the American agenda, in fact it is the rejection of the American agenda. America has more business supporting the Palestinians than it does the Israelis because they are the “tired and the poor” that Lady Liberty speaks of. They are the ones deprived of their rights. Yet, the US acts with a will to support their oppression and deprivation! It is an absolute outrage with the whole world watching as that self-satisfied Bibi grins and jokes with our vice-President. I am disgusted and now I have military-loving and AIPAC-poster boy Mark Kirk representing me in the U.S. Senate.

    So you can see how I would feel about a ho-hum attitude about going to Sheikh Jarrah. I wish I could plant Shiekh Jarrah in the middle of the the Washington Mall.

    Let Israel go off a cliff it it wishes to, but I don’t want our country obediently following it and financing the effort!

  4. Cliff,

    There is an important difference, I think, between our South Jerusalem hosts and you (or me, for that matter). They live in Israel. They love their land in a way I do not, nor you, I guess. They hate the occupation as do you. But they are embedded in a polity which will not condmen itself, or its State past actions. The US has not condemned the invasion of Iraq, even though the sitting President was opposed to the invasion while a State of Illinois (not Federal, for non US readers) senator (or was he in the Illinois House?). Your goal is to withdraw US funding for Israel; theirs is to enlarge viable political discourse, so possibility, while living in Israel. If they say what you do they cannot proceed with that goal. I recall Gerry Adams, political head of Sin Finn, the party originally seen as the IRA’s public wing. When a splinter IRA group tried to start terrorism again (they failed), he was asked to condemn them. He said, “Of course I’m not going to condemn them. If I did, they would not talk to me, then where would all of us be.”

    Today’s Israeli political disourse space is horribly violent–to me anyway. Yet change will require that some at least losely associated with that discourse willingly consider alternatives. Your view that

    “What happened in WWII was decisive in creating Israel. Zionists knew it could be and they worked to exploit it. They succeeded.”

    would deafen all ears to them in Israel. Nor is it really true. The Nazi/War dislocation of Jewry was horrible (by dislocation I mean movement, but more: the loss of family and networks). Yes, Zionists like Ben Gurion wanted the dislocated to come to Israel nascent. And that dislocation motivated a majority of new UN nations to approve the Partition, creating Israel.

    (That, by the way, is for me the fulcrum for Israel today: the Decleration of Independence is knowingly written to satisfy the UN; Isreal is created via that Decleration, so is bound to it within its own courts. But this is off topic and may be pie in the sky given the degree of hatred in Israel at the moment).

    Your words condemn the creation of that which cannot be removed. Yet I truly believe that your resolve (strident resolve?) is important: look at what you are creating on your own site. I could not do it (meaning that as a compliment). But if change is to occur indigenously in Israel, something less than the full scale condemnation of Zionism is necessary. Indeed, I think that Zionism, of a kind, can be used in defense of Arab Israeli citizens (I leave this crazy statement unexpanded for now).

    The Soviet Union has been replaced, in much US discourse, by the War on Terror. Israel is seen by many as on the front line, warning us for decades. Israel was seen likewise as a crucial Middle Eastern ally during the Cold War. The boycott of South Africa, which certainly pushed de Klerk to release Mandela, snowballed upon collapse of the USSR. Alas, I do not see terror collapsing. Israel remains an important ally, but, for me, not in the way “they” want. Israel is a principle theater for the social confrontation of forces leading to terrorism. I have an interest in that, I guess. The US has an interest in that. And Israel has been doing an abysmal job (but again, I have never experienced a violent event even at moderate distance). We need to break through our labels, our walls, our us and them. I do not want to foster new us’s and them’s.

    Haim is Haim. His son is in the IDF (he told us). His attitude we need to know, to understand. I am grateful he writes and tells us. For only by hearing many of the many voices out there can we find a way to break our chains of labels. I tried to frame Shiekh Jarrah that way. Of course, I won’t be breaking through anything, where I am.

    Finally, I mourn the US election. The 60 to 65 seats shifting to Republicans (5 are still so close as not yet called) will be with us for perhaps a decade, at least in terms of a Republican majority. Enough of the active electorate wants to believe what Republicans are saying at the moment. I feel like someone has voted to suspend the law of gravity (“gravity: it is just a theory,” although much more was turning that vote, there is in my view a growing science denial in my country). Mark Kirk has taken Obama’s former Senate seat. It will be very hard for awhile.

    I view your site almost daily. I am glad you write as you do, although I am often taken aback by something you say in each post. I would never condemn you (nor would anyone care if I did, as I am me), for I know why you speak. Civilization has the chance, the opportunity, to stop, just once, that which produced it. We can say that that which birthed us we no longer want to be. The Palestinians are important in their own right, but also for us, and Israel if its anger and hate and hurt can be curtailed. If things end well, we will find that the Palestinian polity is about as unpleasant as any other polity. But they will be here.

    I truly believe your work is valuable. I have done nothing but write comments to posts. I would not want to change your stance at all. What Haim becomes, he becomes. He has seen much. So have many, many Palestinians. It’s their internal struggle. Perhaps your efforts will shift the mix just a little.

    Thank you for taking me seriously. I’m not used to that.

  5. I just wish to understand the rules. As I understand it there was a war in 1948. There was no peace; there was an armistice with temporary borders set up. Jordan claimed the portion of the land on its side of the armistice line for itself; israel claimed the other side of the line.

    Some Jews had purchased land on the jordan side; jordan refused to recognize the transactions and awarded land and homes to its population irrespective of those transactions.

    In 1967, another war, another armistice line and Israel is now in charge of the land. And those who purchased the land prior to 1948 renew their claims against those whose authority extends from Jordan.

    Now the question is, in my mind, “What are the rules?”

    Can a country acquire land by war? Does it matter if the war was offensive or defensive?

    How long must someone claiming under a government who acquired the land by war sit one the property to gain rights over a prior owner?

    Can a group gain control of an area by blocking others from living their and bring in their coreligionists to live there? (This answer to this question might illumine the settlers situation, and also the question of “Arab Eat Jerusalem” of course.)

    And finally, “where do we begin in determining who Has what rights?’Rome? Various crusades?1880, 1929, 1945, 1948, 67, TODAY?

    There are lots more questions, of course. And, alas, I don’t pretend to know any of the answers. I only insist that a rule, once agreed upon, be universally applied.

  6. Greg:

    I believe both Haim and Gershom were Americans who decided to become Israeli. They weren’t born in Israel and made their voluntary decision to become part of it as adults (they can correct me if this is not true). That’s why I am eager to know their motivation to be Zionists. It’s difficult they believe they believed Jews were in danger in the United States, but possibly they did. They were free of the connection to Israel the land that is so powerful in people in the land of their birth. Neither one strikes me as a believer that a god intends them to have the land of Israel at the expense of the indigenous people.

    I think Jeff Halper is another person who is as dedicated as can be for equal rights, yet moved to Israel from the U.S.

    Is the idea that Zionism can be capped at the 1967 borders? I would think this as unlikely as Manifest Destiny being capped at the Mississippi River.

    The Economist magazine once said something profound – that the fascists said, “we are better than you are” while the communists said “we know better than you do”. What was similar in these two movements was the idea that the individual could be sacrificed for the “good” of the group. Not just the individual among the “enemy” of course, but the individual who was neutral or actually was a member of the in group. Joe Public could not be trusted to decide for himself what was best.

    Right now, I’m reading “In the Shadow of the Holocaust” by Yosef Grodzinsky and I’m running into the same thing with Zionism. It turns out that the Zionists did all they could to herd the displaced Jews, in their camps in Europe after the war, to Palestine, whether they wanted to go or not. Falsifying surveys of opinion on where Jews wanted to go, deliberately shutting down options from Britain and France to take Jews. Anything was OK as long as warm bodies could be obtained for Palestine, though Jewish refugees were crowding into the American sector of occupied Germany with the specific goal of going to America. So it’s the same thing – a small group decides at the expense of the freedom of the individual, and it this case the guilt card was played in full by Zionist Jews against other Jews. Palestine was presented as the one and only destination for a Jew.

    Not only were the Palestinians expendable in the eyes of Zionism, but so also were the wishes of Jews themselves. And are young Israelis in school getting the whole story? this would indicate not.

    The United States has seen a real effort to come to terms with our history in what we teach our young. The “new historians” of Israel (and I put Gershom’s “Accidental Empire” in that category) have done great work in attempting to provide the basis to do the same in Israel but can anyone believe the leadership in Israel has the tiniest interest in a proper education for young Israelis? Far from it, the mere word “Palestinian” is like acid on their tongues. Fascism and communism and Zionism are all functioning still. Is it the place of the United States to support any of them? I think not. A creed that denies the humanity of others, no matter how much good it does for the group that holds it, is not to be promoted.

  7. Well, Cliff, it is hard to believe anyone will read a response, but here is one anyway.

    History chains us, and always will. There is no history, really. Just a multitude of acts and places which roar us this way, not that. Our talk of history is an attempt to control that roar, and soon our talk seems so important that we will condemn, ostracize those refusing it. It is criminal in Israel to deny the Holocaust happened; in the United States, such denial is mostly just silly (but being silly can really, really, hurt). A Christian woman at this moment has been sentenced to death in Pakistan for disparaging Mohamad; some in her family are appealing. The question is generally not history but the use of history. And we can indeed block some paths, talking until others become mute. I have already stated that the fulcrum of Shiekh Jarrah might lie in the temporary suspension of history. People, expelled from their homes, living there in good faith long, exist now. Human rights can stop talk of history; but the protection of human rights ultimately must recur to history. That is, we can stop our talk trap for a moment, but the only social tools we really have are embedded in (some) history. When we are released from the daze of history, we have a chance to influence our inevitable re-emersion into it.

    If I choose to equate American Manifest Destiny (which, of course, has not quite gone out of style) with Zionism; and if I choose to equate the Mississippi River with the Green Line (knowing that nothing could stop westward migration of settlers beyond the Mississippi); I should know I can only do these things because Manifest Destiny “won.” Right nationalist Israelis will point this out. They are only doing what always has been done, must be done, can only be done. If I condemn Zionism in toto, hoping for another South Africa, then I had better be certain that Israel can be the next South Africa. I fear it cannot. In 2002 Israeli High Court Justice Dorit Beinish, now Chief Justice/President of the Court, wrote

    “Since September 11, 2001, we are not alone in this terrible war against terrorism. On that day, the largest democracy in the world became the target of the worst terror attack in human history. The plague of terror is spreading and it rears it head every day in different parts of the world. This requires a proper response. Western democracies have prepared themselves for a response to terror and a struggle against it, even equipping themselves with new legal tools for this fight.”

    and

    “The Government and the Knesset, as elected bodies, may respond to public opinion in deciding how they will deal with terror. However, the professionalism and independence of the judicial system obligates us, as judges, to exercise objective judgment that is not affected by public pressure, even though we also live in the heart of this terrifying reality. Because of the accessibility of the court, even issues arising from military operations have come before us. We did not refrain from dealing with them.

    “In exercising judicial review, our premise is that the law is not silent before the guns of war. Both international law and domestic Israeli law are relevant in times of emergency, and both of them provide for the exercise of judicial review even in times of war.”

    As I said last comment, South Africa fell when the Soviet Union fell. But Israel’s Soviet Union is still with us, “the war on terror,” block name, the I-told-you-so which the Israeli State has prophesied for years. The left–Israeli, American, European, maybe even some Palestinian– in refusing to account for the suicide bombing of 2000-2 (maybe later), opens what I fear is a lethal vulnerability. We cannot solve this multi conflict in any form by mutually ignoring each others fears. What we must do, I think, is find a Shiekh Jarrah, then reenter talk of history to other end.

    Law can be such reentry. It may not work, but I can envision nothing else that will. I may not, probably will not, like all the decisions of the present Chief Justice quoted above. If I require she conforms to me in all respects, then I have abandoned the law, for it is of no man or woman, beyond any person, this its terror, power, and our hope.

    The Israeli High Court of Justice has refused to consider the Israeli Declaration of Independence a constitutional document limiting State (so Knesset) power–but the Court is wrong. The Declaration accepts the UN partition as the foundation of Israel. The UN resolution of 11-29-1947 required both sides of the partition to prepare a declaration of independence affirming fundamental equality regardless of race, sex, or religion; it required the created states to produce constitutions which affirmed the principles of their declarations. Nascent Israel, to isolate rebelling Arabs, agreed, and asked for admission into the General Assembly as soon as possible. Nascent Israel did not, however, create a constitution; rather, an elected Constituent Assembly turned itself into a pure parliamentary Knesset, promising itself it would latter, piecemeal, create a constitution.

    What this dodge did, latently, was place the Declaration beyond amendment. The Knesset is derivative of the Declaration. The Declaration has within it the germ of equal rights protection. Thus the Knesset is not an unlimited parliamentary democracy (as, technically, the UK is), able to define constitutionality solely through itself (as is true in modern Germany, albeit with a 2/3 majority). Rather, the Knesset is limited to a document beyond its control, indeed, beyond anyone’s ability to alter; for, unlike the US Constitution, there is no facility for amendment. Constitutionally, Israel is unique, its Court’s role stronger than even that of the US’s. The US Constitution can be amended; the Bill of Rights could be removed, the 13th Amendment’s ban on slavery could be removed, albeit laboriously. NOTHING CAN AMEND ISRAEL’S COMMITMENT TO RIGHTS AS OUTLINED IN ITS DECLARATION. That, I submit, is something worth fighting for. This is not presently the law of the land in Israel, but the Court is inching toward it, and I think the present entrenched right nationalism makes such movement more likely.

    Because the Declaration affirms the right of return, Zionism will always be with Israel. If this grounds a Jewish State, then such is guaranteed. But the right of return, embedded among the profession of equality within the Declaration, refuses expulsion from the land. The base of civilization, the expulsion of others for our our’s sake, is denied. As I have commented earlier, we are then in a position to turn away from what created us.

    If I were a Palestinian in Gaza, I would spit at what I have written. But I am not in Gaza. Nor am I a Jew. We need people outside of the conflict so we can find a way out of the conflict. We should be grateful that not everyone has a family Holocaust memory, or a memory of expulsion from the West Bank, or bombing of Gaza, or terror in Tel Aviv, or loss and resolve in the War of Independence/Nakba. I will not rank these. If I do, as Gerry Adams would say (previous comment, above), “then where would we all be?” Where we are now, where we have always been.

    We are in a war, a war against what births civilization, what made us, what wants to go on through us. I take my stand against my evolution. I take my stand against the genesis of civilization. Now we are here, through that process; but we may say, “never again.”

  8. I believe that Clif and Greg raise valid points. To my reading, a group of malcontents used falsified history of evict endogneous inhabitants to form an illegitimate state. I too would like Haim and Gershon to explain how they are any different from expatriate Germans who returned to Germany in 1939 to fight in wars of Nazi conquest. And what exactly is progressive zionism? It is more of an oxymoron than a pregnant virgin. I suspect that progressive zionism means glossing the theft of 1948 with morality, while reluctantly giving up the theft of 1967 under world pressure.

  9. Caveat lector:
    Martin Sandberger, the previous commenter, has several times in the past submitted comments that were so offensive and libelous that I took the extremely rare step of deleting them. The above comment is also offensive, but it’s just this side of the bar, so I will let our readers judge. I suspect that Sandberger is a pseudonymous agent provocateur troll–look up his moniker on Wikipedia to see why my suspicion was aroused from the start. We allow a wide range of discussion here on SoJo, but comments containing obscenities, ad hominem attacks, and in particular accusations of Nazism are not appreciated. Please review our comment policy (http://www.southjerusalem.com/2009/01/a-note-to-our-readers/) and write accordingly.

  10. I also looked up Martin Sandberger on wiki, and it says that he died in 2009, so it cant be that Martin Sandberger. I would like to read your specific responses to his charges, as well as that of Clif and Greg, for as obnoxious as Mr Sandbergers charges are, they are held by millions of others in the EU and the Muslim world. Anyone care to refute his charges?

  11. I commend Mr Watzman on publishing Mr Sandbergers letter, because while he is an obvious antisemite, his questions go straight to the heart of what a progressive zionist is. As a religious Jew, I base my claim to the land of Israel solely on G-ds promise to the Jewish people, therefore Mr Sandbergers quesry has no meaning to me, as it is a tenet of my religion. I dont base our claim to the land based upon nationalism or that the world owed it to us because of the Holocaust. The Holocaust in a sense lessened the need for a Jewish homeland in that there were much fewer Jews around. As progressives, you probably dismiss my argument as fundamentalist nonsense. But if you do, how do you answer Mr Sandbergers comments?

  12. There is a joy in keeping others down, slapping or more, even if only in the mind, the right barb positioned for the most effective harm, harm to which we are susceptible, imperative then that we find it in others. Consider the two most recent articles by Gershom. One, up for two weeks, on trying to help a damaged little girl, has received only one true comment. The other, on the American attempt to coax a new settlement freeze, already evokes the bashing of sides.

    Martin Sandberger, joyed in the tearing down of others, I refuse the flow of endorphins you would bring. Your terror will come when others take no pleasure in your definition of win. Your greatest fear, if you can get beyond the caress of your own chuckles, is that Israel may become something else.

    Your battle is not here; perchance it will be forced into a nowhere.

    (I’m speaking symbolically, of course)

  13. What is most disturbing to me is the equation –
    Israel = all the Jews/Judaism. THIS is the central problem for me….The majority of the Jews support the state of Israel. A few of them dont.

    How did a minority of Jews who were consumed with the creation of a state come to claim they represent, and their state represents, all Jews everywhere?…Hitler killed off the nice Jews

    Where does this group get off telling Jews they should feel guilty if they don’t support Israel….In this country we have the First Amendment. People can say whatever they want

    Where does this group get the right to yell “anti-Semite!”… Some people are proud to be anti-Semites. In fact, there were official anti-Semitic parties in Germany and Austria 100 years ago.

    and anyone who doesn’t agree with the current Israeli administration…the same goes for those who say that Zionists are promoting the isolation of America

    This BS is driving America into isolation in the world…. Lets apply the transitive theory. Most Jews today are Zionists. According to Clif, Zionism is driving the US into isolation. Therefore, most Jews are enemies of the US.

    Clif, you are straying a bit close to martin sandberger.

  14. A note on the Knesset Referendum Law on land secession:

    I do not believe the Knesset can bind itself, either in the case of the Referendum Law or the Basic Laws. The Knesset is either an indefinitely prolonged Constitutional Assembly or a pure Parliament. If the former, it is unclear whether it can pass any laws at all. A Constitutional Assembly is charged with producing a document, a constitution, which outlives the Assembly. Closure of the Assembly, passing the document to the electorate (“the people”) for ratification, stakes everything on that product. The risk of ratification failure upon Assembly closure is in fact the Assembly’s power: the document itself becomes more important than the Assembly, transcending Assembly deliberations. A Constitutional Assembly passing “laws” rather than producing a constitution (as has/does the Knesset) has abandoned its mandate. At best, its “laws” are ongoing amendments to a possible draft constitution–and can be altered within the Assembly until the Assembly adjourns. That is, any future session of the Assembly (the Knesset) can alter any mandate placed upon itself. So too, then, the Basic Laws are not constrained by a supermajority bar (or even absolute count majority of all Knesset members, voting or not). Germany differs in this. There, a Constitution external to the Reichstag allows the Reichstag to alter the constitution with a two thirds majority–but this restriction is external to the Reichstag as such. It is true that the Reichstag could thereby, with a 2/3 vote, abolish the constitution; but this act would itself be part of the constitution thereby abjured. The only restriction on altering Knesset laws is socio-political: having asserted a new barrier of a supermajority, violating that barrier may be resisted by other Knesset members; but if this taboo is broken successfully, there is no remedy in constitutional law outside of the Knesset.

    If the Knesset is a pure Parliament, somehow created by the Constituent Assembly (which was supposed to produce a constitution), the same logic applies: since each Parliament is sovereign, no prior law can bind acts in the present; but, if the Knesset is a Parliament, all of its acts are indeed law, removing the ambiguity of “laws” passed by a Constitutional Assembly supposedly working on drafting a constitution. That the Knesset is regularly elected does not ratify what the Knesset does beyond its unlimited, sovereign power. Rather, regular elections are an indulgence of those in the present Knesset. So too the British House of Commons could declare all citizens slaves. There would be a revolution, but that is outside of constitutional process; similarly, while traditionally the Crown must sign a Parliamentary Act for it to become law, Crown failure would lead to the stripping of Crown assent.

    Regular election of the Knesset persists through democratic values and fear of the socio-political consequences upon violation of those values. The games being played against Arab Israeli citizens, where the Israeli Foreign Minister can even suggest that some of these citizens may be stripped of their citizenship for the good of the State, exemplifies the attitude of a sovereign Parliament rather than a Legislature restricted by a constitution. It is quite unclear in present day Israel whether the stripping of citizenship from Arab Israelis would produce a socio-political crisis nullifying the act–which is why the Israeli Foreign Minister dares to suggest such a thing at all. While the Foreign Minister would assert citizenship a Parliamentary whim, he also tries to constrain future Parliaments against such whims–when they do not fit his ideology. This game is an insult to the Israeli polity–and the game seems to be working.

    I believe Israel is in a slow motion constitutional crisis. The Interior Ministry refuses to alter id cards to conform to a High Court of Justice order (on the definition of “Jewish”); a young soldier leaks documents to the press which purport to show the military is ignoring a Supreme Court order; judges on the Supreme Court note in their opinions that their orders seem to have no effect. Because the Constituent Assembly failed its mandate to produce a constitution (which I presume would have undergone ratification), legal process is grounded only in the common law background of the Mandate. The Supreme Court has expanded common law review beyond that of the UK or United States to check a pure Parliament which was never supposed to have been. The Parliament, with its coalition majority executive, responds by ignoring the Court as it can, even to the point of suggesting that a new Court be created. The only external support for the present Court is the Declaration of Independence, for this Declaration indirectly creates the Knesset, calling as it did for a Constituent Assembly to draft a constitution. The Court has remained in the common law for 50+ years because the Knesset usurped power beyond any constitution. The Court cannot, then, allow the Knesset to expunge common law in toto through legislation, for this would annul all review power, which would make the Constituent Assembly coup complete. If the National Right (significantly composed of immigrants) continues to dominate the polity, the Court will have no recourse but to declare the Declaration the fundamental law of the land, the so called Basic Laws derivative from that Declaration. At present, the Court toys with absolute vs working Knesset majorities; that subterfuge will not work much longer.

    Israel needs a Constitutional Convention, but its polity is afraid of that. This leaves only the Court to produce stability beyond any election cycle, creating a “juristocracy” greater than that hoped by some for the European Union. Either that, or an unstable nationalism which will ultimately burn itself out; for exclusion ever needs new meat for the fire.

  15. Gregory, the German parliament is called “Bundestag” (lower house, the equivalent of the US Senate is called “Bundesrat”) since 1949. Likewise, the country isn’t called “Reich” any more.

    Bundestag and Bundesrat can not, within constitutional bounds, abolish the Constitution. Art. 79 (3) GG explicitly exempts the federal arrangement, legislative participation of the federal states, and articles 1-20 GG (the equivalent of the Bill of Rights) from any changes even by a 2/3 majority.
    http://www.bundestag.de/dokumente/rechtsgrundlagen/grundgesetz/gg_07.html

  16. I know, Fiddler. I morphed myself into the past. Too much talking to myself. I’m turning bright red over here.

    But I will stand by the logic, otherwise. The restrictions were imposed by the US. The UK, having no written form, has no restrictions except “tradition,” which is all Israel has. This will keep me quiet for awhile. By the way, I actually didn’t think anyone would read it.

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