Last One Out, TurnOff the Mike

Gershom Gorenberg

My new article on the implosion of the Israeli left at the very moment when American Jewish doves are finally speaking out is up at The American Prospect:

Danny Ben-Simon has quit. If anyone needed more evidence of the disarray of the Israeli left, this is it — but then, no one actually needs any more evidence.

Ben-Simon became the whip of the Labor Party’s Knesset delegation just five months ago. That sounds like a prominent position for a first-time Knesset member, until you remember that the once-powerful party now has just 13 representatives in the 120-seat parliament and that at least four of them have had nothing to do with Labor since its leader, Ehud Barak, insisted on joining Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government in order to become defense minister.

Before running for office this year, Ben-Simon was one of the country’s most incisive political reporters. He literally wrote the book on Labor’s inability to connect to lower-class voters. At a press conference on Monday, he announced his decision to quit his position as whip with a furious attack on Barak for his failure to pursue peace. The riddle is why he thought he could work with Barak in the first place.

In 1993, when Labor’s Yitzhak Rabin led Israel into the peace process with the Palestinians, the party had 44 Knesset seats. The smaller Meretz Party, to Labor’s left, then had 12 seats; now it has three. The political parties aren’t alone in imploding. Peace Now, a protest movement that in its heyday sometimes drew hundreds of thousands of people to demonstrations, still runs a monitoring effort that provides crucial information on West Bank settlement and has filed important lawsuits against settlers. But it only manages to draw major crowds to the annual memorial for Rabin — perhaps now a memorial for the peace movement itself.

Read the rest here, and come back to SoJo to comment.

18 thoughts on “Last One Out, TurnOff the Mike”

  1. here are some reasons why the middle and lower classes have left Labor. Increasingly Laborites dont share the Israeli experience. They live in faux American areas like Kochav Yair, they get psychiatric exemptions so their kids dont serve in Zahal, and they dont ride buses. They would never vacation in other parts of Israel, but prefer Paris (or Dubai, which they access with their EU passports). They dont share our lives. On the other hand, they supply guns and fertilizer to the PA, which are then used to kill us in buses and restaurants. Every ball bearing and molecule of explosive has Labor’s fingerprints on it. Needless to say, we dont find this charming. Instead of turning off the mike, sell your house and move back to Europe. We are sick of those who place their enemies aspirations and well being over their own family

  2. Aaron: I remember it quite well, and I don’t remember anything. I had visited Israel just a few months before on becoming a bar-missvah; at the time, I didn’t really understand what the fuss was about with Sharon’s visit and all (as it happened, the day after my 13th birthday). But I understood that everything I had been taught as a kid was getting shit-canned: gone was Linda Ellerbee on Nickelodeon doing pieces on Arabs and Jews;, and most of my teachers at school were celebrating the defeat of Oslo and the triumph of Sharon: it was a return to normalcy, and a far bigger story in the four cubits of the Yeshivah of Flatbush than the hanging chads.

    Anyway, I would like to hear what sort of ‘leadership’ Obama can possibly lend right now – other than what he has already been doing. The US is in a weak position with no leverage over anyone, either because they never had it, as in the case of Hamas (but hey, I’m sure Hannity or someone will accuse Mr. Obama of funding them, if they haven’t already) or because they have neutered them, as in the case of Israel (refusal to touch military aid or UN veto – but I wouldn’t be happy about those things in any event, so moot point).

    How viable is the calling for a Madrid-style conference when the atmosphere for such a thing does not exist? Obama has no magic wand to manufacture such things.

    J-Street, of course, seems like a great idea. Anybody’s issues with that organization should be allayed with Jeremy Ben-Ami’s interview with Goldblog (who has lately been veering more to the right than when he first started blogging):
    But they are hardly a mass-movement, and have an extraordinary battle ahead in terms of establishing credibility. Reasonable people like Oren won’t even touch them. Also, I question the wisdom of comparing the Netanyahu government to either Shamir’s or Begin’s in terms of willingness to step up.


  3. I can’t believe after everything that has happened that Gershom still believes in the “peace process”. We hear the warmed over things like “it’s Barak’s fault that he didn’t reach an agreement with Arafat”, as if Arafat’s role in igniting civil wars in TWO countries (Jordan and Lebanon) plus his brainwashing his people in his state-controlled media to hate Jews and become suicide bombers don’t really detract from Arafat’s supposed desire to “make peace”. Gershom doesn’t even mention Olmert’s even more generous offer to Abbas which also was rejected….it is still a matter of just finding the right phrases or “creative solutions” in the eyes of the “true believers” like Gershom. I hate to be the one to break ti to you Gershom, but NO Palestinian leader will agree to peace with Israel on ANY realistic terms. And it has NOTHING to do with the settlements. Gush Katif showed the settlements can be plowed unders without any opposition.
    All the Palestinians and the rest of the world want is a peace PROCESS, not peace itself, and this is only in order to keep the US and EU money flowing into their coffers, since the Palestinian Authority is dependent on this money for the majority of its operating budget. If they were to tell the truth like HAMAS does about rejecting the “peace process” entirely, then they would be cut off .
    So everyone goes around playing the “peace process” game but there is no chance it will achieve anything.
    I sympathize with your position. As a “progressive” Zionist, Gershom, you are consumed with guilt over personally having benefitted from the dispossession of the Arabs during the War of Independece (whether or not they brought it on themselves by starting the war). So you go on and on about the settlments and you delude yourself that there is a chance for peace if only Israel had the “right government”, or the right slogans, in the hope that this guilt feeling you bear can be lifted. Now you pin your hopes on a bunch of American Jews (J-Street) who don’t have a clue what is going on in Israel and who think they can maneuver Obama’s Administration to forcing Israel to do what it own population overwhelming rejects (now including the Left). Ultimately, reality intrudes and J-Street will learn what the Israeli “peace camp” learned the hard way…it is not within Israel’s ability (or America’s) to force the Arabs to make peace since it is the ARABS who are the ones who reject it. End of story.

  4. I think the strategy the left needs to make is to focus exclusively on the contuing expansion of the settlements. Whether or not there is a partner for peace is completely besides the point. Having hostile neighbors does not entitle you to take their land in your capacity as an occupying power.

    Perhaps the left can point to the folly of investing in settlements that would need to be given away in any kind of agreement. Perhaps they can start to ask who will pay to relocate the settlers?

    They should argue that the settlers should not be used as bargaining chips.

    They should position themselves as the party of the future, preparing for the day when the Arabs are ready to sit down and talk peace.

  5. Indeed the Israeli left is in disarray. And what does that mean? As another commenter pointed out, mainstream Israelis have lost faith in the Oslo process while the dogmatic left has yet to catch up to the new reality.
    I’ve shared the details on this blog before of how I went from being very optimistic at the moment of Rabin’s triumphal 1992 victory and the immediate negotiations towards a two state solution, hating the right more than ever after rabin’s assassination, to watching with sadness as Oslo fell apart following Sharon’s 2000 visit to the temple mount.
    And here is where the dogmatic left and I part ways. The lessons I learned from Oslo were that creating a viable Palestinian state on two separate pieces of land is going to be an impossible feat of statecraft. It’s funny that the people who feel the idea of nation building in places like Iraq is arrogant right wing folly seem to think that building a state of Palestine from scratch can be done if only enough great brains get together.
    I can go on with reasons I’m skeptical about the viability of a peaceful, noncontiguous Palestine nestled contently alongside Israel, but I won’t. I will mention that the other bit of wishful thinking from Oslo–that if the world saw Israel trying to make peace they would be much more sympathetic and understanding towards Israel’s plight–turned out to be patently false.
    When Israel had to return to territory it had pulled out of in order to stop the post 2000 scourge of suicide bombing, no one remembered that the IDF relinquished those areas in the first place, only that the IDF was now ‘occupying’ them. The cost of Oslo was hundreds of Israeli dead in horrible suicide bombings, not to mention Israeli military casualties. That was the cost because those people paid with their lives as Israel waited until the world said the IDF could reoccupy the areas it had left and put a stop to it.
    I’ve learned some lessons here that have separated me from the dogmatic two state approach.

    One thing that’s new is I have less passion for the integrity of the Green Line. I don’t think there’s anything inherent in those borders that would make a definitive difference in the viability of a Palestinian state. To me, the real issue is–still–Palestinian and Arab acceptance of Israel.
    But the sanctity of the Green Line is still what ostensibly divides right from left wing Israelis, and they compete for the approval of the center. The dogmatic left has to understand that the pendulum has swung firmly the other way, and may not come back for awhile if ever. The one thing the left have going for them is that in reality mainstream Israelis are not their grandparents, they don’t want to settle remote outposts. Those who do want to settle tend to be out of the mainstream, so if a really good offer comes up, and these ideologues are what stands between Israel and a comprehensive treaty it can live with, then the center will abandon them.

    But it’s interesting to bring in the 1947-9 period for comparison. The ideological left acts as if strict adherence to the Green Line is the measure of one’s true desire for peace. If one supports a total return to the green line and strictly proportionate compensation for the few areas that aren’t returned, then one is an enlightened two stater. The further one gets away from that asymptote, the less ideologically pure one is.
    But what is that holy Green Line really? It’s the occupied territory beyond the UN Partition Plan. Seems to me if Israel ratified the Partition Plan that meant it was capable of living in those borders. So, while fighting to secure those borders was justifiable, taking any further territories was an act of aggression.
    And yet, when I talked to kibbutz vatikim who were part of that generation, vatikim from both Mapam and Mapai kibbutzim, people I would describe as left wing progressives, to a person they felt no particular remorse for taking the extra land. Maybe that had something to do with living through the fighting of 1948. Having experienced the fighting and either being seriously wounded or knowing people who had died in the fighting, these kibbutzniks attitude was basically ‘tough luck for the arabs, you don’t get a do over when you decide to fight and end up losing’.

    Now, I’m not going to compare the period of the early 2000s to the Israeli War of Independence in terms of total suffering, but the same dynamics are in play. The al Aqsa Intifada seemed to be an attempt to destroy Israel in whatever way possible–a futile attempt to be sure, but a rather startling and multifaceted offensive nonetheless. The intent was there to destroy Israel, if not the capability.

    Maybe today’s Israelis feel the same way. Tough luck–if you pick a fight to the death then I don’t feel sorry for you when you lose, and that doesn’t mean you get to automatically go back to where you were before, just like 1948.
    And let’s be honest, is a particular amount of land going to make or break the viability of a peaceful Palestinian state? Making it work with all the west bank and gaza is a tall and apparently impossible task. Making it work requires first and foremost an extraordinary effort at reinvention (or invention) by the Palestinians. And that sort of reinvention, as well as the viability of the state, doesn’t depend on whether they have 100% of the territory or 80%.

    Basically, from what we’ve seen of the autonomous Palestinian territory experiment, the Palestinian state in west bank and gaza is going to be a perpetually dysfunctional mess whose only raison d’etre is going to be to continue the fight for liberation. So, preachy talk about the sanctity of the Green Line just isn’t going to resonate with the mainstream at this point.

  6. When I was a kid, living in the Rockaways, a developer wanted to build a hospital/medical center in a vacant lot near where I lived. The community was up in arms. They did not want a hospital with ambulances going through our neighborhood. The community organized a blockade around the property, by having cars parked all around the perimiter. Ultimately, the hospital was not built.

    Palestinians in the West Bank have no say whatsoever in what happens to the land around them. They have no vote and no voice. They are powerless to prevent settlements from popping up all around them.

    It is wrong, and no amount of rationalization can justify it. Unless you are prepared to make the Palestinians Israeli citizens and give them a vote, there should be no settlements in occupied land. It doesn’t matter what you think the status of it should be eventually. The mainstream has lost their moral bearings.

  7. I joined Labor in 1994 to vote for Rabin over Peres, as Peres had a record of capitulating to the religious parties on any issue regarding religious pluralism – which I believe is the core issue in Israeli politics, though I only ever voted Meretz when it came down to it. Lot of good it did. Except once – I voted for Labor when Amir Peretz was head of the party. Lot of good it did.

    Ehud Barak is the worst thing that has happened to Israeli politics since the Rabin assassination. In any other country, a leader who lost an election like he did in 1999 would never show his face in public again. I can’t believe he was reelected to the head of the party. If we elected him, we deserve what we got…

    Now I pray that Jomes and Meretz will join with the “New Movement” people and with Meimad in the next election. But the majority will still be in the hands of the Likud.

  8. “The al Aqsa Intifada seemed to be an attempt to destroy Israel in whatever way possible–a futile attempt to be sure, but a rather startling and multifaceted offensive nonetheless. The intent was there to destroy Israel, if not the capability.”

    Terrorism is never about winning by force of arms, nor does it have as its’ aim complete military ‘victory’ or destruction of the enemy.

  9. “Terrorism is never about winning by force of arms, nor does it have as its’ aim complete military ‘victory’ or destruction of the enemy.”

    Be that as it may, the conclusion many people have drawn from the breakdown of Oslo and the launching of the al aqsa intifada is that for the greater Arab and Moslem world, as well as the Palestinians, is that they are not yet willing to or capable of accepting the reality of the two state solution, which means a vibrant, relatively successful Israel allowed to exist in all its rancorous splendor with impunity alongside a Palestinian state which in reality will be two noncontiguous pieces of land, one crowded, and the other landlocked, and always in the shadow of the more successful Israel. In other words, contrary to hopes, the Palestinian national narrative is still about negating Israel rather than picking up the pieces and making do with what they have left.

    Debbie R…I appreciate the sentiment, but in reality you’re telling me a story of wealthy homeowners who told a hospital they can go stuff it because the neighborhood didn’t want to hear sirens coming down their roads. That is exactly the antithesis of the sort of cooperation that will be needed if this idea of two peoples sharing one land is ever to work.

    And, really you could say the same thing for the land beyond the Partition Plan that Israel took in 1948. Yet most Labor affiliated Israelis haven’t given a second thought to not settling that land and destroying the abandoned villages.

  10. I don’t think I’ll be buying that title at my local bookstore. I do think the terrorists are out to “win”, not just to play the game until the end of time. Perpetual containment and “lack of recognition” to deny terrorists their psychological needs doesn’t seem like a viable strategy to me.

    I prefer other writings that point to positive actions, like Thomas P.M. Barnett or Vali Nasr “Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean for Our World”. Promote the rise of the middle class in Islamic nations (or the West Bank) and you’ll see a different world.

  11. John – You’ve apparently dismissed the entire thesis based on reading the blurb. There is real research behind Richardson’s work; these are not the writings of some radical, unaccountable pundit.

  12. OK, Eli, I will take a closer look, but rest assured that my second-hand judgement had nothing to do with being radical (or not) and “unaccountable pundits” don’t bother me much (Fox News has the right to be heard too).

    If, for the moment, you accept the thesis that a vibrant middle class is the best strategy against future terrorism, then it’s very straightforward to see how the occupation as currently administered works against that every day.

  13. Danny Ben-Simon was born in Morrocco and the closest he came to being “not Israeli” was when he got a Master’s in Journalism in Boston. He doesn’t have an EU passport and he doesn’t build Palestinian bombs. It seems like in every country, the right always manages to tap into our insecurities and convince us of preposterous things…

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