Sunday, April 6, 2014

This I believe

Just like everyone else who has taken to Twitter, I find the ability to interact with others is often constrained by the artificial 140 character limit. When dealing with a situation of the complexity of the Israeli-Arab conflict, it's far too easy to get misinterpreted.  So this post is designed to be a handy reference that allows me to just post the URL and say "this is what I stand for".

I suspect that this specific post will be edited fairly frequently because it's hard to be exhaustive, and the situation does change. Nonetheless, for anyone who thinks they know what I believe based on a one sentence tweet, here are the principles on which I stand:

1. The Jewish people's right to national self-determination in at least a portion of our historic homeland is inviolable. That's what Zionism is about.

2. The Jewish people's right exists not because of the Bible, because non Jews don't have to accept the Torah, any more than we are obligated to live under Sharia law because of what is written in the Koran. Those rights exist because of history. The history of the Jewish people is--literally- carved all over the land of Israel.  We can stand in 1700 year old synagogues in the Galilee, we can pray at the Western Wall built in the time of Herod and we can walk in the tunnel by that wall and see the columns of the Temple pushed over that wall by Roman soldiers over 1900 years ago. We can walk through the water tunnel in Jerusalem built by King Hezekiah over 2700 years ago.  This was the land of our people, and we are the only people indigenous to that land who have an unbroken history as a people and an unbroken connection to that land over those centuries.

3. That right is expressed in the state of Israel, which is the state of the Jewish people-- just as Ireland is the nation-state of the Irish people, Turkey that of the Turks, and so on.  It does not mean a theocracy-- a state run by rabbis. The ultra-Orthodox rabbinate has far too much control over Jewish life in Israel, but the state is not run according to ultra-Orthodox Jewish law. Otherwise, it would look like Islamic theocracies (see under: Iran, Islamic Republic of) in its treatment of women, LGBT people, or those following other religions.  

4. To those who say that "a religion shouldn't have a state", there are two answers: The first is that Israel is the state of the Jewish people, not the Jewish religion. We have identified ourselves as a people for 3000 years, and nobody else gets to deny us our self-identification. The second is that there are almost 60 countries that identify themselves in their constitutions as "Islamic". Some of them cite Sharia as their source of law. So if you want to campaign against countries based on religion, have a go at some of them. (Though for your personal safety, you shouldn't do that from within the territory of those countries.)

5. Therefore, anti-Zionism-- opposing the right of the Jewish people to a state, while supporting that right for all other peoples, especially the Palestinians-- is anti-Semitism in a modern, politically acceptable form. It's a double standard fueled by prejudice, and excused by lies and rationalizations.  Trying to play the victim by falsely charging "whenever we criticize Israel you claim it's anti-Semitic" is nonsense. When such criticism crosses the lines of Sharansky's "3-D" definition-- delegitimization of Israel, demonization of Israel, double standards applied to Israel not applied to other democratic nations-- it's anti-Semitic. There's plenty to criticize about Israel and its government without crossing the line into hate speech. Those who claim that they oppose all nation-states based on ethnicity have a right to that opinion. But when their list of nations to target for elimination starts-- and ends-- with the one Jewish state, their moral principle has disappeared.  Just as when the American Studies Association voted last year in favor of an academic boycott of Israel; their president, Curtis Marez of the University of California at San Diego, gave his rationale for boycotting Israel compared to dozens upon dozens of other countries with far worse human rights records: "One has to start somewhere".  When "somewhere" is always the Jewish state, and that "somewhere" is where these efforts also finish, then "someone" is promoting anti-Semitism. 

6. Israel being the state of the Jewish people does not mean that non-Jewish citizens of Israel should not have equal civil and political rights. On the contrary, our tradition demands that they do.  In cases in which Israel has fallen short, it is in that regard like every other country which has a minority people among its citizens.  None is perfect. And Israel's record in that regard can be compared favorably with other Western democracies, especially as some Arab citizens of Israel openly identify with and support those who wish to eliminate the Jewish state.

7. Israel currently occupies lands it conquered in June of 1967, known as Judea and Samaria to some, and as the West Bank to others (a name that came into use only during the Jordanian occupation). The Palestinians who live there are under varying degrees of military occupation based on where they live.  Ariel Sharon called it occupation, so I can too. That doesn't make it illegal, per se. This area did not have a legitimately recognized sovereign once the British Mandate expired. The British had gained control not only in the time-honored fashion of conquest, but subsequently via the largest international organization that existed at the time, the League of Nations. After the failed attempt to invade and destroy Israel in 1948, Jordan occupied the territory.   Israel gained control of that territory in 1967 after Jordan--despite warnings delivered to King Hussein in the first hours of the Six Day War-- attacked Israel.  The difference between Israel's occupation and the Jordanian one is that Israel was attacked from that territory and had the right to defend itself including taking the territory from which it was attacked.  

8. I support the idea that there should be a Palestinian state in part of Judea and Samaria. Palestinian self-identification is a recent phenomenon, arising in the 1920s only after the start of the modern Zionist project, and can be legitimately questioned not only because of that, but because of numerous statements made by Palestinian and other Arab leaders. 
Nonetheless, there now exists a group that identifies themselves as a separate people from their Arab neighbors, and if Israel is going to relinquish claims to territory across the Green Line, it will be to a Palestinian entity.  

The prerequisite for a Palestinian state is that its leaders agree to live in peace and mutual recognition with Israel, the state of the Jewish people-- and that they tell this to their own people in Arabic. This means that there will not be any exercise of the so-called "right of return", which does not in fact even exist for descendants of refugees.  

 As the Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi wrote in 2010

"To achieve eventual peace, the international community needs to pressure Palestinian leaders to forgo their claim to Haifa and Jaffa and confine their people’s right of return to a future Palestinian state — just as the Jews will need to forgo their claim to Hebron and Bethlehem and confine their people’s right of return to the state of Israel. That is the only possible deal: conceding my right of return to Greater Israel in exchange for your right of return to Greater Palestine." 

The problem, however, is the same in 2014 as it was in 2010, in 2000, and in 1947. As Klein Halevi continues:

"A majority of Israelis — along with the political system — has accepted that principle. On the Palestinian side, the political system has rejected it."

Until and unless the Palestinians agree to this, Israel is under no obligation to allow them to have a state to be used to further their aims of destroying Israel. 

9. Israel's settlements in Judea and Samaria are an obstacle to peace; they are not THE obstacle, or even the major obstacle, to peace. Any issue on which Israel and the Palestinian leadership disagrees is an obstacle to peace. This includes borders, refugees, water rights, Jerusalem, and incitement as well as settlements. The fact that they are not the major obstacle to peace is quite easily proven: ask any of the anti-Israel activists you will come across online (or on the street) the following question: if Israel were to withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines (which were explicitly stated in those 1949 agreements as not being recognized borders) and to uproot every Jew living beyond those lines, would you then accept the right of Israel to live in peace as the state of the Jewish people?  Most of them will honestly answer "no". (The others are either lying or hanging out with the wrong crowd.)

10. Ultimately, the conflict will be settled in only one of several ways:
---Israel will annex Judea and Samaria, with or without giving its Arab residents the vote. The latter will lead to near-immediate serious consequences from Western democracies so is not realistic.  

---the Palestinian leadership will agree to a state in exchange for peace and mutual recognition with Israel, accepting the right and legitimacy of the Jewish people to our own state. 

---Israel will be militarily defeated by the Arabs and the Jewish population will be killed, expelled, or if allowed to remain, live under Arab rule.

---Israel will agree to give up Jewish national self-determination and have the Jews live as a minority under Arab rule. 

The chances of the last option are even lower than of Israel being militarily defeated.  So unless one of the first two comes to pass, the current situation will continue.

11. Ultimately, it is the people of Israel through their elected government who get to make the decisions about their future. We can disagree with those choices but we aren't the ones who have to live with their consequences. Just as those of us in America don't decide to forswear our allegiance to our country over disagreements with the current (or previous) administration, we shouldn't abandon our support for Zionism over differences with the policies of Israel's current (or previous) government.  We can criticize those policies, but those of us who don't live in Israel need to maintain a degree of humility that should accompany our choice not to move there and place our fates with our fellow Jews there.  

12.  Finally, it's vital that those of us who support the fundamental principle of Zionism-- the Jewish people's national rights-- try to maintain our discussions with each other within the bounds of civil discourse.  We may disagree--vigorously-- on how best to keep Israel safe and secure, but our disagreements pale in comparison with those who endorse the BDS movement, those who deny the Jewish people's national rights, those who openly call for Palestine "from the river to the sea".  So let's remember that while our disagreements are often vital and important, none of us are guaranteed to have a monopoly of wisdom on the best choices for Israel.  

There you have it. An even dozen-- at least for the moment. 

Updated June 20, 2014:

13. As one of my mentors, Ami Isseroff z"l, would often note: Israel advocacy is not tied to any other agenda. It's not to be inextricably linked to supporting the Republican party, or to gun rights, or to climate change denial on the one hand. It's also not dependent on promoting abortion rights, or economic equality, or immigration reform on the other hand. It doesn't involve the Affordable Care Act or the Keystone XL pipeline. 
 I've got Twitter followers on either side of all of these issues. And while I have my own positions on them, I'm happy to work with those who hold different opinions-- as long as we're working on promoting the truth about Israel. But don't assume that, just because we agree about Israel, that I agree with the rest of your agenda.  
Israel is the one issue in this country on which liberals (OK, not far leftists), moderates and conservatives can agree, as shown by pro-Israel votes in Congress with overwhelming bipartisan majorities. Let's keep it that way.