Mose Apelblat

Anti-liberal post-Zionism

If the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas holds, it should be an opportunity for Israel to revisit its policy and offer Hamas a comprehensive deal which it cannot reject without losing its support among the Palestinians and any sympathy it may have gained abroad.

While the war united the Israelis, it didn’t bridge the political divide in the country. We’ll probably see a lot of political wrangling and disagreements about the war and Israel’s future. The recent Israeli decision to declare land close to one of the settlement blocs in the West Bank as state land, to satisfy the settlement lobby, is the opposite of the confidence-building so much needed.

However, a majority of Jews in Israel and around the world continues to support a two-state solution which will preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Their voices aren’t always heard abroad. International media has a tendency to publish marginal opinions denouncing support to Israel as either “too” liberal or non-liberal.

Take for example an article by the Israeli editor Shmuel Rosner published in International New York Times (INYT, August 8), where he was mocking “non-Israeli liberal Jews” and accusing them of not paying attention to Israel’s best interest in war time.

Being “liberal” and critical of Israeli government policy has suddenly become a reason to exclude a person from the “Jewish family”. My country, right or wrong, is obviously Rosner’s slogan.

This is strange to hear from a presumably liberal political editor representing a liberal democracy which prides itself of prosecuting ex-ministers for corruption, respecting freedom of expression and protecting minority rights.

The current situation is not sustainable and will only erupt in new wars without a serious peace process. Israel as the home land of all Jews will be less attractive and Israelis themselves who cannot stand the political and economic situation will leave in growing numbers.

Rosner continued in the same vein in another op-ed in INYT (September 7) titled “Who killed the Israeli left?” This time he claimed that the Israeli left was emigrating from Israel because they had lost influence in the country due to the support they had been receiving from the international community.

That ordinary Israelis are leaving, or would like to leave Israel if they could, because of the economic-political situation in the country has obviously escaped the attention of Rosner. He ignores also the fact that rightist parties and causes are funded and supported from abroad.

In the current situation a majority of the population is kept hostage by rightest parties lobbying for an increasing minority living in the settlements where they are enjoying economic benefits at the expense of poor development towns inside Israel. How do we reverse this policy?

Another example on the other end of the political spectrum was an article (INYT August 23 – 24) by Antony Lerman, a former director of the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research. Lerman who describes himself as a former “liberal Zionist” has completely lost faith in Israel.

He has adopted the Palestinian narrative of the events in 1948 and thinks seriously that a “joint Israeli-Palestinian movement” will bring peace and happiness for both peoples if they only lived in one state.

Where is the model for such a state? The Arab countries are breaking apart because of their sectarian and ethnic divides. In the Western Balkans, where multi-ethnic forms of governing were introduced after the civil wars, state-building is slow.

One would think that Lerman, as a British Jew who feels ashamed of Israel, would rather feel ashamed of Britain’s policy before and during the Second World War – not to speak about its role in more recent wars.

We all know the notorious White Paper in 1939 which restricted Jewish immigration to Palestine to appease the Arabs. During the war years the allied powers suppressed information about the Holocaust and opposed rescue operations to avoid receiving any significant numbers of refugees.

I would like to recommend a book by Daniel Tilles: “Passive Accomplices or Helpless Bystanders? British and American Responses to the Holocaust, 1941 -1945” (2008).

Lerman has obviously totally forgotten the lessons learned from the Holocaust when he questions the right of Israel to exist. It’s strange that Israel, so many years after its establishment, still have to prove that it has a right to exist as an independent nation state in a world full of nation states or failed states.

With all its flaws and problems Israel is the fulfilment of the right of national self-determination of the Jewish people and a more liberal democracy than many other Western countries.

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  1. Hello Mose,

    I live in New York’s Upper West Side, a hotbed of “liberal Zionism.” Many of my neighbors subscribe to this way of thinking, characterizing themselves as lovers of Israel who can’t understand why Israel fought the war the way it did, why so many civilians were killed. None I’ve spoken to ever question the numbers of dead and the preponderance of young, military-age men among them. None are disturbed by the fact that only members of Hamas and their leaders had access to bomb shelters during the war, that every missile fired at Israel was directed at civilians. In another, far more important realm, an incredible percentage of the people I’ve talked to about the Palestine-Israel conflict are unaware of basic facts about the conflict — e.g., that Jordan and Egypt controlled the West Bank and Gaza, respectively, for 19 years. So I dismiss their opinions — if you don’t know the facts and see things in black and white terms — like those people in my synagogue who claim “there never was a Palestinian people, “I can’t take them seriously.

    As to your proposed solution to the conflict — two states — I believe that it is moral and just. It looks great on paper. But it has as much to do with reality as the claim that there are no Palestinians or that God handed the Jews Chevron in perpetuity. Hamas is an Islamist group; their treatment of their own population proves this, not to mention their charter. They cannot be coopted without losing their identity. Their thieving leaders may go that way, since it would enable them to keep their money. But their rank and file members would consider accepting such an accommodation with Israel not only as treason but as a heresy. Israel would be literally insane to include Hamas in a deal, especially since a Hamas empowered by true inclusion in a Palestinian government, with the power to negotiate, would in all likelihood wind up controlling the West Bank, throwing the PA out the window, metaphorically.

    There is a reason that relatives of mine in Israel who hated Sharon, who joined those who rightly demonstrated against him after Sabra and Shatila, later voted for him, albeit reluctantly. The intifada taught them the nature of the enemy. Israel can help create a Palestinian state when the Palestinians become people who are able to throw away their ancestral keys and learn how to negotiate. Arafat knew he could never compromise without losing his head; Abbas knows it too. Notwithstanding the immorality of the settlements — and the sheer stupidity of expanding them now — there can be no Palestine state. Not until the Palestinians, like the rest of their Sunni brothers, demonstrate that they are able to live with others. After an Islamic reformation, very possibly. That won’t happen tomorrow.

    Morality can’t trump survival. Moral behavior vis-à-vis the Palestinians should be the law of the land. But only up to the point where it doesn’t threaten the lives of my Israeli cousins. Or yours.

  2. You try to portray yourself as anti-nationalist in what you see as other people’s countries but when it comes to Israel you become an ethno-centric nationalist? Democratic and expressly “Jewish” state are incompatible terms. A democracy must apply to all citizens irregardless of ethnic identity right Mose? Would you want to be treated as a second class citizen in countries other than Israel?

    Modern Israel was acquired in the mid 20th century. (displacing the mostly Arabs living there) The original Jews disappeared along time ago. Today’s modern Jews are mix of Germans, Slavs, Turkic and other people’s that have a Jewish identity. Zionists created the modern Jewish “ethnic” identity in the 18th century. Jewish was a religion for most of the middle ages (with millions of converts – see Kazzars) Even Hebrew was essentially a dead langauge.

    This explains perfectly the difference in enourmous intellectual performance differences between various types of jews. .Although Jews have a common identity, they do not have a common origin. Mose has writen elsewhere that names of a country don’t matter. So if you actually believe it, just call the country Palestine (or something new if it hurts your ego). Make it a single country for all citizens. We are all fellow human beings right?

    Or perhaps there is more to identity than you claim elsewhere? That perhaps people do have a moral right to protect their identity from those that threaten it — and those that collude with them.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I see that you are influenced by the Israeli professor Shlomo Sand who wrote the book “The invention of the Jewish people”. Quite interesting book but also speculative. There isn’t much proof that the Jews in Eastern Europe were descendants of the mysterious Khazar kingdom. And it doesn’t matter so much as Jewish identity is linked to the land of Israel: historical memory, language and religion. Jewish identity is not only matter of religion – many Jews are not at all religious – but is composed of all other elements which you find in other nations with a common identity.

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