In Part 1 of this essay, I addressed Rabbi Ira Youdovin’s characterization of Jewish Voice for Peace as “beyond the pale” because we supported the views of former President Jimmy Carter. Now, I’d like to address his other basis for drawing his arbitrary line between JVP and the Jewish community, divestment.
Simply by saying that “JVP supports divestment,” Youdovin misrepresents JVP’s position. Our stance is explained at length here, but in sum, JVP makes two points about divestment. One, that we support selective and targeted divestment that is aimed exclusively at the occupation, not at Israel itself. Two, that other groups who do support boycotts, divestment from Israel or even sanctions against Israel are not, by virtue of that fact alone, acting either out of anti-Semitism or in an anti-Semitic fashion. Of course, it is possible that such actions can be motivated by anti-Semitic malice, but the holding of those stances is not evidence of it by itself.
JVP is in fact quite scrupulous about ensuring that we target only the occupation with economic actions. These include, incidentally, other means such as purchasing and distributing Palestinian olive oil to help Palestinian farmers, as well as efforts to support Israeli peace groups such as Yesh GVul and New Profile.
But Youdovin’s characterization of JVP as “beyond the pale” because of our stance on selective and targeted divestment has implications beyond the misleading statement he made.
One of the major differences between JVP and at least some other Jewish peace groups is that JVP advocates action. We recognize that the Palestinians are under serious pressure to compromise for peace. Similar pressure is not being felt, however, in Tel Aviv. The result of this imbalance has been forty years of occupation and instability.
The lack of pressure to end the occupation is largely the result of the efforts of the United States. These days, the Arab boycott of Israel has lost most of its potency and is barely enforced in most Arab countries (Syria and a few others are holdouts). Even in its heyday, Israeli exports through a third party were very common. The European Union watches mute as products from the settlements flood into Europe, despite attempts to get the EU to enforce their own regulations against such imports. Terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians do not pressure Israel into withdrawing–quite the opposite, they create political pressure for Israeli leaders to adopt a harder line (the most obvious example of this is the 1996 elections between Netanyahu and Peres and the massive swing to the right in the Israeli vote in response to a string of Hamas attacks).
No country simply makes concessions because someone says “please.” Real political pressure must be brought. Leaders make decisions based on their perceived interests and what they think are the potential consequences of each choice. If there are no pressures for a withdrawal, the status quo will prevail, as has been the case.
Of course, advocating for applying that pressure means that we will be accused of wishing to harm Israel. Yet those accusing us of wishing Israel harm are in fact defending a status quo and a way of doing things that clearly has not worked for 40 years. They are defending systems and strategies that have done nothing to make Israel or Israelis safer or more secure but have caused massive suffering among the Palestinians and increased tension and risk for both sides.
This does not for a moment suggest that the Palestinians do not have their own responsibilities in this regard nor that the Palestinians do not also have to answer for things that have been done to Israelis and for their part in perpetuating the conflict. But, as stated at the outset, there is pressure on the Palestinians. That pressure is brought not only by Israel, but by the US, the international community and even other Arab states, all of whom have, at various times, exerted real pressure, political or economic, on the Palestinians.
That pressure led to PLO recognition of Israel and their agreement to pursue a two-state solution which would give the Palestinians only 22% of what had been Palestine under the British Mandate. Even now, we see that even as ideologically motivated a party as Hamas has offered a 100-year truce, has agreed in principle to limit its activities to the “1967 territories” and has explored various mechanisms of de facto recognition of Israel. That doesn’t come because that’s what Hamas wants to do, it is the result of political pressure, both internal and external.
Pressure on Israel has been absent, while Israeli politicians each try to outdo the other in their preaching of fear to the Israeli and world Jewish public. Attacks on Israelis sure help in this regard, one among many reasons why such acts are futile as well being immoral and illegal. Israeli leaders have seen clearly the political risks they take by withdrawing from any territory. Ehud Barak faced an extreme assault on his coalition after leaving Lebanon, and Ariel Sharon, hardly a “man of peace,” had to break with his own party to remove the settlers and military outposts from Gaza.
Withdrawing from the West Bank will be much more difficult for an Israeli leader than either of those. It is simply inconceivable that any Israeli leadership will pull off the kind of withdrawal that will be required without outside pressure. It is true, of course, that ending the occupation is a risk for Israel. And politicians don’t take risks unless there is a compelling reason to do so. This is a risk Israel must take if there is ever to be a day where Israelis and Palestinians can move forward outside the shadow of conflict.
The pressure to take that risk is not going to come from petitions or grandiose political statements. At some point, someone has to create that pressure in the real world. And because Israel’s situation is fraught with many potential problems, it is important that the pressure brought be specifically targeted at the occupation. That is precisely why Jews must take the lead in pushing for an end to that occupation, just as far too many American Jews have taken the lead in perpetuating the conflict and proliferating the settlements.
To quote the late former head of Israeli Military Intelligence, Yehoshafat Harkabi: “Given that Israel’s predicament also affects Jews in the Diaspora, they too should take an active part in the debate… They must also dare to speak their minds candidly, without being afraid to disagree with Israel. The reticence of the American Jewish leadership is not to their credit. Instead of publicly expressing their concern, they act as apologists for policies and conduct of which many of them privately disapprove, abdicating their responsibilities as leaders in America and as influential advisers in Israel.”
The so-called American Jewish leadership has abandoned what Harkabi called “reticence.” Their “support” of Israel has bred a warmongering intransigence that seeks not to end the conflict, but only to ensure that Israel doesn’t suffer the worst of it. That so-called “leadership” has pressed for the increasing militarization of Israel and at least part of it has supported, either tacitly or actively, the expansion of settlements. This is all despite, not in accordance with, the wishes of most American Jews.
Of course, most American Jews do not support significant, practical pressure on Israel either. Yet.
In my view, this is precisely why our opponents have struggled so hard to portray our stance as an attack on Israel, as an attempt to undermine the economy of the entire country. If more Jews realized that we are actually targeting the occupation and only the occupation, I believe many more would support us and, over time, that would spread. Most Jews realize that the Israeli government is a government like any other, and that political pressure is required for it to make the sort of compromises everyone knows will have to be made for this conflict to end. Most Jews believe that there should be pressure on both Israelis and Palestinians to make peace. Contrary to what our opponents would like to portray, JVP advocates nothing more or less than that.
So, I would ask Rabbi Youdovin: If we are pushing for an end to the conflict, one which both Israelis and Palestinians can live with, while you resist pressure on Israel but support pressure on the Palestinians, which of us is really working for Israel’s best interests? And which of us is really “beyond the pale?”