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The Subject of Israel

About Israel…

    I left the J Street-sponsored talk by American University professor Guy Ziv this past Sunday more depressed, discouraged, distressed and disturbed about Israel than I was upon entering. I think this is a pivotal moment in the determination of Israel’s character and future – an election is to be held on March 17 – but I took away little from Professor Ziv’s analysis by way of hope and optimism, and much to report that was both frightening and alarming (to me, of course).

    Ziv laid out a few interesting “puzzles” about Israel. In Israel, hawks become doves; the electorate seems to favor right-wing parties though polls indicate that people privately hold more liberal positions on key issues; the socio-economic concerns (housing and other cost-of-living problems) seem to be important, yet people are still voting Right despite it’s lack of effort on the bread-and-butter concerns; the Right is pre-occupied with security, yet the security officials (of the military, Mossad, Shin Bet and other agencies) are taking more liberal positions against the Occupation and de facto annexation; and the fact that Israel is increasingly isolated in the world (from the EU, Scandinavian allies, the UN, the BDS movement, etc.), yet Israelis do not seem to take note (a certain view of the world is only confirmed).

    Ziv’s own work is about the phenomenon of hawks becoming doves in the course of Israeli history, with Shimon Peres being the primary case study with a trajectory from the 1950’s to today. Ziv’s research is based on what we know from cognitive psychology: some people are more “open, complex and flexible” thinkers, who listen and change and adjust their thinking in accordance with changing circumstances and information, while others are more “closed, simple and rigid” in their positions. His “discourse analysis” provides evidence gleaned from the language people use; “possibility” is very different than “undoubtedly,” for instance. Much has been written in the world of Political Science about fundamental predispositions and orientations, proclivities and attitudes and “mindset.” No great insight here.

    But it was Ziv’s “handicapping” of the coming election, leading to a conclusion of “more of the same,” that was most alarming. It is “Netanyahu’s election to lose,” and he may very well be strengthened. In fact, the Right seems to be ascending, with Naftali Bennett (The Jewish Home party) and others gaining influence and power, buttressing the Likud block from the right. Bennett is now famous for his “shrapnel in the butt” analogy: he has a friend who is “living with” the problem rather than opting for a potentially risky and dangerous operation. So, we have leaders (or, “leaders”) who prefer to “manage the crisis” rather than risk a solution. I find this disturbing and lamentable.

    I find this so troubling because part of the “management” of the perpetual-but- somehow-acceptable crisis is the erosion of civil liberties and human rights, and the anti-democratic trend gaining momentum. Dissenters are labeled “anti-Israel” and are being vilified and shut down. Organizations and agencies, including media outlets (like Channel 10 TV), are being de-funded and de-licensed and silenced.

    Once again, we are faced with a defining moment. What kind of Israel do we want? What kind of “Jewish” and “Judaism” do we want to see operating in the world?

    Furthermore, how are we to raise our voice and values and vote – the voice of hundreds of thousands of American Jews – in Israel?

    Not long ago some of us were in the company of a journalist, a film maker, with a decidedly Leftist inclination. She told us that “there is no more ‘Left’ in Israel,” and that it was up to Liberal American Jews to exert pressure on our own government to guide Israel to its senses. It appears that too many realities are aligned against this effort. This is not a great strategy. Perhaps we might consider working within the World Zionist Organization and its support of a slate of progressive parties in the Israeli election. You may register to vote in the WZO election right now.

    I am not ready to give up and totally disengage from Israel. Let’s stay in the conversation. Somehow. Let’s do what we can to support an alternative to the growing momentum toward an un-democratic “one state” being promoted by the Israeli Right. (The irony here is that “one, bi-national state” was the original dream of the far Left.) “More of the same”…“managing the crisis”…“shrapnel in the butt”…these are untenable and unsustainable, and unconscionable. I fear for Israel’s future.

Sat, June 24 2017 30 Sivan 5777