The attack on Israel’s legitimacy from within
by Jonathan Rosenblum
October 24, 2003
"Israel will exist as a Jewish state only if it can be defended, in both the physical and the moral sense," writes Ruth Gavison in the Summer Issue of Azure. As Professor Gavison points out, "The repudiation of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is now a commonly held position, and one that is increasingly seen as legitimate." Even more worrisome, those views are shared by many of Israel’s Jewish citizens.
The last month and a half has furnished ample proof of the latter assertion. Indeed it is safe to say that no democracy in history has ever had its very legitimacy subjected to such a sustained attack by leading members of the political establishment as Israel over that period. That assault began with Avraham Burg’s bitter attack on the state of Israel published in both the Forward and the International Herald Tribune, in which he all but pronounced Zionism dead. Having lost both "a just path and an ethical leadership," wrote Burg, "the end of the Zionist enterprise is on our doorstep."
His portrayal of Israeli policies and leadership lacked all nuance or shades of gray – just unrelieved black. For Burg, Prime Minister Sharon embodies all that is wrong with Israel: "suspect personal morals and open disregard for the law – combined with the brutality of the occupation and the trampling of any chance for peace. This is our nation; these are its leaders. The inescapable conclusion is that the Zionist revolution is dead."
Burg places the entire onus on Israel for the failure to achieve peace. He provides no context for any of the Israeli policies he condemns, such as the checkpoints and closures to which Palestinians are subjected. One would never know from Burg’s account that nearly a thousand Israelis have been killed in the warfare launched by Yasir Arafat three years ago, the overwhelming majority of them civilians. Burg only mentions suicide bombers to express his understanding: "[H]aving ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, [Israel] should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centers of Israeli escapism." They do so "because they have children and parents at home who are hungry and humiliated."
The explicit purpose of this picture of the Jewish state as something "strange and ugly" is to undermine the policies of its democratically elected government – a government that even Burg concedes enjoys the support of the majority of the citizenry for its political policies. In his concluding paragraph, Burg calls upon all those who think like him, Jews and non-Jews alike, to help – i.e., force – Israel return to its proper role as a "light unto the nations."
What is most astounding about this screed is that it was penned by a mainstream Israeli politician. Burg served as Knesset speaker from 1999 to 2003, and was briefly elected to chairmanship of the Labor Party (a result later reversed in a revote after allegations of election fraud). He continues to serve as a Labor MK. Having decided that he will never win the prime ministership that he has openly coveted for years, Burg has opted instead for the pose of Biblical prophet rebuking the wayward nation favored by his mentor Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who was fond of referring to settlers as Judaeo-Nazis.
Worse, Burg’s condemnation of Israel today was published abroad where it was calculated to do the greatest possible damage to Israel’s image and weaken her international standing even further. In doing so, Burg was merely taking a page from playbook from former Meretz head, government minister, and Israel Prize winner Shulamit Aloni, who shortly after Arafat’s declaration of war three years ago accused Israel of war crimes in Le Monde.
One suspects that Burg, like his close friend Yossi Beilin, has become unhinged by the realization that prospects for any change of Palestinian attitudes towards the existence of Israel on land they claim for themselves are remote. If the Palestinians cannot, or will not, change, how can the hope for peace be maintained? The only way around this conundrum is to place the blame on Israel, the party most susceptible to external pressure and internal dissent.
TWO WEEKS AFTER THE PUBLICATION OF BURG’S ARTICLE, the Israeli public received another shock with the publication of a petition by 27 Israeli pilots who announced that they would henceforth refuse to participate in targeted killings of Palestinian terrorists or to participate in actions in the territories that might result in civilian deaths. That petition received front-page coverage around the world.
To appreciate the shockwaves sent by the letter in Israel one has to understand the exalted position reserved for pilots in the Israel’s pantheon of heroes. Combat pilots have always been viewed as Israel’s "best and the brightest."
In their refusal to obey orders they deemed clearly "immoral and illegal," the pilots implicitly compared Israeli military policy in Judea and Samaria to the actions of the Nazis. To justify their refusal, the pilots invoked the principle established by the Nuremberg tribunals: military personnel are required to refuse to obey orders that flagrantly violate international humanitarian law and will be held culpable for not doing so.
The weakness of the pilots’ legal and moral arguments is almost beside the point. The Palestinian Authority effectively declared war on Israel three years with the launching to a sustained campaign of terror. It is ridiculous to speak of "extra-judicial killings" in a time of war, for wartime killing is by its very nature outside of any judicial process. Israel may not target Palestinian civilians, but the Geneva Accords clearly place the responsibility for collateral civilian deaths on combatants who carry out their actions from civilian areas.
But again, what is truly significant is the readiness of members of Israel’s elite to paint Israel as a virtual Nazi-state in its oppression of Palestinians.
PERHAPS THE GREATEST THREAT POSED TO ISRAEL FROM WITHIN lies in the so-called "Geneva Accords" fashioned by Oslo architect Yossi Beilin in negotiations with a group of Palestinians led by PA Cabinet Minister Yasir Abed Rabbo. In return for a Palestinian renunciation of the "right of return" (from which there has already been considerable backtracking on the Palestinian side) and agreement to a demilitarized state, Israel would agree to withdraw almost entirely to the 1949 armistice lines, including from Efrat and Ariel, both of which were retained in Prime Minister Barak’s offer at Camp David, and cede sovereignty over the Temple Mount and East Jerusalem.
In is impossible to describe the Beilin initiative as anything other than an attempt to completely circumvent the processes of Israeli democracy. In the United States, and many other countries, efforts by private citizens to negotiate treaties with foreign governments are criminal offenses. Yet the former Justice Minister, whose activities are funded by the European Community to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, seeks to have the international community impose his agreement on a reluctant Israeli public. The Swiss government has already begun planning for a signing ceremony in Geneva, and a number of European countries, Japan, and Jordan and Egypt, have promised to send representatives.
The renunciation of any claim to the Temple Mount undercuts Israel’s legitimacy in the most fundamental way. By doing so, Israel would in effect admit that Jews are interlopers in the Land. As Minister for Diaspora Affairs Natan Sharansky so eloquently put it, "Without the feeling of continuity with the ancient kingdoms of Israel for whom the Temple Mount was the center of existence, we really are foreign invaders and colonialists in this country." In telling the Palestinians, "Here you take it because it is more important to you than to us," we would concede their constantly reiterated argument, "You have no right to exist in this country, you have no connection to it, get out of here."
The Geneva Initiative is but a more dangerous manifestation of the Oslo fetish with written agreements. In the world of the imagination it is always possible to fashion a "solution" that is better than the present, just as it always possible to fashion an offer literally "too good to be true." All one has to do is to assume that declarations of peace will automatically usher in an era without killing and of economic prosperity.
But in the real world people concern themselves with the reliability of the parties to the agreement, not just their undertakings, and ask what is the likelihood of those undertakings being fulfilled, not only today but five years down the line. We would not, for example, buy a house from someone we knew to have been convicted of mail fraud 14 times no matter how attractive the offer. Yet that is precisely what Beilin would have Israel do.
Israelis are not exactly without experience of the value of Palestinian promises. How can we be asked to take seriously a Palestinian promise of demilitarization after witnessing the way the Palestinian Authority armed itself far in excess of what was permitted under Oslo and has continuously attempted to smuggle in every manner of lethal weapon both by sea and through underground tunnels from Egypt? And how can we believe in protestations of peaceful intentions after more than a decade of PA-sponsored delegitimization of Israel’s very existence in the Palestinian schools and media. The spigot of hatred cannot so easily be turned off nor its effects, chief among them, in the words of a leading Gaza psychiatrist, literally having driven the Palestinian public mad with suicidal rage, so easily reversed.
With respect to the assault on Israel’s right to exist by a host of elite figures, we can truly say in the words of the cartoon figure Pogo: "We have seen the enemy, and it is us."
Related Topics: Peace Process
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