Saturday, March 01, 2008

Israel blues - המצב

Another few events have recently occurred that have made me feel even more hopeless than usual about the situation (המצב) in the Middle East. First of all, the escalation of fighting between Hamas and Israel - the killing of a student at Sapir College, the increase in the range of Hamas rockets to northern Ashkelon. Any response that Israel makes to the Hamas attacks is condemned - if it's military, then because innocent civilians get killed (which they do); if it's through an economic blockade, because innocent civilians, again, are being harmed for the actions of the terrorists. Israel has withdrawn, totally, from Gaza.

Why should Israel be expected to aid people who respond only with violence? Even when Israel opens the crossings between Israel and Gaza to allow humanitarian shipments in, there are attacks at the crossing points themselves. Why can't aid go through Egypt? I actually thought it was good when Palestinians knocked down the wall between Egypt and Gaza and were able to go to Egyptian Rafah and buy supplies. Why can't that be made permanent? (I suppose one of the problems is that this would make it easier for trained terrorists to enter Gaza, which seems to have been the case - some Iranian-trained terrorists who had entered Gaza recently were killed by an IDF strike, which was one of the factors that led to the escalation from Hamas).

I was talking to a (non-Jewish) friend the other day and brought up the topic of Israel/Palestine. I was saying that about 2/3 of Israelis in a recent poll had said that they were willing to negotiate with Hamas for a cease-fire. She pointed out that it's unlikely that Hamas itself actually wants to negotiate with Israel, since what they want is the destruction of Israel. This same friend has met members of the Israeli peace camp and knows that not all Israelis are right wing (and in fact that they are very ill-served by their political leadership). It was actually quite nice talking to her and having the expansive feeling that it was possible to be pro-Israel, pro-peace, and pro-Palestinan at the same time.

Then there's U.S. politics. Barak Obama is being attacked by right-wingers because he's supposedly anti-Israel (because he actually expressed compassion for Palestinians, among other things). But actually he's just as pro-Israel as Clinton or McCain. Read his recent speech to AIPAC. He says the same thing the other candidates say. One of the things that was giving me some hope was his capability to see that there is right on both sides.

And then McCain gets endorsed by John Hagee, the right-wing nut case who believes that the best way to love Israel is to hope that it gets blown to smithereens in the final war of Armageddon. And the same media that's all over Obama for not renouncing Farakhan vigorously enough does nothing to pressure McCain to renounce Hagee's support. The same Hagee that some deluded Jews have started to believe is really "pro-Israel." I recently received a book in the mail (unsolicited) by someone named David Brog, called Standing with Israel, with a foreward by John Hagee. The purpose of this book is to try to prove to Jews that we should welcome support from the evangelical right wing that supports Israel because it fits into their theological end-times scenario. No thanks, I'm not interested in this pseudo-support, which will turn to outright anti-semitism when Jews or Israel don't act according to the way they've scripted us into their scenario.

And then, from the left side of the spectrum, I found out that local "peace" groups are bringing speakers and an exhibition to Ithaca in order to inform us all about the "Nakba" and the unmitigated disaster that was created sixty years ago when Israel was established. The speakers and exhibition are completely one sided - there's no acknowledgement that there could be any right on the Israeli side, or that there's moral/political ambiguity in this situation.

I think that what's really depressing me the most is that these events, both in Israel and in the American presidential campaign (as well as in the parochial world of Ithaca) lead to a real narrowing of the political space for anyone who does not want to belong to one of the extremes. For a while it seemed to me that Obama's candidacy was helping to create slightly more political space for this middle ground on Israel/Palestine. But then the Hagee endorsement and the attacks on Obama's "anti-Israel" stand are doing their best to make that space vanishingly small. I think that most American Jews are actually in the middle - we support Israel and we want the best for it, we are concerned about the human rights of Palestinians as well as of Israeli Jews, and we want to see a compromise solution that will allow for the creation of a Palestinian state, both to lessen the misery visited upon the Palestinian people and to give Palestinians fewer reasons to want to attack and destroy Israel.

But the extremes of both the left and the right are not interested in any compromise. According to them we must be ideologically pure - anything else is a betrayal of our principles. I don't believe in purity in politics anymore. My basic political premise now is that the perfect is the enemy of the good. The search for purity just ends up with a lot of injured and dead people.


  1. nice

  2. It was actually quite nice talking to her and having the expansive feeling that it was possible to be pro-Israel, pro-peace, and pro-Palestinan at the same time.

    Yes. I know what you mean.

    I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and I'm beginning to realize how spiritually painful it is for me to feel so caught in the middle and so unable to articulate my own position -- which is, as you say, pro-Israel, pro-peace, and pro-Palestinian at the same time. In so much of the American Jewish world I feel like I don't exist, or at least like no one can see or hear me -- it's like I've just said I'm matter and antimatter. It's an impossibility.

    But it's not an impossibility! I just don't know how to make that understood.

  3. I feel it not only in the American Jewish world, but also in the academic world, where among some people not only is it illegitimate to be pro-Israel, it's illegitimate even to think that Israel should exist as a nation. It's exceedingly frustrating and makes me want to shout.