Is solidarity still sensible?

November 24, 2016 23:26

What will the historians of the future make of the Jews of today? If all they have to go on are public statements and official declarations, they'll presume British Jews were almost stationary, our views of Israel unbending over the decades - no matter what happened in the country. They will look at the pronouncements of our leadership organisations and conclude there was almost nothing Israeli governments or politicians could say or do that would make the Jewish community wobble: our public support was unwavering and all but unconditional. Should those future chroniclers have access to the communal conversation in private, however, they'd tell a different story.

The aftermath of last month's Israeli election is a case in point. Publicly, Benjamin Netanyahu's victory was greeted with all the usual platitudes. In private, I know the reaction of many who lead our community was head-in-hands despair. Their angst was not so much that Bibi was back, it was the manner of his victory - and its likely consequences - that made them despondent.

Netanyahu's last-minute push for the votes of hawks who'd been flirting with parties of the further right has become notorious. He promised there'd be no Palestinian state on his watch. He posted a video warning that Palestinian citizens of Israel were heading to the polling stations "in droves" and that Likud voters needed to turn out if "the Arabs" were to be thwarted.

No wonder Jewish leaders were (privately) appalled. They were imagining how they would react if any other western leader had sought to boost his support by warning that a particular ethnic group was rushing to the polling booths. Had, say, a Hungarian or Polish prime minister fired up his base by issuing the alarm that "the Jews are voting", the condemnation would have been swift and grave.

What Netanyahu said about the one fifth of Israeli citizens who are Palestinian was no different. Among US Jews, it struck a deep and vexing chord. They are proud of their role campaigning for civil rights, fighting those who sought to keep black Americans from the ballot box.

Many were in despair following Netanyahu's victory

The explicit disavowal of a Palestinian state was hardly less damaging. Diaspora Jewish leaders have long clung to the notion that, no matter how bad things look, Israel is sincere about peace - that, yes the occupation may now be nearly half a century old, but that's not by design. It's temporary, almost an accident, one that Israel would rapidly correct if only it had the chance. In this view, all the blame can safely be lodged with the other side: there's "no Palestinian partner for peace." If there was, Israel would do what has to be done.

Now Netanyahu has shattered that illusion. No longer can anyone trot out those tired but useful lines about Israel pursuing a two-state solution. We know, from the man at the top, that it is doing no such thing.

Where does that leave us? In the US, writer Peter Beinart and moral philosopher Michael Walzer among others suggest liberal Zionist Jews should get vocal: staging demonstrations, even lobbying for "personal sanctions", visa restrictions and foreign asset freezes, against ultra-rightists such as Naftali Bennett.

In the US, they've realised the old blanket solidarity no longer makes sense, not when Israel is abandoning the positions - and values - diaspora Jews hold dear. The glum truth is, Israel is changing, and so must we.

November 24, 2016 23:26

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