Israel’s critics aren’t interested in dialogue or compromise, they just want to hate

Without dialogue, how can there ever be progress toward peace?


Protesters hold placards and chant slogans during a rally in support of Palestinians, outside of the Houses of Parliament in central London on November 15, 2023, to demand Members of Parliament vote for a ceasefire in Gaza. (Photo by Ben Stansall / AFP)

March 19, 2024 17:45

While giving a speech at a school the other day, I was asked for the soundest piece of political advice I could provide. I said this: “I want you to understand that there is right and wrong and you have to be able to distinguish between them. You can’t involve yourself in every controversy, but you shouldn’t assume that someone else will be there to stand up for right if you don’t.”

Then I added this: “But in a way this is easy advice to give, however hard it is to follow. Because we all instinctively feel we know right from wrong. Much more difficult is that there are a huge number of issues where there is more than one right answer.

“So I need you to appreciate that for many of the most difficult questions you will need to find compromises, or apply a sense of proportion. Because what you think is right will clash with what someone else justly thinks is right.”

This rule applies to lots of subjects but, naturally, it applies to Israel and all the controversies it faces. And that was one of my main reasons for talking about it.

I had recently had a depressing experience. Aware that Israel’s supporters and its critics have been talking past each other, I decided to write an article for The Times in which I set out some of the things critics had been saying that I had heard, understood and might be willing to accept.

I restated my belief in the need for Israel to exist and be secure, I repeated that it was unthinkable that Hamas be allowed to continue governing territory adjacent to Israel, I admitted that my view wasn’t the same as that of every Jew. And then I made my list of concessions.

I won’t repeat everything I wrote, but the thrust was that I accepted that there had been an emerging Palestinian nationalism at the same time as Zionist migration. I understood why Palestinian Arabs hadn’t wanted to share the land, even though I regretted it. I acknowledged that in the war they then launched, some Palestinians had been driven from their homes and still felt a sense of injustice.

And I agreed they needed still to have their own state, an outcome which settlements and the attitude of the Israeli government impedes. And here is what happened when I wrote this.

Nothing. Nothing happened. I had written that I was trying to establish a dialogue in which all of us showed we were listening to each other, that while some issues were ones that were about right and wrong (the horrific Hamas attack, the need for half the world’s Jews to feel secure), others were about competing rights.

But I didn’t get the dialogue I had been asking for. Not from one person. Not in a single email. Not in a single letter. Not in a single tweet. Not one person matched my concessions with concessions of their own. The only replies I got were to tell me I was right to concede and demand more.

I tried again. I wrote another column and repeated the arguments I had heard the critics make. I was even more explicit this time about seeking a response. But still, I got nothing.

I admit, this has had an impact on me. I have become more pessimistic. My experience has reinforced the feeling that quite a lot of the protest rhetoric is dishonest.

The protest is not against Israel’s actions, it is simply against Israel. There is nothing that Israel can do that will satisfy the demands the protesters are making. The dialogue they pretend to want, they do not actually want. Not one person (this is what really shocked me, not one person) was willing to accompany their support for Palestinian rights with any sort of statement that acknowledge the legitimate reasons why Jews came to Palestine. Not one person expressed understanding of the compelling reasons why they now need to stay.

Without this how can there ever be progress? Without this, what is there to talk about? All one can do is resist militarily and politically until a change in attitude takes place. Not to be able to understand that sometimes two rights clash seems extraordinary to me. But there you go.

Daniel Finkelstein is Associate Editor of The Times

March 19, 2024 17:45

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