The current situation, with Israel occupying Palestinian cities, towns and villages is not stable, peaceful, democratic or just.
Ariel Sharon, when he was Prime Minister, was clear:
You cannot like the word, but what is happening is an occupation – to hold 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation. I believe that is a terrible thing for Israel and for the Palestinians.
In 1947, the Zionist movement embraced the compromise proposed by UN Resolution 181 to partition mandate Palestine between Israelis and Arabs. Zionism created a broad and enduring consensus among Israelis, among Jews and within democratic opinion across the world, that Israel should be constituted alongside a Palestinian state.
The Declaration of Israeli Independence could not have been clearer about Zionism’s commitment to relating to its non-Jewish neighbours in the spirit of democracy and equality:
THE STATE OF ISRAEL … will be based on freedom, justice and peace; … it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture…
It goes on:
WE EXTEND our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness…
Among the core principles of the Zionist consensus:
- Democracy in its proper sense, not just the fiat of the majority, but equality, liberty and the rule of law
- Opposition to racism.
- Striving for good relations with neighbouring peoples and states.
In 1948, ‘67 and ‘73, Arab states – states which defined themselves on the basis of Arab ethnicity, tried to eliminate Israel.
It is worth pausing a moment to consider the enormity of that statement. Three years after the defeat of the Nazis, armies were on the move again to displace and to murder the Jews. And then again 19 years later. And yet again 6 years after that.
These armies were defeated. Not by the international community, not by antiracist solidarity, not by the United Nations, not by the global left, but by the Jewish state for and by itself.
In 1967, the Sinai was occupied by Israel and was later given back to Egypt as part of a peace agreement. It is cold, but it is a peace.
Gaza was occupied. Israel later withdrew without a peace agreement; the anti-Semitic Hamas was allowed to claim the land and the victory.
The West Bank was occupied by Israeli forces. Under the protection of the military occupation, Israeli governments have supported a civilian settlement policy.
The political movement which spearheaded the civilian occupation was a departure from the secular democratic Zionist consensus which had made, and defended, Jewish sovereignty in Israel.
The settler movement insisted that a necessary element of Jewish religious observance was participation in the political and military project of settling the West Bank; it fought to establish the new principle that this political project was mandated by the Torah.
One aim of the settler movement was to create facts. It wanted to create a situation where self-rule for the Arabs living in the West Bank would become impossible. It cannot now rely on the facts which it attempted to create.
In my view the settlement movement did not act in the enlightened self-interest of Israel.
However, this was always a minority movement, often bitterly resented by ordinary Israelis, who were forced to risk their soldiers and spend their money on a project that did not express their values.
Israel offered to end the occupation in 2001, Arafat refused; in 2008 Abbas refused. The elected leaders of the Palestinians said no to a peaceful end to the occupation.
Many thought that antisemitism had climaxed in the Holocaust and died with the Nazis. But new antisemitisms emerge out of the ashes of old ones. Hatred of Jews has been stoked by the Islamists since the 1920s, fuelled by Hitler and his collaborator the Mufti, given socialist credibility by the Stalinists, Ba’athists and Arab Nationalists, and re-invigorated by the Iranian Holocaust denial regime.
I think anti-Semitism is as much a cause of the conflict, and of its persistence, as it is a result of the conflict. This plays out in ever more frightening ways here in Britain.
We have a leader of the Labour Party who said that Hamas and Hezbollah are dedicated to peace and justice in the Middle East. He jumped to the defence of the blood libeller and to the defence of the Church of England conspiracist. He supports the boycott movement against Israel and only Israel.
Ken Livingstone says Hitler supported Zionism. Livingstone has been doing it for years. In 1982 He published a cartoon of Begin in an SS uniform, doing a straight armed salute, standing on a pile of skulls. In 2006 he baited a Jewish journalist, saying he was like a Nazi. That’s what Livingstone does. He baits Jews.
At Oxford University Labour Club they sing: “bombs over Tel Aviv”.
The President of NUS supports the killing of Israelis. The campaign of street murder which Malia Bouattia supports is based on antisemitism and is designed to give Israelis a visceral fear of the Palestinians they see around them. It is conceived by antisemites and it is designed to foster racism and Islamophobia amongst Jews. Let’s not oblige it.
Len McCluskey, the biggest union boss in the country says that the row over anti-Semitism within in the Labour Party is a ‘cynical attempt’ to challenge Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Yes, the Livingstone Formulation. Opposing antisemitism, we’re taught, is the dirtier trick than the antisemitism itself.
Back to the point at issue tonight: I think people under-estimated the strength and the persistence of antisemtism. People thought of Israel as the solution to antisemitism. It was the life-raft and the homecoming: for the undead Jews of Europe, the expelled Jews from the great cities of the Middle East and the Jews who limped away from the Soviet Union.
But in some sections of Israeli society, demonizing and racist attitudes to Arabs and to Muslims are all too normal. One of the arguments against the occupation is that it coarsens Israeli society and culture. Ruling over people who resent your rule – ruling by force rather than by authority – is corrosive.
We all watched the video of 19 year old Israeli Soldier Sgt. Elor Azaria, who executed a Palestinian prisoner – in violation of IDF orders, in violation of Zionist ethics, in violation of the laws of war. Well, this soldier is charged with murder and is undergoing due process. But the alarming thing is the existence of a noisy, fervent minority of Israelis who consider him a hero.
Israel should do more to show that it does not want to rule over the Palestinians. Israel is not the aggressor. Israel does not want other people’s land. Israel does not want to drive anybody out. It should say this daily: to itself; to the world.
One of the key ways in which Israel is wronged is that people think Israel could, if only it wanted to, end the occupation and end the conflict. Israel can’t, not just by an act of will. The idea that Israel chooses conflict when it could just choose peace, is a libel. And it infantilizes Palestinians, denying them any responsibility for their own choices.
Israel can’t create a democratic Palestinian state and can’t create a Palestinian national movement willing and able to live alongside it in peace. That there is currently no influential “partner for peace” on the Palestinian side is a strong argument. Well, Palestinians could also be forgiven for failing to recognise the current Israeli government as a partner for peace.
I do not say we could have peace tomorrow. But I do insist that it is, in the long term, what Israel wants.
We have seen the Iraqi state, armed and supported by the international community, crumble under the lightest of pressure from ISIS fascists in pick-up trucks. Nobody could guarantee that a Palestinian state, even if it was created in good faith, would not be vulnerable to a takeover. Well, whatever happens, Israel needs to remain armed and vigilant.
The key issue of our time is democracy. Not just voting, but democratic values, democratic norms, democratic laws.
How will we defeat the Islamist threat? We will defeat it by offering something better: democracy. We must forge a global coalition of people who want democracy. The first victims and the first opponents of Islamist totalitarianism are Muslims.
Of course we need to be prepared to defend democratic movements and democratic republics by force. But the fight against Islamism is always also a fight for freedom. Not a clash between civilizations: but a clash for civilization. Democracy can defeat totalitarianism.
How will we defeat anti-Semitism? With democratic and rational alternatives; understandings of how things really work, and how they might improve, not hate-filled lies and resentful nightmares.
How will we defend Israel? With courage, unity, and arms. But also with democratic values. Israel’s existence is a democratic value; backed up by overwhelming force.
Israel seeks peace with its neighbours. This is its political perspective.
The status quo is unstable. Either there will be peace or there will be some kind of final victory for one side or the other. A peace agreement may seem utopian, but sometimes the universe of the possible changes quickly. I can assure you of this: peace and liberty cannot be won through the driving out or subjugation of either Arabs or Jews. Such dreams are not only utopian, they are also horrible.
*This is a speech delivered by David Hirch during Thursday’s ‘The Two State Solution: Dead or Alive’ by: Campaign4Truth