A Worrisome Denial of Reality

As an appreciative subscriber to Daniel Gordis’s emails, and someone respectful of his thinking even when we disagree (which is often), I am nevertheless surprised that in his latest he accuses American Jewish leaders of “myopia” so soon after Prime Minister Netanyahu’s announcement of yet another settlement push.

Again I so often find helpful what Gordis has to say. But here Gordis, not American Jewish leaders, seems, sadly enough, to have his own visual impairment where can’t let himself see or believe or discuss something so near and painful, and that must seem to him – and in fact may be – unchangeable.

Gordis notes that American Jewish leader Leon Wieseltier has lost all hope for peace in his lifetime. But as almost always in his columns, Gordis doesn’t once mention the Israeli settlement expansion – or the 700,000 Israelis over the Green Line in the only tiny slice of Palestine left for a two-state solution. With possible and worrisome dissimulation he inaccurately fails to inform the public that Wieseltier not only criticizes the Palestinian leadership but also Netanyahu for his new settlement announcement. This suggests either a deliberate, or – what I prefer to think about such a good and decent man – the deepest and most intransigent denial.

What is happening is exactly in line with liberal predictions that if the expansion continues unabated it would become irreversible. It would dominate and frustrate and push rightward and make still more extremist and further harden both Israeli and Palestinian politics, and so make the conflict constantly more awful and endless and stuck dead in the water and interminable.

Conservatives seem to think they have the monopoly on pessimism. But pessimism has been central to the basic liberal warning for many years – that endless expansion would lead to endless conflict or a chaotic and amorphous statelessness or single state – probably to be followed by still more conflict.

And this is exactly what is so far happening. Wieseltier is right that there may never be peace in his or our lifetimes. This is what liberals predicted all along would happen if the Geneva Accords and Arab Peace Plan were for more than a decade ignored, all Jerusalem continuously declared all-Israeli forever, and if the relentless takeover of this other people and land continued, continuing to harden and polarize and make more frustrated and stubborn and defiant and intransigent and extremist the attitudes on both sides.

Gordis quotes Hamas’s political chief Khaled Mashaal that “Palestine is ours from the river to the sea.” But again Gordis makes a significant omission, that, in the same way, the Likud platform says that Israel “flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river” and also, just as the Mediterranean sea is Israel’s western border, on the other side, that “the Jordan river will be the permanent eastern border of the State of Israel.”

Furthermore, as another turn of the screw, Hamas and Mashaal would not even have any power in the first place if Israel had taken up the Arab Peace Plan when it had been offered. But of course it didn’t, mainly because the Settlement Movement had already become too large and powerful.

And yet because of this, what we liberals have predicted for so long has – with considerable likelihood irreversibly – come to pass.

The opposite of myopia is hyperopia — the nearer something is, the fuzzier and more unfocused it becomes. In the same way, it is well known that objectivity often comes better with the perspective of distance. It is why doctors don’t diagnose their own close family members – who go to more objective doctors outside the immediate household. Gordis seems too close to see it clearly – can’t see it because it would become too unendurable.

And again a lesson here is that conservatives don’t monopolize pessimism. It is liberals who for years have sounded the pessimistic – and realistic – warning about territorial hubris for Israel’s security and the danger of the protraction of a conflict in which real wars could explode and, unlike for the other side, Israel cannot ever afford to lose one even single time.

It is why, after the 1967 war, David Ben-Gurion repeatedly called for Israel’s return to her basic 1967 boundaries.

It is why, in the Saturday Review, on April 3, 1971 he said: “As for security, militarily defensible borders, while desirable, cannot by themselves guarantee our future.”

Ben-Gurion then goes on to say: “Real peace with our Arab neighbors — mutual trust and friendship — that is the only true security.”

But in the face of the continuing decades of expansionism, who says today’s liberals are optimists? Ben-Gurion, in his own time, believed he saw the possibility of true security. But after all these decades and 700,000 settlers and continuous further expansion, perhaps the possibility has ended. We may now be where Israel must be prepared to dominate a hostile occupied population and to win again and again and again, both at home and abroad, and never lose even one single time – also – forever.

While if conservatives believe they can continue to expand the settlements and decisively win every war forever, and that every other bit of this can always be done just as well, then it is they, not the liberals, who are the optimists. And the liberals are the realists and pessimists who see the world the way it truly and really is.


About the Author
James Adler was born in Kentucky, now works in university libraries, and feels especially and intensely bound up with the fate of the Jewish people in the last hundred years, especially the Shoah, the rise of Israel "out of the ashes," and the accidental and mutually tragic collision with the Palestinians in the early and middle of the 20th century, continuing through today. He is happily married and the father of two teenagers.