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Dani Dayan’s service to the left

With a single New York Times op-ed, the head of the Yesha Council has revealed what the hasbara industry have been trying to conceal for decades

Anyone who regularly reads The New York Times should not have been surprised to read Dani Dayan’s op-ed “Israel’s Settlers are Here to Stay,” (NY Times July 25, 2012). It is obviously a response to an editorial, published a few days before, that was openly critical of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s policy vis-à-vis the settlements.

From my leftist position I was happy to read Mr. Dayan’s editorial. Why? Many of us on the left in the US who are also Israeli citizens, or have spent years in Israel, have struggled to convince our readers or conversation partners that what the hasbara industry professes is not really what those inside the settlements really believe, want, desire or, more importantly, are willing to live with. The hasbara industry tell us that Israel wants to make peace, that if we had a peace partner, Israel would make the “painful comprises” to ensure a just settlement. The hasbara industry tells us the “settlements are not the problem,” that the settlers would willfully leave if they believed a secure resolution to the conflict was in the offing. The hasbara industry tells us that the reason there is no Palestinian state is because the Palestinian leadership, and the Palestinian people, do not want it or will not accept the necessary conditions for such a state to exist.

Mr. Dayan’s piece finally makes public in the English-speaking world what many of us who read the Hebrew press or Israel National News already know: The Yesha Council is not on board with the hasbara industry. In fact, Yesha rejects the hasbara industry’s very parameters. Hasbara rhetoric is for external consumption, to keep Diaspora Jews engaged in Israel, to cultivate Israel advocacy, and to make them believe the problem lies solely on the shoulders of the Palestinians. What Mr. Dayan has done, thanks to The New York Times, is to make public what Yesha has always believed — in clear and reasoned prose — and what Yesha is and is not willing to do.

First, Mr. Dayan uses the term “acquisition” regarding Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) as a substitute for “occupation.” There is no occupation. The land belongs to Israel. In this reading, Israel is a democratic country with a Declaration of Independence ensuring the rights of all its citizens regardless of “race or religion” that, in fact, denies the rights of millions of inhabitants in its country. It is not disputed territory. It is Israel. Some people would call that apartheid. The hasbara industry rejects that terminology, accusing those who use it of being anti-Israel or anti-Semitic. Yesha is not afraid of that term. If that is what the reality is, so be it. The land belongs to the Jews. Period.

Mr. Dayan cleverly veers away from any messianic rhetoric and sticks to issues of security, arguing that Israel simply cannot allow a Palestinian state on its borders. There is no mention of what conditions would make that feasible. That is because for Yesha no conditions would make that feasible. He speaks explicitly against a diplomatic solution that would include ending settlement expansion. Settlement expansion would empirically make a Palestinian state impossible. The hasbara industry rejects that conclusion. Yesha, consisting of people who live in Judea and Samaria and are witness to the impact of settlement expansion, knows that this is indeed the case. That is precisely the point.

Yesha Council head Dani Dayan (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yesha Council head Dani Dayan (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a moment of honesty, Mr. Dayan advocates the “status quo,” an idea supported by Yizhak Shamir and ostensibly rejected by every prime minister since. Although, as Mr. Dayan implies, the “status quo” is exactly what we have had for the past 30 years. He does not blame Palestinian rejectionsim. He views the “status quo” as a permanent reality. What is the “status quo”? Given that the Judea and Samaria are “acquired” and not “occupied,” it can be nothing less than apartheid. The most the Palestinians can hope for is limited autonomy and freedom of movement if they behave themselves.

My Dayan is openly advocating a “one-state” solution when he writes, “If the international community relinquished its vain attempts to attain the unattainable two-state solution, and replaced them with intense efforts to improve and maintain the current reality on the ground, it would be even better.” The hasbara industry rejects a one-state solution because it knows a one-state solution presents two possibilities: the loss of a Jewish majority, or an apartheid state. The first is unacceptable from a “Jewish” perspective. The second is unacceptable from a “democratic” perspective.

It must be said that Mr. Dayan does not officially represent the Israeli government’s position. Or does he? The Israeli government has been able to continue its policies because it functions on a foundation of ambiguity: it will not openly acknowledge the “occupation” because it would then be rightfully accused of a breach in international law. Yet, it tacitly acts according to the laws of “occupation.” The hasbara industry does not dwell on the details of category definitions, preferring to leave them ambiguous, but operates within that ambiguous position.

Two things have happened in recent weeks to undermine this position of ambiguity: first, the Levy Commission, which argues that the occupation is not illegal, in a sense giving Mr. Dayan’s notion of  “acquisition” some legal standing; and second, Mr. Dayan’s editorial in the New York Times. America, and particularly American Jews, now know what the official settler movement really believes. They will now have to decide whether to support it. And, as Mr. Dayan implies, his is not a marginal position, but perhaps the most powerful force in Israeli politics today. The hasbara industry has been weakened by Mr. Dayan’s essay. It now has to fight on two fronts: against the pro-Palestinian lobby, and against Yesha. I want to thank you, Mr. Dayan, for your honesty and for your clarity. In one editorial you have accomplished what we on the Jewish left in America have been unsuccessful in accomplishing for many decades.

About the Author
Shaul Magid is the Jay and Jeannie Schottenstein Professor of Jewish Studies at Indiana University/Bloomington. His most recent book, 'From Metaphysics to Midrash; History, Myth and the Interpretation of Scripture in Lurianic Kabbalah' (Indiana University Press), was awarded the 2008 American Academy of Religion Best Book in Religion in the Textual Studies Category. His forthcoming book, 'American Post-Judaism: Identity and Renewal in a Postethnic Society,' will be published with Indiana University Press in the winter of 2013. He writes regularly for Religion Dispatches, Tikkun Magazine, Shma Magazine and Zeek Magazine. He is also the rabbi of the Fire Island Synagogue in Sea View, NY.