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Does the Left want peace?

The 2-state camp seems to be doing all it can to NOT win friends or influence the future of the Jewish State

Even before the accusations that workers for B’Tselem, one of the most “prestigious” Israeli human rights organizations, were informing on Palestinians interested in selling land to Jews came to light, I had begun to believe that many left-wing groups profited from the lack of an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

The latest revelations seem to call into question not only the ethics of these organizations, but their motives as well. B’Tselem employees, it seems, were caught bragging about handing over Palestinian land brokers to the PA, where they would be tortured and killed. B’Tselem’s own statement after the announcement more or less rationalized the treachery by claiming that the action was a legitimate form of protest.

Feeble and paranoid accusations against right wing groups for arson in the wake of the fire that broke out in their B’Tselem’s offices failed to change the subject (investigators believe the fire was caused by an electrical short). I for one am not surprised at B’Tselem’s ethical failures. Tuvia Tennenbaum already revealed that B’Tselem hired a Holocaust denier to lead groups from the European Union on tour of Yad Vashem, of all places. But the failure of the Left is more deeply entrenched than one discredited and rotten organization.

The failure of the Left has been demonstrated over and over again in the past few years. In order to actually impact Israeli society with their vision, left-wing NGOs need to convince the center of Israel that they have a plan — one that will guarantee our safety in addition to creating a better future for the Palestinians. However, instead of reaching out beyond their relatively small echo chamber, left-wing groups, or so it seems to me, have turned ever inward, avoiding any sense of actually caring about the majority of the Israeli people and electorate. As an unabashed, fuzzy and confused centrist, I have been repeatedly disappointed that the Left as a community seems to have decided to put its efforts into fundraising and righteous indignation. This will not lead to change, certainly not the one it wants.

Left-wing groups such as the New Israel Fund, Breaking the Silence, Haaretz, J Street, T’ruah, as well as the disgraced B’Tselem, have lost focus on the big picture. The major NIF and Haaretz Peace event in New York in December is a case in point of the Left’s utter tone deafness. First, if the goal of the conference was to ask questions and let their voices be heard, shouldn’t the venue have been in Israel, where people actually vote for the Knesset? Furthermore, the speakers, at least those who did not represent the Palestinians, were primarily white non-religious Ashkenazim. Did they want to represent such a small slice of the Israeli population? In a Jewish world where the Orthodox are taking more and more central roles, supposedly Kosher food was not readily available. It’s as if they wanted the Orthodox and Israelis of color, who in general support the right, not to hear their message. The reports coming out of the event sounded almost like they originated in a time capsule of the Mapai of 1948 and not the 21st century.

But the outrages don’t stop there. After an Israeli flag was displayed when Israeli President Reuven Rivlin spoke, it was removed at the request of Saeb Erekat, the famed Palestinian negotiator. This is the same Saeb Erekat who helped Yasser Arafat scuttle the negotiations with Ehud Barak leading to the Second Intifada. Ironically, the failed Palestinian negotiator may have been less anti-Zionist than Haaretz’s own Amira Hass who compared aliyah to a war crime. Is this the way to win friends and influence the future of the Jewish State? American Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, offered one of the few nuanced assessments of the situation and was all but shunned. Pro-Israel sentiment, even when full of complexity, clearly does not speak to this crowd. Are they really only interested in speaking to themselves and their American and European donors?

The NIF’s partners in creating their own little society include the renegade group Breaking the Silence and T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. Like Haaretz, Breaking the Silence likes to take their message on the road. Peddling their anonymous records of a relatively small group of disgruntled soldiers, BtS goes from campus to community center trying to declare the immorality of the IDF. Who knows? Perhaps they see killing sacred cows, such as the Israeli army, as something more than just soliciting funding from foreign governments. But it is hard to see how they expect to change the military culture by besmirching the name of the IDF in front of American college students. In speaking before the UN members of BtS criticized the IDF’s procedures in the last Gaza war — an assessment contradicted by an independent military investigation by foreign experts. Even if, as a few high ranking former Israeli military officials claim, BtS serves a purpose in Israel, their programs outside hardly seem to help protect the State and in fact, it could be argued, jeopardize Israeli security.

Within Israel, of course, many find BtS’s position counter to their own army experiences. In a country with a people’s army, it’s hard to suggest that sons, brothers, fathers, and even sisters are war criminals. It doesn’t jibe with what many others have experienced and know to be the reality. So given their claimed desire to help the IDF, one can’t help but question BtS’s methods, methods that indicate either gross naiveté or worse. But it’s the foreign adventures that arouse the greatest ire. One only imagines that the foreign excursion is for gold, and that, in the end, vitiates their entire endeavor. If BtS’s goal is to have impact on the Israeli public, pissing them off isn’t the best way to do it.

This leads me to the do-good rabbis of T’ruah. Rabbi Jill Jacobs and team, by her own admission, have dedicated hours upon hours of research to figure out where all those dollars put in charity boxes designated for building the Jewish homeland go. In a catchy new movie they tell us it all goes to me! That’s right. As they point out in their video, which it so happens is ruining my youth by using a jingle from the beloved School House Rock, they show that dollars given to the JNF secretly end up over the green line in the great obstacle to peace, my home, Gush Etzion.

The good rabbis just forgot a few basic facts, such as that the green line is the arbitrary cease fire line, that the Judean hills are the heartland of Israel on the immediate outskirts of Jerusalem, that modern Gush Etzion was settled by Jews before they were massacred by the Arab League before the State was created, and that JNF isn’t hiding anything. The forests are clearly marked both on the ground and on their website. But why discuss facts when the tune is a catchy one and the director of the video is really creative?

The package deal of these NGOs, political groups, and media outlets present a skewed message designed for marketing to foreign donors. Perhaps, this presentation works outside of Israel, but it does not speak to most of us here, including those of us in the center. It’s as if the various left-wing groups have taken a page out of J Street’s playbook: no one likes complexity so cater to the non-Zionist crowd outside of Israel — it pays better (I am omitting, of course, the Judith Butler, Noam Chomsky, BDS, Open Hillel, Students for Justice in Palestine, +972 magazine, and Mondeweiss anti-Zionist train). The so called Zionist left seems to have forgotten who the real players are — those of us who live in Israel and are nervous to go shopping, lest some random person pull out a knife.

Before my more left-leaning friends debate me on this detail or that, let me explain why I wrote this tirade. I’ve kept this bottled up for some time because I want an active and honest Left to join in the conversation. I, and many centrists like me, want peace, and we know it may come at a steep price. We need to know that price and be assured that it is worth it. If the Left can’t leave their narcissistic bubble, then they are of no value and will never legitimately participate in the conversation. If they can’t understand that criticism will only influence others if it is given in a manner that offers hope and is constructive, then they are lost. If they are more worried about raising funds from foreign governments, and as a result twist truths to fit their narrow, simplistic, and sometimes false narrative, then they are not only not part of the solution, but very much part of the problem.

Rabbi Soloveitchik once compared giving up part of the land of Israel to amputation. It may be necessary according to some doctors, while others vehemently disagree. The patient is nervous and is unsure of the best course. But of one thing the patient can be certain: one cannot trust the doctor who calls from the golf course and yells to grow up and just cut off the leg, for it is no big deal.

Peace is a big deal. Security is a big deal.

Do you want to help achieve them or not?

About the Author
Rabbi Berman is the Associate Director at Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi. In addition, he has held numerous posts in education from the high school level through adult education. He founded the Jewish Learning Initiative (JLI) at Brandeis University and served as rabbinic advisory to the Orthodox community there for several years. Previously, he was a RaM at Midreshet Lindenbaum where he also served as the Rav of the dormitory.