Anti-occupation advocates never tire of telling us how deeply they care.
The on-line encyclopedia, Wikipedia, lists a startling number of “Jewish Anti-Occupation” groups—-22 in all. Most of these organizations are based outside Israel, many in the US. These groups reflect a significant segment of Jewish sentiment in North America and Europe.
A Complex Debate
The belief that Israel should withdraw from Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) is based on a number of arguments: that Judea and Samaria rightfully belong to Arabs and not to Jews; Jewish settlement of these areas violates Arab rights; the existence of Israeli settlements violates international law; peace is not possible as long as Israel retains sovereignty in Judea and Samaria; no future state of Palestine would be politically or economically viable without all or most of Judea and Samaria; continued occupation erodes Israeli morality; occupation makes a democratic Israel impossible; and Arab population growth would overtake Jewish population growth, rendering a Jewish state totalitarian, as it sought to govern an Arab-majority population. These arguments have been hotly debated outside and inside Jewish communities.
In this post I want to address the questions: Should Israel withdraw from Judea and Samaria? And why do many Jews outside of Israel pressure Israel to do so?
In this post I cannot address the full range of complex issues that underlie these questions. As an observer and pro-Israel partisan, I have my own ideas.
I feel the way most Israelis do. I love the Land of Israel, land that encompasses territory on which Jews have lived for over 3,000 years. The historic Land of Israel lies precisely in the area that Palestinians want for a state of their own.
At the same time, I don’t savor the idea of Israel ruling over people who are hostile to Jews and resentful of Israel. It doesn’t help that Palestinians living in areas today controlled by Israel are among the world’s most anti-Semitic people.
But there is an inescapable conclusion: Without Israeli control of Judea and Samaria, Israel is vulnerable to attack by its enemies.
Enemies, Borders, Maps
Palestinians, as well as Arab leaders, have been engaged in a relentless war of expulsion and genocide against the Jews. The notion of Jewish sovereignty is deeply offensive to most Arab Muslims. They have an unshakeable belief that the Jews are an element that is both inferior to Muslims and alien to their “Muslim lands.” These beliefs are deeply rooted in religion and have been relentlessly inculcated into Arab children by means of every societal institution in the Palestinian world: mosques, schools, sports teams, civil society institutions, as well as traditional and social media. These beliefs will not change.
Concurrently with this war of sentiment have been constant violent attacks with the goal of eradicating the Jewish state and expelling or killing its Jewish inhabitants. In the modern era, Arab killings of Jews—-for being Jewish—-began with the religiously-inspired Nebi Musa riots in Jerusalem in 1920. These deadly riots erupted in response to anti-Jewish incitement by Muslim clerics and Palestinian leader Haj Amin Al-Husseini. Al-Husseini claimed that the Jews intended to destroy the Al Aqsa Mosque. This was a baseless Arab charge that continues to this day. In its War of Independence, Israel successfully fought off invasion by the armies of five Arab countries—-in the process losing a full one per cent of its population, a devastating loss for a tiny nation. That war has never ended. It continues with Arab attacks against Israel by militaries, non-state terrorist militias, and now by public deligitimization campaigns.
To understand Israel’s physical vulnerability it is useful to look at a map. The first thing an observer will note is that Israel has extensive borders with hostile Arab states. In addition, pre-1967 Israel was only 9.3 miles wide at its most narrow center, leaving it vulnerable to attack and division into two parts.
Two-thirds of Israel’s population, as well as its main airport and much of its critical infrastructure, are contained on a narrow strip of coastal plain. Judea and Samaria—-the territory Palestinians want for their state—-has in its center, a narrow spine of high hills that overlooks the coastal plain. All major Palestinian cities and almost of its population are on those hills. Were Israel to cede military control of this high ridge, foreign enemies such as Iran, Turkey and Qatar would supply armed Palestinian groups with rockets that would be launched against Israel’s coastal plain with devastating results. The hills above Tel Aviv and Haifa would soon become military bases bristling with weapons—-exactly as happened in Gaza and Southern Lebanon after Israeli withdrawals from those areas.
Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria, that is, from the hills above Israel’s population centers, is an invitation to war.
Given these vulnerabilities and Arab intransigence, why would many Jews living outside of Israel want Israel to cede Judea and Samaria to enemies committed to the destruction of the Jewish state?
The Jewish Anti-Occupation Industry
Jewish anti-occupation ideologues relentlessly push Israel to make territorial concessions to the Palestinians. Most clothe their demands in their supposed love and concern for Israel. The anti-occupation agitator Peter Beinart is an example. In his 2012 book, The Crisis in Zionism, he explains:
The painful thing to me about the criticism is the claim that my book doesn’t show love and empathy for Israel. The whole reason I wrote the book was because of how much I admire the creation of Israel as a democratic state, how precious I believe it is, and how deeply I want it to survive as a democratic Jewish state for my children and grandchildren.
The demands of the Jewish anti-occupation crowd are at times extreme. For example, the Jewish organization, Israel Policy Forum, drafts and publicizes extensive plans for Israeli withdrawal. The organization is uncompromising in its demands:
Once a permanent status agreement is signed, the Israeli government should make every conceivable effort to persuade settlers to relocate to Israel and provide compensation for them to do so, which will likely result in the evacuation of the overwhelming majority of settlers. Any settler who greets the IDF with violent resistance should be arrested and immediately moved out of the West Bank.
In 2016, the Jewish “social justice” organization, Bend the Arc, endorsed a platform published that year by the Movement for Black Lives (MBL). That platform calls for an end to all US aid to Israel. (Presumably, millions of dollars from Iran, Turkey, Qatar and other countries—-dollars that fund Israel’s enemies—-would continue.) The MBL platform also voiced support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, whose Palestinian leaders openly call for the end of Israel. Are we to understand that, to the Jews of Bend the Arc, a mere withdrawal from Judea and Samaria would be insufficient? That Israel needs to give up its Jewish character and open its borders to millions of Arabs—-that is, that Israel would cease to exist?
Why Do Jewish Groups Pressure Israel to Make Concessions?
As the above quote from anti-occupation advocate Peter Beinart illustrates, these advocates want to be admired for their righteousness. They never tire of telling us how deeply they care and they go to great lengths to be fair to the underdog, in this case, the Arabs. As pro-Israel commentator Melanie Phillips has argued, this virtue signaling represents narcissism rather than virtue.
The anti-occupation advocates’ claims are: “See how good I am. I am so good that, in order to be fair, I even go against the interests of my own people;” and “I am not like those other Jews who care only about Israel and overlook Israel’s human rights violations.” (This fairness equation, offered by anti-occupation advocates, rarely includes criticisms of Palestinian human rights violations.)
Closely related to this is an advantage that accrues to anti-occupation critics: Their anti-occupation stance enhances their status among their reference groups. Those reference groups include liberals, liberal politicians and academics. In this way, anti-occupation Jews win the approval of their peers and thus, career advancement. This is especially true on today’s US college campuses.
And, being an anti-occupation advocate hardly requires a life of poverty, especially for its leaders. For example, in 2016, Jeremy Ben-Ami, President of J Street, earned annual compensation of $259,203. That year, Stosh Cotler, CEO of Bend the Arc, earned $233,579. Not a bad gig if you can get it.
I often wonder if the anti-occupation advocates are ignorant of historical facts and anti-Jewish attitudes in the Arab world. Do they know of the long history of anti-Israel rejectionism in the Arab world? Do they know of Palestinian leaders’ repeated rejection of Israel’s offers of territorial concession and peace? The role of Islamic ideology in portraying Jews as usurpers and evil-doers? The way in which massive foreign aid to Palestinians encourages Palestinian leaders to perpetuate rather than end the conflict, as a way to ensure they will continue to divert this foreign aid to themselves and their family members? Do they know of the massive ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab countries? Do they know the disastrous results of Israeli withdrawals from Gaza, Southern Lebanon and the Sinai—-withdrawals that, far from bringing peace, resulted instead in massive military buildups on Israel’s borders, increased terrorist attacks and repeated wars?
I have noticed one other thing. There is a sort of person who revels in taking the side of his enemy. I call these people misguided rebels. Misguided rebels pop up in every conflict and every era. They include, for example, Americans who admired and promoted Hitler in the years prior to the Second World War; black slaves in the ante-bellum South who identified with their white masters; and South Asians who fought alongside the British colonialists, even as the British massacred their fellow South Asians.
Although I haven’t figured it out, there must be a psychological reward for these misguided rebels. Perhaps there is a sort of Stockholm Syndrome at work here: “If I identify with my enemy I will no longer be endangered.” Or perhaps a misguided rebel experiences perverse pleasure in thumbing his nose at his peers in the way a child rebels against parental advice: “I won’t do what you want me to do. I’ll do my own thing even if it means hurting myself and my peers.”
Whatever the psychological dynamic at work among Jewish anti-occupation advocates, they end up siding with a host of unsavory groups dedicated to Israel’s destruction. These include Islamist fanatic organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as anti-Semites who, because they hate Jews, oppose the very existence of Israel.
The Bottom Line
Conservative commentator Victor Davis Hanson has argued that liberal elites hypocritically advance policies that hurt the very people they claim to care about. They do this with impunity because they never suffer the consequences of their misguided policies.
For example, liberal elites promote mass immigration policies that disadvantage ordinary working Americans whose neighborhoods are altered, jobs are threatened, wages lowered, and whose school systems are rendered ineffective with large numbers of non-English speaking students. The elites bear no costs of these immigration policies: They live in gated communities free of recent immigrants; their top-tier jobs are immune from low-wage competition; and they send their children to private schools free of the impact of massive immigration.
The same can be said of anti-occupation advocates who do not live in Israel: They never face the consequences of the policies they promote.
Peter Beinart can crow about his love for Israel until the cows come home. If his anti-occupation advocacy results in Israeli territorial withdrawals and that, in turn, brings Arab attacks and destruction upon Jews in Israel—he will not suffer the consequences. Israelis will.
Beinart will remain safe in his New York City condominium. His children will be safe in their Manhattan schoolrooms and on their way to and from class. He will never worry about his wife returning home from work because there might be a terrorist attack on her bus as she heads home to kiss her husband and children. He will never have to worry about being maimed or killed while defending his homeland from invasion.
So here is what I say to those Diaspora Jews, like Beinart, who say they love Israel so much that they will tell Israel “what she has to do”:
If you want to have a say in Israel’s policies, make Aliyah, that is, move to Israel. Then you will have every right to participate in Israel’s democratic process. This will give you a voice in deciding Israel’s policies.
Until then, don’t add to the already shrill chorus of anti-Israel voices. Share your views with Israeli officials in private.
Or, keep your sanctimonious advice to yourself.