Representing Peace: The World’s Perception of Israel

What does the State of Israel represent? We know it represents many things to many different types of people. Start Up Nation, Water irrigation innovator, Medical breakthroughs, Middle East conflict zone, even a Bamba and Hummus pusher for American pallets. However, the most dangerous thing for Israel to be perceived as is a detriment to peace. Israel’s official policy must always be that we hope for either an eventual two state solution or any solution that leads to a true peace between Israel and the Palestinian people. This perception must hold true even when it looks like there is no hope for peace. Israel must state this publicly to all nations even when under attack by terrorists who deny Jews basic human rights. Our position on peace must never change from now till infinity. We have to hold out our hand even if all we get back is hate and violence in return. We must do all of these things because we as the Jewish people must be better than our enemies. We are right and they are wrong is more than cheering for our good guys v. their bad guys. Being in favor of peace is intrinsic to our religion and to the core of our society. Anything less is a betrayal of the Jewish people and everything Israel stands for.

I unfortunately all too often hear words of genocide and the denial of human rights coming from those who love Israel and desire it to be safe. I’ve heard nonchalantly that we should “get rid” of the Arabs or that perhaps we should shoot or bomb them without mercy, unlike how Israel today takes every measure possible to reduce civilian casualties. Statements like these do us damage. They create a perception that Israelis and Jews are indifferent to suffering and are the barrier to peace. It is not good enough to be on the same low level as those who want to destroy Israel or those who wish to murder Jews for being Jewish. We can’t use their tactics which devalue human life. And we cannot fall into the trap of perceiving our enemies as a lower class of humanity. All humans including our enemies are born with the same natural rights as everyone else. The dangers of violence and terrorism mean that we have to defend ourselves to the utmost degree but we cannot become our enemies or treat them as they treat us. Standing up for a peace solution and bipartisan negotiations is not falling to the level of the terrorists. It means we are better people and a better nation.

I have read Secretary Kerry’s speech in its long and drawn out entirety. The key reason why I felt that his thesis is demonstrably wrong is in the perceptions. Israel has to fight harder than any other country on earth to show it stands for peace. The lack of fairness and anti-Semitism does not negate its reality. Israel and the Jewish people are fighting a war against those who would labeled us as traitors to humanity in the form of boycotts, divestments against Israel, and the support of sanctions. Our greatest weapon in this war is the perception that Israel is doing everything it can to promote peace. Anyone or anything that damages Israel’s perception to the world is aiding our enemies and harming the minds of those undecided millions we need to convince. This is why Secretary Kerry’s statements can be so damaging in the long term. Not for his criticism but in the implication that Israel is the one blocking peace and not the Palestinian Authority.

For Secretary Kerry to say that the Israeli settlements within the West Bank are the primary barrier to peace I believe is incorrect. Settlements are an issue and to deny that fact is to also deny reality. Any eventual peace negotiation will need to deal with the difficulty of having Jews living in parts of the West Bank. What parts will be incorporated into Israel, what parts will be abandoned, and how to protect those who live in border areas are all issues that need to be solved. But to say they are the reason why there isn’t a peace agreement today is also a distortion of the truth. Israel has shown in the past that it is willing to make the hard unpopular decisions if peace is possible. Israel evacuated the settlement of Yamit in the Camp David Agreements with Egypt in 1979 and Gush Katif in Gaza was abandoned in 2005 to the anguish of many. Israel has in past negotiations offered to exchange pre-1967 Israeli land for every mile of those areas Israel will keep. There have been unconditional settlement freezes and dismantling of settlements. The reality of Israel’s commitment to peace needs to be matched up with the world’s perception of Israel and that is what Secretary Kerry incorrectly damaged more than anything else.

Secretary Kerry’s speech did bring up the topic of Palestinian terrorism. It did mention the fact that the Palestinian authority honors suicide bombers and others who commit acts of violence against innocent civilians. It even mentioned that Palestinian terrorism makes peace less likely. However, based on his speech it is hard to view his statements as conveying a realistic picture of the situation. The reality is that honoring suicide bombers does not even begin to start the conversation. It is scraping a lick of frosting and saying you know how the cake tastes. The UN openly funds Palestinian schools that use maps where Israel does not exist and teach the lesson that hating Israelis is the best lesson a child can learn. Is it not more realistic to say that the Palestinian people and its government are nowhere near having a peace agreement? Frankly, does the Palestinian Authority even have the right to negotiate with anyone? Can it legally speak for the Palestinian people?

Following Israel’s pullout of Gaza the Palestinians had elections in 2006. The majority of the Palestinian people did not vote for Fatah, the Palestinian party that ostensibly stands for peace with Israel based on the Oslo accords. The majority of Palestinian people voted for Hamas, a terrorist group which denies Israel’s right to exist and vows to murder its Jewish population. Israel, the US, and much of the world now ignores that election like it doesn’t exist. But if the majority of the Palestinian people voted for violence and hate over peace are they ready now to move away from those ideas? Even if Israel negotiates a peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority does that mean anything to the people on the grounds who are supposed to abide by it? If the violence and terrorism continues, as it likely will, even after Israel gives up settlements then wasn’t that treaty worthless? Hate is not something that can be bargained at a negotiating table by politicians. How do you negotiate the venom out of the souls of children?

All of these reasons are why Israel always must go the extra mile, for both ourselves and the world, to prove we are the source of peace and not its detriment. Israeli politicians must be mindful of these statements as even the perception of hate or the lack of concern for human rights can do incalculable damage. Israel is a nation of Jews and the Jewish people are a nation of peace. That perception is our greatest weapon against anti-Semitism worldwide. One needs only to look at Apartheid South Africa to see the danger of a country being vilified in the eyes of the world, even if in Israel’s case those boycotts would be unjustified. And we should all remember that Jews abroad are always linked to the perception of Israel. The statements of American Jews can be either a great resource to Israel’s standing or a terrible curse on its back. Let’s all be a light of peace unto the nations, not only for them but also for ourselves.

About the Author
Any description must start with Sidney's love of history, especially military and Jewish history. His background is a masters in history that focused primarily on Middle Eastern history. To that end, he has spent close to 10 years teaching Jewish History, Zionism, and American/World history at the high school level. Sidney considers himself a Zionist at heart and a supporter of women’s leadership and education both in the U.S. and abroad.
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