Yoaz Hendel

To the boycotting Zionist professors

The two academics who won't visit until Israel reaches a peace deal are out of touch with the country's reality

To Professors Steven Levitsky of Harvard and Glen Weyl of the University of Chicago:

I write to you after reading an article you published in the Washington Post under the headline “We are lifelong Zionists. Here’s why we’ve chosen to boycott Israel.” Millions have read it and it came my way as well. I assume its popularity is due to the fact that it’s a “man bites dog” story. Supporters of boycotts are sadly plentiful in the world, including a strange small group inside Israel itself. We’ve learned to live with them, combat them. We’ve learned to ignore the lack of logic that brings liberals to walk hand-in-hand with radical Muslims. Yet having saying that – until now I hadn’t encountered Jewish professors who claim they support Israel and try to hurt it so powerfully. Until now.

Maybe it’s fate that brought you to me in print. Or more accurately, fate that made my father-in-law walk around my house agitated and troubled after reading your article. He, like you, was born to a Zionist family in the United States. He, like you, sometimes rants in English about the state. But he’s here and you’re there. Allow me to explain why that’s important.

Let’s start with the bottom line – you are calling for an end to US military aid and diplomatic support because your views on diplomacy weren’t accepted. You want a peace treaty in which settlements are dismantled and a Palestinian state is established, and there isn’t one – so you apparently need to boycott Israel until your demands are met. Be democratic, you say. Accept the opinions we’ve reached or you must not exist.

Here’s a suggestion: Look up interviews with Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, and Tzipi Livni on Google. All three of them engaged in negotiations. All three believe in territorial compromise. All three wanted peace with the Palestinians at least as much as you do. And all three failed.

Yes, in a theoretical world, Israelis and Palestinians would sit at the negotiation table. Compromise here, compromise there. The Palestinians would establish a democratic state next to the Jewish state. The economy would flourish and you would rub your hands in satisfaction. All that, however, can only happen in theory.

The occupation and the settlements that you see as the reason there isn’t peace were created after 1967. This is a longstanding religious and national conflict. A conflict between societies – one free, the other not. The PLO was established in 1964 — three years before the occupation – in order to conduct terrorism. The Palestinian attacks on Zionist Jews who came here started long before that. It’s a sad fact that there’s no clear geographic line that marks the conflict, but it’s a real fact nonetheless.

I’m not mocking your desire for a utopia in the heart of the Middle East. The problem lies in what you do with your disappointment once you find out reality is different. Your Israel is an unrealized Jewish-Liberal dream.

Blessed are the dreamers who sit far beyond the range of Palestinian knives, away from the rockets stockpiled by Hamas after Israel backed out of Gaza, far away from disintegrating countries and Muslims who slaughter their co-religionists. Blessed are those who insist on being wrong.

Your first mistake is your confusion over the purpose of the Jewish state. You write that Israel was established to prevent a future disaster and to create a democracy based on humane values. Those two reasons sound good, but they are fabrications. Zionism started in the 19th century as part of a broad-based national awakening. The will to be a free people in our nation, as Naftali Herz Imber wrote in 1878, has nothing to do with any disaster, not even the pogroms that erupted three years afterwards in Russia.

All the Zionist movement wanted was to bring about a national home for the Jewish people. Jews wanted air to breathe, a land and rule of their own. Not to prevent disasters. The Holocaust came later.

And what about democracy? You’re right about it being an important basis for this country. You can’t survive without it. But the state wasn’t established for that purpose. Open up the Israeli Declaration of Independence: There are liberal values there, but democracy is absent. If you want to prevent disasters you can become a firefighter and if you want democracy you can live in the US. Life here in Israel is a life of national and democratic independence.

And finally, regarding your declaration that Israel is an apartheid state: The reality here is just the opposite. Come visit – you’re invited even if you’re boycotting us. Come see what goes on in hospitals, where staff and patients are a mix of Arabs and Jews, come to the Israeli Parliament, look at the police and even the military, ride buses and eat in restaurants.

See with your own eyes if there is separation based on religion and race in Israel. This democracy upholds the rights of minorities even in times of war. There aren’t many countries where a public discussion is had regarding who to treat first – the victim of a terrorist attack or the terrorist. There is a Supreme Court here that acts (sometimes against my opinion) in order to preserve those rights you say don’t exist. There’s coexistence even with the national struggle. A complex country, not a theoretical one.

Israel isn’t perfect. We have quite a few problems, mostly a lack of stately resolve. I predict that the day will come when we have to annex part of the territories and give full rights to the Palestinians who live there. There are those who want to annex 60 percent, and those who want to annex half of that. There is even a right-wing minority that wants to annex all of it.

In my opinion, Zionist interests are best served by having as much land as possible with as few Arabs in it as possible; to create a separation of peoples. Israel has not yet figure out how many or how to determine who will not be annexed.

The peace you speak of doesn’t exist – medium range steps do. It seems simple from where you’re sitting. From over here, it looks very complicated.

If your conclusion is to boycott us, do it. We’ve known tougher enemies.

Just don’t call it Zionism.

About the Author
Dr. Yoaz Hendel is a military historian and journalist who served as minister of communications from 2020 until the end of 2022. Hendel has a PhD in history from Tel Aviv University and is the former head of the Institute for Zionist Strategies (IZS).