The recent post in Jewish News by David Hirsh on Israel and the Two State solution and anti-Semitism played an unhealthy and unhelpful trick. Creating a straw man argument, an irredeemably flawed logic, through which all political opponents were smeared.
The article begins with a headline that holds some merit. “Opposing settlements is constructive criticism, not anti-Semitism”. An attack on a specific policy, is not in itself antisemitism. Or at least not the last time I checked. The trouble however, is that the arguments of Hirsh, like many of those who push a similar line, exist inside a rabbit hole.
The issue of Palestinian Nationalism
Here is the crunch. The Palestinian identity was forged as a response to British rule and Zionism. This is not the same as saying they ‘never existed’ as people. As a result, what binds many of the Arabs of Ramallah, of the Camps, of Gaza, is hatred towards pre-1967 Israel. Outside of this conflict, they have never functioned as a cohesive unit. Rather the opposite in fact, internally they are divided, with split loyalties, different histories and vastly divergent post-conflict goals. An area of feuding clans in a backwater part of the greater Arab nation, that unified under an adopted flag to oppose Zionism. The ‘occupation’ of 1967 therefore is not, nor has it ever been the problem.
What the ‘occupation’ is however, is a thorn in the side of those that both internally and externally seek to build an accommodation between two conflicting entities, one born to re-create the Jewish homeland, the other born to oppose that Jewish homeland. The two state solution is seen as a possible way of defusing the conflict. It argues that there are 2 endings, the total defeat of one of the competing sides, or the ‘sharing scheme’, where somehow both entities exist in the tiny area of land allotted to them. International opinion overwhelmingly favours this sharing scheme.
Whilst at every single election, Israelis *in the vast majority* vote for territorial compromise, the Palestinians made no such strides. As Fatah publicly indicated a willingness to perhaps live within the sharing paradigm, new and more radical groups emerged. The fleeting light of Oslo exposed a violent undercurrent of factionalised rejectionism. If you do not represent the unifying Palestinian cause, you will be replaced by those that will. Hence the rise of Hamas.
Accommodating the two state solution is seen as betrayal. Those endorsing it will be rejected and despised just as Fatah are. This is the tale I hear at every campus that embraces BDS. Fatah are ‘complicit in Israeli war crimes’, they ‘police the Palestinians for Israelis’. Only those not willing to accept Israel are loyal to the cause. So in any vote that would take place today, Hamas would win. An issue that those pushing the ‘democratic’ angle, conveniently ignore. I lost count of the number of times Hirsh mentioned ‘democracy’ in his speech. Like most left wing visions of democracy, it comes across as supremacist, racist, one sided.
Nothing can change until the narrative does, until the Palestinians begin to tell themselves the truth. To understand that they themselves are also responsible for what they encountered. That they have missed countless opportunities to make things better. The riots and massacres of the 1920’s and 1930’s, the rejection of partition, the invasion by Arab irregulars in early 1948, the catastrophic leadership, the greedy Arab neighbours, all elements that need to be absorbed. Historical events that inevitably lead to ‘Naqba’.
Unfortunately, the West fosters and reinforces the false narrative, working against any possibility of the Arab street ‘growing up’. Financing the NGO’s, perpetuating the Palestinian refugee, and focusing on Israel’s actions because it is more convenient to do this than face down the truth. And BDS is the worst offender of all.
With ever lie spun at every BDS event, with every vote they receive, Palestinians are pushed further away from the negotiating table. A movement designed not to push towards peace, but to propogate the fundamental myths of the Palestinian narrative, driving yet another wedge between the peoples of the region and all hopes for peace. BDS commits yet another generation of ordinary Palestinians to poverty and conflict, just as some Palestinian elites get treated like kings in foreign palaces. The way it has been for 100 years.
Several rabbit holes in Israel
With no hope in sight, no partner on the horizon and nobody willing to force the Arabs into self-reflection, international focus inevitably turns to Israel. After all, as the ‘super-power’ of the region, Israel holds all the cards, and as an able defender of its citizens, Israel is more than capable of taking risks. For a politician, who needs to be seen to doing something, Israel presents an entity that can be pressured. The Palestinians do not.
So focus turns to one of the areas captured in 1967. Not Gaza, but the West Bank. Nobody talks about Gaza because it reminds everyone of what happens when Israel cedes territory to those that seek to destroy it. Israel already did in Gaza what people want it to do in the West Bank, pull out and dismantle settlements. It took weeks for the first rockets to fly, and just months for Hamas to make things so much worse for everyone in the region. Now if Israel could only play nicer in the West Bank, what could possibly go wrong?
The rabbit hole is an argument that engages the people involved in something irrelevant, creating an ever larger network of complex burrows to explore. The more you talk about settlements, the bigger the problem of settlements become. The less you talk about the problem of Palestinian terrorism or Palestinian goals, the more irrelevant they seem. You can create a virtual conflict simply by focusing on settlers, Israeli extremism and settlements. You can expand theories of democratic deficit, research the impact of extremism on Israeli society and build economic models to highlight how schools in Bat Yam suffer because of a road in Ariel. Fascinating stuff. And in these burrows, only what they want to talk about matters.
Settlements – rabbit hole, Israeli extremists – rabbit hole, proportional response – rabbit hole, casualty figures – rabbit hole. And whilst arguing about the conflict, if you ever find yourself engaged in discussions focusing on Israel’s treatment of the Bedouin in the Negev, you are engaged in a discussion without rhyme or reason – yes, you have voluntarily entered a rabbit hole.
If you want to grasp this issue fully. Imagine UK politics in the period of 1935-1939. An entire apparatus, vast amounts of money and endless arguments over how the UK needed to understand German grievances and reduce tension. When only one questioned mattered – how to defeat the Nazis in war. Almost an entire nation lost down a rabbit hole that resulted in tens of millions of victims. False paradigms cost lives.
We have heard it all before.
The right wing says: “If Israel were to dismantle every settlement, pull out to 1967 lines what then? Rockets on Ben Gurion?”
The left wing say: “It wouldn’t be like that, there would be restrictions on what they could do and anyway just one rocket and we’d show them…”
At which point I stop you. We have heard it all before. I was in Israel before, during and after Oslo. For two decades those on the right warned of the consequences and those on the left said they were scaremongering. Talk of bombs in the high street where rejected, talk of rockets on Kfar Saba were ridiculed. Warnings of what would happen in Gaza were cast aside. Look now at Gaza and see how the trap works. What can you really do to undo the damage that has been done?
The plain truth is this. On *every single occasion*, the fears of the right have not just been realised but returned tenfold. The optimism of the left has been rewarded with Israel being ostracised in the court of public opinion and blamed for killing babies in Gaza. This is the Oslo project. The idea that somehow, the Arabs will accept self-rule and be led by people who want to make things better for everyone. Today, with events in Syria, we can just be thankful the deal to return the Golan did not go ahead. Remember that? Those on the left were telling us it was worth it.
So I reject the two state solution. Not because I do not want the Arabs to have a state of their own. Not because I want to hold on to land. Not because I am a racist. But because in the current circumstances, ceding land is the surest way to waste even more civilian lives. On both sides. Give me a different scenario, I may give a different response. Talk to me about Jordan.
There is no agreement on Israel being removed from the map. So there will be no agreement. Even if Hamas would one day follow Fatah and accept two-states, the act of Hamas lowering the flag of Palestinian nationalism would see them replaced just as Fatah were.
The Arabs inside will not be allowed to sign away the rights of those outside. If you do a deal with 2 million in the west bank, then 4 million outside will reject it. New terror groups will line up on the borders. Civil war will overthrow whoever signed the deal in Ramallah. The situation will deteriorate and many Israelis and Palestinians will die. Of course it is just scaremongering – after all, left wing optimism has always proven so reliable before.
One giant straw man.
Like most Israelis I am willing to entertain a two state scenario that leaves Israel with relatively secure borders. Like most Israelis I have no interest in bringing up my children to fight. Like most Israelis a future with a Palestinian state at peace with Israel would be my preference. For me, like most Israelis, Oslo was a trauma that extracted a personal price. My rejection of the Two State solution is because I believe it will only bring more war. Period. So when I engage people who I believe are lost down the rabbit hole of Oslo, I have little time for their arguments. After all, to engage them you need to enter a rabbit hole yourself.
I was a panelist along with David Hirsh at a recent debate on the Two State solution. It was organised by Campaign4Truth and was attended by a crowd of about 250. Also on the panel was journalist, author and public commentator Melanie Phillips, the leader of the Jordanian opposition, Mudar Zahran, the CEO of BICOM James Sorene and Israeli / British blogger ‘Brian of London‘.
Hirsh spoke and I agreed with many of his comments. He is intelligent, he does much for Israel and is an asset in the fight against delegitimisation. Like Hirsh I too am unsettled by the situation. Some in the audience listened in silence, some applauded. Until he spoke of Elor Azaria, the soldier currently on trial for manslaughter over the shooting in Hebron last month. His statement on Azaria was both innaccurate and provocative. He was heckled for this, wrongly so, but Hirsh is an experienced hand. It is interesting that this happened to Hirsh, who like me surely understands that to reach supporters of Hamas through dialogue, to bridge the gaps of conflicting paradigms, you need more than just knowledge; you need tact, patience, tolerance and understanding . You cannot help but wonder therefore where all those skills disappeared to, when David faced an audience of Jews who he feels oppose his political opinion. And then came the unneccessary blog in Jewish News.
He begins by overstating the opposition to his speech. Look at the video, no-one said a word until he brought up the soldier. Note too that in places he was applauded. But hey, it always works to portray the contrary position as intolerant.
Then he states “Many seemed to think it would be a betrayal if Israel were able to negotiate a peaceful withdrawal from the West Bank.” In itself an outrageous statement. The question was never asked. And in any event, what peaceful withdrawal? What negotiation? Despite his protests that he currently may not believe peace is possible, this highlights a contradiction. If peace may not be currently possible, what ‘negotiated peaceful withdrawal’ are these people opposing? Then he pulls out the straw man, and what a straw man it is too. Hirsh quotes an article in the Times written by Melanie Phillips:
“Denying the legal and historical rights of the Israeli “settlers” to the land, it demonises and dehumanises them.”
“Dehumanisation of the “settlers” leads inexorably to the dehumanisation of all Jews.”
Hirsh then turns this on its head. Expanding the argument to include anyone, regardless of their reasons for supporting the Two State solution.
He is suggesting the argument implies that:
“anybody who is for a two-state solution is part of the anti-Semitism problem.”
All of this of course is absolute nonsense. Hirsh is surely stating (turning the argument around) that to be in favour of a two state solution you also *HAVE TO* deny the legal and historical rights of the Israeli “settlers and/or demonise them. What ever happened to compromise?
The majority opinion, that is represented within the Israeli parties of Labour, the central parties and Likud, posits that *DESPITE* the historical and legal underpinnings of the Jew inside *ALL OF ISRAEL* sacrifice or compromise may have to be made. Therefore, you can support a two state solution without denying rights or demonising anyone. Thus the straw man falls apart.
I have a lot of respect for the work David Hirsh does facing anti-Zionists in the UK, but I tire of hearing tone deaf Brits attempt to tackle the settler issue. It shows no understanding, no factual underpinning of Israeli politics at all. There is no geographic knowledge, no history, no understanding. It is devoid of context, of reality, and bereft of every drop of nuance. It is a one-dimensional position created through placing a pre-owned political position over the top of academic knowledge and news headlines.
And then what exactly is a ‘settler’? It depends on who you ask. If you ask some – there is no such thing. If you ask me, they are people in caravans on hilltops. As you drift further left, more and more of Israelis become included. At a certain point as you leave the confines of left wing Zionism, the definition crosses the green line, and by the time you enter discussions with those I encounter on campus, that ‘settler’ brush has tainted every single *Jewish* Israeli. Even those who consider every Jew on the West Bank a settler, may flinch at applying the same rule to the Golan. And yet between annexed Jerusalem and the annexed Golan — what is the difference?
Which renders the term itself one to be used to deliberately smear those you politically take issue with. Everyone draws their own borders.
The vast majority of Israeli citizens, those who have lived through the trauma and the experiences of Oslo and the Gaza pull-out, sit to the right of the opinions of those like Hirsh. The ones that lived through the promises, listened to every argument, experienced the reality. Felt the explosions. Experienced the loss. Paid the price. They, in the vast majority – disagree with him. As do I. But then hey, I lived through it too. The next question would be, if the Israelis are pressured into doing something they know from experience will go wrong, and it does, who ends up paying the price next time?