Why the Left is losing me.


A few years ago, a former student wrote me a letter. She was studying at one of the best universities in America and taking in everything.  She even enrolled in a course on the Middle East with a well-known and controversial professor. As she explained to me, he had her. She was the perfect target for his anti-Israel rhetoric. Until one day, he just pushed too far and went overboard. In hyperbolically condemning Israeli actions, he made claims and stated facts she knew were simply not true. At that point, he lost her. The spell was broken.

Lately I’ve been feeling the same way. My Facebook feed fills with declarations by friends on the left side of the Israeli political spectrum. In a way, I should be their target audience. They don’t need to convince their friends who already share their convictions; they need to convince me, standing in the vast confusion of the Israeli middle. I am greatly torn by my belief in both secular and religious Zionism and a strong affinity for American style pluralistic democracy.  I have read and been moved by Hertzl’s dream of a State of the Jews as refuge, Ahad HaAm’s view of the State as part of an overall Jewish cultural renaissance, Rav Kook’s vision of the State as the body of the Jewish soul, and other more down to earth religious Zionist’s views of a State where Jewish tradition can be fulfilled.  All of these views seem to be incorporated in first part of The Declaration of the Establishment of Israel.

On the other hand, I and many of my friends see a need for  upholding the latter part of The Declaration’s promise that Medinat Yisrael  “will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

So how can we work these two pieces out? I do not want to occupy another people nor deny another people the rights that the Jewish people had been denied for 2000 years before the founding of the state; however, the safety and security of my family and my people will always be a driving force in my decision making. Can we support a Palestinian State? Can we find a way not to oppress others while at the same time guaranteeing our own safety and security?  I’m open to suggestions; however, I’m not open to what I see are exaggerations.

Back to Facebook. My feed is filled with accusations of Apartheid – if not in “Israel proper” than in the West Bank where I live. I read claims of colonialism, war crimes, violations of human rights, transgressions against international law, segregated roads, stealing water, usurping of land, etc. etc. Is this all true? Am I this villainous settler living in these colonies called the settlements abusing every Palestinian I meet? I wonder if I am really the person they claim I am or part of this giant machine of oppression.

I am in favor of working out a 2 state solution, but living here on the West Bank, I just don’t see what everyone else does. I shop with Palestinians in the same mega-grocery store, I buy from Palestinians in the hardware store outside my town, the contractor who added on to my house was Palestinian. I travel on the same roads as Palestinians. There is a security checkpoint from my city, Efrat, to Jerusalem. Palestinian cars and buses are checked more thoroughly than mine, that is true, but I wait in the same line as they do. And if a car in front of mine is checked, I have to wait too. If I go through quickly, then the Palestinians in the car behind me also go through quicker. Outside my house I see beautiful lush vineyards filled with grapes, orchards plump with olives, and absolutely beautiful almond trees. All owned, operated, and irrigated by Palestinians. The water comes from somewhere. Where is the “apartheid?” or the colonial stealing of natural resources everyone is talking about?

Occupation, imperfect division of law (military vs civilian), things I want and have voted to change – but I just don’t see what these Facebook friends do. Do I live in the wrong west bank?

When I think of colonialism, I imagine the British in India or in America killing the natives to take their gold and other resources and enslave the native peoples. Why were they there so far away from home? Many of the “settlements” here are little more than suburbs of major Israeli cities. We live here because it is our ancestral home, we built it, it is beautiful, and close to work. It is not a foreign land, it is part of Israel. We are as much a colony as any suburb of Dallas is.  When I think of Apartheid, I imagine South Africa where a small white minority brutally ruled a black majority denying them access to education, healthcare, and basics of life. Still today in the townships, I have seen people live in small tin shacks.  Driving around here one sees both poverty and extreme wealth in the Palestinian community. Health care clinics, dentists, shops, soccer stadiums, strip malls, etc. The Palestinians in the West Bank are living under occupation that has oppressed them and us far too long and we need to find a solution. The causes are many and worthy of debate, but it isn’t South African style Apartheid or British colonial expansion.

What about the violation of International law? I’m not an expert in International law nor are the Facebook posters and bloggers in my feed. But many jurists think it just ain’t so. Like it or not, according to many legalists, Israel hasn’t violated international law by building in the territories and allowing citizens to move there. (see: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/170582#.U2tQEoGSySp ) Not everyone agrees, but many do. Again, the issue is worthy of debate, but not self-righteous declarations.

Perhaps the worst and most divisive tactic of the Left is supporting BDS and outside agitation to pressure Israel. When soldiers visit college campuses to attack the IDF, what do they expect to happen? Genuinely anti-Israel forces gain strength and we here in Israel get defensive. That is not conducive to developing support. J-Street, Jewish Voices for Peace, Breaking the Silence and other similar groups  have probably only polarized the community and driven us away.

Those on the Left are disappointed that they have lost favor with the middle giving Israel a hawkish government despite a clear majority in favor of a two state solution. They can’t seem to understand the contradiction.  If they want to impact Israel and not just talk to themselves, they need to be more honest and moderate. Israel is not an Apartheid state, the West Bank settlements are not a 19th century colonial enterprise, and the territories are disputed and not a clear violation of International law. On the other hand, as Ariel Sharon said, Israel is occupying another people and this cannot go on. By using extremist language and falsehoods to push their points, the Left is losing the ear of people like me.

Perhaps it is time to engage in real dialogue.

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.