Liberal Zionism

Setting aside for a moment the argument of whether dividing historic Palestine into two states was ever a good idea, clearly forty years ago it was a viable solution. Today as liberal Zionist Jews and others call for this solution, it is a sad and pathetic sight.
In 1967, after the IDF completed the conquest of Palestine, great men like Dr. Nahum Goldman, Dr. Yishayahu Leibovitch, General Dr. Matti Peled and other prominent Jews called for the immediate establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. However, Jews in Israel, America and elsewhere around the world were basking in the messianic glow of the conquest of historic Israel, bewitched by the sounds of biblical names now made accessible.  Names like Hebron and Bethlehem, Shilo and Bet El, all of which who were now within reach drove everyone, including secular liberal Jews to believe that there is a God and that he was really on their side.
Never mind that a solution whereby half of the population receives barely 20 percent of its historic homeland while the remaining half receives the rest had little chance of success to begin with. Now the West Bank is riddled with towns and malls and highways built on Palestinian land for Jews only and Israeli cabinet members openly discuss population transfers, or rather transfer of its non-Jewish population.  The level of oppression and the intensity of the violence against Palestinians has reached new heights and so the questions that begs to be asked are: who exactly will allow Palestinians to establish their mini state? and where will this state exist? If there is any doubt in anyone’s mind, Israel has no intentions of ever letting go of any part of historic Israel.
Discussing the two state solution now under these conditions shows an acute inability to accept reality. As one learns about the history of the Zionist movement and the early years of the state of Israel one will understand that parting with any portion of historic Israel is not something Israel will ever do.  Liberal Jews in the US (see J Street) and in Israel (see the Zionist liberals like David Grossman who recently received a peace award in Germany) all of a sudden realized that there was a problem. They all claim that the solution is partition and segregation via the creation of a tiny and impotent state for the Arabs of Palestine.  They do claim that Israel must be reprimanded for its treatment of Palestinians and they even condemn the siege on Gaza.  These are commendable statements coming from Zionists anywhere particularly in the US where criticizing Israel is a mortal sin, but this is just talk.
There is an illusion that a liberal, forward thinking government can rise in Israel and then everything will be just as liberal Zionists wish it to be.  They will pick up where Rabin and Arafat left off and we will have the pie in sky Jewish democracy liberal Jews want so much to see in Israel. This illusion is shared by American Jews, liberal Zionists in Israel and around the world and in the West where guilt of two millennia of persecuting Jews still haunts the conscience of many.  If only there were better leaders and if only this and if only that… But alas, reality continues to slap everyone in the face: Zionism and peace are incompatible. I will say it again: Zionism is incompatible with peace.
A serious study of the history of modern Israel will show that the emergence of Netanyahu and Lieberman was perfectly predictable. They are the natural successors of David Ben Gurion, Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin.  As one looks at the political map in Israel one can see that future Zionist leaders, be they from Labor, Likud, Meretz or the religious nationals, will be no different and offer no change.  The problem is Zionism and the solution is dismantling the Zionist framework and instituting a secular democracy that does not discriminate between Israelis and Palestinians. In other words, no one nation will rule over the other but the rule of law will govern everyone equally.
Zionism has created a state that wants nothing to do with peace or reconciliation.  The problem is not Benjamin Netanyahu and Lieberman and the solution is not Yossi Beilin or David Grossman who represent the Zionist liberals.  The problem is that the basic premise on which the Jewish state was founded, Zionism, is flawed.

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Emil Habibi from 1985

In his short tale called Akhtia, which was published 25 years ago (hard to believe) The great Emil Habibi tells the story of an American who went to swim in the Sea of Galilee.  His car and clothes were stolen and so the Israeli police went to look for them among the Arab towns and villages in the area.  When the  clothes were not found the American suggested that the police look among the Jews. No, the police said, there is no need to look ay further because the Arab suspects confessed.

The man later grew in prominence and finally, due to his contributions to the Jewish Sate became a US Senator and then he became Secretary of State. But, Habibi writes, with the passing of time it was hard to tell which country he served as Secretary of Stae, Israel or the US…

How can one write in a manner that is both innocent and fierce? It is Emil Habibi.

On AIPAC and Other Bullies By Miko Peled

It is typical for America to suddenly wake up to an issue that has been around for, well, forever. Today it is bullying. But there can be little surprise that America has a bully problem. American policies around the world have been marked and characterized by bullying, as one would expect from an empire, even an empire that likes to see itself as spreading freedom and democracy. Bullying in America is hailed and glamorized as heroism so really, what kid wouldn’t want to be a bully?

One bully that has gotten America by the, well, where it hurts is AIPAC. Everywhere you go you hear people complaining that nothing can be done to curb Israeli violence and brutality because this fierce all powerful lobby called AIPAC. Nowhere is this heard more than our nation’s capital Washington DC.

In AIPAC’s website they make the following claim: “From a small pro-Israel public affairs boutique in the 1950s, AIPAC has grown into a 100,000-member national grassroots movement described by The New York Times as “the most important organization affecting America’s relationship with Israel.” Wow!

I recently spent a weekend in DC and I heard two stories that exemplify the odd relationship between the world’s only superpower and this omnipotent organization, and that this has been going on for close to forty years. The first story takes place during the Carter administration when an attempt to put together a meeting between President Carter and one of the worlds leading Jewish leaders, Dr. Nahum Goldman was unsuccessful. When a mutual friend of Carter and Dr. Goldman, who told me this story, inquired with the President about this the President replied that a meeting with Dr. Goldman is not possible because Dr. Goldman really gets American Jews agitated.

Dr. Nahum Goldman was one of, if not the most important Jewish Zionist leader in America. He was a staunch Zionist his whole life and was the Co founder of the World Jewish Congress, which he led for several decades. But Goldman’s brand of Zionism was not palatable for Israeli leaders such as David Ben Gurion, Golda Meir and well, the rest of Israeli politicians because Goldman tried to negotiate between Israel and the neighboring Arab states. He committed the crime of being critical of Israel for what he saw as an over-reliance on military might and for not making concessions after the 1967 Six-Day War. He further brought upon him the wrath of Jewish zealots by advocating a position that the only chance of long-term survival for Israel was to accept the rights of the Palestinians as a people. So how can the President meet with such a man?

Fast forward to today’s Washington DC. A young non-Jewish Ivy League graduate member of a DC think tank proposes to present a paper on the Palestinian perspective. She lived and reported from Palestine, she has first hand knowledge and a deeper understanding of the situation than most experts. After a long wait the paper is shelved fearing it will bring about too much debate and that it is one sided. Well, by presenting the perspective of a particular side of the conflict the paper was by definition one sided and as for creating debate, isn’t that what a think tank is supposed to do?

I have learned that on a local level agents of this ridiculous bully follow me and my activism quite closely. Self proclaimed keepers of the most zealous and uncompromising brand of Jewish nationalism have taken it upon themselves to attend, record, film and conduct classes on the things that I say about the heinous crimes and viscous attacks committed by Israel against the Palestinian people which it rules. I am not sure if I should be flattered or afraid. I mean, after all will they report me to the authorities? Will they deny me entry to Israel or the US? But of course I then recall that other than being a self-proclaimed policing force that refuses to see the ridicule and the tragedy in its positions and its actions these little bullies are really nothing.

Local elected officials are offered great trips to Israel, free of course. Happily the ones I know stood up to this bully and the favors it offers and refused the gift on grounds that it is wrong for an elected official to receive such expensive gifts. Besides, no gift of this kind is free. It comes with the expectation of future support for Israel’s draconian policies regarding the Palestinians.

It is said that AIPAC itself has the power to dethrone powerful people. That it is a king maker as well as a killer of political careers, even well established careers. But I have yet to hear an explanation as to why. Why is it that this organization and its self-righteous agents yield so much power of extortion over the world greatest power? What secrets do they posses that can yield such powers of extortion? While in DC I had the pleasure of meeting one man who is rather close to the President himself. He works with the President on issues other than the Mideast but when we met the Mideast we talked mostly about the Middle East. “Perhaps you over estimate the power of the President” is what this man said to me.

If President Obama said one sentence that truly relates to the horrors of Israeli policies, if he made one comment to criticize Israeli human rights violations or the treatment of Palestinian minors in Israeli prisons, if he publicly said what he surely knows, that Israeli insistence on building settlements for Jews only on land that belongs to Palestinians is wrong or even, God forbid that he should say that the situation in Gaza is unacceptable (not unsustainable as he said in the past). If the President says just one of theses things it would get the ball rolling sparking a serious debate and it will embolden others to ask these questions and make demands of Israel.

Far from me to suggest that politicians align themselves with what is right and what is just. However, those politicians who do care need to know the following: there are ways to stop bullies but succumbing to them and appeasing them are not included. To stop bullies one needs to stand up to the bullies and to make it clear that we will not take their BS!

THE ANSWERS HAVE CHANGED by Miko Peled

It is said of Albert Einstein that he gave a particular exam to a class that had already been given that exam.  Alarmed at what he saw and thinking it to be the result of the professor’s absent-mindedness, an assistant warned Einstein of what he was about to do.  The Professor just smiled and said: It’s alright the answers have changed. The same thing goes for the Israeli Palestinian conflict, the questions remain the same but now sixty years after the establishment of the Jewish State, the answers have changed.

Until about ten years ago the answer to the question of how to achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East was clear: Allowing the Palestinians to establish a free, independent state in the West Bank and Gaza, alongside Israel. But this answer known as the “Two State Solution” belongs to a reality that no longer exists. Today, after 40 years of occupation the West Bank is riddled with settlements and highways designated for Jews only; Palestinians in the West bank and Gaza are imprisoned within a wall, impoverished and starved and there is no political will within Israel to partition the land of Israel and allow Palestinian independence – all of which indicate that clearly the answers have changed.

So what is the answer to this very difficult question? Ten million people reside between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.  Approximately 5.5 million Jewish Israelis and 4.5 million Palestinians, all ruled by the state of Israel, the Jewish State.  The conditions under which Palestinians live range between being third class citizens within Israel, and living under a military occupation with no representation, no human rights and no civil rights.  Clearly this cannot go on forever and at some point Israel will be forced to grant the Palestinians equal rights. What remains to be seen is whether this will come as a result of intense violence and bloodshed or a negotiated agreement.

Two books that have come out in recent months are relevant to this conflict and both of them demonstrate that there is a tremendous amount of change in the air. The first book that has received a great deal of attention is “Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid” by former US President and staunch Israel supporter, Jimmy Carter.  This book has opened the door for the first time for a serious debate in the US regarding the Palestinian tragedy. In a development that is almost unparalleled, a former US President characterizes Israeli rule in the West Bank and Gaza as apartheid. Since the book came out the debate has indeed been intense and there are no signs that this will change any time soon.

The second book is “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” by Israeli historian Illan Pappe. Categorizing the destruction of Palestine in the years 1947-1949 as ethnic cleansing is not new perhaps but it is worthy of mention because it is becoming more widely accepted. Pappe’s book, difficult though it is due to its detailed accounts, provides an opportunity for an in-depth study of the destruction of the Palestinian people and their homeland at the hands of the Jewish forces during the Israeli War of Independence.  What might come as news to many Jewish people around the world and to many non Jewish Israel supporters is that it was in the aftermath of this campaign of ethnic cleansing that the State of Israel was established upon the ruins of Palestine.

What becomes apparent from reading the two books is that what Carter describes is congruent with what is described in Pappe’s book. In other words, current Israeli policy towards the Palestinians is an extension of the ethnic cleansing policies of the early years of the conflict.

One may argue over details in both Carter’s book and Pappe’s book, but one cannot argue with the facts that the books describe:  Between the end of 1947 and the beginning of 1949, a time that Israel calls the War of Independence, close to 800,000 Palestinians were forced into exile and Palestinian identity in Palestine was almost entirely wiped out.  Today, Israel continues to deny Palestinian identity, not to mention Palestinian independence both within the boundaries of the State of Israel and within the occupied territories.

One possible answer to the difficult question of the Israeli Palestinian conflict could be drawn from the fact that Israel, by ruling over two nations is already a bi-national state.  The solution could be to replace the current system whereby only Israeli Jews enjoy the freedoms and rights of full citizenry, with one that will allow Palestinians to enjoy those rights as well.  This will create a fully democratic state in which both Israelis and Palestinians live as equals, protected by a constitution that allows both people to express their national, religious and cultural identities.

This option of a constitutional democracy that includes both Israeli Jews and Palestinians under one state is without a doubt one of the more difficult answers. After 2000 years in exile and having survived the Nazi holocaust, the Jewish people rose from the ashes like the phoenix to create a state they can call their own. Now it seems that securing the future of the people of Israel in the land of Israel will require not only vision but also genuine political compromise.

Bringing an end to the Israeli Palestinian conflict demands a serious look into the events that took place between the years 1947 and 2007:  The State of Israel was created at the expense of another nation.  The choice today is to fight until the last drop of blood has been shed, or to recognize the need to establish a political framework that will allow both people to live together in peace.

Miko Peled is an Israeli living in San Diego. He is the son of Israeli General Matityahu Peled.

SIGNED WITH JUST WORLD BOOKS!

Spent a terrific weekend in DC, weather was perfect and… I Signed a book deal with Just Books Publishing. Expecting to have the book out in the spring.

With immigrant Zionist grandparents who came to reclaim the Jewish homeland and to build a state for their people, one of whom signed the Declaration of Independence (!), a father who was a war hero and a General who then decided to study Arabic, specialized in Arabic literature and paved the way to talks between Zionist Israelis and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).  Then a tragic death of a 12 year old niece.. after years of seclusion an irreversible plunge into the thick of the Israeli Palestinian issue, becoming an activist, speaker and writer to promote the creation of a new reality that will allow both people of our shared homeland to live together in… yes, P E A C E !.

In a nutshell, this is what the book is about.  I will have a few excerpts ready very soon.