The Duck of Minerva

Thursday Linkage: The Future of Israel edition

31 July 2014

In the wake of the latest Gaza military intervention by the Israeli government, the liberal Jewish diaspora appears to be coalescing quite significantly around the view that, as awful as Hamas’ rockets and ideology are, the current Israeli government’s actions in Gaza are immoral and unwise.

I start with a link to celebrated Israeli writer David Grossman and a column he wrote for the Times. From the Jewish diaspora, there are important pieces this week by Jonathan Chait, Ezra Klein, Peter Beinart, Michael Walzer, Mira Sucharov, Roger Cohen, Jonathan Freedland, Sam Sussman, and Adam Dembowitz that echo aspects of this perspective. They go beyond the current military campaign to talk about the occupation, settlements, and the ways that the current Israeli government has undermined Palestinian moderates and made a two-state solution less likely. Links and extracts below, plus a re-up of a Tony Judt piece.   


  • Celebrated Israeli writer David Grossman challenged the Netanyahu government in an opinion piece in The New York Times

Since I cannot ask Hamas, nor do I purport to understand its way of thinking, I ask the leaders of my own country, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his predecessors: How could you have wasted the years since the last conflict without initiating dialogue, without even making the slightest gesture toward dialogue with Hamas, without attempting to change our explosive reality? Why, for these past few years, has Israel avoided judicious negotiations with the moderate and more conversable sectors of the Palestinian people — an act that could also have served to pressure Hamas? Why have you ignored, for 12 years, the Arab League initiative that could have enlisted moderate Arab states with the power to impose, perhaps, a compromise on Hamas? In other words: Why is it that Israeli governments have been incapable, for decades, of thinking outside the bubble?….

If we put aside for a moment the rationales we use to buttress ourselves against simple human compassion toward the multitude of Palestinians whose lives have been shattered in this war, perhaps we will be able to see them, too, as they trudge around the grindstone right beside us, in tandem, in endless blind circles, in numbing despair.


  • Jonathan Chait recounts his growing disillusionment with Israel, specifically Netanyahu’s role in the recent peace negotiations. He takes issue with David Frum’s interpretation of the prisoner exchange at the heart of the recent failed negotiations reported in TNR:

David Frum, who is more hawkish than me, reads it and concludes that it damns the Palestinians, who demanded the release of prisoners in order to continue negotiating. What Frum fails to mention is that the Palestinians made this demand because the Netanyahu government insisted on continuing to build settlements in the West Bank during negotiations. The Palestinians would have looked like fools for negotiating under such conditions without a concession. Netanyahu could have frozen the settlements, but decided instead to release a group of prisoners including more than 100 murderers.


  • Ezra Klein writes of his increasing pessimism about Israel as a personal struggle:

The excuse used to be that Israel did not have a partner for peace, and that was true. But it’s clear today that Israel itself is not much of a partner for peace, either…. But Israel chooses the force of its campaign, and a strategy based on unleashing air strikes in a crowded city makes civilian casualties an inevitability. The brutality of Hamas’s tactics doesn’t justify the brutality of Israel’s response.


  • Peter Beinart tries to demythologize events leading up to the current conflict, starting with the myth that Israel left Gaza:

Had Gaza become its own country, it would have gained control over its borders. It never did. As the Israeli human rights group Gisha has detailed, even before the election of Hamas, Israel controlled whether Gazans could enter or exit the Strip (In conjunction with Egypt, which controlled the Rafah checkpoint in Gaza’s south). Israel controlled the population registry through which Gazans were issued identification cards. Upon evacuating its settlers and soldiers from Gaza, Israel even created a security perimeter inside the Strip from which Gazans were barred from entry. (Unfortunately for Gazans, this perimeter included some of the Strip’s best farmland)….

“Pro-Israel” commentators claim Israel had legitimate security reasons for all this. But that concedes the point. A necessary occupation is still an occupation. That’s why it’s silly to analogize Hamas’ rockets—repugnant as they are—to Mexico or Canada attacking the United States. The United States is not occupying Mexico or Canada.


  • Michael Walzer sorts through the moral thicket and strongly implies that Israel does not pass the test:

But it can’t be the case that the insurgents, by hiding among civilians, make it impossible for the other side to fight against them. There has to be a just, or justifiable, way of responding to indiscriminate rocket attacks. Hence the doctrine of double effect and the rule of proportionality: If you are aiming at military targets (rocket launchers, for example) and know that your attack will also cause civilian casualties (collateral damage), you must make sure that the number of dead or injured civilians is “not disproportionate” to the value of the military target.

Along with many others, I have argued for another rule: that the attacking forces must make positive efforts, including asking their own soldiers to take risks, in order to minimize the risks they impose on enemy civilians.


  • Jonathan Freedland lays out the daunting prospect out there that the two-state solution might not be possible:

What if the two-state solution is impossible? That prospect frightens liberal Zionists to their core. For the alternatives to two states are unpalatable, either for liberal reasons or for Zionist reasons. A single state in all of historic Palestine, dominated by Jews but in which Palestinians are deprived of the vote, might be Zionist but it certainly would not be liberal. A binational state offering full equality between Jew and Arab would be admirably liberal, but it would seem to thwart Jewish self-determination, at least as it has traditionally been conceived, and therefore could not easily be described as Zionist.


  • Mira Sucharov explores whether negotiating with Hamas is possible or “dignified”:

Of course, it’s clear from this war that Hamas’s political goals are anything but obvious. While the Gaza-Egypt tunnels represent an important commercial lifeline for an impoverished people, the Gaza-Israel tunnels can only suggest one thing. The indiscriminate rocket fire has hardly led Israelis to trust Hamas. And its charter remains rejectionist in the extreme. But there are glimmers of hope that Hamas may be reasoned with: even its most daring and terrifying actions — like the capture of Gilad Shalit — had negotiable ends within defined parameters….

Ultimately, history has shown that many militants — even the bloodiest of them all, can eventually moderate for strategic ends. In the horrifying shadow of Munich and Ma’alot, PLO recognition of Israel emerged. To suggest that Hamas is beyond all strategic thinking is to consign Israelis to a permanent state of war and terror. And to suggest that it is undignified to call for negotiations to try to dig amidst the rubble for a shred of possibility is itself a sign of the lack of dignity characterizing our communal discourse in these troubled times.


  • Roger Cohen brings it all together and rejects the policies of the current Israeli government in Palestine:

I am a Zionist because the story of my forebears convinces me that Jews needed the homeland voted into existence by United Nations Resolution 181 of 1947, calling for the establishment of two states — one Jewish, one Arab — in Mandate Palestine. I am a Zionist who believes in the words of Israel’s founding charter of 1948 declaring that the nascent state would be based “on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.”

What I cannot accept, however, is the perversion of Zionism that has seen the inexorable growth of a Messianic Israeli nationalism claiming all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River; that has, for almost a half-century now, produced the systematic oppression of another people in the West Bank; that has led to the steady expansion of Israeli settlements on the very West Bank land of any Palestinian state; that isolates moderate Palestinians like Salam Fayyad in the name of divide-and-rule; that pursues policies that will make it impossible to remain a Jewish and democratic state; that seeks tactical advantage rather than the strategic breakthrough of a two-state peace; that blockades Gaza with 1.8 million people locked in its prison and is then surprised by the periodic eruptions of the inmates; and that responds disproportionately to attack in a way that kills hundreds of children.


  • Sam Sussman, a young man who leads American Jews on short educational tours to Israel, wrote in reaction to Nick Kristof on the perceived lack of non-violent protests in Palestine. Sussman says that there are peaceful protesters:

The leaders who have emerged from these movements speak the Gandhian language of transformative nonviolence that Mr. Kristof implores them to employ. When I was in Bil’in last month, leading activist Iyad Burnat explained his philosophy of nonviolence to me: “I want my freedom, and I am not free if I harm another person.” Another activist in Bil’in, who preferred not to be named for fear of reprisal, told me: “If you want to visit my home, I do not care if you are Muslim, Jewish, or Christian. But you cannot bring violence with you, you cannot solve disputes with violence. That is our message to the Israelis who occupy us.”

While Mr. Kristof is wrong that Palestinians have yet to learn the value of peaceful grassroots campaigns, he is right that the Gandhi-like Palestinian movement is not “huge.” Why haven’t more Palestinians joined the movement? One theory is that Palestinians refuse to reject militancy. Another is that they fear the draconian violence visited upon peaceful protesters by the Israel Defense Force.


  • Adam Dembowitz wrote an impassioned plea to cease dehumanizing the Palestinians:



Mark MacKinnon of the Global and Mail reposted a 2006 essay by the late Tony Judt on Israel-Palestine which seems fitting:

We can see, in retrospect, that the victory of Israel in June 1967 and its continuing occupation of the territories it conquered then have been the Jewish state’s very own nakba: a moral and political catastrophe. Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza have magnified and publicized the country’s shortcomings and displayed them to a watching world. Curfews, checkpoints, bulldozers, public humiliations, home destructions, land seizures, shootings, “targeted assassinations,” the separation fence: All of these routines of occupation and repression were once familiar only to an informed minority of specialists and activists. Today they can be watched, in real time, by anyone with a computer or a satellite dish – which means that Israel’s behavior is under daily scrutiny by hundreds of millions of people worldwide.