Friday, February 20, 2009

Israel's New Government and The Future

Israel's New Government and The Future

As an advocate for a solution to the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis that results in the creation of a Palestinian state along side an Israel with secure borders and as an advocate for a solution that does not result in ongoing, much less worsening, suffering for Palestinians in Gaza and Israelis in Sderot and surrounding communities, I am pretty depressed these days.

As an advocate for the fair treatment of Israel in the national and international media and on college campuses around the world, where anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiments are flourishing, I am pretty depressed these days.

An internationally besieged Israel has turned to the political right, even empowering the far right, and I am a progressive. I do not want to defend someone who demands a loyalty oath such as Avigdor Lieberman and am not going to do so. I can't. I think it is wrong, though I would add that the US does have its Congressman swear an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. I see no reason why Israeli MKs should not swear an oath to defend the nation against its enemies and to work for the prosperity of all of its citizens, Israeli Arabs included. That is the purpose of the Knesset.

It is very wrong, however, to make people swear an oath to support the policies of the current administration, whatever type of administration that is, in order to vote. That violates my sense of right and wrong. Dissent should not be silenced and Israeli Arabs certainly should have the right to dissent against the policies of the Israeli government. I have long feared the religious right in Israel, which seeks to trample upon civil liberties and has restricted Jewish marriages to the sole auspices of the Orthodox. Lieberman actually wants to undo that control. He is an advocate for civil liberties for Jews, the strongest by far in Israel, something that has created tremendous animosity between his party and the religious parties.

I believe that Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the head of the Union for Reform Judaism, of which my congregation is a member, spoke very strongly in his article in the Forward recently in which he used harsher language in reference to Avigdor Lieberman and his party than he uses toward Hamas Rabbi Yoffie wrote, speaking of Israel Beiteinu's campaign: " It was an outrageous, abominable, hate-filled campaign, brimming with incitement that, if left unchecked, could lead Israel to the gates of hell." I agree with the general sentiments. This campaign in general and Israel Beiteinu's in particular were about Israel's problems with the Arab world, both inside and outside of Israel and the right of the political spectrum seems to have had much more appeal than the left. Hatred was heard more than love.

Later in the article when Rabbi Yoffie says that Lieberman represents "values that we abhor" surely he did not mean civil marriage and civil divorce and separation of church and state, but only his views about those Israeli Arabs who actively opposed the policies of the Jewish state. The statement, which became an Israel Beiteinu slogan, "No citizenship without loyalty," is definitely frightening and abhorrent in my view. It is reminiscent of times and places where in Jews were so accused. Rabbi Yoffie and others are correct both to condemn and to fear that kind of language.

I too fear that radical voices are speaking too loudly and are being too easily heard. I fear that a lack of hope for peace and disdain for the compromises required to achieve it have emboldened its radical opponents, not only Hamas on the Palestinian side, but those on the Israeli side as well. Lieberman, whose party's views are certainly radical in my mind, was not radical enough for some, who voted the National Union party into the Knesset with FOUR seats, one more than Meretz, the social left party, holds.

While Eric Yoffie wrote, "Remember that he received only about 12% of the vote, much of it a protest against the perceived weakness of the other major-party leaders. And, it’s safe to say, most Israelis find his views utterly unacceptable," he forgot to include the National Union and Jewish Home parties which share many of Lieberman's views, but are MORE radical. Including them, the far right, not including the religious right, received about 1/6 of the vote. Still, some of that is protest vote and some of those voters were voting for Israel Beiteinu's hard-line SECULAR positions and not its statements about Israeli Arabs.

I took an election quiz not long ago in one of the Israeli newspapers which was designed to tell me which party would support my views. I found myself in the Labor party camp, though perhaps as a fringe Kadima voter. I am not a Conservative. I am a progressive, even liberal on many issues. It astounds me how far to the right the Israeli electorate has gone, rather been driven, by the failures of peace and constant berating for not being willing to simply give in to those who would see Israel finished as a secure home for the Jewish people.

I hope that Benjamin Netanyahu will be able to forge a coalition of the Center and even perhaps the left rather than working with Israel Beiteinu OR Shas, neither the secular political right nor the religious right. I simply doubt that there is much of a chance that it will happen.

I wrote of all of this years ago. I wrote at the time of disengagement from Gaza in 2005 that:

How the Palestinian Authority deals with events in Gaza and with the population of Gaza in general will radically affect the peace process over the months and years to come.

If there are constant barrages from Qasam rockets into Israel, if Hamas and other terrorist organizations continue to attack and the Palestinian Authority is not able to stop them, if there are no compromises foreseen concerning Palestinian demands for Jerusalem and its suburbs built on land acquired in 1967, it is highly unlikely that a lasting peace will be any nearer because of Israel’s actions over the past few weeks. In fact, without the worry about the safety of settlers living in Gaza, Israel may feel more able to act on its own in pursuit of terrorist leaders and infrastructure in Gaza, which would escalate tensions and make governing Gaza more difficult for the West Bank based Palestinian Authority.

I wrote back then in 2005 that:

If nothing is done and Hamas continues to exert its strength in opposition to the Palestinian Authority while the PA is unable to put it in its place, it may be that what we will be discussing in the coming years is a three state solution, rather than a two state one with a Hamas governed Gaza and a Fatah governed West Bank, both surrounded by walls, still not at peace with Israel. While that seems like a bad solution, it is better than what would result from a complete failure by the Palestinian Authority to better the lives of Palestinians in the relatively near future. Hamas could gain enough support, even in the West Bank, to take over the leadership of the Palestinian Authority.

I wrote back then that:

While the Palestinian Authority officially decries the actions of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other organizations seeking the destruction of Israel it remains unable or unwilling to stop them from pursuing that end. This places Israel in the untenable situation of either being accused of provocation when it tries to stop these groups before they can act or waiting until they have acted on their plans, possibly killing numerous innocents. In the latter case, history tells us that no action taken by Israel in response to attacks by these groups is seen as justified by much of the world. Arrests or strategic assaults on them are never seen as police actions, much less as actions in a continuing war, but are perceived as “harmful to progress toward peace.”

On November 29, 2007 when speaking of Annapolis, I wrote:

If Israel compromises too much, the current government will be ousted and almost certainly a far more right wing oriented government will come to power...The result of that shift would be a center-right coalition led in all likelihood by Bibi Netanyahu.
It is not that these things were not foreseeable, but that it seems not to have mattered. I am certainly not the only one who argued these things then. They have nonetheless come true.

The peace process seems to be ever careening toward a cliff, forced ahead by drivers (there are more than one) in distant lands fighting over a remote control directing the car and who hope that the road goes the way that they imagine that it should, not knowing the way it actually does. Meanwhile, the passengers, Israelis and Palestinians, are being battered around and hurtled toward tragedy time and again by some very well meaning people.

Both Israelis and Palestinians have been radicalized by the failures of the process over the past decade and a half. Israel has sheltered itself. It fears that no concessions will be enough and all concessions will be met with increased violence. Israelis have no hope that Shalom is attainable soon. Palestinians have sheltered themselves as well, hiding from the violence and suffering that permeate society in Gaza. Having lost hope long ago, they find refuge in the comfort of hatred. Better to hate than to love and lose.

What needs to change to bring about hope?

Life has to get better for Palestinians in Gaza. Life has to get better for Israelis in Sderot. There has to be hope that somehow someday children will be able to play in peace and security.

I have difficulty seeing this happening with an Israeli government tilted far to the right (I'm still holding out hope that Kadima will enter the coalition and bring it more to the center) or with Palestinian AuthoritIES (Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank) both unable to speak for the Palestinian people as a whole.

Peace seems a long way off. Hatred seems way too close.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Shalom Rabbi,

I believe what you wrote in 2005 about the Palestinian Authority's inability or unwillingness to reign in Hamas and/or Islamic Jihad continues to be at the heart of the problem. Until these terrorist are put out of business by the PA...or the military might of Israel, I don't see peace. I'm not comfortable in saying that, but the security of Israel is more important to me at this point in time. I'm disappointed as well that a broad coalition government doesn't appear to be possible, but I was encouraged by an interview I read with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He sounded genuinely concerned and committed to improving the economy of the Palestinians in the West Bank. He's also said he wants the Palestinians to govern themselves. There is hope for better days ahead for all.
I'm learning Rabbi. My process of becoming part of the Covenant will take a sizeable amount of time. Therefore I look forward to your blogs and guidance. I read, listen and try to absorb much.