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by • November 15, 2023 • Opinion, Politics, Weekly ColumnComments (0)241

The Israelis, Palestinians and Western Progressives Must Change to Achieve Peace

We keep hearing that solving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis is “complicated”. A more accurate description is that politically powerful zealots are deliberately complicating workable solutions. As long as religious extremists play outsized roles in Israeli-Palestinian affairs, there will be wanton death and destruction.

Secular Israeli and Palestinian majorities could live together in peace. Eventually they might flourish as cultural and economic trading partners in two adjoining states. Unfortunately, fanatics keep undermining the future, promulgating radical, intractable positions they believe are dictated from God. Peace will finally emerge when courageous Palestinian and Jewish leaders, sick of the senseless violence, usher their respective ideologues to the political fringe where they belong.

It’s time to dispense tough love, to all involved parties, that will please few but must be imparted. As a Jewish American I may have my pro-Israeli biases, but I’m not blind to Palestinian suffering. Here are the inconvenient facts about how Israelis, Palestinians and “progressive” pro-Palestinian demonstrators must radically change their ways for peace to occur.

Israel: Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy was to pretend Palestinians don’t exist. Desperate to stay in power and avoid prison on corruption charges, the Prime Minister put together a right-wing coalition of crackpots who regularly use incendiary rhetoric.

Under Netanyahu, Jewish settlements in the West Bank have been rapidly expanded, often illegally. Palestinians have increasingly been targeted by Jewish settlers, sometimes with messianic fervor or racist intent. Some victims have been forced to leave their villages and relocate under threat of violence.

I strongly support Israel’s right to exist and unequivocally condemn Hamas’ barbaric October 7 attack on Israeli civilians, but I’m not down with Jewish ideologues distorting the Bible to bully innocent Palestinian families. I’ve spent my entire life, as a progressive activist, fighting against injustice and I won’t turn a blind eye when arrogant Israeli settlers are acting with cruelty and malice.

For a peace deal to occur, the Israeli government must immediately halt these divisive and disruptive outposts. While many settlements are too large to dismantle, others must be, and their residents will have to be removed and relocated, by force if necessary.

Unfortunately, there are now more than a half million settlers in the West Bank, so removing residents, many who are radicalized, could lead to violent internal conflict between Israeli factions. Removal would be greatly exacerbated by extremists like National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who is working to arm settlers with tens of thousands of assault rifles. This may soon pose a larger threat to Israel’s future than Hamas, tearing apart Israeli society.

Prior to the October 7 slaughter of 1,200 Israeli citizens by Hamas terrorists, Netanyahu had convulsed Israeli society, undermining democracy by stripping independence from the Judiciary. This led to massive demonstrations.

Additionally, Netanyahu smashed the thin wall separating Synagogue and state by flooding Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community with taxpayer money. This gift came despite their exemption from army service and their creation of separate schools that fail to adequately teach math, language and science. Increasingly empowered, the ultra-Orthodox radicals have split society by starting to demand women sit in the back of busses and increasing their attacks on LGBTQ equality.

Liberal American and European Jews, like me, will not tolerate an Israel that slides into religious authoritarianism. If Israel degenerates into a Jewish version of Iran, our support will vanish. I fight the Religious Right at home, so why would I uncritically accept it in Israel?

When the war in Gaza ends, Israel should rescind most financial support for Orthodox Jews. The state should use the welfare money currently going to the ultra-Orthodox to create job training programs so these folks can find useful careers that benefit Israel.

In terms of the war, I strongly support Israel’s right to self-defense and they have an obligation to ensure Hamas is permanently neutralized. While killing innocent civilians is always evil, it sadly may be a necessary evil to protect Israelis from bloodthirsty terrorists who are hellbent on mass murdering Jews and destroying Israel – which is the stated intent of Hamas.

Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas leader, expressed his approval of the October 7 terrorist attack and promised to destroy Israel. “We are not ashamed to say it with full force,” he said. “We have to teach Israel a lesson, and we will do it again and again.” When Hamas vows existential war against Israelis, they—and their naïve supporters in the West–have no basis in which to complain when Israel responds with existential force. Israelis are under no obligation to play victim and meekly participate in Hamas’ genocidal plan for Jews.

Nevertheless, Israel must assiduously work to end this vicious cycle or it will endlessly repeat, causing misery and hopelessness for generations of Palestinians and Israelis. I agree with New York Times columnist Tom Friedman when he states:

Netanyahu is saying that seven million Jews are going to indefinitely control the lives of five million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza — while offering them no political horizon, nothing, by way of statehood one day on any demilitarized conditions.

Biden needs to say: “Israel, we are covering your flank militarily with our two aircraft carriers, financially with $14 billion in aid, and diplomatically at the U.N. The price for that is your acceptance of a peace framework based on two states for two indigenous peoples in Gaza, the West Bank and pre-1967 Israel. This plan is based on U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338, which was also the cornerstone for negotiations in the peace plan put forward by President Trump in 2020.

Israel is the Jewish State, but it also must remember that it impacts the state of Jewish life globally. What happens in Israel filters down to the streets of London and Paris, the deserts of the Middle East and college campuses in the United States. Bret Stephens in The New York Times reports:

The Anti-Defamation League recorded 751 antisemitic incidents in the United States in 2013. There were 3,697 in 2022. There was a nearly 400 percent increase in the two weeks after the Hamas massacre of Oct. 7 compared with the year before. Last week, “Jewish students specifically were warned not to enter M.I.T.’s front entrance due to a risk to their physical safety,” according to a public letter from Jewish students there. In Montreal a Jewish school was targeted by gunfire twice in a single week.

Israel must also take these necessary steps toward peace to help its indispensable ally, the United States, so it can pivot its military resources to Asia. The New York Times reports:

The Middle East, like a vortex, has pulled Washington back in. And for America’s partners in the Indo-Pacific, many of which already worry that the United States is not moving fast enough to counter Beijing, the sudden focus on Gaza — with Pentagon task forces, ramped-up U.S. weapons deliveries to Israel and rushed visits to Middle Eastern capitals — feels like a loss, delaying progress on some of their most critical challenges.

Israel is at an inflection point and what it does diplomatically during and immediately following the war will matter, at least as much, as anything that happens militarily in Gaza. Without a serious peace plan, violence will only be a temporary salve, not a permeant solution.

Finally, while Hamas must be eradicated, Netanyahu and his rogue’s gallery of religious extremists must also permanently exit the public stage. Nothing positive will flow from this right wing government and it will only lead to division, disunion and death.

The Palestinians: It is time the Palestinians halt their pathological, self-destructive ways. They must definitively decide whether they want to be a “cause” or have a country. The Palestinians must choose between continuing their hate or having a state – because they can’t have both. No matter what legitimate reasons they might have, spite will only bring more suffering.

The Palestinians are often their own worst enemy. In 2000, Yasir Arafat, then-chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), rejected a peace deal, brokered by President Bill Clinton, that would have created a Palestinian nation in the West Bank. Disastrously, Arafat let the perfect be the enemy of the good, condemning Palestinians to more than two decades in the wilderness.

When Israel exited Gaza in 2005, voters imprudently elected Hamas, an Islamist terror organization that refuses to recognize Israel. This self-defeating choice resulted in a blockade by Israel and Egypt, which helped turn Gaza into a desperately poor enclave. (It’s worth noting how Hamas supporters in the West blame Israel for the blockade, but rarely mention Egypt’s role and how Cairo is equally wary of Hamas.)

Sunny Gaza is located on the Mediterranean Sea and could have eventually become wealthy from tourism and building modern infrastructure. Imagine if Hamas was more interested in attracting start-ups than starting wars with Israel? Hamas also received a fortune in international aid, most notably billions from Qatar.

Instead of investing in its people and helping them succeed, Hamas instead built terror tunnels and smuggled in rockets. According to The New York Times:

The United States estimates that Hamas controls $500 million worth of assets that it uses to finance terrorism. The tunnels cost Hamas about $3 million each, according to the Israeli military.

In 2014, The Wall Street Journal reported:

With the money Hamas could have spent to build a single tunnel to infiltrate into Israel, it could have purchased construction supplies “enough to build 86 homes, seven mosques, six schools or 19 medical clinics.” At the time, Israel had identified at least 32 such tunnels.

Had Palestinians channeled Gandhi instead of hoarding guns, they would be living a different reality today. Instead, they chose hijackings, kidnappings and suicide bombers. They can’t blame Israel for their self-inflicted wounds.

The Palestinians rejoice when much of the world rallies to their side against Israel. While Twitter love might feel good, history shows the Palestinians are easily forgotten after a few news cycles. Those cheering in the West are fickle and have very short attention spans. Whether its climate change, abortion rights, LGBTQ issues or the upcoming presidential election in the United States, the Palestinian issue will, once again, recede. All the cheerleading will almost certainly amount to nothing, and the Palestinians will remain hapless and stateless.

Isn’t it time the Palestinian people chose peace instead of serving as an ephemeral cause for self-serving activists? Isn’t it time they did what was in their best interests, rather than being political pawns?

My heart truly aches for all innocent Palestinian victims. They deserve better than being human shields in Hamas’ holy war or Iran’s strategic plans to antagonize Israel. They don’t deserve to be stateless or victims of violent Israeli settlers in the West Bank. A better future, however, begins by recognizing the way their movement operates has habitually backfired. It’s time to try a new path toward peace.

Progressives: My liberal colleagues should ask themselves if they are comfortable in alignment against Israel with the most illiberal regimes on earth: Iran, Russia, China and Hamas? Might this offer a clue that they are on the wrong side of history?

Too many progressive organizations and individuals are behaving in shameful ways that are antisemitic, though they adamantly deny it. Yet, at pro-Palestinian rallies, personal interactions and online comment sections, there appears to be a predilection to compare Israel’s self-defense incursion into Gaza to the Holocaust and comparisons of Israelis to Adolph Hitler.

To express their opposition, there are no shortage of examples these “progressives” could have selected – Pol Pot, Stalin, Assad, Pinochet, etc. – but they seem to always revert to Nazi comparisons. Clearly, this is a deliberate abuse of language designed to injure Jews by invoking their collective historic nightmare.

While these words may sting, they have the opposite effect of that intended. They serve as a powerful reminder that Jews must defend themselves and secure a nation, because historically our so-called allies have often revealed their true antisemitic colors. This latest eruption of anti-Jewish fervor is no exception.

It’s fascinating how pro-Hamas progressives demand that we allow black people to define racism, women to define misogyny and Muslims to define Islamophobia. But in their twisted minds, warped by hate, Jewish people are singularly prohibited from defining what is antisemitism. Sorry, but we will not tolerate such rank hypocrisy and glaring double standards.

What’s curious, is how these “progressives” claim they aren’t on the side of Hamas, yet they repeatedly back Hamas’ maximalist position that the entirety of Israel belongs to the Palestinians. They obnoxiously go to rallies and chant, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” From the perspective of most Jews, this is a terror chant calling for the end of Israel and the displacement, destruction and death of the Jewish people. Progressives might not have noticed, but the only thing this inflammatory song has accomplished for the Palestinians is a river of blood and a sea of pain. But they seem to be okay with such catastrophic results because they get to wear trendy keffiyehs at campus rallies.

These left-wing activists are increasingly toxic, and their counterproductive actions are anathema to peace. If one reasonably suggests that Israel, like all nations, has a right to self-defense, these radicals pugnaciously make absurd accusations of “supporting genocide”. In doing so, they remind me of shrill anti-abortion activists, who protest at clinics, screaming “baby killer” at pregnant women. In exhibiting such unseemly behavior, they shred their credibility and caused harm to Palestinians they purportedly are trying to help.

These activists mindlessly call for a cease-fire. But how is it saving lives if you’re giving a murderous organization like Hamas time to rearm so they can kill more Jews? It seems these folks are very selective for whom they feel pity.

Certain elements of the pro-Palestinian coalition appear unserious and even cartoonish. For example, Queers for Palestine studiously fails to acknowledge that Palestine isn’t in favor of the queers. What kind of an LGBTQ group would advocate for a terrorist organization that routinely humiliates, tortures, imprisons and sometimes murders gay and transgender people?

Queers for Palestine would surely claim I’m “pinkwashing”, which means touting Israel’s superior LGBTQ record to justify the subjugation of Palestinians. But why isn’t this silly organization using their leverage to improve the lives of gay and trans Palestinians? When have they lobbied the West Bank and Gaza leadership in person to argue, “Israel wouldn’t be able to use their support for LGBTQ people if the Palestinians passed meaningful pro-LGBTQ legislation.”

It’s a rhetorical question because we already know the answer. This absurd organization is terrified of the Palestinians and wouldn’t dare make such demands that would be violently rejected. That’s why you’ll see “Queers for Palestine” signs in New York City and London, but never in Gaza or Ramallah.

Such incoherent behavior is masochistic and pathological. No other self-respecting group of people in the world would march on behalf of those who view them as inhuman perverts unworthy of safety and dignity. Their self-loathing actions remind me of the degrading behavior exhibited by the gay Log Cabin Republicans, who believe if they are nice enough to their tormenters they will be accepted.

The progressive left also appears quite selective and inconsistent in what they regard as worthy of their tears. There was a mass killing in Darfur, Sudan this week that slaughtered 1,300 people and injured 2,000. Nary a peep could be heard by self-described progressives who profess to be so concerned with human rights violations.

Do these innocent souls not matter as much as Palestinians?

Where were these concerned progressives in September when Azerbaijan “suddenly and brutally” seized the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh and tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians fled their homes? We heard no progressives screeching, “It’s their land, give it back.”

Where were the progressives when Human rights groups accused China of detaining more than one million Muslim Uyghurs and forcing them into “re-education camps? Where was the concern for Muslims when the Rohingya were expelled from Myanmar? Where were the bleeding-heart progressives when Russia attacked Ukraine and stole their land in a gory war that has so-far claimed hundreds of thousands of causalities? Western progressives deny they are antisemitic, but oddly seem significantly more invested in human rights when Jews are involved.

My fellow progressives falsely portray the Palestinians as weak and helpless, yet Hamas has amassed a powerful army with modern weapons from Russia, Iran and North Korea. Hamas built their terror network under hospitals, mosques and schools, dishonorably placing their own civilian population, including children, in grave danger. Sadly, progressives reward these reprehensible actions when they exclusively admonish Israel for casualties, while remaining silent on the pivotal role played by Hamas.

It’s also embarrassing to watch my fellow progressives distort history by presenting Israel as a colonial power comprised of whites oppressing people of color. The New York Times expands on this fallacy:

The fact that Jews have been indigenous to the Holy Land for millenniums and that more than half of Israel’s population are Mizrahi Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent who have often fled Arab persecution is generally passed over in this prism focused on white imperialism.

Portraying Israel’s existence as colonialism is ahistorical, while denying Jews, a persecuted people, access to protection in their traditional homeland is wanton cruelty disguised as compassion toward Palestinians. Henry Brooks explains in The Crimson:

To equate Israel with its settlements is not only lackadaisical, historically speaking; it is revisionist. The Jewish ethnic identity was forged by thousands of years of cultural self-defense deeply bound up with the territory of modern-day Israel, and any resolution—by the DSA, the City University of New York, or others—that negates that bond is either misinformed or willfully forgetful. In short, either the Levant belongs to both parties—Jewish and Arab—or it belongs to neither.

It’s also noteworthy how many progressives accuse Israel of war crimes, while conveniently ignoring how Hamas and Islamic Jihad indiscriminately fire rockets at heavily populated Israeli cities – which is a war crime and a form of collective punishment. Popular Mechanics explains:

Although the weapons are unguided with practically no accuracy, both [Palestinian] groups make little distinction between Israeli military and civilian targets, so any target hit is considered a desirable one. This makes the rockets terror weapons by definition, and illegal under the laws of armed conflict.

The Rome Statute, which governs the International Criminal Court, states that “employing weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare … which are inherently indiscriminate” is a war crime

Some progressives are disingenuous when they harshly condemn Israel for attacks on hospitals, without noting that these facilities are doubling as control centers and arms depots for Hamas’ military activities. U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby noted:

“I can confirm for you that we have information that Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad use some hospitals in the Gaza Strip, including Al-Shifa, and tunnels underneath them, to conceal and to support their military operations and to hold hostages. That is a war crime.”

Pro-Hamas progressives also complain about displaced Palestinians but couldn’t care less about the more than 200,000 Israelis that have been evacuated from their homes near the border with Gaza as well as the border with Lebanon – all for a war commenced by Hamas. Where is the empathy?

If progressive activists want to be helpful, they should rip up their placards that insultingly read “Free Palestine” and instead hold more productive posters that say, “Share Palestine”. Their current campaign has the unnerving feel of re-branded right-wing extremism, employing its nasty belligerence, shoddy misuse of history and spewing of alternative facts. My beloved progressive movement has tragically shown itself to have an ugly streak of vile antisemitism. In doing so, it has divided liberals and caused long-term damage to our movement.

It is time to put this seemingly endless conflict in the rearview mirror and create a new day for Palestinians and Israelis. However, doing so will require breaking old habits, dismantling ancient prejudices and rethinking self-serving rhetoric that fans the flames of conflict. There is no perfect answer, and no party will receive everything they want in negotiations for a Palestinian state. Compromises will be painful. Yet, something more hopeful must emerge from the wreckage. This savagery and sorrow simply can’t go on forever.

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