Monday, April 6, 2009

The Right is Wrong - An Open Letter to Daniel Gordis

Rabbi Daniel Gordis of the Shalem Institute is an eloquent and passionate proponent of Israel and a leading voice in the discussion over Israel's future. That's why there's a link to his blog site on this blog site. But in an interview that appeared in the March 25, 2009 edition of The Jerusalem Post, his suggestion that we turn away from peace efforts was, IMHO, just plain wrong. So I wrote him the letter that forms the remainder of this blog.

Dear Rabbi Gordis:

As an avid reader of your essays, I don't always agree with every point you make but have always been impressed by your thoughtful analysis and passion for your subjects. However, in your interview, Rehab for an all-consuming peace addiction, The Jerusalem Post, 25 March 2009, among all the excellent suggestions for building Israeli society as something much more than a Hebrew-speaking version of America and Europe, you are very wrong to suggest that Israel should simply withdraw from peace efforts and ignore the Palestinians until they change in an acceptable way.

Obsessing on the peace process to the exclusion of all the critical issues facing Israel (education, environment, energy, the nature of Israeli democracy, to name a few obvious ones) is, of course, a dangerous path. However, the same can be said of the ludicrous amount of resources Israel and the diaspora pumps into the expansion and protection of West Bank settlements. Setting aside serious peace efforts in favor of simply managing "the situation", which will inevitably be accompanied by continued West Bank settlement expansion, will only allow an infection to fester and eventually burst into the next Intifada. Given that every generation of Arab Israelis feels more isolated and more hostile to Jewish Israel, the next Intifada is very likely to include their participation and make the Triangle and the areas immediately around it look like Watts, Detroit and Newark in 1968.

The Right is wrong, especially when it comes to Gaza. Sharon never intended to encourage the establishment of a Palestinian state in Gaza. He made a tactical move to make it easier to keep control of the West Bank and expand the settlements there. In pulling out of Gaza, Israel failed to take two steps, assuring that the disengagement would be remembered as a mistake. First, Sharon ignored the pleas from Abu Mazen to negotiate an orderly transfer of power. As has been successfully done in and around Jenin, PA forces needed to be put in place and the rejectionist front (Hamas, Islamic Jihad, et al) subdued before the pull out took place. Instead, Israel simply pulled out and Gaza immediately slipped into the chaos of clan vendettas that ended only when Hamas took control. Second, the Israeli government promised the Gaza settlers that their communities would be kept together and provided with good homes, jobs or opportunities to re-establish their businesses. The failure to deliver on this promise is not just a disgraceful way to treat people but has given the Right a ready-made argument against any withdrawals from any settlements, ever.

When Hamas took over Gaza in 2006, the Olmert government, instead of giving Hamas a chance to act like a government before lowering the boom, immediately went to the blockade. As a result Hamas was free to continue the "resistance." After Operation Cast Lead we have a lot of bodies on both sides and not much to show for it. Hamas is more popular than ever, Gaza looks like the set from Escape from New York, missiles continue to hit southern Israel and Gilad Shalit is no closer to going home. Making no effort at all to pursue peace only guarantees that more Israeli children will grow up to fight in places like Gaza. I simply do not believe that that is what you want.

Continuous expansion of the settlements and a refusal to seriously pursue openings such as the Saudi peace proposal only lead Israel down a path where its soul is truly threatened. The day will come when Palestinians generally give up on a separate state (consider, for example, that Hamas has no interest in a state but would win an election if one were to be held). By then the Right may have the votes in Knesset to annex the West Bank. At that point, to maintain a Jewish state, Israel will have to seriously consider engaging in ethnic cleansing or apartheid. And that's when Israel loses the international recognition essential to the fulfillment of the Zionist project (I've read Arthur Hertzberg's The Zionist Idea) and finds itself on the wrong end of international economic sanctions. Israel will also risk losing its majority support among diaspora Jews. (How many Americans will send their kids to summer programs in an apartheid state?)

The Knesset now has at least 23 members (Shas, UTJ, National Union and Habayit Hayehudi) who, like Hamas, use the democratic process as a means to an end but who do not believe in democracy as a worthy goal in its own right. And I think the jury is out on Israel Beiteinu and some members of the Likud list. The chance that such a government would respond favorably to a serious peace overture from any Arab group is slim to nil. The chance that such a government might seek a "final solution" to the Arab problem is growing all the time. Bibi's idea of building a Palestinian economy to buy off their nation ambitions is a chimera. If he was right, no American Jew would make aliyah since, as you well know, Jews can and do have far more economically and physically secure lives in America. And yet, American Jews still make aliyah for reasons that you have so eloquently expressed. Why should we think that the same would not be true for Palestinians?

Your vision for education of all Israelis in our traditions, the end of the strangle hold of the Rabbinate on Israelis' lives and a serious debate over the very nature of Israel are all noble causes in which we should all enlist. But turning your back on peace efforts is not the way to get there. The Right is wrong. Please do not join them.


David Stolow

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