Thursday, January 13, 2011

Is Peace the ultimate goal in Israel?

The title of this blog entry might surprise a few people. It seems a ridiculous question: is peace the ultimate goal in Israel? Of course peace is the ultimate goal in Israel! How could it not be?

The question is prompted by an excellent article by Rabbi Daniel Gordis. Rabbi Gordis is one of my favorite writers about Israel, because he represents, to me, an extremely rational approach to the conflict. He is, ultimately, peaceloving, but he's also unwilling to ignore reality, even when he finds it uncomfortable, or inconvenient.

In this article, Gordis criticizes the political left in Israel, and outside of Israel, as pursuing peace at the expense of realism. Nobody likes the occupation, he says, but simply saying, “end the occupation,” doesn't really accomplish anything. It's not as simple as that:

[Prof. Benny Morris] claims that the Palestinians are no closer to accepting a division of the land than they were in 1948. Therefore, Morris claims, the two-state solution is essentially dead.

If you have an enemy who is refusing to budge on even the most basic issues of the conflict (such as your own right to exist), and who, according to polls, sees peace negotiations as simply one step along the way towards a greater victory, then simple, nice sounding statements like, “let's just make peace,” don't really mean anything. Shaking hands with someone who's carrying a knife behind their back isn't the wisest, or safest, thing to do! And, maybe more importantly, sticking to simplistic, unrealistic hopes prevents us from engaging in more serious, potentially useful conversations:

Our presence on the West Bank may be necessary, or it may be foolhardy; about that, reasonable minds can and do differ. But the notion that our presence on the West Bank is the prime impediment to peace is sheer myopia.

That is why it is so important that the peace camp, despairing of a country that it believes no longer cares about peace, reads Morris carefully. Because once it does, as my friend’s reply demonstrates, it can start asking the questions that truly matter, and it can become the kind of opposition that Israel desperately needs.


How do we educate a generation of young people to knowIn that they have enemies, without having them become racists? How do we acknowledge the very serious threats to Zionism even among Israeli Jews, without abandoning the freedom of expression that is at the core of Western liberal democracies? Can we remain both Jewish and democratic, without abandoning the moral principles that the free world considers sacred?

Most people who talk about the peace process in Israel implicitly (or sometimes, I guess, explicitly) frame it as all or nothing game. Either we make peace, or we have failed. Continuing the current situation, or anything close to it, is untenable. It is destructive to Israel, immoral, and so on. But, as terrible as this is to say, the truth may be that managing the current situation is the best that we can do. It may be that, at least for now, true peace is not a possibility.

And, if that's true, it means that we have to recalibrate our definition of “success.” We have to find ways to consider ourselves successful, even if there is still ongoing conflict with the Palestinians.

We need American Jewish push back that understands that Israel is not fundamentally about peace (as desirable as peace obviously is), but rather, about the flourishing of Jewish culture and the creation of a new Jewish sense of self in which Jews are those who determine their own destiny.

We need Zionist critics who understand that Israel is about Jews making terribly difficult decisions as Jews, in dialogue with the Jewish and Western traditions.

No one in their right mind doesn't want peace. And the majority of the Jewish world (according to some polls, the vast majority) would happily agree to a Palestinian state tomorrow, if they can be assured that it would give Israel the peace it's always wanted. For what it's worth, you can count me among them. But, simple logic will tell you that there must be some situations in which peace isn't impossible. And, if we are indeed in one of them, at least for now, then closing our eyes and pretending otherwise isn't going to do anyone any good.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

1 comment:

Steve Marx said...


I too am a big fan of Gordis. Thank you for amplifying his remarks with your blog post... and thanks to Federation for re-publishing your piece. Well done!