Like other progressive Zionist groups, Brit Tzedek is utterly engaged right now out of the belief that it's now or never for the two-state deal. If it doesn't happen now there will be chaos and Hamas on the Palestinian side and Netanyahu will come back on the Israeli side; and it was in this spirit that the Israeli and Palestinian heads of a joint thinktank in Israel called IPCRI came to Shaare Zedek, a synagogue on the Upper West Side Sunday night, to appeal to American Jews to take an aggressive role now in forcing the U.S. to push a deal.
I had two big impressions of the evening: 1, progressive Zionist organizations are now openly attacking the Israel lobby; 2, leftwing American Jews are openly questioning the character of the Jewish state.
As to point 1, the evening began with Alison Pepper, a board member of Brit Tzedek, announcing a new campaign called “A Time To Choose,” and saying, “We cannot allow the Jewish community that opposes the two state solution to speak for us. It is time for our government to hear from us… time for the right wing in our community to stop speaking for those of us who choose peace.” Translation: Open warfare. Amen.
A couple of audience members spoke with anger about the Israel lobby, and one of the IPCRI speakers, Israeli Gershon Baskin, said that at literally every congressional office he has visited the first question he is asked is, Where does AIPAC stand on this? “A pretty sad commentary on the state of affairs in America," he added. A couple of years ago Charney Bromberg, the head of Meretz/USA, told me that Walt and Mearsheimer are “shit.” (Yes there was some nuance in his thoughts; still, he said that.) I don't think progressive Zionists are saying this now. The Jewish left here is openly taking on the Israel lobby. Let’s see how they do. Because just as Bill Kristol and the neocons are grappling the Christian right with hoops of steel, the progressive Zionists need to go for the Protestant liberals, the Jimmy Carters and Walt and Mearsheimers of the world: fair-minded realists who are all for a two-state solution.
2, The other surprise of the evening was to see several people in an audience of nearly 150 mostly-older Jews expressing highly-critical views of Israel. I sometimes think I’m outside the Pale in American Jewry; even friends of mine can make me feel this way. I’m not. There is a narrow but strong segment of leftwing Jews who are in this camp. The very first question, from a man named Goldman, was, Why should we believe that Israel wants peace, when you consider the siege of Gaza and the additional settlements, etc. Pow!
Another questioner a woman, rose to say that in the US, we have a multicultural democracy and a constitution. While Israel doesn’t have a constitution and she despaired about its treatment of minority rights, even if a peace deal is reached. A third questioner raised the idea of an imposed solution—that the U.S. could bring about a two-state peace, whether the Palestinians or Israelis are willing or not. A fourth questioner said, somewhat sharply, What US troops do you have in mind to enforce a peace between Israel and Palestine? I.e., who are you to wag the dog! While the last questioner said, What is to be done with AIPAC!
The beautiful thing to me about these questions is that an Arab might have asked them; they were based on universal liberal values, not on ethnic identification. There was a sense in the synagogue, that We are sick of this narrative, we are sick of the cycle of violence, we are sick of hearing of your wall and green line, we are sick of being used; we are multicultural Americans and what active role will we take? Now of course this is my point of view, I am surely projecting some of my emotion; but I heard those chords in the synagogue last night.
In answer to the AIPAC question, Baskin, who made aliyah to Israel from the U.S. 30 years ago, said that AIPAC is not an entirely negative force, AIPAC can be “’shaped.” When AIPAC was out of step with Rabin in the 90s, Rabin said sharply that Israel was responsible for its relations with the U.S. government, not AIPAC, and Tom Dine had to step down as the head of AIPAC. I.e., sometimes the tail just wags the tail and doesn’t get to wag the dog!
On the imposed solution question, Baskin was emphatic. The U.S. cannot impose a solution! The parties must come to it themselves. Then Baskin went on to speak of where peacekeeping forces (including American forces) would be deployed to preserve that peace, in the Jordan valley, in Gaza.
I found Baskin's tone irritating. Here is an Israeli telling my country to a, bug out (no imposed solution), b, engage (take on the Israel lobby but preserve a Jewish state), c, expend blood and treasure on his borders. I don't think this agenda is very straightforward. For one thing, here he is bragging about having a joint Israeli/Palestinian thinktank (and Hanna Siniora, a Palestinian, also spoke). Well then, why not a joint state? And his ukase that There Shall Be No Imposed Solution comes from the citizen of a country that has not been able to live with its neighbors for 60 years. Finally, consider that, per Baskin, the Israeli government is "dysfunctional." Why is it expanding the illegal and hateful colonies in the West Bank? Why is it refusing to speak openly of the division of Jerusalem? Because it is beholden to the Shas party, and if it changed these policies, the government would fall tomorrow.
I wanted to stand up and say: We are Americans, citizens of the most powerful nation on earth (for another year or two anyway). Since when are we to be held hostage by the religious-nut Shas party in your country? The time is not that far off where Americans will openly deliberate, What is our best interest in this region? And if we, and the Europeans, and the U.N., and the Arab world, want to impose a solution on two people who have been bloodying one another and lighting fuses all over the Middle East and lower Manhattan--and do as the U.N. said should be done 61 years ago--and make Jerusalem an open city of the world between Jewish and Arab states, well who is to stop us….