Israel’s existential crisis comes to New York

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
on 24 Comments

Often these days I hear people talk about how much progress the left has made in breaking open the Israel/Palestine issue in the U.S., and yes I make this claim myself, but last night offered clear evidence that we are doing so. At the behest of 20-odd peace groups, several hundred people marched around the Waldorf Astoria silently as the Israeli military held a million-dollar fundraiser inside. Now and then donors in black tie got out of cabs, but here we were in single file, most of us wearing black, stretching all the way round the hotel and holding signs naming 5-year-olds who were slaughtered in Gaza.

My guess is there were 700 of us. "We are marching single file in a silent, dignified, slow procession," our organizers had written on the slips of paper they handed out, and though they couldn’t stop us talking, we did as they planned for two hours as night fell. Slide show here.

The night was memorable for two things: the looniness of the counterdemonstators and a conversation I had about the possible end of Israel with a soulful Jewish friend.

The counterdemonstrators were unhinged angry. One of them followed people up and down the line talking about the training of three-year-old suicide bombers. Another screamed about the Arab countries being all dictatorships. Another said, "you don’t care what happens in Sudan, you don’t care when Assad senior kills 3000 people in Syria. [30 years ago!] No you only care when Israel was trying to defend itself." "You’re not liberals," an older guy in a suit kept shouting. A woman carried a sign with a Muslim crescent = a Swastika. Wow, creepy. A woman wrapped herself in an Israeli flag big as a bedsheet and tagged along with us for a while. The official sign of the counters was Hamas Is Destroying the Palestinian Future. A crazy statement, at many levels, beginning with the idea that Israel has no agency.

A friend said that the counterdemonstrators were getting aneurysms from the fact that we were so silent and in such abundance with our black signs saying "Israeli soldiers shot handcuffed civilians," "Israeli forces destroyed the Gaza water plant."

Their biggest signs asserted, "Israel has a right to exist and be secure." Or, "Israel has a right to exist and it is here to stay." So that is the ground they are choosing to fight on: the delegitimization issue.

That brings me to my conversation with my soulful Jewish friend. A couple years ago he told me he is a post-Zionist out of politeness, because he doesn’t want to take away the feeling of achievement that Jews in Israel have about what they created, and he understands the urgency that Israel came out of a generation ago. But tonight he told me he has very bleak feelings about the future. Israel is in crisis, and two states is over; and on the one hand he believes Israel will undertake a total ethnic cleansing operation, on the other that the South Africa declension is begun, and it won’t happen peacefully.

I said What if they have a handshake on the White House lawn, will you get behind that? He looked at me like I was crazy, then got a delighted smile. When that happens, I’ll give you an opinion, he said. Then: What could it be? I said, well, landswaps, warmed-over Geneva; that’s what Obama will announce.

Oh, he said, a deal with a bankrupt leadership for three Bantustans in the West Bank and Gaza? That will last another generation, and there will be no peace.

I said, how do you imagine the binational state comes about? He laughed and said he hadn’t really thought about it. But at best it is like South Africa and an Israeli leader understands that they have no choice. There is an internal crisis of national identity, there is no way forward, and they give in and say, let us give these people equal rights.

Sort of consociational, I thought, two federated entities? He shrugged. As more and more Jews leave and move to the west it becomes a mixed state, he said.

My friend was talking just like Henning Mankell, who sees the insurrection beginning from within, and also like a lot of Israelis who are trying to be creative now about civil outcomes.

I reflect that Noam Chomsky, who is for the two state solution, used to say that Israel has a right to exist but not on the land of its neighbors. It was a legitimate position for a long time, but you can’t promise people something forever, and Israel won’t disgorge that land and the Palestinians have balked at a piecemeal Jerusalem, and the world moves forward. I give the two state solution air time on this site, because I’m openminded and because I like status and power politics, but in spite of Chris Matthews and Ethan Bronner indulging happy-talk about the solution, it sure looks like the 25 years of the two state solution are over, the Palestinians helped kill it and so did the Israelis.

A lot of folks I know believe in Israel’s right to exist as much as China’s right to exist or Pakistan’s or John Gotti’s. I do myself. The problem is that the continued failure to base that existence on policies other than permanent war and ethnic cleansing means that American political support must be at stake, and as anyone who has set foot in West Jerusalem can tell you, American opinion is the ballgame. Some said there were 1000 of us last night, and what we stand for is pretty obvious: No more slaughter, no more Jim Crow, no more In-our-name (the lobby)

The Jewish state has not figured out a way to be without Jim Crow and the lobby to grant it immunity, and so it is slowly destroying its raison-d’etre in the liberal discourse. That is what last night was about: 1, a wide consensus among progressives, many of them the Israel base (Jews) that we will condemn this behavior—-and 2, the resultant fear on the part of Israel’s supporters that our views are catching on, and that this grassroots process is undermining Israel’s legitimacy.

So the existential crisis has come here. Through its own actions, Israel is destroying the ground it stands on. The answer to the big sign is, Israel is not secure, it is casting away its own means of existence, it is not here to stay. Sorry but that is the news. The ultimate business of this site and the Jewish left too is to help those who were committed to Zionism out of a belief in the endurance of anti-semitism and the need for Jewish nationalism amid other nationalisms to understand that the moment is over, and that they should support other outcomes in the name of liberal democracy. The presence of Jews Say No and 20-odd other groups outside the Waldorf, as warmongers dined, suggests that there will be a lot of creative thinking towards those ends.

24 Responses

  1. potsherd
    March 10, 2010, 10:14 am

    I would believe this issue is making progress if it had been reported anywhere in the mainstream media in this country.

    What other demonstration of such size would have been so deliberately ignored? Any 50-person tea party would get a mob of reporters from TV stations outnumbering the protesters. But the powers that control the media don’t want people to see the numbers who turn out to condemn Israel, or the rabid frothing of Israel’s supporters.

    The more effective the message, the more it is suppressed.

    • Chaos4700
      March 10, 2010, 10:53 am

      If it’s any consolation, that can’t last. The utter ignorance of the American populace as a result of these lies of omission in the media (or worse…) has been to create a panicky, ill-informed mob that will run headlong off of cliffs at the mildest prompting.

      Sooner or later, it’s not going to matter anymore what the US and its citizens think and do. We are writing ourselves out of relevance.

      • Chaos4700
        March 10, 2010, 10:55 am

        And to be fair, that only applies to the US’ white ruling class and its supporters. Not to be crass, but I am hopeful in looking forward to a reformed US that isn’t run mostly by white people.

  2. Citizen
    March 10, 2010, 10:27 am

    Well, so far, Phil, none of your progressive optimism has trickled down to the US masses, to where I live everyday. Most people in my environment are not even aware
    of anything political beyond local (county or municipal or condo association) issues;
    they worry about the most basic economic issues directly affecting them–that’s it. They worry about the fact if they get very sick, they will go bankrupt quickly; they worry about property taxes, income taxes, about paying for college–even community college is difficult these days; and of course, they worry about their mortgage or condo assessments, both regular and special assessments. They are so far removed from the issues on this blog it may as well be on the moon. They do have a sneaky feeling some people are not carrying there fair share of the weight, both financially, and by way
    of furnishing US soldiers. And they all feel that our government, both Democrats and Republicans, never act in their best interests. Even those who ridicule the tea-partiers have their own form of it in their minds.

    • Howard
      March 10, 2010, 2:58 pm

      I have to agree with Citizen. This point was driven home just last night when my 26 year old Jewish daughter, a law student, was visiting. She saw me on the computer reading Mondoweiss and asked me about it. I explained what the site was about and why I read it. In the ensuing discussion I was very chagrined to learn that she was oblivious to the the issues behind the Israel settlement policy, why it was wrong, the influence of the Lobby, the the Gaza blockade, or the basis of Palestianain grievances. Needless to say, she was completely ignorant of the nakba and never heard of the “Goldberg Report.” It just was not part f her world. Instead, she had simply absorbed all the hasbara that had been drummed into her head during her many years of attending Hebrew school and didn’t think any more about it. She did mention something I had forgotten but now find interesting. How her Rabbi paid her, a “scholarship” he called it, to take Jewish related courses at her university while an undergrad. She took a course in Zionism, taught by, surprise, a Rabbi. I concluded our discussion by explaining to her why I felt so strongly about these issues and giving her a list of recommended readings. (A little bit of Finkelstein will do her good.) The good news is that I think that I opened her eyes a bit and that she will start thinking a little more critically about US – Israel realtions. Still, I find it sad that her ignorance may be very typical not only of her generation, but of most Americans. Things are improving but we still have a long, long way to go before public opinion in the US reaches a tipping point.

  3. David Samel
    March 10, 2010, 10:37 am

    Great description of the event, Phil. Your conversation with your pessimistic friend reminds me of a conversation I had in 1980 with a South African emigrant to Australia. He told me that apartheid will only end in a bloodbath, and not go peaceably like white minority rule in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe had gone the year before. Fortunately, he turned out to be wrong. There is every reason to be cautious and respectful of people’s legitimate fears as Israel transforms into a state that gives equal respect to all its citizens, but such transformation is necessary. An ethnically discriminatory state has an expiration date; it will never know peace and stability, and the world will tire of its claim to exceptional circumstances. From the vehemence of the pro-Israel people out there last night, who truly believe that Arab = Nazi and that the protesters were at best Petain-like collaborators, your friend’s pessimism is well-founded, but let’s hope he turns out to be wrong as well.

  4. Chu
    March 10, 2010, 11:04 am

    It’s good to see the numbers of people showing up in the slide show. The major media will be forced to report on this one day, but when will that day arrive?

    Pro-Palestinians, All in Black, Stage A Nazi Rally:
    link to

    • potsherd
      March 10, 2010, 11:27 am

      Notice how she brags about exerting influence and calling up the police to get the venue changed, sending 1000s of email, etc.

      The Zionists are not a mass movement, they are a small, very loud movement exerting undue influence.

      • Chaos4700
        March 10, 2010, 11:56 am

        Small wonder they and their allies in the media are always so desperate to torpedo campaign finance reform. As a bit of a segue, watching clips of Glenn Beck nonplussed when his “surprise witness” Eric Massa’s keynote statement in their interview was to emphasize campaign finance reform. But of course, Beck only wanted ammo to smear Rahm Emmanuel as a Democrat, not Rahm Emmanuel as a the point man for the health insurance lobby.

        (And for yonira’s benefit: I only saw clips from Beck’s show on the nominal podcasts I watch. Before you decide to sink your teeth into that. The last thing I can afford right now is paying for another tetanus shot out of pocket.)

  5. kapok
    March 10, 2010, 11:17 am

    Black-tie victims, sheltering at the Waldorf!

  6. annie
    March 10, 2010, 11:43 am

    thanks for your post Phil. the counter group you describe reminds me of those across the street in front of the st francis in SF the night of our union square vigil for gaza, also the crowd who opposed us during aipac’s fundraiser in SF. screaming obscenities thru microphones.

  7. Citizen
    March 10, 2010, 11:47 am

    How about this take, from the Muslims Against Sharia website:
    link to

    Geez, how convoluted can one get without explaining anything?

    • Chaos4700
      March 10, 2010, 12:04 pm

      LOL! Because nothing screams “Zionist shill” like a blog that wins the “Dhimmi Award.” You’d think with all the money organizations like Hillel has to throw around, they could field something that isn’t blatantly phony.

      I suppose I should take comfort. Maybe too many people in my field really do have too much integrity to pitch in with crap like this.

  8. hnorr
    March 10, 2010, 2:07 pm

    >the Palestinians have balked at a piecemeal Jerusalem

    Maybe they would, understandably, but in fact they’ve never seriously been offered even that, just Abu Dis and grossly inferior municipal services and “Judaization” and IDF soldiers everywhere and ever more settlements hemming them in and cutting them off from the rest of the West Bank…

  9. AlexS
    March 10, 2010, 2:11 pm

    People like the counter demonstrators at the Waldorf Astoria and other staunch Israel supporters have such a warped world view that they are way beyond being silenced by simple logical arguments and debate. I think that they are need of professional help as well as organized support groups that gradually lead them (and mainstream American society as a whole) out their current state. Here is a tentative program to help them (and ourselves):

    The Twelve Steps
    of Ziocain Anonymous

    1.We admitted we were powerless over the forces of history, that our ideology had become untenable and obsolete.
    2.We came to believe that an ideology (universalism, the equality of all human beings) greater than our dated tribalism could restore us to sanity.
    3.We made a decision to turn our political views and our sentiments over to the principles of Universalism as inspired by 21st century humanitarian values.
    4.We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves and of the historical record of the state of Israel.
    5.We admitted to ourselves, to society and to our friends and family the exact nature of our mistakes and illusions as well as the crimes committed by the state of Israel.
    6.We were entirely ready to replace all these illusions with a clear view and realistic understanding of the middle east conflict.
    7.We humbly declared our change of views and ideology.
    8.We made a list of all persons harmed by the state of Israel (and indirectly harmed by our support for it), and became willing to make amends to them all.
    9.We made direct amends to such people wherever possible (By attending non violent pro-Palestinian events, supporting BDS), except when to do so would injure them or others (i.e not supporting Hamas, Al-Qaeda and similar organizations).
    10.We continued to take personal inventory and when we discovered an inconsistency or a fallacy in our opinions on the middle east conflict we promptly admitted it.
    11.We sought through reading and discussion to improve our knowledge, seeking only to learn about truly just solutions (i.e. secular/bi-national one state solutions) to the middle east conflict and the means to bring them about.
    12.Having had an ideological awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other Zionists, as well as our local media, congressmen and representatives, and to promote and spread these principles whenever debate on the middle east comes up.

  10. Avi
    March 10, 2010, 2:37 pm

    Phil writes:

    “…it sure looks like the 25 years of the two state solution are over, the Palestinians helped kill it and so did the Israelis.”


  11. Les
    March 10, 2010, 2:43 pm

    What would it take to get Al Jazeera English on cable systems in the US? The Israel Lobby, including its members who are in the upper echelons of our media, explain this in part but is the FCC also at fault?

    • Avi
      March 10, 2010, 2:55 pm

      You can get Al-Jazeera free via satellite. But, you’ll need a dish that’s twice or three times the size of the DishNetwork/DirectTV dishes.

      I might take the plunge and get one some day, but for now I get most of my news online.

      According to Al-Jazeera, the only cable providers in the US that carry the channel are located in Vermont, and DC.

      So, it seems that it depends on demand. Perhaps you could start a petition where you live and persuade your local cable provider to carry it.

      • Les
        March 10, 2010, 6:36 pm

        A side benefit would be that CNN would have to compete against Al Jazeera English in the US rather than with Fox tv in a steady race to the lowest bottom possible. Currently CNN International (English) for US viewers is dumbed down for the morons CNN considers its US viewers to be but it is not the version CNN International (English) provides to the rest of the world.

  12. matt
    March 10, 2010, 3:15 pm

    I marched in this protest. At one point, a counter-protester insinuated herself among our ranks and began shouting “Kill the Jews! They’re imperials!” (sic). Another one ran over and shouted “The Neturei Karta synagogue in Monsey was just bombed! God shows his wrath to those who support Hamas!” (As far as I can tell, no synagogues in Monsey were bombed.) And, of course, there was the guy ranting about clitorectomies in the Sudan.

  13. pabelmont
    March 10, 2010, 7:19 pm

    In addition to all else (which Phil mentions) Israel has also “gone too far” (my opinion). Ethical people and organizations try to do what is right. Power-politics people and groups try to do what they can get away with. Israel has had the deck stacked in its ‘favor” for so long that its leaders (and perhaps the populace as well, and certainly the settlers) have come to believe they have an entitlement to “go too far”. To “take what they want.” Call it corruption, call it criminality, it is what happens when people have no external constraint and no internal compass.

    Like small children, Israel continually “tests” to see how much farther than it has already gone it can get away with going. So far the USA always gives in.

    One would like to think that the USA would rediscover the Rule of Law or even mere fairness or something of that sort before (for example) being crushed itself by the collapse of its own empire or becoming disinterested in the Middle East after oil runs out or we stop using it because Global Warming has finally become a political reality instead of a political joke. But don’t count on it. The USA’s politicians are just as corrupt in their way (militarism and empire and associated lawlessness and disdain for human rights) as Israel is. The countries are pals because at the level of the leaderships they share the same values.

  14. wondering jew
    March 10, 2010, 10:03 pm

    If there will be creative thought (in the future) towards the end of a single state solution, there is little evidence of it until now. I guess Meron Benvenisti has had the most creative input that I have seen so far, unless you have seen something and haven’t linked us to it.

    The question is one of immigration and the army. If the Zionist (and I mean that in the best sense of the word) Jews still control the army and who gets in and out of the country I doubt the Jews Say No group will be satisfied. And as far as creativity from the Jews Say No group, I think their name says it. They are opposed to Israel and are not offering up positive solutions. And of course I know: a vision of equality is a very positive vision. But by positive I mean the means, the ends, the details. That is lacking and no evidence from you to the contrary.

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