NYRB blog: all that can save Israel is the new (non-Zionist) left

on 27 Comments

The New York Review of Books has two pieces about Israel/Palestine out right now. One is lame and narcotized, dismissive of the several powerful vectors that threaten Israel’s complacency (boycott, Hamas, apartheid, even the U.S.) and daring to imagine Jordan taking over parts of the West Bank (barely a year after Segev offered a similar Rx in the NYRB). Well I will get to that later, but David Shulman, at the NYRB blog, is alive to the crisis and registers the horrifying news from the new Breaking the Silence testimonies. His headline, “And No One Wants to Know” apparently applies to sectors of the NYRB. Shulman speaks hopefully about the new Israeli left (we need a name for you folks!) again a factor utterly ignored in the other report. And I would assert, per my headline, that this new left is not Zionist. His conclusion:

So it goes, for 431 painful pages. Most painful of all is the inescapable realization that the events reported by the soldiers—in straightforward, unpretentious, searing language—are in no sense unusual. They describe the rule and the norm, the very stuff of the occupation, now forty-three-and-a-half years old and going strong. No one involved in maintaining it gets away unscathed in heart or soul, including the ordinary soldiers who do what they’re told, although only a small number are capable of the kind of articulate reflection on their experience that we find in this book.

But it is not only the soldiers and the policemen and the judges and the bureaucrats who pay a personal price, along with their Palestinian victims. As the Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz predicted forty-three years ago, the occupation has brutalized Israeli society as a whole and eroded the moral foundation of our very existence. If there is still hope for Israel, it lies with those remnants of the peace camp that remain active and, in particular, with groups such as Breaking the Silence, who offer a taste of the bitter, but perhaps ultimately healing, truth.

27 Responses

  1. Colin Murray
    January 20, 2011, 10:08 am

    Shulman speaks hopefully about the new Israeli left (we need a name for you folks!) …

    Respectfully, I think it is a mistake to immediately reach for traditional right/left labels. In exactly the same way that opposition in the United States to the excesses of the Israel Lobby transcends conventional political models, if Israel is to have any hope of pulling out of its nosedive to apocalypse then self-described Israeli conservatives must be able to find a seat at the new table. Having only the most superficial understanding of Israeli politics, I have no suggestions.

    • annie
      January 20, 2011, 10:38 am

      well, they call themselves ‘Boycotter From Within’ and have a website. i don’t like pimping my own posts but yesterday (either unnoticed, or deemed unworthy of commentary) i wrote about them linking of joseph dana’s excellent post @ 927 which includes a video. link to mondoweiss.net

      of course these are boycotters, not all on the israeli left are boycotters but the ones making the waves are.

      we could call them BFW or just FW or FWI (from within israel) or WIP (within israel palestine) or WPI. or just withiner. or insider.

      i like insider.

    • Ellen
      January 20, 2011, 6:51 pm

      Thank you Colin. Labels such as “left” or “right” attempt to define and ultimately box in and distort any reality and attempts to arrive at a truth. It is like packaging something in a box.

      Why put emerging truth into a box, label it? To use a tired phrase, “it is what it is.”

      Why call the voices behind Breaking the Silence “left?” This welcomes polarization of a message. They are simply telling a truth.

  2. Potsherd2
    January 20, 2011, 10:31 am

    Does Shulman’s book mention the latest campaign by the Israeli government to silence these groups?

    • annie
      January 20, 2011, 11:40 am

      pots, sherman was reviewing the breaking the silence testimony book.

      Ehud Krinis

      Hajja Sara Nawaja, whose tent in south Hebron was set on fire on December 28, 2010

      The publication in Jerusalem of Occupation of the Territories: Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies 2000-2010—unprecedented first-hand accounts by over one hundred Israeli soldiers of their experiences while serving in the IDF—coincides with an appalling yet unsurprising incident I learned of only a few days ago.

      i recommend you open the ‘at the NYRB blog’ link in phil’s post.

  3. clenchner
    January 20, 2011, 10:34 am

    I agree with the phrase ‘non-Zionist’ left and vastly prefer it to the ‘anti-Zionist’ left. Zionism is a phrase for ideological combat, not for moving forward. On both the left and the right, it’s invoked to silence the opposition, not to engage with it. A non-Zionist left, like a good secular state, does not ask what lies in your heart but what kinds of acts you are engaged in. Are you building bridges? Healing past wounds? Protecting human rights? Fighting racism? Protecting the vulnerable? That’s what matters. Not your attachment to hundred year old labels.

    • jon s
      January 20, 2011, 11:06 am

      I think that even if the Israeli Left evolves towards non-Zionism or post-Zionism it will continue, for the most part , to call itself “Zionist” in order to remain credible in the public discourse. “Zionist” will still be the label, but the content will be different, and that’s what matters most.

  4. eee
    January 20, 2011, 10:37 am

    The Agha and Malley piece is excellent. They are known to be not pro-Israel which makes their piece even more credible. You always tend to completely dismiss evidence you don’t like and say you will deal with it “later”. However, since I have been following this blog, you never do. I understand that you see yourself part cheerleader, but it does hurt your credibility.

    As for your assertion that only a non-Zionist left can save Israel, what is that based on? The left in Israel is mostly Zionist including Aloni and Avnery.

    • Citizen
      January 20, 2011, 12:33 pm

      Eee, you will be happy to read about how Uncle Sam cheered the Israelis on while they wiped up the Gaza floor with burnt Palestinian kids–information courtesy of Wikileaks: link to counterpunch.org

    • Leigh
      January 20, 2011, 2:09 pm

      Eee, to distinguish it from a lot of sarcasm on message boards, this is a genuine question to which I’d be interested in knowing the answer.

      Do you know of any recent Uri Avnery writing where he defends zionism or the two-state solution (as opposed to one-state) on moral grounds? He takes a very pragmatic approach, arguing for example that a one-state solution will lead to ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population or to decades of intercommunity fighting like in Lebanon. But I haven’t seen him try to make a moral case for zionism or for the concept of a Jewish state recently. Do you know whether he has?

      I think that the intense frustration that non-zionists feel are towards people that make that moral case. And it is those that make the moral case that I think Phil is trying to exclude from those who can still make a meaningful contribution ahead.

      • jon s
        January 20, 2011, 3:46 pm

        I have tremendous admiration for Uri Avnery, truly the founding father of the Israeli peace movement. Few people have such a deep understanding of Israeli society, of what “makes it tick”, along with extensive contacts, experience and empathy with the Palestinians. I think that his approach combines the practical with the moral. There are two peoples with claims to the same land. One side- the Jews- have already realized their right to a state. Now it’s time for the other side -the Palestinians – to realize the same right. Two peoples, two states.

  5. annie
    January 20, 2011, 10:40 am

    from the nyrb blog post

    All of a sudden our team commander comes … and says, “listen, this is the briefing…. we are doing … the operation is a revenge operation. We are going to eliminate six Palestinian policemen from some checkpoint in revenge for the six they took from us.” … there are like four transfer posts … those who are responsible for them are Palestinian police, and everyone from those posts they sent us … to just eliminate all the police that are there. Right? It was defined to us like, revenge, and when I even hesitated at the moment, like I asked … “What did they do? Who are they?” they said to me, “… There is a suspicion that the terrorist who killed the six went through that checkpoint.” There is a suspicion, like, but they don’t know for certain. And it could be that it’s one of those, but they said to me, “it doesn’t matter, they took six of ours, we are going to take six back.”

    Were they armed?

    They didn’t fire back at us. They didn’t fire back. No, they didn’t…. We gave a fire strike from afar, we didn’t hit anything..we hit one and he ran, I took him down with another bullet. Another one ran into the thing, it was, like, burning, and we chased after another…. Now, the guy who I killed, who I took down, I shot a bullet at him, he was lying on the ground, we only saw … like we only saw … something was hiding him, and we were four or three people who just put … we just kept shooting at the body.

    To verify the killing?

    Not to verify the killing, from the hysteria of the excitement … and then I got to him and he was, like, hacked to pieces … And I tried, and I turned him over, like … it was a 55-year-old, if not 60 year-old guy, very old, and he didn’t have a weapon.

    Were they in uniform?

    They were in Palestinian police uniforms. They were in Palestinian police uniforms without weapons.

  6. yourstruly
    January 20, 2011, 11:29 am

    whatever self-help derives from resistance to zionism from within the settler-entity will be much appreciated by the palestinian people and the justice for palestine movement. But isn’t it obvious now that with or without internal dissent, the settler-entity (not its people) is going to go the way of apartheid south africa, and soon. How soon? This year, that’s how soon.

  7. Jim Haygood
    January 20, 2011, 11:33 am

    The Agha and Malley piece is a strangely mottled piece of work. Consider these excerpts:

    Their initial shock [at Palestinian statehood] overcome, Israelis might see an advantage: as Palestinians and the international community celebrate the birth of a state and focus on the minutiae of building its institutions in the roughly 40 percent of the West Bank under PA control, pressure to resolve outstanding issues could wane and Israel could be provided with the opportunity to pursue its own unilateral inclinations.

    This scenario is much like Issa Khalaf described in his post yesterday, listing the potential negatives of Palestinian statehood. But notice how Agha and Malley have slipped in the stipulation of ’40 percent of the West Bank under PA control,’ meaning a balkanized statelet still crisscrossed with Israeli roads and checkpoints. A Palestinian state resembling a bunch of broken glass shards, rather than ALL of the land east of the 1967 border, is doomed before it starts.

    Violence would compromise the foreign support upon which the Palestinian Authority has become dependent. Much the same could be said of nonviolent forms of resistance to the Israeli occupation such as peaceful demonstrations that—notwithstanding periodic expressions of support from the PA leadership—at heart are incompatible with a West Bank strategy that hinges on Israeli goodwill.

    Nonviolent protest against illegal occupation is bad, say Agha and Malley, wagging their fingers at the weekly crowd of locals and international supporters in Bi’lin, because it may upset the occupiers. Then they may turn off the power and water, or demolish some buildings, or shoot some more people. Grovel for what you can get, they counsel. Presumably that’s what they would do, these brave keyboard commandos, if they were under grinding occupation: lick the boots of their overlords.

    Out of disagreements that Washington hoped would rally Israelis against their prime minister, Netanyahu emerged largely unscathed. [Obama] concluded that it was wiser to work with Netanyahu than against him. In a war of attrition with the US, Netanyahu could well prove the more resilient. Netanyahu has become the arbiter of Obama’s pro-Israeli credentials as much as Obama can be the judge of Netanyahu’s pro-peace qualifications. The President’s credibility now partly rests on validation from the very man he someday might want to pressure.

    Essentially Agha and Malley are asserting, without a peep of protest, that Netanyahu dictates U.S. policy toward Israel. This ought to be profoundly offensive to anyone who actually has U.S. interests at heart.

    Without resolving its conflict with the Palestinians, Israel has for the moment taken care of its Palestinian problem. Netanyahu disregarded demands from the US and others without paying a serious price. The West Bank is as stable, the Palestinians as divided, and the Arabs as feckless as ever.

    Ha ha ha! the authors laugh. Israel can thumb its nose at America, keep its boot on the Palestinians’ necks, keep building settlements, and keep on stalling. And the world can do nothing about it! Ha ha ha!

    One suspects that the incandescent hubris of these Israel apologists (probably penned before the Tunisian revolution) will prove to be mistaken in almost every material respect. What is completely missing from Malley, a prominent member of the Clinton administration, is any commitment whatsoever to his own country’s interests. Israel’s defense team in official Washington must number in the thousands. But their legal briefs, if this NYRB screed is any example, really suck.

    • marc b.
      January 20, 2011, 12:34 pm

      a strangely mottled piece of work.

      spot on, the authors apparently advocating for paralysis. neither violent nor non-violent methods are permissible tactics for ‘feckless’ palestinians, a word more appropriately applied to the authors. as if the GOI/IDF/IAF have had nothing to do with palestinian ineffectiveness.

      • Richard Witty
        January 20, 2011, 4:50 pm

        Description is not the same as advocacy.

        You do know that?

      • marc b.
        January 21, 2011, 9:10 am

        Description is not the same as advocacy.

        You do know that?

        no, i have no idea what you are talking about.

  8. Citizen
    January 20, 2011, 1:09 pm

    Yep, Jim Haygood, that’s how it is. To them, there is no difference in the USA and Israel. They don’t need a solid legal brief because nobody with any real influence is there to note this, not to mention expand upon it. The US system now is essentially a one-party system, most especially when it comes to anything Israel. Nothing will change this except exclusive public funding of political campaigns on the federal level. Good luck with that.

  9. seafoid
    January 20, 2011, 1:22 pm

    Agha and Malley have zero credibility. They live in a world where Israeli intransigence defines the rules and Palestinians have no rights. They are the courtiers to the naked Israeli emperor who say “what wonderful silks you wear, o majesty” .

    • hophmi
      January 20, 2011, 6:00 pm

      “Agha and Malley have zero credibility.”

      Wow, you all loved them when they suggested Israel was responsible for some of the failure at Camp David, and that International Crisis Group thing is really well-respected.

      Here’s a hint: Just because people disagree with you does not mean that they have zero credibility.

      You, my friend, are the one with zero-credibility, not them.

  10. Jim Haygood
    January 20, 2011, 1:56 pm

    One has to wonder whether Agha and Malley are launching a policy trial balloon on behalf of Israel:


    Already, by unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza, former prime minister Ariel Sharon transformed the numbers game, effectively removing 1.5 million Palestinians from the Israeli equation. The current or a future government could unilaterally conduct further territorial withdrawals from the West Bank, allowing, as in the case of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s West Bank government, or compelling, as happened in Gaza, large numbers of Palestinians to rule themselves and mitigating the demographic peril.

    From Jordan, [Israel seeks] a more active role in the West Bank and acknowledgment that it will become Israel’s de facto first line of defense.


    Employing the pejorative phrase ‘demographic peril’ without irony or quotes — echoing the ‘yellow peril’ smear of Asians in a bygone era — Agha and Malley suggest that Israel can just redline Palestinians out of political existence, perhaps even subsuming them back into the U.S. client states of Jordan and Egypt so that they will never have an independent voice.

    What they propose borders on cultural genocide. Certainly the NYRB would not publish an article advocating the deportation of African-Americans to mitigate America’s ‘Negro peril.’ How is it that they can feature such a flaming racist rant directed at Palestinians?

    Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish the NYRB from the crudely mimeographed newsletter of a Ku Klux Klan lodge.

    • seafoid
      January 20, 2011, 5:29 pm

      “Already, by unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza, former prime minister Ariel Sharon transformed the numbers game, effectively removing 1.5 million Palestinians from the Israeli equation. ”

      This is just bollocks. Gaza is still Palestine in Erez Israel and it is still occupied.

  11. Jim Haygood
    January 20, 2011, 2:11 pm

    Rafeef Ziadeh offers a blistering parody of Agha and Malley’s genocidal snubs:

    link to youtube.com

  12. RoHa
    January 20, 2011, 6:47 pm

    How would non-Zionists save Zionist Israel? Without Zionism, the place would end up doing weird stuff like giving equal rights to all its citizens. Once that happens, it ceases to be the Kvetchistan we know and … er …

    So not saved at all.

  13. lobewyper
    January 20, 2011, 7:59 pm

    From Shulman’s article (linked above):

    “…there is no mistaking the ring of truth in the reports, which reveal consistent patterns, and thus have a powerful cumulative force. To read them is to see the profound moral corruption of the occupation in all its starkness. They show us ordinary, decent young soldiers, caught up in an impossible situation, sometimes trying desperately to make sense of that situation, but mostly following their orders without question. In a number of cases, those interviewed have clearly been psychologically and spiritually scarred by their participation in horrific events of which they had little understanding at the time.”

    One of the most powerful articles I’ve read on I-P. Thanks, Phil!

  14. Scott
    January 20, 2011, 9:53 pm

    I found Malley’s and Agha piece very realistic, despite the fact that eee also liked it. They analyse quite well the current impasse, and point out the foible of the PA declaring a state without any control over its intened boundaries. Many Palestinians I met during a recent trip voiced similar doubts about this strategy. They also pointed to the broader problems Israel faces– that it is increasingly be thought of as illegitimate, by the wider world. That’s true and real–on the ground there, the Palestinians are so much weaker than Israel. But if Israel wants to survive long term, it will have to make a fair peace with the Palestinians. That’s the message I took from it, anyway.

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