Tom Friedman wrote a column over the weekend called “Sheldon: Iran’s Best Friend” saying that Iran and Sheldon Adelson have been working to destroy Israel by prolonging the occupation. The column is getting attention in Israel; the Jerusalem Post and Haaretz are headlining the Sheldon Adelson part, because Adelson just bought another Israeli newspaper.
But I was struck by Friedman’s bizarre theory that not only Adelson is Iran’s best friend: so’s the BDS movement, so are some Jews in campus Hillel’s (surely a reference to the Open Hillel movement). Apparently they all love the occupation:
Iran’s leaders want Israel destroyed but have no desire, in my view, to use a nuclear bomb to do it. That would expose them to retaliation and sure death. Their real strategy is more subtle: Do everything possible to ensure that Israel remains in the “occupied territory,” as the U.S. State Department refers to the West Bank, won by Israel in the 1967 war. By supporting Palestinian militants dedicated to destroying any peace process, Tehran hopes to keep Israel permanently mired in the West Bank and occupying 2.7 million Palestinians, denying them any statehood and preventing the emergence of a Palestinian state that might recognize Israel and live in peace alongside it. The more Israel is stuck there, the more Palestinians and the world will demand a “one-state solution,” with Palestinians given the right to vote. The more Israel resists that, the more isolated it becomes.
Iran and its ally Hamas have plenty of evidence that this strategy is working: Israel’s 47-year-old occupation of the West Bank has led it to build more settlements there and in doing so make itself look like the most active colonial power on the planet today. The 350,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank reinforce that view by claiming their presence in the West Bank is not about security but a divinely inspired project to reunite the Jewish people with their biblical homeland.
The result is a growing movement on college campuses and in international organizations to isolate and delegitimize the Jewish state because of this occupation. This “B.D.S. movement” — to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel — is gaining adherents not only among non-Jews on American campuses but even within some Hillels, campus Jewish centers.
Iran could not be happier. The more Israel sinks into the West Bank, the more it is delegitimized and isolated, the more the world focuses on Israel’s colonialism rather than Iran’s nuclear enrichment, the more people call for a single democratic state in all of historic Palestine.
Friedman’s theory is overheated, and absurd. Israeli Jewish governments left and right have expanded the occupation since 1967. In 1988, the Palestinians said they’d accept Israel on its 1949 armistice border, and Israel ignored the offer, just as it ignored the Arab Peace Initiative offer in 2002. As Ilene Cohen likes to say, Israel should have taken the money and run. It didn’t.
Yes, many Palestinians have also rejected Partition, but if Israel had made any good-faith effort to end the occupation, it could have defused that opposition. And now it has a giant headache. The next generation sees little difference politically and morally between Israel’s land-grab interpretation of Partition in 1948 and its landgrab interpretation of Partition in 1967. And why should Palestinians believe in Partition? They have never gotten what the U.N. promised in 1947 — a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish one — so young people have naturally questioned the very idea of two states.
These are the real processes that are undermining Friedman’s avowed dream of a “Jewish, democratic state.” People don’t believe in it, including many young American Jews who like living in a country that doesn’t have a state religion, where they can marry who they want, etc., and don’t have to stand up for apartheid (which is going to disappear tomorrow as soon as Israel pulls the settlers who have been there for 47 years).
How moved will those young people be by Friedman’s warning about an international movement to give Palestinians the right to vote over the government that controls their lives? Peter Beinart expressed the same apprehension last week at Columbia; he said that he writes much of what he does to forestall the possibility of Palestinians voting, so that he can preserve the Jewish state. Are these principles worth embracing from 5000 miles away, let alone expecting people in those faraway lands to die for? If it’s such a living dream for these men, why don’t they move there?
Surely because they want to raise their children in a secular society that promises human and civil rights for all people. It’s actually simple. Harry Truman opposed partition (fitfully, unsuccessfully, John Judis reports) because he believed in the separation of church and state. If the world is coming toward that conclusion, don’t put it off on alleged haters in Iran.