The other day I received a note from Yariv Oppenheimer, director of Peace Now, the liberal Zionist group in Israel, aimed at American Jews and trumpeting a new survey saying that Israelis are turning against the settlers, and the two-state solution is alive and kicking.
For many years, the settlement movement has sought to portray itself as the vanguard of ‘real’ Zionism. Simultaneously, Peace Now has worked to take back Israeli Zionism, and to show the Israeli public and the Jewish Diaspora that real Zionism is one that represents Jewish values of justice, democracy and peace. In truth, the settlement movement is a small, fanatically ideological movement which threatens Israel’s security, prosperity and its viability as a Jewish, democratic state.
Today I am excited to share with you some good news – news that is encouraging and energizing…..
This poll, by a group with the interests of settlers at heart, counters the assumptions that the Israeli mainstream supports settlements –an assumption that has led to resignation and hopelessness for many people in Israel and abroad. This is reason to feel hope.
Oppenheimer’s email came nearly a week after Dahlia Scheindlin at +972 wrote a thorough piece based on the same survey. She reached a very different conclusion. Her piece was titled, “Survey: Israeli Jews tolerate settlements, status quo.” Scheindlin:
A new survey released by Ariel-which-is-now-known-as-a-University, shows, remarkably, that the majority of Israeli Jews inside the Green Line are still basically wedded to settlements and barely register that they pose a problem…
there is little new other than the depressing realization yet again that the Israeli public and leadership are comfortably aligned in their complacency and general support for the status quo – which means, of course, unprecedented settlement growth until a two-state solution is impossible (if you don’t believe it’s impossible already) because, hey, settlements are really not a problem for peace or for Israelis. Palestinians don’t really factor in.
I can’t read the survey. It’s in Hebrew. But I would note right off the bat that Scheindlin says it is of Israeli Jews, and Peace Now never describes the data in that manner. It say it’s from the Israeli “mainstream.” Later Oppenheimer sums up the data as reflecting the attitudes “of the Israeli public” (as does Scheindlin).
That “mainstream” characterization of selective data is on Americans for Peace Now’s website. Imagine how American Jews would feel if polls of Christian opinion were offered as evidence of “mainstream” American attitudes. Imagine how black people would feel if surveys of white people were offered as “mainstream.”
As to the stark discrepancy in interpretation between Scheindlin’s dark analysis of the numbers and Peace Now/Oppenheimer’s optimistic analysis, Peace Now reflects the view of the authors of the survey: they also say that their numbers demonstrate a leftward shift.
Scheindlin disputes their claim. She has a graph showing that Israeli Jewish public opinion has changed little over the last four years, except 2012, when that public opinion shifted sharply to the right. Here’s her graph, then her analysis of same.
On its own, the data is rich and interesting, and more extensive than I can cover here. But why the strained attempt to put a left-wing spin on it through selective comparison with 2012, which looks like an outlying survey – rather than looking at the longer-range data, or even the stand-alone figures? Do Ariel University researchers want to prove that Israeli Jews are the good guys, ready for two-state compromises? Or do these scholars want to show that they are prepared to report on trends that run counter to expectations about what a settlement university would want? Ultimately, the data so clearly exposes the people’s comfort with the status quo, as shown at the top – did they think no one would notice?
One thing is stable or even trending “leftward” from past years: according to their surveys, in 2009, 42 percent in total were prepared to evacuate some, most, or all of the settlements (“small number, large number, all”). In 2013, that total number is 51 percent – what I would call a measured rise since this is the highest percentage of all those years, beyond the margin of error (I am really assuming their previous studies also included only Israeli Jews inside the Green Line – otherwise, that would be an easy explanation for the change). I’ve seen and conducted surveys that asked questions in various ways about support for dismantling settlements (after the dismantling in 2005) and gotten even higher support for evacuation.
The conclusion looking at trends over plenty of time is that were Israelis to be asked by their leaders to dismantle settlements – they may not like it, but they would do so. The bottom line remains: no one is asking, and they aren’t offering.
I have great respect for Peace Now for opposing the occupation so vigorously and so long– they still do great work on this score — and as an oppositional group inside American Jewish life. There are great liberal activists on the Peace Now board, people who have worked hard for human rights.
But the rosy Peace Now bulletin on this data strikes me as sounding a deep need on the part of liberal American Jews in their 50s to 80s to believe that a two state solution is still within our grasp, and that the Zionist dream of liberation from anti-Semitism is still alive. The reason our website exists is because many American Jews believe that Zionism is now an outdated ideology, and that liberal American Zionists need to confront the racism that is so inherent in the project.