The peace talks are all but dead in the water, even John Kerry seems to be inching away from the matter; and this time it appears that the Israelis may get blamed, because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Netanyahu… appears to have introduced the new demand because he expected that the Palestinians would reject it and that he could then blame the failure of the talks on them.
Oddly, Netanyahu’s greatest ally in this effort is the most popular Israeli intellectual of the moment: Ari Shavit. The author of My Promised Land was hosted by leading media outlets in the U.S. all last fall and winter as a Zionist idealist and true believer who could speak earnestly about the Israeli “miracle.” He appeared in/on PBS, Charlie Rose, the New York Times, Fresh Air, the 92d Street Y, The New Yorker, and Meet the Press, where David Gregory said, “It’s an honor to be able to talk to you and to have you here.” Shavit later said that his weeks being toasted here were among the most satisfying days of his life.
But Shavit’s latest role is backing Netanyahu’s demand. Two weeks ago, National Public Radio, which often serves as a fount for the rightwing Israeli point of view, allowed Shavit to go on and on about the legitimacy of the Jewish-state-recognition demand:
[I]f Israel does recognize now the Palestinian people, its legitimate rights and the right of the Palestinians to have a Palestinian state, I do not see any reason why the Palestinian would not recognize the Jewish people, its legitimate rights and its right to have a Jewish state…. We are tragic twins. We share a land and this is why this peace is so difficult to reach. And that’s why it needs a deep emotional, moral and ideological level.
Two days later, Secretary of State John Kerry told the House Foreign Relations Committee that it was a “mistake” to issue this demand and implicitly knocked Netanyahu.
Then Shavit attacked Kerry in Haaretz on March 20 in an angry manner:
In Washington, New York and even Tel Aviv… [a]n overall offensive is being waged in recent weeks on the Jewish people’s national state. American and Israeli peace seekers are furiously attacking the demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Suddenly not only the settlements are a war crime, but also the Jewish people’s demand to recognize its right to self-definition.
“The Jewish people’s demand” for “self-definition.” Shavit’s own publisher at Haaretz, Amos Schocken, denounced his view, pointing out that 20 percent of Israel’s citizenry are Palestinians, “who are just as nationalist as he is.”
Ari Shavit perpetuates the occupation and promotes Netanyahu’s biggest bluff. http://t.co/AtQAdtRUsY
— Amos Schocken (@AmosSchocken1) March 24, 2014
Schocken tweeted a column he wrote about Shavit as a supporter of occupation and promoter of Netanyahu’s bluff:
Shavit’s attack is groundless…. “The nation-state of the Jewish people.” What sort of definition is that? Is an Italian Jew whose family has been in Italy since the expulsion from Spain not part of the Italian nationality? We’d all be better off abandoning this sophistry.
When Israel recognized the fact that there are Palestinians deserving of self-determination, the Palestinians recognized Israel – that same Israel that was founded on the constitutive principles of Zionism. What’s missing is an agreement on substance – borders, security, refugees and Jerusalem…
But the additional demands that Shavit supports – that the Palestinians give up their history, including the history that took place within the Green Line before the state was founded; and that they ignore the one-fifth of Israeli citizens who are Palestinians — are aimed at thwarting the chance for peace. Will he accept a Palestinian recognition of a Jewish nation-state that is built on the ruins of 400 Palestinian villages and hundreds of thousands of refugees, who have since become millions, and where 20 percent of the citizenry are Palestinians, who are just as nationalist as he is?
Those who present themselves as supporters of the two-state solution, but who insist on demanding recognition of a nation-state, are acting to perpetuate the occupation and settlement.
Schocken’s piece was promptly endorsed by Lara Friedman of Peace Now:
Amos Schocken: The visible rejectionism of Ari Shavit (re: demand for recognition of Israel as Jewish state)
And Lisa Goldman of the New America Foundation:
The publisher of Haaretz attacks Ari Shavit, columnist for his paper, for rejectionism & for libeling the peace camp
And yesterday, Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street doubled down on his earlier statement in favor of the Kerry position, though he didn’t mention Shavit:
On Friday, I wrote (see below) that the demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state shouldn’t be allowed to derail Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
I’m pleased that our position resonated deeply with so many of our supporters…
[D]emanding such recognition at this point in the process runs the risk of derailing the whole effort.
Also yesterday Haaretz published a piece by Oudeh Basharat, stating that Shavit is doing Netanyahu’s work on a shameless demand:
[M]y colleague in these pages Ari Shavit remains an ardent supporter of Netanyahu’s demand. Some people call themselves supporters of justice, but at the moment of truth, when you have to choose a side and take a clear stand, they fall in line with the strong. After all, nothing quiets the conscience while keeping your place in the loony-bin consensus more than to attack the weak for supposedly not playing their part.
But let’s assume for a moment, Ari Shavit, that this untenable demand – to recognize the state’s Jewishness – is legitimate. Even so, as a human being, as a member of an occupying nation, you should have called from every platform for an end to the accursed occupation, which is being perpetrated in your name, too. After the occupation it will be possible to raise this subject with the Palestinians, though even then it will look ridiculous….
Amid the to-do, it’s forgotten that what is going on is not a dialogue between free and equal sides, but between occupier and occupied, which is like a dialogue between rapist and victim. And on this shameful occasion, some voices are demanding that the victim consent to the shameful rape.
Once again, you learn a lot more about Israel’s tactics in the Israeli press than the U.S. press.
It’s time that Shavit’s American greeters revisited the author and this controversy, and did so in a less credulous manner than during Shavit’s book tour.
P.S. Jerry Slater had this to say about Shavit: by misrepresenting the Arab response to Israel, his book is “dangerous and unforgivable.” Or consider Norman Finkelstein, who has a book out on Shavit: “My Promised Land is riddled with omission, distortion, falsehood, and sheer nonsense.”
Correction: I said Kerry made his “mistake” comment to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. TNR says he made it to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.