Two days ago, the pro-Israel group the American Jewish Committee held a “great debate” on the two state solution between two Israeli journalists: rightwinger Caroline Glick, who is against a Palestinian state, and centrist Ari Shavit of Haaretz– who is for a Palestinian state in “a long time.”
Shavit said fearfully that Israel was in danger of losing American Jews and American progressives, and these groups are more vital to Israel’s survival than anything else. Israel can deal with any threat in the Middle East, but it cannot lose America.
If we endorse a kind of arrogant approach as if there are no other people– no Palestinians, no progressive Americans, no Afro-Americans, no Latino Americans, no young Americans– we are endangering ourselves. There is nothing more dangerous. Believe me, we will deal with all the threats of the middle east. We are strong, we are sophisticated, we are innovative, we will deal with that. But if we lose, if we erode our alliance with the west–
Shavit especially fears the impact of Israeli rightwing political culture on young American Jews.
This kind of attitude will endanger the ability of young American Jews to stand by Israel and identify with Israel. The only way to win Jewish minds and hearts– and non-Jews, but I begin with the Jews– is to prove that Israel is a benign Israel, that it’s fully democratic, that it’s America’s small endangered sister, that we are frontier democracy supported by your great democracy. If we endanger that, we endanger everything.
Shavit called the American public the “front line,” because Israel has always depended on two political principles: 1, reliance on a superpower; 2, having the moral high ground. It is in danger of losing both.
He called out Glick as a zealot who has support only inside the “Jewish bubble” in Israel and America.
Your message, your line is totally ineffective when it comes to the front line… We live in this Jewish bubble. The bubble is very strong because of this extraordinary success of the American Jewish community. But once you go out of the bubble and you talk to young people, America is changing, the demography is changing, people’s minds are changing…
We already destroyed ourselves in our history because of zealots. We have that gene in us.
He said he goes out to college audiences “fighting BDS” and and sees what Israel is up against.
“It’s not enough to have all this great feeling of, ‘Oh they hate us, and we are just.”… We are not in the ghetto anymore shouting, ‘Gevult, the goyim hate us.'” Zionists now have a responsibility to go out and convince people outside the Jewish bubble. “Fundamentally historically we are the underdog,” he said. And “We are the David.” But the world does not see Israel that way, and the country is in great danger.
We must find a wise way to change the present condition… I’m deeply worried by the fact that the dynamics within Israel and sometimes within the community here are taking us further and further away from the west… The great success of Zionism throughout the years was based on this combination, that we are just, but we must be realistic and understand in what world we live.
Shavit said he shivers when he thinks of the early Zionists. They had “a brilliant diagnosis” of the world, anticipating anti-Semitic violence in Europe. And they had two leading principles.
“One was always always to have a superpower on our side. First it was the British, then the French, then this great great alliance with the United States of America for which I am so full of gratitude. And when I heard the way some people talked about [Treasury] Secretary [Jack] Lew the other day, one of Israel’s greatest friends, this kind of dangerous attitude among our community, not having enough gratitude, not having enough respect.
“We cannot survive a day without America, with all due respect to our heroism. And America is a democracy, and the alliance is based on shared values. If we risk that, if we approach this disrespectful approach that we saw the other day. And first of all I so feel embarrassed as an Israeli and a Jew that this has happened to us…
“If we endorse a kind of arrogant approach as if there are no other people– no Palestinians, no progressive Americans, no Afro-Americans, no Latino Americans, no young Americans– we are endangering ourselves. There is nothing more dangerous. Believe me, we will deal with all the threats of the middle east. We are strong, we are sophisticated, we are innovative, we will deal with that. But if we lose, if we no progressive Americans.
Shavit said Ben-Gurion was tough in battle, but he also understood that Israel “always always captured the moral high ground.” He maintained that credit by always appearing to be looking for peace. If Israel does not continue to do that, “we will find ourself on the wrong side of history.”
But Shavit’s own Rx for Israel the “frontier democracy” is not going to excite a progressive young American audience, or progressive Jews. Because his language was so undemocratic. When he said that Israel’s Jewish majority was in danger from Arab population numbers, he sounded like a white southerner from the Jim Crow era. The Zionist dream was to have a “massive Jewish majority” so as to have “Jewish sovereignty.” But right now Israel is “down to 75 percent Jewish in Israel”, he said. In 2025, that number will be 70 percent.
“If you are to add even 1 million Arabs into that fragile formula,” Israel will stop being Jewish or stop being democratic, Shavit said.
He also said that Israel cannot endorse the “two-state solution” now, but– “a two state vision, two state option, and two state dynamics.” Option means to keep the possibility of two states open by not building too many settlements “beyond the [settlement] blocs”. Dynamics means helping out Palestinians, bringing water to Gaza and building Rawabi, the new city deep in the West Bank. Israel must undertake such projects–
so the Palestinians go on a very long and gradual process of nation-building. Very slow, very cautious, it will take a long time. We have to go very slow, it’s trial and error all the time.
Imagine how Zionists would have greeted such a patronizing policy on the part of the British back when they were seeking self-determination!
Also, consider Shavit’s urgent comments about Israel’s dependence on young American Jews and on America in the context of two intellectual debates in our country:
–The debate over the Israel lobby. While Shavit credits American democratic processes, he is saying that having American Jews “stand by” Israel so as to maintain the support of the superpower is absolutely vital to Israel’s survival. That’s the lobby.
–Shavit’s own book, My Promised Land. His energetic renewal of Zionism, embraced by the New Yorker and Charlie Rose, was plainly a political undertaking aimed at capturing “the moral high ground,” as Shavit put it, preserving Israel’s image in the west. Only the Palestinian solidarity left, Jerry Slater, and Nathan Thrall in LRB pointed this out.