This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
With another New Year approaching and no positive movement on the ground, the word from the Israeli left, at least what remains of it, is foreboding. The indefatigable reporter, Amira Hass, is on her own non-violent warpath. Avraham Burg, a former architect of the apartheid he now sees as the end of Israel as a Jewish state, isn’t mincing words either.
Hass is a must read. Hass relates her battle on the road where she speaks as an Israeli Jew. It seems that the space for thought, especially with reference to history, has narrowed. On the worldwide Left, Israel’s existence is being defined as a colonial enterprise without reference to the anti-Semitism and the Holocaust in Europe. As a child of Holocaust survivors, Hass can’t go there and for good reason. She asks whether Israel can still be spoken about intelligently without forsaking the demand for Palestinian freedom. But Hass’s challenge is broader. As she holds her ground as a dissenting Israeli Jew, she warns Jews outside of Israel not to become accomplices with Israeli aggression.
Unfortunately, Hass is too late on both counts. In the main, Israel will continue to be discussed as a colonial state. Jews have been and will continue to be accomplices in Israel’s crimes.
Avraham Burg goes further than Hass. His first lines are strong:
It must be said out loud: The ascendance of the right is not temporary, the occupation is permanent and Israel is one state with two regimes: One is good, and does well by Jews; the other is bad, wicked and discriminates against Palestinians. Now it’s time to fight it.
The struggle Burg sees is unequivocal:
The time has come for all the princes of the left and all its frogs to stop giving their services to the right-wing mechanisms of self-destruction that are being applied full-throttle in Israel today. We must admit, openly and unequivocally: The ascendance of the right is not temporary, the occupation is permanent and Israel is one state with two regimes: One is good, and does well by Jews; the other is bad, wicked and discriminates against Palestinians. From here on the battle is not over delusions of peace being just around the corner, nor over creating an illusory reality according to which any minute now, out of nothing, a separation agreement will appear and redeem us. This is a battle of life and death, between a bad one-state regime and one state that is good for both peoples.
The difference between Hass and Burg is important. Hass continues to argue the case for Israel. Burg has left Israel behind. In Burg’s mind the Jewish Left provides a fig leaf for Israeli oppression. It’s time for Jews to let go. Let Israeli power has its way:
It must also be said, to the same flaccid left: Don’t start now with empty claims of “responsibility” and “we must not abandon the state” and all the other things that end with sitting around the cabinet table. Israel’s hardball politics require two things that you don’t have. The first is to offer a full, complete alternative and to fight for it tooth and nail. The second is to allow for the ripening and completion of processes. No one appointed you the saviors of the right. Let Bibi-ism run its course and it will fall of its own accord. It will fall into your hands if you are ready with a worthy alternative.
Is Burg right, that left to its own devices, Israeli policies will fall of their own accord? It may be the case that the Jewish Left is powerless to stop Israel’s aggression. Why fight what you cannot win? Burg may also be correct that moral arguments by Jews prolong the reckoning needed to transform Israel into a unified democratic state for all of its people. But the sense that Israel will fail in its essential mission to conquer Palestine and subject Palestinians to an apartheid without end may be another fig leaf, a faith statement rather than a political program.
As enablers outside and inside Israel, Jews listen to Hass and Burg with hope that a breakthrough will somehow occur. But with Israel consolidating its power with its Arab neighbors, and with the United States and Europe strongly committed to Israel as a Jewish state, hope is difficult to sustain.
As Israel consolidates its power, the weakness of Jewish dissent becomes more and more apparent. It may be the case that Jewish dissent awaits another more distant day than either Hass and Burg, Jews and Palestinians, can afford to contemplate.