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Ending the occupation is in the interest of Israelis, too

The occupation is disastrous first and foremost for Palestinians, but it is also disastrous for the Jewish people in Israel. Left-wing politics cannot be based solely on solidarity with the Other.

By Uri Weltmann

Left-wing Israelis stage a pro-peace demonstration. (File photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Left-wing Israelis stage a pro-peace demonstration. (File photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90)

There are left-wing voices in Israel who believe that the very foundation of Israeliness has become inextricably intertwined with the country’s occupation of the Palestinians. One such view, expressed by Inna Michaeli in an oped in these pages, goes so far as to argue that “the end of the occupation will bring about the end of Israel.” Such voices are effectively abandoning the worldview according to which the struggle for peace is a struggle for Israeli society itself, perhaps inadvertently aligning themselves with the radical right in Israel, which also sees the fate of the State of Israel as necessarily tied to its control over the Palestinians.

Those are not left-wing politics.

Left-wing politics is a politics based not only on an abstract feeling of solidarity with the Other, but one that tries to enlist the public to fight for its own concrete interests, i.e. for itself. Our discourse on the struggle against racism or the occupation must be based on an understanding that those phenomena are destructive for Israeli society in the broadest sense, and not only for their immediate victims (Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel or Arab-Palestinians in the occupied territories).

Sure, part of the Israeli public can be enlisted in the struggle against, for example, the settlements, solely on the understanding that they are immoral and unjust. That group of people must be in our camp, but we can’t settle with having only them by our side. It could be that there is a much broader group of people that we could bring into such a struggle if we manage to convince them that the settlements and the occupation are disastrous, first and foremost for the Palestinian people, but that also disastrous for the Jewish people in Israel.

The absence of that discourse must be corrected, not only because it would sharpen the Left’s political message, but because it carries the potential to bring more people into the struggle. At the end of the day we’re not trying to bring the “Old Left” (older, middle class, liberal Ashkenazis, who have been going to Peace Now rallies since the 1980s) into our tent; we must have a message that is relevant for the broader population. We’re not trying to build a minority; we’re trying to reach the majority of our society.

It is important to project that our message of peace and equality is one that reflects the needs of the entire population of Israel. It is vital to demonstrate that these are patriotic values, not the sense that the country’s right-wing leadership understands the word, but in a deeper sense — these are values that serve the true national interests of both peoples that live here.

One flag, three masts

A palpable example of the convergence of left-wing values and the interests of the broader public can be seen in the fact that every time it becomes apparent that the government’s socio-economic policies are harming the public, the number of provocations the state initiates in the occupied territories seems to multiply, usually followed by a new barrage of anti-democratic legislation in the Knesset. If previous governments didn’t seem to go quite as wild with racist legislation as the current one, it is only because their plans to ravage our natural resources and bank accounts weren’t quite as ravenous as the Netanyahu government’s.

At the same time that the current government was advancing its plan to sell off a trillion shekel’s worth of Israel’s natural gas resources to tycoons, it was also pushing through legislation that would force representatives of human rights NGOs to wear special tags in the Knesset. Now the government is trying to pass a socially disastrous two-year budget, while at the same time threatening the director of B’Tselem, attempting to revoke Amnesty International’s non-profit tax status, and pull support for Israel Social TV.

The goal is to distract the public, but also to divert the attention and resources of all those activists and organizations trying to effect real change. The more the government wants to rob us, the more anti-democratic legislation it proposes, and the more it tries to scare us with external threats near and far (the Palestinians and Iran, respectively).

In order to build a real peace movement in Israel, we must also build a movement for true equality, and we must build the broadest possible movement for social justice. Those are not three different flags flying on three separate masts, one of which is raised while the others are lowered. They are three integral parts of the larger struggle to transform this land into a place that is good for all who live here, which is the most important struggle if we are all going to live here together.

Uri Weltmann is an Israeli peace activist and serves on the Executive Board of the Emil Touma Institute for Palestinian and Israeli Studies. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call.

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    1. Bruce Gould

      What negative effects does the occupation have on Israeli society? the Tablet has an articulate explanation of this:


      The ill effects of the occupation are apparent throughout Israeli society. Anyone paying attention to the statistics and news reports coming out of Israel in recent years should be alarmed by the disturbing culture of violence that has gradually taken root—against women, political activists, the LGBT community, and especially Arabs. Reports of sexual violence against women, for instance, have, according to police data, registered a significant increase. Just last year there was a 60 percent rise in the number of women killed by their spouses or relatives (half of which were among Jews). One chilling government report from 2012 that traced data from 2003-2011 asserted that every third Israeli woman falls victim to some sort of sexual assault and found that acts of violence against single women had skyrocketed by nearly 20-fold….More than anything, the infiltration of violence into Israeli society can be felt through the unprecedented level of vitriol, intolerance, and incitement that, 21 years after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by an ultra-right extremist, continue to infect public discourse: In addition to just about every leading politician, artist, or intellectual associated with the Israeli left (who have long since been victims of incitement) even prominent Likud politicians like President Reuven Rivlin and the former Defense Minister Yaalon are routinely excoriated as traitors and labeled, among other things, Arabs, Left-wingers, and Nazis…

      Reply to Comment
    2. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      You forget something very important: For most Israelis including new immigrants, seculars, traditionalists, religious or orthodox, Judea and Samaria are a part of the Jewish heritage. If you fail to mention this fact your demonstration is biased.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Halevy: there is no doubt that Jews have lived in the Holy Land since forever. That fact, however, is quite different from the idea of “Jewish heritage” – Judea and Samaria didn’t play a large part in Jewish thinking until the 19th and 20th century advertising campaigns began. And besides, couldn’t we also say that Judea and Samaria are part of the Palestinian heritage, with equal justification?

        Reply to Comment
    3. Jaleen Rose

      You forgot to mention that both Hammas and the Palestenian Authority do not recognize the right of Israel to exist – meaning they will never accept piece until ALL of Israel is freed from those pesky Jews

      Reply to Comment
      • Carmen

        Hamas and the Palestinian Authority recognized ‘israel’ years ago. ‘israel’ has yet to recognize Palestinians and continue to steal what lttle land they have left. Seriously, try something new instead of old libels that have been debunked.

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        • AJew

          Hamas recognises Israel? That is a lie. Hamas is more honest than the Palestinian authority. They still say that they aim to destroy Israel which they clearly perceive as a Jewish state. The Palestinian authority on the other hand is just playing word games.

          Palestinian Authority recognises Israel? But not Israel as the Jewish state. Not recognising Israel as the Jewish state is an admission that they haven’t given up their 100 year war on the Jewish state.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Whatever tea leaves and entrails you think tell you what they have or have not given up on deep inside their hearts, ok aside you’re right, and sign a final status accord/end of conflict agreement with a clause that runs something like this (you might have to get your lawyers to clean up the language):

            “if they change their minds after finally getting the state they want after all these years and go utterly insane and suddenly start to try to kill The Jews because as we know they are genetically prewired to kill Jews just cuz they are cuz they’re Arabs, you know?, then we get to go super super craaaazy and blast the hell out of them and turn Palestine into a parking lot.”

            I might have left out a few details but it captures the spirit.

            You know and I know that IF a fair and decent final status accord is signed based on 67 lines, swaps, capital in East Jerusalem, agreed upon refugee ‘solution’ blah blah blah, and THEN they go insane and try to take the coastal plain with a terror campaign or whatever, that then the entire world will back you to the hilt and let you put them into the Stone Age. (If you deny that you are lying or insane yourself.) So that’s quite enough nonsense there fellah. You can stop now. No one has ever been convinced by the Jewish State gimmick since Bibi first concocted it so many fondly remembered settlement tenders ago.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            I think what Ben is trying to say that if we give in on every issue and the Palestinians give in on no issue, if after that the Arabs will still not terminate their war on the Jewish state then Ben gives us his permission to:

            “blast the hell out of them and turn Palestine into a parking lot.”

            Yea right ? and no sooner we would do what Ben pretends he would give us permission to do, Ben and his cohorts would start whining hysterically, blame Israel for everything and demand swift retribution against the eeeeevil Zionists. How do we know? We know that that’s exactly what Ben’s kind did after every Israeli gesture in the past, be it small or major gestures. They always explain to all and sundry that those were not gestures but ploys by Israel and that the Palestinians have every right to murder Jewish Israeli civilians in return. Anyone who does not believe me can google the Durban conference onracism 2001.

            Actually, here is a link:


            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            As I said, “If you deny that….”

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            You said what you said but you ignore history. Care to comment about the Durban lynch party which we faced after Barak’s peace offer? Did we deserve that lynch party and the intofada in response? Even if you feel Barak’s peace offer wasn’t good enough. Even then, it was an offer which crossed quite a few red lines for us. And it WAS a peace offer. You guys and your allies, the Palestinians really shot yourself and the so called peace process in the foot by responding with the intifada and the Durban lynch party. That cured us for a long time to come from even contemplating unilateral gestures.

            So please Ben, stop trying to delude us with your inane suggestions that we always have the option of turning Palestine into a parking lot or the stone age if they don’t behave even after we give them everything they ask for. You know and I know that has never been how things really work.

            Just think about what happened after Oslo was signed. There was that hand shake… then the PLO took over…. then terrorism increased against Israeli civilians… etc etc etc … always the same…. ditto after the Gaza evacuation …. we got rockets from Hamas …. and accusations from your kind that it was just our ploy… always the same. Never any counter gestures just more demands, more accusations and more violence. Hey, I know we are slow learners but we are not foolable forever. No more gestures from us. Get it?!!! No? OK, but still no more gestures!!!

            Reply to Comment
          • i_like_ike52

            Ben, in spite of his rants against “the occupation” feels that continuing the status quo is preferable to giving up any of their non-negotiable demands, especially the unlimited right of return of the refugees. You just can’t please him.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Oh sure. Some people say that about Ben. Ayup. Let me take this opportunity to complete your fine thoughts.
            “And Obama wasn’t born in the USA. Some people say. It’s true. Oh? Trump admitted he was lying all these years, you say? Oh well, what I really meant was Obama’s really *a secret Muslim!* Everybody knows. So I heard. I mean (whispered) he’s blaaaaaack. Wink wink. But, anyway, I’ll buy him a ticket back to Kenya if he wants. Now where was I? Oh yes, you see the settlements are not an obstacle to peace, children…repeat after me, ‘the settlements are not an obstacle to peace’…very good children…
            …what’s that Johnny? Now that’s not a proper question Johnny. Are you talking against the state, Johnny? Why do you hate Israel, Johnny? Go to the principals office Johnny. Now.
            Now, as I was saying children….”

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            ? Another one of Ben’s off topic rants.

            Note: he did not refute what ike said about him which was spot on. He just responded with a rant of made up counter accusations.

            Reply to Comment