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Israeli liberals III: Supporters of the occupation

Israeli liberals benefit from the occupation. Their support for withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories is a mirage

In my previous posts, I argued that Israeli liberals are perceived by many commentators, of diverse viewpoints, as the most important target audience for those who wish to end the occupation. Then, by outlining my view of Israeli liberals and their place in society and politics, I tried to explain why I think that they are unlikely to be opponents of the occupation. In this post, I will try to reconcile the seeming paradox between this assessment and the overwhelming liberal support for the Israeli peace camp.

The Israeli peace camp can be defined, albeit simplistically, as those who support Israel’s withdrawal from extensive swathes of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Some have come to this position by seeking justice for Palestinians. However, the dominant elements of the peace camp have presented a different argument in support of their proposals.

According to them, continued control of the Palestinians will make Israel a pariah state, along the lines of apartheid South Africa, unless it grants all Palestinians citizenship, thereby making it a bi-national or even Palestinian state. This argument plays strongly on the liberals’ values and concerns: both their desire to be accepted by the West, and their wish to avoid assimilation in the Orient.

What analysts have often missed is that this entire argument refers to International perceptions of the situation between Israel and the Palestinians, rather than the realities of the situation itself. In other words, the priority for Israel’s peace camp and liberals has always been to be perceived as lacking control of the Palestinians, and not to end that control itself. As long as appearances are maintained, the occupation is not only benign for Jewish Israeli liberals – it is actually beneficial for their goals.

First, the conflict with the Palestinians serves as distraction and a pressure valve for injustices in Israeli society. Liberals are generally more affluent than most Israelis, and as I mentioned in the previous post, wield power through non-electoral means. These privileges are shielded by a public debate which is completely obsessed with the Israeli-Palestinian or Israeli-Arab conflict, leaving no room for discussion of the many disparities in Israel’s society. The massive robbery of West Bank lands and resources (as well as Palestinian property inside the Green Line) has allowed elites to answer some of the Jewish underclass’ most urgent needs, without engaging in any redistribution of wealth between Jews.

Second, as long the peace camp’s charade is successful, and so far it has been, the occupation, paradoxically, elevates Israel’s international position. Without it, would a commission in Tel Aviv be an ambassador’s dream? Would foreign ministers and heads of government queue to visit the country? Would they shower Israel with precious gifts in the hope of gaining a seat at the negotiation table?

In fact, Israel is becoming increasingly better at this charade. It has been a long time since it actually had to concede any territory in order to avoid international isolation. Now, the mere existence of “peace talks” is enough to make it a global star, while settlements expand and Palestinians live in hell.

The internal “struggle” with all those fanatics and extremists does not truly imperil Israeli elites, but it does make them seem so moderate, Western and liberal by comparison. When the peace process stalls, if the Palestinians cannot be blamed, liberals can always argue that they are heroically struggling against the Jewish fanatics. In fact, they will often demand ever more international support and largesse to help their hand in this contest.

But what happens if the music stops, and the international community will no longer tolerate these shenanigans? I have argued that this prospect is receding, not advancing, but BDS activists, as well as those who fear them, obviously disagree. So let us look at that scenario: Will isolation fatally weaken the liberals, as Bernard Avishai implies, leading to the triumph of fanatics and proto-fascists? Or will it make the liberals change course, and lead a campaign to truly end the occupation, as many BDS supporters seem to believe?

I would argue that both answers are wrong. Most Israeli liberals will not abandon the occupation, even if faced with international isolation, because their fear of assimilating in the Orient is greater than their desire to be part of the West. Why would ending the occupation threaten liberal identity? I will answer this question in the next and final post of these series, where I will also offer some constructive proposals.

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    1. Arlosoroff

      Again, your use of the term liberal is so loose and ambiguous it makes it hard to make any sense..
      “liberals are generally more affluent then most israelis”.. sorry?
      who are we talking about?

      i also disagree with your final analysis, that “liberal” jews (again, doesnt mean very much) will not end the occupation “because their fear of assimilating with the orient is greater than their desire to be part of the west”.
      Your attempt at framing this conflict in some sort of orientalist dichotomy is seriously one-dimensional and doesnt take into account important factors that make this conflict alot more complex then that.
      please explain, seeing as it is you that is framing it in this way, what is “the orient” today?

      finally, what is your evidence that these israeli liberals, who in your characterisation are 100% of ashkenazi origin (because apparently the origin matters, even after three generations), and affluent, and all live in ramat aviv wont benefit from an elevated status and acceptance in the west (which you claim is their only desire) by doing exactly what you think they dont want to, helping to ending the occupation.

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    2. Kibbutznik

      Once again I am in agreement with Arlosoroff.
      ” who are we talking about? ”
      You are talking a language that I just dont get Roi.
      Maybe you should define your own politics , who do you vote for and who do these Israeli liberals vote for ?

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    3. Shoded Yam

      “…. the conflict with the Palestinians serves as distraction and a pressure valve for injustices in Israeli society…”

      Thats sophistry. Israeli liberals support the occupation because they don’t want Rifkah, Yankel,their 6 screaming kids along with the yeshiva and the child-molesting rebbe situated next door to them in Ramat Aviv, period.

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    4. avner

      i have to say that the “Benefits” you claim seem pretty spurious.lets go over them-
      1)avoid culture war- what are you talking about, if anything there association with as “Smolanim” has severely damaged there position within the Israeli cultural-economical political conflicts by alienating them from the other parts of Israeli society. a clear example is the statue of one the only remaining important liberal elite stronghold- the supreme court. outside the Haredy community most of the criticism against the SC comes not out of its economical or civil policy activism but out of its precised “meddling” in “military matters”.
      2)bread and circus to the poor- with the exception of the two Haredy cities, Modiein Elit and Beytar Elit, most of the territories population live on incomes above the Israeli median. Most of Israel’s poor (excluding Israeli Palestinians) live ether in the Jerusalem corridor or in Ayarot Pituach, not in the territories. If anything the economic imperative is against the occupation as most of the taxes taken in order to sustain it (ether for military budgets or settlement subsidies) comes out of there pockets.
      3) makes Tel Aviv seem interesting- i don’t even know how to approach this other then to say, “WHAT?”. Do you really think that Tel Aviven care about whether some diplomats wants to be assigned to Tel Aviv or do you think that the conflict promotes tourism?

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    5. There is a continental divide between those that adopt electoral/educational approaches to reform/change, and those that adopt human rights/educational approaches to change.

      Unless you are a revolutionary (urging regime change rather than policy change), ultimately the purpose of dissent is to change hearts and minds sufficiently to elect parties in power that will be able to enact changes in policy.

      That will literally only happen by either the right seeing the light and moving left (unlikely), or Israelis being persuaded that peace is possible and that peace is desirable, and that the government is empowered to negotiate a fair one.

      Likud/Israel Beitanhu errs on the side of opportunism hidden behind assertions of risk aversion. Kadima governs on the basis of risk aversion. Labor and Meretz barely exist anymore.

      That leaves no party, no leadership, seeking to govern on a proactive basis, on the basis of relationships that the government and society can prudently cultivate.

      Currently, Netanyahu is very weakened, however it appears. He has presided over a polity that has devolved the state of relations with virtually all of its neighbors, materially so, and significantly so. (The difference between an Israel with even a cool peace with Egypt, Jordan, PA) and quiet borders with Lebanon and Syria (if not Gaza); and an Israel that is surrounded, is stark.

      The economy is topping out, and will likely decline before the next election.

      He is very exposed politically. It is the time to INVEST in electoral efforts, rather than to divest.

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    6. Ben Israel

      Richard Witty-
      You mean that Israel had “good relations” with its neighbors when KADIMA was in power, before Netanyahu got in? Apparently you forgot the two wars they got us into, the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, the bombing of the Syrian reactor, Egyptian connivance at HAMAS’ seizure of power in Gaza, the failure to reach peace agreements with Syria and the Palestinians and the deterioration in relations with Turkey which began some years before the flotilla incident. And you consider that ‘the good old days’?

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    7. Cornelis Lely

      It sounds like you (correctly) describe Kadima voters and not anyone to the left of them.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Shira

      This article allegedly describes Israeli liberals like Avishai, Oz, Yehoshua, Grossman,Strenger and Burston? Really?

      If they’re for the occupation then Israeli progressive activists are for what exactly? Support for the birth of a terror state? It certainly could be argued since their activism is almost entirely based on hateful and intolerant far rightwing Fatah/Hamas anti-Israel ideology. I find the “progressives” genuinely and quite deliberately ignore or minimize the anti-liberal actions of Fatah/Hamas, not only vs. Israel but against their Palestinian victims as well. What kind of “progressives” ignore actions vs. women, gays, and minorities? Against freedoms of speech/dissent, religion, assembly? I’m having a harder time these days distinguishing so-called progressives from old-style classic Rightwingers.

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    9. Piotr Berman

      Shira has hard time distinguishing between progressives and righwingers.

      I observed this type of difficulties before, and I have an explanation. I will use a shorthand “ethics” and “morality”. Some people believe that morality should follow from ethics and some have hard time understanding what ethics is about.

      Morality (in a shorthand) is about good and bad. We should support good and oppose bad. Light and darkness. The most important is determining who are the good people and who are the bad people. Then what good people are doing is good, especially if it is detrimental to the bad people. What bad people do either does not matter, or is bad.

      Ethics is about doing the right thing. The most important is determining what are the rules of correct behavior. Then what is breaking the rules is wrong, REGARDLESS who breaks those rules, and opposition to that is right. If some act is not specified good/bad by the rules, it is OK in the sense we do not have to have any opinion.

      Progressives are usually “ethics people” and they believe in human rights. Human rights apply to humans, and violating them is bad.

      Normal healthy patriots are usually “morality” people. Human rights are not regarded as “ridiculous” but a concept that has to be approached with caution: are rights of good people violated? very bad, are rights of bad people violated? we should either rejoice or support quietly.

      Thus from the healthy patriotic moral perspective it is of central importance to determine if Palestinians are good or bad. And here we are: homophobic. And hateful. They apply torture to their own people (this is really neat: if we assume that Palestinians are good, then PA applying torture is evil, so Palestinians are bad, and if we assume that Palestinians are bad then torture in PA detention is good, but, well, didn’t we assume that they are bad? but applying tortures to OTHER people is consistent with tortures being good and the other, bad.)

      And they are very puzzled why progressives do not care if abused people are good or bad. They ignore the central issue!

      “Support the birth of a terror state”. Indeed, why one needs two terror states in Middle East? If there has to be a terror state, then at least make a pick: terror for the benefit of the good people there.

      On the other hand, I think that Maor heaps to much on liberals. Occupation is clearly bad for liberals. Politically, they will never be as good occupiers as the right wing. Moreover, the attitudes required to conduct occupation are also attitudes that at best marginalize liberals. They survive sadly in little ghettos and they try to irritate the healthy thinking majority, well, not too much. But do you think that, say, Im Tirtzu, cherishes liberals? I think that progressives and NGO are for breakfast, and liberals are for the main dish. (Truthfully, progressives and NGOs are more like salad without a dressing, not much calories in that dish. I think that this total lack of nutritional values killed NGO bill. Two committees uncovering the nefarious funding amounting to the budget for bottled water consumed by committees themselves? I read some editorials. Fifth column selling us to Norway and Switzerland? Where is red meat?).

      Liberalism tries to reconcile ethics and morality. Doing the right thing is actually good for the good people. This claim has some philosophical underpinning. For example, check Wiki on Epicurus & Epicurean Philosophy. So following human rights, or at least not violating them too much is good for Israel. But they manifestly fail in empirical terms: doing shit do Arabs (a) feels well, (b) works well. They mumble that in the long run …

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    10. Y.

      As my comment on the previous article in the series and the comments here show, when Roi is talking about “liberals” he is really talking about a social class, muchmoreso than an ideologically coherent group. And inasmuch Roi describes them, he is mostly accurate.
      However, I do not think the conclusions follow. I think there are some very different corollaries to be surmised from the description.
      First, it is true that the Israeli Left argument does not refer to the reality of the situation, but this in fact mainly impacts Israelis. Palestinians have their own organizations and external support which can make their arguments and interests known. Israelis however often have to go via Left-controlled or influenced organizations – so the better conclusion is that Israelis are paying the price of the Left’s chase for foreign acceptance.
      Second, while the Left has been playing a selfish game, this does not mean they did not wish for peace. To argue otherwise sounds like a conspiracy theory – does Oz, Yehoshua, etc. not want peace? It is just that Palestinians (and Israeli far Left elements like Roi) reject the foundations of the Israeli (main-)Left program. e.g. One of the main requirements is a separation between the WB+G and the Green Line, meaning what happens inside either would-be country is not relevant to the peace deal, while Roi believes “redistribution” and other political goals are required _within_ the Green Line. Now, you guys can reject the deal, but to blame the Israeli Left for this rejection is silly.

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    11. Shoded Yam

      This entire thread reminds me of a bunch of people sitting around picking pepper grains out of gnat shit. Until the so-called “liberal elite” of the country (basically, ashkenazi white people) learn how to communicate with the mizrachim (who constitute the majority of the Israeli electorate),the entire issue is academic, any discussion of which that does not include this lack of dialogue being an exercise in futility.

      Reply to Comment

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