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On anti-normalization: Joint Israeli-Palestinian activism must continue

Despite the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian organization he co-heads is considered a “normalizer,” the writer says he understands where anti-normalizers are coming from, but nonetheless argues that curtailing joint activism will only cause harm to the shared caused of ending occupation.
For an explanation on what the ‘anti-normalization’ campaign is, please click here

By Dan Goldenblatt

Less than three months in office as the new co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), one of the oldest Israeli-Palestinian peace NGOs, I am increasingly running up against the anti-normalization movement. I sympathize with the ultimate goals of this movement, although that might seem contradictory to an outsider, since its representatives, particularly the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel, have designated IPCRI among the “normalizers”. I will even submit that this campaign is one that, sadly, Israelis have done well to earn. I can fully identify with the frustration that Palestinians feel after twenty years of peace talks with very little, if any, real progress to show (regression, on the other hand, is widespread).

I am receptive to the reservations of the anti-normalization and BDS movements concerning projects that bring Israelis and Palestinians together to promote co-existence. Israelis and Palestinians in the current status quo are not equal, and projects that promote cooperation for the sake of cooperation, on the basis of equality, while ignoring the very different positions of the occupier/oppressor and the occupied/oppressed do not truly promote change, and therefore are very problematic. Such projects constitute a form of “whitewashing” of the occupation and serve as feel-good projects for all those involved. In actuality, they legitimatize the occupation or totally ignore it, along with the unequal status of the Palestinian nation vis-à-vis the Israelis.

IPCRI has been dedicated to peace from its outset. It has, perhaps more than any other organization of its size brought together many thousands of Israelis and Palestinians to meet, discuss, argue, build, take apart, share and cooperate. IPCRI strongly and publicly opposes the occupation. IPCRI is an egalitarian organization in its DNA, and as such we object to the systematic and establishment-based discrimination and repression of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and within Israel.

Israeli society does not feel the price it is, paying for the occupation, and is, therefore, prepared to maintain the status quo. But there is no doubt that a price is being paid ; social disintegration, and a more violent, corrupt and unjust society – but those changes are gradual and conveniently ignored. A price for Israel for the unjust and daily repression of Palestinians can and should come from the outside, through sanctions and pressure on Israel.

That being said, closing the door on contact between Palestinians and Israelis assisting in the construction of another, invisible, wall by Palestinians against Israeli civil society organizations like IPCRI who oppose the occupation is a tragedy. Chasing Palestinians who chose to speak to Israelis notwithstanding all the long and justified frustration and disappointment is also, I submit, undemocratic by those movements and worrying.

Shutting the door on those individuals and organizations plays into the hands of those who want to maintain the status quo and continue living in a relatively safe “bubble” – like the Israeli government itself. Such a boycott will not, I argue, promote Palestinian achievement of political rights, freedom of movement, independence and self-determination.

I can only speak for IPCRI, and only from the perspective of a very new co-CEO. It would be a difficult sell for the anti-normalization movement to convince me that a project such as IPCRI’s Women Empowered for Peace project has harmed the Palestinian cause and that it should cease. This project gives participating women on both sides the opportunity to see and acknowledge the hardships that the occupation causes, and the reality in which they live but generally fail to acknowledge. To get to know each other personally and connect, woman to woman, human to human, does not entrench the occupation. Even if only a portion of the participants goes home feeling that the situation must change, this changes the status quo.  Bringing people together is not something that maintains business as usual of the Israeli occupation.

Such activities change in individual perception. Women and men, previously indifferent and uninvolved, become involved, join civil society, maintain cross-border relations, initiate joint activism, protest, show solidarity and fight for ending the occupation and for change.

This project is merely one example of IPCRI’s activities. What we do may not answer the full ten commandments of the BDS or anti-normalization movement, but is the Palestinian cause, which I support, worse off because of such a project? Has the Palestinian cause not benefited from the fact that some 50 Israeli women have now become aware of the day-to-day hardships their new friends and partners, and their children and families go through? Would closed doors have been more effective than open?

Criticism of the “Peace Industry” – a derisive term for those whose entire livelihood is based on peace activities that accomplish little – is valid. The Israeli “Peace Industry” must indeed look inside itself, transform, evolve, re-calibrate and even repent. We have been too comfortable in our positions. We have been perhaps too lazy and complacent. We have our “co-existence” friends and perhaps some of us lost sight of the fact that change on the ground has not been achieved. We are living rather comfortably, while Palestinians continue living under the occupation, while racist policies are maintained and even strengthened within Israel. There is a fair and long overdue demand for reform. And IPCRI intends to lead by example. However, we, Palestinian and Israeli activists, should be allowed to disagree and voice our disagreements, or try to influence policies and activities we think are counter-productive.  That being said, closing the door is not reform; it is cutting one another off. No one who wants to see a just and honorable resolution of the conflict should agree to that.

I encourage continuing joint activism against the Israeli occupation. I want to invite anyone who has criticism of how we at IPCRI try to advance this goal to tell us so, engage and challenge us, and help us and others improve. Our goal is the same. No one possesses all the truth and wisdom, and this is a struggle no one can undertake alone. We must join our forces, because only together we are strong. We have long been scattered, and I believe that turning our backs on each other will only strengthen the status quo. Giving up is not an option. Giving up on each other is too terrible a reality to contemplate.

Dan Goldenblatt, LLB, MBA, is the Israeli co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information as of December 2011. He served as a staff attorney at the Claims Resolution Tribunal for Dormant Accounts in Zurich, Switzerland.

Read Also:

Co-existence vs. co-resistance: A case against normalization
What is normal about normalization 


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    1. Matt

      Are you starting to wake up to the fact that the Palestinian national movement and their supporters don’t want peace with Israel, they want to replace Israel with Palestine, and this whole “anti-normalization” campaign is the first step in that process?

      Reply to Comment
    2. ya3cov

      You act as if you are powerless change your organization’s current situation. Follow the guidelines of PACBI and many Palestinian activists would be more than ready to work with you; the ball is in your court.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Richard Witty

      You must be aware that IPCRI activities are explicitly named by PACBI as examples of normalization to boycott?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Kim Nguyen

      Suggestion: Hire a joint Palestinian CEO and change the org to one that is AT LEAST equally led by Palestinians. (I also agree w YA3COV’s suggestion.)

      Reply to Comment
    5. P

      @Kim Nguyen – the guy writes co-CEO and from what I know of IPCRI it is a joint Israeli Palestinian organization with Israeli and Palestinian co-CEOs.

      Reply to Comment
    6. mark

      As an Israeli activist I gave my life. I continue to demonstrate and I have no illusion on the work needed ahead. What makes me feel very uncomfortable with your categorization of Israeli peace activist

      Secondly, the anti normalization movement has proven that they don’t want peace with Israelies. They have chosen time and again to alienate and to prevent the participation of pro-peace Pro human right’s activists, with a cost to the cause.

      it is time for Palestinians to understand that Israelis have internal affairs and trust that many of us are working towards peace. It is disappointing to encounter the lack of trust and even worse the moral subordination.

      Lastly, we all know that human rights issues go beyond peace. Gender and class issues have been discarded by the anti-normalization movement. This should turn people’s minds to understand who and for what reasons they oppose working with Israelis.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Passerby

      At the end of the day, hatred and bias out themselves. This desperate plea by Mr. Goldenblatt is meaningless because he appears to be naive about what is really going on. A person is only useful to the Palestinian cause for as long as he is useful. There was a time when the movement was far weaker because it did not have as many Jewish shills doing the hard work of building an international network and an international consensus against Israel. However, the last 15-20 years have brought us a new generation that has been doing a great deal of the hard lifting for the Palestinians. 972 is a great example of this sort of activity.
      The problem is that except for a small percentage of real extremists, most Jewish pro-Palestinian activists don’t actually believe they are serving a role in dismantling Israel. They believe that somehow this will all lead to a better, more peaceful resolution.
      The reality, however, is that the Palestinians want something very different and have said so all along. It is written in their charters and spoken by their leaders and spokespeople.
      Now, thanks in large part to the hard work of these many Jewish activists on behalf of the Palestinians, the Palestinians sense that they have not just momentum on their side but they are also achieving a critical mass of support. It’s not as if J Street will dismantle itself tomorrow or that Mr. Goldenblatt will disavow his previous activism. Both will continue to do what they do today.
      But they aren’t needed any more. In fact, they are a bit of a hindrance because when they are around, the Palestinians and their one-state supporters, have to play the game with pretense to be seeking an outcome that isn’t the real outcome they are seeking. Also, all these organizations which have been built by others and have been funded by others are ripe for the taking. That’s a lot of clout, financial wherewithal and access that one gains by merely evicting the Jew from his place in the organization.
      What a boomerang. I almost feel sorry for Mr. Goldenblatt and his ilk. They mean well. Really, they do. They just didn’t get that the endgame isn’t peace and two states. The endgame is no more Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Sinjim

      One of the main reasons that PACBI and other anti-normalization groups name your group specifically is because you do engage in a particularly egregious form of whitewashing, i.e., the association with Israeli former officials and generals who are very likely responsible for the very occupation you claim to oppose.
      Most Palestinians don’t give a flying horse tail that they are now all of a sudden looking for ways to “end” the occupation. They enforced it when they were in power. They are very likely guilty of crimes, crimes of war and crimes against humanity. You and your organization treat these people as if they’ve done nothing wrong and have nothing to answer for. And importantly, you treat them they way you never would treat members of Hamas and other militant resistance groups.
      For those of us whose homes have been destroyed by your bulldozers, who’ve been verbally and sexually harassed at your checkpoints, who’ve been prevented from ever setting foot in their homeland by your border police, who’ve been killed by your terrorists, and who’ve experienced the evils of your state in every other way, you are legitimizers of the very thing you claim to oppose.
      Obviously, your organization has many other problems, which you yourself acknowledge, namely that you live in a fantasy world where you deliberately ignore the dynamic of oppression. But from where I stand, nothing is more damning of you as an organization than your associations and collaborations with these probable war criminals.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Ya3cov

      Mark is the archetypal progressive imperialist. “If the occupied doesn’t like his ideas about how to resist THEIR opressors, there’s something wrong with them. And further, we must teach the natives about gender equality because we know better”.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Passerby

      Sinjim, I thought Tal Nitzan’s “Controlled Occupation: the Rarity of Military Rape in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” suggested that Israelis weren’t interested in Palestinian women because they’re racist. Now you’re talking about sexual harassment at checkpoints? Tell us more!
      One of the things I noted when watching Checkpoint, the movie, was that the Palestinians argued vociferously with the soldiers. They expressed their fury and criticism openly and without fear. Do you notice the same? Is that a common thing that happens in the world when an army sets up a checkpoint and civilians have to cross through it?
      Oh, and terrorists are the people who target civilians. That would be the Palestinians who could be attacking soldiers but prefer soft targets.
      But I have a solution, Sinjim. Have your leaders sign peace with Israel and Israel will have to get out of 95% of Judea and Samaria. You will be completely free. Well, as free as the Palestinian leadership allows you to be, but at least you’ll be without Israeli soldiers. Just think: you sign a peace deal and then all these evils will be gone…just like we see in Gaza.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Matt

      Yaacov as usual substitutes lefty rhetoric like “imperial” “colonial” “native” and “indigenous” for an actual argument. Almost done with your Philosophy Ph.D?

      Reply to Comment
    12. “Now you’re talking about sexual harassment at checkpoints? Tell us more!”
      Where to begin? With the story of how a colleague’s nine-year-old daughter was made to strip at gunpoint in Machsom 300, in front of hundreds of waiting people? Or the story of a good friend, who was told by three male soldiers that her permit to Jerusalem would be revoked unless she took off her top then and there? She did argue with the soldiers. She did so because she has self-respect, and this was an assault on her dignity. Some people would have been bullied into complying, but not her. Are you honestly trying to use the fact that Palestinians attempt to argue with checkpoint soldiers as ‘proof’ that it can’t be bad? I’ve seen eighty-year-old grandmothers yelling at the IDF. It doesn’t mean that they’re not scared. It means that they’re brave enough to take a stand for their dignity with the only weapon they have, and that is their voice.
      Do you actually want to know these stories? If your interest is real I will tell you, but I don’t get the impression that it is real. You sound as though you’re scoffing at the prospect of this happening.
      Have you read Tal Nitzan’s paper? I get the impression that you haven’t, mostly because of the way you equate rape with sexual harassment. That’s a facile conflation. The absence of rape from a conflict doesn’t preclude the existence of other forms of sexual abuse and harassment. These exist on a continuum.
      “Just think: you sign a peace deal and then all these evils will be gone…just like we see in Gaza.”
      Freedom does not consist of being sealed up in a giant prison. There may no longer be soldiers or settlers physically in that space, but it is still controlled by Israel. This is exactly what Sharon envisaged when he expressed enthusiasm for the ‘bantustan model’ of statehood. Palestinians have bigger aspirations than this when they think of freedom. Occupation lite won’t cut it, and this is why so many ‘peace industry’ organisations (an apt term) draw accusations of normalisation – they either promote occupation lite, or they simply provide a place for ex-occupiers to salve their consciences with minimum discomfort to themselves. This is not conflict resolution.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Passerby

      “Palestinians have bigger aspirations than this when they think of freedom.”
      Of course they do.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Steve

      The writer wrote: “I can fully identify with the frustration that Palestinians feel after twenty years of peace talks with very little, if any, real progress to show (regression, on the other hand, is widespread).”

      My response: What? The Palestinians went through 20 years of peace talks? What about nonstop terrorism against Israel for decades, massive intifadas, years and years of suicide bombings, etc.? While still calling for Israel to either be destroyed, or to be “undone” as a Jewish state. They did that, too this whole time, yes?

      Why do anti-Israel activists LIE TO THEMSELVES (and to others)? It’s the strangest thing.

      Yes, the occupation needs to end at some point. But it was Jordan/Egypt’s land, used in war against Israel, and Israel won it, and the people who control that land have NOT tried to work out a legit peace deal with Israel. They simply tried to destroy Israel from 1967 through the early 90’s, then made a peace deal but intifadas against Israel kept happening, and now the Palestinian majority had a vote and collectively decided that looney radical terrorists Hamas are the best representatives for them!

      Reply to Comment
    15. Steve

      So, if you decide to deny Israel’s right to exist, then more pro-Palestinian activists will work with you?

      Why work with such activists, then? Who cares?

      Reply to Comment
    16. mark

      @YA3COV your response is not surprising and demonstrates ignorance of what human right are. The indigenous or occupied are not my guideline to what is right and what is wrong.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Merlot

      “It would be a difficult sell for the anti-normalization movement to convince me that a project such as IPCRI’s Women Empowered for Peace project has harmed the Palestinian cause and that it should cease.”

      The problem with a program such as this one is not that it harms the Palestinian cause. Rather, the problem with this type of program is that it exploits Palestinians for the purpose of making Israelis understand that the situation must change and that occupation is wrong. Palestinians are asked to attend these meetings and to argue against the occupation and the continuation of the status quo. They are asked to regurgitate and relive the traumas and humiliations of the occupation in order to enlighten Israeli participants who in many instances have shown no commitment to actually working for change. This is an extractive process that perpetuates the power imbalance of the occupation. Victims must humanize themselves to their victimizer.

      The transformation that occurs in these situations is inevitably one sided. When the author states that these programs provide an “opportunity to see and acknowledge the hardships that the occupation causes, and the reality in which they live but generally fail to acknowledge” he is not speaking about an opportunity that is provided to Palestinian participants. The transformation resulting from this program as described above occurs within the Israeli participants who are (in theory) inspired to work for change. But what do the Palestinian participants gain from this process? New “personal connections” are not enough.

      If the goal of the project is to build understanding among Israeli women about the evils of occupation, do you really need to have Palestinians present to plead their case in order to make the injustices of the status quo clear? Must it be Palestinians who motivate Israelis towards justice?

      What Palestinians are saying is that personal transformation is not enough. What is needed is transformational action aimed at ending the occupation. If IPCRI wants to transform the understanding of Israeli women it should do that, but don’t use Palestinians as a catalyst for that transformation. If IPCRI were able to transform Israeli’s ideas without exploiting Palestinians and were to then propose programs that involve concrete actions designed to realize structural changes that challenge the occupation it might find receptive Palestinian partners. However, the fact that the author can’t understand why Palestinians might not support the Women Empowered for Peace program leaves me doubtful that IPCRI will be removed from the PACBI normalization list any time soon.

      Reply to Comment
    18. mark

      PACBI is irrelevant.

      Its an anti-Palestinian anti-peace document that is accepted either by radical religious that dont want a solution or by some ultra left wing groups that believe the system needs to be broken to be rebuilt according to their utopia. The later group is privileged and does not represent the Palestinian society.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Laila

      Its totally weird that this piece is posted by the head of IPCRI that is considered #1 or #2 normalization organizations in the country.. Totally weird… I think those people have something wrong in the way they think.. they contradict themselves all the time.. Just like liberal Zionists LOL

      Reply to Comment
    20. Piotr Berman

      Because I am not an activist, the issue is a bit arcane to me. It is little bit like what I learned that pius Muslim should not mention the Prophet (PBUH) without a blessing. There is even a consensus what blessings are appropriate. There seems to be a disagreement what form is appropriate — can one abbreviate? Some authorities condemn that slothful practice. However, the early authorities could not address the problem of programmable keyboards that can expand abbreviations: one can give appearance of typing “peace be upon him” by typing simply PBUH or even program “Proph” to expand to “Prophet (peace be upon him)”. Is that OK?

      This can be bewildering to an outsider who may think that he reads web pages posted perfectly pius Muslim, while in fact they detest each other on the account of insufficient piety, especially if they make their case using abbreviations.

      Reply to Comment
    21. “This project gives participating women on both sides the opportunity to see and acknowledge the hardships that the occupation causes, and the reality in which they live but generally fail to acknowledge. To get to know each other personally and connect, woman to woman, human to human, does not entrench the occupation. Even if only a portion of the participants goes home feeling that the situation must change, this changes the status quo. Bringing people together is not something that maintains business as usual of the Israeli occupation.”

      Dan, if you are genuinely confused why your organization is considered a normalizer, the quote above is a perfect example. You say that women on “both sides” need the opportunity to “see and acknowledge the hardships that the occupation causes,” because generally this is something they “fail to acknowledge.” If I were a Palestinian woman reading this, I would probably find this vastly and unbelievably insulting. Palestinian women do not need to be made to “acknowledge the hardships of the occupation,” they live these hardships every day. You imply that Palestinian women are somehow ignorant of the horrors of the occupation and that it’s your organization’s job to teach them. You also use the rhetoric of “both sides,” which is such a cliche at this point that it’s basically a giant joke–but it’s also really harmful. By using it, you’re implying that this is a conflict between two “sides” that are more or less equal, and more or less equally to blame. If you used “both sides” rhetoric about, say, apartheid South Africa or segregation in the United States, it would be very clear that this is racist. However, even though Israel’s policies match the criteria of the UN’s 1973 definition of apartheid on a number of points, you and many others still find it extremely difficult to move out of this “both sides” frame of mind.

      Also, just read this. http://electronicintifada.net/content/can-we-talk-middle-east-peace-industry/8402

      Reply to Comment
    22. Steve

      ALYSSA GOLDSTEIN: No thanks, not looking to read electronic intifada, mondoweiss, stormfront, Press TV and the other cesspools of dishonest, exaggerated, anti-Israel hate.

      Reply to Comment
    23. Richard Witty

      I think pro-Palestinian activism would be more effective with an intentionally normalizing approach. I recommend normalizing on steroids.

      It would be useful for every Palestinian to have a means to communicate to Israelis, their neighbors, and the world.

      The selection of IPCRI as an organization to boycott, illustrates the absurdity of the PACBI approach, of the cult-like absurdity that Norman Finkelstein referred.

      Reply to Comment
    24. sh

      Sinjim says: “you treat them the way you never would treat members of Hamas and other militant resistance groups.”
      I went to part of the IPCRI event at which Gershon Baskin was interviewed by someone about his part in getting Gilad Shalit freed. I was disappointed and disturbed by the fact that he felt it necessary to stress that he was anti-Hamas (and against the kind of prisoner exchange that resulted) despite having been a go-between between them and the Israeli Government. I think that maybe he meant to show that a ferocious enemy can be successfully negotiated with even if you don’t agree with their politics, which is true, but it came over as a confirmation of the present government’s stance on Hamas, i.e. that they are terrorists, thus in some way separable from Palestinians in general, whose natural negotiators can only be Abbas and Fayyad. Add to that Alyssa Goldstein’s remarks about IPCRI’s work with women and Dan will get an idea of where to start.
      Sinjim’s remarks about generals and officials are that two-edged sword again. If generals and officials who might even be considered war criminals have changed their stance, is explaining why good or bad? It could be very useful in pulling in support from the general Israeli public for an urgent end to the occupation. Granted that says nothing of immediate relevance to Palestinians, nor does it really require them to be present at their soul-searchings. But it could be instrumental in bringing in the kind of Israeli leadership that would herald change.

      Reply to Comment
    25. Sinjim

      @SH: The fantastical scenario of your last paragraph would be something else if it ever actually happened in real life. It never has, and there’s no indication that it ever will. All of these Israeli officials do their soul-searching after they leave their posts, seeking to be redeemed only when they have no capacity to change the situation. That’s cowardice, pure and simple.
      The myth of the Israeli leader fallen from grace in the past but now returning redeemed and clean to lead you all to peace is a pathological feature of your country’s politics. Ben Gurion, Netanyahu, Sharon, Rabin, Peres, Deri, Barak, and many others have all been the focus of this fantasy at one time or another. It’s exceptionally cruel to demand that Palestinians involve themselves in this charade, which is what organizations like IPCRI do.

      Reply to Comment
    26. Charles

      This makes me sad. There’s a room for boycotting groups that exploit Palestinians. But IPCRI isn’t a good candidate, in comparison to say, the Peres Center. I think it made the list because of having a high profile.
      The PACBI litmus test isn’t a good one, and it isn’t fairly applied in my opinion. The anti-normalization campaign is two things at once: a radical political project against two staters and a way to isolate/condemn exploitative I/P institutional relationships. I wish it was only the latter.

      Reply to Comment
    27. Piotr Berman

      “The myth of the Israeli leader fallen from grace in the past but now returning redeemed and clean to lead you all to peace is a pathological feature of your country’s politics.”

      Most of political system have a “high cost of entry” to use the language of economists, so political leaders either do not change at all or are heavily recycled. Palestinians do not change their leaders much, even though they are far from perfect.

      Finding former leaders to retract their former positions or at least contradicting current government positions seems to be a good idea, given unusually high degree of trust Israeli seem to have in their officials. This of course has some limitations.

      I read too many commentaries to the effect that “We should make a peace with Palestinians because this is the only way to make an effective war on Iran, and this is what we truly need”. This is bullshit, the current policy of making verbal war on Iran and actual on Palestinians is far more effective, and it definitely can last longer. I mean, at least several years longer.

      Reply to Comment
    28. What an utter load of crap! Do you intend to keep finding some excuse to prolong this conflict until the shit totally hits the fan and Israel-Palestine is reduced to dust by Iran? Are you going to continue to rely on political leaders on both side that are completely ego driven fools or get off your butts and do something?

      Reply to Comment
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