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On the struggles and duties of the Israeli Left: A response to 'Palestine Today'

Despite clear room for improvement, the Israeli Left still offers valuable examples of progressive activism.

By Dahlia Scheindlin and Matt Duss

Jewish and Arab protesters march during a demonstration against the occupation, calling the Israeli government to resign, in central Tel Aviv, May 28, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Jewish and Arab protesters march during a demonstration against the occupation, calling the Israeli government to resign, in central Tel Aviv, May 28, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestine Today, a California-based blog, has written a sincere response to our article drawing on lessons and parallels between Israel and the U.S. for dejected progressives.

We appreciate the thoughtful critique regarding what is clearly a shared goal of advancing progressive values and ending occupation. Some of the points reflect very real ambiguities in the situation, and we welcome the opportunity to engage in an important conversation.

An early and recurring argument in Palestine Today’s critique is that we did not place more emphasis on the Palestinian BDS movement. We described examples in a general sense but didn’t go into details; therefore it isn’t especially conspicuous that we didn’t emphasize the Palestinian BDS call — we didn’t mention any one effort by name, including those we are directly involved in.

Next, we have made it fairly clear that the two areas being explored are Israel and the U.S. Notwithstanding what we surely all agree is a vigorous attempt by Israel’s government to obliterate the Green Line, there is still a distinction between Israeli and Palestinian society. And in Israeli society, the Palestinian BDS call is far from the “single most popular idea,” as Palestine Today claims, in any form or forum at all. Until about 2014, the vast majority of Israelis hadn’t heard of it.

Since then, BDS has become mainly the target of Israeli rage, but it is not currently an example of Israeli activism, which is what the article is about (alongside U.S. activism). It should be abundantly clear from both of our work that, while each of us may have certain disagreements with the BDS movement or its activists, we strongly believe that support for Palestinian rights, both within the Green Line and beyond, is an important part of the broader progressive agenda.

Scheindlin stands by her critique of Israel’s 2011 social protests, but it is legitimate (and important) to look at such a significant event with five years’ hindsight and consider lasting impact that couldn’t have been assessed in real time. In that light, perhaps the most powerful aspect to note is just the large-scale participation itself, which at the very least demonstrated civic power. Arguably that power was quite successful in changing Israel’s electoral map by giving first 19, then 21 parliamentary seats to brand-new parties who purported to represent social-protest themes. None of those parties have changed one whit of policy regarding the occupation but then as we all know, tragically, the social protestors didn’t ask for that.

File photo of Israeli anti-occupation activists protesting in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem. (Maya Levin/Flash90)

File photo of Israeli anti-occupation activists protesting in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem. (Maya Levin/Flash90)

One critique is perplexing: that our call for progressives to hold a more genuine dialogue within our societies necessarily excludes Palestinian suffering, and activist responses. But we chose to focus on the U.S. and Israeli activism we both know best, from our personal involvement — as participants, not as observers or reporters, and certainly not to exclude Palestinian activism. We also didn’t try to speak on behalf of our Palestinian colleagues about how they view their struggle, which would rightly be unlikely to win Palestine Today‘s or any Palestinians’ sympathy. And even if we had included that aspect, this doesn’t negate the need to win over larger (and more politically powerful) portions within each society of our arguments.

Worse still is Palestine Today’s presumption that the Israeli Left necessarily excludes Palestinians at all. That in itself perpetuates a mindset that if something is “Israeli” it must be exclusively Jewish, which we reject. In fact, Palestinian citizens of Israel are both active participants in and targets of the efforts for social change. They are valiant comrades in such struggles, particularly due to their complex position as a minority in Israel. Moreover, the term “Israeli Left” is anything but limited to Green Line Israel — both of us are deeply involved with Israeli human rights groups and activists working on behalf of Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza, and much of this happens with Palestinian partners. Some of these activities are referenced in the article as well.

So of course we wouldn’t “prioritize” a protest model of unity among the “non-Palestinian Left.” To elaborate here, we would rather combine the large-scale civic clout of the social protest and merge it with the focused, unrelenting struggle to end the occupation and defend human rights of the committed left-wing activists and human rights defenders in Israel, and of course in Palestine.

One partly implicit critique is fair and painful indeed: that the Israeli Left has not thus far succeeded in ending the occupation, nor in preventing any of three Gaza wars. But we point this out ourselves. We argue that despite endless setbacks the alternative of no civic opposition could be worse, but with it the future could be better. 

We also agree that, despite the important capacity building that has occurred over the past years in both countries, both the Israeli and American left have failed to effectively deploy that capacity to build broad and sufficiently inclusive coalitions. The election of Donald Trump laid this devastating reality bare; it’s one of the main reasons we wrote the piece. The other was to assert a greater unity of effort between progressives in both of our countries and beyond, including — perhaps especially — Palestine.

We recognize that as members of the privileged majority in our respective countries, the onus is on us to listen and hear from those who bear the greatest brunt of the policies we are trying to change, when they tell us how we can better support their work with our own. Which is why we appreciate thoughtful critiques like Palestine Today’s.

Matt Duss is president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace in Washington, DC.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Subway1EightyNine

      What do you want? A gold star for trying? I am not in your camp, but the most biting criticism in their article is to point out that you have failed repeatedly to have any impact whatsoever. That is true. Not only have you failed but your tactics and strategy have driven the majority of Israeli society in my direction. The Left in Israel likes to blame the Right for incitement and delegitimization. The only problem with that claim is that anyone that reads Haaretz editorials will either start to hate Israel or start to hate the Israeli Left. No one on the Right can create a more effective means of delegitimizing the Israeli Left than Haaretz. Add on top of that the fact that the primary source of funding on the “resistance” faction of the Israeli Left comes from foreign governments and you really don’t have a branch to stand on when it comes to battling for Israeli public opinion.

      It isn’t that the Palestine Today response gives you any points for how you could do a better job. If you took their advice there would have been no real debate that you are traitors. At least now you can debate the claim, but were you to follow their advice you would just proudly proclaim your treason. And not in the sense of “I am so progressive I don’t care that the Right calls me a traitor”, but in that you would declare that your goal is to eliminate Israel, because for the most part that is the only thing that would make your Palestinian friends believe that you are their allies. But then it would be harder to raise money in Europe and you probably wouldn’t be welcome in a lot of places in America. So there is that. Compromises have to be made for a paycheck.

      In any case, keep failing! You guys are doing great. You have a gold star from me. Keep trying too! Remember that the struggle, not the results, is what matters.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Subway: You win. Everything you’ve hoped for has come to pass – the rule of law is weakening in Israel, you’ve got a state run by the mob:

        “Israeli Soldiers Vow On Facebook Not To Evacuate Illegal West Bank Settlement”

        http://forward.com/news/357016/israeli-soldiers-vow-on-facebook-not-to-evacuate-illegal-west-bank-settleme/?attribution=articles-article-listing-1-headline

        “Israeli soldiers have taken to Facebook to pledge defy army orders and refuse to evacuate Amona, an outpost settlement in the West Bank slated for demolition this month.”

        Reply to Comment
        • Carmen

          Sounds like a coup d’etat coming around the corner. Netanyahoo and Co. have really made a mess of things.

          Reply to Comment
          • Subway1EightyNine

            You really need to diversity your news sources. You claim to live in Israel. How is it that you don’t know that there is a Facebook group for absolutely everything and there are stupid 18-year olds in the army?

            Reply to Comment
          • Carmen

            Was that really worth your time? It’s barely worth mine, but I will note I’m not now nor never have been on facebook. No regrets either.

            Reply to Comment
          • Carmen

            “How is it you don’t know there is a Facebook group for absolutely everything..”

            I do know there is this thing called facebook but I’m not a sheep. Absolutely everything?!! Wow!!

            Reply to Comment
          • Subway1EightyNine

            You are disconnected and are letting other people shape your opinions about what happens in Israeli social media. It leads to such silly statements like the one about a coup d’etat being around the corner. That would suggest that you are a sheep and your shepherds are leading you astray.

            Reply to Comment
          • Carmen

            Actually, what shapes my opinions comes from living in the world and not social media.

            Reply to Comment
          • Subway1EightyNine

            And which part of “sounds like a coup d’etat coming around the corner” was based on living in the world?

            Reply to Comment
          • Carmen

            Still gnawing on that bone?

            Reply to Comment
          • Subway1EightyNine

            This is just how it is done on Facebook. You wouldn’t understand.

            Reply to Comment
          • Carmen

            Facebook doesn’t have the monopoly on anonymous bitchery; that’s exactly how it’s done here. I think we’re done.

            Reply to Comment
    2. i_like_ike52

      Ultimately, the Palestine Today crowd rejects the Israeli Left no less than the Israeli/Zionist Right. All are unacceptable. They may view the Israeli/Jewish Left as TEMPORARY allies in efforts to push Israel back and to strengthen Palestinian efforts against Israel in all fronts, but in the end, there is no place for “Israeli Leftists” in their world view. Nothing less than the complete eradication of Israel as a Jewish state and the full implementation of the “right of return” of the Palestinians to within the pre-67 lines will be acceptable.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Subway1EightyNine

      It’s just noise. The soldiers will be disciplined. The outpost will be evacuated. And then the settlers will demand compensation for the pain they suffered. Politics. I am assuming you are familiar with the concept.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Lewis from Afula

      Israeli Left = five people and a dog called Bruce.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ben

      “Nothing less than the complete eradication of Israel as a Jewish state and the full implementation of the “right of return” of the Palestinians to within the pre-67 lines will be acceptable.”

      This stock scenario, this frightening specter, is a scare tactic, an invented “fact,” meant to stop in its tracks any actual creative negotiations as were being done by Olmert and Abbas before Olmert’s corruption troubles and right wing machinations undermined him. One can always say “there are people out there who want to do this to us.” Fine. It is up to Israel to negotiate terms that take account of that. Lewis from Afula and many like him want to forcibly transfer all Arab persons to Jordan. Or worse. It is up to the Palestinians to negotiate terms that take account of that too. But the idea that the only way to take account of this is to keep the “status quo”-which mean “you Palestinians can’t move a thing but we’ll keep building settlements” (and stealing, bit by bit, territory that renders meaningful contiguity impossible)–is pure occupier’s logic. It is transparent and completely unconvincing. It insists on a pseudo-status quo, a static pseudo-solution to something that cries out for a dynamic true solution.

      Reply to Comment
      • i_like_ike52

        Show me ONE LEGITIMATE Palestinian leader who does NOT call for the non-negotiable terms for Israel’s eradication, primarily by UNLIMITED ‘right of return’ of the Palestinian refugees. Just ONE. And when I say “LEGITIMATE”, I mean one who has real backing from both the political echelons and the public, not some insignificant nobody like Sari Nusseibah. I mean a FATAH or HAMAS leaders. Go ahead, give me ONE!

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Give me evidence, not insinuation, and not phrases twisted and ripped out of context, that Abu Mazen in negotiations with Israelis ever demanded “in non-negotiable terms for Israel’s eradication, primarily by UNLIMITED ‘right of return’ of the Palestinian refugees.” All of you hide behind this fakery that the RoR issue is unsolvable. It’s just an excuse. If you wanted to solve this problem you could do it quickly. More studies in Israeli feigned incompetence and helplessness. And fake indignation.

          Reply to Comment
          • Subway1EightyNine

            The evidence is in the Palestine Papers. Abbas refused to put any limit on the number of Arabs that Israel would have to accept. He was only willing to negotiate over the timing. His proposal was 150,000 over 10 years, but with no overall cap, meaning that in 10 years the Palestinians would still insist on a “right of return” for the other 5 million and the conflict would continue. The evidence is in the failed negotiations that Kerry tried to run a couple of years ago. Kerry proposed negotiating on the basis of the 1967 lines where the Palestinians would recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Abbas refused. The evidence is in the consistent rejection by the Palestinians of the principle of two states for two peoples.

            There indeed is no solution as long as the Palestinians insist that they will not accept living in peace next door to a Jewish state. We can not solve the problem of the Palestinians not wanting peace.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            This again is a lot of propaganda and insinuation strung together just so. You have no idea what a Palestinian leader would actually agree to unless you got in there and actually offered him a dignified and fair deal he could take to his people. Which you have never come close to doing. It’s been all contemptuous crumbs and Bibi condescendingly saying “they need to lower their expectations.” And then there is this “Jewish state” gimmick, with the attached code words “two states for two peoples.” Israelis never do anything honest when it comes to negotiations. The Palestinians cannot solve the problem of the Israelis having surrendered to their settlers and being unable to face them down and Palestinians cannot solve the problems of Israeli narcissism and Israeli occupier’s logic.

            Reply to Comment
          • Subway1EightyNine

            We have the Palestine Papers. I am sure you have heard of them. They are the internal negotiating papers of the Palestinian Negotiation Support Unit. We have the meeting notes, internal emails, reports, studies, negotiating papers, talking points, etc. All from the Palestinian point of view. They describe the Palestinian positions as they were in 2008 when the last serious negotiations were conducted between Israel and the Palestinians. So we have a pretty good idea what the Palestinian positions are in negotiations, and mind you, not from “Zionist propaganda”, but straight from the horse’s mouth!

            The Palestinians were offered a dignified and fair deal by Barak. They were offered an overly generous deal by Olmert based on assumptions that were wrong (that the US would be in Iraq indefinitely, that the US can actually create functioning military forces in the region to fight terror groups, and that the surrounding countries are stable).

            That the Palestinians haven’t come around to the idea that they will have to accept living next door to a Jewish state is no one’s fault except for their own. That they still are not ready to make peace is our problem but not one we can do anything about. The core issue was and remains the refusal of the Palestinians to accept that the outcome of negotiations will be a Palestinian state living in peace next to a Jewish state. Everything else, all possible concessions, are dependent on whether the Palestinians are interested in long-term peace or are just gathering power for the next confrontation with Israel. If the Palestinians are interested in peace then handing them over a hill from which they can see the skyscrapers of Tel Aviv or the only Israeli international airport is not important. If on the other hand the Palestinians will declare that their own state is a stepping stone to “liberating all of Palestine” or “achieving the right of return for every Palestinian refugee” then every hill is a potential firing spot for rockets into Israel. The same applies to the Jordan Valley. The same applies to pretty much every other possible concession Israel can make. It only makes sense to make the concessions if we get peace in return. As long as the negotiations are not based on the principle of ending the conflict the negotiations turn into a zero-sum game. And yet, the conclusion I arrived at when reading the Palestine Papers was that the Palestinians were/are negotiating a temporary agreement and are treating the negotiations as a zero sum game.

            If the Palestinians have expectations that they can negotiate Israel out of existence, or negotiate a deal which will leave Israel less secure, then yes, they most certainly need to lower their expectations.Su

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “The Palestinians were offered a dignified and fair deal by Barak. They were offered an overly generous deal by Olmert”

            This is your extremist starting point, so this is a waste of time except to draw out how dismissive and extremist you are. The last thing the Israeli Right Wing, i.e., Israel’s government wants is a dignified and fair deal. All you are showing here is hatred, imperious hauteur and a lack of realism. You’re not serious.

            “We have the Palestinian Papers.” Well golly gee. You have nothing as regards what the Palestinians were prepared to do in serious negotiations that respected them. I’ve got Gershon Baskin’s authoritative account of what really happened between Abbas and Barak and I’ve got Bernard Avishai’s authoritative account of what really happened between Abbas and Olmert. And they expose the disinformation of the Right Wing spin machine. And they discredit your assumptions about reality.

            Here’s the real deal on what happened between Olmert and Abbas. Should forever retire the misinformation peddled about Abbas. And put into correct perspective Netanyahu’s rejectionism.
            http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/13/magazine/13Israel-t.html?pagewanted=all.&_r=0
            A Plan for Peace That Still Could Be
            By BERNARD AVISHAI

            Reply to Comment
          • Subway1EightyNine

            It is incredibly unrealistic to expect the stronger party to surrender. And yet you continue to insist that the party that won – Israel – accept terms from the defeated party – the Palestinians. A fair deal is one that allows the Palestinians to have control over their own lives while not undermining Israeli security. Every other Palestinian demand is an insistence that Israel must be made to pay for “its crimes” in one way or another. The expectation of the losing side that the winning side must as a condition for peace declare itself to be unjust and evil is ridiculous and unrealistic. It isn’t going to happen. If the Palestinians want peace they will have to start working towards a vision of the future where they will live in peace next to a Jewish state. That is not what I saw in the Palestine Papers. As far as the Palestinians were concerned they are negotiating an interim deal and are more concerned with symbolic retribution for the past rather than practical preparations for the future. There will not be peace if the Palestinians care more about making Israel “pay a price” than they do about achieving their own statehood and independence. Because as long as that is the lens through which they view the future whatever piece of paper is signed will not be worth anything in the future.

            I have the primary sources of Palestinian intentions and positions – the Palestine Papers – during the Olmert/Abbas negotiations! Why for goodness sake would I need the leftist apologetics of Bernard Avishai?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            When you push hard enough on a right wing person’s assumptions and entitlements what comes out finally is “we won, they need to surrender (but we are still ‘at war’…but we won…but are still at war…they need to surrender).” Look at the logic. One side did not “win” or the other side would have already surrendered. It is an armistice line. Over which, Israel is belligerently occupying them. Avishai was very close to Olmert. He knew the real deal. He was in a privileged position. Can’t be dismissed as apologetics, sorry. You’d think Avishai’s documenting how close, and thus how possible, peace was, would be good news to you, IF you really wanted peace, but it’s terrible news to you. Again, your premise, “Olmert was too generous,” pretty much says it all.

            More Schieizaf:

            (And this is also for those who would like to sell us the risible idea that “a Jewish state“ demand on the Palestinians is “just like England.” They too speak of “surrender.”)

            “Those on the right in Israel will tell you that they don’t oppose the Arabs themselves, just their ideas.That is, of course, feigned naïveté. As long as Israel is defined as a Jewish state, Arabs will always feel alienated from it. An Arab can become Israeli like he or she can become German or American, but he cannot become Jewish, which Israeli Jews wouldn’t want either. That’s the fundamental difference between the Israeli model and the Western democratic model, where even if there sometimes exist symbols of Christianity or some other nation, Western democracies are ultimately based on the idea of “a state of all its citizens.” In Israel, that idea is so terrifying to people that some want to criminalize even advocating for it….

            But reality has its ways of breaking through the surface. Even if we all wake up one morning and cry to the heavens that this is a Jewish state that belongs only to the Jews, we won’t be able to simply ignore an entire quarter of Israel’s population. Israel is a already a binational state, including within pre-1967 borders, a fact that the Israeli Left and Right have always been united in denying. The Right’s defiance of that fact becomes particularly absurd when you consider its other project — the ongoing control of the occupied territories. The only reason the Right can live with these contradictions is that it never really internalized the very existence of the Palestinians, and that’s true on both sides of the Green Line.”

            http://972mag.com/the-israeli-rights-palestinian-delusion/120791/

            Reply to Comment
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