Huldai tells Army Radio that Israel may be the ‘only country in the world holding another nation under occupation without civil rights.’
Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai shocked many Israelis Thursday morning when he cited Israel’s occupation as one factor that leads Palestinians to turn to terrorism. Speaking on Army Radio about Wednesday’s deadly shooting attack in Tel Aviv and reported celebrations of it in the West Bank and Gaza, Huldai argued that Israelis should focus instead on the fact that Israel is “perhaps the only country in the world holding another nation under occupation without civil rights.”
“On the one hand the occupation has lasted 49 years, and I took part in it,” Huldai told veteran journalist Ilana Dayan, “I recognize the reality and know that leaders with courage must look to take action and not just talk. The fact that we are suffering does not lead to a change in understanding of what must be done… There is no courage to do what needs to be done in order to reach a [peace] agreement.”
“There is no way to hold people in a situation of occupation and think that they will reach the conclusion that everything is okay and they will continue to live like that,” Huldai added.
Huldai is a former Israeli Air Force pilot and a Labor Party stalwart, through and through, and his comments come at a time of crisis for both Labor and the Israeli Left at large. Labor Chairman Isaac Herzog is in dire straits with his party after repeatedly taking hawkish positions vis-a-vis the Palestinians and what can only be described as groveling at the feet of Prime Minister Netanyahu to join his far-right coalition.
Herzog’s sycophantic behavior did little to bolster his support. On the contrary, it only widened an already existing chasm between the right and left flanks of the Labor Party. Enter Huldai, whose comments on the source of Palestinian violence can be viewed as the opening shot in his race for the Labor leadership. Like Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat — who seems to be perpetually mulling a run against Prime Minister Netanyahu to lead Likud — Huldai could be playing the long game.
Huldai’s comments come at a time when the occupation has all but disappeared from the Israeli public consciousness, and Palestinian violence is seen as senseless and random. However, they also harken back to a time when Israeli leaders and public figures were able to speak more frankly about what drives Palestinians to terrorism and armed struggle. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak once famously stated that if he were a Palestinian of the right age, he would have joined a terrorist group. Alan Dershowitz wrote an entire book on why terrorism — and specifically Palestinian terrorism — actually made gains for the Palestinian cause, and was thus a rational, thought-out strategy. Saying anything to that effect in Israel’s current political climate is a recipe for suicide.
Ron Huldai is not the savior of the Israeli Left. He is, regardless of political opportunism, simply speaking the truth in a country where the idea that 50 years of military dictatorship might just have something to do with Palestinian violence is now popularly viewed as something akin to treason. And for that he is to be commended.