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Why the Israeli debate on the occupation misses the point

In the eyes of most Israelis, democracy consists of two Jews arguing over the fate of the Palestinian.

Natan Sharansky, Jewish Agency head (Jewish Agency for Israel/CC BY ND 2.0)

Natan Sharansky, Jewish Agency head (Jewish Agency for Israel/CC BY ND 2.0)

Natan Sharansky, the Chairman of the Jewish Agency, used his experiences as a prisoner of conscience in the Soviet Union in a recent op-ed in order to attack the activists of Israeli anti-occupation organization, Breaking the Silence, who do not shy from criticizing Israel’s policies in the occupied territories outside the country. Let me be clear: there are no similarities between what Jewish political activists in Israel go through and the persecution of dissidents in the USSR, and Sharansky’s contributions to human rights must never be forgotten, regardless of his current views.

But his article, which was published last week in Haaretz, includes one sentence that captures everything that is wrong with the Israeli public discussion on the occupation:

It is of course legitimate to believe that Israel’s military presence in the West Bank should be ended immediately.  But it is equally legitimate to believe that such a withdrawal would be dangerous and even catastrophic for the state. This is a political question that should be decided by Israel’s citizens through their elected representatives, not by a small group of self-appointed prophets and their chorus of foreign supporters. (emphasis mine, N.S.)

Who is missing from the picture? The Palestinians, of course. The entire idea of democracy is that everyone gets to participate in the discussion. But in Sharansky’s eyes, as in the eyes of most Israelis, democracy consists of two Jews arguing over the fate of the Palestinian. If the Jews don’t want Palestinians to have rights, they won’t have them.

Israelis do not have the right to endlessly deny Palestinians their freedom, and it doesn’t matter if that decision is made “democratically” or not. Sharansky is wrong — Breaking the Silence is right: there is nothing wrong with turning to the international community to put pressure on Israel to change its policies, since those policies are illegitimate to begin with.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    1. Ben

      Ze’ev Sternhell:

      “…A radical change will not happen here as long as the present regime does not bring about a major national crisis. A failure such as Operation Protective Edge is not enough, since the heavy price of that conflict was paid primarily by the Palestinians.

      Therefore, the realistic alternative lies in external intervention that will be massive enough to shake Israelis out of the placidity of their comfortable lives.

      Only when everyone among us can feel the price of the occupation in their flesh, will the end to blue-and-white colonialism and apartheid come. Only when the economy is hit in a way that affects the overall standard of living, or when security is undermined as a result of a serious threat to American interests in the region, will the real treatment for eliminating the occupation and guaranteeing our future begin.”


      Reply to Comment
    2. Lewis from Afula

      So the so-called “palestinians” get to decide the future. Well, all the Israelis should butcher themselves. That’s what PLO supporters believe they must do. They tried to violently implement it in 1948 and 1967 and in all the wars since.

      I believe in a different vision. Namely, the so-called “palestinians” revert to their original Jordanian identity that they held pre-1972. This is the only real basis for peace. All other solutions lead to mass murder and genocide.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        Using quotes around the name “palestinian” is one more form of the delusional idea that millions of people will suddenly disappear or join another country or move away or submit to being stateless or that the clock can somehow be turned back 40 years.

        Reply to Comment
        • carmen

          “or that the clock can somehow be turned back 40 years.”

          It’s almost 70 years Bruce.

          Reply to Comment
    3. rubo

      say more

      Reply to Comment

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