Into the Fray: The Logical Lacunae of the Left – Ari Shavit at AJC
It is no secret that AJC believes in the two-state solution as a better, more practical alternative than all the others that have been proposed – Michael Tichnor, AJC executive council member, June 2015
Early last month the American Jewish Committee held its annual Global Forum convention with an impressive lineup of prominent international personalities.
The three-day event in Washington provided a wide range of lectures on an equally wide range of topics, both worthy and weighty.
‘The best of the Left’
One of the annual program’s highlights is the Forum’s Great Debate, which this year featured The Jerusalem Post’s Caroline B. Glick and Haaretz’s Ari Shavit, on whether the two-state formula offers a constructive solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, or is merely a dangerous delusion.
Unsurprisingly, Glick gave a feisty repudiation of the conceptual rationale and practical feasibility of any resolution based on the two-state principle. My strong misgivings regarding the alternative one-state paradigm she proposes are well known, but while I differ on what should be done, I always find her arguments as to what shouldn’t be done powerful and persuasive.
But it is on her opponent, Ari Shavit, that I should like to focus in the ensuing paragraphs.
At the start of the debate, Glick showered lavish praise on him, describing him as “a shining example, of what is best on the Left.” She continued that although “from a policy prescription he remains entirely true to his tribe… he represents the best of his tribe,” adding, with a wry reference to his fellow ideologues’ tendency to disregard recalcitrant realities, “because from time to time, he can make room for facts that are uncomfortable to his tribe.”
Sadly, in his address Shavit displayed scant signs of such virtues.
To be sure, Shavit is a polished orator, able to captivate his audience with his articulate rhetoric and personal charm. There is no doubt that before audiences such as AJC’s Global Forum he knew exactly which buttons to push.
Yet for all his eloquent delivery and personable demeanor, the substance of his message was nonsensical, myopic and logically inconsistent – even at times self-contradictory, heavily tinged with patronizing prejudice toward the Palestinians and laden with the soft bigotry of low expectations.
Although Shavit conceded that peace efforts by the Left have failed repeatedly, and urged a “new approach,” based on the lessons learned, substantially, he advocates continuing the same policy with the same objectives, only to be implemented at a different pace, adorned in different semantics, and accompanied by less fervor and fanfare.
Shavit forswears the naiveté of the Left, claiming: “I am not a starry-eyed peacenik…. I wrote about it for 20 years that many of the attempts to bring quick final-status solutions are flawed.” Sadly, however, his proffered formula is even more far-fetched – especially given “past lessons.” Indeed, it requires even more implausible conditions for its implementation, and Shavit offers no causal mechanism – other than fervent hope – to suggest why what he proposes is likely to transform current unpleasant realities into a desired outcome.
Running into same ‘wall,’ slightly slower
Shavit admonishes his fellow Leftists for disregarding the failure of previous initiatives: “We failed in 1993, 2000, 2008, 2004. So I asked my friends on the Left… you run into the wall once, twice, after five times you run into the wall, it is time to understand that there is a wall.”
This is all well and good – but acknowledging mistakes apparently does not guarantee avoiding them in the future. For Shavit, inextricably welded as he is to the notion of Palestinian statehood, proceeds to prescribe running into the very same “wall,” only more slowly.
For he embraces the mindless mantra of conventional wisdom that, if we are only nice enough to the Palestinians, then all will be well – or at least, if not, the world will understand us better if we need to take coercive measures to address the situation.
Nowhere throughout his urbane presentation did Shavit address the part that the Palestinians played in bringing about “past failures”; he merely prescribed what Israel ought to do (or not do) to keep the dimming embers of the two-state idea from dying completely.
He offered no blueprint for how to scale/circumvent/ break through the “wall” into which his fellow Leftists repeatedly collide. For, as I will show, all Shavit really proposes is to continue doing what Israel has done for almost a quarter-century, only with less speed and lower expectations.
‘Israel must prove it is benign’
Waxing a touch sycophantic toward his hosts, he proclaimed, as if somehow they lived by a higher moral code than Israelis: “… the only way to win Jewish minds and hearts – and non-Jews – … is to prove that Israel is a benign Israel.” In light of the fact that he warned darkly of an impending erosion of Jewish – and non-Jewish – support, we can only conclude that, in his view, Israel is not benign enough.
This is, of course, a staggeringly counter-productive attitude.
For Israel has been extravagantly benign in its attitude to its Arab adversaries, in general, and its Palestinian ones, in particular. In the face of obdurate malice, Israel has exposed its soldiers to perilous – at times, even lethal – risk to spare Palestinians, it has provided them with (often unpaid) water and electricity, medical services, and humanitarian supplies – without which many would have perished. Indeed, as (still) committed two-stater Alan Dershowitz points out repeatedly, no one can name “one country in the world that faces the kind of threats that Israel faces, and has such an impressive record of upholding human rights, and the rule of law.”
Yet all no to avail.
Even when it offers the most far-reaching, gut-wrenching concessions – such as the release of brutal terrorists, convicted of acts of unspeakable Judeocidal savagery – it is rarely commended for its unmatched benevolence, but regularly condemned for fabricated malevolence.
Largesse as admission of guilt
Just how benign Israel really is, is reflected in a remarkable speech made by the courageous Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid, at a Holocaust Remembrance Service this year: “You must remember that your country is still feeding 1,800,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip…. Israel is supplying food, medicines and fuel, while 22 Arab leaders… do nothing… while watching the Israeli trucks bring supplies to Gaza. You are still feeding us the Palestinians and thanks to you, we are surviving…”
However, it is precisely because Israeli largesse toward its implacable enemy is so exceptional, that it is counter- productive. For not only does it sustain the ability of Palestinians to perpetrate acts of aggression, it is taken as a sign of Israel’s culpability. Because such benign behavior is so rare, so discordant with prevailing international practice that it is difficult to conceive of why any nation which believes in the justice of its cause should behave in such a manner. The only way to interpret such starkly anomalous action is as an attempt to assuage Israel’s conscience and mitigate its sense of wrongdoing.
It is for this reason that its benign conduct, its far-reaching benevolence, has been taken as proof of its fundamental malevolence and Israel’s otherwise incomprehensible largesse seen as an admission of guilt.
Misogynistic homophobic tyranny as ‘moral high-ground’?
Getting on his moralistic high-horse, Shavit declares that for Israel to endure it must “capture the moral high ground.” Curiously – indeed, perversely – to achieve this, he seems to believe that Israel must strive to preserve the option, sustain the vision, and create a dynamic for the establishment of a misogynistic, homophobic, Muslim-majority tyranny. For there is little reason to believe that this will not be the face of any Palestinian state to be established in the foreseeable future – something made even more plausible by the events in the Arab world today – see “In Palestine, Islamic State will replace both Fatah and Hamas,” by Prof. Abraham Miller (The Jerusalem Post, June 16).
So putting aside the question of whether or not a Palestinian state would constituent a threat to the security of Israel, it would certainly constitute a threat to the well-being of many of its own citizens – women, gays, non-Muslims and political dissidents.
It boggles the mind that Shavit believes that support for – rather than resistance to – the establishment of such an entity is the message that Israel should embrace to “capture the moral high ground” and win the hearts and minds of “progressive Americans,” “Latino Americans” and “young Americans.”
‘If we bring water to Gaza…’ Really?
Just how misleading and misinformed Shavit’s policy proposals are is underscored by his specific prescriptions.
With accentuated pathos, he proclaims: “If rather than go for the diplomatic peace we will try to bring water to Gaza. It will combine Israel’s amazing water technology with Saudi money under American leadership so that we prevent a terrible human catastrophe…
Think how that would change dynamics. We would be offering something positive, water in the middle of the desert. It would be such a right kind of thing to do.”
It is unclear whether Shavit was trying to exploit his audience’s ignorance, or suffering from his own. After all, Israel is bringing water into Gaza – and in significant amounts. In fact his own newspaper reported on this – “Israel to double amount of water supplied annually to Gaza” (Haaretz, March 4). Indeed, Israel doubled its supply to the enemy enclave from 5 million cubic meters to 10 m.cu.m., twice its commitments under the Oslo-derived Water Agreement. (Israel supplies Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority in the West Bank up to 60 m.cu.m. annually – also double its Oslowian commitments.) One can only wonder how much of the increased water supply will be exploited to mix the cement to produce the concrete that lines the walls of the terror- tunnels that reach into Israel to murder/kidnap its citizens and soldiers. One can only wonder what “moral high-ground” and “benign” demeanor Shavit identifies in that.
Soft bigotry of no expectations
Shavit’s attitude toward Gaza’s water supply betrays his paternalist prejudices toward the Palestinians, his soft bigotry of low – indeed, no – expectations from the Palestinians, strongly reminiscent of the colonialist “white man’s burden” attitude.
He exonerates them of any responsibility for their fate.
While he is correct that Gaza is facing a catastrophic water crisis, there is no objective reason for it. With the generous international aid Gaza has received, it could “with Saudi money under American leadership” easily acquire desalination/sewage purification technologies from various countries around the world, rather than rely on supplies pumped in from Israel.
The problem is not Israeli attitudes toward Palestinians but Palestinian attitudes toward Israel. It is the elected leadership of the Gazan-Palestinians who devote resources to harming Israel/Israelis rather than to enhancing the welfare of their own people.
Until Shavit addresses this matter, he, just like other two-staters, will keep running, over and over again, into the very same wall they have encountered for decades – and all the millions of cubic meters of water supplied will be in vain.
Patronizingly, Shavit calls for a long period, apparently shepherded and overseen by the wise Israelis, in which “the Palestinians go on a very long and gradual process of nation building, very slow, very cautious.” He of course gives no indication as to why the Palestinians would concede to such an extended period of Jewish stewardship toward statehood – and if they did not, how would that be any different from what we have now.
To his credit, Shavit is keenly aware of the mortal danger a Palestinian state in Judea-Samaria could constitute.
In a 2012-opinion piece he wrote, “It still isn’t clear how we will withstand the Iranian missile bases that were set up in the north and the south, in Lebanon and Gaza… but it’s clear that we won’t be able to withstand a third such missile base in the center of the country.
A withdrawal to the Green Line that doesn’t address the missile danger will be destabilizing and… threaten national security.”
But once such a withdrawal is made, and a Palestinian state established, Israel cannot determine who will control the evacuated territory.
That is why, as I pointed out in a recent column, the two-state idea is not, as Shavit suggests, and as AJC believes, “a better more practical alternative.”
It is, in fact, an example of depraved indifference.
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.org) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.