How Not To Advocate for Israel

Obama%20Fox%20530[1]Last week we saw four examples of how not to advocate for Israel:

1. Don’t back lawsuits you can’t win.

The Supreme Court struck down a law that forced the President, through the Secretary of State, to identify, upon request, citizens born in Jerusalem as being born in Israel even though the United States has never acknowledged Israel nor any other country as having sovereignty over Jerusalem.

President Bush did not enforce this law, and neither has President Obama. No one should have been surprised that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Executive Branch. But as a result of this short-sighted lawsuit, which never should have been brought, the Palestinians are claiming victory and pro-Israel groups are upset.
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Ari Shavit Presents a New Zionism

september-9-2014-islamic-terrorism-marathon-race-webIsraeli author and journalist Ari Shavit is best known in the U.S. for his personal history of Israel from the nineteenth century to the present day: the New York Times bestseller My Promised Land, published in 2013.

In the book, he traces his family’s engagement with Israel, beginning with the experiences of his great-grandfather, a prominent London lawyer who toured Palestine in 1897. The Zionist saw the growth of anti-Semitism, particularly but not only in Eastern Europe, perceived that Jewish life would be increasingly difficult there, and subsequently relocated his family to Israel.

Shavit’s book follows the same paths as his ancestor across Israel, presenting the modern reality of a land shared unwillingly by two peoples. The principles of human dignity and freedom expressed in historic Zionism, he argues, have been lost in the battles since statehood and the occupation of surrounding lands that has come about.

Shavit spoke at the Adath Israel Congregation on September 18, laying out his viewpoints after the war of the past summer. Shavit was presented by Haddassah to an audience of more than 500 people, who hung on every word.

Jews and Arabs have different life narratives that express their conflict, but both have lost sight of their proper goals, Shavit said.

This painful summer marked the longest war Israel has suffered since independence. It brought back the experiences of sirens and of fleeing to shelters, forgotten since the 1970s. For the first time, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were within the reach of the bombs.

Israel’s independence, Shavit said, was the most just revolution of the 20th century. This revolution broke the previous relationships of Jews to both God and country, and provided choices where those didn’t exist before. However well intentioned the early settlers were, they were blind to the Palestinian presence, and vice versa. This failure to cope with reality has led to the present tragedy.

The Middle East, Shavit said, is the worst neighborhood in the world. Israel’s failure to deal with the Arab problem or to create a just society contrasts with the great success it has become. Israelis, who have learned to live in constant danger, have created the most constantly exciting and wonderful society, filled with immensely creative, productive and lively and alive people.

The battle with the Palestinians and the failure of Israel to make peace in past times has produced a violent, fascistic Hamas that oppresses its own people, and today stands in the way of a two-state solution.

The endless occupation and battle with the Palestinians also isolates Israel and undermines its position in the world, moving the state to isolation in the face of 1.6 billion Arabs. Shavit sees the apparent resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe as a result of the endless struggle with the Palestinians.

Shavit noted that the Iron Dome defense was possible only with the assistance of the U.S. He credited the Obama administration with vital support of Israel during the summer war.

Shavit defined four problems facing Israel:

  • the possibility of Iran achieving nuclear power, which he says will lead to a nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East, the most unstable part of the world;
  • Arab chaos itself, with governments falling;
  • Regarding the Palestinians, Israel cannot stand pat but all efforts have fallen short and there is little opening today; and
  • past success of Zionism was based on taking the high ground of morality and justice; Israel today has lost that high ground and is undercutting its great alliances.

Shavit said that we must pacify Gaza with a new Marshall Plan. As we enter a fight with ISIS, we ought not to entangle ourselves with the regimes of Iran and Saudi Arabia. And we must not allow ourselves to be perceived as part of a great Shiite war against Sunnis – 85% of all Muslims.

Moreover, Israel must renew and redefine Zionism along its earliest lines, built around human rights and justice. Older Jews will continue to support Israel, but younger western Jews, particularly those younger than 30, see the matter differently. Zionism has a good story to tell in the immense success of Israel, but the story has to be rewritten to make it “sexy” for those people too.

After his speech, Shavit was given a standing ovation by the crowd.

Cartoon courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles.

Get to Know Israel From Inside: Ari Shavit’s “My Promised Land”

— by Kenneth R. Myers, Esq.

With Secretary of State Kerry’s peace initiative in the Middle East nearing a conclusion, this is a great time to read My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Ari Shavit. If you have already read it, consider reading it again.

Shavit is a Sabra, and the son and grandson of Sabras. His British great-grandfather came to Palestine as a tourist in 1897, returned home to fight for the Zionist cause, and ultimately resettled his family in Palestine.

Shavit lived through the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War, and has been a kibbutznik, a soldier, and ultimately, a well-known journalist.  

Shavit carried out the direction in Genesis 13:17, and traveled the land, beginning in the steps of his great-grandfather. He interviewed both important and ordinary Jews and Palestinians, and visited sites of historic significance in the struggle between the Jews and the Palestinians.  

More after the jump.
In every page of this book, his love for the land comes forth. He asks the question, how did the best of intentions of the early settlers to live side-by-side with the Palestinians, turn into 60 years of confrontation with no apparent solution?

The book describes the massacres, the important battles, and the victories and defeats of both sides.

Shavit visited locations where Arab villages existed but do not anymore, or have been replaced by Israeli towns and cities. He visited Jewish settlements that have been, and in some instances are still, marauded. He pieced together the reasons that Palestinians departed or were driven away from them.

The title, “My Promised Land,” is misleading: After reading the whole book, “Our Promised Land” sounds more appropriate. Along with the victories and wonders Israel has accomplished, the Palestinian claim to a fair shake comes through loud and clear.

Shavit sets forth great achievements by Israel, far beyond any parallel development in Arab lands. But he also perceives several missteps. The most serious of these, Shavit explains, was the government’s decision to retain, at least for a time, the territories conquered in the Six Day War:

[F]rom the beginning Zionism skated on thin ice. On the one hand it was a national liberation movement, but on the other it was a colonialist enterprise. It intended to save the lives of one people by the dispossession of another.

In its first 50 years, Zionism was aware of this complexity and acted accordingly. It was very careful not to be associated with colonialism and tried not to cause unnecessary hardship. It made sure it was a democratic, progressive, and enlightened movement, collaborating with the world’s forces of progress. With great sophistication Zionism handled the contradiction at its core…

But after 1967, and then after 1973, all that changed… The self-discipline and historical insight that characterized the nation’s first years began to fade… You were wrong to think that a sovereign state could do in occupied territories what a revolutionary movement can do in an undefined land… Ironically, [occupation] brought back the Palestinians Ben Gurion managed to keep away.

After building a detailed history, Shavit examines Israeli society, politics, economics, government, and the competing positions between Israel and the Palestinians of today.  

[F]ive different apprehensions cast a shadow on Israel’s voracious appetite for life:

  • the notion that the Israeli Palestinian conflict might not end in the foreseeable future;
  • the concern that Israel’s regional strategic hegemony is being challenged;
  • the fear that the very legitimacy of the Jewish state is eroding;
  • the concern that a deeply transformed Israeli society is now divided and polarized, its liberal democratic foundation crumbling; and
  • the realization that the dysfunctional governments of Israel cannot deal seriously with such crucial challenges as occupation and social disintegration.

Through interviews with key political and government figures, Shavit explores each of these five apprehensions, gloves off and no holds barred.

For anyone trying to understand where Israel is headed and what might happen there in the future, My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel is a must-read.