Friday, December 23, 2016

I Abstain

Last week, outgoing UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon recognized his organization's profound bias against Israel, noting that (among other things) it does no service to the Palestinian people it claims to act on behalf of. There's nothing really new about that acknowledgement -- Kofi Annan said the same thing -- but it nonetheless is gratifying to hear.

This morning the UN rejected a resolution imposing an arms embargo on South Sudan. But it passed a resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) as violations of international law and "a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace." The resolution also contained a parallel condemnation of "all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation, incitement and destruction."

The resolution was passed after the US, a Security Council member with veto rights, elected to abstain. And, as is the case in any UN resolution on Israel, there is less than ideal language (particularly around Jerusalem). Moreover, precisely because the UN is such an obviously biased body when it comes to Israel, my default instinct is that any time the UN steps in it will cause more harm than good. The statement from the Israel Policy Forum in opposition to the resolution makes sense to me.

So I should be upset. But I just can't bring myself to be angry. I read the usual suspects falling over themselves in histrionic rage -- Mort Klein ranting that "Obama’s anti-Semitism runs so deep that he also apparently needed to drive one more knife into Israel’s back," Netanyahu saying he "colluded against Israel", David French fulminating against the supposed "50 years of foreign policy" undone by a single abstention -- and I just can't do it. I can't.

The ADL -- which murmurs empty platitudes about the President's right to implement policy when picking avowedly anti-two-stater David Friedman for Ambassador -- suddenly is "incredibly disappointed" that the Obama administration followed consistent American policy in opposition to the settlements? The JFNA -- which (and this was forwarded to me by an AIPAC-attending friend of mine) "has not said ONE THING about Islamophobia and anti-Semitism from Trump and his appointees" -- sure found its voice on this one.

The abstention was the first (and last) of Obama's tenure on an Israel related resolution -- by allowing just one of these resolutions to pass the security council, Obama has by a huge margin the most pro-Israel voting record of any post-'67 American President (by comparison, George W. Bush allowed six such resolutions to pass, and Ronald Reagan permitted a whopping 21). Ambassador Power's abstention vote came while fully and publicly acknowledging the UN's fundamental and discrediting bias towards Israel.

Will this resolution do any good? I doubt it. It's empty words from a body whose words deservedly carry little credit. Still, much of international diplomacy is the art of using empty words to send messages. Maybe the message here is that breathless hysterics about Obama selling Israel out! over and over and over again won't carry the day forever. Certainly that's a message I can get behind, regardless of whether anyone pays attention to the substance of the resolution.

I just can't take seriously anymore people who simultaneously decry America's policy towards Syria as being naught but words, while breathlessly characterizing one -- one -- abstention on a UN resolution that is consistent with longstanding American policy towards Israel as an act of "aggression". One would think that those "mere words" would pale in comparison to $38 billion in aid America will be giving Israel thanks to Obama's leadership. The UN is not the only entity whose words carry little credit these days. I've completely lost whatever confidence I had in mainline Jewish groups to maintain a sense of proportion and principle when it comes to defending a secure, democratic, Jewish state of Israel.

The UN resolution won't accomplish anything. Perhaps its only tangible impact is that it is felt as a rebuke by the Israeli government. Given their behavior over the past eight years towards the Obama administration and the American Jewish community writ large, I can't even be mad about that. You're not getting everything you want, all the time, from your "friends"? Welcome to the club.

So I abstain on this fight. Why shouldn't I? If I believe -- and I do -- that the settlements are "a" (not "the") obstacle to peace, and I believe -- and I do -- that Israeli settlement on territories in the West Bank should be contingent on a final, negotiated status agreement with the Palestinians, and I believe -- and I do -- that part of any remotely plausible peace plan means that not everyone will get to live on the precise acre of land that they wish, why should I muster up any outrage on this resolution? Because its verbiage isn't perfect? When is it ever? Because the UN is biased? Of course it is, but so what? Because the Netanyahu administration is trying its level best to negotiate a two-state solution and this throws a wrench in their delicate plans? Don't make me laugh. Because the Palestinians aren't trying their level best to negotiate a two-state solution? Of course they're not, but again, why is that relevant (what kind of Zionism is it that uses Palestinians as its metric)? Because I owe a duty of loyalty to my fellow Jews who do find the resolution problematic and worrisome, even if I personally am able to shrug it off?

That last one is the only one that makes sense. Or made sense, at least. But right now, that argument is a cruel mockery. When groups like the ADL and the JFNA and all their colleagues show they aren't willing to fight for their principles at home, why should I back them up just to pacify yet another right-wing temper tantrum? That, really, is what's driving me right now. Mainline Jewish groups have taken for granted that people like me -- solid, pro-Israel liberals -- will back them to the hilt when they feel the need to soothe their right flank, even at the expense of pursuing some of our own policy objectives in defense of a democratic Jewish Israel. But when it's Jewish liberals who need backing and the right which is asked to make sacrifices, suddenly those groups are nowhere to be found.

This one-sided bargain will not stand forever. I'm pro-Israel for my own sake -- I don't need to be treated nicely by the AJC or ADL to defend the necessity and justifiability of a democratic homeland for the Jewish people, and the fact that ZOA's mad at the UN does not mean that the UN is even remotely useful as an agent for peace. But that's not what's at stake here; I can and will make all those points without anybody giving me a cookie for them. What's at stake in this fight is intercommunal consensus -- backing our fellow Jews even when we don't have the exact same priors as they do. Such a commitment only works if it works both ways. Otherwise, I feel entirely justified saying that I'm done going to bat for bodies that I now know won't have my back when I need it. Solidarity is a two-way street.


Unknown said...

Prof. Schraub

This is such a well-written, well-reasoned view of the situation that I am propagating it to my hysterical friends and family. Thank you for giving a coherent voice to the thoughts that would just take me way to long to compose rationally.

Happy Hanukkah!

Ron Gordon
Northborough, Massachusetts

Unknown said...

Double posting this here because I twigged that you would be more likely to see it. I don't know how the notifications/update system works on this blog format (or if it even has one).

"I don't think I've ever seen a "liberal" article"

Not even the one I wrote that you shared on your blog (Progressive Case for Israel)? Either way, I will admit to not being a regular IC reader. Aside from what I've contributed on my own, I only read the occasional pieces from Justin Amler and Ryan Bellerose (whose indigenous rights-based articles are fundamental to my own work on Jewish liberation, although he is definitely further to the right than I am, and I have clashed with him on numerous occasions), or whatever else comes up in my feed. Beyond that, all I know is what Dave himself tells me, which is that he tries to unify Zionists on both ends of the spectrum without veering too far left (hence why he censored some of my articles and flatly rejected my anti-Trump, anti-Bannon, and pro-two state pieces) or too far right.

Unknown said...

As for the UN resolution, I do not believe for a moment that it will advance the two state solution. All it does is embolden Israel's enemies, fuels the anti-two state elements within Israel itself, and (again) implicitly denies the indigeneity of Jews to the land (the language within the resolution is clearly designed to portray Jews as "colonial settlers", not an indigenous people with a competing land claim). The Israelis no longer have any reason to care what the UN thinks, and the Palestinians no longer have a reason to negotiate. This is a disaster.