Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Law of the Conservation of Leftness

Gershom Gorenberg writes of the depressing collapse of the Israeli left, at the very same time that the American Jewish left (in the form of J Street) is finally beginning to flex its muscles. But at least in part, it's because part of what was once "left" is now just consensus:
With a U.S. administration ready to pursue peace, the apparent collapse of domestic Israeli support demands explanation. One subtle clue comes from the latest Peace Index survey by Tel Aviv University's Tami Steinmetz Center. It found 64 percent of Jewish Israelis back a two-state solution. What was once the view of a few courageous dissenters on the left has become a boring consensus.

Here's the rub: Sixty percent of the Jewish public doesn't believe that continued settlement building hurts the chances of such an agreement or will lead to the creation of a single, binational state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan. It's as if the left had convinced people that lung cancer is a terrible disease -- but not that smoking has anything to do with it. Last June, under U.S. pressure, Netanyahu announced he would accept "a demilitarized Palestinian state … alongside the Jewish state." But he has rejected Obama's demand for a settlement freeze. That position -- yes to peace as a vague principle, no to doing anything to get there -- apparently works for most of the Jewish majority of voters. The pollsters admit they don't know how people reconcile such conflicting views, though they intend to ask new questions in next month's survey to figure it out.

Here's an answer that won't show up in poll results, because people don't talk about things they don't notice: For most Israelis, the occupied territories are located somewhere beyond the world's edge. After the Second Intifada began in 2000, the army banned Israelis from visiting Area A -- the parts of the West Bank under full Palestinian control -- for their own safety. Except for settlers, Israeli civilians are unlikely to visit the other areas. They don't see how the suburban houses of the settlements have spread on the hills, how illegal outposts have sprung up between the established settlements, how the 200-foot-wide security barrier meandering through the countryside further hems in Palestinians. (The settlers look at this every day, but in their own way they are blind to it.)

So we're in a situation where a) most Israelis are on-board with the necessary just end-result to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and b) are dramatically confused as to the effect of their own current governmental policies. It is a bit difficult to fathom where this sense of inertia comes from -- Gorenberg's answer is plausible, but incomplete.

What it does indicate pretty clearly is that the problem isn't some moral corrosion in the Israeli public sphere -- a broad-based "screw the Arabs" belief. Rather, it is the sort of problem that is all-too common in stratified societies -- a lack of understanding of what concerns and motivates the other. I see it all the time in how Palestinians and their allies treat Jews and Israelis; it's no surprise to see it rear its head here as well. But the solution to this problem clearly is not one that relies on demonization. Shouting "boycott Israel" (including, often, boycotting programs directly aimed at fostering intergroup dialogue) is not a way to get Israelis to focus on concrete Palestinian desires. At best, it just communicates that Palestinians are dramatically angry at Israelis, but not why (because of the settlements? the occupation? the existence of Israel? the existence of Jews?). At worst, it turns the focus back inward onto Israel and reinscribes their siege mentality -- which, let's face it, is not exactly an irrational belief for Jews to hold.

1 comment:

PG said...

Jumping off the point about the particular foolishness of academic/ cultural boycotts of Israel, do you know if any creative pictorial works -- TV shows, films, documentaries, etc. -- that depict what the settlements look like from the Palestinian perspective, have been popularly seen in Israel