While reading Israel related reports and commentary at the Guardian and ‘Comment is Free’, as an Israeli citizen, I’m often struck by the fact that that the narrative which is often advanced about the Jewish state has little, if any, resemblance to the place I live.
The Guardian’s analysis of the Israeli election, for instance, got it almost totally wrong, with claims made by their Middle East editor, Jerusalem correspondent, and other journalists of that ‘inevitable’ dangerous right-ward shift never materialized. Additionally, Arab voter turnout was significantly higher than predicted – with 58% of Israel’s Arab citizens participating in recent election, a percentage which is actually a bit higher than the overall US voter turnout in the 2012 Presidential elections.
Moreover, typically, Guardian reporters and commentators completely misunderstand what the term “right” even means in the Israeli political context. Unlike in the US, for instance, where “right-wingers” are typically “right” (conservative) on issues such as healthcare, abortion rights, gay rights, and gun rights, in Israel there is universal healthcare, the overwhelming majority of women seeking to end unwanted pregnancies are legally free to do so, Israel is one of the most progressive countries in the world in legislating equality for sexual minorities, and has a comparatively low rate of civilian gun ownership.
While there are indeed political divisions in Israeli society, such as the religious-secular divide, and differences on the desired level of social benefits, the increasing political consensus on national security issues – particularly on the Palestinian issue – is often cited as proof that the electorate has moved right.
Such a rightward shift on this vital but narrow issue includes skepticism about the wisdom, efficacy and political logic of the Oslo Peace Process formula – an increasingly belief, based on the Palestinian terror war of 2000-2004, the failure of Israeli withdrawal from S. Lebanon to weaken Hezbollah, the thousands of rocket attacks launched by Hamas upon Israel’s unilateral retreat from Gaza in 2005, the PA’s refusal to accept Israeli offers in both 2000 and 2008 of Palestinian statehood, and a Palestinian culture which promotes antisemitism and incitement.
As polls indicate, it’s not at all that Israeli have lost their desire to one day achieve peace but, rather, most citizens have developed a healthy degree of skepticism regarding the ‘land for peace’ formula – political calculus which represents conventional wisdom within the mainstream media and the Guardian, and yet is almost never critically scrutinized. Indeed, when it comes to the chimera of a peaceful two-state solution, the views of Palestinian – who increasingly side with Hamas on such issues – are rarely explored.
Not only is this Israeli political dynamic – which, based on the stubborn reality of the last 20 years, increasingly eschews grandiose, idealistic ideas for peace which assume Palestinian best intentions – typically ignored, but commentator hostile to Israel are increasingly heard confidently claiming that Israel, in fact, doesn’t know what’s in its best interest.
Many citizens of the Jewish state understandably chafe at the hubris of Americans, Brits and others not invested in the political outcomes of proposals they are suggesting, which inspires a belief – by virtue of their sophistication, or academic pedigree – are in fact more clear-eyed and rational than Israelis when analyzing vital national security issues.
The latest ‘Comment is Free’ piece by Guardian columnist Michael Cohen ‘Israel’s election leaves slim opportunity for Obama to push two-state solution’ represents a perfect example of the enormous disconnect between ordinary Israels and foreigners who claim they are looking out for the state’s best interest.
Cohen argues that, despite the unexpected outcome of the Israeli elections, and a new Knesset which will lead a bit more to the center, there still is no significant hope that “Obama” will be able to successfully “push a two-state solution” on an intransigent Jewish electorate – and suggests, per the ubiquitous pre-election coverage, that Israel is sliding towards the political abyss.
While Cohen’s over 1800 word essay characteristically all but ignores the role Palestinians play in the putative peace process – as denying moral agency to those perceived to be victims increasingly represents leftist de rigueur – an even more striking example of Cohen’s seemingly complete lack of empathy towards Israeli Jews can be seen in the opening passages, where he writes the following:
More than a decade ago, the Israeli government began construction on what is today known as the separation barrier – a 430-mile long planned construction project of fences, guardposts and checkpoints that provides, literally, a buffer between Israel proper and the Palestinian residents of the West Bank….
While the fence’s effectiveness in curbing terrorism is more perception than reality, Palestinian attacks inside Israel have decreased significantly since the early 2000s, when bus bombings and suicide attacks were weekly, even daily occurrences. Thus, for Israelis correlation became causation.
One might be inclined to believe that this more peaceful situation would make Israelis more inclined to make difficult choices for peace. With security improved, peace could then follow; or so the argument went.
And yet, the barrier – and the general improvement in security within Israel – has had a perverse opposite effect. Free from fear of attack when sending their children to school, or getting on a bus, or meeting friends in a café, Israelis decided that the status quo was pretty good. Rather than seek the uncertainty of peace, they could just as easily maintain the occupation of the West Bank without risk of greater terrorism.
So, instead of increasing the likelihood of a peace agreement with the Palestinians, the fence helped to decrease its possibility. The false sense of long-term tranquility it fostered has become, in part, the foundation of the mass delusion in Israeli society that the current status quo of Palestinian disenfranchisement can continue ad infinitum.
From that perspective, the results of Tuesday’s Knesset vote in Israel can, tortured analogy aside, be considered the “separation barrier election”….
Beyond Cohen’s erroneous suggestion that the security fence may not in fact have reduced Palestinian terrorist attacks, the subsequent text in the passages cited are truly astonishing in their failure of both logic and basic human empathy.
Cohen’s arguing that any reduction in the number of violent attacks on Jewish civilians initiated by groups hostile to Israel’s very existence, has an injurious impact on the peace process. In addition to the fact that he ignores Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, and Ehud Olmert’s offer to the Palestinian of a contiguous Palestinian state with eastern Jerusalem as their capital – both of which occurred after terrorism has dramatically declined as the result of the fence and other security measures – the necessarily corollary of his argument is that suicide bombing, sniper fire, and rocket attacks, and other such murderous acts committed with impunity, would have helped the peace process!
The degree of Cohen’s malice, or at least callous indifference, towards the lives of Israeli men, women and children is only matched by the risible political logic. He’s suggesting that only with a gun to their collective heads – and the necessity of burying more of their dead – will the obstinate Israelis take leaps of faith necessary for an agreement with the Palestinians.
In addition to the astonishing moral callousness, the speciousness of Cohen’s broader logic, and implicit political assumptions, is remarkable.
Contrary to his obviously “sophisticated” inference, despite the reduction of terror attacks in Israel, citizens of the Jewish state have noticed that the relative diminution of deadly assaults doesn’t mean that terrorists haven’t been doing their best to carry them out. For instance, since 2000, there has been over 8000 rocket attacks from Gaza since Israel unilateral disengagement from the territory in 2005, and more than 1400 in 2012 alone. Further, the IDF’s ability to thwart terror attacks emanating from the West Bank doesn’t mean that terrorists have stopped trying. In 2012, according to the Shin Bet, there were 578 attempted terror attacks in the West Bank and 272 in Jerusalem. Additionally, an increasing number of attacks involved firearms and explosives.
Much of Israeli reluctance to withdraw from more territory in the absence of iron-clad security arrangements, is motivated by the understandable fear that the absence of IDF forces, and territorial buffer zones, which would be necessitated by the creation of Palestinian state, would inevitably empower terrorists in the nascent state to launch more and deadlier attacks on its citizens. Israeli don’t have the luxury, as Cohen does, of blindly assuming Palestinian best intentions, that statehood will result in a serious decrease in antisemitism and a culture of martyrdom, or simply hoping that an Islamist terrorist regime won’t one day assume power in the West Bank (and possibly eastern Jerusalem) in a manner similar to Hamas’s ascendancy in Gaza.
Israel’s hesitancy in trusting the Palestinians is one nurtured by a clear analysis of recent history, and a sober understanding of the motivations of our enemies.
Finally, just as those living in the Jewish state are reluctant to trust that Palestinians who today are preaching hate and violence in mosques, schools and in the media will suddenly become doves and promote co-existence between Arabs and Jews once a Palestinian state is created, we are also increasingly find it difficult to take leftists like Cohen seriously when they assure us they have our backs while simultaneously suggesting that perhaps some new Jewish bloodletting is what the Israeli body politic requires to save the peace process.