Readers Respond: Letters from Winter 2012
A NOTE ON LETTERS TO THE EDITOR:
We welcome your responses to our articles. Send your letters to the editor to Letters@Tikkun.org. Please remember, however, not to attribute to Tikkun views other than those expressed in our editorials. We email, post, and print many articles with which we have strong disagreements, because that is what makes Tikkun a location for a true diversity of ideas. Tikkun reserves the right to edit your letters to fit available space in the magazine.
IS BDS EFFECTIVE?
Tony Klug’s “The Arab Awakening and the Israeli-Palestinian Connection” (Tikkun, Fall 2011) is a very good and reflective article, containing some valuable insights. The one item I take exception to is this: “Israel might find itself increasingly isolated as the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement extends its appeal globally and governments around the world vent ineffectual fury.” Why “ineffectual”? BDS is the only serious nonviolent means that civil society can use to get Israel to feel the reality of the consequences of its criminal occupation while the major world powers continue to back Israel. It is in fact very effective, and growing in its necessity, if only to counteract Israel’s lobbies, such as AIPAC (the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee) and BICOM (the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre), and the whole machinery of hasbara. It is an effective challenge to Israel’s determination to project the image of a Western, hi-tech, and advanced democracy. That image fails while Israel’s breaches of international law are revealed and Israel acts like a rogue state out of control. There must be consequences for its actions!
Tony Klug replies:
“Ineffectual” was used in my article to describe not the BDS movement but other governments’ likely responses to possible future unilateral steps by Israel. Nonetheless, the letter writer’s bold assertion that BDS is “very effective” is questionable, partly because its measure of effectiveness is less than clear. While it is true that it gives people who want to object nonviolently to Israeli policies something to do, this is not the same as affecting those policies or the positions taken by their own governments.
As for any campaign, the key to successful pressure is clarity of goal. The BDS campaign’s basic weakness is that it appears to be a coalition of two broad factions, one that campaigns for the end of the Occupation and the other for the end of Israel. They cannot agree on the objective, so they agree on the strategy. But strategies, to be effective, need to be driven by their objectives.
An objective that could command widespread popular support, including crucially among many Israelis and Jews, as well as potentially state governments, is one that focuses on resurrecting the old Green Line, differentiating clearly between the international legitimacy of the Israeli state within its 1967 borders and the illegitimacy of its continuing and apparently indefinite occupation of Palestinian territory, and in particular its colonization project. Such an objective would give rise to a strategy that distinguishes unambiguously between boycotting the settlements (and their products, etc.) and boycotting Israel proper and Israelis in general. The apparent inability of the BDS campaign to clearly make these distinctions is likely, eventually, to be its Achilles’ heel.
TRAUMA IN ISRAEL
I share Rae Abileah’s longing for peace in the Middle East. Would that pink baskets of toiletries or ribbons or banners could achieve these noble goals. Would that Israel could simply declare peace on its own. Would that this season of repentance could bring an end to violence and hatred.
But as I read through her eloquent remarks in “Fresh Tactics and New Voices in the Movement for Justice and Freedom in the Middle East” (Tikkun, Fall 2011), I can’t help but note that Rae makes no mention of the endless attempts at peace negotiations undertaken by Israel, some of which (e.g., Camp David) came pretty darn close to giving away the farm, all to no avail. She makes no mention of the fact that Israel withdrew from Lebanon and Gaza and things only got worse. She cries for the Arab mothers and children, yet has nothing to say about the conditions that brought about Israel’s response to the Palestinians: the endless attacks and bombings, and children who are taught to hate Jews in school and encouraged to pelt them with stones. My parents were the victims of such an attack. My mother’s jaw was broken and her face smashed and she was never the same after “only” being hit with stones hurled through the windshield of her car when she was a tourist and got lost on her way to Jerusalem. If it were Rae’s parents or children, bombarded in their beds night after night with grenades and Katyushas, would she be as benevolent and understanding?
Justice for all is a noble pursuit. But at what cost, Rae? Would you turn the other cheek if your own loved ones were involved? Would you fault your parents for trying to protect you? I do not fault Rae in the least for the aching in her heart for peace in the Middle East and elsewhere. But peace is indeed a two-way street. If Rae is reviled by other Jews, perhaps it is because she too can see only one side: the side that the media choose to cover; the side that has learned to use the media to further its goal of ridding the Middle East of the nation of Israel; the side that celebrates the existence of a Jew who condemns her own.
Laguna Hills, CA
Rae Abileah replies:
I hear in your letter a genuine concern for the future of the Israeli state and your—our—Jewish brethren there, and a fear about the dangers they may face, and I share in your concern. I thank you for asking me questions rather than jumping to conclusions about my beliefs and actions. Here are my responses to just a few of these questions:
I do have family in Israel and hold compassion in my heart for the stress of living under fear of attack. I have learned from groups such as the 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, which in the wake of the devastating loss of their loved ones on September 11 one decade ago cried out for our nation not to seek vengeance, not to retaliate and kill more innocent people. I believe seeking understanding and empathy is one of the first steps toward ending the violence.
If I am one day blessed with children, I would not be willing to live in a country where compulsory military service mandates that my child might serve at an illegal checkpoint, demolish a home, or face serious PTSD from serving in an occupying army. My heart goes out to all the mothers (and parents) who have suffered the untimely and unnatural death of their children whether by bus bomb, bulldozer, or gun, and it must stop, in all forms.
What Alitta fails to acknowledge is the systemic, racist oppression of the Palestinian people, which fosters roles of occupier and occupied, not just two sides that hate each other. The “side” I now stand on is the side of peace and justice, which is neither (and perhaps both) pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli, and for which I have received tremendous support even within the Jewish community. This side is actually rarely portrayed in the mainstream media, but is growing in numbers globally as increasingly more people join the cause for freedom and equality for all people living in Israel and Palestine. Won’t you join us?
RECOGNIZING ISRAEL AND PALESTINE
As a loyal reader of Tikkun Magazine, I almost always find myself in agreement with your political positions. It is uplifting to see a Jewish magazine advocate for a world that is religious and based on compassion. However, I find myself baffled by your latest petition on the Israel/Palestine conflict. While I agree that the United Nations should recognize the statehood of both Israel and Palestine, I cannot in good conscience support Israel’s “right to exist within secure borders and free from terrorism as a Jewish state.” Nations do not have rights—people do. Nation-states are nothing more than social constructions whose existence depends upon our collective agreement. Assigning rights to a nation comes dangerously close to committing a fallacy of reification—pretending an idea is a real thing. Furthermore, defining Israel as a “Jewish state” contradicts Tikkun Magazine’s support for religious pluralism. Obviously, Israel has religious, historical, and cultural significance to the Jewish people. However, there should be no Jewish state, just as there should be no Christian state or Muslim state. Israel should be a democratic state that does not privilege a single ethno-religious group above all others. Israel can be either a democracy or a Jewish state — it cannot be both.
I consider myself highly spiritual, because this deeply defines my life and I believe I have always been progressive. But I do NOT agree with what is being written about a Palestinian State, and since I have a subscription to Tikkun I need to make this clear. My writings are all over the web and I have my own deep feelings about parity and fairness in this unending conflict. I guess some of us are coming in the side door; we are deeply committed to the notion of healing the broken places, which is about tikkun itself.
Marshfield Hills, MA
SHOULD PROGRESSIVES CHALLENGE OBAMA IN THE PRIMARIES?
It’s not clear what the call for a progressive slate of six candidates means. Is it a call for finding up to six different individuals only to each run against Obama for president in six states, or could it be a call for as many progressives as want to run as Democrats for Senate or House seats as alternatives to the party nominees (or both)? Also what six states: big, early, or battleground ones?
ON REDUCING U.S. DEBT
I must confess that the continued focus I see from you on opposing debt reduction is troubling. We are on the edge of bankruptcy as a country by most measures, and even if you don’t agree with “how bad” it is, how does promoting big debt help move us forward? Debt always reduces options, it doesn’t increase options.
I suggest you stop focusing so much on criticizing those who want to reduce the debt, and instead focus on the ways that public funding already does (and can in an increased way) help our economy and our country. What portion of the tax dollar today goes toward the wages or salaries of folks? I don’t know the answer, but it would be a useful thing to know. You have to count all contracting companies who are funded by the government in the equation, not strictly government employees.
Looked at that way, it’s a new light on the discussion, isn’t it? What if we said every tax dollar we collect is distributed like this: 55% goes to wages and salaries of people with jobs today, 10% goes to help folks in foreign countries, 15% seems to disappear into a void of waste, 10% is paid to private financiers and shareholders in private corporations, …. I know that doesn’t add up yet to 100%, and those aren’t the right numbers, but divide the spending pie up into the language that benefits your position, rather than using the language of your opposition, which just makes you continue to be painted in the corner they want you in.
When talking about Medicare and Social Security, keep the discussions separate from income tax revenue and funding. Make it clear that Social Security takes in x, and pays out y in retirement benefits to the elderly, leaving a surplus this year of z. We need to make it more plain that Congress has been borrowing this z number every year for decades now to finance tax cuts and that the income tax equation needs to change dramatically in the near future in order to pay back this z number that we’ve been borrowing from our elderly for so many decades. Of course, we could just tell them that we were lying all along and that rather than borrowing from them we were really stealing, and we have no intention of paying the money back—that’s the discussion that’s underway. We should be framing it like that.
Medicare is a little different, in that we do need to increase the income there or cut the benefits. But separate the discussions into their correct buckets.
Tell me again, why would I want to either increase or continue to carry the debt load I have?
I think we should view the debt and austerity in a spiritual sense. We should be reducing debt, and we should be practicing austerity as part of that process. Notice, I said “we should practice,” meaning we live it. All of us. Do we need to continue to collect taxes? Of course. Should they be higher? Dumb question—of course—how else do we pay the debt we’ve run up? Now, as to reducing our spending, let’s focus on seeing spending through the lens that helps us move forward, not the one that looks backward.
A ONE-STATE SOLUTION
A key reason for the difficulty in moving forward with the two state solution negotiations is that neither side really wants to envision two permanent and independent states. Negotiations related to as many issues as possible can continue, but both Israel and Palestine know that nationalistic battles related to a multitude of intractable issues such as boundaries, citizenship, water rights, the free flow of goods and materials, shared security, and dispersal of people in the settlements and refugee camps, precludes having two fully independent states. An alternative worth promoting is a one state solution composed of two confederated states perhaps called Greater Israel/ Palestine. The United States began as 13 confederated states and the states cooperated sufficiently to lay a foundation for one viable country. I believe we will never see a solution to border and settlement relocation issues and perhaps there is no need to have a final resolution of those issues within a confederated states solution. In that context those persons considering themselves to be Israeli would vote for and elect a parliament and prime minister, and those considering themselves to be Palestinian would vote for their own parliament and prime minister, with all persons living anywhere in Greater Israel/Palestine selecting which Parliament they would support. Joint panels selected by the 2 Parliaments would be charged to work on contentious issues agreed upon by the 2 Parliaments and resolve selected issues for the greater good under the supervision of an executive office developed and mutually agreed upon by a board of the joint panels. Pledges to protect minority religious and nationalistic rights in all areas of a Greater Israel/Palestine would need to be established perhaps following the model of South Africa. In addition I can foresee two land swaps; the return of the Gaza Strip to Egypt and the addition of lands in Jordan now home to Palestinian refugees being included within the confederated state of Palestine. I can also foresee and support the establishment of Jerusalem as an open and shared capital of the 2 confederated states with the Parliaments of both states meeting there. I can’t support the cause of a “Jewish” state and I don’t see those supporting that need as furthering the cause of maintaining a democratic Israel given the inevitable coming of a minority Jewish population within the next 2 generations. Would we really want to see one contentious “Jewish ” non-democratic state as opposed to a democratic Greater Israel/Palestine living and working to further the rightful interests of all of its people? It really is time for a new look at reality and the creation of one viable nation addressing the needs of all of its citizens.
(To return to the Winter 2012 Table of Contents, click here.)