Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Pressure on Israel – A Zionist Act?

Should Israelis and Diaspora Jews who believe that the occupation and the settlements are a barrier to peace lobby for US and European pressure on Israel?

When Obama announced his coming visit to Israel, many had hoped for some progress to be made on the peace agreement front. Such progress cannot be achieved without serious pressure on a government that wishes to hold on to and continue settling the West Bank. Some Israelis had put their hopes on Obama – who reportedly neither particularly likes nor trusts Netanyahu – to impose his will. He should, after all, have quite some leverage.

“When I was in Hebron, I was sure no one knew what was going on there. If the mothers knew what their children are doing – so I thought – we’d leave Hebron immediately. But I discovered that wasn’t how it was, because a lot of people don’t think that way. A lot of people, when you tell it to their faces, they just don’t give a shit. … I think international pressure is good. I’m happy about any kind of international pressure. If we are not capable of making the change, then let them lay on the pressure, let Obama lay on the pressure, let all the countries lay on the pressure. Let soldiers who go through stuff talk about it, expose it to Israelis and to the world. Unfortunately it’s of more interest to the world than to Israelis.”

These words of 22-year-old Roee, just out of the army, which appear as monologues together with voices of other young Israelis in A Land to Die For? *, seem not to have reached President Obama. Unless the White House is running a successful disinformation campaign and if we are to believe what various analysts and journalists are telling us, President Obama is coming to Israel without serious intention to sort out the current standstill in the Middle East.

Sentiments such as Roee’s and hopes in the Israeli left that Israel could be “saved” from itself through external pressure are not something new. Often, such voices are criticised by the right wing that sometimes even considers the call for external pressure to be tantamount to treason. Indeed, this has habitually also been the attitude of Diaspora Jews: It does not matter what you think and say at home  – you should not criticise Israel or it’s government in public.

Yet, if holding on to the Occupied Territories is in fact bad for Israel – a view that has recently been made quite clear in the Oscar nominated documentary, The Gatekeepers, and which is shared by many senior members and former members of the Israeli security establishment – then those Diaspora Jews who attempt to stifle any criticism of Israel may have instead of helping Israel actually harmed her.

An amazingly effective AIPAC, a generally strong pro-Israel public opinion in the United States together with the decline in the power of Arab oil means that those who have been hoping for Obama to put real pressure on Israel are likely to be disappointed. Will Europe deliver where the US is failing? It does not have the same leverage over Israel as Israel’s main financial, military and political supporter, the USA. Yet, public opinion in many European countries has in the last years turned anti-Israel. At some point European governments may decide to take notice of what their voters are saying. Europe may yet save Israel from the extreme right road it has been taking for too many years.

Diaspora Jews should ask themselves whether they should continue to automatically toe the Israeli government line rather than listen to what others such as Roee and some of his friends are saying. Pressuring Israel back to sanity may be the most pro-Israel act Jews in the Diaspora could undertake.

* David Ranan, “A Land to Die For? Soldier Talk and Moral Considerations of Young Israelis”, Theo Press, 2013.


  1. I couldn't agree more with your analysis.

    However, it will take many more years and perhaps more generations to change public opinion. Lobbying is fine, but pressure does not seem to be effective at all in Israel.

  2. Tibetan prayer mills and criticism of Israeli settlements share a strikingly similar kind of repetitiveness: Those who indulge in it just go round and round and round and each time repeat in the monotonous way only religious zealots can: The settlements, the settlements, the settlements ...
    The underlying illusion is of course that repetitiveness and skullduggery may to serve as a substitute for substantial argumentation.

    They don`t.

    Connected with the dispute over settlements (which take place mostly in the vicinity of Jerusalem) is a host of other matters, many of them more important than the existence of settlements or otherwise:
    Mutual recognition, of Israel as a Jewish State, and of a Palestinian State;
    Acknowledged (by all Palestinians) leadership of a Palestinian State
    Militarization or demilitarization of a Palestinian State;
    Energy supply;
    Air space;
    Water rights;
    Taxation and banking;
    Status of Jerusalem (no Berlin Wall through Jerusalem, never again!)

    No doubt the list incomplete. But I am fairly certain that if most of these questions were solved, the settlements would prove a very minor obstacle.
    Proposals for the solutions of some of the above problems: Ah, now that would be something worth reading and discussing! But settlements, settlements? How dreary!
    Simple minded appeals to European populations and nations - never known for a particular fondness of Jews anyway - to lay on the pressure, and ever more so, may be welcome by certain elements of these populations, but they are plainly counterproductive and a good deal less than imaginative.

  3. I agree.

    "Settlements!" is the adopted battle cry for the anti-zionists (amongst others).

    As Lord Sacks (British Chief Rabbi)said recently, in the 13th Century Jews were hated for their religion, in the 19th and 20th Centuries Jews were hated for their race and now, since it is no more acceptable to hate for racial reasons, in the 21 Century Jews are hated for their State. The given reason changes - but the message is constant.

    I can assure you, if it wasn't "settlements" it would be something else.

    The overwhelming majority of the Israeli electorate now understand this - hence the recent election campaigns and resultant vote.

    Plus ca change.