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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Supporting Israel and the Palestinians: The two faces of Progressive Zionism

The Union of Progressive Zionists, Ameinu and other progressive Zionists are justifiably upset by the crude attempt of Mort Klein and the ZOA to oust them from the ICC, or to change the ICC charter so as to stifle dissent. Good sense and tolerance triumphed over partisan grandstanding and hysteria, and the attempt was quashed. The controversy did no good for Zionism, though it generated publicity for ZOA, UPZ, Ameinu and the Breaking the Silence group sponsored by UPZ.

The controversy epitomized the dilemma of progressive Zionists: how to be logical in an illogical political arena. The heart of our argument is that one cannot support self-determination for one people, without supporting self-determination for the other. The argument is logical, and it cuts both ways. It does not suit political reality, which is dominated by partisans of each side.

Ameinu and UPZ set themselves up for Mort Klein and Zionist extremists by inviting the Breaking the Silence group, and Ameinu got themselves in more trouble when they published an article comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa. Everyone understands that Mort Klein and ZOA are "waiting for progressive Zionists at the corner," ready to pounce on any bit of evidence that you are not loyal to Israel. Equally, anti-Zionists are eager to exploit Breaking the Silence and the legitimate internal Israeli Zionist controversy about the occupation and about IDF human rights violations. The movement to delegitimize Israel has built itself in large part by exploiting legitimate internal criticism of Israel, taking it out of context, and using it for their own ends, to demonize Zionism and its supporters.

Breaking the Silence provides legitimate and necessary internal criticism in Israel. They show real acts of real IDF soldiers, though these acts are not necessarily representative. This inhumane behavior must be changed, and the occupation must be ended as soon as possible. This criticism can only get the attention and support of mainstream Israelis and Zionists, and really bring about a change, if Breaking the Silence, MachsomWatch and other critics make it clear that they are "on our side." Few Zionists in Israel or the Diaspora will listen to anyone who is lending legitimacy to terrorist acts or to those who announce the intention of destroying Israel.

If I whisper to you, "You have a spot on your tie," I am a friend who is trying to help. If I get up in front of an audience of thousands and say "Hey look at him, he has a spot on his tie," then my "help" will be viewed differently. As soon as Breaking the Silence left Israel and took their case to Europe and the USA, they lost their legitimacy. They are perceived as enemies by ordinary Israeli Zionists and can no longer be effective advocates of change in Israeli policy or the IDF. In the context of Israeli society, where the need to defend against terror attacks is understood, Breaking the Silence does not need to make that point. They have to point out senseless brutality and dehumanization, whether these are the result of the occupation, or of stupidity and incompetence of individual soldiers. But when they bring the same message to a campus in California, to people who perhaps never heard of the Hamas or of Islamic Jihad suicide squads, they have taken their message out of context. Instead of being a means of improving Israeli society, it becomes a means of destroying Israel. Progressive Zionists are Zionists. We must never cross the line between trying to fix what is wrong with Israel, and giving aid and comfort to those who want to destroy Israel.

Progressive Zionist groups have to find a way to support Israel and Palestine rather than alienating both supporters of Israel and supporters of Palestine. We have to find a way to criticize Israel's actions without imperiling the existence of Israel, adopting the rhetoric of anti-Zionists and questioning the legitimacy of Zionism. We have to find a way to support human rights of Palestinians, and to criticize Israeli human rights violations, without ignoring the human rights of Israelis and the human rights violations of groups like Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Fatah Al-Aqsa. Checkpoints and security fences are unpleasant and may give rise to human rights violations. Suicide bombings are most certainly crimes against humanity. Incitement to genocide is a crime against humanity. Self-determination, whether for Jews or Palestinians, is enshrined in international law. Delegitimizing a member state of the United Nations is not "humanitarian," and ignoring the genocidal program of the reactionary Hamas is not "progressive."

It is easy to fall in with the crowds of people of different persuasions who bandy about slogans in the propaganda war. It is not easy to support both sides, but it is not impossible.

It is possible to support Zionism without supporting the settlements. It is possible to criticize Israel without using catchwords like "apartheid" and "war criminals." It is possible to support Israel without ignoring settler extremism. It is possible to explain that the settlements are wrong, that the occupation, a slightly different issue, is the result of a conflict that has been going on for nearly 100 years, and that the repressive security is a cruel necessity dictated by the recent rampage of terror. In a better world, soldiers would all be officers and gentlemen (or women), but we know they are not. The Palestinians forced a war on us. In wars one uses soldiers, and that is how soldiers often behave. We should not be content with that behavior, but we can't stop fighting terror attacks because of criticism of that behavior, nor can we surrender to the Islamic Jihad and Fatah Al Aqsa brigades.

It is possible to support Palestinian rights without condoning or ignoring terror, corruption and incitement or miminizing the genocidal intent of extremist groups.

At Ameinu,
Christopher Macdonald-Dennis wrote

"It is time for us to take back the term “pro-Israel” from groups such as AIPAC and ZOA."
We need to do that urgently. Labor Zionism built the state of Israel. We can't let the ZOA pose as the only defenders of Israel. We have to demonstrate our support for the State and for Zionism, which are the basis for our opposition to the occupation. Otherwise we will not provide an effective alternative within the Zionist polity. We are not likely, however, to regain our rightful place by labeling Israel an apartheid state, or feeding Breaking the Silence atrocity films to the propaganda mills of PSM and Wheels of Justice. There is a reason why this group was sponsored by anti-Zionists in Europe and at some USA campuses.

The author continued:

"We need to name those groups for what they are: pro-Likkud or pro-rightist."

Zionists need more urgently to expose groups like PSM and Wheels of Justice for what they are, pro-terror and genocide, not pro "human rights." The Hamas and Islamic Jihad are not "progressive" groups or causes. They need to be exposed as well.

If you "name those groups," those Zionists who differ from you, as pro-rightists for "what they are," then expect that they will name you as well for "what you are" from their point of view. If you call them names, they will start calling names too. They will yell about "self-hating Jews" and "traitors," try to delegitimize you and continue the "Jewish wars." If you want to "name the names" and read off the list of the 57 (or however many) Likud agents in the ZOA, McCarthy style, then don't be shocked if they continue their own witch hunts. The real enemy is not other Zionists. We disagree with their point of view about the occupation and many other issues, but they are not the ones sending suicide bombers to Eilat. Either we will have unity on basic issues and survive, or we will destroy ourselves in dogma eat dogma fights.

If we want progressive people to support Jewish rights, we cannot be deaf to legitimate criticism, however much it hurts. However, if we want Zionists in Israel and abroad to hear our critique and concerns, and to support Palestinian rights, we can't be deaf to their criticism either.

Ami Isseroff

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