Israel, Chilled Speech, and…
A Tail Wagging Two Dogs

Israel_and_Palestine_Peace.svg

A peace movement poster: Israeli and Palestinian flags and the words peace in Arabic and Hebrew.

My hope is that this post will encourage a frank but civil debate about the future of Israel/Palestine. Such a debate cannot occur, however, absent robust criticism of the government of Israel. You have no doubt been aware of occasions when something comes up that is said to have a “chilling effect” on free speech. In other words, people who are free to speak censor themselves for one reason or another. On this issue, the reason is often the absolute certainty that anything short of unstinting support for everything Israel does will bring down on the speaker heated claims of anti-Semitism. Those who have allowed their speech to be chilled on a matter as important as this have no one to blame but themselves. I am among them. I very much regret that so many of us, who are not extremists on this matter, have long been silenced by fears of being labeled anti-Semitic. I am a pretty dedicated U.S. First Amendment, Canadian Charter Article 1 person. So I am particularly ashamed of how I have allowed my own exercise of those rights to be chilled by this threat. I can only imagine how many more who wish for peace have also stood by quietly. That ends now. Criticizing Israel’s policies is not anti-Semitic and we should not be deterred by allegations that it is. Our silence only leaves the field to the fanatics.

The great challenge to those of us who want most of all to increase the prospects for peace but see that only one side of the story is being told is to avoid simply venting our anger and frustration so that we feel righteous. That is selfish. It helps nothing to highlight the wrongs of one adversary in an effort to prove that it is the other who is always right. That kind of conversation has been going on about Israel/Palestine for most of my long life. Far more important is the question of finding a solution that everyone can live with.

The matters I highlight will emphasize what I see as Israeli wrongdoing. That is not because Palestinians have been free of it. It has been said often, and accurately, that there is more than enough blood to go around in this conflict. Said, but not yet acted upon. I emphasize Israel’s wrongs simply because I am writing mostly to Americans and Canadians, who almost never hear that side of the issue through their media or their political leaders.

The pre-determined outcome of the talks can be spotted in the difference in language of Tzipi Livni (second right) and Saeb Erekat (right).' Photograph: Charles Dharapak/AP

The pre-determined outcome can be spotted in body language of Tzipi Livni (second right) and Saeb Erekat (right). 8/13 Photograph: Charles Dharapak/AP

stephen-harper-and-benjamin-netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in Jerusalem 1/19/14 (Sebastian Scheiner/The Associated Press)

I am prompted to break my silence by three recent events and developments. First, Prime Minister Stephen Harper just returned from a trip to Israel where he finished burying any prospect that Canada could play a constructive role in the Middle East. Second, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is respectfully fumbling around with yet another round of Israeli/Palestinian negotiations that will go nowhere. The only things that will go anywhere are the contemporaneous Israeli plans to build even more settlements on Palestinian land. Finally, I have had enough of Israeli threats to bomb another sovereign country.

Two of the dogs that the Israeli tail has succeeded in wagging for years are my countries. In the U.S., the conventional wisdom is that anything short of unwavering support for everything the Israeli government does is tantamount to political suicide. I accepted that view, until someone recently pointed out that it is not accurate. Jewish journalist Peter Beinart reminds us that in the last election, Mitt Romney attacked Barak Obama for not going along with Israel on the question of Iran, echoing Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for a military attack if sanctions did not soon cause Iran to abandon its nuclear program. In the election, 69% of Jewish voters chose Obama. The margin on the issue of Iran was 58%-26%. These numbers suggest that leaders of prominent American Jewish organizations now lobbying for sanctions to scuttle preliminary negotiations with Iran are not simply wrong on the issue. They do not speak for American Jews.

The great challenge to those of us who want most of all to increase the prospects for peace but see that only one side of the story is being told is to avoid simply venting our anger and frustration so that we feel righteous. That is selfish. It helps nothing to highlight the wrongs of one adversary in an effort to prove that it is the other who is always right.

 http://justworldbooks.com/

http://justworldbooks.com/

I offer most of the criticism of Israel through the voice of an Israeli Jew, Miko Peled. I urge you to set aside an hour to watch, posted below, both segments of a talk he recently gave in Vancouver, B.C. To be sure, his condemnation of the actions of Israel is strong, but the most important point comes near the end. He challenges the notion that a Two State Solution is still possible and urges support for a One State Solution. That solution calls for abandoning the idea of a Jewish state in which half the population is not Jewish, in favor of one democratic country where Jews, Arabs, and Palestinians all have equal rights. That is certainly not present day Israel. I do not know whether Peled has the answer, but his is an idea that ought at least to be heard and discussed.

Although Peled is above all seeking a non-violent change of government and structure in Israel, he sometimes uses language that I do not consider helpful to his goal. It is, however, far from the hate speech that his virulent critics claim it is. I will refer you to one of those critics and you can do your own comparison. In particular, I find the terms “apartheid”, and “terrorist” unhelpful for use by anyone. Although I see strong and quite disturbing similarities between the relation of the Israeli government to Palestinians and the relation of the late unlamented apartheid government of South Africa to its black citizens, the use of the inflammatory term “apartheid” does nothing to further the understanding and dialogue that Palestinians and Israelis who long for peace deserve.

Also counterproductive is the now virtually meaningless term “terrorist”, one of Israel’s favorite words. The story of Israel contains acts by both Jewish and Arab terrorists. But today governments around the world throw the term around so recklessly that I would recommend it be excised from all international dialogue. Understanding and real dialogue are no more advanced by calling your adversary a terrorist than they are by labeling his regime apartheid.

So, after a bit more introduction, I will let Miko Peled speak for himself in the videos. I encourage you to conduct your own inquiry and come to your own conclusions about what he says.
As for me, there are two aspects of Israel’s conduct which I find particularly disturbing.

Settlements Since 1967, Israel has illegally occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank and Gaza, in defiance of international law, including that expressed by the very entity that gave the nation legitimacy in the first place. UN Security Council Resolution 242, unambiguously calls for withdrawal of Israeli forces from those territories. The resolution also calls for territorial integrity and independence of States in the area, recognizing their right to live in peace, free from threats or acts of force. Israel reads the second provision to mean that as long as someone occasionally lobs a rocket into greater Israel, or bombs a bus, they are free to ignore the first provision and not only continue to govern Gaza as a giant outdoor prison, but to continue to build settlements in the occupied West Bank. That tortured legalistic reasoning would not earn any law student more than a B- but it is apparently good enough for the U.S. and Canada. They meekly protest the settlements occasionally, though Harper could not be persuaded to mention them on his historic visit. I particularly invite you to compare press coverage of his visit to the Gaza Refugee Camp in Jordan to Peled’s first hand account of conditions there. In short, the current settlement construction is the most direct evidence that Secretary Kerry is wasting his time. Israel is perfectly willing to talk, and occasionally free a few prisoners, for another fifty years and change nothing. Why not?

palestine_loss_of_landProportionality Although the policies of the government of Israel have little or nothing to do with the magnificent faith tradition of Judaism, I continue to be amazed at its misunderstanding of proportionality. Leaders should not have to be reminded that the biblical injunction “an eye for an eye” is a limiting principle— no more than an eye for an eye. If rockets kill four of your people, you are not permitted to send fighter jets in to blow up fifty children. One may even hope that a reconsideration of some of these early bible principles will one day result in giving life to the admonition in Leviticus 19:33-35: If a stranger lives with you in your land, do not molest him. You must count him as one of your own countrymen and love him as yourself—for you were once strangers in Egypt.
That is all I have to say for now. It has been a long silence and I must, as we all must, give thought to how to forcefully but respectfully criticize, even in the face of the unjust accusations that will almost certainly follow. Again, my plea is that you make your own factual inquiries, ignoring what seems to you to be only rhetoric, and do what you can to promote a just resolution of this conflict. It is long past time. Here I simply offer one voice you may not have heard.

Credibility I believe that Miko Peled is a peacemaker who accurately describes the situation in Israel and seeks to promote a One State Solution—a secular democratic Israel where Jews and Palestinians live together peacefully as equals. I believe that he has a greater degree of credibility than do his most outspoken opponents. Make your own judgment. One way is to read and compare what he writes in his 2012 book The General’s Son, Journey of an Israeli in Palestine (www.justworldbooks.com) with the reaction to him expressed in a Zionist site called War to Mobilize Democracy (www.netwmd.com/blog/2012) headlined “Anti-Israeli hatemonger Miko Peled speaks at McMaster University”.

I recommend this process because I am a trial lawyer. While unfortunately, the actors in the justice system do not always avoid divisive language, lawyers, judges, and juries do make decisions about credibility. They also evaluate evidence to determine what conclusions flow from the reasonable inferences that may be drawn from it. When this process works well, it leads to an outcome that the adversaries and the public can live with. The case is usually settled. It is just that kind of outcome that Israel and Palestine so desperately need. In the trial of “Israel’s Policy Toward Palestinians Needs to Change” vs. “Everything is Fine As it Is”, I represent the Plaintiff and my first witness is Miko Peled.

Unless Miko Peled is not telling the truth in his book, his father was General Matti Peled, a staunch Zionist, who was praised for his leadership and courage in Israel’s 1948 and 1967 wars. He was at one time military governor of Gaza, chief of logistics for the Israeli army, and a member of the Knesset. He later became a peace advocate, learned Arabic, served as a Professor of Arabic Studies, and engaged in peace talks with many high ranking figures in the Palestine Liberation Organization. When asked why he changed, Matti Peled insisted he had done no such thing: When Israel’s strategic objective called for war, I supported the war, and when peace was possible, I called for peace.

General Peled was also one of the founders of Gush Shalom, and Israeli support group for conscientious objectors. When George W. Bush sent everyone a check a few years ago, I enjoyed endorsing mine directly over to that organization. My tax dollars at work!

Miko Peled

One State Two State Interview with Miko Peled 2013

In 1948 Miko’s mother, Zika, was offered a house, one of thousands confiscated without compensation from Palestinians. She refused it. Alice Walker writes in the forward to the book that Zika Peled found it unbearable that she might be sipping coffee in the home of another woman who was now, frightened and hungry, in a refugee camp.

In 1997, Miko’s niece, Smadar, was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber. When someone asked Smadar’s mother, Nurit, about hunting down and killing the perpetrators of this unspeakable crime, she said “Don’t talk to me about killing any more people.” Nurit has spoken and written about reconciliation almost every day since.
By 1980, Miko’s father had convinced him that the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was wrong. But Miko, a Zionist, was convinced that Israel needed the best army possible. He volunteered for the IDF’s Special Forces commando unit and earned the right to wear its elite symbol, the red beret.
Miko was raised in Israel, moved to California, and has made numerous trips to his homeland. One trip was in support of a project he organized, “Walk for Wheelchairs”, to deliver 500 wheelchairs to Israeli war victims and 500 to their Palestinian counterparts. Only the delivery to the Palestinians proved difficult. After that, violating Israeli law, he has crossed many times into Palestinian areas that Jews are told are dangerous, to listen to and talk with both perpetrators and victims of violence. In the course of these visits, he has observed and reported on the reality of the Israeli occupation.

It is his statements, not his opinions that I ask you to investigate. As one relatively minor example, are there nicely paved highways from A to B, reserved only for use by Jews? Do Palestinians have to travel three times as far on poor roads to get from A to B? If it is true, what it means, if anything, is up to you.
I suggest that Miko Peled has the credentials to be accepted as a more credible witness than Gary Gerofsky, who wrote about Peled’s speech at McMaster University on a site called the War to Mobilize Democracy. (A notice above the piece advises of another feature article: Sign the New Mexico No More Gun Control Petition.) Gerofsky wrote that the Jewish group that invited Peled had “mocked civilized values by bringing in a speaker urging for the elimination of the Jewish state”, and called Peled an “anti Israeli hatemonger”. He went on to chastise the university for allowing Miko Peled to speak and for refusing to support “our Western and Canadian values” and instead giving the stage to “radical Islamic values.” If Gerofsky is remotely credible, Peled has sure picked a strange way sell his book. Anyone in the McMasters audience who looked for endorsement of the violent elimination of Israel from Peled in The General’s Son would surely be disappointed. What they will find is an argument for peaceful elimination of an exclusively Jewish state that confines millions illegally and denies equality to half of the people who live within its borders. To be sure, the elimination of that state will require striking current property laws that provide a legal façade for confiscation of Arab land and replacing building Jewish settlements on it. It would also require repeal of the Law of Political Parties (1992) that bans from the political process any party that directly or by implication denies the existence of the state of Israel as the state of the Jewish people AND as a democratic state.

Both Canada and the U.S. are well on their way to having populations that are more than half represented by people of color. Would our famous Canadian apathy be shaken at all if Parliament enacted a statute barring any political party that refused to acknowledge that Canada is, at one and the same time, a democracy and white Christian one at that? I doubt that even Stephen Harper would table such a measure, although on his Mideast trip he expressed support for the government of Egypt. You know, the one that overthrew the democratically elected Muslim party and declared it a “terrorist” organization. Harper loved the new “stability”.

It is probably not fair to select one who uses the extreme language of Gerofsky for comparison with Peled. Please look for a more reasonable critic. I simply wanted to illustrate how difficult it is at the moment to conduct a thoughtful discussion.
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In spite of the bleak picture he paints, Peled, in his sixties, is certain that peace will come in his lifetime. Perhaps that will take the same kind of imagination that creates a midrash. The construction of a midrash is a well know practice of Jewish scholars. In broad terms, one takes a literal story from scripture and extracts from it an alternative meaning. An image of peace in Palestine/Israel might be seen through a midrash of the Christian gospel’s familiar account in Luke, Chapter 9 of the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Picture Jesus and the apostles as today’s Israeli Jews—fewer in number but possessed of great power and wisdom. Picture the families of Palestine as the multitude—hungry, unorganized, but yearning for understanding and possessed of the potential to do great things. The initial position of the apostles roughly describes today’s situation. They wanted the hungry to just go fend for themselves. “We don’t have even enough for ourselves”, they said. “What? Only five loaves and two fish for the twelve of us? Can’t they leave us to this little place of our own? Let them fend for themselves.” But Jesus knew it would work. You know the rest. There was enough for everyone and more. Can you imagine the relationship of good will that this began?

There is no historically certain proof that there ever was such an event on a hillside near Bethsaida, much less that five thousand people were fed from five loaves and two fish. There is no proof that there ever was Good Samaritan who bridged the gap between hostile tribes. The value of a midrash does not depend on such proof. As Peled points out, there is no definitive proof of King David’s existence, much less that thousands of years ago he lived in the place where Arabs are now being expelled so that a “City of David” can be constructed. Existentially, who was present in Palestine first, and in what numbers, and for how long is irrelevant. Neither the God of Abraham’s son Isaac, nor the same God of his son Ishmael “gave” the land to anyone. Nevertheless, there are millions of people who are in fact together on that land. They bring diverse myths and stories from their culture and faiths. The important thing is that most of them long for peace and reconciliation. For that to come about, the accepted western narrative must be challenged.

Shalom

As-Salaam Alaikum


 

Videos of  Miko Peled Presentation recently delivered in Vancouver, B.C.






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