A reader reminds us: delegitimization works both ways
05/11/2011 - 08:52
James Besser

In this hyper-polarized age it's always surprising to hear a controversial position expressed civilly – especially on an emotional issue like the Middle East.

It happened today; a self-described “observant, yeshiva-educated, Jewish educator who made aliyah to a country I deeply love” commented on the recent Jewish Week op-ed headlined Response To Delegitimizers Starts From Within.

(To read the full comment scroll to the bottom of the page.)

"Delegitimization is a tactic with which the Jewish Zionist community should be deeply familiar, because many of our number have employed it against the Palestinians,” this reader wrote. “Whether one agrees or not about whether their claims are legitimate, it is an undeniable fact that major streams of Zionists thought have sought to undermine and negate the idea that there is a Palestinian people who have a right to self-determination in the land of Palestine. Competing narratives; competing delegitimization efforts.”

It struck me as a good point, but not without its flaws.

There's a distinction here: I haven't heard any major Jewish or pro-Israel group arguing that there's no such thing as the “Palestinian people,” and that's not the position of this or any previous Israeli government. The Palestinian Authority sometimes and Hamas most of the time denies the historic connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel.

Still, this is something I hear more and more in right-of-center pro-Israel circles: the idea of a “Palestinian people” is an invention of the Israel haters; the people now living on the West Bank and in eastern Jerusalem – and I don't mean the settlers – don't really belong there.

Therefore, there's nothing really to negotiate. A Palestinian state? Why, if there are no real Palestinians?

Our commenter goes on: “Whatever perception there was about Jewish sincerity in accepting the partition has long since been destroyed by Israel's policies of annexation and settlement. I have a deep attachment to Judea and Samaria. I know my Tanakh and Jewish history. And I have dear friends who live in communities there. But the settlements completely undermine Israel's credibility as a state willing to abide by the world community's decision that there be two states for two peoples. If we accept partition, then why build communities on land that was to be the Palestinian state? If the issue is security, why put communities in hostile areas that require an even greater deployment of soldiers?”

The writer, it seems to me, goes too far in portraying settlements as an intentional policy mean to expand Israel. Under some governments, that probably was the case, but I'm much more inclined to agree with Israeli journalist Gershom Gorenberg, who writes in The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977 that today's settlements dilemma is the cumulative result of years of indecision, political timidness and inertia, all exploited by those determined that Israel keep all the land.

Still, I think our comment writer makes a valid point: if we want to fight the delegitimization of Israel – the effort to deny that there's a place in the world for a Jewish state and Jews have a connection to the land that goes back millennia - then our leaders have to do a better job rejecting those in our community who say there are no Palestinians, suggesting there's nobody else with a connection to this part of the world but us, nobody else with a narrative that needs to be addressed in finding a solution to the conflict.

Food for thought.

 

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