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Jewish Left Must Speak Out Against Delegitimizing Israel
Mon, 06/06/2011 - 20:00
Special To The Jewish Week

The Opinion piece by Rabbis David Rosenn and Jill Jacobs on the pride and joy Israel evokes and their intention to march in the Celebrate Israel parade (“Marching For Israel, With Love And Criticism,” May 27) is an important statement by two highly respected colleagues of the Jewish progressive left.

They make clear that the tent of our pro-Israel community is wide enough to encompass many groups striving to make Israel even more democratic and pluralist than it is. Their statement also signals to those on the left that they are welcome and needed in the total effort to uphold Israel; and it signals to those on the right the folly of excluding any group that has such strong Zionist feelings.

But it is disturbing that the article notes uncritically that there are those on the left who find it “especially galling to be celebrating Israel on June 5, the anniversary of the first day of Israel’s occupation of the territories.” These non-participating groups clearly affirm that “the first day” is a day of shame, and by implication, the Six-Day War is a blot on Israel’s moral record.

We believe this is a classic expression of the errors in judgment that have crept into the left over time. Such positions have influenced many to accept the distorted Palestinian anti-Israel narrative and a false moral equivalence between Israeli and Palestinian behaviors. We need the pro-Israel left and colleagues with the credibility of Rabbis Rosenn and Jacobs to refute this rewriting of history that has contributed to the free-fall demonization of Israel around the world.

In truth, on June 5, 1967, the embattled State of Israel faced an act of war — a blockade closing the Straits of Tiran to Israeli naval passage. Imminent was a multi-front war, with Egypt and Syria joined by Iraq and strongly backed by the Soviet Union. Ten days earlier President Nasser of Egypt announced that “our basic objective will be to destroy Israel.”

Israel did not occupy the territories on June 5. That day government leaders approached King Hussein of Jordan — which occupied those territories and did not set up a Palestinian state in 1948 — and urged him not to enter the battle, promising that Israel would make no moves against the West Bank and east Jerusalem if Jordan would stay out. Having been told earlier in the day by Nasser that the Israeli air force had been decimated — in truth, it was the Egyptian air force that had been destroyed — the king joined the Arab front. Jordanian artillery shelled Jewish Jerusalem. Two days later, Israel conquered the Old City of Jerusalem and the West Bank.

There would have been no occupied territories if the Arabs had not attempted to wipe out Israel, or if the Jordanians and Palestinians had not joined that assault.

Israel’s victorious war in self-defense against a genocidal attack should be a matter of praise and moral pride for all time. No serious thinkers question the morality of America’s victory in World War II, though there were Allied mass bombings of civilians and post-war expulsion of millions of Germans, and transfers of other minority populations in Eastern Europe.

Israel carried out no such acts; moreover, it has repeatedly offered to return more than 90 percent of the lands in exchange for peace.

It is true that important blocs in Israel concluded that the wars had opened the door to Israeli settlement in, and even annexation of, the biblical lands of Judea and Samaria. It is also true that Israel has imposed hardships on the Palestinians — though primarily to protect the settlers and its own population against terror and violence from the Palestinians. It is no less true that a majority of Israelis have come together to return the bulk of the lands and even to accept a Palestinian state alongside Israel — if the Palestinians accept the right of the Jewish state to exist in peace.

All of this background has been obscured or erased by the narrative of Israel as a domineering conqueror, guilty of “ethnic cleansing,” “apartheid” and the “deliberate killing of civilians.” The left ought to take the lead in showing the falsity of such labels instead of giving them currency; the consequences of not doing so are enormous.

For example, B’Tselem, the Israeli group dedicated to protect human rights in the conquered territories, accepted the Hamas report that more than half the Palestinian casualties in Operation Cast Lead were civilians; it then supplied these numbers to the UN Goldstone Commission, which in turn used them to support its charge that Israel deliberately targeted civilians and committed war crimes. Detailed investigations afterward showed that only 200 out of the 1,400 casualties were actual civilians, a tragic number to be sure but “by far the lowest ratio in any asymmetric conflict [guerrilla war with combatants embedded in the civilian population] in the history of warfare,” according to Col. Richard Kemp, who headed the British Army in Afghanistan.

These later findings led Richard Goldstone himself to repudiate the charges of targeting civilians. But due to B’Tselem’s and other human rights NGOs’ uncritical acceptance of Hamas claims and the distorted Palestinian narrative, the damage was done. The residue of constantly repeated poisonous portrayals of Israel are toxic — especially among academics, university students, the radical left and mass media.

Legitimating the distorted Palestinian narrative in the name of helping the “underdog” or the “victim” encourages Israel’s unreconciled neighbors to cling to the hope of achieving an ultimate single [read: Arab] state. This must be stopped not only because it corrupts the Palestinians but because it gives legitimacy to extremists who openly declare a desire to destroy Israel and the Jews. The Jewish left must take the lead to refute the moral equivalence between attacks aimed intentionally at civilians and those committed out of self-defense to protect civilians.

A Palestinian state alongside Israel is on the horizon. We are going to have to live with — and maybe one day even celebrate — each other’s moments of national liberation. Israelis will affirm Palestinian independence and statehood, whatever the cost in giving up biblical lands, if the Palestinians run a truly peaceful, demilitarized state. If the Palestinians decisively turn away from war, they will come to appreciate the restoration of Jews to their ancient homeland. But that will never happen as long as Palestinians think and some Jews confirm that it is “galling” to commemorate Jewish survival, or that the miraculous restoration of Israel is illicit and reversible

Much of erosion of Israel’s standing has occurred on the left. That is why the moral progressive left must play a central role in re-legitimating Israel, and thus heal the left, the Palestinians and the moderate forces in Islam. 

Rabbi Yitz Greenberg and Blu Greenberg are longtime educators and authors.

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You miss the Main Point!!! Yehuda-Shomron belong to the Jewish People!!! Historic, Legal, Sacred,Ancient Lands of the Jewish People!!! Hel-loooooo??!!! Hasn't anyone read or studied any real history? any Torah??? Hel-looooo???

The Let is so Out-to-Lunch that they claim a distorted self-righteousness based on completely false claims perpetuated by a hateful Arab world. When will the Jewish Left wake the heck up and learn their own history??!! their own Torah???!!!

And they have the nerve to say what they say which is 100% Jewicidal and they refuse, refuse!!! to hear any different opinion choosing to dismiss it as '"extreme right wing".

To the Jewish Left: You are endangering your own people with your distorted self-righteousness based on wrong information!!! Wake the heck up!!!! Read "From Time Immemorial" by Joan Peters. Read real Torah sources. You wan to believe the lies? That is your opinion. But you have No, repeat NO right to endanger the rest of us with your self-righteous Jewicidal behavior.

B'tselem is an organization financed from abroad that is yet to find Israeli Jews right on any issue. I visited their donor page a while back and was surprised to find the government of Norway and the EU among their biggest donors. At the time, I was not aware of the extend of anti-Israel sentiment in Norway and their connection to anti-Israel 'human rights' NGOs.

There used to be a Zionist Left, Jewish and non-Jewish, but they belong to my parents generation and are fast disappearing from the scene. The New Left, Jewish and non-Jewish, is militantly anti-Israel in words and even more so in deeds.

How to solve the problem of anti-Zionist and stealth anti-Zionist Jewish Left I do not know, but it must at least be faced and exposed so that we no longer delude ourself that we have any place on the Left, unless we preface our support for Israel with the litany of criticism and condemnations.

Of course Yitz and Blu are right -- the Jewish Left must speak out against delegitimizing Israel. (So must the Jewish Right. And that includes, by the way, delegitimizing the Israeli Left, Israeli human rights organizations, universities, etc. etc.) But their criticism of B'Tselem is misplaced.

B'Tselem did not simply accept Hamas reports of Palestinian civilian casualties in Cast Lead. As far as I can see, Hamas itself made various wild, contradictory and changing claims, sometimes pretending that nearly all of the Palestinian casualties were "civilians", and then lauding some of the same people as glorious fighters. Nothing too surprising about that. The Gaza-based "Palestinian Centre for Human Rights" claimed that of 1,417 Palestinians killed, 926 were civilians. B'tselem did not accept these numbers, either. Rather, it found that of 1,396 Palestinians killed, 763 "did not take part in the hostilities". That is not to say that these were all civilians (see below), or that they were deliberately targeted. And B'tselem didn't just make this number up, but provided, as much as possible, names, ages, dates, places, and other details regarding the circumstances of each death.

If B'tselem's report is accurate (and I see no reason to doubt it), it cannot be held responsible for the fact that the Goldstone Commission mis-"used [the numbers reported by 'B'tselem] to support its charge that Israel deliberately targeted civilians.

And despite what the Greenbergs write, investigations afterward did *not* show that "only 200 out of the 1,400 casualties were actual civilians". The IDF itself investigated and found that of 1,166 Palestinians killed, 295 were civilians.

What could account for the difference between B'tselem's and the IDF's numbers? I haven't seen how the IDF came to its conclusions, but one thing that comes to mind: "civilian" and "not actively involved in hostilities" are not synonymous. Thus, if a person who has been associated with or a member of Hamas or another terrorist organization is killed at home, it seems likely that the IDF would not consider him a civilian, while B'tselem would count him among those not actively involved in the hostilities when killed.

It is also likely that the IDF used details in B'tselem's report to confirm that some -- perhaps many -- of those 763 were indeed Hamasniks, and also, where possible, to prove that the civilians who did die were not purposely targeted.

Perhaps most importantly, the Greenbergs' claim that B'tselem uncritically accepts "Hamas claims and the distorted Palestinian narrative" is totally unfounded. First, they wrongly claim that B'tselem passed Hamas casualty figures to Goldstone, and then they wrongly equated this with a wholesale acceptance of "Hamas claims and the distorted Palestinian narrative". There is just no evidence for this at all.

So it seems that, not only is the Jewish Left sometimes guilty of delegitimizing Israel (as the Greenbergs claim), and not only is the Jewish Right often guilty of delegitimizing the Jewish and Israeli Left, but sometimes even the Jewish Left (as in this article) is guilty of delegitimizing the Israeli and Jewish Left. It should all stop.

I was at the Parade. The Zionist left's participation was pathetic. Only about 60 members of the combined Habonim-Dror, Hashomer Hatzair marched as well as about 30 members of the combined Rabbis for Human Rights and Peace Now contingent. There were more left wing counter demonstrators than marchers for the Zionist left. When I see a thousand progressives march for the legitimcy of the existence of the State of Israel then the left will have redeemed itself in my eyes.

So much rationalized, so much deflection, so many lies. Paranoia and brainwashing will be our end. Stop the polarization, embrace peace, know the "unknown" what our Israeli government is doing.

Excellent piece. The arguments are irrefutable. The left is sorely mistaken in supporting and endorsing a narrative that is both historically inaccurate and intentionally misleading. The irony is that in endorsing this massive lie, the left is not helping anyone, least of all the Palestinians. As the Greenbergs perfectly demonstrate, all it does instead is nurture unrealistic expectations of a "return" that will never happen. The Arabs attacked and they lost. End of story. It's time for the Palestinians and their left-wing friends to wake up and look for a realistic peace. There will be no return of the refugees (the "right" of which does not exist anywhere in international law, making it another lie), the future border will not go back to the 1967 cease-fire lines (please do not call them "border"), and Jerusalem will remain united under Israeli sovereignty. Now it's up to the Palestinians to decide whether they want to get on with the program and build their country on what is left of the West Bank... or continue dreaming pointlessly that they will get everything back, only to lose more with each passing year.

Is Meier Dagan a leftist? He promotes the Saudi sponsored Peace Initiative adapted by the Arab League. In this agreement the Arab states would live in Peace and security with Israel based on the 1967 borders, which would be agreed upon by negotiations between Israel and Palestinians. But the confiscation of land and de fecto annexation to Israeli state would have to cease.