New Book with Yale University Press: The Settlers

The Settlers and the Struggle Over the Meaning of Zionism, by Gadi Taub is now out with Yale University Press.

Anyone who has been concerned or angered by the debate over the future of liberal Zionism… should hurry to read The Settlers.”  Adam Kirsch, Tablet. (Read more…)

Back to Unilateralism

The Israeli press, as well as the Israeli public, are not impressed by the opening of direct negotiations slated for next week. It hardly makes any headlines here. And rightly so. The left tells us Netanyahu will refuse any reasonable peace deal, which is true. The right tells us the Palestinians will refuse any reasonable peace deal, and that too, we should remember, is true.

There are many, from Meretz all the way to Kadima who still believe the Palestinians are just about to sign a final peace accord. What they say behind closed doors, we are told, is that they now regret not accepting Ehud Olmert’s generous peace deal. But they have been saying – always behind closed doors – that they are ready for a full deal for the past 17 years. And somehow whenever they emerge from behind those doors, the deal evaporates.

So maybe there’s a simple explanation for all this. Maybe, it is not a coincidence but a strategy. Maybe, as they keep saying openly, they have not given up on the demand to return the refugees and their offspring into Israel itself (a demand which they call a “right” though there is no such right by international law for refugees, much less for their offspring); Maybe they really don’t intend to give up Jaffa; Maybe it is no coincidence that they refuse to recognize the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in a state of its own.

And there may be a sound logic behind all this. If they still view Zionism as a colonial enterprise, and still believe Israel should not exist, the one sure way to destroy it is not terrorism. It is to refuse partition, and just wait. First, Israel is the only Western democracy that holds a large population devoid of political rights under its rule. If it holds on to the occupation the country’s legitimacy will keep eroding, till our friends too turn their backs on us. Secondly, without partition Jews will eventually turn into a minority in Israel.

Both the radical right and the radical left tell us all this is not as bad as it seems. There are those on the left who tell us that the so called “one-state solution” will create a bi-national, or a non-national democracy, in which both peoples can live peacefully. It takes quite a bit of self-deception, not to say downright dishonesty, to promote this view. One look at Gaza is enough to remember why.

The radical right has its own version of wishful thinking. There are those on the right who would supply us with alternative demographic data, designed to support their enthusiasm for further settlement. Yoram Ettinger is the most vocal among these and he tells us there is nothing to worry about. Demography, he believes, is in fact working in Israel’s favor. He and his colleagues rely on a study conducted in Bar Ilan University called “The Million Person Gap”.

Israel’s senior demographers were unimpressed. Professor Arnon Sofer from Haifa University called it a “politically motivated” study, which is nothing more than self-deception. Professor Sergio DellaPergola, senior demographer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, concluded that “juggling numbers” as the study does will not change the facts on the ground. He found it manipulative and scientifically irresponsible.

So perhaps it is time we look reality in the eye and face two basic facts. The first: contrary to what the left believes the current round of talks to open next week is but another way for two recalcitrant sides to stall. The second: contrary to the right’s beliefs, time is working against Israel. Our international standing is fast eroding, and we are turning into a minority in the land of Israel.

This is why it is time we drop the illusion of negotiations and start planning a unilateral move out of Judea and Samaria. Whatever its results, they would be far better than the alternative. Because if we do not achieve partition into two states, it would be the end of Zionism.

This piece was first published in Hebrew as an op-ed in Yedioth Ahronoth, on August 25, 2010.

Identity and Self-Determination

A people that has already achieved self-determination, that lives in a state which expresses its identity, finds it difficult sometimes to remember what it is like to live without such a privilege. It finds it hard to remember how relevant this right, which is essentially collective, is to private life. Here is a reminder, from a biographical story of a woman I never knew. I saw her recorded testimony at Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Jewish People, in a discussion which actually raised my concern regarding the justification of Zionism: the discussion was about Zionism and the Holocaust. It raised my concern, because of the temptation to reduce Zionism into “the lesson of the holocaust” and to reduce the Holocaust into a kind of prelude to the Zionist revival. But all of this is not what the woman wished to talk about.

Instead, she described a moment she experienced as her happiest at the Second World War’s end. When she boarded an illegal immigrant ship to Israel, she saw a sign that said “Knisa” [Hebrew for “Entrance”], and it was this sign that filled her heart with joy. An Israeli by birth may find it hard to guess what was so exciting. A metaphor, perhaps? Entrance to a new world? To a different future? Entrance to a home? No. None of these. What struck the woman, what literally took her breath away, she explained, was the size of the letters. She never so Hebrew letters so big. Hebrew was for her, until then, she said, a language written in small, private print, embarrassed and always hidden.

This experience, the exhilaration of seeing Hebrew as a functional language of the public sphere, entails a deep Zionist insight: there is no such thing as private self-determination. Privatizing identity sabotages, rather than frees, the individual. This is why the Haskalah (the Jewish Enlightenment) and Emancipation failed. Because there is no such thing as “a Jew in your home and a human being outside it.” If you cannot be a Jew on the street, then you are not a free person.

Part of the movement of the elite in Israel, from values of solidarity to values of individualism, manifests itself as the abandonment of this deep insight. The new, liberal elite offers a different, privatized conception of identity. According to it, an identity does not represent the common within the group, but rather a unique compound to be concocted by each individual. It is like a colorful mosaic that each individual shall create on his or her own. Each one of us shall walk through the big supermarket of identity components (profession, gender, ethnicity, religion, folklore), and be free to assemble his or her own unique identity. Only this way, we are told, can we keep our private self free from collective coercion. Only this way can we complete our political freedom (protected by civil rights) with cultural freedom (which is the option to choose our identity).

However, this is not a new freedom, but an old slavery. It has not protected the individual from the tyranny of the collective; it is the ancient prohibition on Jews stepping – as Jews – out of their home and into the public sphere. It is a return to the emancipation that gave “To Jews as individuals – everything. To Jews as a collective – nothing.” Emancipation did not fail incidentally. The problem was never circumstantial. It failed in principle. It failed because it privatized what is public in essence, because it denied what it claimed to provide. It offered the Jews the right to self-determination provided they would not determine themselves in any public sense. But identity is public, and leaving it in the closet cripples it.

That sign which said “Entrance” really meant “Exit”. For this woman it was the exit of Hebrew and of Judaism, from privacy and secrecy, into the public sphere, literally from darkness to light.

(A Hebrew version of this article was first published in Yedioth Ahronoth, June 30, 2009)

The Flotilla Raid

There once was a very successful campaign in Israel for road safety. Its slogan was, “On the road, don’t be right, be smart.” The day after the flotilla raid last week, more than one pundit in the Israeli press brought up the slogan. We’re right, they said, but why can’t we also be smart?

The raid was by no means smart. Israel blindly stepped into a p.r. campaign orchestrated by Turkey and Hamas, doing enormous damage to its own international image and credibility. But the raid was not an isolated incident. Rather, it is only the latest example of how Benjamin Netanyahu’s prime ministership is steadily eroding Israel’s legitimacy. Read the full piece on The New Republic website…

Alex Yakobson, about the bi-national state solution

“The “one state” under discussion would be a state with a solid Arab-Muslim majority (which would quickly be created by taking advantage of the right of return) in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world. To believe that this state would really be binational you have to assume that the Arab-Palestinian people would agree, over the long haul, to be the only Arab people whose state would not have a clearly Arab character and would not be officially defined as an Arab state or as part of the Arab world.” (Read the full peice…)

Jewish Because it’s Democratic – Israel at 61

When David Ben-Gurion declared, 61 years ago, that “This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State,” the vast majority of those who viewed themselves as enlightened, progressive, peace-seeking, and committed to human rights wholeheartedly agreed with him. (The full piece on Ynet…)

“War Crimes and Propaganda”

A (short of perfect) translation into English of the piece “War Crimes and Propaganda” can be found here. Written by Ma’ariv’s Ben-Dror Yemini, it made quite a splash in Israel. 

Update, April 29, 2009: You may want take a look at this analysis of the numbers of casualties conducted by the IDC, and based exlusively on Palestinian sources. The conclud that contrary to Palestinian claims 63-75% of the casualties were in active military or police service.

The Gaza Campaign – a precondition for partition

If the rockets aren’t stopped, there would be no way to move out of the West Bank. We had better get used to thinking about the conflict in new terms: Palestinian reluctance has been thwarting partition for a decade and a half, and when this campaign is over, unilateralism may again be the order of the day. The full piece is here, on the New Republic website.


To Israelis, right or left, it is clear that a constant barrage of rockets, aimed at Israel’s civilian population cannot be tolerated. This is not a matter of political opinion, nor is it unique to Israel. It is just that Israelis were actually slow to come to that conclusion.  Imagine 12,000 rockets coming down on Milan, or on Dallas, or on Liverpool. Italians, Americans, or the English are not likely to tolerate it for very long. Not as long as Israel has, in any case.
But a strange double standard seems to apply to the case of Israel. Hamas can deliberately target civilians, and not be accountable, and any Israeli response, no matter how carefully targeting military sites, is suspected of being a war crime. You can’t win this game – that is stop the rockets – if one party plays fair, and the other is bound by no rules.
It is sad that we have reached a point where nothing short of a massive strike can do any good. Had the international community, and Israel too, taken more stern measures – an economic boycott, a cutting off of gas supply until the rockets stop – we would have been able to prevent this last resort. But if the Hamas is never accountable, and Israel is responsible to the welfare of Gaza’s citizens while Gaza’s government is not, then Hamas can be the aggressor and still pose as the victim. Israel has withdrawn from Gaza unilaterally. It recognized that the occupation cannot go on. But Hamas has since been bent on teaching Israel that withdrawal is a bad idea. Israel will only get rockets in response.
Under these circumstances an attack on Gaza is not only justifiable. It is also necessary for those who believe that the occupation of the West Bank must end too. Because to get out of there we must first know that it is possible to prevent the barrage of rockets, which may well land on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem if Israel withdraws from these regions too. This is why supporters of peace here are no less in favor of the strike in Gaza. They are not only morally right in thinking so. They are also pragmatic.
It will probably not be long before a general outcry against Israel will be heard world wide. But until then Israel must show Hamas that it is willing to pay a price, even internationally, to reestablish deterrence. Anything short of that will mean surrendering to the enemies of peace.

Published in Corriere Della Sera (Italy) December 28, 2008.

The British Boycott of Israeli Universities

Recently the content of the British UCU list-serve have been made public, exposing the tactics and arguments of the pro-boycott crowd. Since an outsider can’t participate (the list administrator has in fact silenced some of the anti-boycotters within the union by denying them access to the list), I couldn’t get these comments in, but they have been posted on the Engage site, and try to explain why the boycott, far from helping the struggle against the occupation, is actually putting obstacles in its way. Here’s why.