This Passover, Jewish Liberals Must Liberate Themselves From Self-righteous Utopianism

We must evaluate whether our commitment to a quick implementation of the two-state solution stands up to critical thought, and make a clear-headed assessment of reality, because freedom without clarity of thought is a chimera.

On Passover eve, Jews have traditionally asked "Mah nishtana balaila hazeh?" (In what sense is this night different than all others?)

I suggest that this year, Jewish Liberals need to ask, In what sense does Passover 2012 differ from earlier Passovers?

On Passover, we need to throw out chametz: we need to rid our souls from outdated conceptions, stale thoughts, entrenched reflexes that have lost their freshness and relevance. This is no less true for Jewish Liberals than for all others.

So we need to think whether our commitment to a quick implementation of the two-state solution stands up to critical thought, and make a clear-headed assessment of reality, because freedom without clarity of thought is a chimera.

We need to have a hard look at our reality. The fact is that Israels voters have kicked the peace camp out of the Knesset. We need to ask why we have failed politically.

We had three main arguments for a quick implementation of the two-state solution.

The first was that time is against Israel: The longer we wait, the lower the chances for a moderate Palestinian leadership that will go for the two-state solution.

Our second argument was that unless the two-state solution was implemented, the greater land of Israel would become either a bi-national state or an apartheid regime.

Our third argument was that the occupation is immoral. We pounded on this incontrovertible fact again and again

Israels electorate didnt buy any of the three arguments.

To the first it replied: If the situation is so fragile, we wont take the risk of closing a deal with a moderate leadership, and then get Hamas at the 1967 borders.

The second question was bypassed by an intermediary position brilliantly analyzed by Noam Sheizaf: If you look at the situation calmly, it is clear that Israels current interest is to maintain the status quo. Annexing the West Bank would lead to international problems; retreating to the 1967 borders is too risky. Ergo, the status quo of the occupation is the rational choice by default.

It was our moralistic stance that backfired the most. The left became a hated minority, and it is easy to explain psychologically why. Abraham Maslow, one of the founders of humanistic psychology, once argued that human needs are organized in a pyramid: First we take care of food, shelter and safety; after that we want to belong to a group; then we want to achieve status in this group; and only then we care about self-actualization and strive for lofty ideals.

Israelis accuse the left of demanding of them to think of lofty ethical ideals when they feel that the most basic need of safety is not assured.

It is, therefore, no wonder that they have not listened to us. The hatred for human rights organizations stems from this mistake: You cant ask people to compromise on their security in the name of lofty ideals.

All democracies compromise under terror: Germanys democracy was in serious danger during the wave of terror in the 1970s. The U.S. has been guilty of serious human right violations ranging from waterboarding through extraordinary rendition (essentially the outsourcing of terror to states that don't care much about human rights). Obama has ordered more targeted killings than Israel has in all of its history. And while some questions are being asked, I havent seen the huge moral outrage against these practices that are so often directed at Israel.

It is time to regroup and to rethink what realistic position Jewish Liberals can take at this juncture in history.

We might take some pointers from Sari Nusseibeh, the Palestinian philosopher and long-time peace activist. In his unsettling book What is a Palestinian state worth?, he argues that given Jewish history, from pogroms to the Holocaust to the second Intifada, it is completely unrealistic to expect Israel to give up security control over large parts of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley.

He calls up on his compatriots to give up on the idea of a Palestinian state for the time being; to accept that they will live without political rights for the foreseeable future, and to focus on their human rights.

What does accepting Nusseibehs realism mean in practice for Jewish Liberals?

Several options have been proposed: One is the plan of Atid kachol-lavan (A Blue-White Future), headed by former Shin Bet chief and Israel Navy Commander Ami Ayalon, high-tech entrepreneur Orni Petrushka and Attorney Gilead Sher, who negotiated with the Palestinians for Ehud Barak's former government.

As Akiva Eldar reported in these pages, this movement proposes constructive unilateral steps that would gradually implement Palestinian self-rule. The plan includes an immediate end to settlement construction outside the big settlement blocs, and putting into place an evacuation and compensation plan for settlers outside this bloc.  

Another option is the two-phased peace plan proposed by former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, the newly elected leader of Kadima. The first phase of this plan calls for a de-militarized Palestinian state on 60  percent of the West Bank, to include more than 99 percent of the Palestinian population. At the same time, negotiations for a final status agreement would continue.

These are eminently reasonable proposals. Palestinians no longer believe in Israels will for peace, because they keep seeing settlement expansion in the midst of territory that is supposed to be theirs. They suffer enormously, because their freedom of movement, their dignity and their ability to develop their economy is severely limited due to the few thousand settlers living outside the large blocs. In addition to the suffering this inflicts on them, it also increases the probability that some Palestinian groups will return to violence.

The aforementioned proposals would make sure that the status quo respects Palestinian human rights, and that the continued expropriation of land stops.


But these ideas also address some of mainstream Israelis basic fears. Most Israelis do not want to have Palestinian control that reaches to the 1967 borders, when one of the major two Palestinian parties, Hamas, continues to be committed to the destruction of Israel.

As I have argued many times, Hamas intransigence, its history of cruel violence, and the blatantly anti-Semitic language of its charter is one of the major reasons Israelis are not willing to entrust their security to a Palestinian government that might at some point be formed by Hamas.

Will this, in the long run, save the two-state solution? Nobody can know. All we can say for sure is that it addresses mainstream Israelis justified security concerns without caving in to Israels radical right that believes Israel should make Palestinians miserable to make them leave. It may lower the hatred inside Israels society, and work against the growing racism exhibited by the Netanyahu coalition.

The Passover task for Liberal Jews this year is to move from utopian self-righteousness to realistic and pragmatic thinking within a human rights framework.

We must show Israelis that we are capable of addressing their concerns no less than those of Palestinians.

Otherwise we will remain a fringe phenomenon that leaves the making of actual history to the likes of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and MK Aryeh Eldad – and this is a defeatist position that must be left behind like the meat-pots of Egypt.

Hamas rally - AP - December 2011