Sorry, Schocken: Israel's Old Left Can't End the Occupation

The truth must be told: The old left won’t evacuate a single settlement, and won't bring us closer to peace.

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
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Spectator waves flag at Maccabiah 2013 opening ceremony.
Spectator waves flag at Maccabiah 2013 opening ceremony. Credit: Nir Keidar
Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

Most Israelis are unaware of the debt they owe Amos Schocken. Without free media there is no democracy and there are no free media without owners who understand their duty as defenders of that freedom.

Amos Schocken does. Unlike many media barons in this country, he knows that owning a newspaper does not imply ownership of the facts the paper publishes or the opinions it expresses. The little fresh air of freedom that we can still breathe in this country has been preserved for us by Schocken, his family and his partners.

At the beginning of the week Schocken attacked me savagely. He did something that the publishers of the New York Times, New Yorker and Washington Post wouldn’t dream of doing. So be it. I respect and like my publisher and accept both his virtues and weaknesses with love. Therefore I won’t respond in a personal manner, but to the issue at hand. I’ll conduct the debate in Haaretz’s style and spirit, and on the basis of the values of openness and culture that Haaretz represents.

There’s no longer any point in continuing the argument on the recognition of the Jewish state. I’ve said my piece on the matter and others have said theirs. The debate has become circular and futile. But there is a point in seeing the argument in a much wider context. Who is better equipped to bring peace, divide the land and end the occupation? The Neturei Karta of the old left, or those who broke out of the ghetto walls and dared to look at the real, cruel, complex world beyond them?

The similarity between the old Israeli left and Neturei Karta is obvious. In both cases we’re dealing with curling up in a closed system that has lost all touch with reality. Both are small communities that isolate themselves from the Israeli public and live in increasing alienation from the Israeli state. In both cases we’re dealing with rigid orders trying to silence any member who asks questions, casts doubt and wonders if the order’s premises are still valid.

I feel sympathy for people with burning faith and solid principles, who are ready to fall on their sword. But the truth must be told: The old left’s “guardians of the city” won’t evacuate a single settlement, won’t bring about the withdrawal from an inch of land and won’t bring peace a single day sooner. Why? Because their systematic disregard of Palestinian rejectionism and the region’s brutality makes them unreliable; their repulsion from the blue-and-white renders them irrelevant. This makes the Israeli public shut its ears to their justified arguments about the settlements, human rights and civil rights. The old left’s inability to prove that it is both Zionist and realistic renders it unable to carry out the great Zionist project of the 21st century – ending the occupation.

Many good people still believe in the old peace, which was tried (and which failed) in Oslo, tried (and failed) in Camp David and tried (and failed) in Annapolis. So they make great allowances for the Palestinians and exert pressure on the Americans to push only the Israelis.

Mine is a different approach. I believe in a different peace. On the basis of my faith that all people are equal and all nations are equal, I insist that the Palestinians also make a contribution to the reconciliation. If they do, fine. If not, it will be our duty to try to end the occupation by ourselves. We cannot fulfill the mission unless we persuade the Israeli majority that we are flesh of its flesh. We will not be able to achieve true peace unless we leave the ghetto walls and deal with reality as it is.

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