Stop the Rockets, Stop the Settlements

The conflict with Hamas over Gaza could be long and ugly. American progressive Jews should push for a settlement freeze to make international support for Israel in these days much stronger.

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie
Eric H. Yoffie
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The West Bank settlement of Ariel, with 20,000 inhabitants, is not on the list of settlement blocs Israel would never forfeit in a two-state deal. Credit: Tess Scheflan
Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie
Eric H. Yoffie

Progressive Jews in America need to be doing two things right now: Supporting Israel’s campaign to stop the Hamas rockets, and calling on Israel to freeze settlement building.

Jews who are dovish on Israel are confused. They refuse to give up their hopes of peace and are encouraged by signs of moderation from PA President Mahmoud Abbas. But they are distressed that the Kerry initiative has collapsed; appalled by the kidnapping and killing of the three Israeli teens; revolted by the torture and murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir; and dismayed by the militant radicalism of Hamas. And they are uncertain about what constitutes a progressive agenda at this time.

My advice to them: Keep it simple. If peace is to be possible, rockets cannot be raining down on Israeli cities and settlements cannot continue to expand. For now, focus on that.

First, rockets. With missiles flying, no Israeli government of the right or the left will agree to a two-state solution or to any other kind of peace. Opposition leader Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Netanyahu are speaking the same language on Gaza, and American Jews, whether doves or hardliners, should support them.

During the years of Hamas rule in Gaza, the same sickening cycle of violence has repeated itself endlessly. Rockets are fired into Israel by Hamas or its proxies, Israel’s army responds, a ceasefire is reached, quiet prevails for a limited time, and then Hamas begins the cycle all over again. In the meantime, the world becomes accustomed to a higher level of violence, Israeli civilians in the south continue to be terrorized, and Israeli children continue to be traumatized. And the reach of the rockets continues to expand, to the point where more than a third of Israel’s population is now in range.

This cannot continue. There is no “reasonable” level of rocket attacks. Millions of Israelis cannot be fleeing to shelters once or twice every day. Better to have the Iron Dome anti-missile system than not, but Jews did not come to Israel to depend on it for their daily survival. Israelis are sick to death of calls for “restraint” by diplomats who say how terrible the rockets are and then go about their business. In view of the more than 350 missiles that have been fired from Gaza just this week, Israel has demonstrated ample restraint; too much in fact. If a single missile had been fired a week ago into San Diego from Mexico, the United States would already have responded with overwhelming force, with the full support of the American people.

My hope is that a political solution can be found to end the rocket fire. Under any circumstances, Israel must do everything possible to avoid the death of innocents. But if diplomacy does not work and ground forces are required, so be it. Israel must do what is necessary to protect her citizens. Zionism came into being to “normalize” Jewish existence, at least in the political sense of the term, and there is nothing normal about living next to a neighbor who can fire upon your civilian population with impunity.

Israel’s Prime Minister has shown admirable toughness so far, but his greatest test is yet to come. Promises to bring quiet have been made, and with Hezbollah and ISIS watching, they must be kept. My hope is that Netanyahu will meet the challenge and will have the backing of American Jews, both liberal and conservative, in doing what is necessary to assure the safety of Israel’s citizens.

Second, settlements. Israel’s settlement policy is an utter disaster. It has no supporters of consequence anywhere in the world. It has caused tension with the American government and infuriated Israel’s European allies. It has played into the hands of Israel’s most dangerous enemies, Hamas included, by allowing them to divert attention from their own radical intentions to settler extremism and Israeli occupation. And it has angered those moderate elements of the Palestinian Authority with which political arrangements leading to peace might still be possible.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, speaking with admirable candor at the Herzliya Conference in June, said it clearly: “I’m sick of being politically correct,” she declared. “It’s time to say things exactly as they are: The settlement enterprise is a security, economic and moral burden that is aimed at preventing us from ever coming to an arrangement.” In other words, and this from one of Israel’s lead negotiators with the Palestinians, the settlers—who play a major role in the current Israeli government—pursue their policies with the specific intent of preventing a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Of course, we know this. Everyone knows this, American Jews included. We know that settlement is not a Zionist policy but an anti-Zionist policy, one that undermines the “normalization” that is at the heart of Zionist values.

Livni called for construction in the settlements to be frozen. Understandably reluctant to criticize Israel, American Jews are nonetheless firmly in Livni’s camp. They know that a freeze is right and also politically wise. The conflict with Hamas over Gaza could be long and ugly, and with a settlement freeze in place, it will be far easier to build the coalitions of support, in America and abroad, that Israel will require.

Stop the rockets, stop the settlements. Progressive Jews in America need an agenda, and this should be it.

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