Yachad: strong on peace but quiet on Jewish self-defence – David Hirsh

I think there is nothing in the Yachad statement that is wrong and I think that re-stating our clear committment to peace, to a two state solution, is important; but I suspect there is more which may be said and which Yachad is reluctant to say.
We need to consider the consequences of the possibility that we may be defeated in our efforts to work towards a peace agreement.  This would have important repurcussions both for Israel and for diaspora Jews.

Yachad may be right, that this particular war against Hamas is not forced, and that the Israeli Government should be pressing on towards a peace rather than fighting this war.  We should never stop arguing for a two state solution because there is no other possible peace.  Israel could do better in fighting for peace and it should do better in positiong itself in the public imagination as wanting peace.  But it may still be true that efforts for peace could be defeated.  Hamas was created in order to prevent a peace agreement, its constitution explicitly characterises peace negotiations as “un-Islamic”.  Fatah has been offered a Palestinian state a number of times and has said ‘no’ each time.  We hope that those Palestinians who are for peace will be successful in their struggle against the rejectionists, but we have to think about the possibility of them continuing to be unsuccessful.

Perhaps this war is not necessary, but one day Israel may have to defend itself against Hamas and Hezbollah, maybe ISIS too, maybe the Iranian state, maybe Syria and Iraq.  If Israel has to fight in Gaza or in the cities of the West Bank, many civilians will, unavoidably, die in the fight.

We need to be absolutely clear on the moral, political and legal distinction between the deliberate killing of civilians on one hand and between collateral damage in war, on the other.  Israel does not murder civilians, Israel is not a child-killing state.

Israel takes precautions to avoid civillian casualties.  I believe it should take greater precautions than it already does.  But compared to British and American actions in Syria, Libya and Iraq, the rate of collateral damage caused by Israel is low.  Compared to current struggles in Iraq, Syria, South Sudan, Congo, Libya, Egypt, the absolute numbers, as well as the proportions, of civilians killed is low.    And of course for Hamas and ISIS, killing civilians is not something to be minimized, but on the contrary, terror is the key war-aim.

The danger of antisemitism in the diaspora is significant.  We have seen antisemitic ways of thinking becoming more and more common in certain elite strands of western public opinion – Israel thought of as essentially evil, as illegitimate, as wanting to murder children, as being a key global barrier to peace, as being a keystone of global imperailism etc etc.  This discursive antisemitism is manifesting itself, in small but significant ways on the streets; the CST reports spikes in antisemitic attacks which correlate with conflict in the Middle East; synagogues have been attacked in Paris, Belfast and other cities; there were murderous attacks in Brussels and Toulouse.

Antisemitism isn’t just a natural response to Israeli crimes and neither is it just a few hotheads.  Hamas is explicitly an antisemitic organisation; it embraces the Protocols in its founding document and it says it wants to kill the Jews.  Antisemitism is important in wider Middle Eastern politics.  The Iranian state says the Holocaust was invented by the Zionists in order to provide a justification for Israeli crimes.  Yachad rightly say that there are partners for peace in the Middle East; the corollary of this is that there are also Jew-hating political formations which fight for their perspectives.  We must avoid infantilizing people in the Middle East by assuming that embracing racist politics is anything other than a political choice.  And while we may understand how people in Palestine stumble into antisemitic politics, there is less justification for people in safe London and on our campuses.

What is missing from the Yachad statement is an awareness that Israel, and also Jews in the diaspora, may need to defend themselves.  Yachad does not seem to be capable of playing a positive role in such a defence.

David Hirsh

Sociology Lecturer, Goldsmiths, University of London

6 Responses to “Yachad: strong on peace but quiet on Jewish self-defence – David Hirsh”

  1. James Mendelsohn Says:

    Brilliant piece David

  2. Cait Says:

    “And while we may understand how people in Palestine stumble into antisemitic politics, there is less justification for people in safe London and on our campuses.”

    I am not Jewish, so this message is really a reminder for other non-Jews and for trolls who may be visiting this site.

    There is no justification for anti-semitism anywhere, anytime.

  3. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    “Perhaps this war is not necessary…”

    David, your statement assumes that Israel had a realistic choice: just let Hamas keep firing rockets into Israel: after all, they’re not actually killing or injuring many people. We can live with that.

    Without wishing to draw too close a parallel, did Britain take that stance against the IRA (in all of its various manifestations)? Or did it seek to solve the problem? And let us leave aside questions as to how effective those actions were.

    Hamas agreed a cease fire in 2012, and broke it almost immediately, as it did twice before.

    There is a further assumption (it seems to me) underlying your piece: that Hamas wants a settlement, that it would be prepared to talk to Israel (even if it isn’t prepared to actually recognise Israel) and that it would be prepared to abide by a cease-fire that allowed it to survive (without constantly, in an existential manner, threatening Israel). None of this, sadly, is actually the case. The Hamas charter clearly calls for the destruction of Israel as well as the killing of Jews wherever they are to be found. Further, the members of Hamas act as though they actually believe in the tenets of the charter.

    Plainly, Hamas are not prepared to come to the negotiating table, at least not in good faith. And, as soon as the 12 hour “humanitarian” truce was over, they resumed firing rockets into Israel.

    Hardly a partner for peace.

  4. east1956 Says:

    As a deserter from the Peace Movement, I profoundly disagree with the belief that a “partner for peace” exists among the Palestinians at present. That is not to say that there aren’t hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who would dearly love to have a peaceful & collaborative two state solution where they can live, work and raise their children.
    Unfortunately neither the PLO / PNA nor Hamas is sufficiently interested in building a viable two state solution. Abbas may on one hand claim that the PNA recognise Israel, but on the other he seeks to delegitimise Israel at every opportunity. Much like Arafat who signed the Oslo Accords and then went about likening it to Huddabiyeh (i.e a temporary convenience to permit him to establish a base prior to recommencing the war.)
    The power & violence of both the PLO / PNA and Hamas precludes the evolution of an effective voice for peace that commands mass support among the Palestinians. The gross ineptitude of both as governments creates a foundation from which a viable state is unlikely to emerge, and from which only continued violence with all its unquestionning jingoism is the product.
    However, this latest round of violence should spark among Israelis, Zionists and those who wish them well, the question of what will happen in the future?
    To remain an occupying power constrains Israels capacity to respond; places immense obligations & liabilities upon it; and disempowers it. Whereas in 1967 the capture of the territories may have appeared to have been a considerable bargaining chip for peace & recognition, it has become a cancerous albatross eating away at the heart of what remains the only western style democracy in the entire middle east. Years of talks have led nowhere, other than more violence.
    In my opinion, Israel should adopt a unilateralist stance and commence the rapid withdrawal from the West Bank and end the naval blockade of Gaza. It would be painful and require immense courage, but it would set in place compliance with Pt 1 of 242 and place the onus upon the Palestinians to form a viable state with a government capable of engaging with Israel. Once Israel is no longer an occupying power, it is no longer required to have open borders with Palestine. Nor is it required to provide access to any part of its communications, trade, health, education or transport infrastructure.
    The PNA would need to behave as though it were a national government, removing from it the loop hole through which is escapes responsibility. It would also mean that the PNA would be responsible for the actions of the military forces in Palestine, and would mean that rocket launches against Israeli urban centres would be a clear act of war and explicitly not acts of “legitimate” resistance.
    The cycle of violence must be broken for the sake of ordinary people on both sides, and new path towards peace forged. IMO unilateral withdrawal would bring a seismic shift in Palestinian national thinking as they really don’t want to return to 1949-67, and force the pace for the evolution of political movements committed to peaceful co-existence.

    • N. Friedman Says:

      “In my opinion, Israel should adopt a unilateralist stance and commence the rapid withdrawal from the West Bank and end the naval blockade of Gaza.”

      In other words, you are advocating that Israel do what Sharon did in Gaza and before, that, Barak did in Lebanon. Why would you expect a better result this time than previously? Please bear in mind that both previous withdraws were seen as support for the argument that Israel can, by violence, be defeated. That is the argument set forth in the Hamas covenant.

      The Israelis have no easy choices. If they cede land, they are going to have war. If they hold land, they are going to have war. They have no obvious way to resolve their dispute. The two state solution, which ought to make sense, has not shown itself to be viable. The unilateral solution has not shown itself as being viable. Neither is the idea advocated by Ms. Glick, so far as I can see. And the Jordanian/Egyptian solution does not seem any more viable.

      The rational approach, where there is no obvious path to a settlement, is to wait until conditions change. So far as I can see, that is the only thing the Israelis can do. But, with the Arab regions in complete turmoil, driven by religious ideologues and nasty secular ideologues, the wait is going to be long. That is the hard reality here, quite unfortunately.

      • east1956 Says:

        The half-way house that currently exists panders to the Palestinian strategy allowing them to disavow national responsibility for the actions of the military forces. The anti-Israel factions repeatedly insist that Israel is an occupying power and has legal obligations arising from that, and that all Palestinian violence is justifiable resistance to occupation.
        I agree that conditions must change and the only route to that, that I can see, is unilateralism. If it results in the members of the Arab League reverting to their 3 Noes position, does that really change anything for Israel? But for the Arab states it puts them clearly right back into the front-line with Israel at a time when they are incredibly weak, not somewhere they want to be at present.


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