Shortly after the polls closed in Israel’s Knesset election this past Tuesday, two American Liberal Zionist groups, J Street and Americans for Peace Now (APN), were out with triumphant emails to their peace-oriented members:
Israel voters have chosen a new government that will “revive the peace process with the Palestinians and make vital moves to “save” Israel”.
Writing for Mondoweiss, the website co-edited by Philip Weiss and Adan Horowitz, Alex Kane bluntly rejects that optimistic conclusion:
In his scathing criticism of the optimism of J Street and APN, Kane sets the stage for what will most certainly be an intense struggle within the American peace camp over the meaning of this Knesset election:
The liberal Zionist wing of the American Jewish community are deluding themselves about the results of the Israeli elections.
They see the Israeli elections as a triumph for politicians who are going to revive the peace process with the Palestinians and make vital moves to “save” Israel, in their words, from the scourge of apartheid or a one-state solution with equal rights for all.
But their rhetoric about the outcome of the elections represents a fantasy with little bearing in the reality of what the Israeli government is and will continue to be: a settlement expanding, occupation supporting right-wing government that is committed to the suppression of Palestinian rights within the Green Line and in the West Bank and Gaza.
The Israeli government, in other words, will remain committed to the status quo of apartheid.
Ha’aretz columnist Ari Shavit joins the optimistic J Street amd APN crowd with his cry of relief that the election results benefit Israel’s identity:
This week the idiotic march of the right to the right wing of the right came to an end, and the renewed march of the right toward the center began.
But above all, the election results have significance for our identity. The dramatic headline of the election is short: Israel is not right-wing. This week proved that as opposed to the impression both here in Israel and in the world, Israel is not messianic and not racist and not anti-democratic. We are not all Moshe Feiglin [referring to a newly elected Likud Knesset member well-known for his extremist anti-Palestinian views.]
Contrary to many pre-election stories that promised a surprise increase to as many as 15 seats for the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party, led by Naftali Bennett, Bayit Yehudi was not the surprise of this week’s election.
The surprise of the election Tuesday was the Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party, led not by a “charismatic” figure, but by a “handsome” former television personality turned politician in time to run in this 2013 election, Yair Lapid (shown above).
The most likely result of the election will be for Israeli President Shimon Peres to instruct Benjamin Netanyahu to form a new government, one which will place leadership in the months ahead in a coalition led by the right-wing Netanyahu-Liberman parties with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party.
Several reports from Israel predict that unless Avigdor Lieberman demands his Foreign Ministry post back (he resigned earlier because of legal problems) that post could go to Yair Lapid.
It is worth noting that Lapid’s parents moved their family to Israel when Lapid was a small child. Lapid learned his English from his American-born parents. He later worked in New York City, improving his American-made accent, a great advantage for an Israeli foreign minister.
Does Lapid as a partner with Netanyahu offer hope for a creative approach to peace with Israel’s Palestinian neighbors? Is he truly the hope for peace that J Street and APN claim?
The evidence is not promising. Lapid’s campaign was focused on winning support from those Israeli voters who took to the streets last year to protest against Netanyahu’s poor handling of the economy.
His campaign largely ignored “the Palestinian issue”, but on the Sunday before the election, Lapid shared his views on “Arabs” in a media interview, leaving no doubt as to his attitude toward Palestinians:
Yair Lapid, the head of the Yesh Atid party, explained Sunday that he has no expectations from negotiations with the Arabs. “I do not think that the Arabs want peace,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
Lapid said that he does not care what the Arabs want. “What I want is not a new Middle East, but to be rid of them and put a tall fence between us and them.” The important thing, he added, is “to maintain a Jewish majority in the Land of Israel.”
This is the man who is expected to form a new government with Netanyahu. The New York Times confirms that union:
The last votes counted, mostly those of active-duty soldiers, gave the right-wing and religious factions that make up Mr. Netanyahu’s current coalition a one-seat majority. But the prime minister has indicated that he wants to form a broader government, partnering first with Yair Lapid, the leader of the new, centrist Yesh Atid party, whose second-place finish stunned Israel
Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Lapid, who together control 50 of Parliament’s 120 seats, met for two and a half hours on Thursday in Jerusalem and “discussed the challenges facing the nation and the ways to deal with them,” according to a statement from Mr. Lapid’s party.
Yousef Munayyer, executive director of The Jerusalem Fund and its educational program, The Palestine Center, underscores Alex Kane’s judgment on Liberal Zionism’s overly optimistic reading of the election. Munayyer wrote on his blog:
If you haven’t noticed, the Liberal Zionist brand is desperate to portray the outcome of the Israeli election as the salvation of the Israel they know is down there somewhere.
Alex Kane agrees with Munayyer when he concludes his Mondoweiss rejection of the unrealistic optimism of J Street and Americans for Peace Now:
The liberal American Zionists are utterly delusional, grasping at any straw to try and convince the world that there is a possibility for a two-state solution and that Israel can make peace.
The start of a second term for Barack Obama is not a time for false optimism about peace that might arise from a new Israeli government. It is rather, a time for the realism of Palestinians like Hanan Ashrawi, writer, scholar and political activist, who brings a Palestinian realistic reminder to the world in an Ha’aretz piece she wrote before the election.
In many elections, politicians are accused of stealing public resources. In Israel, in addition to stealing Palestinian land and natural resources, most Israeli politicians are bent on confiscating the last hope for a two-state solution. Most Israeli political parties are guilty of the deliberate omission of peace from their agenda.
They talk about negotiations when they mean dictation. They talk about “managing” the occupation rather than putting an end to it. While there is a global consensus for a two-state solution, the main Israeli electoral lists see no room in historic Palestine for two states.
Are Liberal Zionists trapped in a delusion that leads them to protect their “Zionist identity” instead of seeking the justice which Zionism, as a political entity, has conspired to deny Palestinians?
It is a fair question, and it is a realistic question. Certainly, it is the kind of moral question that theologian Reinhold Niebuhr would demand that we examine.
The picture above of Yair Lapid is by Oliver Weiken of the European Pressphoto Agency.