Sept. 28, 2009
Getting back to Israel after 6 months feels somewhat like being placed in a transparent punching bag. The blows are coming from both the Left and the Right, fast and furious. But while the puncher is sometimes visible and you can see the blow coming, it still wrenches the gut as it lands.
Start with the Goldstone Report suggesting that Israel was guilty of war crimes in the Gaza Operation of January 2009. Richard Goldstone, for all his good intentions, has served as a dupe of anti-zionist forces bent on delegitimizing and destroying Israel. The so-called objective report is shamefully one-sided in adopting a Hamas perspective on all history and events. It is shockingly myopic in its reliance on Gazan sources which are thoroughly intimidated by Hamas and able only to parrot the party line dictated by Hamas. Even when the report is aware of contemporaneous news reports quoting Palestinians verifying Hamas warfare provoking Israeli response, the report chooses to dismiss that possibility. The report makes outrageous accusations about “deliberate” killing of civilians. At the same time, there are enough events described to realize that some serious misdeeds probably did occur in Gaza despite Israel’s military’s overall effort to spare civilian casualties. Israel’s zeal to punish Hamas’ terrorism against Israelis led to some excesses, some of which warrant punishment. That is not a happy realization. But Israel continues to investigate and, where appropriate, should punish perpetrators. In the meantime, the myopic Goldstone report serves mainly as ammunition for anti-zionist efforts to entirely delegitimize the State of Israel.
Then, consider the op-ed piece recently published in both Los Angeles and London by a political science professor at Ben Gurion University in Be’ersheva. Professor Neve Gordon is so upset by Israel’s policies in Gaza and the West Bank that he calls on the rest of the world to boycott and “suspend cooperation with Israel.” He sees this as the only way to bring Israel to its senses and accept what he apparently sees as an outstretched Palestinian hand of peace. Forget for a moment that Neve Gordon’s perspective is so distorted that he sees the years of Hamas rockets and escalation of launches in December 2008 as a mere “protest” against Gaza’s economic isolation by Israel and Egypt (as opposed to terroristic belligerence by an entity, Hamas, whose predominant object is the total destruction of Israel). Didn’t Professor Gordon consider that his call would, as it did, infuriate contributors and undermine the future of Ben Gurion University – an institution serving the well being not just of Gordon and fellow faculty, but of 25,000 students of various ethnic backgrounds?
Ben Gurion University’s administration is reacting by wringing its hands in frustration, deploring Professor Gordon’s call for a boycott but claiming it cannot sanction Neve Gordon because he is tenured. Tenure does guarantee freedom of thought and speech to academics in their work. However, tenure doesn’t provide absolute immunity from misbehavior; tenured academics can be punished for “good cause” shown. In Professor Gordon’s case, he has ostensibly done at least 2 things that interfere with the academic freedom of others – two acts which warrant investigation of whether they constitute “good cause.” Gordon forum-shopped and sued for libel a fellow Israeli academic who had noted the association between Gordon’s writing and the writing of Holocaust deniers. That law suit, in its effort to suppress what was clearly protected opinion by a fellow academic, was itself arguably a violation of academic freedom. And surely Neve Gordon is jeopardizing and undermining the academic freedom of his colleagues in every Israeli university by seeking an end to cooperation with Israeli institutions. Israeli academics utilize and depend on their interactions with others in the academic world.
The blows from the right are just as discouraging. This weekend’s Yediot Ahronoth does an expose of some extremist settlers in the West Bank, documenting their determination to continue unlawful activities aimed at distracting and harassing the Israeli army, as well as their deliberate provocations and repression of the surrounding Arab population. All this is a sickening reminder of the difficulty of eventually extracting masses of settlers in order to reach a 2-state solution. Without such a solution, Israel would ultimately have to either expel innocent Arab residents or treat them as second class in a manner inconsistent with Israel’s own declaration of independence and governing principles. In the same vein of discouraging blows from the right, Yediot’s Yair Lapid (not a rightist himself) reminds us how many billions of shekels have been diverted to by-pass roads and other measures to defend the settlers. These are resources that could have been used to develop the Negev and the Galilee in a way far more conducive to Israel’s long-range well being than being stuck in the West Bank. It is incredibly sad to see the pioneer spirit and energy of the young settlers being spilled into the West Bank rather than the Negev or Galilee.
Another continuing blow is the adherence of right-wing religious parties to anti-democratic agendas like discrimination against non-orthodox Jews (in marriage, divorce, and conversion) and discrimination against Arabs (in housing). (But the matter of the right wing’s betrayal of Israel’s founding principles is reserved for a later dispatch).
On the brighter side, 75 year-old Leonard Cohen gave a wonderful concert on September 24 to a sold-out stadium in Ramat Gan. The enthralled crowd was swept with enthusiasm and Cohen responded with intensity for over 2 and ½ hours. Of course, a stain on this happy event came from the ideologues of the Palestinian Campaign for the Artistic and Cultural Boycott of Israel – the activist group that torpedoed Cohen’s effort to spread his concern and good will to a Palestinian audience in Ramallah. These ideologues forced cancellation of Cohen’s scheduled appearance in Ramallah on the ground that any acknowledgement of a positive Israeli side would be legitimizing the totally evil Zionist entity.
This is the same kind of unadulterated enmity that prompted a claque of entertainment figures to condemn the Toronto International Film Festival’s effort to honor Israel’s film industry. The claque’s effort at suppression of Israeli artists curbs the very talented Israelis (Arab and Jewish alike) who often portray the suffering of both sides in the Holy Land conflict and promote a message of reconciliation. (If you didn’t see Waltz with Bashir, you should have! And on September 26, a primarily Arabic-language film, Ajeemi, co-directed by an Israeli Arab and an Israeli Jew, won best film at Israel’s Oscar awards). The claque of ideologues took no prisoners and missed no distortions in their efforts to portray Israel as pure pariah. Their admonition that Tel Aviv was built on the ruins of Arab villages is illustrative. That assertion was shocking on two counts – first because it is patently false and second because it implies the illegitimacy of Tel Aviv, the heart of Israel.
If this dispatch makes me sound a little woozy, you’ll have to understand. All these punches have been absorbed in the scant 10 days since getting back. And they don’t include the stoning directed by Palestinians against Jews on the Temple Mount yesterday or the rocket squad liquidated in Gaza 2 days ago while transporting missiles for launching into Israel. Hopefully, by the time of my next dispatch, I will have recovered my equilibrium.
– Norman L. Cantor