A Selective Survey of Media

We’re not ignoring the elephant in the room, the recent spiraling of violence in the West Bank, even as Prime Minister Netanyahu is promising a new push toward undermining the independence of Israel’s judiciary, and Bezalel Smotrich has been given fresh power to expand West Bank settlements. We are not an up-to-the-minute news source, but rather try to present meaningful discussions and analyses.

Note this Haaretz editorial that ties together the internal Israeli upheaval with the crisis on the West Bank, “The Legal Coup Is the Means. The Ends Are Annexation and Apartheid“:

… the cabinet approved a decision that will shorten the process of obtaining building permits in the settlements and give Bezalel Smotrich . . . the power to approve planning procedures.

. . . The government decided to give a messianic settler, one who favors Israeli sovereignty over the entire Land of Israel and supports Jewish supremacy, the power to speed up construction in the settlements. . . .

This analysis in Haaretz by the veteran Israeli diplomat Alon Pinkas, “Bland U.S. Response to Israel’s Palestinian Policy Signals Something Much Worse,” laments Washington’s passive posture toward the mounting crises:

Wednesday’s Israeli settler violence and lawlessness was not limited to the village of Turmus Ayya, near the settlement of Eli where four Israelis were murdered by Palestinian gunmen on Tuesday. It was all over the West Bank, with the Israel Defense Forces and Border Police either losing control or standing idly by.

. . . There are also the government’s policies, beginning with its declaration that there will be no diplomatic process with the Palestinians. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s extreme, nationalistic government also just announced plans for thousands of new homes in the settlements, stating that “Jews have an exclusive right to settle the entire ‘Land of Israel,’” and hinting that annexation of large parts of the West Bank is just a matter of time.

Then there is the Palestinian side, where the supposed quasi-sovereign, the Palestinian Authority, is on the verge of economic collapse, political implosion and potential future voluntary dissolution. . . .

Any escalation will reverberate and undermine the efforts the Americans are making to facilitate an upgrade in Saudi-Israeli relations, and also destabilize Jordan. Yet the United States is reluctant to project its power.

And there’s this analysis by Michael Koplow of the Israel Policy Forum, “Take a Deep Breath,” in which he advances some ideas that he hopes people will grasp in this turbulent moment, arguing for a two-state solution as the most reasonable ultimate outcome; we quote the following from his list:

  1. … If you view Israel’s construction of West Bank settlements as a violation of international law, so is terrorism directed at civilians living in them. . . . It is foolishly naïve to think, after the history of two intifadas, that terrorism is going to lead to a Palestinian state in the West Bank rather than a replication of what exists in Gaza.
  2. Israel’s settlement policy is a disaster that is not serving anyone’s interests, including those of Israelis. . . .
  3. The problem is not with settlements as a catch-all category, but with the policy of purposely prioritizing the settlements that are the hardest to defend, . . . that are the most isolated, and that cause the most friction with Palestinians who live in the surrounding areas. 60% of Israelis living over the Green Line are on 1.9% of the territory, only a few kilometers into the West Bank; if this is expanded to another 2% of the territory, it encompasses 75% of Israelis living over the Green Line. 
  4. Respect the humanity on both sides of this conflict. . . . If you think that Palestinians living in Jenin now deserve to have . . . their livelihoods choked off because they cheer the Palestinian gunmen who destroyed an IDF armored personnel carrier, or that Palestinians deserve to have their homes and fields burned because of something that other Palestinians did, you have badly lost your moral bearings ….
  5. For as currently in vogue as it is to . . . declare the death of a two-state outcome, [violent] moments like this demonstrate the utter folly of pursuing any other path. . . . [For example,] are Israelis going to decide that complete freedom of movement for everyone across Israel and the West Bank and the end of territorial security measures—as would be necessary for a successful confederation—are the best way out of the conundrum? [Ed: Confederation advocates can probably debate this point.]

Moderate Zionists Discuss the Nakba

The Hartman Institute podcast, “Can Zionists Speak About the Nakba?,” is an earnest discussion among three moderate religious Zionist thinkers — Donniel Hartman, Yossi Klein Halevi, and Elana Stein Hain. Klein Halevi is more of a centrist than a liberal; his initial “instinctive” response to the “N” word will make liberal/left Zionists squirm, stating that the “real catastrophe” that Palestinians mourn is “the Arab world’s failure to destroy Israel.” Ultimately, he tries to make clear that he is not morally insensitive:

. . . I want to mourn with my fellow citizens who are Arab. I want to weep for what’s happened to their people. . . . it was not the intention of the Zionist movement to uproot Palestinians, but that was the consequence of our return home and of the Arab world’s attempt to thwart our return home.  . . .

Unfortunately, PA President Abbas has retreated from more conciliatory past positions in his recent Nakba Day speech to the UN, as summarized by Dr. Hartman:

. . . His speech denies any Jewish historical connection to the Temple Mount. … Denounced what he called Israel’s propaganda reminiscent of Nazi Germany. … Declared his intention to reclaim his native birth city, Tzfat, for a Palestinian state, something that he had explicitly stated in the past, that he was ready to give up … for the sake of peace. 

‘How the West Bank Settlements Became Israel’s Welfare State’

This subhead above is the title of a long interview article in Haaretz of Yaron Hoffmann-Dishon, a researcher in socio-economic policy and a doctoral student in sociology at Ben-Gurion University. He argues that protesting the inflated budgets allotted to the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox/Black Hat communities) misses a more basic reality, that most Israelis, including the Haredim, are victimized by a longstanding policy of pouring disproportionate funding for education and social services into West Bank settlements:

There’s a convergence of the two agendas dominating Israeli politics today. The agenda of the neoliberal economic right wing, based on the concept that ‘We, as a state, won’t develop the periphery anymore,’ and the right-wing, political, settlement-based side that believes in establishing Jewish rule over the [entire] Land of Israel.

In a similar vein: A New York regional public radio program and podcast, “Capitol Pressroom,” hosted a 22-minute segment with a member of the New York State Assembly, Zohran Mamdani, who represents sections of Western Queens as a Democrat. Mamdani is 31 years old and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), who immigrated from Uganda as a child, with his Indian-Muslim parents.

In May, he submitted a bill to block tax-deductible donations from going to State-registered charities that support “settlement operations” to the tune of “more than $60 million a year,” causing the State of New York to “effectively subsidize war crimes.” Why “war crimes”? Because, he argues, settlements are illegal under international law, and the United States government does not allow Federal funds to aid them.

What was remarkable about this conversation was how matter of fact, uncontentious, calm and civil the tone was. First of all, the show’s host, David Lombardo, is unfailingly polite and even-toned. But so was the guest, Mamdani, and he’s remarkably articulate. Lombardo indicated at the start, however, that the bill doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell, wryly observing that it’s accomplished the rare feat of uniting both Democrats and Republicans against it.

What Happened at CUNY Law School

Finally, there’s this podcast by Yehuda Kurtzer, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, discoursing on “Free Speech and Anti-Zionism at CUNY Law,” reacting to the denunciation of “Israeli settler colonialism” and Zionism as a whole, in a commencement address by a graduating law student, Fatima Mohammed (a Yemeni-American, pictured above).

Her nine-minute speech begins about one hour and 20 minutes into this YouTube recording. Her ire was unmistakable: “. . . as Israel continues to indiscriminately rain bullets and bombs on worshippers, murdering the old, the young, attacking even funerals and graveyards, as it encourages lynch mobs to target Palestinian homes and businesses, as it imprisons our children, as it continues its project of settler colonialism, our silence is no longer acceptable.” 

“Israel” as a whole does not routinely do these things, but the targeting of Palestinian homes and businesses, the imprisoning of children, and the “project of settler colonialism” does comport with what we see happening in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and (to some extent) in the Negev. Kurtzer does not respond to the specifics of what’s happening on the ground, but he examines reactions to the speech, including accusations of antisemitism lodged against the speaker, and the reactions of those who defended her, including the Jewish Law Students Association at CUNY. The JLSA denounced “. . . the Zionist project and the harassment and lies that Zionist organizations are using to punish Fatima for her bravery and commitment to Palestinian freedom.”

Kurtzer is a liberal Zionist who discusses how to balance our values as liberals with how to “respond to speech that challenges our core commitments, beliefs, and even identities.” It’s clear that he didn’t like her speech, yet he is not rushing to condemn her. He also acknowledges that both Jewish students who may regard Israel as integral to their Jewish identity, and pro-Palestinian students, may readily see themselves as “unsafe” in certain situations.

The reaction he likes most is the statement of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), which criticized the CUNY administration for calling Mohammed’s words “hate speech”:

The FIRE letter said, quote, “Regardless of the offense and backlash it causes, speech remains protected, even if hateful, towards people and communities based on their religion, race, or political affiliation. CUNY is free to condemn such speech, but it cannot claim the speech is unprotected solely because it considers the speech hateful. CUNY’s implication that such speech is unprotected will certainly chill students’ further future protected expression, which is unacceptable and unconstitutional at a public institution.”

Bring your A game as a reader to his lengthy analysis (click here for the transcript), which also includes the following observation:

. . . people who howl about cancel culture tend to operate on the basis of cancel culture for me and not for thee, some of the loudest voices lamenting that they have been canceled for their countercultural view and painting a picture of a censorious public square, but then they invariably carve out exceptions for the ideas that they think deserve condemnation and cancellation. . . . Folks like that will argue that because the pro-Palestinian side uses strategies like boycott, that they are the censorious ones who deserve to be boycott[ed]. But the truth is it’s just a fight between different kinds of boycotts.