Less than two weeks ago, a group of prominent Israeli intellectuals gathered outside Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, where Israel declared independence in 1948; next week will mark the 63rd anniversary. On April 21, the group known as the Independence Hall Movement declared their support for an independent Palestinian state along the 1967 borders.
This afternoon we had lunch with four of the movement's members, two of whom have been awarded the Israeli Prize for excellence in their fields. Because its late and I'm tired, I'll tell about just two of them.
The first to address us was Yaron Ezrahi, a political science professor at Hebrew University. Professor Ezrahi wrote a book entitled Rubber Bullets, which should be mandatory reading for anyone who wants to understand the Israeli political psyche. Had I known we'd be meeting with him, I'd have brought my copy for him to sign. He spoke quite directly and passionately almost to the point of being indignant. (My sense of him is that if he read this, he'd say he was well past the point of being indignant.) So let's get started.
Ezrahi began by saying that J Street has been a "source of light for Israel." Having spent time in the United States, he remarked about the "impossibility of confronting American Jews with criticism" of the Israeli government. He called the Netanyahu government the most anti-peace government in Israel's history. Having served 25 years as a military strategist, he is well-acquainted with the upper echelons of Israel's military who he said had "deep anxiety" regarding the current government.
Ezrahi said that Netanyahu was not acting in a Zionist fashion. Zionism he said compels one to take initiative and control over one's own future. To limit yourself to reacting to someone else's initiative is to be a victim, the opposite of Zionism. To be against the Netanyahu government, he said, IS to be pro-Israel. Full stop.
When asked (by me) how to answer the question we often face from Israelis and Americans alike - what gives us standing to criticize the government of Israel - he said not to be defensive (not that I ever have been and I'll relate my answer, which was quite similar to the points he was now making, in another post) and that the right wing American Jews worked hard to undermine the Rabin government during the 1990's.
Next, was Yehuda Bauer, a professor of Holocaust studies, also at Hebrew University. While more genteel than Ezrahi, he was just as impassioned and just as dismissive of the Netanyahu government. Professor Bauer fist described the Zionist position - a Jewish national home, with international recognition, and a solid Jewish majority. Bauer flatly stated that the current government was "creating a clear anti-Zionist state." He said that radical Zionism has become radical anti-Zionism. Picking up on our standing to criticize the Israeli government, he declared that we have not only the right, but the duty to so, and that if we do not stand together, American Jewish critics of the Israeli government and Israeli critics, we will lose the fight. Finally, he stated that the U.N. is not an anti-Semitic body, that Israel cannot do with out it, and that to try would be self destructive. Powerful stuff. From people who know.
Correction: Upon reviewing my notes this morning, I realized that I mis-attributed the statement that being against the Netanyahu government is to be pro-Israel. While that was certainly the tenor of Ezrahi's presentation, the line was actually uttered by another member of the movement, Sefi Rachlevsky, who also addressed us at the lunch.