A YOUNG Jewish settler in Hebron looks out of a window in a disputed building..
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN - REUTERS)
OAKLAND – MK Zionist Union member Yossi Yonah was booed and interrupted by Limmud FSU attendees during a hotly contested debate with Rabbi Yishai Fleisher, a spokesman for the Hebron community, on the possibility of a two-state solution.
In a room of 200-plus people from the former Soviet Union, many of whom suffered under the Soviet regime, Yonah quickly discovered they had little room to even entertain the concept of a state for the Palestinians.
The debate in Oakland on Saturday began quietly enough, with both Yonah and Fleisher being given five minutes to state their case.
Yonah said he was looking at the dispute through both a Jewish and Zionist lens, and that both he and Fleisher are committed to the idea of the existence of Israel as a Jewish and a democratic state. “We have to figure out vis-a-vis the lingering conflict what would be the most effective way to maintain and safeguard our state as Jewish and democratic,” he said.
Yonah argued that the current separation between Israelis and the Palestinian people makes it impossible to keep Israel both Jewish and democratic, and that is why he is in favor of a two-state solution.
However, when he stated, “No one can dispute that [the Palestinians] are occupied people, and if you asked the majority of them if they would like to be under Israeli control they would say no,” the room erupted into a chorus of boos and jeers.
“I’m for a Jewish state but I’m also a universalist,” he went on to say. “I recognize national minorities and groups have a right to have national land.” By that point, most of the audience were shaking their heads and trying to shout him down.
When Yishai stood up to speak, he already had the crowd behind him and launched into a passionate speech. “A two-state solution has failed over and over again. The formula of land for peace is problematic at its very core – for security reasons, for historical reasons, legal reasons and religious reasons.”
The room erupted in applause and cheers.
Fleisher said that he speaks with Arabs all the time, and tells them that Israel has defeated all the Arab nations in every war because “Allah has given this land to the Jewish people. Allah has given us the State of Israel.”
Fleisher said that what he hears back from Arabs is that Israel has already left Sinai and Gaza and the Temple Mount, and that they just have to wait and Israel will “go away. [The Arabs] think they are on to a great victory.”
Pushing back on Yonah’s notion of an equally Jewish and democratic state, Fleisher said, “I don’t think it’s equal. The State of Israel is there to defend the ethnic minority of the Jewish people. Nobody coming out of the Holocaust said, ‘I hope there’s eventually an Arab state.’” Yonah said Fleisher’s arguments had a “metaphysical aura” and that there is no large group of “Arabs” that want one particular thing. He called Fleisher’s notions “separate from reality. Reality is more complicated and reality is negotiations.”
When an audience member asked how to combat the potential problem of there eventually being more Palestinians than Israelis in the country, Fleisher said he believed that it had yet to be proven true. “The demographics are always in our favor,” he said. “This is a Jewish state by definition.”
To loud applause, he said that Israelis need to tell the Palestinians, “It’s our land and you are a guest.
We have to send a message: ‘you will never take this land, you will never defeat us.’” Yonah said he didn’t see how this approach could help Israelis and that it would just lead to more wars.
“I speak out of anxiety,” he said. “I was in a tank corps in the 1973 [Yom Kippur] War and was hit four times. I’m afraid of war but I would not hesitate to enter a war if it’s necessary but I urge us to do everything possible to avoid wars.”
Fleisher said Israel was already in an existential war. “It’s about our legitimacy,” he said. “We are in a war for the good name of Israel. [The Palestinians] are telling us we’re stealing someone else’s land and we have legitimized it by saying we’re willing to walk away [from land].”
When Yonah responded by stating that around 70% of Israelis support a two-state solution, the audience cried out, “No! It’s not true!” He was then drowned out by a chorus of boos when he said he’d spoken with Likud MK’s who were also in favor of a two-state solution but were afraid to say so publicly because they feared their primary elections being hijacked by right-wing parties.
Fleisher remained defiant in his stance that Israel retains all its land and that the Palestinians should seek residency. Yonah urged everyone to be willing to suspend their current positions on the issue, visit Israel, and make a judgment based on what they see and hear from Israelis themselves.