How the left is hurting peace

If progressive Jews want to foster peace, they must stop reinforcing the Palestinians’ conviction that they alone have an inherent right to the land.

Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs, sacred to Jews and Muslims (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs, sacred to Jews and Muslims
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
WHEN I talk to friends on the Jewish left, it’s apparent that they’re tired of having to always defend their pro-Israel credentials.
During Israel’s war in Gaza, they were taken aback by harsh criticism Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz leveled against J Street, the left-wing Jewish lobby, for not being sufficiently supportive of Israel. This follows their deep disappointment at the vote in April rejecting J Street’s application for membership in the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. All the while, they’ve had to contend with multiple screenings of “The J Street Challenge,” a film by the Boston-based Americans for Peace and Tolerance that accuses the group of siding with Israel’s enemies.
The notion that J Street and the even more dovish Americans for Peace Now (APN) are anti-Israel is misguided. Though I often disagree with them, I believe their advocacy is out of a love for Israel.
Moreover, they’ve proven to be an important progressive counterpoint to the anti-Zionist left.
My problem, therefore, isn’t with J Street and APN’s pro-Israel credentials – it’s with their pro-peace credentials. Granted, this may sound preposterous. After all, could there be any more stalwart supporters of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than these two groups? Aren’t they correct in arguing that an end to Israeli rule in the West Bank is a prerequisite for peace? All true. But the incessant drumbeat by these groups portraying the Israeli presence in the West Bank as an “illegal,” “immoral” and “unjust” occupation is, I believe, harmful. Rather than advancing peace, the left’s abandonment of the Jewish narrative in relation to Judea and Samaria undermines the prospects for peace.
At the early June J Street national summit in San Francisco, speaker after speaker blamed the collapse of the US-mediated peace talks not on the formation of a Palestinian government backed by Hamas terrorists, but on the Israeli “settler government.” Thus, Jeremy Ben- Ami, J Street’s executive director, declared, “We need more than expressions of displeasure from the White House and State Department [regarding] the illegitimacy of the settlement enterprise.”
APN President Debra DeLee was more explicit, urging conference- goers to boycott products made in the settlements. Following the summit, APN issued a scathing document entitled, “Time for Hard Truths, Tough Actions,” in which the settlements are denounced as a “poisonous, ideologically-motivated land grab.” Since acquiring the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War, the document asserts, Israel has “shown to the world the face of a nation that doesn’t truly seek peace.”
Such a perspective does several things, none in the interest of peace. First, it presupposes that all of the territory is indisputably Palestinian. What, then, is left to negotiate? This only fuels the Palestinian belief that they can achieve statehood without compromising or negotiating in good faith.
Second, this one-dimensional view ignores the fact that Jewish communities already existed before Israel’s establishment in places like Jerusalem’s Old City and Gush Etzion but were destroyed by the Jordanians during the 1948 War of Independence. Why should these restored communities with a significant Jewish history be considered in the same category as remote illegal outposts? Third, the constant outcry over building in the settlements – even construction in areas that would almost certainly come under Israeli sovereignty in any final agreement – helps to perpetuate the pejorative stereotyping of all Jewish settlers as right-wing radicals. Seen through the eyes of those who believe (erroneously) that the occupation is the root of the conflict, every settler is an obstacle to peace, their presence on so-called Palestinian soil a “cancer.” Never mind that well over half the settlers are suburbanites mainly seeking a higher quality of living.
Most problematic of all is a mindset that sees the Jewish people’s historical and religious attachment to this disputed land as no longer relevant. Speaking in Portland in May, Yossi Klein Halevi, a senior fellow at Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute, noted, “The mistake of the Jewish left is that it has emotionally withdrawn from Judea and Samaria and given up our claim before we’re even at the [negotiating] table while the other side won’t emotionally relinquish its claim to the totality of the land from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea… For me, to have a Jewish state without Hebron is a crime against Jewish history. If there’s to be peace, each side will have to accept a profound injustice being imposed on its identity.”
In other words, if progressive Jewish groups want to help foster peace, they’d do well to stop reinforcing the Palestinians’ conviction that they alone have an inherent right to the land. 
Robert Horenstein is Community Relations Director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, Oregon