My Word: Demonstrating love

A pro-peace rally in Jerusalem raises questions of just who should call the shots.

Peace Rally 311 (photo credit: AP)
Peace Rally 311
(photo credit: AP)
Where would we be without freedom of speech? Well, obviously somewhere like Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Gaza. Not the sort of place where an opinionated female journalist would feel comfortable. Hence, I was pleased to see that what remains of the Israeli Left gathered on May 15 for a rally in Jerusalem to voice support for the Jewish state and reclaim Zionism as being more than the domain of right-wing, religious settlers, as the stereotype has it.
There were even Israeli flags among the Peace Now banners, complete with the blue star in the middle. (The organization also has a trendier version which has the word “Shalom” strategically placed between the two blue stripes.)
“We want to speak to the Zionist Left in ‘blue and white’ and give them the feeling that they are at home,” explained Peace Now head Yariv Oppenheimer.
Nonetheless, one placard captured on news footage caused me to do a double take: “Barak Obama: Please force peace on us.”
The editor in me immediately wanted to add the letter “c” to the first name, or check that there was not a missing comma which would have distinguished between the names of Labor leader Ehud Barak and that of the US president, with whom he evidently enjoys a far greater rapport than does Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
The slogan jarred precisely because it was not aimed at the democratically elected premier – “Netanyahu, please accept peace” would have been fine – or at the Labor Party head. It was a direct plea to the leader of the US, who, no matter how serious the issue in the global scheme of things, will not be the one who actually has to live with the consequences.
A failed peace accord could admittedly endanger Obama’s chances of a second term in the White House in Washington, but that’s nothing compared to the threat it poses to those who live here. It’s not easy to forget, for example, the Palestinian suicide bombing in 2002 that killed 11 people and wounded scores at the Moment cafe, just meters from the prime minister’s official abode in Jerusalem.
The call for Obama to impose his will on us is reminiscent of the 2007 crude entreaty to Condoleezza Rice by then Haaretz editor David Landau. He went way beyond the boundaries of “tough love” when he reportedly told the US secretary of state that it would be his “wet dream” for the US “to rape Israel.”
Even ignoring that imagery, if you can, it is hard to understand why an Obama-imposed peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians should be any more successful than the Oslo Accords. History has shown that enforced peace treaties (à la Versailles) stand less of a chance of ending a conflict than paving the way to the next one.
The growing trend for Jewish organizations to urge greater international pressure – J Street, JCall and the petition by prominent US Jews revealed by the Post’s Haviv Rettig Gur last week – is always done in the name of liberal values while trampling on one of the most basic rights of all – for a country’s citizens to democratically determine their own future. Even the right to make their own mistakes.
Several years ago, I remember covering a Likud election campaign event in Jerusalem where a well-known writer for a Hebrew daily complained nonstop about the behavior of the crowd. The political supporters stood on chairs, chanted, yelled, clapped rhythmically and were, I admit, pretty indistinguishable from Betar Jerusalem soccer fans during a successful game. I looked around and correctly predicted: “Netanyahu will win.”
We had both been to Labor Party events which were, frankly, boring. There was no enthusiasm, no passion and no sense of purpose. It was hard to imagine those participants even going to the polls if it weren’t for the fact that the country had a day off work.
The May 15 rally managed to garner some 2,000 participants, according to police estimates, or 5,000 according to the organizers’ count. Not particularly impressive. Perhaps the timing was wrong: Religious Jews from outside the capital couldn’t get to the rally without breaking Shabbat. Most of my neighbors, as far as I could tell from the shouts and groans heard clearly through the open windows, were busy watching the Premier League football championship in which “Red” Hapoel Tel Aviv beat Betar, still considered the team of the working class and Right.
I didn’t hear anyone questioning the wisdom of calling for a peace rally on “Nakba Day” – the very day when the Palestinians mark the “catastrophe” of Israel’s creation – but it proves, yet again, that public diplomacy is not the country’s forte.
Why didn’t you attend, I asked a kibbutz-born and bred friend who is undoubtedly a Zionist, in her own way, but is so left wing she is in danger of falling off the political map and landing with a splash in the Mediterranean. While identifying with the ideology – she uses words like “apartheid” with alacrity, describes the settlements in terms of “cancer” and personally boycotts products from over the Green Line – she said the Saturday night rally just hadn’t worked out “but friends and other members of my family were there.”
The real reason for the low turnout, I suspect, had more to do with a feeling of hopelessness Left, Right and Center. Those on the Left note with a sigh that the number of people who live over the Green Line, and the distribution of the settlements, means it will be almost impossible for the Palestinians to create a state within workable borders. Those on the Right, apart from being unwilling to vacate those settlements, fear that unless the Arab world is willing to concede Israel has a right to exist, any move will inevitably lead to more and more terror. And those in the Center – who are either a silent majority or an endangered species depending on who’s talking – look at the extremism at both ends of the Israeli political spectrum, not to mention the potential peace partners on the Palestinian side, and give up in despair. No wonder most people preferred to stay home and watch television as welcome escapism.
That there are still people on the Left who care enough to rally on a Saturday night is a positive sign for all of us. The calls for international intervention, on the other hand, are not progressive but defeatist. It is legitimate to want change, but the pressure should come from within.
The Left feels Labor – solidly sitting in the coalition – is not representing their best interests. The Right considers the Likud-government settlement freeze a disturbing concession. Kadima has long been perceived by centrists as an opportunist party that still has to declare what it stands for on its wobbly legs.
Nonetheless, it is the Israeli electorate who should decide where the country should be heading and how.
The Likud has just celebrated 33 years since the “mahapach,” the “turnabout” that brought it to power under Menachem Begin, giving a voice to those, like the Betar supporters, who felt disenfranchised by the ruling Mapai party.
It was Begin who, against the odds, brought about the first peace agreement. Yes, the Israel-Egypt peace treaty was born with American help, but it was born out of the desire for an enduring, peaceful partnership. This is very different from the sort of relationship that would result from a forced marriage following a rape.