What do the following three things have in common?
• Gideon Levy’s surprise admiration for Benjamin Netanyahu and his attack on Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and left-wing leaders.
• The alliance between Knesset Islamist leader Mansour Abbas and Netanyahu.
• B’Tselem’s declaration that there is no difference between Israel and the occupied territories.
All three signal a despair over the possibility of a settlement with the Palestinians and the prospect of a change of government in Israel. The result is to perpetuate the occupation and continue the current rule of populism and corruption.
During my time working alongside Shimon Peres, I often heard him say that despair was not a work plan. I witnessed how this approach enabled him to change reality, helping advance both the State of Israel and the cause of peace. It therefore hurts me that Gideon Levy, who was a spokesman for Peres in the past, is giving up.
I have great respect for Levy. His reporting from the field – “The Twilight Zone” – does an important service for us all, making sure we are aware of Palestinian suffering caused by the toxic status quo of the occupation. He has tried to make sure that we Jews, who have suffered as victims for so long, do not lose our conscience when others suffer due to our policies.
But his new approach is a statement of resignation. Levy is saying if there is no chance of change, then why not just admire Netanyahu, the “Eternal Leader” who has secured vaccinations for us; ignore the Palestinian issue; ignore the corruption; and attack those who have tried or are trying to create change.
Levy attacks the Balfour Street protests on the basis that there is no clear message or leader. Yet that is precisely the secret of its strength. When I demonstrate at Balfour Street, I do so alongside demonstrators with agendas different from my own. There are those protesting against Netanyahu’s corruption. There are others demonstrating against the politicization of the corona crisis and the surrender to the ultra-Orthodox. Others are raising their voices against the violation of democracy, and there are those, like me, for whom the most important issue is a diplomatic solution to the Israeli – Palestinian conflict.
However, what is clear to all these disparate voices, is that change will only come after Netanyahu leaves the Prime Minister’s Residence, because he has long since placed his private interests above the good of the state and the electorate.
Similarly, the decision of politician Mansour Abbas to join forces with Netanyahu stems from a resignation by many Israeli Arabs toward the political status quo. They tell themselves that if there is no chance of change, then it is worth sticking with Netanyahu’s eternal rule in the hope of receiving favors and budgets. The long-term strategy of Mansour Abbas (not to be confused with Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen) is one country from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, where there will eventually be a Palestinian majority. Therefore, he has no reason to continue engaging with the issue of two states as promoted by leaders of the Arab Joint List.
THE HUMAN-RIGHTS organization B’Tselem has also despaired. Their statement that there is no difference between Israel’s policy within the pre-1967 borders and its policy in the West Bank and Gaza ultimately leads to one country between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. In the single state that would unfold, there is no chance that there will be equality for the Palestinians as B’Tselem demands, because there is no chance that Israel will relinquish sovereignty in the one state in the world that can serve as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
There is no shortage of justified allegations against left-wing leaders from the past and today. Indeed, there are many things that Rabin and Peres did which they would probably regret in retrospect were they here today. However, taking action is the only human way to change reality. The pursuit of perfection means constant stagnation. Rabin and Peres helped to establish a state out of nothing and defended it, way before the Arab states and the Palestinians understood that Israel is a fact and that it would be better to try to reach agreements with it.
Rabin and Peres understood that Israel’s strength, which they helped build, must be translated into a peace settlement that would bring an end to the occupation that harms not only the Palestinians but also ourselves – both morally and demographically. Had Rabin and Peres remained alive and in power, they would have completed this process.
Levy accuses Rabin and Peres of war crimes, a charge that is factually incorrect, not only according to the Zionist narrative, but also according to international law. The accusations are both inciting and destructive. Levy’s blame game will not bring about the change he longs for, but quite the opposite.
As someone who occasionally sins in writing myself (I do not compare myself to Levy’s impressive ability to express himself), I know that it is much easier to write than to do. However, writing must also be done responsibly.
At the end of the day, bringing about change requires the combination of a critical mind and a heart filled with hope. Without criticism, we cannot understand the reality of the problems we face, and without a heart full of hope, we cannot generate the energy required to bring change.
Gideon Levy despaired, he was convinced by the false spin that there is no hope and no partner. As a result, he has lost his ability to criticize the current government and instead turned his attention to attacking those who still aspire to do good here despite all the difficulties. The despair is sad to watch, but even sadder is its crippling and harmful effect.
The writer is the executive director of J Street Israel, a board member of Mitvim–the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policy, and a member of the Geneva Initiative steering committee. He served as diplomatic adviser to president Shimon Peres, as a diplomat at the Israeli Embassy in Washington and as consul-general to New England.