Israel Can’t Afford to Lose Jews Like Me (David Schanzer)

[ 10 ] August 8, 2014

by DAVID H. SCHANZER for ISLAMiCommentary on AUGUST 8, 2014:

David Schanzer

David Schanzer

Writing in the New York Times today, columnist Shmuel Rosner labeled non-Israeli liberal Jews that are becoming more estranged from modern day Israel, as “fair weather fans” that Israel both can and should ignore. He is dead wrong on both counts.

I am far from the most liberal Jew in America, but I am in the camp of Jews that Rosner is criticizing – Jews who have traditionally supported Israel but in recent years are feeling less and less comfortable doing so due to Israeli policy. The reason I am deeply concerned about Israeli policy is because – 1) I love Israel, and 2) I believe that current Israeli policy is jeopardizing what Rosner properly calls “the greatest Jewish enterprise of the last two millenniums.”

Rosner tries to pawn off these legitimate concerns as motivated by Jewish guilt, claiming that American Jewish liberals are distancing themselves from Israel to “clear their conscience.” As we say here in America – that dog won’t hunt. Israelis may feel better if they can blame the views of some American Jews on personal shame. If that were true, we really would be fair weather fans. Rosner doesn’t seem to be willing to take on the much harder task of acknowledging that liberal American Jews share his objective of securing the Jewish state for posterity, and then dealing with our policy arguments on the merits.

Rosner might be surprised to know that at least this liberal Jew did not object to the incursion into Gaza. The tunnels had to be destroyed. The launchers of rockets had to be punished. No state can submit to this kind of security threat on its back doorstep. I am even willing to defend actions that result in unintentional civilian casualties. There is no good, moral answer to how to deal with terrorists who use potentially lethal force against you and then try to immunize themselves from reprisals by surrounding themselves with civilians. I do, however, wish the IDF had been more discriminating. I can’t defend killing children on the beach and I believe Israel should have avoided bombardment of UN safe harbors. But no war has ever been fought without mistakes or transgressions. I believe that the IDF is attempting to comply with the law of war, but these efforts have fallen short too often.

The bigger issue than IDF conduct, for me, is Israel’s lack of strategic vision. We hear consistently from Israeli politicians and commentators that Hamas must be crushed, annihilated, defeated. I wish that were possible too. But the reality is that while Hamas’ infrastructure can be degraded by Israel’s military might, the organization cannot be militarily defeated (at least without a horrific, unacceptable bloodletting). The only way to truly destroy Hamas is to reach a settlement with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas regarding occupation of the West Bank, show the Palestinians in Gaza that they can live a normal, better life through reconciliation, and ultimately drain the political support Hamas currently enjoys. Unfortunately, the settler movement and the condition of Israeli politics have rendered the likelihood of a peace deal more and more remote. And, as has been convincingly demonstrated by so-called liberal American Jews like Peter Beinart and Jeremy ben Ami (leader of J Street), without a peace deal, Israel cannot continue to be a Jewish, democratic state. This is the true cause of my disillusionment.

It is worth noting that what Rosner deems to be the “liberal” Jewish position – that is ending Israel’s 47-year occupation through a two-state solution – has been the consistent policy of the United States over successive Democratic and Republican administrations. But the ground has shifted in modern Israel so much that policy supported by George W. Bush and Barack Obama is now considered liberal. I do wonder: What is the “conservative” Jewish position? Is it permanent occupation? Ethnic cleansing of Muslims from Israel, the West Bank and Gaza? Or a one-state solution with unequal rights of citizenship for non-Jews? To merely ask the question is to answer it – there is no viable alternative to the two-state solution.

Rosner is surely correct that Israelis can survive even if they “lose the support of some liberal Jews.” But this dismissive attitude is reflective of the myopia that afflicts modern Israel. We live in a globalized world. No country, even one with the depth of human capital of Israel, can be successful if it is a pariah state. If Israel is losing the support of Jews like me – who pulled weeds out of kibbutz cotton fields for weeks in 1978 when I was fifteen – where will it find the economic and political support to thrive and prosper in a world that, by and large, is anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist, anti-occupation, and anti-Israel ? Losing support from some American Jews is not just about lost donations, lost tourism dollars, or lost advocacy for pro-Israel causes in the U.S. Congress (although all of these hurt Israel badly). It is a danger sign. The lights are flashing red. Apparently, Rosner has his eyes closed. Unfortunately, many Israelis do as well.

My final sin, in Rosner’s view, is that in my criticism of Israeli policy and actions, I am not treating my fellow Jews as family by providing “unconditional love.” But I do love Israel unconditionally, just as I do my children. And that hardly means I allow my children to do whatever they please or that I never criticize them. My obligation as a loving parent is to try and shape and mold my children so they make good, thoughtful, moral decisions that help them live joyous, successful lives. My love for Israel is unconditional in that as long as it exists, I will continue to advocate for its security, freedom and prosperity. My plea to Israel, out of love, is to change course before it is too late.

David H. Schanzer is an Associate Professor of the Practice at the Duke Sanford School of Public Policy and the Director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security. He is also a regular contributor to ISLAMiCommentary. 

This article was made possible (in part) by the Transcultural Islam Project, an initiative launched in 2011 by the Duke Islamic Studies Center — in partnership with the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations and the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies — aimed at deepening understanding of Islam and Muslim communities. See and for more information. The Transcultural Islam Project is funded by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author(s). 

Other web sites and print publications may re-publish this article as long as there is source attribution (author and ISLAMiCommentary) and a link back to ISLAMiCommentary. 

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Category: Americas, i-Comment, Middle East and North Africa, Politics & Current Events, Security & Civil Liberties

Comments (10)

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  1. B says:

    “The bigger issue than IDF conduct, for me, is Israel’s lack of strategic vision.”
    With a lack of strategic vision often comes sloppily nihilistic behavior, such as attempting to take out small groups of terrorists by shooting artillery rounds into UN shelters. The IDF conduct and the lack of strategic vision go hand in hand.

    • David Schanzer says:

      I agree with you that there is a linkage between strategy and behavior of military forces in the field. My point is, however, that the large scale forces that truly threaten Israel have little to do with what transpired in Gaza over the last month. Some just resolution of the Palestinian question must occur or Israel will continue to face global marginalization.

    • Steve Aulger says:

      Israel fires at sites from where rockets were launched. Hamas are brothers to Isis. Cruel and dominated by a Jihadist Islamist vision. Don’t take my word for it – read and follow Hamas manifestos and commentary. I regret Mr David Schanzer’s lack of understanding for Israel’s plight and the radical nihilist foe it faces in Gaza. He may be sincere, he may be an opportunist. His conscience is his own and, unlike Hamas, I wish him well.

  2. did israel not create hamass ,and the cia created isis?

    sadly “War is the health of the state” which “they” / “federal reserve inc. monopoly owned media” would say that is a “conspiracy theory” and “racist” or “sexism”

    “They” like their crisis creation and not wasting them , to detract from their war crimes?
    The of the Republic
    Obama Deception
    Invisible Empire A New World Order Defined
    Police State 4: The Rise of FEMA
    Fabled Enemies

    Happy Sabbath!

  3. Larry says:

    A couple of key points.
    1. It is obvious that Israel is not trying to eliminate Hamas. To do so would create a void that would be worse than Hamas. Eliminating Hamas is not necessary. What is necessary is to bring about the unconditional surrender of Hamas.
    2. The force that Israel needs to implement is that which will bring the Gazans to unconditional surrender. That will probably require the killing of tens of thousands of Gazans. It is inhumane to the Arabs who wish to be called Palestinians to allow them to drag this on ad naseum. The slaughter is a necessity. The kid gloves must come off. I believe Israel will be more traumatized by this action than the Gazans, but I also believe there is no other way.
    3. American Jews who do not realize that Israel is fighting for its existence are either:
    a. fools with their heads in the sand
    b. uninterested in the facts.
    Hamas openly declares its desire to kill all Jews. Hamas openly calls for the elimination of the occupation (which refers to all of Israel). Gazan suffering has been inflicted upon them 100% by their leadership. In spite of the hatred towards Israel, Israel continues humanitarian supplies to the Gazans. Something no other country in the world would do for a hostile neighbor.
    4. I am so happy you pulled weeds in the cotton fields in Israel. I guarantee the weeds have grown back and been repulled year by year since your great adventure in Israeli summer camp. Your contribution, both to yourself and to Israel is fairly meaningless.
    5. I happen to completely agree with the “liberal American policy” of a two state solution. I think you will find that close to 70% of Israelis agree to it. To criticize Israel for having multiple world views and free open debate about those world views shows more about you than about Israel.
    6. You have fallen into the propaganda pitfall of using the term occupation. There is no occupation, nor can there be. There have never been recognized borders. There is a large Arab population today under Israeli jurisdiction that wasnt under Israeli jurisdiction before 1967. Repeated Israeli offers have been made to end the conflict, and all those repeated efforts have been ignored (with much aggrandizing and Arab propaganda which is easily accepted by the weak minded like any Jedi mind trick). The simple answer is the Arabs are not interested in a solution.
    7. I agree with you that losing American and international support is a warning sign. It is also a sign of an Israeli cultural weakness of not appreciating the importance of reaching out to the international community with something other than typical Israeli arrogance. This is a terrible weakness that is indeed costing Israel. I believe that Israel is losing its support not from its military activities, but rather from its inability to communicate with the people we would like to support us. Israel has a compelling story, and a skilled narrator would attract the audience that is currently abandoning the story.
    8. Final comment – any American that thinks it is a sin to criticize Israeli government policy has never been in a conversation around a dinner table in Israel. Criticizing government policy is a national pastime.

    • David Schanzer says:

      Thank you for your comment.

      1. Unconditional surrender by Hamas is a fantasy. It seems that this is Netanyahu’s preference for all the various conflicts that face Israel. For example, he bitter opposes and tried to undermine the nuclear negotiations with Iran, claiming that continued sanctions would cripple Iran and force them to give up every aspect of the nuclear program root and branch. The strategy of trying to achieve your objectives only by crushing your enemies so you can drive your own risk level to zero is totally unrealistic in the real world and demonstrates while in all his years as Prime Minister, he hasn’t entered into a single negotiated agreement with anyone on anything.
      2. I am interested in survival of Israel as a Jewish state. Your prescription would leave Israel as a place where Jews live, but not one based on Jewish values and principles.
      3. I am fully aware of Hamas’s constitution and goals. But I am so frequently confronted with Jews who claim to have intimate knowledge of the facts, but only articulate ones that support the view that Israeli policy is perfect, that nothing Israel or the Jews have done before 1948 has violated the rights of any individual or group, and that everything that Israel has done over the past 66 years has been justified to protect Israel from annihilation. This is nonsense. If you want to solve problems, you have to understand the full set of facts, even inconvenient truths. If you want to simply be an advocate or ideologue – that is up to you. Just be aware, there are many more ideologues with a complete, one-sided narrative on the other side.
      4. OK, fine. My point is that I have a connection to Israel – not only pulling weeds – but I’ve been there many times, visited IDF forces in Ramallah, visited a naval base in Ashdod, spoken with detainees in Israeli jails, toured the security fence, met Sharon while staffing a congressional delegation, met with Israeli Arabs and Palestinian Authority officials. Rosner thinks that losing dear friends is no big deal and can be shrugged off. I know Israel doesn’t need me – but it will not survive long term and be a place where people are happy, want to live, and can prosper economically if it is a bunker state.
      5. I didn’t criticize Israel for having multiple world views. I do criticize past and present Israeli leaders for tolerating and now catering to a settler movement that is intolerant, has no interest in peace, and is making the two-state solution virtually impossible.
      6. See my answer to number 3 regarding one-sided facts.
      7. Complete agreement, excellent.
      8. It was Rosner, not me, who called on American Jews to provide unconditional love. Also, see reports of how Israeli media is not showing the impact of Israeli attacks on Gaza and other reports of dissent being stifled. Israel continues to be a vibrant democracy – it is shame that democracy is producing such an uncreative, short-sided leadership.

      Many thanks.

      • Larry says:

        Thank you for your thoughtful response. Just to smooth over the rough edges I would like to submit a brief reply

        1. Here we will be forced to disagree. Military force is abused when it is not used to win a fight unconditionally.
        2. Hence my comment that Israel will be more traumatized than the Arabs. It is Israel’s morality that will make this difficult. Never the less this is a necessary step.
        3. Nowhere have I claimed Israel’s infallibility. I am well aware of the history and the faults.
        8. I am not sure Israel is not showing the impact. There have been anti war demonstrations in Israel. Israeli media shows the impact. I do not think that more than a small handfull of Israeli Jews will show any sympathy for the Gazans. I view the images of the carnage in Gaza as a success story

        again, thank you for your comments

      • Steve Aulger says:

        Dear David

        1. Where did you get the idea that Israel/Netanyahu is expecting Hamas – who fire rockets from hospitals, schools, cemeteries, mosques, residential areas, etc. – to surrender? As Hamas state: we seek death (not life). So why would Israel expect Hamas to surrender. Israel is wanting all rocket fire and tunnels into Israel to cease.
        David, you should also be aware of all the agreements with North Korea to curtail their nuclear programs. Were the negotiations successful? Iran is more zealous about destroying Israel than NK is about destroying the US and South Korea. Netanyahu and Israelis are suspicious of Iran – given Iran’s support for terrorist groups and regimes – and rightly so !

        2. Jewish values and principles are alive and well in Israel. “Two Jews Three Opinions” is a fair description of the debate of all shades of the political and moral spectrum in Israel. Israel tolerated almost two weeks of rocket fire before launching the IDF operation, and has since agreed to seven cease fires, that were not honoured by Hamas. What did you want Israel to do?

        3. I was born in Palestine, my brother was born in Palestine (pre Israel). One out of every 100 Jews then living in Palestine (man, woman, child) were killed by Arabs in the War of Independence in 1947/8 when they tried to annihilate Israel for the first time. The artefacts dug up in Israel date from 2,000 years ago and are in the same language that was kept alive by Jews in the Diaspora – my language. I am proud of my ancestry and the gifts they gave to the world and want to dwell in their shadow in Israel.

        4. Israel is NOT and WILL NOT be a bunker state. You are confusing Israel with Gaza (or Hezbollah) where the leadership hides in bunkers and cover their faces with hate. Israel is an open, vibrant, and not perfect – like most nations. It is a young country with much suffering in its short life, but still managed to successfully integrate almost two million refugees from USSR, Iraq, Egypt, Ethiopia, Yemen, Syria, Algeria. The world centre of the Bahaii faith is in Haifa and Israelis are proud to host the magnificent temple and gardens of this minority persecuted to death in Iran, whom you so readily believe not to seek nuclear arms.

        5. The settler issue is a red herring, in my opinion. The peace agreement with Egypt dismantled all Jewish settlements in the Sinai. Similarly, all Jewish settlements in Gaza were dismantled in 2005, when Israel disengaged from Gaza.

        8. It is a falsehood to claim that the Israeli press and dissent were suppressed during the IDF operation. Can you provide evidence of such a cruel statement? There were nightly protests by the left near the Habimah theatre and all news was freely available. I spent 40 years in the UK and followed all the news in Israel as well as the Guardian, BBC, Telegraph, Daily Mail, CNN, FT, etc. – as did most Israelis who are well read and fluent in more than one language. There was nothing that was available in the foreign press that was missing in Israel. What was missing was the obvious slant by selective reporting and omissions that was flagrant in papers such as The Guardian and NY Times.

        Finally, a general point.
        I love all mankind and more so Jews.
        We lost so many sisters and brothers not long ago and every Jew is more precious to me.
        I wish no harm to anyone – including Muslims.
        What I will not live with (and will stay away from) are fascist ideologies that have no room for compromise or moderation – and so should you, maybe.


    • Sam Southworth says:

      Thank you, well said and whole heartily agree.
      In my opinion not being a religious person at all I feel that any Jew who doesn’t support Israel is a “turn coat” and a coward and should be ashamed.

      In my opinion it’s the liberal passive jews in Nazi Germany who were in denial, did not have a good outcome as we all know.

      I’m an athiest, and I do the right thing not because of a God, but it’s the right thing to do. I’m a MMA fighter and my heart tells me to fight for Israel as once again the world is backing the bad guys.

      I’m leaving for Israel in two months for my first visit, if the IDF will take me. I’m all in.

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