Many Diaspora Jewish communities are already perceived us to be on slippery slope of xenophobia, racism and witch-hunts against human rights and peace activists.
Iam writing from Vancouver, the first leg of my North American speaking tour. My first stop is the University of British Columbia. Its student body, like much of Canada, is a rainbow of striking diversity. The cultural environment on campus is a proud blend of pluralism and politeness, acceptance and curiosity, a thirst for knowledge and academic achievement.
Along with Dr. Sami Adwan, a colleague from Bethlehem University, I addressed an audience of more than 700 – members of the academic community and local Jews and Arabs. Our subject: building peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
I had the opportunity afterward to speak with most of the Jews and Israelis in the audience. They were all very thankful to hear a proud Israeli who is optimistic about the country’s future and the chances for peace. Most of what I heard was a deep sense of embarrassment from what they read about Israel. They explained how they feel increasingly alienated from the behavior of the government.
They cannot understand its refusal to freeze settlement building to enable negotiations. They feel deep shame about the rabbis’ letter, and dread the thought of how it is perceived by their friends and neighbors. They are profoundly disturbed by what appears to be a witch-hunt against those political and human-rights groups that do not support the policies of the Netanyahu government. They express a sincere sense of fear that the day is coming when they too will have to cease their support.
A rabbi who took me for dinner after the event told me there is growing alienation from Israel in the Jewish community. Jews in Canada suffer from a lack of organizational structure in which they can express their love and support, while also asserting their dissatisfaction with its government and policies.
The choice here is to either join the ‘Israel right or wrong ‘camp or to join those who side with the boycott, divestment and sanctions. Active members of the community who do not join the Israel right or wrong camp are automatically labeled anti- Israel or self-hating Jews – far from the truth.
The local Hillel has dismissed the tradition of Hillel, which encouraged openness, learning, inquiry and pluralism in favor of leading the campaign to purge the Jewish community of those critical of Israel. In this way, the Jewish establishment here is apparently a mirror image of the establishment in Israel. It’s a sad day when criticism loses its legitimacy in Jewish society.
IN ISRAEL and in many Diaspora Jewish communities, we are already on the slippery slope of xenophobia, racism and witch-hunts against human-rights and peace activists. The general demise of the rule of law and liberal democracy, lead by Israel Beiteinu, Shas, the silence of Jabotinskyites like Bennie Begin and Dan Meridor and the tacit support of the ultimate populist Binyamin Netanyahu, is causing Israel to become a pariah state not only in the minds of non-Jews but also in the eyes of many Jews.
Because of what I heard here, I’ve decided to return to North America in March to attend the second annual conference of J Street in Washington.
Canada has no J Street, and it is sadly absent. J Street is the soulmate of progressive democratic Israelis. It represents American Jews who are Zionists, proud of their Jewishness, true lovers of Zion who are fighting for Israel’s soul and know, like me, that its uniqueness and true potential will emerge only once we make peace with our neighbors. J Street, like the peace movement in Israel, human rights organizations and liberal democratic values are under attack on both sides of the ocean.
AS I was writing these words, I received the following e-mail: “It is Israel, not the ‘Palestinians’ who should take unilateral action before it is too late: Annex Judea and Samaria immediately, and begin negotiations with Jordan about a long-term solution. I am convinced that many Arab dwellers in Judea and Samaria would acquiesce, maybe even endorse such a solution… Incentives, financial and others, could be offered to Judean and Samarian Arabs who would move to Jordan, while similar incentives could be offered to Jews all over the world who wish to settle in the territories. This should alleviate the demographic worries of some Israelis.”
It amazes me that there are people who actually believe this. The author claims: “I proudly include myself among the few experts who truly comprehend the interminable conflict in all its aspects– culturally, historically, geographically, legally and politically.”
It is clear to me that this person has never spoken with a Palestinian or a Jordanian; this person is completely detached from reality, like many of those who think time is on our side and that we don’t have to work round-the-clock to save the two-state solution.
Each additional country that grants recognition to the Palestinian state should be a wake-up call.
Instead, some of our politicians prefer to amuse themselves with their own wit in talking about a “Facebook state of Palestine.”
The Palestinian state is already much more than virtual. It is emerging with each passing day, with a sense of purpose and a compelling logic of rationality and justice, with a force of immediacy that even Avigdor Lieberman will not be able to stop.
Perhaps the view from the Canadian Rockies that I see from my dormitory window enables me to see the future more coherently than it can be seen from the window of the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. What I see on the horizon is a road that splits with one path leading toward the sun, the other toward doom and destruction. We are 100 meters from that junction. Time to make the right turn.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.