Analysis from Israel

Many well-meaning people still believe that “pro-Palestinian activists” are exactly what the term sounds like – people anxious to better the Palestinians’ lot by ending “the occupation” and creating a Palestinian state. But Haaretz journalist Amira Hass provided a window onto these activists’ true nature in a column this week: They are people for whom even Hass – a self-described non-Zionist who deems Jewish immigration to Israel a “crime” and Palestinian violence against Israel a “right” – is a “Zionist,” and therefore beyond the pale. In short, they are people whose world has no place for any Israeli Jew of any political persuasion, and for whom the only “pro-Palestinian” future worth contemplating is one where Israel ceases to exist.

To understand just how extreme a worldview is required to label Hass too “pro-Israel,” some background is in order. Hass is Haaretz’s longtime Palestinian affairs analyst, but she’s unique among the Israeli journalists covering this beat in that she doesn’t live in Israel; she has lived for over two decades among the Palestinians, first in Gaza and then in Ramallah. This isn’t merely out of journalistic dedication; it’s where her avowed sympathies lie.

She states explicitly that she isn’t a Zionist. As she put it in the abovementioned column, during a panel she moderated at last week’s Haaretz conference in New York, “The newspaper’s representatives made it clear that Haaretz is a Zionist publication, that its opposition to the occupation stems from Zionist principles. I found it appropriate to distinguish myself from this stance.”

In this same column, she wrote that overseas Jews who move to Israel “would be choosing to participate in another crime,” a message she said she has delivered at forums ranging from the Haaretz conference to meetings with South African Jews. As she correctly noted, this is the antithesis of Zionism, which “preaches in favor of the immigration of Diaspora Jews to Israel.” In contrast, she appears to favor letting Palestinians immigrate to Israel; at any rate, she devoted several paragraphs to decrying Israel’s refusal to let them to do so.

Moreover, she believes Palestinians have a “right” to kill Israelis; in a now-infamous column in 2013, she wrote, “Throwing stones is the birthright and duty of anyone subject to foreign rule.” That those stones are lethal weapons whose victims are primarily innocent civilians – the list of Israelis killed by Palestinian stone-throwers ranges from infants through toddlers to senior citizens – evidently doesn’t cause her any moral qualms.

So what could Hass possibly have done to enrage those “pro-Palestinian activists” to the point of accusing her of the worst crime in their book – Zionism? In her own words, “The thing that apparently angered them most was that I dared claim that the use of weapons does not advance the Palestinians’ cause today.”

This claim was not, heaven forbid, advanced “because of my Israeli identity” – i.e. out of any squeamishness about the murder of her countrymen. It’s just that in any armed conflict between the Palestinians and the vastly better-equipped Israeli army, the Palestinians are inevitably going to lose. Or to put it in her own, more pejorative, terms, the Israelis’ “capacity for destructive revenge is bigger.”

This, incidentally, is also the stated position of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He, too, has repeatedly said that while he considers “armed struggle” legitimate in principle, he believes it has proven counterproductive in practice and should therefore be eschewed. So in the eyes of these “pro-Palestinian activists,” Abbas would also apparently qualify as a despised “Zionist.” And since he did, once upon a time, win election on this platform (though he’s now in the 11th year of his four-year term), all the Palestinians who once voted for him are presumably also “Zionists,” and therefore similarly beyond the pale for these “pro-Palestinian” purists.

Granted, the activists in question were South African, and the South African branch of BDS has long been even more pro-violence and more virulently anti-Semitic than the rest of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. But the difference is one of degree rather than kind; “pro-Palestinian” activists elsewhere are also often both pro-violence and anti-Semitic.

Judging by her column, Hass learned nothing from the fact that even she was ostracized as too “Zionist” by these activists. But other well-meaning liberals ought to do so. “Pro-Palestinian activists” who have no place even for Amira Hass in their world have no place for anyone who seeks anything other than Israel’s violent demise. Thus by cooperating with such activists, liberals are not promoting a peaceful two-state solution; they’re promoting the activists’ goal of a world without Israel.

Originally published in Commentary on December 23, 2015

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Israel’s unity government may prove a constitutional time bomb

That Israel will soon have a government is good news; almost any government would be better than the political dysfunction that has produced three elections in the past year. But aside from its existence, there’s little to like about this “unity” government.

The biggest problem isn’t that many important issues will perforce go unaddressed, though that’s inevitable given the compromises required when neither bloc can govern on its own. Nor is it the risk that the government will be dysfunctional even on “consensual” issues like rescuing the economy from the coronavirus crisis, though this risk is real, since both sides’ leaders will have veto power over every government decision.

Rather, it’s the cavalier way that Israel’s Basic Laws are being amended to serve the particular needs of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his new partner, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz.

Though Israel’s Supreme Court wrongly claims the Basic Laws are a constitution, they were never intended as such by the parliaments that passed them. Indeed, some were approved by a mere quarter of the Knesset or less.

But they were intended as the building blocks of a future constitution should Israel ever adopt one. That’s why this handful of laws, alone of all the laws on Israel’s books, are deemed “Basic Laws,” and why each addresses a fundamental constitutional issue (the executive branch, the legislature, the judiciary, human rights, Israel’s Jewish character, etc.).

In other words, though they aren’t a constitution, they do serve as the foundation of Israel’s system of government. And tinkering with the architecture of any democratic system of government can have unintended consequences, as Israel has discovered before to its detriment.

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