Analysis from Israel

Haaretz reported yesterday that if the Palestinian Authority’s planned Fatah-Hamas unity government actually arises, the U.S., like the European Union, will probably recognize it. Since Hamas has repeatedly said it will neither recognize Israel nor renounce violence, Israel is understandably upset at American and European willingness to peddle the fiction that a government in which Hamas is a full partner complies with those requirements. But Israel itself has helped to peddle a no less outrageous fiction for years–that PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, unlike Hamas, is a “partner for peace.” To understand how ridiculous this claim is, consider two recent developments: last week’s Haaretz op-ed by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, and a decision by Al-Quds University’s academic union two weeks earlier.

Erekat’s op-ed consisted mainly of standard Palestinian lies and half-truths about the Nakba–like omitting any mention of the five Arab armies who invaded Israel in 1948, thereby starting the war that created the Palestinian refugees. Nevertheless, one sentence stood out: “In my own home town, Jericho, there are two refugee camps where thousands continue to live in miserable conditions.” That happens to be completely true. What Erekat neglected to mention, however, is that Jericho was the first city Israel turned over to Palestinian rule, way back in 1994. In other words, Jericho has been under Palestinian rule continuously for the last 20 years, during which time the PA has been the largest per capita recipient of foreign aid in the world. Yet not one cent of that money has been spent on improving conditions in Jericho’s refugee camps. Instead, 20 years later, Erekat is still blaming Israel for the “miserable conditions” in those camps.

This is not a trivial issue, because the entire peace process is predicated on the theory that Fatah actually wants a Palestinian state. Yet having a Palestinian state means taking responsibility for the Palestinians’ problems, including the refugees living in those camps, rather than continuing to blame Israel for them. And as Erekat’s statement shows, the Fatah-led PA has no interest in doing any such thing: It prefers leaving the refugees in their misery as a way to score points against Israel with international public opinion. In other words, it would rather pursue its war against Israel than actually exercise sovereignty by improving its people’s lives.

This preference for continuing the war on Israel over making peace also emerges from an April 30 decision by Al-Quds University’s academic union to expel a professor for the “crime” of taking his students to Auschwitz. By so doing, the union said, Prof. Mohammed Dajani was guilty of “behavior that contravenes the [union’s] policies and norms.”

Al-Quds isn’t some Islamic university deep in Hamas-controlled Gaza; it’s a flagship PA institution, located in East Jerusalem, that even had a partnership with Brandeis University, and whose president for almost 20 years (until his resignation in March at age 65) was prominent Fatah member Sari Nusseibeh, considered a leading Palestinian moderate. Yet for this “moderate” university, simply daring to expose students to the historical truth of the Holocaust is a crime worthy of expulsion from the academic union. Why? Because, as another teacher explained, it might lead students to have some sympathy for “the false Zionist narrative.” Or in other words, it might actually contribute to peacemaking by facilitating mutual understanding.

As long as the “moderates” of Fatah are unwilling either to accept the basic responsibilities of sovereignty, like helping their own refugees, or to acknowledge basic historical truths like the Holocaust, they are no more “peace partners” than Hamas is. And by peddling the fiction that they are, Israel and the West aren’t bringing peace closer. They’re merely ensuring that Fatah has no incentive to change.

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Physicians, Heal Thyselves

It’s no secret that many liberal Jews today view tikkun olam, the Hebrew phrase for “repairing the world,” as the essence of Judaism. In To Heal the World?, Jonathan Neumann begs to differ, emphatically. He views liberal Judaism’s love affair with tikkun olam as the story of “How the Jewish Left Corrupts Judaism and Endangers Israel.” In fact, he believes tikkun olam endangers Judaism itself. Anyone who considers such notions wildly over the top should make sure to read Neumann’s book—because one needn’t agree with everything he says to realize that his major concerns are disturbingly well-founded.

Neumann begins by explaining what he considers the modern liberal Jewish understanding of tikkun olam. It is taken, he says, not just as a general obligation to make the world a better place, but as a specific obligation to promote specific “universal” values and even specific policies—usually, the values and policies of progressive Democrats.

He then raises three major objections to this view. The first is that the only way to interpret Judaism as a universalist religion with values indistinguishable from those of secular progressives is by ignoring the vast majority of key Jewish texts, including the Bible and the Talmud, and millennia of Jewish tradition. After all, most of these texts deal with the history, laws, and culture of one specific nation—the Jews. The Bible’s history isn’t world history, nor are its laws (with a few exceptions) meant to govern any nation but the Jews. Judaism undeniably has universalist elements. But to ignore its particularist aspects is to ignore much of what makes it Judaism, which therefore corrupts our understanding of Judaism.

The second problem is that if Judaism has no purpose other than promoting the same values and policies touted by non-Jewish progressives, there’s no reason for Judaism to exist at all. Consequently, the tikkun olam version of Judaism really does threaten Judaism’s continued existence, and it’s no accident that the liberal Jewish movements that have embraced it are rapidly dwindling due to intermarriage and assimilation. After all, why should young American Jews remain Jewish when they can do everything they think Judaism requires of them even without being Jewish?

This also explains why, in Neumann’s view, tikkun olam Judaism endangers Israel. If there’s no reason for Judaism to exist, there’s certainly no reason for a Jewish state. Indeed, Israel is anathema to the tikkun olam worldview because it’s the embodiment of Jewish particularism—the view that Jews are a distinct nation and have their own history, culture, and laws rather than being merely promulgators of universal values. Thus it’s easy to understand why tikkun olam Jews increasingly abhor the Jewish state.

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