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Middle East News Service: Protest? Not Just Yet

Original Translation: Protest? Not Just Yet

Middle East News Service

[Middle East News Service Comment: The consensus of support for the Second Lebanon War inside Israel is beginning to crumble. Already this News Service reported on Saturday that “According to a survey of the Israeli public, 82 percent believe the army’s offensive in Lebanon is justified, and 71 percent think Israel should use even greater force.” The original support figure of 92 per cent is astounding. But it should have raised the alarm. How can it be 92 per cent with Palestinian Israelis constituting about 20 per cent of the population? It is not the Israeli public but the Jewish-Israeli public – the only one surveyed. Many thank to Einyan Merkazi for highlighting this.

But at any rate support is coming down. So much so that each of three major Hebrew dailies devoted a major feature to it in their weekend editions . At the same time none thought that it ought to available for overseas consumption so neither Ynetnews nor Haaretz published it in English (at least not when I last looked.) There was a good choice with the acerbic Maia Bengal in Ma’ariv referring to former Peace Now leader and now cabinet Minister Yuli Tamir as “a pure white dove with military insignia on her wings.” Attila Somfalvi in Ynet was critical of some former politicians and there would have been some marvellous quote there. But there in question to my mind that the veteran Lily Galili always comes up with the good and this time is no exception.

– Sol Salbe]

Protest? Not just yet…

By Lily Galili

It’s been a long time since those on the Left felt so righteous. The Occupation took away the feeling of righteousness, Hezbollah aroused it again.

[Translated from the Hebrew by Sol Salbe. Original article:]

Last Saturday night, when a few thousand leftists demonstrated in Tel Aviv against the war in Lebanon, a friend called Yariv Oppenheimer on the phone. The friend was riding in a taxi and the radio was reporting on the demonstration. The secretary-general of Peace Now heard her driver exclaim angrily: “Those ‘Peace Now’ people are a bunch of traitors!” In fact Peace Now did not participate in the demonstration, which was organised by more radical groups. Among the uninformed, the movement’s name is used generically for the whole peace camp. But for the time being, the movement that in the past has shown itself capable of bringing ten of thousands out onto the streets has taken a vow of silence.

A special meeting of the Peace Now secretariat was held last Monday. The main topic under discussion was, predictably, the war in Lebanon. It is a rare occasion when almost forty members turn up. It’s just as rare for the views not to split up along the familiar lines between the moderates and radicals, as happened here. Naturally there were new patterns, different to the familiar ones that dominate the interminable deliberations on the Occupation and the Territories ruled the day. The justness of the war, its morality, the way it was being conducted, and its efficacy were all discussed. These were the main fissure lines upon which the positions of the Left are crystallising. Few of those attending challenged the justness of the war – the majority thought this was a just war.

It’s been a long time since those on the Left felt so righteous. The Occupation took away the feeling of righteousness, Hezbollah aroused it again. But even this turned out to be a small consolation. According to former Peace Now secretary-general Mossi Raz: “We have been so preoccupied with being right, we forgot that we have to be smart about it as well. That’s our tragedy now. People, who for years have fought against the Occupation, love to suddenly discover themselves being in the right. It’s such a great feeling, it has overcome our good judgment. ”

On the other hand, Professor Dan Jacobson, one of the movement’s senior members, contends that “there is hell of a difference between a human rights organisation and a peace movement.” It’s a distinction that has been blurred by years of the Occupation, but it is being sharpened again now. Jacobson represents a current which maintains that opposing a war based on a defence of agreed borders undermines the credibility and legitimacy of the Left’s main theme that calls for the return to the 1967 borders.

It’s great being a rightist

Even if it is just, the war is perceived as of having no benefit, or even as damaging to the Israeli cause. “We have to lead from the front, but we should not lose eye contact with those behind us,” summed up Eli Safran, a Peace Now activist who came to the meeting from Kibbutz Sasa in the north. In the meantime it has been decided not to engage in any activities. The emphasis is on the “meantime”. Most of the Left has adopted this position. Its absence as an active force strengthened the consensus, which below the surface is already showing some cracks. Those who have been following the Left’s responses to war situations would observe a new phenomenon: The protest is smaller but has come about much faster and in addition the protest movement is much more complex in both its composition and values.

Two days before the gathering Moria Shlomot, Peace Now secretary-general during 2000-2002, participated in the demonstration organised by Gush Shalom and the Arab Parties*. It was not a simple decision for her. Her family is in Kibbutz Bar’am [on the Lebanese border – translator] and [Lebanese village] of Maroun a-Ras [scene of the fiercest fighting] has been part of her vista since childhood. There were some in the kibbutz who when they heard of her participation told Shlomot that she was being a fool. She was not even insulted. “I see the members of Bar’am and my heart goes to them,” she says. “I would very much like to be a person with absolute universal values, but I am not. I did not go to the demonstration on their account. I love my country in the deepest possible manner and all my feelings are firmly anchored in here. I can still remember myself as a kid trembling in the kibbutz’s children room in fear of a terrorist attack. I recall imagining dancing a belly dance for them and opening a dialogue with them to make sure they would not kill me.

“But the question I ask myself is whether the decision to launch such a grandiose operation really protects the residents of the north. The answer that I give myself is that it is not. I do not even stop to consider the question of whether the war is just or not. My entire thinking process is concentrated on the issue of whether it will do any good which I simply cannot see. The army has been caught unprepared, it has been caught with its pants down. Half a million refugees and 400 Lebanese killed so far are not going to make Lebanon a friendlier country in the future. As someone who comes from the mental treatment environment, I am very disturbed by the lack of proportionality. There is a clear difference between a parent who punishes and the one who abuses. With our extreme response we have become abusers who perpetrate the cycle of injustice. Above all, what is clear to me is that we ought to first the conflicts that can be solved like the one with the Palestinians. It will be only when that wound stops bleeding that we can deal correctly with the other disputes. It will only be then that I will be able to feel that we are on the right path. I was only born in 1968, into the Occupation. I am missing something that I have never felt."

There are many who contend that the Left has an automatic response -- that Israel is always guilty and is never in the right. Even if this is true as far as the conflict with the Palestinians is concerned, that argument is not valid now. The internal discourse within the peace camp is complex and full of nuances. The feeling that the peace camp is in trouble overshadows everything. The firing of the Qassams after the disengagement and the Hezbollah attack after Israel withdrew to the internationally-recognised border undermine the Left’s promise that drawing back to recognised borders will bring peace. “It is going to be a great job being a copywriter for the Right for the near future,” says Oppenheimer. “On the other hand the lesson now is that once we are behind the recognised borders, we have a right to defend ourselves with all our might. Our predicament is already evident. I miss the days when we took unanimous decisions and rushed to carry them out. That is not the situation today.”

Oppenheimer says that when he read the refuseniks’ comments in Haaretz last week he felt like killing them. “I never agreed with them, but I could understand their reasoning and their unwillingness to take part in the Occupation. But the very notion of refusal is totally illegitimate now. Indirectly it tarnishes the legitimacy of the entire Left, because for large sections of the public we are all the same.”

In contrast to many currents of the Left who are motivated by universal morality, his reasoning is different. “I am not oblivious to the misdeeds of the other side, but the Israeli interest will get me out onto the streets much faster than universal morality. I am no more ethical than the majority of society, and I am not sure that I am even more sensitive. That is the way I see the movement: we are not a movement concerned with universal morality but with what’s good for Israel. In terms of everything to do with the Occupation in the Territories and our behaviour in Gaza morality and Israel’s interests overlap. In every other case Israel’s interest takes priority. As far as I am concerned the question is if or when these two tracks will meet in the war in Lebanon. My current dilemmas are neither political nor ethical, but practical. The truth is that in my own eyes I have felt foolish over the last few days. It is as if I am saying that if this operation is a success I am for it, and if it is a failure, I am against it. This is definitely not an ethical consideration and whatever will crystallise in the movement will be based on efficacy.”

Getting the slogans ready

As soon as the war broke out, a group of about 20 Peace Now activists went up to Kibbutz Gonen for a weekend at their guest house [The bed-and-breakfast form of tourism is a major part of the area’s economy- Translator.] Their intention was to show solidarity with the local residents and demonstrate that Israel has a right to defend its borders. Oppenheimer says that now, a fortnight later, such a group could not have been organised. “The process of gnawing away at the consensus has already begun” he observes.

As someone who is also the movement’s spokesperson, he is preparing for eventual protest. “When we decide that it is time to act, I will be proposing the slogan “Israel is strong – Israel can call a halt,” [A brilliant rhyme in Hebrew - Tr] he says. “Our activities will be highly patriotic. That is our challenge – to come up with a position which is outside the consensus while remaining a legitimate part of the political discourse.”

There is, however, an additional reason for the passive stance of the Zionist Left. Peace Now is never in a rush to mobilise when the Labour Party is in power or a partner in the government even when the movement’s leaders think that the cause demands it. The reason is that under such circumstances they lack the followers to mobilise. Such was the case in the days of Ehud Barak and Yitzhak Rabin. There is a similar situation at the moment with a Labour Party Defence Minister. The Peace Now activists admit that in all honesty they would have mobilised sooner had the Defence Minster been named Netanyahu or Mofaz. But now the Defence Minister is Amir Peretz, one of Peace Now’s founders. Disappointment in him gets mentioned in closed meetings but no one is in a rush to make it public. Mossi Raz, who is also a member of the Meretz Committee of Management, does not hesitate: “I am ropeable every time someone mentions Peretz’s background in Peace Now,” he says. “That Likudnik Yuval Steinitz also hails from Peace Now, and as far as I am concerned they occupy the same political spot.”

But Raz, who has been opposed to the war since its first day, contends that the feeling of righteousness impairs judgement on the Left. “People who have fought for years against the Occupation like to find themselves being in the right”, he says about the new situation. “It is such a good feeling to be in the right, that it overrides common logic.” So for the moment the government can enjoy the consensus. But the consensus is developing serious cracks, not from any consideration of ethics but those of losses and gains.

*Arab Parties, the literal translation which would have been adopted by Haaretz. However the main party leading the demonstration was the Communist Party and its electoral front, Hadash (The Democratic Front for Peace and Equality) which, while in fact both Jewish and Arab in composition, is referred to as an Arab party in the Israeli discourse.

[Translated from the Hebrew by Sol Salbe. Original article:]


[ The independent Middle East News Service concentrates on providing alternative information chiefly from Israeli sources. It is sponsored by the Australian Jewish Democratic Society. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the AJDS. These are expressed in its own statements]

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