If I was back in academia again, I might want to research two recurring themes in Jewish life in diaspora: the theme of the Court Jew whose close relationship with power provides security and the assimilator who thinks that blending in alone will provide safety. The problem with the former is that if the power is unpopular or deposed for any reason, populist anger is directed at those who benefitted regardless of their religion and often spreads even to the assimilators.
This almost never works out to anyone’s benefit, but it’s a knot that’s almost impossible to untangle for a small and hated minority. The only solutions to this dilemma that seem to function at all are Zionism and Western Liberalism though both are never completely secure protections.
So I can’t help but wonder what the point of this letter signed by many respected Jewish academics is. Is it to try to be a “good Jew”? I’m sure any query at the signatories is answered with “not in my name” and “moral responsibility” and so forth and so on.
But there’s just one problem. It’s wrong not only on a basic factual level, it’s actually counterproductive in a utilitarian way towards resolving the situation.
First, it’s wrong because it’s based on falsehoods. The 1967 lines may be a starting point for final status negotiations, but they only reflect the status quo of 1967. Prior to that, there were Jewish “settlements” in places like Gush Etsion that were destroyed and whose inhabitants were murdered. It’s an arbitrary point and notwithstanding a number of UN resolutions with no legal effect whose real purpose was to foster peace discussions, answering the question of whose territory is it leads to absurdity if the answer isn’t Israel. It could be the UK’s, since they were the Mandatory Power, but they left and the only state declared within the mandate prior to 1967 was Israel. It could be Jordan’s, but then you’re validating their war of conquest—which wasn’t even defensive in nature. If it’s “Palestine” then it’s a disputed claim with Israel and there’s no legal reason why the lines are those of 1967 and not whatever the two negotiate. The last remotely sensible answer would be Turkey, which is the successor state to the Ottoman Empire. Under that logic, however, neither Israel nor Palestine exist.
Leaving the question of sovereignty aside and just reverting to the question of title, most of the physical land in the West Bank belonged to the state or to large land barons, many Turkish, many Syrian, very few “Palestinians.”
To the extent settlements from Israel conflict with prior land use rights, there should be redress available in the legal system and those injured due compensation or a return of those rights. But that’s very different than saying every square inch inhabited by an Israeli is an illegal settlement. Israeli settlements are largely built on empty land that was infeasible to build towns on before modern infrastructure and engineering were developed.
I’ve traveled quite a bit in the “West Bank” and see these places with my own eyes.
Second, this will hurt, rather than harm, peace. If Palestinians (correctly) perceive that Israel is a divisive issue among Jews and that persistent repetition of falsehoods and drummed out outrage incited by these “new facts” can convince even Jewish Americans that they are correct, then there’s little incentive for them to stop it. The reaction on the Israeli side is and has been to feel even more bunkered and isolated with American support on the wane. These are utilitarian calculations, of course, but that’s all that’s left after the moral absolutes of the truth are left behind in the first place.
The worst idiocies of the left are in attempts to repeat the procedures of their victories. Not every disadvantaged group are “just like” American blacks or South African blacks. Every disadvantaged group deserves its own organic solutions to its own unique problems.
The logic of the civil rights movement in the US has now been expanded to include anything that people might make a comment on that hurt’s your feelings. The way you are born, like race, or traditions you keep, like religion, are nothing special in this milieu. Anything you choose to do now, no matter how absurd, self-indulgent, or self-destructive must now not only be benignly ignored, but praised and encouraged.
This is creating a generation of psychologically disabled Americans who cannot understand conflict and who cannot pierce the emotional trappings of conflict. And this is, of course, leading to a change in attitudes towards tough conflicts like Israel.
But in the end, the only solution involves security for self-determination for both peoples in some form. But you won’t get there encouraging Palestinian obstruction and Israeli defensiveness based on garbage lies.