Being progressive means being for democracy, human rights, human dignity, equality, and peace. Being progressive also means being critical of injustices carried out by Israel (and also by its neighbours). For progressive Jews, this calls for advocacy to change unjust policies and decisions carried out by Israel. For example, it means criticizing and opposing Jewish Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank, including decisions to expand these settlements because these settlements outside of Israel’s 1967 borders undermine peace efforts and increase the likelihood of another war. As progressives we respect democracy and Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. It is a healthy democracy with a very broad spectrum of political opinions represented, including communist and Arab parties, in its Parliament. Israel has a free press and protects the rights of gays and lesbians while its neighbours do not. One can legitimately criticize specific Israeli Government policy, but it is antisemitism to question the right of only Israel to exist. Very many other countries have much worse records of terrorizing and killing their own citizens: Turkey, Iran, Zimbabwe, Cambodia, Jordan, yet no one is saying that these countries have no right to exist. Two-thirds of Israelis and Palestinians support a two state solution and as progressives we support both groups working towards a peaceful solution., Unfortunately Hamas’ stated goal is the destruction of Israel. Israel has an independent judiciary and active NGO community that are working to protect the rights of Israeli Arabs and West Bank Palestinians. Israel has an active peace camp that needs the support, not condemnation, of progressives around the world to continue their work towards peace. If progressives are truly interested in working towards a peaceful resolution of the Israel/Palestinian situation then they should work with Israeli moderates / progressives and Palestinian moderates / progressives to build bridges towards peace. Isn't Israel a colonial power?
No. Israel was an independent Jewish nation in biblical times until it was conquered and its population was dispersed by the Romans. For thousands of years Jews around the world talked and prayed about returning to Zion. Over these same thousands of years Jews were routinely discriminated against, expelled or murdered in most countries around the world. Throughout this history a Jewish community of varying size has always lived in Israel. Early Zionism, the Jewish national liberation movement, worked through peaceful political means to facilitate Jews returning to Israel and to establish a homeland for Jews. This entitlement to come back to Israel was recognized internationally numerous times over the last 100 years – Balfour Declaration, the Allies after WWI and the United Nations. More specifically, in 1948 the United Nations voted to partition the area, one part for Jews, and one part of Arabs, resulting in Jews declaring Israel as a State for the Jewish part, and in response Arab armies from Transjordan, Egypt, Syria and Iraq immediately attacking Israel. When they attacked Israel, these Arab nations intended to destroy Israel because they did not want a Jewish State in their midst, despite the United Nations decision to partition the area. Jews fought back and won that war. On two other occasions Arab nations attacked Israel. While we agree that the Jewish people, returning to Israel, do not represent a foreign colonial power conquering a territory with which they have no relationship or history, we disagree with Israel continuing to hold on to the conquered West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. What will it take to reach peace between Israelis and the Palestinians?
Numerous surveys over the last few years have indicated that over two-thirds of both the Israeli and Palestinian populations support a two state solution. What is needed is political leadership on both sides, Israeli and Palestinian. At present, politicians on both sides fear losing power in the short term and are not demonstrating the political leadership necessary to finalize an agreement that is in the long term interest of both Palestinians and Israelis. In the Israeli Knesset, the mainstream parties must work together in support of a long term solution and stop clinging to power by acceding to the political blackmail of fringe extremist parties. Palestinian politicians must get their population ready for nationhood by building up the social and economic infrastructure of a nation-to-be. They also need to stop encouraging the demonization of Israel in their educational system. The details of the border and the land swaps have been identified in the Geneva Accord, which was worked out informally by moderate former politicians, military leaders and academics from both sides. In fact informal groups are presently working on the border between Israeli West Jerusalem and Palestinian East Jerusalem block by block. For two states, Israel and Palestine, to live together as neighbours in peace will mean that both Israelis and Palestinians will relinquish their extremist positions, such as, legitimizing terrorism by Palestinians, legitimizing Jewish settlements in the West Bank by Israel. For a lasting peace, Israel must be welcomed by its neighbours as a Jewish, democratic state in Middle East; this will require Israel to work with nations in the region who accept its right to exist, in order to develop and strengthen mutual diplomatic, cultural, trade, and cultural relations. .
Why we oppose Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) against Israel?
BDS simplify and distort a complex interplay between Palestinians and Israelis by singling out only one side of the conflict for condemnation. It ignores the security concerns that Israel faces from real enemies who seek Israel’s destruction, such as Iran and Hamas. In particular, the BDS campaign also seeks to repatriate all Palestinian refugees, going back to 1948. If this were to happen, instead of a compromise of some refugees returning, and other refugees receiving financial compensation and moving to a newly established Palestinian state, Jews would be in a minority within Israel. Today, Israel as a nation is a Zionist secular state with freedom of religion for all. It must be remembered that there are other countries in the Middle East which are religiously controlled, and where Jews are not allowed to become citizens. Over 800,000 Jews were expelled from Arab countries post 1948. They were resettled in Israel without any compensation for the lost property or dislocation. Israel did not keep these Jews in refugee camps and use them as a political football. They were integrated into Israeli society, in contrast to what happened with the Palestinian refugees.
Why is Israel called an Apartheid state? --- Our position.
Arab and Jewish Israelis are not one hundred percent equal. Many Israelis are the first to acknowledge this inequality. But this inequality does not equal Apartheid. Similarly, Indigenous people in Canada experience systemic inequality: does that mean Canada is an apartheid state?
Israel cannot be compared to the horrendous racist conditions of South Africa because the parallel does not hold up. Arab Israelis vote, run for office and indeed, have been elected to office. Arab Israelis are allowed freedom of religion. Apartheid in South Africa had laws that gave votes to one group of people (Whites), and no votes to other groups of people (Blacks). Apartheid laws in South Africa, for example, forced Blacks to go to separate schools, and to live in separate neighbourhoods. Israel has no such laws; that is, Israel has no laws that single out one population for disenfranchisement. Some people think that Israel’s security fence is proof of Apartheid. While this wall mostly ignores the Green Line border, the wall has contributed to a reduction of suicide bombings and increased a feeling of security inside Israel. We oppose the fact that it was built on Palestinian Territory rather than inside Israel’s Green line border. We oppose its location as an attempt by Israel to impose a new border rather than negotiate a border with Palestinians. In addition, the world’s International Court found the wall’s location to violate international law.
The more that Jewish Israeli settlements expand in disputed territory that used to be Palestinian, and the more that the Israeli military enforces its occupation of this disputed territory in order to protect Jewish settlers, the result is that Israelis and Palestinians living in these disputed territories are subjected to unequal treatment by Israel. For example, the zoning laws allow the Jewish settlements to expand. By contrast, when a Palestinian family builds an expansion to their home, their home can be destroyed by Israel. Some roads in this Occupied Territory are for Jewish settlers only. Water resources are disproportionately allocated, with Jews receiving more than Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.
Zionism ---- What is it, and is there more than one version?
Zionism is the self-determination movement of the Jewish people, which has resulted in a Jewish state, known as Israel. There are various versions of Zionism. Below are two major versions, each being on opposite sides of a wide spectrum of perspectives on Zionism. o A progressive version of Zionism – like the one we at JSpaceCanada espouse - considers that Israel, as a Jewish democratic state, must adhere to values, practices and institutions based on social justice. This is based on the long-established Jewish prophetic tradition that cried out against oppression perpetrated from time to time by Jewish priests, kings, and other leaders. That is why progressive Zionism includes the goal of implementing human rights and fair treatment of everyone within Israel’s jurisdiction. That means independence of news organizations, trade unions, civil society and the judiciary. Furthermore, a progressive version of Zionism views Israel abiding within its 1967 borders and respecting international law. It advocates two states, one Palestinian, one Jewish, living side by side in mutual respect. o A very different version of Zionism is driven by fundamentalist Jews and evangelical Christians who interpret the Bible as “God having given Jews” territory far beyond Israel’s 1967 borders. These extremist beliefs are allied with extreme Israeli nationalists who are secular and want to expand Israel’s border at the expense of Palestinian land. This expansionist version of Zionism has resulted in Jewish Israeli settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem on territory that is viewed by Palestinian as their ancestral homes. In order to provide security for these settlements outside of Israel’s 1967 borders, the Israeli military has been deployed as an occupation force to protect settlers from the resentment of Palestinians who view these Jewish settlers as stealing their land. As progressive Jews, we support the progressive version of Zionism, and view the fundamentalist version as oppressive to Palestinians and as consistent with Palestinian/Arab/ Islamist extremists who are calling for the destruction of Israel.
Is it antisemitic to criticize Israel?
No. Criticisms of Israel are no more antisemitic than criticism of Canadian policies and institutions are “Un-Canadian.” It is when criticisms include denial of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, that such criticisms become antisemitic, because they deny claims by Jews to have their own state when other nationalities are allowed their state. Israel has real enemies, with some Arab leaders vowing to destroy Israel. At the same time, it can be seen that an increase in antisemitism occurs when Zionism becomes hi-jacked by Israeli leaders who are in league with Jewish fundamentalists and with extreme nationalists who try to justify and normalize excess military force against Palestinians. One way to decrease antisemitism is to increase progressive Zionism through advocacy by progressive Jews and progressive Israelis to urge the Israeli government to develop a strong peace policy with justice for both peoples, rather than using security concerns as an excuse to deny Palestinian claims for a state of their own. Extremists on both sides enflame the hatreds that harden the polarization of the conflict. Just as terrorist actions by some Palestinian factions immediately prior to Israeli elections have had the impact of the Israeli public voting for more right-wing, hard-liners in the Israeli government, there is a similar harmful result due to actions by the Israeli side. When the growing political influence of Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank has resulted in Israeli government actions in continuing the seizure or control of Palestinian territory in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, these actions have resulted in Palestinians in Gaza voting to favour Hamas, a fundamentalist Islamist regime dedicated to the destruction of Israel.
This polarization is a breeding ground for Palestinian leaders to hurl antisemitic accusations that label Israeli Jews as sub-human, while at the same time Israelis hurl anti-Palestinian accusations that describe all Palestinians as ruthless terrorists.
This demonization on both sides reflects a failure of leadership by both sides, and increases the likelihood of a new war. To work for peace with justice, and for two states (one Palestinian and one Jewish) requires outspoken criticism of Israeli leaders and policies, just as it requires outspoken criticism of Palestinian / Arab and Moslem leaders who claim Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state.
Israel has been accused of acting like a fascist state and like Nazis: Is this true?
While some Israeli military actions are excessive and some innocent Palestinians are killed, there is no policy of genocide. There are no concentration camps. Comparing Israel to the Nazis is a travesty and an insult to the millions of Jews, Gypsies and gays and lesbians killed by official Nazi policies and actions. Arabs in Israel have the protection of the Israeli judicial system.