Rosso Verde points us to this interview with Knesset Member Dov Kenin, from Israel’s communist Hadash party. His red/green alliance did extraordinarily in Tel Aviv’s mayoral elections, securing 35% of the votes overall and 75% of the votes of young people under 35. Although he didn’t win:
“… even so, I got 35% of the votes. And City for All, the movement we established in Tel Aviv, which is a kind of red-green alliance, is the strongest movement inside the Tel Aviv municipality following the elections. So this really shows the possibilities existing within Israeli society. You know, seeing Israeli society from abroad, you may see mostly problems, problems and dangers. But understanding Israeli society from within, you see not only problems, but also possibilities. You see the new generation of young Israelis, more open to new ideas, new thinking, more open to criticism, to social and environmental and political criticism, of Israeli society and politics. So the experience of City for All really shows up that the building of a new left in Israeli society is not only very much needed, but is also very very possible.”
“We do support a boycott of things produced in the Israeli settlements, we are for a boycott of products from the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories. However, I do not believe that an indiscriminate boycott of Israel and Israelis will help to improve the situation in any way. You know, the right wing establishment in Israel use these kind of boycotts to prove once more to the Israelis that all the world is against us, that people do not make any clear marking line between moderates and extremists, that all the world is anti-semitic and so on. So an undiscrimated boycott I don’t think is very helpful.”
My response is that all things being equal I could nod impassively at this. I’m not against it. But like many Israelis, Dov Kenin is understandably more interested in his own country than in looking out for Jews in other countries. There’s a discernable reluctance among many on the Israeli left to talk about antisemitism and the role it plays in the conflict – a slight sense of impatience or of wanting to move on and look beyond. Perhaps they think that it’s the least tractable part of the conflict. We in Britain shouldn’t turn a blind eye though, and not being participants in the conflict we don’t have to.
Given that the most Israel boycotters also tend to evince this special intense hostility to Israel which implicates ‘Zionists’, while giving barely a second glance at any of the world’s other excellent candidates for boycott, and given that other well-meaners are unlikely to have the will nor the aptitude to distinguish between Israeli products and settlement products, I feel obliged to narrow my eyes at any boycott campaign. Hopefully goes without saying that there would have been no eye-narrowing before the Cairo Conference, Durban, and an unflinchingly antisemitic boycott campaign in Britain. However, if the boycott movement managed to unhitch itself from anti-Zionism, realign itself with Palestinian liberation by selectively boycotting stuff from the territories and shake off the antisemites humping its leg – i.e. became more like Dov Kenin’s idea of boycott – I think the pro-settlers may well be isolated in objecting to it. On the way forward:
“Well, first of all Israel should open real and serious dialogue with the Palestinians, with Syria and with the Arab League, based on the Arab Peace Initiative. I think that concerning the Palestinian Occupied Territories, Israel should immediately cease building and expanding the settlements. You know, with all these recent deals, building of the settlements continued at very great speed; it was under Labour defence ministers and under Kadima administrations, that Israel continued building these settlements at record speed. So Israel should immediately cease building the settlements; Israel should re-open all the kinds of blockages in the Palestinian territories; Israel should establish a ceasefire with Gaza, including the opening of the blockade on Gaza. Israel should agree on the exhange of prisoners and detainees, including bringing back Gilad Shalit to his home and his family.”
Absolutely on the money about the settlements. On Hamas, thin on detail – given Hamas’ stated aim to wipe out Israel, not to mention Jews, does a ceasefire help Hamas more than it helps Israel, in the same way that it has helped Hesbollah to rearm in Lebanon? No country has to stand for that. People are right when they say that the conflict is asymmetric – it is also asymmetric in aims. Hamas and Hesbollah want to wipe out Israel and ‘return’ the land to Islam. Israel wants simply to exist in security if not peace.
But to submit to ongoing hostilities is also not an option. We could better understand the principles behind a ceasefire and what, optimally, should happen during a ceasefire. Kenin also does that thing that people on the far left do of blaming Hamas on Israel, but never blaming the state of Israeli politics on the wider conflict or on regional Jew-hatred. It looks like underdoggism to me. Double standards against yourself may feel big and generous if you’re an Israeli trying to make peace but they are of dubious use in the long run with those enemies who have an expansionist vision of Islamism.
But good for Kenin – he is doing a lot right.