A Jewish lawyer, one of the most prominent in Washington, approached me a few days ago, after a lecture. He loves Israel, defends it in all sorts of circles, donates money to anti-boycott initiatives on college campuses. He’s also frustrated. Why, he asked, does Israel never initiate?
He knows this material. He’s aware of the fact that the halted negotiations aren’t Israel’s fault. He’s well aware of the fact that Hamas wants to wipe Israel off the map. He knows about Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority’s deceptive behavior, but he has a hard time speaking to Jewish youth. Some of them go to J Street. Some go in much worse directions.
If Netanyahu were to initiate a move regarding Gaza, or a settlement construction freeze - even if only in settlements outside the large and well-established clusters – it would give the pro-Israel side a lot of points in the argument, he said. It would prove that Israel, as far as it’s concerned, is trying to go in a positive direction. But Israel, he complained, isn’t taking even the most simple and requisite action to counteract the BDS movement.
A week after the lecture he sent me an email with a link to a news story about the latest decision regarding additional construction in the settlements. He asked me if the Israeli government had lost its mind.
The same exact day, by happenstance, I receives an email from a retired senior IDF officer, with a paper he wrote in the course of his academic studies in strategy. The paper dealt with Gaza alone. It analyzed the options Israel was facing. The eruption will come, after all. It’s just a matter of time. And it’s clear that the cannons of propaganda will be well-fed by the armories of anti-Israel claims: It’s the blockade, the despair, the isolation, the fact that the Gaza Strip is “the world’s largest prison,” and more. So why, the officer asks, shouldn’t we swallow some preventative medicine?
Why not initiate a plan to save the Strip? Something big and dramatic, which includes removing the blockade, opening a new seaport, investing in the Gazan economy, etc. All with one condition: he Strip’s disarmament, as the European Union has suggested in the past, while accepting the Quartet’s conditions (acknowledging Israel, the secession of violence, and accepting the validity of previous agreements). These are the international community’s conditions – the UN, the EU, the US, and Russia.
We shouldn’t wait for an international initiative, or pressure, or international campaigns: We need to initiate. After all, the officer writes, this could be a win-win situation. If the Palestinian response is positive – Israel gains a lot. If it’s negative – the Palestinians take the blame. Israel’s usual haters will go on as usual, repeating the mantra that says Israel is to blame. But there are many others. This initiative is a pressing need. It’s the humane thing to do, and it’s in line with the national interest.
The Washington lawyer and the IDF officer are both correct. The struggle against the anti-Israeli campaign on US campuses isn’t simple. The claims against Israel sound reasonable because there’s a perception that Israel isn’t doing anything. I’ve spoken in campuses in recent weeks, as well as in synagogues and community centers. I’ve listened to the various voices, including the worried ones. It’s not enough to say that the Palestinians have rejected every peace proposal so far and that and Israeli withdrawal could make things worse.
That’s all true, but it doesn’t counteract the tough queries. It wouldn’t be a mistake to say that 90 percent of US Jews have a hard time understanding the logic in the continued settlement project. And I’m talking about pro-Israel activists here.
The government’s determination in dealing with the anti-Israel campaign is a step in the right direction but PR alone, with all due respect, has a limited scope of influence. We need policy too. We need a show of good will.
The government has allocated NIS 100 million to combating the anti-Israel campaign, but that’s not very much at all. An Israeli initiative would cost $10 billion at least. Why the heck does the Prime Minister of Israel not understand what Israel’s supporters around the world understand very well? Why does he insist one doing nothing?
Why does he insist on helping the BDS movement?