Category Archives: Peace Now

The Brouhaha about the Anti-Boycott Law in Israel

Two days ago two events took place in Israel: 1) the Israeli Knesset passed a law that provides for civil penalties for those who organize boycotts against Israel, and 2), at about the same time, Hamas resumed the firing of Qasam missiles into Israel. And guess what: all the self-described friends of peace in the Middle East — the New Israel Fund, the Americans for Peace Now, and their allies — are outraged, absolutely outraged at event number one, but considerably less so at event number two. In fact, these great friends of peace, to judge by their websites, have not at all noticed event number two. Peace, to these peaceniks, is not at all endangered by Hamas bombardments.

(It seems that Jewish organizations across the political spectrum have expressed criticism of the the anti-boycott law, but the hysteria about it is restricted to the self-styled Left. NGO Monitor has published a very good analysis of the law, including an English translation of its text.)

It may very well be, as NGO Monitor maintains, that this new law is objectionable on a number of grounds, and it also may very well be that it will be overturned by the courts. But in the meantime here are some factors that got lost in the brouhaha:

1) Israel finds itself in an existential crisis. The loftiest of advice is of questionable value when it comes from people far away, who, moreover, do not have to face the consequences of their admonitions. A beau mentir qui vient de loin.

2) Freedom of expression is a vacuous formulation if considered without context. For example, there is no jurisdiction on earth, or imaginable, without limitations to freedom. There are the obvious prohibitions about shouting “fire” in a crowded theater; about libel and slander; about false advertising; and many others. What the limits should be in a given circumstance can only be determined by a close consideration of its particulars. In the case of the anti-boycott law, it is important to recognize the evil to which this law is addressed: the agitation by a number of well financed groups, with the bulk of the money coming from abroad, to delegitemize the state of Israel. That is a problem to which the Knesset obviously had to react. Perhaps the law in this first version is overreaching or otherwise inappropriate, and it seems that amendments to it are under consideration. But to criticize the law without at all recognizing the underlying problem is mindless.

3) The right to organize boycotts, pace the opinion of the hysterics who are discussing this law from afar, is not one of those rock-bottom democratic rights like freedom of the press. It is not a tool of rational discussion but rather a tool of coercion: do as I say or I will try to take away your livelihood. In the United States there are limits to the right to organize boycotts. Unions may boycott employers with whom they have a dispute, but they cannot engage in “secondary boycotts,” i.e. boycott those who do business with these employers. And it is also illegal, in the United States, to collude in boycotts organized by foreign governments. It is similarly illegal to orchestrate boycotts against racial or religious groups where public accommodations are in play. In brief, public policy recognizes that the freedom to engage in public actions must stop where the freedom of others is encroached.

4) The left-leaning groups who are so enraged at what they think is an unjustifiable limitation of freedom here never criticized the Knesset, as far as I can remember, when it banned Kahane’s Kach party in 1988. It seems that these great defenders of absolute freedom are quite happy when it is their opponents who are banned.

In the end, many people in this world, including many diaspora Jews and not only those on the Left, are quite eager to see a mote in Israel’s eye while missing the beam elsewhere.

Dear Jewish Sincere Friends of Peace: Have you Missed this little Detail ?

Poster of the (Israeli) Peace Now movement:
“Each flag needs a balcony”

Israeli public life has many very Sincere Friends of Peace. “Peace Now,” the Meretz Party, many members of Labor, the most influential Israeli newspaper (HaAretz), and many smaller groups, all compete with one another, year in year out, demanding that the Israeli government make more concessions to the Arabs so as to achieve peace. And as for Jews in the diaspora — the U.S., Britain, continental Europe — well, it seems that currently the loudest voices (though not necessarily the most numerous or the most thoughtful) chime in: peace now, make more concessions, abandon the settlers on the West Bank — peace now !

Even people like myself who are unaffiliated with such groups can rejoice in the colorful diversity that such organizations contribute to Israeli and Jewish society. Of course I do not rejoice in the ultras, those who work for the destruction of Israel, but, surely, those are a different kettle of fish altogether.

But to come back to the major “peace” groups. Anyone who has watched them for many decades, as I have, must have noticed a little detail that seems to have escaped them altogether. That detail consists of an absolute absence of any similar peace movement among the Arabs. Even allowing for the fact that there is very little of a functioning “civil society” in Arab societies that would allow for unofficial political movements, it is nevertheless true there is some variety among Arabs in their views concerning Israel. Insofar are we can judge from public opinion polls and expressions in Arab writings and speeches, this variety runs the gamut from the most extreme hostility (Hamas) to somewhat milder hostility.

But, whatever the details, the broad picture is evident. There is no “Peace Now” among Arabs. There is no “Arab Voice for Peace.” There are no “Arabs for a Just Peace.” There is no AStreet that would urge concessions to Israel. Nothing of the sort.

My dear Sincere Jewish Friends of Peace: can you detect a little problem here somewhere ?

Peace Now — Peace in Our Time

Mr. Neville Chamberlain (center), Pg. Joachim von Ribbentrop (left), Führer Adolf Hitler, Sept. 28, 1938

History has not been kind to Mr. Chamberlain. The agreement with Hitler that he so proudly displayed on his return to Britain proved to be worthless. In a way, mutatis mutandis, Chamberlain was the Barack Obama of his time: confrontation is noxious and dangerous, he believed, negotiation is the only reasonable way to go. Of course the situation then was not the situation today, and today’s foes are not identical to the foes of 1938; Obama’s path today may yet prove to be the wise one that his admirers hope it will be.

But there is something eerily similar between then and now. Hitler’s Nazi movement made an appeal to dark human passions that sweet reason could not assuage. Sweet reason — can’t we all just get along ? — does not solve all issues, pace Chamberlain, Obama, and the bienpensant liberals of our day. Today, I fear, our (mostly liberal) chattering classes, so intent on getting on with negotiation and avoiding confrontation, simply fail to notice that Islamism, in this respect not unlike the Nazism of yore, appeals to passions that are not provided for by rational-man images of bourgeois society.

Today’s New York Times tells us that “at least 6 die as Islamists clash with Hamas” in the Gaza territory. The story of bloody mayhem, members of one Islamicist faction killing those of another, is buried on page 7, with the front page taken up by more important news: “retailers see slowing sales in key season,” “idle Iraqi date farms show decline in economy,” a shooting in Harlem, etc. But the violence of Palestinian Islamicists against one another gets swept under a page-seven rug. And New York Times’s readers are spared a confrontation with uncomfortable reality.

The sweet-reason, can’t-we-all-just-get-along movement in Israel is called Peace Now, and is promoted by left-wing parties like Meretz. Peace Now was founded some thirty years ago with the proposition that if only Israel were nicer to the Arabs, the Arabs, in turn, would be nicer to Israel. If Peace Now has a guiding principle, it is that radical, uncompromising Islamicism is to be strictly ignored. But, alas, while Israel has tried to be as nice as possible to the Arabs (most notably at Camp David in 2000 and at Taba in 2001), more or less following Peace Now prescriptions, there have been no positive results, peace now being more elusive than ever. Consequently, as explained by Carlo Strenger in a recent issue of Haaretz, Peace Now has virtually disappeared from Israeli politics.

Update on the intraIslamist violence in Gaza (Haaretz, 8/15/09):

Dr. Moaiya Hassanain of the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza said 24 people were killed, including six Hamas police officers and an 11-year-old girl. At least 150 people were wounded, he said.