Discover more from Political Currents by Ross Barkan
There Is No Answer
The tragedy of Israel and the Palestinians
My late father, a Jew who once lived on a kibbutz in the early 1960s, would always speak of Israel with sadness and resignation. He was of a cohort that no longer exists, the socialist Zionist, and over time he retained the former identification without any of the latter. With one of his rueful smiles, he would say to me that Israel, in retrospect, had been a mistake. He was an atheist, so the relations this patch of sand had with the Torah meant little to him. He identified, far more, with the Zionists of the early twentieth century who were open to many different outcomes for a Jewish homeland. British East Africa, Dutch Suriname, and the Argentine were all, at one time, debated as possibilities. During the First World War, the British Empire announced support for an eventual Jewish homeland in Palestine. The Holocaust would accelerate those preparations. By 1948, the State of Israel, after a ferocious war and the expulsion of the Arabs, was established. My father’s view, in subsequent decades, was that the Europeans should have been forced to carve out a nation for the Jews there. Most of them knew Europe, not Palestine, as their homeland, and wouldn’t it be nice to have the Jews in Alsace–Lorraine? But the anti-Semites of Europe were not about to cede land to these desperate refugees. Let them ride to the desert and sort it out.
As an American and a Jew descended from Eastern Europe, I have always had an uneasy relationship with Israel. Again and again, people like me have been forced to answer for a nation that we are not bound to any meaningful way; I have never visited Israel and I’m not sure I ever will. To ask an American Jew to account for Israel is not so different than demanding an answer for the ongoing crisis in Sudan. No apoplectic left or right-wing mobs are asking politicians, celebrities, pundits, and minor cultural figures to formulate opinions on the Tigray War or the possible invasion of Armenia. What you think about Israel and the Palestinians—or Palestine, if you want to appear particularly progressive—defines entirely what you are and what you will be in the political arena.
It is all a catastrophe, a cataclysm. There are no other words. Hamas, a political organization that has had a stranglehold on the blockaded Gaza Strip since I graduated high school, launched a terrorist attack that slaughtered more than a thousand Israeli civilians. There was no justification for the lives that were taken. The families and children living on the border with Gaza were not posing any threat to the oppressed Palestinians. They died for Hamas to make a political statement, one Hamas is now paying dearly for. Or, to clarify, it’s the people of Gaza, the terrified and destitute, who are paying for what Hamas has done. Hamas will probably make out fine in all of this. They knew exactly what they were doing.
Israel is a contradiction. At some point, you can no longer be an ethno-state and a democracy. At some point, you will not govern with any reason or compassion when only one political ideology dominates the body politic. Like George W. Bush after 9/11, Benjamin Netanyahu will be bathed in the glow of a new holy war, one that will slaughter many more civilians on the other side. Like Bush, perhaps, Netanyahu will belatedly come in for his own reckoning—the Hamas attack, like 9/11, represents an enormous security and intelligence failure—and his government will be brought down. But the liberal Zionists, the many Democrats in America who now so cheerfully wave Israeli flags, must understand that there is no hope. Their kind, in Israel, are extinguished. Bibi marches to the drum of the far-right and serves at their pleasure. When he loses power or dies, there will be no Golda Meir presiding over this land of the Jews. It will be the muscular Jews, the ultrareligious and bloodthirsty, who will get all that they want. Gaza will be flattened. How many of the two million can be displaced or outright killed? We’re about to find out. This is the new war.
Two-state solution, one-state solution, no solution. Israel possesses, thanks to the United States, one of the world’s great militaries. There is no overthrowing Israel. The sort of Zionists who argued it was in the best interests of Israel to hand the Palestinians their own nation and allow the moderating forces of democracy to build, over time, a relationship between the two countries are long gone, driven out of public life or dead. The most idealistic solution, the one most popular with American leftists, is the single, multinational state, a democracy where everyone has an equal vote, an equal say. This, in a just world, would be one outcome, but it will not happen. Not now, not tomorrow, not ever. A multinational state is not a Jewish state, just as it’s not written into the Constitution that America is for the white Protestants and no one else. The Jews might get outvoted, just like Catholics (and even a Black man) became president here. Bibi and his allies won’t allow that to happen. Nor will the United States. The bombardment of Gaza makes that clear.
Americans don’t quite comprehend the depravity of it all, the nullity. We are used to answers. Pull this lever, propose this policy, fund this initiative, punish these people. It will all work itself out! Those who call the Palestinian situation apartheid are correct, but what of it? What now? Has BDS changed anything? The anti-Zionist Jews must comprehend, too, the Palestinians will only credit them so much for their solidarity. The Israel hawks, ludicrously calcified, can’t fathom Palestinian humanity. To them, all hatred of Israel is anti-Semitic, when only some of it is. The people who hate the Jews hate Israel. But there are plenty people who revile what it is the Israeli government, the greater power by titanic magnitudes, does and does not do. How it punishes, how it kills—how it strangles the Palestinians and expects quietude, somehow, out of Gaza. The United States could force a ceasefire, demand Israel stand down. More Palestinians have died anyway. Six thousand bombs should be enough. This is all the liberals, so neutered otherwise, can hope for, that this death toll satiates Netanyahu. Current events, for now, suggest otherwise.