Meretz Symposium Day 2: Ohh, I get it…!

Lilly and Theo Bikel reading the paper

Lilly and Theo read the paper before the day starts.

I found out two very important things on this, the second day of the Meretz symposium, when we infiltrated the heavily-guarded Knesset:

1. When it comes to most things, including Israel, I am a Leftist.
2. As a Leftist, my job is to facilitate a renewed effort in the two-state solution.

This morning represented the first of the truly depressing realities presented on this trip. We met with two members of Likkud to hear their perspective on the coming elections. Of course, they parroted the expected shlock in the expected patronizing tone: Israel’s security is of the utmost importance because the Palestinians do not want peace or accept a Jewish state and so the best solution is to keep the status quo.

From Bogie, we heard about the collapse of the nation-state system in the Middle East. Democracy by elections will fail because it is a concept that was imposed upon the Middle East by the West. To think differently is ignorant and naive. The solution is education and encouragement of liberal thinkers.

And then there was Begin, the son of Menachem Begin, who ordered the bombing of the King David Hotel. I must admit, I had a good cry after that one. He opened with the statement, “Israel is what we claimed it to be for many years. It is a beacon of stability and democracy.” After that, to be honest, I have tried to block from my memory. It’s not worth the ink.

From both Bogie and Begin, we heard that Abu Mazen does not support the existence of the Jewish state, and that a solution (both one and two-state) is unrealistic and out of the question.

Participants discussing

Symposium participants debrief after a heated session.

Thankfully, we also spoke briefly with academic and activist Gershon Baskin, who was by far the person with whom I wanted to speak the longest. Sadly, we were pressed for time, so we had to cut our meeting with him short. But of course, he provided me with the first burst of real optimism. He warned us that according to the “Israeli political machine,” the Palestinian society controls itself, and that the policy of this government is to keep the Palestinian economy on a perpetual brink of collapse. This could continue forever because “the Palestinian people are tired, they don’t want a revolt” and because no one is forcing the Israeli government to change its policies.

The other thing Gershon said was that usually, in the polls, they combine the terms “peace and security.” When they do, that is a top priority. But this time around they separated those terms, and the result was that no one cares about peace, but they do care about security. Of course, he argued that you can’t separate those two categories, that they’re one and the same.

Another favorite speaker was Kalman Gaier, an Israeli pollster who has worked with Yitzhak Rabin and Tzipi Livni. Rabin kept Gaier around to keep him in check when he was deviating from reality. We all leaned in to hear him, since his words were so few and quiet. His argument went as follows: the results of this election will make or break Israel. The center-left and pressure from the US will help. Within six to seven years, there will be more non-Zionists in the state than Zionists, and so eventually people will stop joining the army entirely. Israel needs to find a modus operandi with everyone in the country, including its neighbors, and then rethink the Israeli constitution. The vast majority of Israelis would accept any negotiations with the Palestinians, but don’t believe that the Arabs will.

Gaier took the cake, in terms of best quotes. He said:

People first act from their beliefs, then from their experiences. The more suffering you experience, the more you will not act from your beliefs.

and in regards to initiating negotiations:

The carrier of the message is more important than the message itself.

We had lunch in the Jerusalem YMCA at the historic Three Arches Hotel, just across the street from the building Begin’s father blew up.

Plus, he gave an excellent metaphor the Israeli political spectrum. There’s a shadowy figure walking down the street. If you’re on the Right, you attack the the person. If you’re on the Left, you negotiate with the person. If you’re Center, you figure out who the person is first and what they want, and then move from there.

Then there were the Meretz representatives who came to update us on Meretz’s campaign strategies. Since the young people in Israel so clearly do not want to talk about the settlements or the Palestinians directly, Meretz is going to talk about the economic dilema by saying that the Israeli middle class literally signing the paycheck for the settlers’ way of life; settlers get back from the government twice as much as non-settler Israelis do. Although it’s a sad reality, I think it’s a good tactic if they’re going to stick to their convictions. And they’re the only party who has stated that they will not form a coalition with Shas. I also loved how they said that voting for the Left in Israel is like buying a holistic product; it’s unimaginable that it will work.

I also learned an interesting and scary fact: the countries with the biggest gap between the rich and the poor are the US and Israel.

IDF advertisement

On the way back to the hotel, I noticed an advertisement for the IDF. This one argues that it would behove you to serve in the army because most people who join the IDF go to university. Just some light propaganda to mull over while you wait for your bus.

The second-to-last speaker of today was actually a private speaker, and that during the walk back to the hotel with my former professor Barbara Epstein, who had nominated me for the fellowship and who is really responsible for shaping the way I think about the history of Zionism. Among many interesting and important things, one of the conclusions I drew from that conversation was that J Street is an important organization that I do not want to be a part of because it is a centrist group that models itself on AIPAC so as to be the only viable opposing voice on Capitol Hill.

Now, the fact that I do not want to be a part of J Street is really due to the fact that I am somewhere in between Jewish Voice for Peace and Meretz. And, as I learned in Barbara’s senior seminar, the fracturing of the early Zionist Left is one of the main reasons for its eventual disintegration, and also allowed the Right to define its version of colonialist, capitalist Zionism.

The last speaker of the day was the Israeli director of J Street herself. Sweet and well-spoken, Yael Patir helped me understand something very important:

J Street does not do Israeli politics. J Street is about American politics regarding Israel. This is something I can use to defend my positions regarding my work on American Jewish critique of Israel. It’s like Edward Said argues in Orientalism: what the Self writes about the Other says more about the Self than it does the Other. I can’t believe I didn’t think of it myself.

Yael Patir introduces herself

Israeli Director of J Street introduces herself to us, with a warm welcome.

One Comment on “Meretz Symposium Day 2: Ohh, I get it…!”

  1. Prescott says:

    The J Street woman there, I think her name is Yael Patir, used to work for the Peres Center for Peace. From what I remember she did a lot of interesting programming there.

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