columnBoycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS)

The problem with opposing Israel’s ‘occupation’

Critics of the Jewish state say they only want justice. But when Palestinians and their allies use that word, they mean something very different.

IfNotNow supporters at a rally in New York City. Source: IfNotNow via Facebook.
IfNotNow supporters at a rally in New York City. Source: IfNotNow via Facebook.
Jonathan S. Tobin. Photo by Tzipora Lifchitz.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

The radical anti-Zionist IfNotNow group hit the jackpot last week with its initial investment in efforts to impact the 2020 presidential election.

IfNotNow’s attempts to infiltrate Jewish summer camps and alter the way they teach about Israel, as well as its campaign to disrupt Birthright Israel trips, haven’t had much success in terms of changing curriculums or deterring young Jews from visiting the Jewish state. But they have served to move the discussion about its anti-Zionist agenda from the margins of Jewish life to the mainstream media.

So no one should have underestimated the prospects of the group’s investment in a nonprofit spinoff that trained volunteers to “birddog” candidates in New Hampshire during next year’s crucial early primary.

While it wasn’t likely that IfNotNow volunteers could persuade Democratic presidential candidates to adopt their anti-Zionist platform, they had a much more realistic goal. They hoped to create confrontations on the campaign trail, especially in state like New Hampshire, where local retail politics is a must, which could produce viral video moments in which some Democrats might be persuaded to make statements that would illustrate their party’s drift away from Israel.

And only days after IfNotNow made this effort public, that’s exactly what happened.

Two of the group’s members approached Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) while she was campaigning in New Hampshire and told her that they would “really love it if you pushed Israel’s government to end occupation.” Her response was to say, “Yes. So I’m there,” and to then pose for a picture with the pair.

The group tweeted out the picture with Warren’s promise and turned the incident into a major campaign story.

But what we still don’t know about this exchange is exactly what the Massachusetts senator meant.

She’s already on record as opposing Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank and in favor of more American pressure on its government to make concessions in order to create a peace deal with the Palestinians. So it’s more than likely that she simply meant that she favored a two-state solution that would be predicated on Israel’s leaving the West Bank.

That’s a position endorsed by only a minority of Israelis under the current circumstances. Most Israelis think that following that advice would be a rerun of Ariel Sharon’s 2005 experiment in which he withdrew every soldier, settler and settlement from Gaza—only to see the creation of a terrorist state on their country’s southern border. Israeli voters have made it clear that replicating that disaster in the larger and more strategic West Bank would be insane.

Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank doesn’t make sense in the context of a Palestinian leadership split between the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority that has repeatedly refused to make peace on those terms and the Hamas overlords of Gaza that oppose peace in principle. But one can favor such a policy and still be counted as a supporter of Israel’s existence within some borders, even if they are insecure.

What needs to be understood about this publicity coup for IfNotNow is that when Israel’s foes say “occupation,” they don’t mean a two-state solution that would create a peaceful Palestinian state alongside Israel. To the contrary, when anti-Zionists and most Palestinians say they want to end the occupation or speak of justice for the Palestinians, they’re talking about a “one-state solution” in which the one Jewish state on the planet is eliminated.

As far as the Palestinian Authority’s official media and education system is concerned, Tel Aviv and Haifa, let alone Jerusalem, are every bit as “occupied” by the Jews as the most remote hilltop settlement in the West Bank.

Left-wing American Jewish activists, as well as most of the mainstream media and liberal politicians like Warren, also ignore the fact that the reason why a Palestinian state in the West Bank doesn’t already exist is because the P.A. has repeatedly rejected Israeli offers that would have given them one. These refusals centered on the Palestinian leadership’s fear of being branded as traitors for agreeing to any pact that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state within any borders. Doing so would effectively end the century-long war on Zionism in which most Palestinians still refuse to concede defeat.

The same is true for complaints about the checkpoints and the security fence that Palestinians say make their lives miserable. They only exist because of the carnage that the Palestinians unleashed on Israelis during the Second Intifada, in which they answered a peace offer with a terrorist war of attrition.

And while the Palestinians carp that the autonomous rule of the P.A. over that Arab population of most of the West Bank isn’t the same as independence, their ability to govern themselves in this manner also undermines claims of Israeli oppression.

But the main point about the talk about “occupation” is that while the status quo in the West Bank isn’t ideal for either side, the obstacle to peace remains the Palestinians’ futile clinging to their fantasy of occupying all of Israel.

And though groups like IfNotNow couch their advocacy in the language of human rights, when they oppose the right of Jews to visit Israel until the descendants of the 1948 Arab refugees have a right to “return,” what they’re effectively endorsing is Israel’s elimination. The same is true of their support of an anti-Semitic BDS movement, which is similarly linked to a war to wipe Israel off the map.

That is why even if we were to give Warren the benefit of the doubt for what she said to these activists, Americans should be wary of being lured into statements opposing “occupation.” Doing so sounds right for any liberal. But what it really does is fuel the intransigence that makes peace impossible, encouraging Palestinians and their allies to continue to pursue the goal of denying the Jews rights to their ancient homeland.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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