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Web Letter

After reading Eric Alterman's article I found myself wondering exactly what the idea of Jewish nation was. At first I though of it in terms of wanting to have a Christian or Islamic Nation. Then I thought it might be comparable to wanting a white or a black nation. Then I considered that there are also Danish, Greek or German nations, but I still can't quite conceive of what is intended by the idea of ensuring a permanently Jewish nation. All I know is that, as with some of the other examples I gave, I find the concept intellectually and emotionally disturbing. Fortunately, there are others who are more articulate than me who have already written their letters about this .

I did like the idea Alterman mentions of having some Jews living in in the West Bank stay there as part of a Palestinian State "if they are so attached to the land." Perhaps an equal number of exiled Palestinians could be allowed to return to Israel "if they are so attached to the land" too. It might even be considered a sort of hostage exchange, which is no more anachronistic than some of the history on which competing claims are based.

Mark Pasternak

Coos Bay, OR

Sep 28 2008 - 7:49pm

Web Letter

Alterman's article is very disappointing and does not live up to the reporting standards of The Nation. It was nothing more than an impressionistic report on the mood of a small circle of Zionist liberal dovish intellectuals that he happens to know. There is nothing wrong with reporting on the mood of certain circles in a society, but then the article should state as much and avoid confusing these people's moods and opinions with verified fact.

In much of the Western media this circle of Israeli intellectuals (in particular the "dovish" authors, Oz, Yehushua and Grossman) have been granted special status. Since they have expressed some criticism of Israeli policy, and as they are so well integrated into the Western intellectual elite, they have acquired a position of objective observers whose judgment can be trusted. Regrettably this is not the case. As is very well document in Yitzhak Laor's 2004 piece in Counterpunch, these doves have periodically failed, at the most critical moments of the history of the conflict, to see through the smokescreen of Israeli political and military propaganda.

They bought the story of the first Lebanon war, the myths propagated after the second Camp David summit and the escalation leading to the second intifada, and were initially supportive of the second Lebanon war.

For them the peace movement is not a joint Jewish-Arab endeavor to find a just solution and create a common future for both nations. Rather it is a mechanism for Israel to rid itself of the control of too many Arabs.

I remember Menachem Brinker, another intellectual quoted in the piece, talking in my synagogue in Chicago a few months after the breakout of the second intifada, placing almost the entire blame on the Palestinians. It took a question from an elderly lady in the audience--"And what about Sharon?''--to restore some sense to the conversation.

As for Shlomo Avineri, he is an integral part of the Labor/Likud establishment that created the settlement disaster, which he now claims can't be dismantled. He stayed on as director general of the foreign office after the Likud came to power on a platform of massive settlement expansion. He strongly opposed negotiations with the PLO in the eighties and frequently was an active participant in the Israeli propaganda machine.

The situation in Israel/Palestine is very complex, and there are multiple smokescreens of propaganda, deception and self-deception on both sides. A serious writer like Alterman would have served his readers better if he had tried to take a deeper look.

Yali Amit

Chicago, IL

Sep 20 2008 - 4:41pm

Web Letter

It may be news to Eric Alterman that Israel has evolved into a modern, fairly wealthy, Western state, with chic restaurants and skyscrapers, a wide range of political opinions, and very few camels (and the natives don't even dance the hora anymore!). It is a little condescending, of course, and doesn't say much for what he knew and understood about Israel before this trip (despite his self-proclaimed "intense feeling of engagement with Israelis and their problems and a constant reading of the Israeli press, Israeli novelists and the global press about Israel"), but okay--we're kind of used to that, and I'm glad he's finally made it over here, especially if he's going to continue to write about us.

But how can anyone read this article, purported to be a general survey of what "Israelis" are thinking as the country enters its seventh decade, and not see the blatant one-sidedness of it? Didn't anyone notice? Alterman interviewed and quoted--oh, it must be more than a dozen, I didn't bother counting--professors, writers, politicians, sociologists and musicians, and not a single one, not one, presented a view in favor of settlements, against relinquishing territory, against a bi-national state. He says there are 250,000 settlers--he couldn't find one to voice an opposing point of view for the record? Somewhere between one-third and two-thirds of Israel's population (depending on whom you ask) now thinks withdrawing from Gaza was a terrible mistake. The same number thinks that Mamoud Abbas is too weak or too hateful to be any kind of negotiating partner. And Alterman can only quote someone who says "Israel will never find a better partner for peace than [PA President Mamoud Abbas, a k a] Abu Mazen". He writes that Israelis are "nearly unanimous in their resentment--even condemnation--of what they see as the ignorant and malevolent meddling in their affairs by wealthy right-wing Americans." Aren't there any Israelis who resent the meddling by (poor, one assumes) left-wing Americans?

This is evenhanded? This by a professed expert on media bias (or lack thereof)? Okay, I give Alterman credit for starting to educate himself. He clearly knows more about Israel now than he did two months ago. But he has a long way to go. It doesn't appear from this article that he traveled outside of Tel Aviv (or even outside of certain trendy neighborhoods in Tel Aviv). There's a lot of Israel (and a lot of Israelis) still out there that he needs to get to know. He began the article by saying, accurately, that "Israeli writers and intellectuals engage in a discourse about their nation and its problems that is far richer, more nuanced and grounded in reality than that of their American counterparts." This is certainly so. It's just a shame Alterman couldn't find more of it to report on from across the political spectrum.

S. Gordon

Raanana, Israel

Sep 12 2008 - 10:11am

Web Letter

This homage to Israel has a contradiction built into it which mirrors that of Israel itself. On the one hand, Alterman claims that if Israel is to remain a "Jewish" and "democratic" state, it has to solve the Palestinian problem. However, Israel is not a Jewish state except as a claim and an exclusivist ideological basis for a nation.

Literally, 20 percent of the citizens are not Jewish. If those citizens are given full equality, important pieces of the Israeli state, including laws holding land for Jews only, will have to go. Does anyone really think that Israel has in mind real equality for its Jewish and non-Jewish citizens? Thus far, at worst they have to become Zionists, a contradiction in terms, and at best, they may eventually get some greater "resources" from the political parties and a few legal changes. But this isn't equality in any modern "Western" sense of the term.

The other predictable but strange aspect of this article is Alterman's insistence that even entertaining the idea of a binational state is marginal in Israel. Anyone can try and predict what might be the outcome (Lebanon? That interviewee doesn't know the history of Lebanon), but no one can deny that this option has gained ground outside of Israel. And this is basically the point which Alterman himself verges on actually saying--it is outside of Israel that the solution, whatever it is, will be found. The Israeli Jewish public, with considerable complicity from the organized American Jewish community, including unfortunately "progressive" voices like Alterman's, has been so sentimentally attached to Israel that they've allowed conditions on the ground in the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem, to outrun a two-state solution. The price of the international organized Jewish community's avoidance of pressuring itself and the Israeli public to go back to the 1967 borders has a price.

And it's much higher than Alterman wants to believe (the most glaring sign of the despair founding Alterman's belief in a two-state solution is what isn't in this article; Alterman didn't travel to Rafah or Hebron or Nablus or Beit Hanina or Shufat, an amazing and sadly telling absence for someone writing for The Nation). If you don't go there, you can maintain the idea of a two-state solution, because you don't witness why pressure from the ground up, so to speak, has already transformed the nature of the conflict.

The price is the two-state solution, because today there isn't a Palestinian public that will go for anything short of the 1967 borders, and that includes East Jerusalem. It's the whole Occupied Territories that must go back to the Palestinians. That's why a binational solution has to at least be entertained, and has been by people like Virginia Tilley, who have studied the idea far more dispassionately and thoroughly than Alterman.

The moral of Alterman's article may ultimately be that America is a province, a small place on a much larger political and civil-society map in which the rest of the world has moved on and away from the two-state solution, not because they didn't want it but because reality has trumped previous visions.

Deborah A. Gordon

Wichita , KS

Sep 10 2008 - 6:56pm

Web Letter

If The Nation wanted to run a Hooray For Israel screed, why not just link to The New Republic? At least Leon Wieseltier can write.

Antan Tankyo

Kickatreen, MI

Sep 9 2008 - 4:17am

Web Letter

The Nation should be honest and join AIPAC. You are part of the US Zionist press, you are run by Zionist Jews, you are a reactionary force on all Qs dealing with the MIDEAST.

Dick Fitzgerald

Pt. Reyes Sta. , CA

Sep 8 2008 - 3:27pm

Web Letter

Typically, Eric Alterman manages to reach the same tired conclusions at the end of his article that he undoubtedly started with before he even visited Israel.

Alterman briefly addresses the possibility of a one-state solution, and quickly discards it as impossible. But as he explains throughout the article, the real reason he considers it impossible is that a Jewish state cannot exist under a one-state solution.

What's incredible is that Alterman actually advocates on behalf of a Jewish state. How has the liberal world reached the point of such advocacy? Routinely in the pages of The Nation, and in Alterman's articles, we can find condemnation of religious states: condemnation of Muslim states, condemnation of Catholic states, and condemnation of Christian states. Somehow, the Jewish state manages to avoid this condemnation.

Alterman doesn't choke on his contradictory words, often using the phrase Jewish democratic state, as though such a thing is possible. He appears to recognize that it doesn't now exist, admitting to the second-class status of Israel's Arab citizens. He also allows for the fact that Israel's apartheid conditions against the Palestinians in the occupied territories would seem to contradict the values of a democratic state.

What he doesn't want to understand or admit is that it is not possible for a religious state to be democratic. It has never happened in the history of the world and it won't magically come to pass in Israel.

For those of us who actually would like to see a democratic state in the Middle East, for those of us who would like to see the Palestinians treated as human beings, and for those of us who want to see an end to the endless war, the only solution is a single state with Arabs and Jews.

Randall Cooper

Turin, Italy

Sep 6 2008 - 6:08pm