Steven S. Drachman: A Response to Bret Stephens

Some years ago, I had a great idea for a final peace deal between Palestine and Israel. I tested it out; Palestinians liked it. Jews liked it, but they thought the Palestinians would never accept it. I really went all in. I started a web-magazine and a Facebook page devoted to my commentary on such things. I gave a TED Talk. I published a Kindle Single. I published my plan in Arabic.

Never mind what the idea was. I think it was a good one. I still think it could work.

But fundamental to my idea was that Israel ought to put a decent plan on the table. She should not even worry about whether the Palestinians would accept it. If Israel’s leaders didn’t like my wonderful idea, then nevertheless they should sit down with Middle-East experts from various nations and political viewpoints, work out an acceptable approach, get sign-off from America and the Arab states, and let the Palestinians leaders (and, importantly, the Palestinian people) know that when they are ready to make peace, here is the agreement that will be waiting for them.

Please subscribe for free to Audere Magazine to receive our latest stories in your inbox

* indicates required

I got a bunch of praise here and there. A few people began to push similar plans. I eventually stopped writing so much about this. I turned back to my long-delayed novel. The last vestiges of goodwill deteriorated in Israel and Palestine. I still believe what I believe, but it didn’t seem to matter.

Recently, I read a column by Bret Stephens in the New York Times entitled When Anti-Zionism Tunnels Under Your House, with which I both adamantly agree and adamantly disagree. (Bret Stephens, an anti-Trumper who questions climate science, frequently has this effect on me.)

You often hear people describe themselves as “anti-Zionist but not anti-Semitic,” which I think is usually unlikely, like my friends who are “fiscally conservative but socially liberal.”

If you’re not willing to tax and spend to help the underprivileged, you might be libertarian, but you’re not liberal. If you wish to deny the Jews their state, alone among the nations of the world, you may have designed intellectual-sounding talking points, you may know some individual Jews whom you like, but it’s quite unlikely that you’ve really reconciled yourself to the Jews.

I understand the argument that one may be anti-Zionist but not anti-Semitic. At a shul to which I used to belong, one member proposed a boycott of local Jewish businesses, unless they would sign a statement calling for the abolition of Israel. She was Jewish, and she was willing to do business with right-thinking Jews, so how could this be anti-Semitic? Well, the presence of Jews within an anti-Semitic movement doesn’t make that movement any less anti-Semitic, and an anti-Semitic sentiment idea remains anti-Semitic, even when uttered by a Jew.

OK, you may argue: there are plenty of “nations” who would love to have their own recognized country, and there are plenty of policymakers who don’t favor the recognition of those proposed new nations. President Obama, for example, didn’t recognize Kurdistan, or Catalonia, or Uighurstan as independent countries. Was he racist against Kurds, Catalonians or Uighurs? Of course not. Not everyone gets a nation; why should the Jews? Isn’t there a geopolitical, policy argument in favor of anti-Zionism?

Bret Stephens responds,

“Anti-Zionism might have been a respectable point of view before 1948, when the question of Israel’s existence was in the future and up for debate. Today, anti-Zionism is a call for the elimination of a state — details to follow regarding the fate befalling those who currently live in it.”

Indeed, I know a man who believes Germans should not have their own country. This is because he hates Germans. He hates them because of the Holocaust, and I gather he just doesn’t like being around them. There is something fundamentally different when you want to eliminate an existing country. Proposing to eliminate an existing nation, recognized by the UN, is a big deal, arguably hate speech. So far as I know, the only such proposal in the world today that intellectuals discuss seriously is the proposal to take Israel away from the Jews.

Still, I understand the other side. I don’t agree with it. I want Israel around. But I understand those who say that discussions of a post-Israel world are intellectually legitimate. I just disagree.

So I am Stephens’ camp with respect to most of this editorial.

But I take exception to the following statement:

“The good news is that the conversation about anti-Zionism remains mostly academic because Israelis haven’t succumbed to the fatal illusion that, if only they behaved better, their enemies would hate them less.”

Why is it “good news” that Israel does not “behave[] better”?

This brings us full-circle to my little, forgotten peace proposal.

If Israel behaved better, if Israel put a plan on the table designed to be acceptable to an average Palestinian, there are certainly current enemies — well-meaning left-leaning church ladies in the Midwest, for example — who would indeed hate them less, who would not support boycotts. It is not the case that there are no convincible critics of Israel. Some criticism is based on substance, and better behavior would win us friends. It would make it easier for Zionists like me to defend Israel. It could indeed create momentum from the ground up within the territories. (I am not sure whether Bret Stephens knows any Palestinians, but I do —  most Palestinians are not unreasonable people.)

And then on a moral, Jewish level, Israel is supposed to be a light unto the nations, it is supposed to “behave better.” Why not behave better?

When I made this point in the comments to the Stephens column, and the usual suspects made the usual response, that in the past there were offers made, which the Palestinians refused, so why bother putting the offer on the table and leaving it there?

This really missed my point.

Nothing useful ever comes from Israel being good and decent, so why bother being good and decent?

But being good and decent, performing mitzvot (Hebrew for “good deeds”), is supposed to be what Israel and Judaism are all about. And, really, there are some people who like good and decent people better than mean and indecent people.

When you actually have a friend of Israel arguing that Israel should not “behave better,” we have really hit a new low.