Tuesday, June 21, 2011


PIAG's Dispatch for June comments on the recent speeches by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama on current prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Much has been made of their differences: Obama believes that Israeli withdrawl to the "green line" with mutually agreed-upon land swaps is fair, http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/144336 while Netanyahu insists that "Israel will not return to the indefensible lines of 1967." http://www.algemeiner.com/2011/05/24/full-text-of-netanyahu-speech-to-congress/ Obama's speech was a bit more inclusive, acknowledging, at least, that both sides have greviences, and that each will have to make compromises.

However, as Uri Avnery, former member of Israel's Knesset remarks, "Netanyahu's message could be summed up in one word: NO. NO return to the 1967 borders. NO Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. NO to even a symbolic return of some refugees. NO military withdrawal from the Jordan River - meaning that the future Palestinian state would be completely surrounded by the Israeli armed forces. NO negotiation with a Palestinian government "supported" by Hamas, even if there are no Hamas members in the government itself. And so on – NO. NO. NO." http://zope.gush-shalom.org/home/en/channels/avnery/1306359471/

For Quakers, perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Netanyahu's words is the premise of Israeli exceptionalism that underlies his demands. In his speech to AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) Netanyahu reminded his admiring audience that "Israeli innovators help power computers, fight disease, conserve water, and clean the planet." Democracy was a Jewish invention, he told them. Israel has made paraplegics walk and is working on a cure for cancer. Israel has invested more than $50 billion in the US, bringing business, jobs, medicine, food -- even Hummus -- to the American people.

On the other hand (according to Netanyahu), Israel's neighbors have nothing to recommend them except perhaps their longing for Israeli-style freedom and democracy. They do not allow women to drive. They imprison journalists. They bomb churches. They contain a young Israeli soldier in a dark dungeon without even a visit from the Red Cross. They refuse to accept the Jewish state.

In short, "Israel is not what's wrong with the Middle East. Israel is what's right about the Middle East." Since Israel always does exceptional good in the world, and since it can always be trusted to be on the side of the righteous, Israel deserves our exceptional support.

But Quakerism -- and indeed, the U.S. itself -- was founded on a different premise: that all people, not just the "exceptional" people, deserve the blessings of justice, compassion, understanding, and equality. Everyone deserves a fair hearing. Everyone's security is vital to peace. Since there is "that of God" in everyone, claims of inherent superiority cannot be assumed in settling disagreements - or at any other time.

Fortunately, Netanyahu does not speak for all Israelis, much less all Jews. According to Juan Cole, a slight majority of Israelis preferred Obama's speech to Nethanyahu's. http://www.juancole.com/2011/05/israelis-support-obama-over-bibi.html

And Jewish Voice for Peace called for grassroots action to counter the "shocking" 29 standing ovations that the U.S. Congress gave to Netanyahu's address. http://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/blog/take-action-no-applause-for-netanyahu

Add your voice. Work for peace with justice.