Terra Incognita: Begging for internationalization
Jul. 7, 2009
SETH J. FRANTZMAN , THE JERUSALEM POST
The ever-present calls from within Israeli society for "greater international involvement and pressure" on the country are emblematic of a contempt for democracy. Some on the intellectual Left want to see themselves as canaries in a coal mine, warning the state of its coming destruction. One corollary of this endless struggle to be the "lone voice of reason" is the tendency to insist on greater international pressure.
Just after Israel's 2009 elections, Prof. Neve Gordon of Ben-Gurion University declared it was time for the US under Barack Obama to impose a solution on Israel, and "if such intervention includes sanctions, it is the only way to secure Israel's existence in the long run." The latest manifestation of this was Haaretz political columnist Akiva Eldar's June 29 call for Obama to "play on Israel's fears, not its hopes for peace.... The time has come for him to directly address the Israelis, bypassing their leadership."
Sometimes the interest in international pressure can be downright crude, as when Haaretz editor David Landau told Condoleezza Rice in September 2007 that he believed the US needed to "rape" Israel. According to reports he "referred to Israel as a 'failed state' politically, one in need of a US-imposed settlement."
The belief that international pressure is a godsend is quite widespread. A February 2009 petition signed by five academics, including Prof. Rachel Giora and Eva Yablonka of Tel Aviv University, in support of a recent anti-Israel motion at Manchester University, noted that "we strongly believe that without some pressure from outside Israel and without concrete support for Palestinians nothing will change in our part of the world."
In a similar vein, on April 3, Naomi Chazan wrote in the Upfront weekend magazine of The Jerusalem Post that "a much more assertive international involvement is therefore necessary... the threat of isolation verging on ostracism may be precisely the kind of jolt that has been needed for some time... such an externally driven impetus can also revitalize domestic politics."
INSISTENCE on the overbearing involvement of the international community, and the trust and reliance on its decisions, is indicative of a severe distrust of Israeli democracy. Those on the Left who call for this have declared that while they acknowledge the failure of their political parties in 2009, they need foreigners to impose a solution. This has long been typical of fringe groups such as Yesh Gvul, which try to get Israelis indicted abroad for "war crimes" because courts here will not do their bidding.
The apparent reason behind the call for international intervention is the feeling that the leftist parties have failed. Ze'ev Sternhell, Israel Prize winner and controversial professor, says that Labor has lost its purpose. Describing the disillusionment with Labor he notes: "The real problem is that the Israeli Left is an artificial, even a false, Left. It lacks every one of the instinctive responses that are identified with the natural Left - standing with the weak, the oppressed and the working poor against the strong and the state itself."
For Israel Harel, another columnist, the Left failed because of its inability to achieve peace when given the chance and the "overidentification of this public with Arab-Palestinian nationalism." It's no surprise therefore that Zehava Gal-On, formerly a Meretz MK, has been described by Haaretz as the "last leftist" among a Left with "no clear message... no edge."
In turning to outsiders, these voices are anti-democrats. It is interesting that some of the country's elite would trust the same nations who perpetrated the Holocaust to be fair arbitrators of the current conflict. They are continually embarrassed by their countrymen, most recently Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. This is a mistake. The voter casts his vote for Lieberman primarily because the Left is seen as being out of touch, elitist and incapable of solving the intractable situation.
Gal-On admitted as much in an April 3 interview, when she noted that Jews from the Middle East are "not the classic faces of Meretz." Neither are Russians or Ethiopians. Rather than courting these voters with reasonable solutions, some on the Left would simply ignore them and ask foreigners to do the job. This is not a positive development. The reaction of those in a democracy when the electorate fails to agree with them should not be to declare that democracy a failure but to frame their proposed solutions in a palatable manner.
The writer is a PhD student in geography at the Hebrew University and runs the Terra Incognita blog. firstname.lastname@example.org