Friday, January 24, 2014

Jonathan Russo Brings Old Talking Points

Jonathan Russo, who according to his bio is a "lay scholar has been observing Israel and its policies since his first visit in 1966," has become a brand new Huffington Post blogger for 2014. His second article on the Huffington Post is about the relationship between American Jews and Israel (yawn), and he basically recycles the J Street line. American Jews are more liberal than Israelis, and so American Jews need to pressure Israelis to be more liberal like them. 
"According to the Pew study, the majority of American Jews want to see the two-state solution come to fruition. They want the occupation to end and a Palestinian state established. They do not support the occupation or the settlements; 44 percent said the settlements hurt Israeli security."
The obvious follow up here is to ask how many Israelis want the two state solution, the occupation to end, and a Palestinian state established. Russo doesn't say, because he wants to imply that there's a contrast. Most recently about 60% of Israelis wanted to continue peace talks, though that was in 2013. Today 63% support a two state solution, while their thoughts on settlements are more mixed. The point is that it's not like none of the Israelis feel the same way as American Jews. It's just that (unlike American Jews) their lives, friends, neighbors, and children will be the ones affected by these things. It's the same problem that trips up the J Street model and Russo's argument.

So anyway, Russo remarks on how while America has changed a lot since the '60s, Israel hasn't. I mean, it has, but not in regards to its relationship with the Palestinians. Okay, that's changed too but don't expect him to actually mention that (emphasis mine):
"Two intifadas, tens of thousands of personal acts of violence, legal and illegal settlements, checkpoints, separation barriers, arrests and the imprisonment of countless Palestinians and still no progress. The world correctly perceives that the Israeli government does not want to free itself of the burdens of being an occupier. This is inexplicable to American Jews. In America we have overcome hatred between the races in the South that seemed unbridgeable. Why can't the Israelis and Palestinians at least start to try?"
The Israelis have tried, Russo. You've been following Israel since 1966 so how have you missed all the peace talks that have taken place since then? The second of the two intifadas, which led to the checkpoints and "separation barrier" were a direct result of the Israelis trying to end the occupation and make peace. So now, shockingly, the Israelis aren't so keen on repeating the same mistakes of the past. American Jews understand that. You, however, don't. American Jews want peace and want and end to the occupation and want to stop the settlements. But they also want peace on Earth and a chicken in every pot. That doesn't mean that it's going to happen, even if that they take the J Street approach and demand Israel make further concessions.

The bolded section is quite frankly ridiculous. If the Israeli government didn't want to end the occupation then it wouldn't be in peace talks and it wouldn't have made four peace offers over the past fifteen years. Quite frankly I have no idea where Russo's is coming from with that statement. Maybe he thinks Israeli Jews just enjoy hanging around at checkpoints for two years of their lives harassing people driving through? That's their definition of a good time? Israelis do want to the occupation, in contrast to the Huffington Post's driving message, but they won't until they can be sure that doing so will not lead to more violence. Russo doesn't want to hear that, apparently, because it would mean blaming someone other than Israel and its American Jewish backers. So he blames the settlements, the right-wingers, you know the usual.
"Peter Beinhart is right. The sheer passage of time is eroding American Jewish support for the occupation.... The sons and daughters of the AIPAC leaders are unlikely to share their parents' belief in total support for Israel ... especially if it is not in Israel's own interest."
I hear this kind of thing a lot. It might be true. It might not be true. But American Jews have never "supported the occupation" and it's pretty ridiculous for Russo to imply that they have. To repeat myself, American Jews don't think it's awesome that Israeli soldiers have to man checkpoints and get shot at every few days. But unlike Russo and other Huffington Post bloggers sitting in their ivory towers, American Jews aren't willing to tell other Jews what to do when they aren't the ones who will suffer the negative consequences for it. If it sounds like we've talked about all this before, it's because we have. So I feel like that is the answer to Russo's concluding question:
"When they call America their home, Jews have been at the forefront of positive change. Why shouldn't the same be true when their home is Israel?"
It's pretty sad that Russo whitewashes away all the Israelis who have sacrificed and died in the name of peace. But this is the Huffington Post, where they just ignore everything that fits their views. It appears that the readership has ignored Russo's article as well. It deserves as much.

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