Chasm on the Left: Blame Israel vs. Blame Both
by Myriam Miedzian
IT’S THAT TIME AGAIN when I am careful not to utter the words “Israel,
Palestinians, Gaza” to a certain number of my leftwing friends and
acquaintances. We agree on just about everything going as far back as
the Vietnam war, which we all vehemently opposed — as we did the Iraq
war. We supported equal rights for blacks, women, and gays, rooted for
single-payer, universal healthcare, support living wages for all
Americans and access to college education for all, etc.
So why are we so at odds when it comes to this one issue? Well, we do
agree on one thing — we all reject AIPAC’s “Israel Can Do No Wrong”
But that still leave us with a chasm. On one side there is the Blame
Israel (B.I.) group — represented by Jewish Voice for Peace and Code
Pink, among others — and on the other side the Blame Both (B.B.)
group, represented by Americans for Peace Now and J Street, among
Like most categorizations, this one simplifies — the lines are not
always entirely clear cut; there are disagreements within each group
and people on the fringes of both. Nevertheless the rift is striking.
Frustrated by it, I have spent hours visiting websites on both sides,
gone back to key books — Noam Chomsky, Benny Morris, etc. — and
gleaned key, underlying, opposing assumptions, perspectives,
interpretations, and historical understandings from these documents. I
have also relied on lectures and conferences I have attended, as well
as conversations with friends and acquaintances.
What follows is first an outline of some divisive underlying issues,
and then links to a few of the books, articles, and blogs which have
influenced my understanding of what divides the two groups.
But before going any further, I want to put my cards on the table — I
support Americans for Peace Now and I have written in support of J
The following represent a few of the underlying issues that divide the
Views Palestinian leaders as trustworthy, does not take seriously
charters and past statements by leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah stating
the destruction of Israel as their goal, trusts that Hamas leader are
sincere when they state that they now are willing to accept the
existence of Israel. They view these organizations as consisting of
freedom fighters for the rights of Palestinians — akin to black South
Africans or Algerian Muslims fighting for their freedom — so that once
Palestinians get what is due to them, a Palestinian state in the West
Bank and Gaza or a binational state, there will be no threat to
Israel. The present Gaza crisis provides an example of Israel’s brutal
aggression and indifference to innocent Palestinian lives.
Is vehemently opposed to the ever-increasing number of settlements in
the West Bank, extremely critical of the policies of Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu, and deeply concerned about the increased strength
and power of rightwing parties and groups in Israel. They support a
two-state solution, but do not dismiss concerns about the security
threat that a Palestinian state would represent. They view Hamas and
Hezbollah as terrorist organizations, take their covenants vowing the
destruction of the state of Israel seriously, and do not trust
statements to the contrary by Hamas leaders who refuse to change their
covenants. While critical of some of Israel’s actions in the 2014
conflict with Gaza, which have led to large number of civilian deaths,
they believe that Hamas provoked the conflict by attacking Israel with
missiles, and is therefore also responsible for these deaths. They
take seriously Israel’s contention that Hamas places its military
targets among civilians so that large number of civilian deaths will
be met with worldwide sympathy and support for the Palestinian cause.
Hamas tunnels are viewed as a serious threat to Israel’s security.
Focuses on the grave injustices done to the Palestinians and
encourages Christian clergy, college students, academic and other
professional groups, unions, celebrities, and others around the world
to demonstrate in support of Palestinians in times of crisis, such as
the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflagration, and more generally to support the
Palestinian-initiated Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement (BDS).
They do not view their actions as encouraging anti-Semitism, and
dismiss the concern with it as conflating anti-Israeli utterances and
demonstrations with anti-Semitism. Jewish Voice for Peace has
expressed regret about the few among demonstrators and activists who
have exhibited anti-Semitic behavior. To the best of my knowledge,
other groups have not commented.
Believes that this unique focus on Israel and the Palestinians gives
the highly misleading and dangerous impression that Israel, among all
nations, is guilty of particularly inhumane, violent conduct, when, in
fact, far worse actions have been and continue to be taken by
governments of other countries, including Syria, Russia, China, and
the U.S. They believe that this focus encourages anti-Semitism.
CREATION OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL; THE NAKBA
The creation of the state of Israel led to what Palestinians refer to
as the Nakba — the Catastrophe. Jewish Europeans began to immigrate to
Palestine in the late 19th century. By 1947 there were approximately
610,000 Jews living in Palestine and 1.3 million Palestinian Arabs.
Between 400,000-500,000 Palestinians and approximately 500,000 Jews
were living on land partitioned for the Jewish state. Approximately
10,000 Jews and between 725,000-818,000 Arabs were living on land
partitioned for the Arab state.
As a form of reparation to Jews after the Holocaust, in 1947, the
United Nations Assembly Resolution 181 — supported by the U.S. and the
Soviet Union — awarded Jews 52 percent of Palestine, leaving 45
percent to the Arabs. Bethlehem (3 percent) would be under
international control. Because of Israel’s 1947-48 policy of ethnic
cleansing, which involved the destruction of numerous Arab towns and
the killing of its inhabitants, only 156,000 Palestinian Arabs
remained in Israel and became Israeli citizens, but a far larger
number, around 700,000, eventually fled and became refugees. Right
from the start, a grave injustice was committed against the Arab
population. In 1948, the U.N.’s Resolution 194, proclaimed the right
of return of these refugees. Israel failed to abide by the
proclamation, so that more than sixty years later, Palestinian
refugees continue to be deprived of their homeland. As part of an
effort to correct this injustice, this group supports the
Palestinian-led call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS),
with demands that include the rights of Palestinian refugees to return
to their homes and properties as stipulated in the UN resolution.
Starting in 1947, when the U.N. voted to partition the Palestinian
territories, and continuing into 1948, after Israel was proclaimed an
independent state, acts of violence were committed against Palestinian
Arabs. Israeli violence played a major role in Arabs fleeing from what
became Israel. But simultaneously, starting in 1947, Palestinian Arabs
committed violence against the Jewish population. The attack on Israel
by Palestinian Arab forces and the armies of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria
started on May 15, 1948, when the state of Israel came into existence.
The Arab military had encouraged Palestinians to leave their homes to
facilitate the attack. Refugees were told that they would soon return
home after the war against Israel had been won. After ten months of
fighting, Israel won the war.
The 156,000 Palestinians who chose to stay in Israel have grown to
approximately 1,690,000 by 2014. The 700,000 Palestinians refugees
have grown to 4,950,000, of which approximately 30-50,000 are people
who fled in 1948.
While some in this group support paying indemnification to the
descendants of the refugees, they are opposed to BDS’s right of return
years after sixty-six years, and to the rest of BDS demands.
INHUMANE TREATMENT OF WEST BANK AND GAZA PALESTINIANS
Condemns home demolitions, ill-treatment of detainees, roadblocks,
excessive use of violence against protestors, and other forms of
inhumane treatment of Palestinians since the 1967 war, and demands an
immediate end to the Israeli occupation.
Condemns the inhumane treatment of Palestinians — home demolitions,
excessive use of violence against protestors etc. — but does not view
the Palestinians as innocent. In 1967, when the Palestinians had for
nineteen years occupied the West Bank and Gaza, they joined the
Egyptians, Syrians, and Jordanians to once again attack Israel with
the intent of taking back the part of the Palestinian territory
granted to Israel in 1948. Israel won that war, and as a result came
to occupy the West Bank and Gaza. So while Israel is at fault for
mistreatment and for allowing settlements to be built, which have made
it much harder to negotiate a peace settlement and return the West
Bank to the Palestinians, the Palestinians are at fault for attacking
Israel. This attack led them to lose the territory that they have ever
since demanded be returned to them.
THE 2000 CAMP DAVID SUMMIT
Blames Israel for the failure of the Summit. It views the 2002
Intifada as a reaction to Israel’s unwillingness to honestly negotiate
a settlement, followed by Ariel Sharon’s September 2000 provocative
visit to the Temple Mount. The terrorist acts committed against
Israeli civilians are abhorrent, but the major focus is on the fact
that Palestinian terrorism provided Sharon with the excuse he needed
to execute Operation Defensive Shield, in which thousands of
Palestinians were arrested and government buildings and the West bank
infrastructure was destroyed.
Some blame the Palestinians and Arafat for walking out on the Summit.
Some conclude that both Barak and Arafat share blame. They deplore the
Second Intifada, which left close to 900 Israeli civilians killed and
approximately 5,600 injured — most of the casualties due to suicide
bombings. Fear of terrorism led to the creation of a wall — which
ended up including unnecessary and unjust incursions into Palestinian
territory — to protect Israelis from terrorism; and moved a
significant percentage of the Israeli population to a much more
ABSOLUTISM VS. RELATIVISM
As may already be apparent from some of the above distinctions,
fundamental differences in perspective between the two groups often
grow out of the fact that the B.I. group takes an absolutist position
while the B.B. group take a relativistic position. A few examples:
While the B.I. group focuses uniquely on the injustice done to the
Palestinians by the creation of the state of Israel, and subsequent
unjust and violent acts by Israel, the B.B. group agrees that the
creation of Israel caused Palestinians to suffer injustice and
violence, but points out that Israel should not be singled out as
exceptionally evil — In fact, Israel is exceptional in that it is a
national state created by an international organization, not by
warfare. The case of the U.S. serves as an example: just about fifty
years before the creation of Israel, the U.S., with the help of the
Marines, deposed Queen Lili’uokalani and took over the country of
Hawaii. About fifty years before conquering Hawaii, the U.S. waged the
Mexican war which resulted in California, New Mexico, and Texas being
part of the U.S.And then there are the Native Americans…
Turning to the present, the B.I. group focuses exclusively on Israel’s
acts of violence against Palestinians. The B.B. group, while highly
critical of excessive violence used by Israelis, views it in the
context of other worldwide atrocities. For example, over 150,000
Syrians have been killed by President Bashar Hafez-al-Assad military
and by rebel groups. The U.N. estimates that approximately 2.5 million
Syrians have fled their country and become refugees.
Discrimination by Israel against its Arab population of Israel is
acknowledged and deeply condemned by the B.B. group. But Arabs are
Israeli citizens, are represented in the Israeli government, have
access to education; there are no laws prohibiting their employment.
On the other hand, 300,000 Palestinians have been living in Lebanon
for more than sixty years. Despite some minor improvements in their
condition in recent years, Palestinians still cannot become citizens
of Lebanon, are barred from practicing a host of professions, may not
own property, and are not entitled to state education or healthcare.
Beside the disagreements outlined above, there are differences in what
is considered important. B.B. people sometimes point to facts which
tend to differentiate Israel from colonial powers and put a more
benign face on the country. They are not considered relevant by the
B.I. people, and in some cases not completely accurate. They include:
There never was a Palestinian nation; the Palestinian territory was
part of the Ottoman Empire from the 16th century until post-WWI, when
it became a British mandate which ended in 1948.
The British in 1921, decided to give approximately 75 percent of their
Palestinian mandate to a Hashemite prince. Initially called
Transjordan, this territory is now the country of Jordan. If one
includes Jordan as Palestine, then Israel was given approximately 14
percent of the total territory of Palestine.
While they have constituted a minority of the total population, there
have always been Jews living in what is now Israel, some since the
exodus 2,000 years ago.
After the creation of the state of Israel, over 800,000 Jews were
driven out of the Arab countries where some had been living for
thousands of year — since the Babylonian exile, in the case of the
In Israel the rights of women and gay people are respected to a degree
unheard of in surrounding Muslim countries, where women are often
under the complete control of their fathers, husbands, or brothers,
and homosexuality is banned.
Israel is providing medical care to Syrians wounded in their civil war.
BOOKS, ARTICLES, AND BLOGS
Noam Chomsky, one of the leading voices of the American left, and
Israeli Ilan Pappe, now a professor at the University of Exeter in the
U.K. represent the B.I. group.
Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe, Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel’s
War Against the Palestinians
Brief excerpt: “1948 marked the worst chapter in Jewish history… Jews
did in Israel what Jews had not done anywhere else in the previous two
thousand years… Jews massacred, destroyed, and raped in that year…
five hundred Palestinian villages and eleven urban neighborhoods were
destroyed, seven hundred thousand Palestinians were expelled, and
several thousand were massacred… The ethnic cleansing operation,
beginning in December 1947, continued well into the 1950′s. Villages
were surrounded on three flanks, and the fourth one was left open for
flight and evacuation… In some cases the tactic did not work, and many
villagers remained in their house — it was then that the massacres
took place… Urban Palestine was torn apart and crushed… The
Palestinian neighborhood in mixed towns were wrecked, apart from a few
quarters that were left empty waiting to be populated later by
incoming Jewish immigrants from Arab countries.”
Benny Morris is an Israeli historian and writer, professor of history
in the Middle East Studies department of Ben-Gurion University.
Initially condemned by conservative Israelis and hailed by the B.I.
group as the first Israeli historian to research and make public the
1947-48 Israeli acts of violence against Palestinians, he is now
reviled by the left as an Islamophobic hawk. His research and writings
have had considerable influence on the B.B. group.
Benny Morris, Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab
Brief excerpt: “On September 16, 1947, the [Arab] League decided to
establish an Arab Liberation Army composed of Palestinians and
volunteers from the Arab states… On the morning of November 30th a
band of Arabs ambushed a bus near Kfar Syrkin, killing five Jews and
wounding several others. Twenty five minutes later they let loose at a
second bus, killing two more people… Much of the fighting in the first
months took place in and on the edges of mixed cities — Jerusalem,
Tel-Aviv,-Jaffa, and Haifa — in most cases initiated by by the Arabs.”
“Deir Yassin is remembered not as a military operation but rather for
the atrocities committed… Whole families were riddled with bullets…
men, women, and children were mowed down… Recent Arab and Jewish
investigations… suggest that the… number of Arab dead was 100-110… The
affair had an immediate and brutal aftermath… Arab militants… attacked
a ten vehicle convoy of mostly unarmed lecturers, nurses, and doctors
on their way to the Hadassah Hospital… The shooting continued for more
than six hours,the Arabs eventually dousing the armored buses with
gasoline and setting them alight… more than seventy Jews had died.
Deir Yassin… had been avenged.”
The Camp David Summit contains articles by Israelis, Palestinians, and
Americans, many involved in the negotiations, who provide differing
understandings of why the summit did not achieve its goal of resolving
the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The Camp David Summit — What Went
Wrong, edited by Shimon Shamir and Bruce Maddu-Weitzman.
Documents, Articles, Blogs:
Hamas Covenant: See articles Eleven through Sixteen for policy on
Israel. Article Seventeen focuses on the Jewish control of media,
education, and Zionist front organizations which are trying to
distance Muslim women from Islam:
Blog about Gaza by Donna Nevel, member of the board of Jewish Voice for Peace:
Article about Gaza by Michael Walzer, member of the board of Americans
for Peace Now (APN):
Amnesty International on human rights violations mostly by Israelis,
some by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas:
Jewish Voice for Peace commentary on the Second Intifada:
This Jewish Currents blog by psychoanalyst, poet, and playwright,
Merle Molofsky captures the viewpoint of those who think that Israel
is being unfairly and dangerously singled out as an evil country:
Antisemitism in Europe:
Israel provides medical care for Syrians injured in their civil war:
Status of Palestinians in Lebanon:
Dr. Myriam Miedzian (myriammiedzian.com), a member of the Jewish
Currents editorial board, is a former philosophy professor who writes
frequently on social, cultural, and political issues. She is the
author of Boys Will Be Boys: Breaking The Link Between Masculinity and