No Rabbi – It’s Not Jewish Love for Our ‘Historical, Religious Narrative’ That Prevents Peace
On the 10th of Tammuz (in the Hebrew calendar) the last king of Israel, King Zedekiah, was captured by the Babylonians, who had conquered Jerusalem the day before. Zedekiah was captured after he fled Jerusalem through a subterranean tunnel to Jericho. Exactly 2,606 years later, an article was published in the Forward by American Rabbi Philip Graubart titled “‘Letters To My Palestinian Neighbor’ Is Not The Book We Need Right Now.”
I have to admit, when I first saw the title, I thought the article would be about how even though most “moderate” elements of Palestinian leadership: (a) engage in blatant Holocaust denial; (b) promote vicious anti-Semitic canards, such as Jews poison water wells; and (c) deny any Jewish historical connection to the land of Israel — all while promoting and rewarding the murder of Jews (such as through the Palestinian Authority’s “Pay to Slay” program), that this article would argue that we need to wait for a massive sea change in Palestinian Arab culture and leadership before Yossi Klein Halevi’s “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor” could make a credible difference and help advance the peace process.
Instead, this article took the opposite approach and actually accused Halevi of being too jingoistic, too stuck in the Jewish “narrative.”
Imagining a “Palestinian moderate,” who has never assumed leadership among the various Arab groups representing the Palestinians, Graubart posits that after reading Halevi’s book, this imaginary Palestinian Arab moderate might say to Halevi “why waste time with you? … we already agree on the basics.”
Reading such a statement raises the question, what “basics” does Rabbi Graubart think Palestinian Arab “moderates” agree on with Halevi? As should be clear from Halevi’s scholarship, he believes Jews have a deep historical, religious and national connection to the land of Israel. As should be also clear to anyone paying attention, the “moderate leaders” among the Palestinians who run the Palestinian Authority (who are also sadly the least rabidly Jew-hating and extremist among the various Palestinian Arabs factions who have any chance of ruling any Palestinian state in the near future), do not believe the Jewish people are even a people, let alone a people who have a deep 3,300 year old love affair with the land of Israel.
As recently as January 15, 2018 Mahmoud Abbas, the “President for Life” of the Palestinian Authority, gave a speech where he said: “Israel is a colonial project that has nothing to do with Jews.” This same “moderate” leader not only wrote a thesis back in 1982 at the Russian Academy of Sciences, which denies and trivializes the Holocaust, and is a featured part of the current curriculum in Palestinian Authority schools; he also, on April 30, 2018, gave a speech where he once again trivialized the Holocaust and said that to the extent the Nazis murdered Jews, their murder was not caused by anti-Semitism, but by … “Jewish financial behavior.”
So again, what “basics” does Graubart think the “moderate Palestinian” and Halevi agree on?
Then apparently ignoring the last 100 years of history (at least), Graubart claims that the main problem with Halevi’s book is that it makes claims – mostly about Halevi’s “loving embrace of religious biblical narrative” – that “no Palestinian could accept” and that the “biblical impulse to build settlements in the West Bank [Judea and Samaria] is precisely what’s sabotaged an agreement.”
So the “moderate” Palestinian Arab leadership turn down offers in 1937, 1948, 1967, 2000, 2001, and 2008 to have the first-ever independent Arab state west of the Jordan River, and it is the desire of Jews to establish and live in Jewish communities in their biblical homeland that “sabotaged” a peace agreement? It wasn’t Arafat’s rejection in 2000 of an offer to have an independent Palestinian Arab state in all of Gaza and over 90% of Judea & Samaria, and his decision to instead launch the Second Intifada, which led to the murder of more than 1,000 Jews? It wasn’t Mahmoud Abbas’s rejection – without a counteroffer – of an even better offer from Israel in 2008? It wasn’t the decision to turn land Israel fully relinquished (the Gaza strip in 2005) into a terror state run by a genocidal organization whose very Charter calls for the murder of every Jew on the planet, including Graubart?
No. According to Graubart, it isn’t Palestinian anti-Semitism, the Palestinian dismissal of any Jewish connection to the land of Israel or even the Palestinian rejection (in favor of violence) of offer after offer to have an independent Arab state in a land where there has never been one before in history that is to blame for the absence of a peace agreement. It is the Jews’ “biblical impulse” to live in Judea that is the problem.
Graubart even disparages the “impulse” of Jews to live in Hebron, one of the most holy and historically important cities for the Jewish people. Hebron, a city where Jews have lived for centuries and where our ancestors in 1929 were literally massacred, ethnically cleansed from and prevented from returning to (by the Jordanian Army after it illegally conquered and controlled all of Judea and & Samaria in 1949). Per Graubart, however, it is the “religious longing” of Jews to live in places like Hebron that is the obstacle to peace, all while 1.5 million Arabs can live among more than 6 million Jews in Haifa, Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv Yafo, etc. without their presence “sabotaging” peace.
There is so much that is problematic with this perspective it is difficult to know where to start. Perhaps the most obvious problem is that, just like most arguments of the “blame Israel” camp, Graubart’s open letter to Halevi implies the Palestinian Arabs have no agency or responsibility for their actions, and that peace (or the lack thereof) is solely a function of what we Jews choose to do (or not do). The other problem is that this article completely whitewashes nearly 100 years of Arab rejection of peace in favor of violence and more than 1,400 years of Arab persecution of Jews throughout the Middle East, as well as the widely held belief among far too many Arabs that Jews can only be second class (dhimmi) in Arab conquered land, never sovereign and independent.
What Graubart’s piece (albeit likely unwittingly) does a great job of capturing, is the growing divide between many secular Jews in the United States and the overwhelming majority of Jews in Israel. Jews, like Yossi Klein Halevi, who are in Israel considered quite moderate or even left-leaning.
This divide is represented most strikingly in Graubart’s article where he writes the following illuminating and astonishing paragraph directed at Halevi:
“In fact, if your book taught me anything, it’s that we must begin the admittedly difficult process of privileging basic values over national, religious narratives. In discussing Arab rejectionism after the Six-Day War, you write, ‘What people, in our place, would have resisted reclaiming land it regarded as its own for thousands of years?’ But the answer to this question is obvious: a people who valued peace and democracy and human rights over historical/religious narrative. People who weren’t willing to sabotage future peace negotiations by giving in to religious longings, no matter how deeply felt. People who loved peace more than they loved the ancient stories of their people. In other words, people like you and me and many Jews, in Israel and out. But not, sadly, enough.”
Wow. I agree with Graubart on one thing for certain. This is “sad.” It is sad that it is becoming more and more evident that many Jews living in relative safety in the United States have not internalized the lessons most Jews in Israel have learned from the history of the last 100 years. It also becoming more and more evident that many of today’s secular leaning Jews in America are not very different from the many Jews in America who before 1940 rejected the very idea of Jews seeking sovereignty and independence in our indigenous homeland.
After all, if we just “privileged basic values” (depending – of course – on whose “basic values” we are talking about) “over national, religious narratives,” then why drain swamps, irrigate deserts, establish fence and stockade kibbutzim all over the land of Israel (where you were certain to be plagued by malaria and were almost always immediately attacked by your Arab neighbors)? Why revive Hebrew from being not only our religious tongue but our national language? Why even fight for our freedom and independence against five Arab armies and nearly a half-dozen Arab militias sworn to snuff out our independence before it even happened?
After all, if we value “peace” above everything else, then we could all just give up on our indigenous faith, stop being “stiff-necked” Jews, and convert to either Christianity or Islam or perhaps to the new pseudo-religion of “secular-humanism.” If only, our forefathers had thought of this solution … Plainly, that would have made the Jew-haters much happier and much more “peaceful” toward us.
Thankfully, most of our forefathers didn’t think abdicating our religious values and our “religious longings” to live in Zion was the way to go, as not only would there be no modern state of Israel today, but Graubart would also have needed to find a very different job; as by now the world would have been Jew-free and Judaism would be like the ancient faiths of Minoanism, Mithraism, and Ashurism After all, if we valued “peace” above everything else, including the justice of Jews being able to live anywhere in the land of Israel, then is there anything worth fighting for?
Of course, by Graubart’s definition, the Maccabees would also be disparaged as people who were “willing to sabotage future peace negotiations by giving in to religious longings.” A people unwilling to “love peace more than they loved the ancient stories of their people.” After all, the Hellenists “just” wanted us to accept their “narrative” and to stop insisting on our sovereignty and freedom in our religious, historical and indigenous homeland; just like so many Hellenized or Islamized people do today.
Today, most Palestinian Arabs reject the idea that there were ever Maccabees who fought to liberate the land of Israel and Jerusalem from the yoke of the Hellenists. And this is where Graubart is the most mistaken in his rejection of Halevi’s book. Graubart assumes it is the Jewish respect and love of our “historical/religious narrative” that is somehow the obstacle to peace. The reality is that it is, and has always been, the Arab rejection of Jewish history and our deep connection to the land of Israel that is the obstacle to peace. The Arab rejection of the fact (not “narrative”) that 2,606 years before Graubart published his article that there was a Jewish king named Zedekiah fleeing the Babylonians and their destruction of the first Jewish Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
And that is the ultimate message of Halevi’s book. In order for there to be peace, the Palestinian Arabs are going to have to meet us halfway and stop asking us to accept that their relatively new Palestinian identity deserves two independent Arab states in the former British Mandate for Palestine (as Jordan is the first); all while they reject more than 3,000 years of Jewish history and Jewish sovereignty anywhere in the land of Israel.
As should be painfully apparent, there are many other things wrong with this open letter to Halevi, but the most glaring problem is the willingness to disparage the “historical, religious narrative” of our people, which is at the core for why we finally have an independent and sovereign state in our indigenous homeland after 2,000 years of recurring persecution, oppression and mass murder of Jews in the Diaspora.
Micha Danzig served in the Israeli Army and is a former police officer with the NYPD. He is currently an attorney and is very active with numerous Jewish and pro-Israel organizations, including Stand With Us, T.E.A.M. and the FIDF. He is also a frequent guest on the One America News Network, including shows like The Tipping Point and The Daily Ledger where he is called on to discuss matters related to Israel and the Middle East.