December 16, 2018

Today’s peaceniks live with 60s envy

Not all demonstrations are created equal. Protesting for civil rights in the 1960s, for example, is not the same as protesting to “end the occupation” in 2016. The former was, literally, a black-and-white issue; the latter is anything but.

The thing with demonstrations, though, is that it’s often hard to tell which is which. Rebels protesting injustice all have that same look of righteous indignation. They demand immediate change and leave no room for doubt or complexity. When they hit the streets, they unleash their visceral emotions, not their thoughtfulness or intellect.

This past week, to coincide with the Passover holiday, hundreds of mostly young Jewish activists under the banner of #IfNotNow (INN) unleashed their emotions across the country to protest Israel’s continued presence in the West Bank. They looked very much like those activists arrested in the civil rights marches in Mississippi and Alabama in the 1960s.

They proudly held up slogans such as, “No Liberation With Occupation” and “Dayenu — End the Occupation.” By trespassing on private property, some of them got arrested and made the news. I’m sure they were rock stars at their Passover seders. Martyrs for the cause.

But what cause, exactly?

What noble mission has aroused such certainty and passion in these activists?

Not surprisingly, it’s the most media-friendly cause in the world: Demanding that Israel end its disputed occupation of the West Bank. After all, if Blacks in the 1960s deserved their civil rights, don’t Palestinians today deserve to see Israel leave the West Bank?

Well, yes, except for a few inconvenient wrinkles, such as:

As soon as Israel leaves the West Bank, Hamas can swoop in and start slaughtering Palestinians, just as it did in Gaza after Israel left. ISIS can also move in and start chopping off Palestinian heads. In other words, “ending the occupation” can also mean “ending the protection” of Palestinians against Islamic terror. How’s that for a complication?

Here’s another complication you won’t see captured by INN slogans: Palestinian leaders have had several opportunities to end the occupation over the past 20 years, and they said no to Israeli offers each time.

One reason for their serial rejection has been their reluctance to compromise on their demand that Palestinian refugees and millions of their descendants return to Israel proper, a move that would effectively end the Jewish state.

Another reason for their rejection is money. As long as they can claim victimhood, Palestinians get billions in international aid. For corrupt Palestinian leaders, this makes the occupation a personal ATM that funds their villas and private jets and keeps the global money flowing. Who’d want to end that?

And let’s not forget that while those leaders are getting rich, the occupation enables them to keep bashing the Zionist state they so despise.

Add it all up, and is it any wonder that irresponsible, corrupt and unaccountable Palestinian leaders have never rushed to see the end of the occupation?

I know, these are all messy complications for protesters who need a clean narrative — the narrative that it’s all up to Israel to make things better. These protesters are simply following the popular mantra that discriminates against the Jewish state: When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, everything is on Israel's shoulders. 

The protesters make no demands whatsoever on the Palestinians, such as ending their culture of Jew-hatred, corruption and chronic rejection. As former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren once put it, Palestinians have become “two-dimensional props in a Jewish morality play.”

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine INN activists demonstrating in front of the Palestinian Consulate with this slogan: “Stop Teaching Hatred and Start Teaching Peace,” or this one, “Say Yes NOW to Negotiations,” or this one, “Stop Stealing Aid from Your People.”

The inconvenient reality is that Israel cannot end this conflict on its own. This is an intractable, two-way conflict with no easy solutions and plenty of blame to go around. It’s a far cry from the black-and-white fight for the civil rights of Blacks in America.

Anti-occupation demonstrators need to know that when they scream for a simple solution to a complex problem, they hide the very complexity of the problem and make a solution that much more unattainable.

All eager peaceniks would be wise to listen to the words of Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), who had this to say to the INN protesters arrested in the lobby of the New York City building where the ADL rents space:

“It is unfortunate that INN seems to be more interested in spectacles and ultimatums than in discussion and dialogue grappling with the difficult issues involved in achieving peace. Nevertheless, our doors are open, and our invitation to speak with INN still stands.”

Will they take him up on it? I doubt it.

Greenblatt’s offer can never compete with the drama of getting arrested and making the evening news. There’s no adrenaline rush in engaging in honest dialogue and grappling with complex issues. For wannabe rebels who can't tolerate complications, it is only their smugness and certainty that are black and white.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at