The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. The fox skits about, collecting from every place it can reach; the hedgehog collects exclusively from the small piece of land under which it burrows. The fox is clever and social, he easily escapes conflict and blends into his surroundings. The hedgehog is dogged and prickly, a solitary creature to whom it’s nearly impossible to come too close without being hurt.
It occurs to me that this will be the third consecutive column in which I call, in heated tones, for people to stop arguing for such extreme positions at extreme volumes — arguing with the tone of a hedgehog for the convictions of the fox. If any of this were published in print, I’m sure someone would angrily point out the irony by now.
I read an article in Forward today that made me as happy as a liberal as it made me tremble a Jew, claiming the al-Aqsa protests are the long awaited moment when Palestinians replace violence with civil disobedience. This is exactly what every Jew who believes in a free and tolerant Jewish state has long dreamed, and if it be now, it comes at the moment when Israel’s desire to be a partner in peace is not revivable.
Fire was exchanged this week between Gaza and the Negev. It’s been three years since the last major operation in Gaza, longer than average, and between Netanyahu and Trump, who can doubt that more force in Gaza is coming than ever before? Netanyahu sells out to fanatics about women at the Western Wall, he sells out American Jews to fanatics about conversion. The settlements may be issue No. 200 on what prevents peace, but as a talking point, the settlements do incalculable damage in the minds of the world. The world mystifyingly sees settlement building as morally equivalent to suicide bombing. Yet the talking point would go away, instantly, if Netanyahu stopped building them.
If Palestinians embrace non-violence at a moment when Israel seems poised to embrace violence more than ever, the Secular Jewish Golden Age would be over in an instant. The world, which never cared for Israel, will decide that Israel is such a racist state that lack of direct action against it would be unconscionable. Meanwhile, the combined Arab populations of Israel and the territories grow ever closer to majority. The clock ticks until apartheid is more than a baseless accusation. After the last 70 years, does any Jew really believe that the reprisals against Jews in a binational state won’t dwarf anything Israelis did to Palestinians?
I don’t believe non-violence will earn much support from Palestinians in my lifetime. What made the story of South Africa so powerful was its rarity. In country after country, African leaders became dictators still more brutal than the imperial rulers who preceded them. But if Palestinian non-violence has finally arrived, then there’s no universe in which anyone can support the IDF over them without being indistinguishable from authoritarians. History will rightly view us as monsters.
If this is, finally, the moment when the moral scale tips toward Palestinians, the far left will crow that they saw it coming a mile away. Stupider moderates will marvel at their prescience; just as moderates marveled at conservatives’ prescience that Reagan’s weapons buildup would end communism, and that accelerated civil rights legislation would cause urban decline. In one dimension, they all have a kind of truth to them, yet they egregiously ignore the entire context. Just as Palestinians were militarized by Israelis, so were Israelis by Palestinians. Israel tried a negotiated settlement, they were rebuffed, so who that’s rational could be surprised when they choose more violent methods? The pendulum always swings, and whichever fanatic’s side it favors at the moment will say they were always right.
I am a Jew and a liberal, I’m also a centrist. Only American baby boomers and their most dutiful children think those terms mutually exclusive. The Greatest Generation repelled attacks unfathomable to us from both fascism, the great failure of the Right, and communism, the great failure of the Left. Most millennials hear the term “liberal” and think it synonymous with “neoliberalism”; a buzzword of critical theory which for all intents means “conservatism with a human face.”
Everywhere but America, liberalism is the center around which all the manifold forms of conservatism and socialism turn. Between 1941 and 2016, no socialist movement in America gained traction. But it’s now revived more powerfully than since The Great Depression. Liberalism is not the Left, it is the vital center of a better world, and Israel deserves our support not when it is Jewish, but when it is better.