Abyss Advice
By Paul Scham


On March 1, the New York Times published a Guest Essay, by David Grossman, Israel’s greatest living writer, entitled “Israel Is Falling Into an Abyss”. For those who may not have access to the link above, Grossman, after depicting the horrors of October 7 and the nearly unanimous wave of solidarity by Israelis in response, noted that they “will always have to stand guard over this penetrable, fragile home”; and he asked why, “Only when it comes to Israel is it acceptable to publicly demand the elimination of a state”? He continues with a meditation on what the war might do to Israel, including, almost incidentally, that “the recognition that this war cannot be won and, furthermore, that we cannot sustain the occupation indefinitely, will force both sides to accept a two-state solution.” He concludes on a note of “exhaustion and despair”. I admire and agree with the essay and recognize that we, American Jews (and others) who care deeply about Israel but are geographically and culturally distant (to varying degrees), must seize on reports and essays such as Grossman’s in order to better understand why this war drags on, soon to mark its six-month anniversary. The palpable sense of perennial and existential danger that Israelis live with must be taken into account when we try to understand that although 85% of Israelis want Bibi Netanyahu gone as Prime Minister, a majority nevertheless continues to support the war. As noted, Grossman himself believes the war cannot be won; obviously that view is by no means the majority opinion. What I do not understand, having followed Grossman’s views and the principled stands he has taken for decades (and the loss of his son in the Second Lebanon War), is why he did not include a paragraph something like the following, which I take the liberty of composing:

Since we cannot destroy Hamas, no matter how many of its fighters we kill, we must recognize that every day that the war goes on and hundreds more ‘uninvolved’ Palestinians are killed, we are digging ourselves yet further into the ditch that Hamas invited us to jump into. Israelis need to accept that a bilateral ceasefire that frees our hostages and necessarily includes releasing many hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons must be the overarching and immediate priority of Israeli policy, belated as it may be. Only with that first step concluded will it be possible for us and the Palestinians to begin to pick up the shattered pieces of our individual and national lives. Every day without it plunges us yet deeper into the abyss.

It goes without saying that it is impossible to believe that a government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu would conclude such an agreement. Nevertheless, such a call, coming from a writer with Grossman’s prestige and gravitas, might have some effect in slowing Israel’s precipitous and accelerating slide towards the bleak future he evokes.

It appears that something has changed in the Israeli “moderate left” (once known as the “peace camp”) that we at Partners – and presumably our readers and supporters – continue to identify with. If we care about Israel, we have to take into account what interpreters like David Grossman are saying to us. While, as a historian and political analyst, I do not see Israel in a situation of “existential danger,” I am not there on the ground. I continue to believe that Israel must end the assault on Gaza now; that continuing it places Israel in more danger than ending it would. It is not simply bowing to foreign pressure; Israel needs the rest of the world and, unfortunately, has trouble accepting that opposition to its actions does not automatically imply hostility. However we – and Senator Schumer – are in complete agreement that Bibi Netanyahu as Prime Minister, with his multiple conflicts of interest, has helped intensify the conflict to an unbearable degree.






Paul Scham is president of Partners for Progressive Israel and a Professor of Israel Studies at the University of Maryland, where he teaches courses this semester on the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and on the Israeli Right.

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