Yossi Beilin: Test of the Zionist Left

Yossi Beilin: Test of the Zionist Left

This is from Haaretz, Aug. 8, by the head of Meretz, Israel’s left-wing opposition in the Knesset. I don’t agree with Beilin that it was wrong to call up the reserves, but he rather breathlessly summarizes many problems with current and previous policies of recent Israeli governments, which have habitually resisted making efforts to reach agreements with Arab leaders and governments.– R. Seliger

There are those who expect the Zionist left to join in the revelry of war, in the pathetic slogans such as “We will win” and in the fiery comments such as “Nasrallah will remember who Amir Peretz is.”

There are those who expect us to join the non-Zionist left, which is calling for a unilateral cease-fire, accuses Israel of war crimes, demands that Hamas and Hezbollah be given what they want, and opposes all use of force. Both sides say this is the test of the Zionist left – and they are right.

We have a deep belief in the right of the Jewish people to a democratic and secure state, which has a stable Jewish majority: the state of the Jewish people and all of its citizens. We are convinced our national interest is in completing the moves toward peace with the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon, and that there is no alternative to an agreement.

If it were up to us, we would have reached a peace agreement with the Palestinians in May 1991, as was promised in the interim agreement with them. If it were up to us, the Shepherdstown peace talks involving Bill Clinton, Ehud Barak and Farouk Shara would have ended in December 1999, with an Israeli-Syrian peace agreement that would have led to an Israeli-Lebanon deal and prevented the need for a unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon six months later. If it were up to us, we would have renewed the peace negotiations when Mahmoud Abbas was elected Palestinian Authority chairman in 2005, preventing the need for a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip only a few months later.

But our feeling that peace could have been reached long ago and that Israel has played a not insignificant role in the fact that this has not happened does not justify, in our eyes, the behavior of our enemies. It doesn’t justify the Qassams Palestinians continued to fire on us from Gaza after we dismantled the settlements, or Hezbollah’s major arms buildup, or the concealment of rockets in the homes of innocent Lebanese civilians, or the irresponsible excitement and baseless territorial claims of Hassan Nasrallah, even though we withdrew from Lebanon to the last millimeter.

The military response in Gaza is justified in our eyes, and the response in Lebanon is no less justified – but that is not reason enough to support all aspects of the war. Brief military activity, followed by an ultimatum for the release of our abducted soldiers, would have been far more proper in our eyes. In any case, it was not right to get drawn into the trap set by Hezbollah – into an extended war of attrition, continued exposure of the Israeli home front to rocket fire and a ground operation involving tens of thousands of soldiers, at a very heavy financial cost.

A formal change in the attitude toward noncombatants led to hundreds of Lebanese civilian casualties. We cannot justify such a change, even if it came from the mouth of someone who does not stop glorying in being a man of peace. Amir Peretz’s dovish past does not grant him a license to violate ethical norms that have guided us for many years.

A few days after the fighting broke out, we called for a mutually agreeable cease-fire to achieve the goals Israel has set for itself: the return of the abducted soldiers, a total halt to all hostile acts and the deployment of the Lebanese army in southern Lebanon. We did not believe for a moment that these legitimate goals could be reached by another few days of combat, the control of a few more kilometers, a massive call-up of reservists or the heavy bombardment of an Arab capital.

Therefore, we were the only ones who abstained in the Knesset, both in the no-confidence vote and in the vote on the government’s announcements over the course of the war. We were the only ones in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee who opposed the call-up of tens of thousands of people for emergency reserve duty. We were the only ones who appealed to the High Court of Justice against the prime minister over the government’s failure to declare war, despite the requirements stated in the Basic Law on government. We see our role over the course of the war as warning against Israel’s lapsing into situations that it did not anticipate at the beginning of the war and warning against acts that contradict the values of Israeli society, while demanding that we reach the negotiation table as soon as possible to discuss a cease-fire.

After the war, when Ehud Olmert once again talks about unilateral convergence as a wonder drug and the right speaks out against agreements with our neighbors as well as against any unilateral move, we will need, with all our might, to present the agreement option as the path that is all the more necessary following the conflict in Gaza and the war in Lebanon.

The test of the Zionist left will be in its ability to come out of this war without losing its designation as the group that warns the public and suggests realistic solutions, as the group that does not become inured to the world or set itself up as the judge in the conflict between us and our neighbors, but presents its positions from within the heart of Israeli society, for the sake of its safety and prosperity.

By | 2006-08-08T21:04:00-04:00 August 8th, 2006|Blog|2 Comments


  1. Richard August 9, 2006 at 8:31 am - Reply

    Given the atrocious mayhem that has been happening for over 3 weeks, I`m afraid that Beilin`s position is far too nuanced & temporizing to have any moral validity or power.

    Too many have died on both sides for a “yes, but” position to have any meaning.

    I too am a member of the Zionist left. It`s far too late in the game to be saying “well, Israel would have been justified in retailiating against Hezbollah–that`s why we`re sort of for the war & sort of not for it.”

    If Israel had actually chosen a somewhat restrained response by attacking Hezbollah positions w/o a massive invasion & bombing campaign, only THEN could I understand Beilin taking a more restrained position.

    But Israel unleashed a bat out of hell scenario. It is atrocious. It should violate every fiber of our Zionist being. And yet, Meretz & Peace Now sit by the wayside counting their principles.

    That`s an utter cop out I`m afraid. Get with it Beilin. The world`s going up in flames all around you & you dither. You think you`re taking a principled position. But what you`re really doing is making yourself, your party and your movement utterly irrelevant to the moral/political debate.

    I have hardly ever disagreed with Yossi Beilin on anything. I am deeply disappointed with his position & that of the entire stifled Left.

    And please don’t patronize the opponents of the war by calling them non-Zionists or Israeli Arabs or whatever. I am as progressive a Zionist as Yossi Beilin or anyone writing at this site. This war disgusts me. I find it vile & unconscionable. And you should too. You will at some point after 200 or 300 or 400 Israeli boys die in that useless quagmire. But by then it will be too late because your change of heart won’t matter. You had a chance to make a difference & you stood silent in the face of evil.

  2. Ralph Seliger August 9, 2006 at 3:44 pm - Reply

    There is a division within the Meretz party in Israel along the lines of Richard’s dissent. Beilin, and most of the MKs and others who support his view for a cease-fire that is packaged with meaningful measures to end the conflict, is pitted against MK Zehava Gal-On and such prominent figures as Galia Golan and ex-MKs Naomi Chazan, Yael Dayan and Shulamit Aloni in calling for an immediate cease-fire and denouncing this war.
    Richard is right that it’s not just the non- or anti-Zionists who protest. But– agree with it or not– Beilin is not simply ‘temporizing’ or ‘dithering’, he’s expressing a principled position.

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