Let’s be clear: Israel is not an apartheid state. And Israel is not committing genocide on the Palestinians. Nonetheless, a recent survey commissioned by the Jewish Electorate Institute — a group led by prominent Jewish Democrats — found that a disturbing 25 percent of U.S. Jews agree that Israel “is an apartheid state,” and 22 percent agree that “Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians.
Israel conquered the West Bank 54 years ago. Whatever short-term plan was put in place to govern the area at that time was never intended to last this long. So, what language should be used to describe a deeply entrenched, wholly unsatisfactory situation for both the governed and the governing authority in the West Bank?
It’s a mess and, at the moment, there is no way out. And it is not surprising that those who are frustrated and angry reach for the verbal hand grenades: apartheid state; genocide.
Answers that argue that Israel is only practicing “apartheid lite” or that a whole lot more Palestinians would need to die for the fighting to qualify as a bona fide genocide, don’t work. Nor does the assertion of shared blame and mutual responsibility.
Some, like David Horovitz in Times of Israel, lay a good part of the blame on Israel’s public relations failures — “hasbara” in Hebrew — to the point where “Israel’s abiding inability to articulate its own case to the global public is so entrenched, and has been so long a cause of despair to its supporters, that many … have long since given up.” He may be right. But, we don’t agree with his conclusion.
The answer is not improved public relations. Rather, what is needed are thoughtful solutions designed to disentangle the knots of reality and provide opportunity and hope to those living in despair. The public relations benefits will flow naturally from those solutions.
An idea worth considering was suggested by Micah Goodman, in a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal. He argued that for all of Israel’s political fractiousness, there is a national consensus on the Palestinians: “They agree on a paradox — they don’t want to control the lives of the [Palestinian] residents of this territory, nor do they want to withdraw from it.” And, the answer to the paradox, according to Goodman is to “shrink the conflict” — which he explains to be “pursuing any policy that significantly boosts Palestinian self-government without jeopardizing Israeli security.”
There is wisdom in Goodman’s approach, which doesn’t focus on thorny final-status questions, or existential issues of sovereignty, refugees and holy places. Instead, he promotes the pursuit of “shrink the conflict” changes that Israel could make unilaterally. And success of that effort will likely encourage Palestinian partnership engagement.
Goodman’s approach may not be the answer. But in the absence of a better one, why not give it a chance? Besides, any actions that “shrink the conflict” will provide the natural “hasbara” to negate the wholly unfair and unwarranted perceptions of Israeli apartheid and genocide.