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Uri Avinery
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

Naomi Chazan
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

Jafar Farah
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

Journalist Emanuael Halperin
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

FORTY FIVE YEARS SINCE 1967 WAR-tFringe or Mainstream? Leaders of the Israeli Peace Groups Reflect on Their Role

by Rhonda Spivak, September 15, 2011

[This is an article written on the 40th Anniversary of the Six day War--It is being re-run now since it is forty five years since the  1967 war and Palestinians ]

Leaders of the Israeli Peace Groups met recently in Herzlia to review their accomplishments and failures since the birth of state of Israel, and particularly in the last 40 years since the six-day war.

Uri Avnery,  the veteran 84 year old left-wing peace activist, who was the first Israeli ever to meet Yassir Arafat in 1982,. described himself as optimistic. “There’s no reason for anyone in the peace-camp to be pessimistic.  We’ve advanced lots in the last 60 years.  What is 60 years?” says Avnery, who is a leading member of Gush Shalom, the most “militant” part of the peace movements.  Avnery advocates the creation of a Palestinian state in all of the West Ban and Gaza, with Jerusalem serving as a joint capital, as well as “the removal of all settlements from the  occupied territories.”

“In the 1950’s when we said that there would be no peace without the Palestinians, we were considered eccentric.  Golda Meir refused to accept this.  Is there anyone today who thinks there isn’t a Palestinian nation? …When I met Arafat [in 1982], there were Israeli Ministers who want to put me on trial.  But these same Ministers all ended up meeting Arafat.  Now we wish we could  deal  only with the P.L.O. [and not Hamas], "says Avinery.

 Avinery sparked a lot of laughter from the mainly left-wing audience of middle class secular Ashkenazi Jews when he said “In a national referendum between Olmert and Abbas, we would all vote for Abbas.”

Avineri wasn’t always left-wing.  On the contrary, he was a member of the Irgun, from 1938-1942.  He says, “Ze’ev Jabotinsky was one of the first to realize that we [the Jews] are like the white settlers who come to take away land from another nation, and they [the Palestinians] are right to oppose it and there was no escape-we will have to use military means.”

Naomi Chazan, former Knesset member for Meretz, and Professor of political science who has been at the forefront of  the Peace Now movement concluded  that the peace camp has been “partially successful.” As she says “Most of the [Israeli] population understands that there has to be a Palestinian state alongside Israel, but this is in the realm of understanding, not in the realm of action.”  According to Chazzan,‘‘We [the peace-camp] have to go out to other sectors of society [other than Ashkenazi Jews].  Too often we didn’t include Sephardim and new immigrants, and Palestinians in Israel.,”   Chazan who is currently Head of the School of Government and Society at the Academic College of Tel-aviv-Yaffo noted “ The peace camp has aged, we’ve lost the middle generation, but there is a younger generation.”

Chazan’s sentiments were echoed by Dan Jacobson, a member of the Peace Now secretariet, “We have a lot of writers, feminists, kibbutz yekas (German Jews), and academics . But we are cut off from the Sephardim, the workers, the people who live in villages, the Arab villages.”  Jacobson noted “Elsewhere in the world, [unlike Israel] the left is usually comprised of workers, based on their economic interests.” 

Jafar Farah, founder of the Mossawa (Advocacy) Center for Arab Citizens in Israel said that Peace Now generally reaches out to Zionist Jews, and not to Israeli Arabs.

In her remarks,Naomi Chazan referred to Ehud Barak, by saying “I’m not sure that he’s part of the peace-camp even if I am very generous [in my interpretation].  When Barak was Prime Minister of Israel, there was“a flourishing of settlements.”

Journalist Emanuel Halperin (who is married to Menachem Begin’s daughter), chastised Naomi chazzan for her comment that Barak isn’t in the peace camp. “Barak was willing to give up sovereignity over part of Jerusalem and he’s been kicked out of the peace camp!  I don’t want to be part of a camp that disqualifies individuals such as Barak. I’m outside of the camp, so does that mean that I don’t want peace? Halperin asked. 

Halperin said that Palestinians haven’t been willing to recognize Israel’s legitimate rights and then he turned to Chazan and said “Maybe that’s why you haven’t attracted anyone and you’re getting  older and more tired?” He added “When Menachem Begin went to Camp David, I remember a  spokesman for the peace camp saying there won’t be an agreement because it’s Menachem Begin and he won’t make peace.”

“People who want peace aren’t just the ones sitting at this table…They are also the sephardim, the religious, the haredim, new immigrants and Israeli Arabs” Halperin said.

I walked away from the forum thinking that Halperin had made a valid point.  How will the peace camp ever reach out to other segments of Israeli society, if Ehud Barak is seen as an obstacle to peace.   Whatever his failures,  it is hard to believe that he wasn’t genuinely interested in achieving an agreement with Yassir Arafat, who by all accounts was not up to the task. If there ever is a peace deal, how much different will it really be from the one proposed by Barak at Camp David? Since Barak has now returned to become the leader of the Labour Party and Minister of Defence, isn’t it all the more counterproductive for those who see themselves as the “the peace camp” in Israel to disqualify him from their “club”?.  Weren’t the academics on the forum preaching to the already converted and failing, yet again, to engage other sectors of Israeli society?

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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