Monday, March 06, 2006

Respect is a two-way street

Ze'ev Orenstein, a Moledet Central Committee member, has an interesting op-ed on Arutz-Sheva regarding Amir Peretz's new campaign slogan. He even links to the original Ha'aretz article (which, to be fair, I read when it was first published a few days ago). Peretz's slogan is- are you ready- "Treat settlers like human beings."

Well. That sounds pretty reasonable. I mean, that sounds downright decent, democratic, etc... Particularly since the general M.O. in Israeli politics seems to be to treat any of your enemies, either internal (Mitzna) or external (Palestinians) as expendable rungs on the ladder to success. Particularly after the disaster in Amona, Peretz's position seems like a pretty good starting-point for mutual growth, maybe even... gasp... respect.

What does Orenstein do? He takes a giant crap all over it. Let's watch:

Orenstein starts off well, trying to give Peretz the benefit of the doubt- and then goes on the attack:

(Ha'aretz): Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz told settlers on Sunday that he would act for generous compensation and support by the state in exchange for voluntary evacuation of West Bank settlements....

"The time has come to treat settlers as human beings. They are the salt of the earth. We must build new towns and neighborhoods for them," Peretz said. "It's even worth giving the evacuees double the compensation, to prevent a confrontation and because it is an investment that pays itself off," he said.

In Amir Peretz's world, and sadly for many others here in Israel (particularly the country's leadership and elite), nothing is sacred, nothing is worth fighting for, nothing is worth sacrificing for and nothing is worth dying for. Everybody has a price. Faith, ideology, and a life lived based on belief and ideals are all admirable, but at the end of the day, those are also for sale...

If Amir Peretz truly wanted to treat the "settlers" with respect, why not talk to them as Jews, and not just as human beings? Why not try to understand where they are coming from - of the centrality of the Land of Israel to the Jewish people and Jewish destiny? Why not try to understand the ideals, the vision and beliefs of those who are living throughout Judea and Samaria (and formerly Gaza) and why they (along with countless Jews throughout the ages) have been willing to sacrifice so much in order to live by those ideals?

So what's wrong with Orenstein's analysis? Well, first, he's distorting the Ha'aretz article. Ze'ev conveniently ignored the paragraph after the ones he quoted, the one that says:

Most of the residents who attended the meeting said they would agree to evacuate in exchange for financial compensation.

The settlers wanted to know how the state would be able to finance the compensation scheme. Peretz explained that there would be greater flexibility in garnering the money because it was a one-off, rather than ongoing, expense. "It's even worth giving the evacuees double the compensation, to prevent a confrontation and because it is an investment that pays itself off," he said.

Peretz said that part of the economic boom of the last year or two was a result of the declaration and implementation of the disengagement plan, and that an additional withdrawal would push the economy forward even further.

Now who isn't treating folks with respect? Orenstein is completely ignoring the fact that a sizeable proportion of the settler population (largely among the secular, "non-ideological" sectors) are WILLING to leave. They aren't there for God or Zionism or pioneering- at least, not primarily. They're there because of massive government subsidies, cheap housing, and nice views. They didn't sign up for being ostracized by their government, media, and families because of where they decided to live. They wanted to get a nice house in the suburbs, not risk getting shot or blown up just for trying to get to work in Jerusalem or Tel-Aviv. By pretending that these people don't exist, Orenstein is silencing a fairly large segment of his own supposed extended "family". I guess what those "other settlers" wants doesn't count. They aren't "real" settlers (Jews?) like our friend Ze'ev. So what if they're miserable? So what if their lives are in danger? So what if their kids are displaying major signs of PTSD? Ze'ev's got a platform, damn it, and no way he's going back on his precious ideology. In fact, by even asking him to think about other people, you're attacking his values. How DARE you!

So what is it, Ze'ev? Do you only care about settlers when they think like you? When they prize land and ideology over money? I mean, I think having a cause is somewhat admirable, too- but causes can also be very dangerous things. Ask some suicide bombers. Peretz may be being blunt, but I always thought that was a big part of "Sabra" culture- cutting through the crap, and getting down to brass tacks. If there had been more of these kinds of conversations years ago, instead of successive governments either issuing mealy-mouthed warnings or outright supporting the settlement enterprise (and the growing religious and nationalist extremism in some settlements, such as Kiryat Arba and, in recent years, places like Bat Ayin, Itamar, Yitzar, Tapuach), maybe the situation in Israel would be both more civil and less polarized. Maybe what the Holy Land really needs is a little less ideology and a little more pragmatism/realism...

Orenstein closes with these two gems:

...the "spirit of the settler movement" - namely the recognition that the future of the Jewish people and State revolve around our faithfulness to the Land of Israel, the people of Israel and the Torah (heritage) of Israel - stands in direct contrast to Amir Peretz's "spirit of peace" based on retreat, appeasement and the abandonment of the Jewish heritage and homeland.

Only if you believe in a completely inflexible hard-line ideology, under which land is more important than lives, and compromise is a dirty word. If that's your position, then, yeah, I'd say we've got a problem. And what does "faithfullness" to the people of Israel mean? You mean not demonizing your political opponents? Or ignoring people you disagree with, thereby pretending they don't exists? It seems like there's a lot of teshuvah to go around.

Peretz's "spirit of peace" is a spirit that is based on the desire to run from Jewish destiny and history; a desire to no longer live our lives as Jews, and for the State of Israel to no longer view itself as a Jewish State (with all of the obligations and responsibilities that go along with that); a desire to undergo a conversion from Judaism to Secular Humanism, and to replace the Jewish State of Israel with a State of Israel that exists as a nation like all others - a nation made up of people who believe in nothing and stand for nothing short of the present, the temporary and the fleeting (read: Peace Now) - a nation made up of individuals who all have a price.

First off, Ze'ev, people have been "living as Jews" without living in the West Bank for over 2,000 years. Some of the greatest Jewish sages somehow miraculously managed to stay Jewish far, far away from Ofra and Hebron (see Maimonides, Rashi, Vilna Gaon, etc...) Second, claiming that the State of Israel has EVER had a coherent view of itself vis-a-vis being a Jewish state, much less one than jives with YOUR perception of what that should be, is nothing short of a fantasy. It's almost as idealistic- and requires about as much wishful thinking and mental blinders- as giving Arafat a peace prize. Sorry to interrupt your reverie, Ze'ev, but you might want to crack a history textbook sometime. Or, you know, poke your head out of your whack-a-mole hole.

Needless to say, I find it somewhat ironic that Orenstein says that believing in peace, moderation, and co-existence equals "believing in & standing for nothing". Sorry to dissapoint, Ze'ev. I guess we can't all be Pinchas ben Elazar.

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