Thank God for Limor Livnat. If we didn’t have her, we’d have to make her up.
Livnat, a Knesset member from the right wing of Likud and the current Minister of Culture and Sport rose through the ranks of Likud championing women’s causes and staked a place in the party as a spokeswoman for many of its most conservative views.
Livnat served as Minister of Education under Ariel Sharon and stirred up controversy by trying to excise what was then the most recent research on Israeli history from the educational curriculum. Now, in her new position, she has accused a group of artists and actors of “decid[ing] to divide Israeli society.
They are doing this by refusing to perform in a new cultural center that was built in the settlement of Ariel.
Not to be outdone, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pretty much parroted Livnat’s remarks: “The State of Israel is under an attack of delegitimization by elements in the international community. This attack includes attempts to enact economic, academic and cultural boycotts. The last thing we need at this time is to be under such an attack – I mean this attempt at a boycott – from within.”
It is interesting to note how this statement of conscience by some 60 performers (several of whom have since reversed their stance), an act of their own rather than a call for anyone else to do the same, inspires such a fiery response from the government while Im Tirtzu’s attempt to undermine funding for Ben Gurion University because they don’t like some of the lecturers there provoked no comment from the Prime Minister’s office.
But for our purposes, it is more important that we pay attention to this so-called “Israeli unity” that is ostensibly being attacked by a bunch of actors.
The united Israel Bibi and Livnat are talking about is actually Israel-plus, the “plus” being the settlements. The entire argument is based on the notion that Ariel is part of Israel. It is not. The residents of Ariel are Israeli citizens living in occupied territory, territory which (for those who like to argue that the West Bank is not “occupied” despite such figures as Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, Aharon Barak and many others referring to it as such) Israel controls but has never laid formal claim to or attempted to enact full Israeli law over it uniformly.
Bibi argues that all Israeli citizens have the right too culture, wherever they live. Fine. But nothing stops them from going to Jerusalem, Petah Tikvah, Haifa, Caesaria or other nearby cities for a night of theater.
The performers and artists who are sticking to their guns on this issue are acting on “their conscience,” as must be encouraged in any open society, a concern that falls on deaf ears in too much of the current Israeli government, its most right-wing ever.
The initial response was particularly distorted. MKs Carmel Shama (Likud) and Alex Miller (Yisrael Beiteinu) wrote that “This is an infuriating and dangerous precedent that discriminates against innocent citizens based on their place of residence…” This is the key point: for Likud and the parties with it and to the right of it, the settlements are a part of Israel, whole cloth.
Miller even called the actors’ refusal “collective punishment,” an Orwellian absurdity beyond comparison. But it plays well in Israel and to too many people outside of Israel as well.
There could not be a starker image of precisely the problem I wrote about last week. The pro-peace movement has not communicated the overriding point that the settlements are not Israel! It is true that the settlers are Israeli citizens, but they are living outside of Israel. Just because an Israeli lives somewhere does not make that place Israel. And those of us living in New York or Silicon Valley and would not like to live under so right-wing a government as the current Israeli one can be thankful for that and continue to welcome the many Israelis living in such places.
Let us be clear: the current Israeli government, led very powerfully by the Prime Minister, contend that the settlements are Israel. We, who want a sustainable peace that includes an independent, viable and dignified existence for the Palestinians, have to make the point clear that this is simply false.
We have a problem, in that some segments of the international pro-Palestinian movements which yearn for a single-state solution to the conflict do indeed see Ariel the same way they see Tel Aviv on principle. But those views remain politically marginal, and that means that now is the time for campaigns geared toward supporting Israel and de-legitimizing (yes, that’s the word) the settlements.
No other country, including the United States, agrees that Ariel, Ma’ale Adumim, Gush Etzion or any other settlement is part of Israel. But that state of mind will be eroded by the continued blithe Israeli mention of settlements as part of Israel. The farther this thinking is allowed to progress, the more Israelis will see abandoning settlements as a “concession” rather than as a responsibility Israel has to dismantle towns that should never have been built in the first place.
I do not mean to minimize the difficulty Israel will have with giving up the settlements. There will be resistance, internal strife and a great deal of expense and strain on Israel’s economic and social systems in relocating so many people (something Israel did not do a very good job of in Gaza). But all of these problems become worse the more entrenched the settlements become, both on the ground and in the minds of Israelis.
There simply isn’t a more important point for anyone who wants a reasonable and sustainable solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict to make: THE SETTLEMENTS ARE NOT ISRAEL, AND THEY MUST GO.