Gershon Baskin
The Jerusalem Post (Opinion)
October 10, 2011 - 12:00am

I admit it, I’m a yefeh nefesh or at least striving to be one, and I’m proud of it. That’s my confession from my Yom Kippur soul searching. An online dictionary definition of the term says: “(literary) sensitive, delicate, refined, noble, gentle soul; (critically) bleeding heart.”

It’s the critical definition of “bleeding heart liberal” that is the accepted Israeli colloquial understanding and use of the term. One could easily add to this “leftist, radical leftist, Arab lover, self-hating Jew, post-Zionist and traitor.”

The talkbacks to my articles in this newspaper and the many emails I get from Jerusalem Post readers usually accuse me of all this and more. Regardless of what they say, I know the truth, and those people who know me know the truth as well. It is significant to note that none of these harsh-tongued critics (few, if any, have ever actually met me) have ever asked my forgiveness for slandering me in public. I presume that most of them are Godfearing Jews who prayed with all of their souls on Yom Kippur for their sins. I guess that cursing a yefeh nefesh is not listed in their book of sins.

It’s alright in my book – I’m completely confident in my own self identity as a proud Jew, a loyal Israeli citizen, a Zionist and a believer in peace with our neighbors, and as an activist who has been working for years to turn this dream into a reality.

For years I have written about my firm belief that this conflict is resolvable, that we know what a permanent peace agreement looks like, to the minutest details, and that if such an agreement existed, it would gain the majority of support of public opinion on both sides. I still believe this very strongly.

Over the past years, mainly since Ehud Barak delegitimized the peace camp with his myth of “no partner” and then the horrific damage done by the Palestinians themselves with their criminal terror attacks against the Israeli public, those Israelis who support peace have dwindled in numbers and today are almost invisible in the public discourse. Since the rise of the Nentanyahu-Barak-Leiberman triumvirate, those Israelis who continue to support peace, a very small group of yefeh nefesh, are truly on the defensive and almost need to apologize for their belief in peace.

Even during the course of the recent Labor Party primaries, one prominent candidate said that we need peace because it is in Israel’s interest (a true statement) but then went on to say that making peace with the Arabs has nothing to do with morality, and that those who claim the moral side of the issue belong in the radical Left, not in the Labor Party. The candidate who won the elections refused to even deal with the issue of peace in her race because tactically she knew that she would lose votes and support by doing so. The Israeli summer of protest understood and held fast to the same position – social justice “yes,” peace and justice “yuk.”

WITH NO active public support for advancing peace, the Netanyahu government is not likely to do anything that will bring us to an agreement with the Palestinians. A negotiated Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement seems further away than perhaps at any time in the past 18 years of peace process. Despite the fact that both sides recognize that there can be no peace without a negotiated agreement, there seems to be no way to get back to the table. Or, if they do manage to get to the table, it’s almost impossible to imagine than an agreement can be reached. After so many years of peace process, there are in fact very few issues in the conflict to which there are no reasonable and known solutions. Aside from the fact that everyone involved at the political level on both sides has participated personally in negotiations and in “Track II” unofficial talks for years, there is a lack of real political will to reach an agreement. Perhaps equally substantial, there is no one at the international level, meaning a strong US president, who has the power or the ability to serve as the much need effective mediator.

In my own personal Yom Kippur soul-searching I decided to confront the moral issues concerned with the conflict and with the need for peace with the Palestinian people and the consequences of not reaching that peace. I am completely aware that resolving the conflict is not solely dependent on Israel; it does take two sides to have an agreement. I wish, however; to focus only on our side, on our responsibility, and I want to neutralize the issue of “interests” which is usually the focus of these debates.

I do not want to rule over another people. I do not want to deny the Palestinian people their right to self-determination. I do not want to deny basic freedoms and human rights to millions of people who do not want to live under my rule. I will not claim that I am the only democracy in the Middle East when I knowingly and systematically deny democratic freedoms and rights from the Palestinian people. I do not want to cling to Jewish morality and the lessons of Jewish history only when relations between Jews are concerned. I do not want to accept Jewish edicts by so-called rabbis who claim that it against Jewish law and God’s will to sell,or even to rent land, to non-Jews - Arabs - in the Land of Israel. I will not accept that this is Jewish law or that these men of hate can be called rabbis.

I will not accept the “price tag” policy of Jews – hate crimes against Arabs – dead or alive, done in my name, in the name of Judaism and in the name of Zionism. I reject that in our Jerusalem it can be allowed to construct a museum of “tolerance” on top of what was a Muslim cemetery. I refuse to accept that the “correct Zionist response” to Palestinians killing Jews is to take more land by force away from Palestinians. I reject the use of violence by our army, the Israel Defense Forces, against peaceful Palestinian demonstrators in Nebi Saleh and in other places. I am appalled by the terror used by some settlers against Palestinians who need IDF escorts to take them to school. When those escorts are absent their lives are in danger. I am aghast at the violence of some settlers against Palestinian property, the destruction of olive trees – the very symbol of peace and of the Land of Israel – and the attacks against Palestinian farmers trying to squeeze a meager living out of their dwindling land. I am completely dismayed and full of rage at the protection that the IDF and the Israeli police provide to some settlers when they violently attack Palestinians and the Israeli Jewish peace activists who try to protect them from the hooliganism of these armed brutes. It is the non-violent Jewish peace activists and the Palestinians who are subsequently arrested, not the perpetrators of the violence.

If this makes me a self-hating Jew in the eyes of those criminals and those who support them, even if they may be a majority of my countrymen and women, so be it. If this makes me a yefeh nefesh then I am proud to wear the label. I support peace with our Palestinian neighbors because it is morally right. I am opposed to the occupation because it is morally wrong. It is the most Jewish thing to do and I will continue to be on the front lines of Israeli Jewish peace actors until we achieve our goal of a just and lasting peace – two states for two peoples. This will become a reality. For this New Year and in the days following Yom Kippur, my wish is that someday soon may we all be yefeh nefesh.

Gershon Baskin is the founder and co-director of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information; he hosts a weekly radio show in Hebrew on All for Peace radio.


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