When It Comes to Shalit, Let's Be Quiet

Israel Has Cultural Reasons To Make Deals The U.S. Might Not

By Leonard Fein

Published October 30, 2011, issue of November 04, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

It is a favorite barb against the Zionist left that from the comfort of their homes in New York or Cleveland, they presume to tell Israel what to do, how to behave. Never mind that no one (not even the president or the secretary of state, much less dovish Jews) can “tell” Israel what to do — as if, while thoughtful Americans of different backgrounds vigorously debate the wisdom/folly of Israel’s choices, we of the Jewish left are instructed to keep our views to ourselves. Disregard the fact that as American citizens, let alone as Jews, we have a stake in Israel’s safety and welfare; forget that we are urged by Israel to advocate for this policy or that; pay no attention to the raucous debate within Israel itself. Pretend ignorance; stifle yourself.

Yet as trivial and self-serving as is the advice that we reserve our critique of Israel’s choices for pillow-talk, there is one current issue that does call us to diffidence: second-guessing Israel’s handling of the Gilad Shalit case. Regarding Shalit, we are culturally and intellectually inhibited from opining.

The intellectual inhibition: We here are not qualified to judge the threat the newly released prisoners represent, nor even the likelihood that Hamas will now redouble its efforts to capture Israeli soldiers. Obviously, such issues have been given very close consideration by the Israeli authorities.

And the cultural inhibition? As the Shalit trade was being finalized, I received a call from a Haaretz reporter. She wanted to know why it was that American Jews seemed so much more engaged by the Shalit matter than by the case of the only American prisoner being held by the Taliban. I was nonplussed. An American soldier held by the Taliban in Afghanistan? I’d had no idea. (His name, I later learned, is Bowe Bergdahl; he is from Hailey, a town in Idaho.)

My reply: Ours is an enormous country, compared with which Israel is tiny. America was never a neighborhood; Israel was, and on occasion becomes again, a nationwide neighborhood. On this particular occasion, much of that owes to the stubborn persistence of Noam and Aviva Shalit, Gilad’s parents; over the course of the five years of Gilad’s captivity, they effectively transformed Gilad into everyone’s son, a transformation very powerfully abetted by the fact that all (well, nearly all) Israel’s sons (and daughters, too) serve in the Israel Defense Forces. In short, Israel’s calculations emerge from a radically different cultural context. There’s also the underlying matter of policy: Officially, the United States does not negotiate with terrorists, in part for fear of being sucked into exactly the kind of situation that the Shalit case represents. In fact, the American policy is often honored in its breach. Yet despite its iffiness, it is furlongs far from the Israeli policy of pidyon shvu’im (redemption of the captives). Israel’s soldiers know that no effort will be spared to rescue them; Israel has, in fact, over the years freed a total of 13,509 prisoners in order to win the release of 16 of its soldiers.

Given the cultural chasm, we here must be reticent to comment on the Shalit exchange. But nothing need inhibit us from speculating on the “why now?” question.

Some say the terms Hamas was offering had softened, and that may be so. I offer, speculatively, a rather different explanation. We know that Netanyahu believes Israel “has no partner for peace,” a view that seems to please him since it takes him off the hook of concessions. Whatever slender possibility there was in negotiating with President Mahmoud Abbas — and “slender” overstates the prospects — was wrecked when the PLO chose to pursue United Nations acceptance and when Israel decided to oppose the PLO effort. And then, adding injury to insult, Israel announced an increase in housing in Gilo and the establishment of an entirely new Jewish neighborhood (“Har Hamatos”) in East Jerusalem. In such ways, Israel deliberately dooms negotiations. Yet Israel knows that, other things being equal, Western pressure for the resumption of talks with Abbas will persist.

But if Hamas displaces Fatah — a distinct possibility in the wake of Shalit — then “other things” are no longer equal. Who could then blame Israel for shunning negotiations with Hamas? What is there to negotiate with an enemy sworn to your destruction? That is how, by diabolical design, Netanyahu renders “no partner for peace” the self-fulfilling prophecy of the decade.

Contact Leonard Fein at feedback@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.