Israeli commentator to address Zionism after Rabin

While supporters of the peace process have looked on in horror at the escalation of violence in the Middle East over the past few weeks, and Jews, for the most part, are calling on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to stop it, Gadi Taub offers a different perspective.

An Israeli author and journalist who is currently a doctorate candidate in American history at Rutgers University in New Jersey, he acknowledges that the Israeli right can look at the violence and say "We told you so."

But what's going on in the West Bank is "a troubling demonstration of the force of a national movement," Taub said last week in a phone interview from his New York home. "As we know from history, underestimating the power of the yearning for self-determination is a hazardous enterprise.

"This war is not more winnable than Vietnam was."

Taub will be delivering the Israel Center's Rabin Memorial Lecture at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 5 at the Berkeley Richmond JCC in Berkeley.

Often, he said, people tend to view Palestinian violence against Israel in a vacuum without considering the entire context. "We are dealing with a nationalist movement that cannot be subdued by force," he said. "Whoever does not see that is taking us down the road to further disaster."

Saying the continuing conflict "will not achieve anything but a body count," Taub said, "they will not throw us into the sea and we will not subdue them because we can't. I hope we reach a sensible solution before we reach exhaustion."

The author of three children's books, a short-story collection, and a best-selling book of essays, "A Dispirited Rebellion: Essays on Contemporary Israeli Culture," Taub has also worked as a journalist, television commentator and host for several Israeli TV programs for children.

While the recent spate of violence has been causing a sort of ideological crisis among those dovish Israelis who have always supported the peace process, Taub said they needed to view the situation in different terms.

"The Israeli left was treating [the peace process] like we were falling in love with each other," he said. "It's a rather bizarre thought after 30 years of occupation."

Considering Israel is a democracy, Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians the best possible deal the public would accept, Taub said. But, he added, Barak left it open-ended, and Arafat should have realized a better deal was not possible now.

"This is not to say I'm not deeply disappointed," he said, "but this was the best offer the Palestinians could have gotten. This was probably the most that the general public could swallow at this point."

Taub didn't propose anything different than a two-state solution, but he did speak frankly of the toll the conflict has taken on Israeli society.

While of course the occupation has had a devastating effect on the Palestinians who live under continued military rule, he said, often people do not think of how it has impacted the Israelis.

"We have suffered from 30 years of occupation," he said. "There came to be strong walls between the private and public spheres. People felt the political sphere was so terrifying and so brutal that they practically felt that in order to love, you need to shut one eye and not see politics."

Offering an example, Taub said the reserve soldier who invades a Palestinian home because it is demanded of him then brings that experience home to his wife and children.

"These armored walls have been erected in the deepest recesses of the soul. We are detached and driven to a sense of despair."

Zionism as it has been practiced in the past 30 years, i.e. in conjunction with the occupation, has produced a current generation of Israelis who want nothing to do with it anymore, Taub said.

He has written and lectured widely on the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin five years ago. He believes what happened was "a culmination of a clash between two conceptions of Zionism," one of them about the liberation of land, and the other about the liberation of people — more specifically, the Jewish people.

What brought Rabin to the realization that the redemption of people was more important than land, Taub said, was "the realization of how the daily work of occupation and the daily grinding influence of maintaining a people under military rule day to day and the deteriorating democratic institutions."

Rabin began to see the occupation "like a cancer, because it was dangerous to Israel," he said.

It was Rabin who once said "Break their bones," in regards to the Palestinians when they first began their uprising, according to Taub. "He didn't reach these conclusions on abstract moral ground."

Rather, "it was the actual rotting of our values and our democratic institutions under the occupation," that made Rabin reinterpret which brand of Zionism he believed in.

When Rabin was assassinated, a whole generation was devastated, Taub said, because he was the first leader to begin the end of the occupation.

"This self-loathing is a very hard state to live with."

A part of the Berkeley Richmond JCC Sunday Brunch & Lecture Series, this lecture is also being sponsored by the Israel Center of the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay in conjunction with the CCJCC-CJLL Jewish Book Festival and the Consulate General of Israel.

Gadi Taub will be speaking 10:30 a.m. Nov. 5 at the Berkeley Richmond JCC, 1414 Walnut St., Berkeley. A light brunch buffet will begin at 10 a.m. $7 non-members, $5 members. To register, call (510) 848-0237 or e-mail [email protected]

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."