Democrats need to send ‘harsh’ message to Palestinians and accept that Palestinians won’t think they’re ‘nice’ –advice from ‘Democratic Majority for Israel’

Israeli author Einat Wilf, a former Laborite politician now a visiting professor at Georgetown University, spoke to the Israel lobby group “Democratic Majority for Israel” this month and offered advice to American Democrats. They need to issue some “not pleasant” messages to Palestinians about the Jewish right to a state. And Democrats must accept that Palestinians won’t like them.

“I had to wrestle with the fact that I’m not a nice person,” Wilf explained. “And I accepted it. Because ultimately I do believe that the right of the Jewish people to self-determination is one of the most justified ideas.”

Introduced by Arizona State Rep. Alma Hernandez, Wilf said that the conflict will end when Palestinians finally accept that Zionism is an “indigenous liberation movement” and therefore Jews have a right to “self-determination” in a Jewish state on lands where many Palestinians once lived. She explained how this was a “not pleasant” message for Democrats to send:

I believe that we need to first address the underlying conflict. And we need to do that by sending messages that I know especially for Democrats are not pleasant. The messages that need to be sent are, The war of 1948 is over, Israel is here to stay, the Jewish people have a historical and cultural and deeply-felt connection to the land of Israel, they are not foreigners, they belong there and have the right to self-determination.

You are not still refugees from a war that ended 70 years ago. And there will be no return because there is no such right. Not for you, not for the Germans, not for the Ukrainians, not for the Poles, not for the Hindus, not for the Muslims. Nobody has that right, and you’re not special.

Now I know that these are not pleasant messages. I’m from the political left in Israel. One of the things that people from the left like to believe is that they belong to the camp of the good. You know, we are for good things– compromise, equality, justice. I had to go through a very wrenching and difficult emotional process to understand that even though I support two states and no settlements and end to the occupation and dividing Jerusalem and all of these things, as far as I’m considered from the Palestinian perspective it doesn’t make me a nice person because I still think that the Jewish people should have a state in the other part of the territory. That’s still from their perspective a terrible idea, a vile idea.

So I had to wrestle with the fact that I’m not a nice person. And I accepted it. Because ultimately I do believe that the right of the Jewish people to self-determination is one of the most justified ideas. Again, I think it doesn’t have to come at the expense of the Palestinians. We can live side by side…. They first have to accept, that This is it, they can live next to Israel but not instead of Israel. And then we can negotiate. And by the way I think it will be at that point the easiest negotiation…

The far harder process, the unpleasant process, and one that will take at least a generation once it begins– we didn’t even begin yet– is to get the Palestinians to finally accept Zionism as a legitimate movement, as a legitimate equal claimant to the land…

It is the Palestinian people who need to go through a process of reckoning and understanding that they are no longer refugees and that there is no return. And that involves the west for example giving them the harsh messages that I mentioned… So defund UNRWA [UN refugee agency]… You’re not refugees. We’re going to tell you that. We’re not going to shy away from telling you that…

Wilf was delivering her message to a rightwing organization, but bear in mind that she is on the left in Israeli politics, long associated with Labor, and spoke up for the liberal Zionist group J Street when J Street needed Israeli allies.

Israelis have long instructed Americans on how to treat Palestinians, and American leaders have listened. As former peace-processor Dennis Ross told a New York synagogue, “We don’t need to be advocates for Palestinians, we need to be advocates for Israel.” The good news is that some American leaders are no longer willing to carry the water.

Wilf repeatedly described the Israeli war of 1948 as a war of “liberation” and derided the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the lands from which they or their ancestors were ethnically cleansed. She said the west has indulged the Palestinians in the idea that they possess “a right that was given to no people during wars of liberation when empires receded.” She analogized Palestinian refugees to the millions displaced by World War II, including German refugees from Poland and the former Czechoslovakia who wished to return to those lands but were not allowed to. “The message for refugees throughout the 20th century, Greeks and Bulgarians, and Hindus and Muslims, and Ukrainians and Poles and Jews, was sad, tragic, tough– move on,” she said.

One rejoinder I’d make to Wilf’s analysis is that all these peoples she mentioned achieved sovereignty. Palestinians never gained the state the world repeatedly promised them, as the Israeli state continually expanded its borders, and so they carry on a campaign for liberation to this day, with more and more allies around the world. That campaign is today a battle for equal rights for Jews and Palestinians; and equality is counter to Zionism. As Wilf says, “You cannot split the difference between Zionism and anti-Zionism.”

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