We’re accustomed to Palestinian Arab extremists claiming that Israel’s Negev Desert is “occupied territory.” But now a leftwing American Zionist group is saying the same thing. It’s another troubling sign of the growing radicalization of the U.S. Jewish left.
The Negev has been an integral part of the State of Israel since its establishment in 1948. Beersheba is in the northern part. Eilat is in the south. The vital Israeli nuclear research site of Dimona is in the Negev. So is one of Israel’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning, Ben-Gurion University. Not to mention Sde Boker, the kibbutz where David Ben-Gurion made his home and is now a major historical landmark.
There has always been a wall-to-wall, left-to-right consensus in Israel and world Jewry that for both historical and security reasons, the Negev will always be part of Israel.
Apparently, some on the Jewish left think otherwise. I’m referring to Partners for Progressive Israel (PPI), which is closely aligned with the far-left Meretz Party in Israel. Meretz is part of the current Israeli governing coalition. (PPI grew out of Meretz USA, the party’s American wing.)
PPI is sponsoring a series of Sunday programs this summer called the “Israel-Palestine Symposium 2021 – Challenging Narratives: Seeking Hope.”
The July 25 session is titled “Israel as Occupier.”
PPI and its allies fervently oppose “Israeli occupation.” It has always been the centerpiece of their ideology and activity that Israel has no right to “occupy” other people or other people’s land.
Exactly which “occupation” will the PPI session on July 25 spotlight? According to the official advertisement for the session, it will consist of “Visits to Sites of a Deepening Occupation: Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem and Al Araquib in the Negev.”
“Aziz al-Tory, resident, Al Araqib, Bedouin village in the Negev” will speak about what PPI calls the “deepening occupation” there.
Labeling a territory “occupied” means saying that it is wrongly and illegally occupied. Calling the Negev “occupied” is a call for Israel to surrender the Negev.
I am focusing here on the Negev, and not PPI’s references to Sheikh Jarrah.
Calling a mixed Jewish-Arab part of Jerusalem such as Sheikh Jarrah “occupied territory” is just as wrong – historically and morally – as calling the Negev “occupied.” But I am setting that issue aside for the moment. It deserves separate, and fuller, consideration.
In the public debates over the years about the future of the Israeli-administered territories, many of us have warned that even if Israel surrendered those areas, it would not mean the end of the conflict but would simply invite new demands.
If Israel ever goes back to the pre-1967 lines, Palestinian Arab advocates will start demanding that Israel surrender other areas, such as the Galilee or the Negev, since from the Arab point of view, all of Israel is “occupied Palestine.”
That’s the kind of extremism we have come to expect from the Palestinian Arabs, based on what we see in their media and schoolbooks. But it’s not what we would have expected from an American Jewish organization that calls itself Zionist and is associated with a party that is a component of Israel’s governing coalition.
Calling the Negev “occupied territory” crosses a line. The mainstream American Jewish and Zionist community should make it clear that such extremism on the part of Partners for Progressive Israel is an outrage.
Of course PPI has a right to be as extreme as it chooses. Nobody is saying that PPI should not be permitted to express radical points of view. This is America and all points of view are allowed. But PPI does not have a right to pretend that it is a “Zionist” organization if it takes such a position. That’s called false advertising.