Speaker Seeks Middle Ground in Israeli Politics
Aryeh Green is on a mission to reframe the terms of Israeli politics. At times he speaks like a hard-line Zionist, defending Israel’s claims on its territory and its right to defend itself from attack by any means necessary. At other times he sounds like a dedicated peacenik, quoting liberally from Ghandi and Andrei Sakharov as he promotes a Palestinian State.
Green’s project — as an advisor and promoter of Russian dissident- turned-Israeli Minister Natan Sharansky — is to prove that these two positions are not irreconcilable. Calling himself a “radical moderate,” the American-born, Berkeley-educated Green seeks to promote the idea of a “middle of the road alternative” to the Isreali-Palestinian conflict, a conception that sidesteps the rhetoric of both the reflexively pacifist left and religious fundamentalist right.
Sharansky began his speech in King last Monday by examining the “Peace Now” slogan of the Israeli left and the “Transfer” rhetoric of the right. He expressed frustration at how difficult it is to gain public support for an alternative to these solutions.
“A slogan like ‘Taking tentative steps toward peace and reaching out to our neighbor while fighting against attacks and protecting civilians’ doesn’t really fit on a T-shirt or a bumper sticker,” he said.
Indeed Green went so far as to unilaterally reject the “left” and “right” labels placed on Israeli politics by the western media.
“Left and right mean something very different in Israel,” he said.
As evidence of the “centrist, moderate government” he sees emerging in Israel, Green pointed to the Labor Party’s acceptance of liberal market reforms and a more traditional approach to civic education as well as President Ariel Sharon’s policy of disengagement from Gaza.
“The apparently ‘right-wing’ Sharon in fact co-opted a leftist platform in disengagement,” he said.
Green cited the failure of the Oslo Peace Process, the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the recent disengagement as the events that led up to “each side gaining an appreciation of the values of the other.”
Additionally, a large part of the platform espoused by Green and Sharansky hinges on reform of the Palestinian Authority.
“Do I sympathize with the oppression of the Palestinians? Yes. But most of them are being oppressed by their own government,” he said.
Green pointed out that until Yassir Arafat took power in the mid-’90s, the Palestinians had the strongest economy and largest middle-class in the Arab world. Green recounted numerous examples of the Palestinian authority’s corruption and support for terrorism.
“Even today, the only country in the Middle East where an Arab minister is free to criticize the government is Israel,” he said.
Green went on to state in an interview with the Review that reform of the Palestinian Authority ought to be one of the central fronts of the peace process.
“I tell my audiences, if you are pro-Palestinian, the best thing you can do is push for democracy in the Palestinian Authority,” he said. “And if you are pro-Israeli, the best thing you can do is push for democracy in the Palestinian Authority. When Palestinian society is as free as Israeli society, none of this will matter.”
Perhaps Green’s most controversial assertion, and the one which got the largest response from the audience, was his advocacy of the security barrier demarcating the border between Israel and the West Bank, which he described as “no different from the security you go through every time you get on an airplane.”
Green’s remarks provoked disagreement from an audience member who felt that the wall hampered Palestinian economic development and “ghettoized” residents of the West Bank.
Green objected to the term “ghetto,” as well as the word “wall” to describe the security barrier and “colonialist” to describe Israel’s ambitions in the territories.
“Language is central to these issues,” he said. “When you use these terms you have to look at what they really mean.”
Green is currently on a 13-campus tour to promote his and Sharansky’s vision for Israel and to combat “the anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and ahistorical analysis you see on a lot of campuses.”
“My goal is to wake the American public up to the reality that progress
in the Middle East can only be achieved through the establishment of open and
free society,” concluded Green.