NEW YORK – As the bombardment of Gaza continues, and the civilian death toll rises above 1,200 – with children comprising one-quarter of the victims – the world has become polarized. Supporters of Israel’s actions invoke its right to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks. Opponents argue that nothing justifies the mass killing of civilians and the destruction of essential infrastructure.
Unsurprisingly, Israeli society is polarizing as well. Even as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government has fully mobilized hasbara (“public diplomacy” or “spin,” depending on your point of view) and hardens its position, peace activists are taking to Israel’s streets. Israelis from all walks of life, and increasing numbers of Diaspora Jews, are speaking out, rejecting what they call Israel’s frequent violation of international law and the injustice of what they describe as a two-tier system of citizenship and law.
In fact, once-unthinkable positions are emerging. Recently, for example, more than 50 Israeli reservists signed a petition declaring their refusal to serve, citing many forms of oppression but naming specifically the dual legal system that discriminates against Palestinians, and the “brutal” nature of the military occupation. They join a growing number of other former Israeli soldiers who have described in detail the daily injustice and humiliation to which Palestinians are subjected.
More broadly, many younger progressive Israelis, Diaspora Jews, and Palestinians have taken up, with increasing interest and hope, the idea of a secular, democratic, diverse society along the lines of post-apartheid South Africa. If this vision is not yet a solution, at least it promises a new conversation – one that poses a direct challenge to the right-wing Israeli establishment and its supporters abroad.