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Seeking Peace, Pursuing Justice

Seek peace...and pursue it : Psalm 34:15

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I. Articles & Speeches

UAHC Biennial
Address by Yuli Tamir

This is the transcript of the speech Professor Yuli Tamir, former Israeli Minister of Immigration and Absorption gave at the UAHC Biennial on December 6, 2001.

Professor Yuli Tamir: Good Morning.

Iím delighted to be here. I must be very honest with you because I wasnít planning to come here. Iím actually here on an academic trip, giving some lectures at Harvard. Uri [ed: Regev] phoned me yesterday, and said ďYou know Avram Burg was supposed to come and give a talk and he canít come and could you please come over and share with us your views?Ē And I said yes not realizing how enormous the audience is, and I said yes without having any time to prepare anything because I was working the whole day yesterday.

I will try and share with you, really, what I feel about the situation right now in Israel, hanging on to what Uri said earlier, that in order to know each other, we have to know each others hearts, feelings, hopes, fears, and trying to convey to you how it is to live today in Israel.

The first thing that is really pervasive nowadays is a feeling of desperation and that is the saddest thing for me about Israel at the moment. When you live in a place where people feel there is no hope, when you live in a place where people just really donít know what they aspire to achieve, then you feel that there is hardly any room for public action. Uri and I shared a lot of public actions during our lives and we always had a purpose and we always knew where we are aiming. I think that the most difficult thing for all of us right now is that the end of our public struggle is not entirely clear.

I would like to convey three messages that I think are important for what I see as the main human rights, liberal progressive camp in Israel. And I think that those ends are very, very hard to stick to these days. Nevertheless, they are no less important.

To begin with, I think we should raise a problem that is somehow overlooked in the recent debates in Israel and that is the question of social justice. I start with the issue of social justice because it is usually undermined. And if I recall well the Jerusalem program that you endorse, the question of justice appears there as a major end for the State of Israel.

Israel is becoming less and less a society with social solidarity and less and less a society where individuals can see themselves as equals. This is not only the outcome of the last event of the growing unemployment, of the poverty of large sectors in the Israeli society. I think the inequalities in the Israeli society go much, much further back.

And one of the tasks of the Jewish community abroad and the Israeli society is to try and amend these inequalities. We cannot allow ourselves to be both at war, confronting a very cruel enemy, and at the same time with growing unrest and growing disappointment and growing bitterness of large sectors of the society that simply feel they donít belong because the state, the society doesnít care about them.

I do hope that under the leadership of Uri and other people in the community here that the Reform Movement will see social justice and amending some of the inequalities in the Israeli society as a major, major end.

And when I speak about inequalities in the society, I speak not only about the Jews. I think that we should be sensitive to the fact that Israel is becoming now a multicultural, multiethnic society. We should care about the poverty and unemployment among Arab citizens of Israel no less than we care about inequality and unemployment among the Jewish citizens of Israel. We should care about the place of Russian immigrants who are not recognized in Israel as Jews but still seek a place in the society. We should open our hearts and be able to create again the kind of solidarity that Israel was known for in its early days. Social justice is for me the first and maybe the most important end. This is something we can do; it is up to us. And we should take it into our hands and try to change this reality.


The second task is certainly this very frustrating task of trying to bring about some sort of an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian people. Now we have had very difficult days. The Israeli peace camp, since the failure of the Camp David convention, felt that itís lost its target. I think that we should reevaluate our position and we should present a very clear program that should be the basis of our activities in the next few years, even if peace cannot be achieved. And Iíll be very honest with if you: I donít know whether peace can be achieved right now or not, I simply donít know. But I do know one thing: if we will continue to occupy the Palestinian people, and if we will continue to settle in the territories, soon, very soon, there wonít be any possibility to separate Israel from Palestine. And the outcome is very simple: the outcome will be that between the Jordan and the [Ed: Mediterranean] sea there will be a bi-national state in which Jews are a minority.

This is not something that will happen in the future. This is something that can happen fairly soon because you know the demographics, you know the numbers, and you know the facts on the ground. The last resort for us, in order to recreate the Zionist dream of Israel as a Jewish state, a state with a majority of Jews, and a state that respects democratic values and human rights, the only way for us to do it is to withdraw back, as close as possible to the 1967 lines and separate the two political entities. If we will not do that, we will lose our ability to protect our dream. If we can do it through negotiations, fine. If we canít, we have to endorse a move for separation unilaterally.

This is not a simple thing to do.


It calls for removal of a great number of settlements, though the majority of settlers could be part of the new line as was offered by Ehud Barak at Camp David and then endorsed by the Clinton Administration. Most of the settlers will be part of Israel but most of the settlements wouldnít be. And we should say it clear and loud that that is the only solution and we should try and work towards a move that will redefine the borders of Israel and will allow it to protect its nature.


If we wonít do it, that for me will be the end of Israel as we know it and love it. And I think that the unity, for me a very artificial unity that now supports the national unity government, is a unity that is grounded in blindness, in blindness, maybe intentional blindness to this really undesirable development. It is a unity that is grounded in fear rather than in hope and for that reason it is a dangerous one.

I want us in Israel to be able to stand for our views. I want us in Israel to be very clear that we can agree with this government about ways of fighting terrorism but we cannot agree with this government on the way Israel should look in the future. And if we all entertain a dream of Israel being a just and democratic society, we should do something about it.


And then there is a third dream, no less problematic these days but I think a very important one. And this here I share, I think with all of you, a vision of Israel as a pluralistic society. We want Israel to be a very special kind of society. We want it to be Jewish, in cultural, traditional, linguistic ways. We want it to be Jewish in the way that it shares its thoughts and feelings with World Jewry. We want it to be Jewish in its feelings and its solidarity in its social justice and its vision for peace. But we donít want it to be oppressively Jewish. And I think is what is happening in Israel more and more.


Here certainly we share a vision. Uri told you earlier that my daughter had her Bat Mitzvah in Kol Haneshama. And Iíll tell you the story why she had her Bat Mitzvah in Kol Haneshama because I think it tells you something about how ignorant Israelis are about the possibility of Jewish pluralism.

A year before her Bat Mitzvah, we were in Princeton. I was teaching in Princeton for a year. She had a friend who had a Jewish mother and a Christian father and they werenít accepted to a synagogue. But the daughter wanted very much to have a Bat Mitzvah and was accepted to a Reform congregation and had her Bat Mitzvah there. We went to the Bat Mitzvah and my daughter, who always felt, "I will never do a Bat Mitzvah, I donít want to go to into the synagogue ever," was really so moved by it that she said, "I want a Bat Mitzvah but like this. This is the kind of Bat Mitzvah I want to have."

We went back to Israel and luckily, we found a congregation in Kol Haneshama and Rabbi Levi, who was charming and helped us. And we learned as a family more about Judaism this year than ever.


And I think for all Israelis, this option should become an option they know and they share and they care about because itís not only a matter of asking people how they want to live their lives. Sometimes, you have to teach them about options they donít know. And I think this is one of the greatest roles of the Reform Movement in Israel nowadays. Itís very attractive to native-born Israelis like myself. It is extremely attractive to many of the new immigrants who see themselves as Jews but do not find their place within the more conservative Jewish communities. And it is a very welcome addition to Jewish life in Israel.

I do hope that I will see many of you in Israel in the next few months. I do hope that we will have a shared view of how Israel should turn into a place we should all love and care for and admire and be proud of. I really value the partnership with the Reform Movement. I saw your solidarity mission in the Rabin Center when they were visiting Israel. I do hope the Rabin Center will create more and more closer ties with the Reform and Conservative Movements here because I think that we share views, and we share beliefs and we share a dream of Israel being an outstanding country that can live in peace with its neighbors.

Thank you for the invitation. Iím really honored to be here today.


Rabbi Eric Yoffie: Weíre very grateful to Dr. Tamir, not only for all the work she has done over the years on causes so dear to our heart but of course on her willingness, at the very last moment, to come and join with us at our Biennial. A number of you submitted some questions. Sheís agreed to answer a few questions. Iíll just ask a few from among those that you gave us yesterday.

The question of: can Israel make peace with Arafat, and if not, do you see any alternative to Arafat on the Palestinian side that might give us a little bit more hope?

Professor Tamir: I know that all of us are troubled by Arafat. He is certainly not the ideal partner and itís very hard to believe that he means what he says and that he does what he says and that he fulfills his promises. But, there is, at the moment, no alternative leadership among the Palestinians.

I would say something that I think is even more important that that. If, god forbid, Arafat will be assassinated by Israel, his last words will be ďNo.Ē And this ďNoĒ will be respected by all those who will inherit him. Therefore, not because I trust him, not because I like him, not because I because I think heís the ideal partner, I think Arafat is there and he is the only person we can negotiate with. But in order to bring him back to the negotiation table, we should make an offer, that is a reasonable offer, not to him but to the entire world. This is actually a very special moment for us. We can have the world support in fighting terrorism and the world support in a peace initiative.

Unfortunately, the Israeli government at the moment can do the first but not the latter. If it will be strong enough to do the latter, to offer a real peace initiative, I think Arafat is, whether he likes it or not, forced to answer this initiative very differently than he did answer the Barak initiative and therefore it could be a moment of chance. There is no other option but to do it with Arafat himself.

Rabbi Yoffie: Dr. Tamir mentioned the possibility of unilateral separation as an alternative, perhaps a last alternative. This is a controversial issue in Israel. My understanding is many on the left in Israel, in the Meretz party, Shimon Peres, oppose this. And their argument is, yes, we support separation, we support dismantling settlements. But if we do it, first of all, it will be politically impossible without Palestinian agreement and if the Palestinians do not agree and we separate, it wonít lead to real security, theyíll simply continue with the attacks. And again, these are arguments coming from the left. I wonder if you could clarify your thinking on these questions.

Professor Tamir: The question of separation is indeed a very complicated one. It has at least two major issues. First of all, how do you draw the borders? Some people offer separation, which actually means annexation of most of the West Bank and Gaza. Some people offer separation, which is actually withdrawing, or moving back to the 1967 borders. One major aspect of the question is where do you draw the line.

Now, no one deludes themselves to believe that separation by itself will bring about peace or an end to the conflict. This is a move you do just as an extreme move between where we are right now and re-entering peace negotiations. The more likely program that I think wonít be accepted because unilateral moves are never accepted but is going to be less resentful from the Palestinian side and probably from the international community is the one that will draw a line as close as possible to the 1967 border. Whether the separation program will ever be implemented to its end, I doubt it. Its purpose is at least , from my point of view, very clear: draw a line, create a fence that will provide some defense. It will never be 100% security but some defense for the major concentration of population in Israel. And thirdly, prove the Palestinians that that there is a chance that we will ever move out of the West Bank and Gaza and remove settlements.

If weíll do those three things, then I think that the separation will be a first step in a long journey to come back to the negotiation table. I therefore think that my friends in the left that believe that if you do separation you say no to negotiations are wrong and that we should see separation as actually recreating a new kind of atmosphere that might enable returning to the negotiating table.

Rabbi Yoffie: In our final question, I wonder if you might have some thoughts on what the American government might do that its not currently doing to advance the cause of peace?

Professor Tamir: I know the word "Clinton initiative" doesnít resonate very well now in the White House. But I do believe that what could be said, and I have many criticisms about the way the negotiations evolved last time, but I think what could be said in favor of the Clinton initiative and the Barak initiative is that they actually draw the lines of a possible agreement. And I think everybody, Israelis and Palestinians, everybody knows that this is the agreement. The question is how to get there. Itís no more a question of what would the agreement look like; we know what it would look like. And the American government should support Israel in its fight against terrorism. I think this is a common cause all of us share.


But it should also very clearly force the Israeli government to make a political offer in order to end the conflict. Because we see what happens with fighting terrorism. We can congratulate the army and the military forces in Israel and the intelligence. They are doing a wonderful job. But it doesnít end because terrorism never ends by war. We will be able to confront it only if we touch the origins of the terrorism and the origins of terrorism have to do with the political conflict. And therefore, I hope that the American government, once they get over the crisis in Afghanistan, I think it will be wise for them and wise for us if they will become again partners in the struggle for peace.


Rabbi Yoffie: Once again, our thanks to Dr. Yuli Tamir.