I often write here that Israel is in crisis; and my belief is confirmed by the growing desperation of liberal Zionists who glimpse the end of the two-state solution and with that the possible end of the Jewish state. I watch liberal Zionists because I want Jews on board in the coming transformation, I want Jewish life to change, and these liberals or their children are the Jewish swing vote; they are the Jews whose commitment to liberalism might lead them to abandon an anachronistic supremacist political ideology (Zionism) or undertake radical reform of the Jewish state.
The interesting thing about these three liberal Zionists, though, is their anxiety, and their clinging to religious and nationalist beliefs. It is important to expose these very conservative views if we are going to win over their children to non-Zionism. Sorry, this is a long post; you can skip from 1, Burston to 2, Gitlin to 3, Samuels.
1. Haaretz columnist Brad Burston gave a talk at a Seattle synagogue, sponsored by J Street, and made a sharply nationalist statement that suggests to me that if push comes to shove, Burston (and J Street) might march shoulder-to-shoulder with AIPAC. Richard Silverstein offered this report. I’m including a lot of Silverstein’s comment, which is very perceptive. Silverstein:
At one point, Burston said, “About the progressive Jew who sees nothing wrong with the many Muslim nations in the world, but who cannot allow the Jews to have a single state of their own anywhere in the world, I say that person is an anti-Semite.”
…I too used to be a liberal Zionist.. But it doesn’t do anyone any good. It sugarcoats Israeli reality. It in a sense infantilizes the Diaspora audience by presuming that it either can’t take or wouldn’t understand a full-bore analysis of the extremity of the political situation in Israel. At the present moment, an Israeli speaking in the Diaspora does a disservice when he makes things appear not quite as bad as they really are. Only the truth suffices in the present situation….
I’m also struck by the phrase “love for Israel” bandied about by so many liberal Zionists including Burston tonight [and by Gershom Sholem when he lectured Hannah Arendt]. One of the reasons … I didn’t attend Daniel Sokatch’s (he is the CEO of the New Israel Fund) talk here in Seattle this month was its title, Loving Israel in Challenging Times. I find the notion that one must profess love for Israel before criticizing it to be preposterous. …Love means that Israel cannot be something I think it should be, a normal state. Love puts Israel on a pedestal just as traditional male attitudes toward women put them on similar pedestals that prevented them from being normal human beings.
In the time when I was still on e-mail terms with Leonard Fein, he practically made a fetish out of my supposed lack of love for Israel. To him, it proved I had left the Zionst reservation because you could only express criticism of Israel out of such deep concern and affection, that your criticism would clearly be couched as that of a concerned parent for a loved one gone astray. Naturally, I don’t have patience in this hour in which Israel finds itself in extremis for such mollycoddling.
To me it is self-evident that I would not write this blog unless I loved Israel. It would simply be a waste of time to devote as many tens of thousands of hours to this enterprise as I have unless there was deep emotion attached to the subject. And there is. Many decades of my life have been devoted to Israel. I could not do so unless I loved it.
2. Here is American author Todd Gitlin, whose last book praises the idea of Jewish chosenness, writing in Haaretz the other day from the (very ethnocentric) Jewish People Policy Institute conference. Bless him, Gitlin is very impatient with the crazies at the Institute, but his own vision is itself quite nationalistic:
I recommended making a distinction between the inflamed anti-Zionism that singles out Israel’s policies as uniquely racist among states, even unto the claim (contrary to many UN declarations ) that the state has no right to exist, and moreover that the Jews are not a people and are not entitled to a majority in a Middle Eastern nation, and the view (my own, as it happens ) that it is the post-’67 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem that is illegitimate – not only because it violates international law, and not only because it is cruel, and not because the Palestinians are angels, but because the State of Israel is in default on its moral obligations….
In other words, to use a phrase much bruited about nowadays, the occupation is an “existential threat” to the Jewish people, who are a people of an idea. The danger is clear, present and growing….
[At the conference] a host of burning questions that might have been raised – to take one tiny example, whether the Jewish people are well served by the spread of settlers throughout Arab Silwan, next to the Old City wall, guarded by a private security army funded by the government to the tune of NIS 52 million per year – attracted no interest as sources of delegitimization. The profound moral question of why Jews should tolerate land grabs went unasked. The conferees were, for the most part, disinclined to discuss bedrock – even the bedrock of who the Jews are and what we stand for.
Here it interests me that Gitlin dignifies the birth of Israel as moral though it involved landgrab and ethnic cleansing– while he condemns the post-67 landgrab. I don’t know whether it is possible to maintain this position. In the view of many non-Zionists and anti-Zionists, what was so great about ’48? Arabs weren’t consulted despite promises by FDR to consult them; and they were against Partition, as you and I would have been. Jews were granted half the territory by the U.N. and ended up with 78 percent of it. Israel and American Jews went to war against the idea that any of the hundreds of thousands of refugees could come home to their property– a moral savagery that continues to fester 60 years on. “The profound moral question of why Jews should tolerate land grabs went unasked,” to quote Gitlin.
If you’re trying to save the Jewish state, I think you have to deal more honestly with those crimes, which the unending occupation has served to unearth.
When I shared these thoughts with Ilene Cohen, she wrote to me, “The Israelis could have settled for ’48 and been done. That’s what the ’67 borders idea is about. As we know well from our own country, many things done immorally become permanent. The Israelis believed they could do with ’67 what they had done with ’48, but it’s not working. Different time. I’m not sure they actually understand that. Their ’67 problem has not gone away and is undermining ’48. They’re very greedy and very stupid….
“I don’t know how or when this will all resolve itself, but I do believe that Israel as we know it is in deep trouble. Every day I continue to be shocked that they get even worse…
“I think the reality is that there will be one state only if the Israelis make it so by their obstructionism. I don’t think it will happen because people on both sides decide that that is the ideal but it will happen because of the Israeli apartheid regime. I really do believe that the Israelis look to be committing national suicide. How this all plays out in the coming years will not be pretty, but I think that Israeli apartheid will eventually be undone by on person, one vote…
“Personally, I think two states, with the Israelis giving up much, much more than they are willing to, would be best for all. And I think that the two states could become reasonable neighbors. But, again, the Israelis are greedy racists and won’t give up till they’re broken.”
3. Finally, here is David Samuels at Tablet, interviewing Maen Rashid Areikat, the PLO representative to the United States. The most notable moment in the interview is when Samuels says, “Some people in both of our communities believe that a bi-national state is the right answer.” A true statement. And Samuels, a Zionist, is granting honor to a new way of thinking about this problem.
Not that Samuels feels that way himself. The interesting thing about the interview is the angst of the interviewer. The piece reads like an encounter session. Samuels understands that he has to work with Areikat if he’s going to save the Jewish state, but meantime he rages at Areikat about Palestinian identity and Palestinian refugees and sets out as a justification for the Jewish state a religious insistence that the Jews are a people and nation connected genetically to the Jews of Jerusalem for thousands of years, a truly dubious proposition that we would mock if Christians came forward with it.
And by the way, he hints, American Jews feel more loyalty to Israel than the U.S. (note the last, passport comment).
As I read this interview, I don’t see why Samuels couldn’t move toward cultural Zionism and let go of the nation– which he doesn’t want to live in anyway, just reserve as a placeholder with all the racism that entails till the next Holocaust. For as Samuels recognizes, demographically-speaking, My kind of American Jewish identity, in which Israel means very little at all, and is largely a negative, is winning out over his conservative Jewish identity (with its dual loyalty problem). After all, most American Jews have never been to Israel.
I’ll shut up now. Here’s a portion of the encounter. Samuels is in bold:
let me ask you this: Was there ever a Jewish temple in Jerusalem?
I’m not a historian.
I have the reference right here from the Encyclopedia Britannica. Is it wrong?
I’m not a historian. What are you trying to get to? That Jews were present then?
President Abbas in his meeting with the leaders of the American Jewish community in June said that yes, the Jews were in the Middle East, and that one-third of the Quran talks about Jews.
Are the people who say they’re Israeli Jews today related to the people who were Jews in the time of the Quran?
It’s for historians to establish the link. I believe many Jews who lived at one point in that land continue to live in that land, and their descendants stayed in that land.
So, today’s Palestinians are the real Jews?
Everywhere in the world, Jews follow the nationality and citizenship of the country where they live. In the United States, you have American Jews, who live in the United States. You have French Jews. And this was the original argument between us and the Jews. Why can’t you be Palestinian Jews?
Is Judaism simply a religion, or are Jews also a people—like Kurds or Armenians?
That is something you have to work out for yourselves….Some of us still make the same arguments of the ’60s and the ’70s: “No, they are not a nation, they are the followers of a faith, they should live in every country as citizens of that country.”
That approach didn’t work out so well for us in Europe.
I think you have been very much influenced by the Holocaust…
So, explain why it’s impossible for the Palestinian people to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
We have no problem whatsoever with what Israel calls themselves. Israel can call themselves “The Great Empire of the Jewish People.” But don’t ask me to recognize that.
Why not? You want us to recognize the validity of your narrative of Palestinian people-hood.…Doesn’t the U.N. partition resolution on which you base your own national claims for a Palestinian state already recognize Israel as a state for the Jews—a Jewish state?
…Publicly we are Jordanians, but deep inside we are Palestinians.
That’s how many Jews feel about the passports that they carry.