Obama speech was shattering to liberal Zionists

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Yesterday was a staggering day. It was as bad as when Obama went to AIPAC in June 2008 and said, Jerusalem must not be divided. Obama piped the hard-right Israeli line for the purposes of winning an election. It was a naked renunciation of everything he claimed to believe.

The speech has sent shockwaves through liberal circles. As Laura Rozen of Yahoo news, tweeted last night:

Worst month in US since Katrina? Feels like Obama has basically abdicated any moral authority on anything.

Rozen’s tweet is a harbinger of the fact that Obama’s speech will have a dramatic effect on American Jewish public opinion. All the people who believe in the two-state solution know that Obama’s inflexibility spells disaster for them.

Today the New York Times ran a Save-two-states-now piece by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that contains a rebuke to Obama for his spinelessness that I boldface:

“When I addressed international forums as prime minister, the Israeli people expected me to present bold political initiatives that would bring peace — not arguments outlining why achieving peace now is not possible.

This feeling is widely shared by American Jews who want to preserve Israel as a Jewish state. They are not in Rick Perry’s camp. Nearly 4/5 of Conservative rabbis are against the settlers, and many of them are ashamed of Israel. These are Peter Beinart Jews; they want Obama to take a stand against the occupation to save Israel. They want J Street to take on AIPAC.

The irony of course is that Obama’s collapse is a Jewish communal achievement. That is the thrust of Tom Friedman’s column of last Sunday attacking the powerful Israel lobby for holding Obama “hostage.” Friedman bit his tongue for years when it was Walt and Mearsheimer saying this– when it was just the Iraq war that was the issue. Jewish solidarity meant allowing the neocons and Jeffrey Goldberg to smear the scholars.

But now Israel is threatened by its own expansionist stiffnecked policies, and Friedman is laying the blame where it lies, on domestic political calculations.

Daniel Levy makes the same point in the New York Times:

“The U.S. cannot lead on an issue that it is so boxed in on by its domestic politics,” said Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator in the government of Ehud Barak. “And therefore, with the region in such rapid upheaval and the two-state solution dying, as long as the U.S. is paralyzed, others are going to have to step up.” 

Obama’s speech is a greater shock to liberal Zionists than the ’06 Lebanon war or the Gaza onslaught or the Mavi Marmara raid. For this is not about Palestinian lives or Turkish freedom fighters. The Jewish dream of Israel as our liberation story is plainly dying before our eyes– in expansion, in militarism, in Israel’s defiance of its neighbors.

As Ilene Cohen writes in an email: “There’s a still-small Israeli and pro-Israel ‘community’ of pundits and politicians that recognizes that Israel will never shed its growing pariah/outcast status so long as it insists on sticking with its colonial Greater Israel project. To be clear, these people are motivated by concern for Israel; justice for Palestine and Palestinians is not really on their radar.”

Expect these American liberals to grow more and more vocal in days and months to come. You will see a renewed American Jewish push against the settlements, and a breakup of the old lobby.

Last night on the Nightly News, Andrea Mitchell said woefully that Israel has not faced a greater crisis since 1967: so isolated and alienated from its neighbors. The response in 1967 was war, conquest, occupation. Liberal Zionists know that those choices only hurt Israel. And now the two-state dream– once the fantasy of “leftists,” in the words of former Obama Treasury aide Stuart Levey back in 1985– is a shell, destroyed by the militant right wing.

Henry Siegman expresses Andrea Mitchell’s anxiety in more thoughtful terms at the National Interest:

Nothing will be the same again in the Palestinians’ dealings with Israel and the United States. The notion that Israel will decide where negotiations begin and what parts of Palestine it will keep is history. It is sad that America, of all nations, has failed to understand this simple truth, even in the wake of the Arab Spring. Sadder still is Israel’s continuing blindness not only to the injustice but also to the impossibility of its colonial dream. That dream may now turn into a nightmare as the international community increasingly sees Israel as a rogue state and treats it accordingly.

Siegman is moving past Zionism, slowly but inexorably. His journey will be widely imitated in years to come.

Consider that at Foreign Affairs, Gideon Rose has run Ali Abunimah. Consider that at the Jewish Community Center on the Upper West Side, the annual Sukkot lunch will feature an anti-occupation activist from Israel.  (thanks to the New Israel Fund).

It is true that the great majority of American Jews are still wed to Zionism, but our liberal intelligentsia is shocked by what Zionism has produced: Barack Obama imitating a fool, Rick Perry, to gain the approval of a racist, Avigdor Lieberman. An American Jewish spring is in the air.

P.S. Yesterday, in describing the Israel lobby as a Jewish entity, I suggested there would be no Christian Zionists demonstrating outside the U.N. I was wrong. Back to the drawing board!

Update: this post initially described Laura Rozen as a reporter for Politico. She’s now at Yahoo news.

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