Liberal American Jews are giving themselves permission to say goodbye

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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New Yorker graphic
New Yorker graphic by Tom Bachtell

A lot of people passed along David Remnick‘s piece on the Israel, “Threatened,” in last week’s New Yorker, with the arresting graphic (left), but I only read it yesterday, and it’s significant. The tone is weary and detached; Remnick is seeing the intolerant Israel that Max Blumenthal has been telling us about, and is not denying it, he seems resigned. He makes a point of contrasting the liberal American Jews who supported Obama with Israel’s zealot leaders. Remnick believes more in American exceptionalism than Jewish exceptionalism. This is a good, illusionless piece. Many liberal Zionists have come away from the bedside pleading with the doctors (the lobby) to take heroic measures. Remnick is impatient, seems to want to move forward. (Yossi Gurvitz said this would happen.) He recognizes that Israel’s self-injuries may well be “fatal” and the “experiment in Jewish power” has been superseded by our American experiment in Jewish power. It is just a matter of time before Remnick calls for voting rights for all Palestinians under occupation.  Excerpts:

And yet, as an experiment in Jewish power, unique after two millennia of persecution and exile, Israel has reached an impasse. An intensifying conflict of values has put its democratic nature under tremendous stress. When the government speaks daily about the existential threat from Iran, and urges an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, it ignores the existential threat that looms within. Reactionary elements lurk in many democracies….But in Israel the threat is especially acute. And the concern comes not only from its most persistent critics. The former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert have both warned of a descent into apartheid, xenophobia, and isolation.

The political corrosion begins, of course, with the occupation of the Palestinian territories—the subjugation of Palestinian men, women, and children—that has lasted for forty-five years. Peter Beinart, in a forthcoming and passionately argued polemic, “The Crisis of Zionism,” is just the latest critic to point out that a profoundly anti-democratic, even racist, political culture has become endemic among much of the Jewish population in the West Bank, and jeopardizes Israel proper. The explosion of settlements, encouraged and subsidized by both Labor and Likud governments, has led to a large and established ethnocracy that thinks of itself as a permanent frontier. In 1980, twelve thousand Jews lived in the West Bank, “east of democracy,” Beinart writes; now they number more than three hundred thousand, and include Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s wildly xenophobic Foreign Minister. Lieberman has advocated the execution of Arab members of parliament who dare to meet with leaders of Hamas. His McCarthyite allies call for citizens to swear loyalty oaths to the Jewish state; for restrictions on human-rights organizations, like the New Israel Fund; and for laws constricting freedom of expression…

poll after poll reveals that many younger Israelis are losing touch with the liberal, democratic principles of the state. Many of them did their military duty in the Occupied Territories; some learned to despise the Occupation they saw firsthand, but others learned to accept the official narratives justifying what they were made to do….

“The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation,” Obama has said. Netanyahu and many of his supporters believe otherwise; too often, they consider the tenets of liberal democracy to be negotiable in a game of coalition politics. Such short-term expedience cannot but exact a long-term price: this dream—and the process of democratic becoming—may be painfully, even fatally, deferred.

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