A friend and I have been corresponding about the crisis of Zionism, and the despair now being experienced by longtime liberal friends of Israel who observe the fading of the Zionist dream of a “Jewish democracy” into the reality of Jim Crow and apartheid and rightwing leadership. I have expressed some sympathy for these folks, as for anyone whose worldview comes crashing down around them, and because their dream was one that had wide support culturally and politically in the US establishment. That is to say, their disavowal of the Palestinian experience was one that found wide support in American imperial and racial attitudes.
But the flipside is that now that reality is crashing in, none of them seems to be able to say goodbye to the dream and embrace a new way of looking at the conflict. My friend writes:
I share your feelings of sympathy with these people. Their reaction to the UN vote and Jerusalem expansion is important as part of a historical change they are even more reluctant to grasp than the rest of us. I wish it were otherwise, but don’t see how the demographics (the politics of the Russian settlers for example) will ever allow that liberalism back. The almost perfect silence of the opinion-leaders of liberal Zionism outside Israel (Bernard-Henri Levy, Alain Finkielkraut, Michael Walzer, Thomas Friedman, etc.) concerning the West Bank settlement expansion, while it was happening from Oslo to yesterday, gave the death-blow to their politics. See Friedman today [lamenting that Israel must “avoid becoming a garrison state, fated to rule over several million Palestinians forever.”]
And here is Leon Wieseltier: “Losing Hope on Israeli-Palestinian Peace.”
The title and overall drift make it sound as if the “lost cause” is peace. But the opening paragraph, on the Jewish minority that held out for centuries against Christian triumphalism, changes the emphasis. The lost cause turns into the Jewish tradition, and one supports that tradition by supporting Israel.
There is wrong on both sides–but the first adjective applied to Palestinians is “terrorist” while the first applied to an Israeli (Netanyahu) is “petulant.” The rockets fired into Israel are spoken of; not a word on the proportion of Palestinian civilian deaths to Israeli deaths in the Gaza onslaughts of 2008-09 and 2012.
Near the end, a soft landing on the year 1967: “It has been almost half a
century since Israel acquired the territories in a war to save itself.” Note:
acquired. Not occupied or annexed. And the action was taken not because they wanted to, but because they had to, they did it to save themselves. Whereas Palestinians “since 1977, and really since 1947…have refused one proposed solution after another.”
Not a word about Ben-Gurion’s advice to withdraw from the conquered lands immediately after the war. And this goes with the other omissions. Israel’s role in the catastrophe begins and ends in necessity. Palestine’s role was always a matter of choice.