Wieseltier holds on to a ‘lost cause,’ Jewish support for Israel

Israel/Palestine
on 20 Comments

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.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

Other posts by .


Posted In:

20 Responses

  1. Sin Nombre
    December 9, 2012, 3:24 pm

    In another thread Phil notes a piece by Mitchell Plitnick saying that the building of Ma’ale Adumim was really the death blow to any peace deal to the Palestinians. But even this can be considered a little blinkered in not contesting the Israeli claim of its ’67 war as being validly “pre-emptive.”

    That is, just as Plitnick says everyone should do and take off their blinkers and see the building of Ma’ale Adumim now in the true light, maybe the truest light is yet to come via the widespread realization that no, ’67 wasn’t validly justifiable. (Not least in terms of who fired the first shot, which, tellingly, Israel originally did and originally lied about.)

    It is, after all, the nearest and dearest lies that are surrendered last. So just as Plitnick notes that only now the building of Ma’ale Adumim is being seen as a very well-aimed arrow at the heart of any real two-state solution, we can see Wieseltier essentially saying “I don’t care the facts, I’m standing by the fundamental claim that Israel starting the ’67 war was valid.” Indeed by tying it to the idea of “lost causes” he’s almost saying this expressly.

    It’s a testament to how far people will go however out of logical necessity: To admit ’67 wasn’t valid means the occupation wasn’t valid means the settlements aren’t valid and ….

    But the “necessary untruth” held in such an iron-like way now wasn’t nearly regarded as such originally, and couldn’t have been. As noted, the historiography of it started almost immediately with Israel not claiming pre-emptiveness at all, but that instead, falsely, saying that it was fired upon first. And then you had Mordechai Bentov, the Israeli cabinet minister who attended the crucial June 4th Israeli Cabinet meeting deciding for war saying that the idea that the “danger of extermination” idea immediately voiced afterwards by Israel was “invented of whole cloth and exaggerated after the fact to justify the annexation of new Arab territories.” And Menachem Begin eventually admitting to the Israeli military college in 1982 that “[t]he Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”

    No wonder Michael Oren, when he was in his guise as a “historian,” put such effort into arguing about how validly Israel acted in launching ’67.

    • Hostage
      December 9, 2012, 9:59 pm

      No wonder Michael Oren, when he was in his guise as a “historian,” put such effort into arguing about how validly Israel acted in launching ’67.

      Then he should have left out the part about the fruitless efforts to get the Johnson administration to green light preemptive action. It would have been just as illegal if the Israelis had succeeded in getting LBJ’s full authorization in writing. Worse still Oren admitted that Allon, Eban, and Herzog had overruled Dayan and lied to Johnson about Nasser initiating the war (page 169).

      Oren’s account also provided the decisive details of Eshkol’s loosing arguments against the General Staff in the Pit. That really tells the whole story:

      Eshkol did his best to deflect these barbs. The IDF was not established to win wars of choice, he asserted, and its ability to make war could not be justification for waging one. The mere presence of the Egyptian Army in the Sinai was not grounds for launching a preemptive attack.

      Six Days of War, Ballentine, 2003, page 134.

      In short, although Oren’s book is hasbara, there’s still enough ammo there to prove the Israelis waged a war of aggression.

  2. DICKERSON3870
    December 9, 2012, 4:24 pm

    RE: “Near the end [of Wieseltier's piece], 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.” ~ Phil’s friend

    SEE: “Israel and the Neocons Mounting Pre-Emptive Strike on History”, by Ray McGovern, Common Dreams, 5/18/12

    [EXCERPT] . . . Regarding the events of 1967, America’s pro-Israel pundit class knows only too well that Egyptians, Turks, Syrians, Jordanians and other audiences in the Middle East will not buy Israel’s faux-history of the Six-Day War — many having been on the receiving end of it.
    Thus, it is abundantly clear that the primary targets of the disinformation are Americans like those who subscribe to the neoconservative ‘Washington Post’, whose editors in recent decades have been careful to keep their readers malnourished on the thin gruel of watered-down (or unreliable) facts about the Middle East (think, Iraq’s WMDs).
    So, it would be simply too much to acknowledge, as former Israeli Prime Minister Begin did 30 years ago, in an uncommon burst of hubris-tinged honesty, that Israel’s attack on its neighbors in 1967 was in no way a defensive war — or even a “pre-emptive” war (there being no really dangerous Egyptian or other threat to pre-empt).
    While Prime Minister in 1982, Begin declared: “In June 1967, we had a choice. The Egyptian Army concentrations in the Sinai approaches (did) not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”

    Such real history would lift the veil now shrouding Israel’s version that plays up the “threat” posed by Egypt and disguises the grand enterprise to expand Israel’s borders and — in double-contravention of international law — to colonize the occupied territories. . .

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – link to commondreams.org

  3. Donald
    December 9, 2012, 4:25 pm

    “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.” ”

    That’s much of liberal Zionism in a nutshell. Friedman did the exact same thing in his column today. The NYT editorials on this subject are the same. They only care about Palestinians insofar as Palestinians pose a danger, either physical or moral, to Israel, but they don’t actually care one whit about the human rights violations committed against Palestinians and they say as little on that subject as possible, while always condemning Palestinian terror, arguing only that it is in Israel’s own interest to let the Palestinians have their own state. That’s a losing argument because they basically accept the moral framework of the Israeli right, that the only really serious crimes here are those committed against Israel, and then they claim that the Israelis should give in to the Palestinians anyway. But a rightwing Zionist would argue that if the only murderers here are the Palestinians, how can they be trusted with a state? Why appease them? Given the common premise that they both accept (that only Palestinians are guilty of truly heinous atrocities), they have a very strong argument.

    (I said “much of” liberal Zionism because some are much more honest–Jerome Slater is completely honest about Israeli crimes, and there are others, but they aren’t the ones with much access to the MSM in the US. It’s the Tom Friedmans of the world that define what “liberal Zionism” means.)

  4. lyn117
    December 9, 2012, 6:58 pm

    Wieseltier keeps putting forth the premise that Palestinians have been offered “compromises” and missed the “grandeur” of accepting them, citing the 1937 Peel commission and the 1947 UN partition. Both of these were offers by outside parties to take territory and/or property away from Palestinians and give it to Zionist Jews – I don’t know how that could be a compromise. All so-called compromises offered by Israel since was to keep what didn’t belong to them or else they’d take more. Wieseltier offers the “liberal” Zionist view and it’s as dishonest as it is inaccurate. Wieseltier is discouraged that Palestinians didn’t agree to give up their rights, and allow zionist Jews to keep what they took from them because if they didn’t Israel would keep them stateless forever? That’s not compromise, it’s giving in to extortion.

    I think Friedman may know better, but he’s still happy to repeat the standard zionist view. That makes him a perpetrator of evil. I don’t know if Wieseltier actually believes what he writes either, if he’s really so “discouraged” by the Palestinians’ lack of “compromise”. If so, I suppose he’s been indoctrinated beyond hope. Anyway, I see no way to make him see the light. I wish I did.

  5. W.Jones
    December 9, 2012, 7:08 pm

    Phil,

    Your friend wrote:
    “I don’t see how the demographics (the politics of the Russian settlers for example) will ever allow that liberalism back.”

    Zionism came from a nationalist movement of an oppressed group and included leftists to a big extent, but it was not itself a liberal ideology. Just as the movement included the Revisionist group, it could later include settlers who did not care about liberalism. In fact, the settler movement is a continuation of a nonliberal part of the Zionist movement.

    Regarding the Russian element: very many of the state’s original founders were liberal and Socialist eastern European immigrants in the 1950’s.

    Then in the 1970’s there was the Refusenik movement that came from the Soviet Union. Can someone please tell me more about this? Perhaps this could also be considered a group of dissidents from the USSR and therefore liberal?

    If the Refusenik movement was liberal, couldn’t the current Russian immigration also be considered liberal, if considered in isolation from the IP conflict, vis a vis Russian society? How many commenters here have actually met or talked with those “Russian nationalist immigrants” on issues outside the IP conflict? Do they often make the same kinds of “anti-authoritarian” and “anti-corruption” criticisms of Russia’s politics and society that we may hear in the west?

    If so, perhaps the Russian nationalist settlers now are not really that different from preceding waves of liberal immigrants after all.

    Peace.

    • Hostage
      December 10, 2012, 3:38 am

      If the Refusenik movement was liberal, couldn’t the current Russian immigration also be considered liberal, if considered in isolation from the IP conflict, vis a vis Russian society?

      The problem with that theory is that Jews from the former Soviet Republics aren’t necessarily liberals. Many of them have little or no use for democracy. Ex-Soviet refuseniks are part of Avigdor Lieberman’s political power base. Natan Sharansky was the leading proponent and spokesman of the refusenik movement during the 1970s. He’s served as a figurehead of the Likud party in positions like Deputy Prime Minister of Israel, Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, Minister of Housing and Construction, and Minister of Industry and Trade. He’s been just as criminal as all the other Zionists apparatchiks in his policies toward Palestinians.

      • W.Jones
        December 10, 2012, 9:38 am

        Thanks for sharing, Hostage. Can you please say more about the refusenik movement within the USSR? Was it a dissident movement and why did they want to leave the USSR?

    • Mooser
      December 10, 2012, 12:17 pm

      “Zionism came from a nationalist movement of an oppressed group and included leftists to a big extent, but it was not itself a liberal ideology.”

      Gee, this is nice! I thought I was the only one who commented more on Mondo than he bothered to read Mondo.

  6. Citizen
    December 9, 2012, 11:01 pm

    Phil writes: “…their disavowal of the Palestinian experience was one that found wide support in American imperial and racial attitudes.”

    Where were they to find help in gaining awareness, the US media? The American public were never told the facts about the Palestinian experience. This continues. Why write so as to suggest most Americans are by nature imperial and racist? How long would that heroic painting Custers Last Stand have hung proudly on school house walls if the facts had been told early on? Remember how Israel’s victory in ’67 was painted by our media and government leaders? America is also Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

  7. Nevada Ned
    December 10, 2012, 1:26 am

    Miko Peled, son of Israeli general Matti Peled, has written a recent book, The General’s Son.
    Miko Peled comments that when he first visited the US, he had overcome the brainwashing of the environment in which he was raised, and was already a peace activist.

    Miko remarked that he found it hard to relate to American Jews, because they only wanted to hear that Israel was good and the Arabs were bad.

    He got that right! I think especially for older Jews. Younger Jews grew up in a different era and are more likely to be aware of the Palestinian narrative.

  8. Krauss
    December 10, 2012, 1:57 am

    Wieseltier’s tone is more reminiscent of someone who laments more that his preferred bigotries are not socially acceptable anymore(at least without even the tiniest of frictions as it used to be) rather than any deeper moral despair over the enroaching Apartheid spreading throughout the lands.

    Tom Wolfe talked about radical chic. Wieseltier is a chic racist, but a subtle one, who has the grace to understand the environments he is in, and he now understands the soft bigotry that used to effortlessly flow during the cocktail parties is now over. That is his true despair. For he is now faced with a choice: drop the facade of liberalism and embrace Apartheid(as he has done so far, but in an implicit manner) or actually be true to his words and fight for liberalism.

    Jonathan Cook wouldn’t bet on Leon’s moral rectitude. And neither would I.

  9. Shmuel
    December 10, 2012, 2:40 am

    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.

    Yes, the country is simply crawling with Russians (including and perhaps especially “Russians” from Tbilisi and Bukhara), Americans (damn Brooklynites), religious fanatics, haredim, Mizrahim and Arabs. What’s an Ashkenazi secular, liberal, veteran-Israeli Zionist (“Ahusal”) to do? Enlightenment was so much easier back in the days when it was just us against the Arabs, wasn’t it? These parvenus (and all those babies they have!) have no sense of propriety, no manners – and they can be so intolerant of others! Shame on them.

    • Mooser
      December 10, 2012, 3:38 pm

      “These parvenus (and all those babies they have!) have no sense of propriety, no manners – and they can be so intolerant of others! Shame on them.”

      Yes, but it’s not Zionism’s fault all those people got into Israel, it was Zionism’s commitment to help the most impoverished, oppressed and endangered Jews first. They simply had to let them in and turn the place over to them.
      Would Zionism be worth anything, morally, if it restricted its efforts to only the best human material available in terms of its needs and plans? That wouldn’t be very nice.

  10. piotr
    December 10, 2012, 3:26 am

    The bottom line of Wieseltier “despair” is that in the universe of “allowed actions” that “liberal Zionist” contemplate as possible there are no tools to solve the conflict. Perhaps if we increased aid to Israel yet more then the government will be less “petulant”?

    It totally ignores the dynamic of the politics. The is no “right or wrong” but “right of my people” which means “we have to take whatever we can get away with”. And in a conflict we should also make the enemies to suffer as much as we can get away with. Especially in a small country this is the metric of political wisdom. For example, in the last Gaza operation IDF killed and destroyed much less than it was widely hoped for, but a broad consensus seems to be that they tried and did what they could, given that, sadly, they could not do as much as in Cast Lead.

    Expansion of settlements is just like that. Only minority of settlers are apparently ideological, most got a better real estate deal than available elsewhere. And the majority does not begrudge them that, nor the government effort to check how much Israel can get away with it. Most of those who carp complain that “oh, this is too much, too provocative, we will not get away with it”. But they are proven to be “chicken little”. This crying wolf lost all credibility in Israel. Almost all.

    And this is due to indefatigable efforts in USA to assure that Israel can get away with everything. Stopping such efforts is totally outside of what a person like Wieseltier contemplates as possible. Hence a moment of sadness, or more precisely, philosophical reconciliation with reality.

  11. seafoid
    December 10, 2012, 6:13 am

    “Losing hope on peace” is such a stupid concept. It implies that permanent war and apartheid are feasible.

    • piotr
      December 10, 2012, 11:05 pm

      link to amazon.com

      This is actually common wisdom in Israel, this is what 2009 National Jewish Book Award winning books says.

      And check reader comments in this article: link to jpost.com

      The war policies worked very well for Israel, and the common wisdom is “if it is not broken, do not fix it”. And if there is no war at the moment, how about a witch hunt?

  12. Klaus Bloemker
    December 10, 2012, 7:55 am

    “liberal friends of Israel … fading of the Zionist dream of a ‘Jewish democracy’ …”
    ——————————–
    I always understood the liberal Zionists and liberal friends of Israel to be those who opposed Israel becoming a Jewish “Leader State” (Hannah Arendt et al. in their letter to the NYT on occasion of Begin’s visit to the US in 1948). I mean, people who uphold Jewish democracy – well, a Jewish one.

  13. pabelmont
    December 10, 2012, 10:45 am

    Sure, Phil, the alter dreamers are sorry to lose their dreams (if they are willing to admit the loss, that is), but they are largely members of a society of people and WITHIN THAT SOCIETY it is not Kosher to criticize Israel, or to admit to the un-reality (or anti-reality) of the dreams. Self-censorship, “received-wisdom”, “political correctness”, “some of my best friends are Zionists”, economic pressure, and other forms of coercion hold these people’s tongues just as firmly as if their old dreams still seemed valid to them.

    Think of Hanukkah family meetings in which the younger generation puts up — silently — with the older generation’s “loyal” pro-Israel chirpings and then goes home and proceeds with their lives, but WITHOUT active anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian activity, out of family loyalty. (What, you want your old mother should suffer?)

  14. Mooser
    December 10, 2012, 12:14 pm

    “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.”

    You mean you want them to just sit there and have a bunch of American do-gooders take away their kids houses, all their work, and their future? I wouldn’t stand for that! And neither would you.

Leave a Reply