‘NYT’ landmark: Jewish philosophy prof says we ‘really ought to question’ Israel’s right to exist

Israel/Palestine
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Our site keeps urging a mainstream conversation about Zionism. That’s the endpoint of our work, questioning that almost-religiously-held belief. Well, last night, the New York Times‘s opinionator blog published a bold piece by Joseph Levine, a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, saying that we have to question the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state–and pretty much concluding that it doesn’t have such a right.

Mind you the piece appears in the Opinionator’s philosophical section, which I see is called The Stone, and though it begins by asserting that Levine was raised in a Zionist home, it is a calm and logical disquisition, explaining why Jews do not deserve self-determination inside a state created in the Middle East, up until the end, when Levine arrives at the actual conditions of Palestinians, including the Nakba, and says that these abuses were “unavoidable” in the constitution of a Jewish state.

“I conclude, then, that the very idea of a Jewish state is undemocratic, a violation of the self-determination rights of its non-Jewish citizens, and therefore morally problematic.”

Writes Donna Nevel, who sent this to me:

I think it’s important that these positions are becoming more visible and it’s becoming much harder (though we know too well they still try!) for the Jewish establishment (and AIPAC, etc.) to silence and marginalize these discussions or pretend that views like this don’t reflect similar perspectives of  an increasingly large segment of the Jewish community.

Here are excerpts. Go to the Times for the entire thing:

Over the years I came to question this consensus and to see that the general fealty to it has seriously constrained open debate on the issue, one of vital importance not just to the people directly involved — Israelis and Palestinians — but to the conduct of our own foreign policy and, more important, to the safety of the world at large. My view is that one really ought to question Israel’s right to exist and that doing so does not manifest anti-Semitism. The first step in questioning the principle, however, is to figure out what it means….

My view is that one really ought to question Israel’s right to exist…

But the charge that denying Jews a right to a Jewish state [is anti-Semitic because it] amounts to treating the Jewish people differently from other peoples cannot be sustained…

But if the people who “own” the state in question are an ethnic sub-group of the citizenry, even if the vast majority, it constitutes a serious problem indeed, and this is precisely the situation of Israel as the Jewish state. Far from being a natural expression of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, it is in fact a violation of the right to self-determination of its non-Jewish (mainly Palestinian) citizens..

Any state that “belongs” to one ethnic group within it violates the core democratic principle of equality, and the self-determination rights of the non-members of that group…

I conclude, then, that the very idea of a Jewish state is undemocratic, a violation of the self-determination rights of its non-Jewish citizens, and therefore morally problematic…

There is an unavoidable conflict between being a Jewish state and a democratic state.

The piece is reminiscent of other Jewish landmarks/awakenings: Tony Judt writing 10 years ago in the New York Review of Books, territory the journal has never sought to lay claim to, that the Jewish state is an anachronism, Brian Klug’s great essay, “On saying that Israel has a right to exist,” which we republished two years ago. Once the media begin stating this argument more regularly, calmly and honestly, you’re going to be stunned by how many young Americans sign on.

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