The New York Times’ coverage of Israel often reads as if were written of Zionists, for Zionists and by Zionists, and a news analysis by Steven Erlanger last weekend titled, “Who are the True Heirs of Zionism?” was in that tradition. The piece said there is a “fierce battle” in Israel between good Zionists and bad ones. The good ones wanted to set up a model democracy. The bad ones are trying to have the entire biblical land of Israel and to hell with world opinion.
Are [the true heirs of Zionism] those who hold to the secular and internationalist vision of the nation’s founders, or are they the nationalist religious settlers who create communities beyond the 1967 boundaries and seek to annex more of the biblical land of Israel?
The piece all-but-openly adopted the point of view of liberal Zionist Bernard Avishai that Israel was a miraculous Jewish rebirth.
The largely secular founders of Israel, the generation of David Ben-Gurion, had a dual vision of Israel as both “a light among nations” and a state like others, part of the international community of nations, outward looking and socially just.
The settlers ruined that. Uri Dromi, former spokesperson for Yitzhak Rabin, tells Erlanger:
Rather than trying to be a nation among nations, “today, without saying it, by what we are doing, we are a people that is alone.”
But don’t end on a down note! At the end, Erlanger expresses the fond hope that everything’s gonna work out:
Still, the older Zionism is not dead yet and continues to create “facts on the ground,” noted Mr. Avishai. Every high-tech start-up, every new Thai restaurant and every successful film — and the very existence of a Hebrew-speaking, pluralistic, thriving Tel Aviv — speaks to the success of traditional Zionism and its continuing importance in Israeli life.
The article is so narrowminded it is hard to read. It mentions Palestinians twice. It quotes Zero Palestinians, even though it begins with the bold admission that
Zionism was never the gentlest of ideologies. The return of the Jewish people to their biblical homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty there have always carried within them the displacement of those already living on the land.
Erlanger would seem to believe in that romance — the return of the Jewish people to their biblical homeland — sufficiently that he refuses to entertain any serious critique of Zionism here. Those critiques are taking place across the Israeli world and the Jewish world and they include these ideas:
The fierce battle Erlanger wants readers to believe in has been resolved. Israel is dominated by a Jewish settler government that was reelected emphatically last March. Even the alleged liberals, the Zionist Camp, are scared to oppose settlers openly. This is the endpoint of the blessed “Jewish sovereignty” in the same way that dictatorship and bureaucracy were the endpoint of Communist ideology. This understanding of Israeli political culture is expressed best lately by Ayman Odeh, an Israeli political leader who has made the terrible mistake in the eyes of the New York Times of not being Jewish and of representing 20 percent of the country’s population, so he won’t be quoted; and by Max Blumenthal, who is Jewish (and American, like Avishai) but made the terrible mistake of being an anti-Zionist, so he can’t be quoted.
The issue is how long the Times and the other long-distance runners of Jewish sovereignty are going to marginalize these critiques as irrelevant– when other people want to talk about them, including many Palestinians, Israelis, Europeans and even young Americans (at Bernie Sanders rallies). Bear in mind that Erlanger also deemed Ghada Karmi’s story of how her Palestinian family lost her house in West Jerusalem to be not newsworthy–when Karmi thought it so relevant that she wrote a whole book about her family’s life in that house. In this article, Erlanger acknowledges Karmi’s story with his opening indictment– “the displacement of those already living on the land” — but after that it’s right back to the real work of ignoring Palestinians and anti-Zionists.
Of course I don’t think those critiques are irrelevant, but are absolutely vital to an understanding of Zionism in the 21st century. Writing an article about Whither Zionism and leaving out its countless victims, would be like writing, Whither Communism and ignoring the gulag. And as to the point, Who are the true inheritors of Zionism? — let’s assume this is a parochial, Jewish question– the answer is, anti-Zionists. Zionism arose as a fervent minority belief inside European Jewish life 120 years ago as a real answer to real historical conditions; and today anti-Zionism is burgeoning as a minority belief inside Diaspora Jewish life, and inside Israeli life too, as a real answer to real conditions. Zionism once was able to draw Franz Kafka and Bernie Sanders because it was an idealistic ideology of Jewish deliverance. Today Zionism’s life as a movement that can attract others is over: it has resolved itself in colonial oppression, despite all of Avishai’s Thai restaurants. Anti-Zionism is a growing movement inside Jewish life, aided by many Palestinian friends. How long it will take the Times to deign to notice is anybody’s guess. But these days more and more readers are aware of the coverup.