For a long time, liberalism and Zionism have gotten along fine in America– just look at the Democratic Party and its love for Israel. But Charlottesville represents a crisis for liberal Zionists. When they condemn white nationalism in the U.S. and celebrate Jewish nationalism in Israel, the contradiction is obvious to all.
Just consider three prominent voices. Wolf Blitzer of CNN, the liberal Zionist group J Street, and blogger and Democratic Party thinker Josh Marshall.
But Blitzer once published a book in which he promoted one piece of Zionist propaganda after another and denounced Palestinian views of the conflict as “spurious myths.” It is a “myth” that Arab civilians were “massacred” at Deir Yassin, a “myth” that Palestinian refugees “were the major victims of the 1948 war,” and a “myth” that “Jewish atrocities” caused the Palestinians to flee. From Blitzer’s book on the refugees:
The startled Jewish community declared: “We did not dispossess them; they themselves chose this course.”
These are all grotesque falsehoods or distortions of the truth to deny war crimes, typical of AIPAC, the lobby group Blitzer was working for when he put the book out. (Deir Yassin was an Arab village on the outskirts of Jerusalem that Zionist militias cleared in April ’48 for strategic and nationalist purposes, killing over 100 Palestinian civilians; the outrage caused terror throughout Jerusalem.)
To this day, Blitzer frequently airs Israel’s defenders, rarely puts on its critics; and he attacked Jimmy Carter when he dared to say Israel was practicing apartheid.
–The liberal Zionist group J Street has taken a prominent role in condemning white nationalists.
Meanwhile, its president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, brags about his father’s “service” in the Irgun establishing the state of Israel — without noting that the Irgun was a terrorist Jewish militia, linked to the massacre of Palestinians in Deir Yassin and other ethnic cleansing operations.
–Josh Marshall of TPM has been a tribune of warnings about the real-and-present dangers of Trumpism: “a President driven by white racial grievance” has detonated a bomb of “white supremacist violence” hatred that will keep bursting.
Marshall proudly named his son in 2006 after an Israeli general:
His full name is Samuel Allon Marshall. … The name means ‘Oak’ in Hebrew. And it was also the name of Yigal Allon, after whom he is also named, who was one of the founders of and later the commander of the Palmach, the elite commando unit of the Haganah, the predecessor of the IDF.
Yigal Allon was the general who carried out David Ben-Gurion’s more-or-less explicit orders to expel Palestinians from the incipient state of Israel in 1948. Famously he emptied Lydda and other areas near the Israeli airport of Palestinians. “IDF commander Yigal Allon asked Ben Gurion ‘what shall we do with the Arabs?’ Ben-Gurion made a dismissive, energetic gesture with his hand and said, ‘Expel them’”. [John Pilger, and Ari Shavit too.]
Josh Marshall is wired inside the Democratic Party and tries to maintain order over Israel inside the party. He does so by avoiding the issue as much as he can lest it divide the base, by pointing out Israeli atrocities only when they’re glaring, and when push comes to shove, characterizing anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism.
Marshall’s view is, We can’t divide over Israel because there are anti-Semites at the gate. He wrote during the Keith Ellison fight:
[T]ruly the last thing the Democratic Party needs right now is a toxic internecine fight over Israel. And equally important, we are in an era when real anti-Semitism has been rearing its head in the United States in a way it has not done in [many years].
I could go on to Jeffrey Goldberg, Jennifer Rubin, Brian Lehrer, Jonathan Chait, Dana Milbank, and Terry Gross (who disciplined Jimmy Carter for daring to say “apartheid”); to Time Warner (CNN) executive Gary Ginsberg who wrote speeches for Netanyahu, or Comcast (NBC) executive David Cohen who raised money for the Israeli army; to the Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and People for the American Way.
I admire what these people are doing for our country during the rise of intolerance. But white nationalists have themselves pointed out that American Zionists in powerful positions have a reservation on liberalism when it comes to Israel. We only want what they want, a nation for ourselves, say those white nationalists. “I am a white Zionist,” Richard Spencer said on Israeli television yesterday. JVP’s Naomi Dann writes in the Forward today: “Richard Spencer Might Be the Worst Person in America. But He’s Right About Israel.”
American Jews need to get clear on the nationalism question. Are they for an ethnic state that seeks to shelter one ethnicity, even if that means driving out the minority and discriminating against that minority on an ongoing basis– and having government coalitions composed of parties representing one religious belief? Or are they against that kind of arrangement? If they’re against it here, they should be against it there, in what Cory Booker’s largest donor calls the “Jewish Homeland”– the country of Greater Israel, which is half Jewish and half Palestinian, with most of those Palestinians lacking all rights.
Charlottesville makes this conversation urgent because the hypocrisy of the Democratic leadership hurts resistance to intolerance. You can’t be righteously anti-nationalist in the U.S. and evangelists for Jewish nationalism over there.
This is not just good liberal philosophy. It’s the best policy to fight anti-Semitism. Israel’s status as a human-rights abuser is now its global reputation; and Jews and Jewish organizations who blindly defend it are hurting the reputation of Jews. Tony Klug explained this at J Street a few months ago. The Palestinian conflict is now defining the Jewish reputation around the world and making Jewish life in other countries “precarious.”
[I]f Israel does not end the occupation sharply, and if organized Jewish opinion in other countries appears openly to back it, there will indeed almost certainly be a further surge in anti-Jewish sentiment, potentially unleashing more sinister impulses.
To stem those “sinister” forces, Klug said American Jews must pressure Israel to end the occupation or give Palestinians equal rights. Pretty much what happened in the South, a long time ago….
Liberalism and Zionism (as it has worked out anyway) are incompatible. That is why so many liberal Zionists have turned quietly into non-Zionists in recent years. We see this in the surging membership of Jewish Voice for Peace, and in the ways Bernie Sanders, Tom Friedman and Ayelet Waldman have stepped away from Zionism. Jeffrey Goldberg is in the halfway house. Deep in their hearts, liberals know that we are in a different age from the mid-20th century, and that Zionism is an untenable ideology in an era in which the country is seeking to solidify minority rights and other progressive achievements. They need to say so out loud.
Update: I originally stated that Josh Marshall is married to an Israeli — because I glanced at his Wikipedia entry and misread it. Marshall pointed out the error on twitter, saying his wife moved to the U.S. from Israel when she very little. I apologize for my sloppiness.