A hugely important piece in the New York Times this weekend is all over my inbox this morning. As it should be. It’s datelined London, not New York: and writer Antony Lerman declares “The End of Liberal Zionism: Israel’s Move to the Right Challenges Diaspora Jews.” (Yes we rang that knell here a few weeks back.)
Antony Lerman says that liberal Zionists are now a figleaf for rightwing Jewish supremacy in Israel and a dam on open discussion of equal rights in the United States. He celebrates the non- and anti-Zionist left– in the NYT:
Today, neither the destruction wreaked in Gaza nor the disgraceful antics of the anti-democratic forces that are setting Israel’s political agenda have produced a decisive shift in Jewish Diaspora opinion. Beleaguered liberal Zionists still struggle to reconcile their liberalism with their Zionism, but they are increasingly under pressure from Jewish dissenters on the left, like Jewish Voice for Peace, Jews for Justice for Palestinians and Independent Jewish Voices.
Along with many experts, most dissenting groups have long thought that the two-state solution was dead. The collapse of the peace talks being brokered by the American secretary of state, John Kerry, came as no surprise. Then, on July 11, Mr. Netanyahu definitively rejected any possibility of establishing an independent Palestinian state. The Gaza conflict meant, he said, that “there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan” (meaning the West Bank).
Liberal Zionists must now face the reality that the dissenters have recognized for years: A de facto single state already exists; in it, rights for Jews are guaranteed while rights for Palestinians are curtailed. Since liberal Zionists can’t countenance anything but two states, this situation leaves them high and dry.
Liberal Zionists believe that Jewish criticism of Israeli policies is unacceptable without love of Israel. They embrace Israel as the Jewish state. For it to remain so, they insist it must have a Jewish majority in perpetuity. Yet to achieve this inevitably implies policies of exclusion and discrimination….
Here Lerman moves from analyst to organizer, and explains the urgency of these liberal Jews joining a movement for equal rights. Notice his emphasis on ethnic cleansing, and implicitly, a recognition of the right of return, as a premise for a rights-based movement that will allow two cultures to flourish:
Pushed to the political margins in Israel and increasingly irrelevant in the Diaspora, liberal Zionism not only lacks agency; worse, it provides cover for the supremacist Zionism dominant in Israel today. Liberal Zionists have become an obstacle to the emergence of a Diaspora Jewish movement that could actually be an agent of change.
The dissenting left doesn’t have all the answers, but it has the principles upon which solutions must be based. Both liberal Zionism and the left accept the established historical record: Jews forced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes to make way for the establishment of a Jewish state. But the liberals have concluded that it was an acceptable price others had to pay for the state. The left accepts that an egregious injustice was done. The indivisibility of human, civil and political rights has to take precedence over the dictates of religion and political ideology, in order not to deny either Palestinians or Jews the right to national self-determination. The result, otherwise, will be perpetual conflict.
In the repressive one-state reality of today’s Israel, which Mr. Netanyahu clearly wishes to make permanent, we need a joint Israeli-Palestinian movement to attain those rights and the full equality they imply. Only such a movement can lay the groundwork for the necessary compromises that will allow the two peoples’ national cultures to flourish.
This aspiration is incompatible with liberal Zionism, and some liberal Zionists appear close to this conclusion, too. As Mr. [Jonathan] Freedland put it, liberal Zionists “will have to decide which of their political identities matters more, whether they are first a liberal or first a Zionist.”
Regrettably, there is a dearth of Jewish leaders telling Diaspora Jews these truths. The liberal Zionist intelligentsia should embrace this challenge, acknowledge the demise of their brand and use their formidable explanatory skills to build support for a movement to achieve equal rights and self-determination for all in Israel-Palestine.
Once again, American Jews are getting important information not from New York but London. As in the case of Walt and Mearsheimer (the lobby, published in the LRB) and Ilan Pappe (ethnic cleansing of Palestine) and Tony Judt (transplanted Brit calls for one state, back in 2001). This is a historic intervention, made possible because Lerman is Jewish. The piece suggests that we might even see equal rights within our own discourse: Palestinians getting to make their political case in the elite media. (“Palestinians may be encouraged to tell their ‘human story’ but they are seldom allowed to express their political views,” Samah Sabawi writes shrewdly, in Al Jazeera.)
The more important dynamic is not between the U.S. and England, though, but between Diaspora and Israeli Jewry. As I have complained often, Israeli Jewry are aliyah, meaning they are higher. While we are yoredim, lower. This religious distinction is engraved in Bill Kristol’s neocon heart when he says he won’t sit on the Upper West Side and cavalierly criticize Israel, and in Michael Walzer’s liberal Zionist ticker too, when he says he won’t sit in Princeton New Jersey and condemn the Gaza slaughter out of hand. It is past time that American Jewish liberals assign value to their long political experience here, and stop deferring to Jews who regard Palestinians as three-fifths of a human being.