Anti-Zionists are now driving the conversation about Israel and Palestine. We are the ones pushing the new ideas, and these ideas are beginning to show up inside the mainstream discourse: partition is dead; the battle is for civil and human rights not sovereignty; there should be one democratic state in Israel/Palestine; or a federated binational state. It’s not that these ideas are being accepted; but they are being discussed seriously at last. Even Tom Friedman at the Times is cognizant of them, while others, for instance the liberal Zionist rabbi Andy Bachman, are pushing back angrily against the ideas and granting their seriousness.
We are the “exalted anti-Zionists,” as Shlomo Sand said recently, with sarcasm. But our movement is forcing a simple political proposition: You cannot have a “Jewish democracy.” Let’s choose democracy over ethnocracy.
Here are several items that show the new presence of anti-Zionism in the U.S. discourse.
First, author David Harris-Gershon was a presenter at the recent Open Hillel conference in Cambridge. At Tikkun/Daily Kos, he explains that unending Israeli expansion has closed off two states and fostered a one-state movement inside the American Jewish community. Harris-Gershon seems to identify as “post-Zionist” in arguing that the BDS movement (boycott, divestment and sanctions) is gaining traction inside the left:
[T]here has been no shortage of outrage and chest-thumping by major Jewish organizations over the BDS Movement, a nonviolent boycott movement against Israel which has an implicit bi-national, one-state vision, and which is gaining acceptance in the progressive Jewish community. Consensus in the institutional Jewish community is that BDS seeks to ‘destroy’ Israel with its bi-national vision, and most organizations have developed ‘red lines’ which effectively exile anyone who supports BDS….
Yet, with all this outrage over BDS due to the movement’s one-state vision, major organizations continue to say nothing over the rejection of Palestinian statehood and growing one-state support among Israeli politicians, which is translating to Israeli society as a whole. In fact, a poll last week showed that the majority of Israeli Jews now oppose the idea of a Palestinian state…
Tom Friedman sees the same process at work. He writes that Israel is on the verge of the same struggle that so many other societies in its neighborhood are facing, civil war against ethnic dictatorship:
If Israel retains the West Bank and its 2.7 million Palestinians, it will be creating an even bigger multisectarian, multinational state in its belly, with one religion/nationality dominating the other — exactly the kind of state that is blowing up in civil wars everywhere around it.
And without the usual moralizing, Friedman says that Israel is delegitimizing itself.
Also, the longer this status quo goes on, the more the juggernaut of Israel’s settlement expansion in the West Bank goes on, fostering more Israeli delegitimization on the world stage.
Now here is Rabbi Andy Bachman, the outgoing rabbi at the big Reform synagogue in Park Slope, Brooklyn, writing an angry blogpost about Jewish Voice for Peace and its role in the recent affray at Barclays Center. Titled “JVP Doublespeak,” the piece is remarkable for its angry support for Jewish nationalism, and its concern about JVP’s growing reach. JVP failed to stand up for the Israeli army, “defending Israel’s borders by fighting in Gaza” last summer, Bachman writes.
During this summer’s war in Israel, several friends–Zionists and Israelis who live in Israel and vote in elections and support the two-state solution by voting for the left-wing parties that support territorial compromise, had sons, who also vote for those same political parties, defending Israel’s borders by fighting in Gaza. One lost an eye in the ground invasion. While JVP leaders were drawing protest posters with Sharpies in Brooklyn, other Jews, with other Jewish values, were both defending their right to live as Jews and taking the daily risk of working for peace, on the ground, in Israel and Palestine. One such price of citizenship is service in the IDF, a people’s army, with soldiers who vote across the political spectrum…
Bachman says that JVP is not being honest about its agenda:
Does JVP support the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state? Or is that only a quaint idea debated over drip coffee in a Brooklyn roasting joint?
He concludes that JVPs main Jewish value is “to undermine the right of Israel to exist.”
Bachman clearly distorts JVP’s agenda, which is not destructive. Still, the organization is not Zionist: it doesn’t believe that young people should die in the name of a Jewish state. There is obviously tremendous appeal in that idea, and Bachman must be concerned that it is catching on all over his Brooklyn neighborhood, among young Jews.
Next, here’s Shlomo Sand piece in the Guardian, “I wish to stop being a Jew.” Let’s begin with his crack on exalted anti-Zionists:
I dare to hope that kindly philosemites, committed Zionists and exalted anti-Zionists, all of them so often nourished on essentialist conceptions, will respect my desire and cease to catalogue me as a Jew. As a matter of fact, what they think matters little to me, and still less what the remaining antisemitic idiots think.
I recognise today that my dream of an end to the occupation and the creation of a confederation between two republics, Israeli and Palestinian, was a chimera that underestimated the balance of forces between the two parties.
Sand used to believe in the two-state solution. The child of a rape deserves to live, he said (referring to Israel coming out of the Nakba). Now he dreams of a society that is blind to religious difference, a democracy between the river and sea.
we must first free ourselves from the accursed and interminable occupation that is leading us on the road to hell. In fact, our relation to those who are second-class citizens of Israel is inextricably bound up with our relation to those who live in immense distress at the bottom of the chain of the Zionist rescue operation. That oppressed population, which has lived under the occupation for close to 50 years, deprived of political and civil rights, on land that the “state of the Jews” considers its own, remains abandoned and ignored by international politics. I recognise today that my dream of an end to the occupation and the creation of a confederation between two republics, Israeli and Palestinian, was a chimera that underestimated the balance of forces between the two parties.
Increasingly it appears to be already too late; all seems already lost, and any serious approach to a political solution is deadlocked. Israel has grown used to this, and is unable to rid itself of its colonial domination over another people. The world outside, unfortunately, does not do what is needed either. Its remorse and bad conscience prevent it from convincing Israel to withdraw to the 1948 frontiers. Nor is Israel ready to annex the occupied territories officially, as it would then have to grant equal citizenship to the occupied population and, by that fact alone, transform itself into a binational state
Speaking of hell, Moshe Halbertal said a very similar thing to Tom Friedman: “We are setting ourselves on fire with the best of arguments.”
Back to the theme: anti-Zionists are driving the conversation. Here is Nathan Thrall in the London Review of Books, raising a criticism of anti-Zionism.
Curiously for a book so concerned with the legitimacy of Zionism, My Promised Land doesn’t make the most powerful and obvious arguments for the right of Jews to self-determination in what is now the state of Israel: the fact of its being enshrined in international law, in the form of UN Resolution 181, reaffirmed in the declarations of independence of both Israel, in 1948, and Palestine, in 1988. No matter the actions of their forebears, there are now more than six million Jews in Israel, 75 per cent of its population. And denying Jews their own country would be to seek redress for past injustices by creating new ones.
It’s a good point. But that is where Sand’s mental labors come in, and JVP’s too: convincing Jews that we do not need national self-determination. And maybe convincing Palestinians of the same.
Finally, here is Noam Chomsky speaking at the U.N. and taking issue with the exalted anti-Zionists; he says the only one-state outcome is going to be a Greater neocolonial Israel. I have a more hopeful view of the matter than Chomsky, but he’s Chomsky, and you should hear him out. And like the others I’ve cited, Chomsky is engaging a new idea that he says has become the conventional wisdom on the left. (Transcript from Democracy Now!)
The picture that’s presented is that there are two alternatives: either the two-state settlement, which represents an overwhelming international consensus, virtually everyone, and if that fails, there will have to be one state—Israel will take over the West Bank, the Palestinians will hand over the keys, as it’s sometimes said. Palestinians often have favored that. They say then they will be able to carry out a civil rights struggle, maybe modeled on the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, fight for civil rights within the whole one state controlled by Israel. … Those are the alternatives that are presented, overwhelmingly, hardly an exception.
My own opinion, which I’ve written about repeatedly—without convincing many people, apparently, but I’ll try to convince you—is that this is a total illusion. Those are not the two alternatives. There are two alternatives, but they’re different ones. One alternative is the international consensus on a two-state settlement, basically the terms of January 1976. By now, it’s virtually everyone—the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic States, includes Iran, Europe, Latin America—informally, at least, about everyone. That’s one option. The other option, the realistic one, is that Israel will continue doing exactly what it is doing right now, before our eyes, visible, with U.S. support, which is also visible….
Israel is taking over what they call Jerusalem, as I mentioned, a huge area, maybe five times the area of historic Jerusalem, Greater Jerusalem, big area in the West Bank, includes many Arab villages being dispossessed, destroyed, bringing settlers in. All of this is doubly illegal…
I don’t think Israel has any intention of taking over the Palestinian population concentrations, which are left out of this, these plans… They don’t want to have anything to do with them. If they leave, that’s fine. If they die, that’s fine. In standard neocolonial pattern, Israel is establishing—permitting the establishment of a center for Palestinian elites in Ramallah, where you have nice restaurants and theaters and so on. Every Third World country under the colonial system had something like that.
Now, that’s the picture that’s emerging. It’s taking shape before our eyes. It has so far worked very well. If it continues, Israel will not face a demographic problem. When these regions are integrated slowly into Israel, actually, the proportion of Jews in Greater Israel will increase. There are very few Palestinians there. Those who are there are being dispossessed, kicked out. That’s what’s taking shape before our eyes. I think that’s the realistic alternative to a two-state settlement. And there’s every reason to expect it to continue as long as the United States supports it.