I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but a public debate is gathering force these days between American liberal Zionists and non- and anti-Zionists.
A number of events have made this debate more central. The open embrace by the Republican Party of rightwing Zionism means that liberal Zionists are no longer at war with the rightwing Zionists inside the Democratic Party. Or if they are still at war with them, they also have to deal with the enlightened base now: the young, the Hispanics, the blacks, people who care about Palestine and are sure to bring it up in primary races in 2016.
Then there was the Israeli election, which shocked liberal Zionists by demonstrating what a rightwing society Israel is–and just a few months after another massacre in Gaza. In his new book Ilan Pappe says the liberal Zionists have gotten “a wake-up call.” A lot of them must be feeling the way American Communists did in the 40s and 50s, worrying that they got on the wrong horse given the realities in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe.
And inside the Jewish community, the Open Hillel tour has been all about bringing anti-Zionists inside: allowing pro-BDS speakers into traditional Jewish and Zionist spaces.
At J Street last month, Peter Beinart said what I’m saying: in the years to come our debate is going to be with the left, not the right. So: are you ready for your close-up, anti-Zionists?
With this debate in mind, I wanted to offer two videos to liberal Zionists and people who are on the fence, trying to make up their minds about Israel and Zionism.
The first one is the Boy on the Horse. I shot it in Hebron three years ago. In the video, a Jewish settler boy on a horse confronts a (very dignified adult) Palestinian, telling him to get off his street because he’s an Arab, summoning a soldier to enforce that order. Scott Roth wrote up the incident here.
The relevance of the video to me is that, you see apartheid before your eyes in this video; you see the authoritarian racism and humiliation. Remember, this is part of the supposed future Palestinian state, but it’s been occupied for nearly 50 years, and Badia Dwaik, the Palestinian, can’t vote for the government that controls his life but the settler kid’s parents can vote. That’s just not right.
And bear in mind that this happened three years ago. The conditions only get worse.
Now liberal Zionists surely hate this video too; but the question then arises: What are you doing to end these hateful conditions? That’s why I’m for boycott. It would put real pressure on Israel. Just this last week a threat of boycott caused Ian Riesner, a real estate magnate, who supports Israel, to apologize for meeting with Senator Ted Cruz.
Riesner made a complete reversal, because of social pressure on the issue of same-sex marriage. And one gathering he organized for Ted Cruz. Doesn’t the Jim Crow humiliation of Palestinians all across the West Bank (let alone the massacre in Gaza) merit such isolation?
The next video is one that I only saw two days ago, when Gil Maguire did his post about the crusading journalist Dorothy Thompson. It’s a documentary called “Sands of Sorrow,” from 1950, and it’s about all the Palestinian refugees of the 1948 Nakba in Gaza. Again I’d point out a very dignified Palestinian gentleman. The mayor getting a handout of food from the UN at 7 minutes– and then a few seconds later, another guy wearing a tie and jacket and seeming dazed as he picks up his handout.
This video is important for a few reasons. First, many of these people became “terrorists” in the eyes of Israel and the United States; and you can understand why. They were forced from their homes and never allowed back; and so they took up arms! By the way, a lot of them looked like you and me, they had good jobs and very stable lives, previously.
More important, this was known and denied. Dorothy Thompson knew about the Nakba and the refugee crisis in 1950. She tried to tell America that there was something wrong with Israel because of this. Palestinians knew about it when it happened; they also tried to tell the world. They’ve been trying for 67 years.
So all this information was available and no one did anything about it. Three American presidents actually tried to enforce the right of return, to let those folks go back to their houses, and they got nowhere. Zionists and Israel supporters suppressed this story, and kept it from mainstream culture (partly by silencing Dorothy Thompson, whom Obama praised the other night).
The Nakba remained out of sight of American society for more than 60 years. It’s finally getting attention now, but still at the margins.
What this video says to me is that the root cause of the violence is the dispossession of a people and their humiliation, and the organized American Jewish community (with some exceptions) was successful in suppressing that story– Zionists liberal and not so liberal brushed this all under the rug. But the problem hasn’t gone away. It’s still a giant problem.
To my liberal Zionist friends: our community denied this reality for more than 60 years, do you still want to be part of that denial?
And: how can you be a liberal and subscribe to this ideology? To me, the dignified man who was forced to leave his village and the boy on the horse berating Badia Dwaik are just two fruits of an ideology of religious nationalism, continuous from Gaza in 1950 to Hebron in 2012. And that’s why I think that ideology should be discredited.