The Likud party’s unsurprising success in last month’s poll reinforced the essential argument (reality) that the two-state outcome is not viable. The question of whether that’s been the case for a week or twenty years is basically irrelevant at this point – one state exists, and it’s an ugly state.
Analysts have written that sixty percent of the Jewish public in Israel voted for apartheid, but in reality the number was much higher. Both Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog are risk-averse center-right leaders; a vote for their bloc amounted to a vote for the status quo as it existed on January 19, 2009. The sum of these two groups of voters can comfortably be called The 94%.
But it would be wrong to characterize the “liberal Zionist” bloc as fundamentally undifferentiated from their slightly more hawkish Jewish-Israeli counterparts. Many have made the argument, myself included, that “liberal” and other Zionists are practically the same, yet this may be the juncture when that word – practically – ceases to be useful or analytically appropriate. Phil Weiss wrote trenchantly that the time for an open discussion between anti-Zionists and liberal Zionists has arrived. The basis for his claim is the view that the liberal Zionist choice – the competition between their liberalism and exclusive Jewish nationalism – has never been more painfully stressed than now. The end of the era of self-deception has arrived and the anti-Zionist argument has the potential to resonate more widely than ever before. It’s a good argument, but not one that is easily embraced.
For a long time the shibboleth of the Zionist “left” has been “dialogue.” It was the best way to do nothing but feel good – a basic extension of consumer culture in the 1990s. For those of us who were coming of age at that time the environment was saturated with slick materials peddled by greasy Palestinians and Jewish-Israelis. We were instructed, pleaded with, to be friends and plant the “Seeds of Peace.” Many of us developed an aversion to their program – ultimately turned off by their pornographer’s zeal and breathless salesmanship. Here were people who stood for nothing and had the resources to get there. Today, their best analogue exists in the OneVoice organization; JStreet’s intent focus on “the internal Jewish conversation” differentiates it from what existed back then. In time the intellectual argument against “dialogue” developed, but only in consequence of its emotional counterpart.
That context helps explain why Phil’s argument is difficult to accept. “Dialogue” of the kind that liberal Zionists have pursued so diligently has always been simultaneously hollow and limitless. It acts as a dangerous sink, sapping energy from the aggrieved party as a kind of maintenance fee for the regime. Without energy there can be no action, the most direct catalyst for change. For Palestinians “dialogue” carried with it only the promise of animated non-existence in formaldehyde. It’s a fact that the Oslo generation were aware of but I suspect they went along with the farce out of a profound sense of fatigue. The inertia after the crescendo carried them, like so much flotsam, for twenty years at least.
Then there is the relevant political critique. Liberal Zionists sought to “dialogue” with Palestinians as part of their greater consolidation plan. The “wilderness” was won and the natives mostly scattered or pacified – but total victory only comes with acceptance and the legitimacy it confers. “Dialogue” around “two-states” built upon two legitimate “narratives” – for what? The preservation of racial dominance and “normal” social development, mainly. Never mind that “normal” could never have existed in a paranoid Ashkenazi cage.
That word, “normal,” is important for understanding the political purpose of an effort by an apartheid-top society to seek acceptance. Normal is at the heart of the Zionist campaign – the human, misguided desire for Jewish parking attendants, queer activists and their antagonists, writers, left and right-wing television presenters, artisans, and famously, “garbage men.” The normal right of a people to elect a populist neoconservative and the normal right to repudiate that same scaremongering, race-baiting leader . . . only it didn’t work out that way. And for good reason: An apartheid society is sick. Its hazy middle and histrionic elite are sick.
Yet, the Netanyahu Election – a raging victory, like Churchill – marks a meaningful erosion in the structural environment for liberal Zionists, and for anti-Zionists too. The undeniable failure of two-states has thrown the whole precarious psychic architecture of liberal Zionism into a slow-motion state of ontological collapse. Liberal Zionism, a paradox held together by a nuclear bond forged in the Holocaust trauma, has decayed beyond its point of minimum viability. I’m reminded of the Replicants’ tragic end in Ridley Scott’s terrific film, Blade Runner; sympathetic characters ultimately, but only as they expire.
Which is to say that the opportunity that Phil wrote about is a real one. Inevitably, some “liberal Zionists” will choose their Zionism over whatever gaunt liberalism they ever could lay claim to, like Alan Dershowitz. And others, after much thought and pained reflection, will transition to true liberalism – the kind that’s unwedded to chauvinist nationalism. They will be, perhaps sometime before the twilight of the conflict, valuable allies in the fight to abolish Zionism. Indeed, it will never be too late for them to join the BDS movement, the best and most moral tool for combating apartheid.
Whether by constitution or life experience some in the anti-Zionist camp are better equipped to act as conduits for the transition than others. I admire Haneen Zoabi and regard her as one of the most inspiring and courageous Palestinian leaders today. Her strength and unrelenting commitment to justice in Palestine, in the face of acerbic racism and venom, are unequalled. Given the opportunity, I would cast a vote for Zoabi.
At the same time, I watched the Left media embrace Ayman Odeh, a man whose statements about Herzog made me deeply uncomfortable. For me, much of what Odeh said about cooperation and joint marches among Israelis recollected the cloying stickiness of the nineties. It took some time to realize that there are meaningful differences here, however. First, his comments were issued from a position of power – would he play King-maker or not? That’s the kind of question Mahmoud Abbas has never had to contend with. Whether the newly-empowered Palestinian-Israelis raise their voices or not remains to be seen, but their having the option to do so is an important new development.
I’ve written before that centripetalism may present the best option for a political resolution of the apartheid regime. The political theory is predicated upon the existence of people like Odeh – politicians who may not appeal to the hardline within their own camp, but who offer sufficient inducement to marginal voters in other groups. In other words, a politician who has the potential to engage in “dialogue” with a fractured and deflated constituency – not so much to meet them half way, but rather to act as their bridge.
We’re still a long way from the realization of democracy in Palestine/Israel. But the fracturing liberal Zionist base, combined with the end of the two-state argument may present a real opportunity to grow our political movement. It may also present an opportunity to lay the groundwork for a single, democratic state. While I’m personally uncomfortable with outreach to liberal Zionists, the time may be right for others – like Ayman Odeh – to begin to bridge the difference. To act as a life raft for a people without a raft.