A year ago, many of us struggled to cope with the sure knowledge of an unfolding atrocity in Gaza. We watched as the men of the Israeli army – and the society that ejected them into that ghetto – extinguished the lives of 2,200 people. One presumes that the young men, a casual “threat,” were easier to do. But indifference may have been the rule; it’s hard to know the mind of a killer.
At that time, it was also hard to see out of the hole. It’s a cycle many readers know from experience. It starts when Zionist army regulars begin to pulverize the camps. Pictures of gray, badly gnashed people with misshapen skulls and bloodless wounds are circulated. Despair, wedded to the knowledge of an impending escalation, follows. The reservists are summoned…
The sense of loneliness and impotence that accompanies every Israeli attack varies in how long it lasts. During an assault a thick layer of petroleum coats everything and the act of seeing becomes impossible. We are left only to feel things, viscerally or deeply and only as a reaction.
A year later the sense of bewilderment and muddled cognition has eased. The distance from the facts permits the emergence of vision through clearer thinking. Ultimately, it allows the development of a cogent political analysis. And that analysis produces one idea: That Israel is a leaderless place, lurching from one crisis to another along the arc of a grand existential crisis – by definition, one that it cannot survive. It’s an analysis that emerges from the twin conditions of Zionism’s congenital failure – racism – and the accelerating rate of change in America. It relies on a set of immutable assumptions: that Israel depends on America for its continued existence; and, racism in Israel is elemental rather than incidental.
The anecdotal evidence for the argument is everywhere, but it is mostly visible in interactions with college-aged people. This summer I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside undergraduates who currently study at American universities. I’ve also interacted with a number of others through a language program created by a friend of mine here in Jordan. The students I’ve met are all sympathetic to the Palestinian point of view. Many are conversant on the history of the region and root causes. They understand BDS, the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, as a moral imperative.
It’s true that the observation itself doesn’t indicate very much – it may be the outcome of either confirmation bias or self-selection by the students or both. But what is notable is how uncontroversial the point of view they hold has become. Every year, being pro-Palestinian seems to require less courage than the one that preceded it. My own experience, first as an undergraduate student at Penn and then five years later as a graduate student at Harvard confirm the trajectory (together, an eleven-year boundary). Activists were embattled at Penn; at Harvard they were insurgent. The difference is greater than can be accounted for by institutional culture I think.
But one need not rely on anecdotal evidence, which is unconvincing on its own. Recent data indicate that foreign direct investment in Israel is down 46% on a year-over-year basis, likely a direct outcome of the massacre last year. Taken together with the fact that support for Zionism is waning among groups whose influence is increasing in America it becomes hard to see how Israel can survive in its current form.
Finally, the Iran deal provides further evidence for the thesis. The agreement is paradoxically both an outcome and driver of the accelerating isolation of Israel. A highly-regarded Israel would not have sought to block the deal – its position would be securely within the international consensus, a necessary condition for being highly-regarded. And yet by showcasing the extremely depleted state of its national hasbara reserves, Israel’s defeat provides forward momentum for arguments that until now shied warily from the public sphere. More fundamental questions, like the right of one people to exist in a state of permanent political and material supremacy over another, can now be asked.
How long will the transformation take? When will we see the end of institutionalized Zionism? As with the anti-Apartheid or gay-rights movements it’s impossible to know.
Yet the truth remains: The velocity of ideas in America is increasing. The propagation of liberalism is an unavoidable consequence of that fact.