Calling Herzog and liberal Zionism ‘racist,’ Gideon Levy instigates a reckoning

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

The no-holds-barred intramural war between liberal Zionists and anti Zionists that we have called for has arrived in full bloom in the pages of Haaretz. In a gloves-off debate with Labor party chairman Isaac Herzog, leading critic of Israeli apartheid Gideon Levy assails the injustice and oppression inherent in the very fabric of so-called ‘liberal’ Zionism. In unequivocally advocating for equal rights and genuine democracy, Levy lays bare the naked racism of not only Herzog’s politics, but the entirety of the militarily enforced Jewish-majority state, both as a concept and as practiced. By the end of the debate (which may not be over), Levy brilliantly rope-a-dopes the failed prime ministerial candidate into an ideological battle the morally-bankrupt politician cannot possibly win.

The entire five-part exchange is well worth reading, which starts with Levy condemning Herzog’s foolish and counter-productive threats to use massive, unrelenting, violent force as a matter of policy, and evolves into a meta debate about Zionism.

In the initial salvo, Levy upbraids Herzog for his recent promise to be “even more extreme than Netanyahu” in waging “an uncompromising war against terror.”

What did [Herzog] mean when he said that he would be even more extreme than Benjamin Netanyahu? Even more violent? Netanyahu is responsible for killing thousands of Palestinians in Gaza, and he will kill tens of thousands?

In response, Herzog completely dodges Levy’s criticisms and hurls empty ad hominems, calling the journalist a “one trick pony” for harping on the sins of the Israeli occupation:

Levy has been singing the same song for years, publishing the same article and the same text, twice and sometimes three times a week: “Occupation, occupation, occupation and once again occupation; only the Jews are to blame and only the Palestinians are right.” … Levy used to be a Zionist. I’m no longer sure that he is one.

Herzog then breaks out the tired old “two states” mantra, as if chanting those words will somehow distract the reader from the very real and troubling questions Levy raised about Herzog’s megalomaniacal threats.

Levy responds by pointing out that the Israeli media is filled with propaganda-spewing journalists who ignore the occupation at every turn, while the occupation is:

a cruel reality for millions of people… The Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza (and a handful of Israelis of conscience) are a lot more fed up with the occupation than Herzog is in his posh Tel Aviv neighborhood.

Then Levy takes on the McCarthyite accusation that he’s no longer a Zionist:

I should mention that unlike Herzog, I have also sifted through my share of ideas. We started together in the Labor Party… I arrived a few years before he did, when I still bought concepts such as “the Jordanian option,” “territorial compromise” and “functional compromise” — among the best sleight of hand of the generation of Herzog’s father, designed to solidify the occupation’s hold… Then I favored the Oslo Accords, then the two-state solution. Then I thought the chance had been missed. I too didn’t believe in a boycott. Now I think it should be equal rights for everyone in a single democratic state, and there is no alternative — yes to a boycott.

What a wonderfully concise outline of the long, winding path Levy traveled from blinkered liberal Zionism to seeing the unescapable moral truth that the only just destination is equality and one person, one vote. This is, in fact, the path that all Zionists will eventually travel should they choose to no longer be stuck in the swamp of parochial xenophobia.

But in Herzog’s response, he boldly steps even deeper into the big muddy of racist Liberal Zionism with his scare-mongering comments about what equal rights would mean for privileged Israeli Jews:

[Levy] wants the Jewish minority between the Jordan and the sea to be swallowed up by the Arab majority, so that after 67 years we turn the lights out on the state…
And if the Islamic State decided to run for the parliament of Isra-stan, then what? One man, one vote? Why not? If we’re talking democracy, then democracy all the way, no?
That doesn’t sound like a captivating idea or vision that sparks the imagination. It’s the dream of the messianic right wing and [Hamas leader Ismail] Haniyeh.
What Gideon Levy proposes is not hope. Which sane Israeli would choose to live in a state with an Arab majority? And so what Levy is selling is fear. But for fear we don’t need Levy. For that we have the master of fear. His name is Benjamin Netanyahu.

In his final, must-read response, Levy proclaims the Emperor’s nudity: Isaac Herzog’s words are ‘near-racism’ (I think he used the qualifier to soften the truth — Herzog’s words are absolutely racist by any fair definition); and there is no moral justice to be found in bankrupt Liberal Zionism.

The nationalism and near-racism expressed by Herzog, the loyal spokesman for the center-left, is far more obvious. What is this fear-mongering about the “danger of an Arab majority” if not racism? Where else do they issue such warnings against people who have been living in a place for generations?…

I have no idea what Herzog and his ilk mean when they talk about a “Jewish state,” other than its Jewish majority; it doesn’t matter what kind of Jews or how they act, so long as they are Jews. Any way you slice it, you get a nationalist state. Democratic? Of course it isn’t, by definition, nor is it just. If I had to choose between a “Jewish state” on a slippery slope toward becoming an apartheid state and a just state, I prefer the latter. I seek neither a Jewish majority nor an Arab majority, but a democratic majority…

“What sane Israeli would choose to live in a state with an Arab majority?” asks Herzog, ripping off the mask once and for all. Well, a fifth of Israel’s population would prefer an Arab majority; they’re sane, but Herzog forgot about them.

Herzog says he leads a large ‘camp’ of liberal Zionists who want a two state solution, and to hell with the Palestinian right of return because it would upset our Jewish privilege and rights over land our forebears stole in 1948 during intentionally orchestrated ethnic cleansing (we won’t talk about that in public; we know what Ben-Gurion and company did but we won’t discuss it outside the camp). Well, Gideon Levy is leading the way out of that camp’s crumbling facade, and others will soon follow:

Even as a Jew, however, if I had to choose between a Jewish majority and a democratic majority, between a majority that supports racism and a majority that supports equality, it doesn’t matter what nationality they’re from, I would not hesitate to choose. Nor would Herzog hesitate; he will always prefer the Jews, and then he’ll call that democracy.
This puts Herzog inside the camp and me outside it. I’m proud of that.

The final battle in Liberal Zionism is not over the occupation; plenty of Zionists oppose it. It’s over equal rights, equal votes, but most of all, this… Do Palestinians who were born in Palestine have a right to live in the lands that they own and inhabited for generations before Zionists expelled them and stole their land? It’s the heart of everything, because once one admits the Nakba must be rectified, no longer can a Jewish majority be enforced at gunpoint as it has for more than sixty years. This is the Rubicon Gideon Levy has crossed. Levy blasts “the Law of Return, which is for Jews alone” — implying that the refugees rights’ must be respected. There can be no equality, no democracy, no justice without reparations for the Nakba.

The Jewish community in the U.S. lags behind; we don’t have a prominent journalist who’s allowed to say what Gideon Levy is saying in these pieces. Max Blumenthal would say it if only the NYT would hand him the microphone. And certainly, debating the leader of a major U.S. political party about taxpayer funding for a apartheid client state’s army is off limits.

But this debate inexorably must come to the U.S.; we cannot support an apartheid state forever when key members of its leftist thought leaders are breaking as Levy has. Soon enough, it will be Peter Beinart or someone of his stature who’s arguing exactly what Levy has argued, because the logic is ineluctable. It is impossible to resolve the contradictions and dissonance in the idea of a “Jewish State” whose majority is only preserved through dispossesion, racism, and violations of international law, the very things most Jews in America abhor beyond all else.

Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Thanks for the summary and insights.

“Herzog says he leads a large ‘camp’ of liberal Zionists”

The Hebrew adjective Buji Herzog uses repeatedly to magnify his camp is עצום, which translates as “mighty”. It sounds as hollow in Hebrew as it does in English.
It is a measure of Gideon Levy’s increasing stature that the leader of Israel’s mighty opposition picks an ongoing, losing scrap with him to try to build up his own standing.

Nice to see the fat in the fire like that. All praise for Gideon Levy. How can any American, of any religion or ideology (other than some flavor of racial superiority), not join Levy in plumping for a just democracy. (I think Levy should describe “just” as “religiously neutral” — I don’t like the idea of ANY religious fundamentalist in power anywhere in the world, and “democracy” w/o safeguards can quickly become the prisoner of… Read more »

I’ve been following this “no-holds-barred intramural war” closely. I quoted part of Levy’s response from this morning and wrote that: “Happily, Herzog is also exposing his own face~ it’s really no better than Netanyahu’s. Which just goes to show that there is no such thing as a leftist or liberal Zionist.” – See more at: I credit Gideon Levy with bringing this and many other truths to the fore. Apparently Rambo Herzog is content… Read more »

“[Levy] wants the Jewish minority between the Jordan and the sea to be swallowed up by the Arab majority, so that after 67 years we turn the lights out on the state… And if the Islamic State decided to run for the parliament of Isra-stan, then what? One man, one vote? Why not? If we’re talking democracy, then democracy all the way, no? That doesn’t sound like a captivating idea or vision that sparks the… Read more »

Return is what Gilad has been going on about for ages. Its not about Jewish agonising and viewing the conflict through the prism of Zionism. Its about those displaced and oppressed in this conflict having their rights addressed firstly and foremost.

Judaism, Jewishness, Israel, Zionism etc are irrelevant in this.