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The irreconcilable differences of liberal Zionism

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on 39 Comments

As Israeli Apartheid Week approaches, various student groups across the US, Canada, and England are planning their educational events with trepidation.  This is the time when they get to screen documentaries, put on workshops, build mock walls and checkpoints, and bring eloquent speakers to campus.  It is also when they brace for full assault from Zionist groups who want to shut down their events.  The reasons given by these Zionists include claims that the events incite violence against Jews, aggravate anti-Semitism, and make Jewish students and faculty on campus feel unsafe.

At my former place of employment, a small private liberal arts school, the chair of a program in the School of Psychology is the faculty member who led the attack against our SJP chapter’s events. One of our activities was a mock checkpoint into the library.  Students entering the library were asked if they were Palestinian, because Palestinians would not be allowed in that day.  Only Palestinian students would be denied access.  We had cleared this with the librarian, who happens to be a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, along with the handful of Palestinian students on campus.  Nobody was going to be turned away, as the Palestinian students were actually staffing the checkpoint.  Nevertheless, the psychology program chair claimed that the Jewish students’ safety was endangered by our mock checkpoint.  He did not complain about a possible disruption of the learning experience of the general student population, he most definitely did not express any concern for any Palestinian students, but was vehement about the “safety” of the Jewish students.

When even psychologists cannot distinguish between “safety” and “comfort,” one needs to ask some unconventional, if not outright irrational, questions:

  • How do you embrace multiculturalism, and racial supremacy?
  • How do you support de-colonial struggle, and settler-colonialism?
  • How do you advocate for equal rights for all, and a system of legal apartheid?

I mean, at the same time.  Not as an either/or, but a both/and.

Like so many Zionists on campuses everywhere, this professor complained bitterly about the checkpoint, and sought to have the rest of our events cancelled.

Idiots and bigots do not shut down debate.  Many thrive on it.  They can debate to no end, because there is no discrepancy in their own minds and arguments. They are buoyed by ignorance, assuaged by a racism unchallenged by critical thought. They demand “dialogue.”  When an SJP chapter puts on an event, they ask the university administration to allow them to be a part of it. Pro-Palestine students and speakers refuse to engage in such “conversations” because they reject attempts at normalization.  They will not enable the suggestion that dialogue is currently possible, because dialogue assumes equal partners, and there is no equality between oppressor and oppressed, occupier and occupied, settler and refugee.  Power dynamics must be recognized for what they are.

It is precisely the more knowledgeable Zionists who run away from displays and conversations they know will be extremely challenging.  They shut down educational events, because they know these will expose the irreconcilable differences, the fault lines in their own reasoning.  They expose the maddening reality that “liberal Zionism,” let alone “progressive Zionism,” are untenable.

I believe that the impulse to shut down educational events and conversations amongst otherwise rational people stems from the fact that there is an essential dissonance at play when liberals embrace Zionism.  The PEP syndrome (Progressives Except for Palestine) rears its ugly head. Whichever way one looks at it, there are irreconcilable differences between the professed beliefs of liberals, and the quotidian acceptance of supremacy which Zionism hinges upon.  The very term “democracy” is voided when one qualifies it, yet Zionists aspire to establish a “Jewish” democracy. No wonder they so frequently begin their attempts at rationalization with “It’s complicated.”  Indeed, there is no graceful finessing the contradiction between supporting indigenous sovereignty, self-determination for natives, and Zionism.

The breach, the essential dissonance, the discrepancy between one what generally espouses, and what one makes exceptions for, become unbearable.   An intelligent “liberal” person detects, reluctantly, the bad faith behind their Zionism, and their abstract desire for equality.  When they are confronted with the reality of checkpoints that restrict Palestinian freedom of movement, with the long list of Israeli laws that privilege Jews over non-Jews, with maps that clearly delineate Jewish-only settlements within the parts of occupied Palestine that are designated for a future Palestinian state, they can sense that it is intellectual dishonesty to espouse Zionism, alongside their cherished values of inclusivity, diversity, equality.

The shrill accusations, the explosive angry outbursts that accompany attempts to censor events about Palestine are irrational.  They cannot be explained through logic, because logic would necessitate looking at facts, connecting cause and effect, reconciling concepts, or, in the case of irreconcilable differences, eliminating the beliefs that do not fit.

The tension is building up.  The attempts at intimidation, censorship, and criminalization of pro-justice organizing are increasing at an alarming rate, as detailed in Palestine Legal’s recent report. Nevertheless, those of us who advocate for justice for the Palestinian people are not cowering down.  And in a very hopeful development, more and more Jews are writing about the disconnect:  JVP deputy director Stefanie Fox’s powerful essay  and Dan Fishback’s recent post on pinkwashing at the Creating Change conference are excellent examples of reconciling Jewishness with organizing for justice in a wholesome, non-fragmented manner.

It may be uncomfortable, but it’s not complicated.   The bottom line is indeed very simple: “liberal Zionism” is untenable, because justice is indivisible.

About Nada Elia

Nada Elia is a Palestinian scholar-activist, writer, and grassroots organizer, currently completing a book on Palestinian Diaspora activism.

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39 Responses

  1. yourstruly
    yourstruly
    February 5, 2016, 11:33 pm

    Liberal Zionism is an oxymoron.

    • diasp0ra
      diasp0ra
      February 6, 2016, 8:32 am

      Indeed it is. I never understood how one could be a liberal supremacist.

      Onto the article itself, I found it quite excellent.

      This is just one more method of silencing Palestinian activism on campus, and in the Zionist’s mind it is they who are being censored and put under attack.

      I have watched my fair share of BDS debates and votes, and a very sizable amount of objection from the Zionist side had to do with feeling safe on campus. I do not understand how disinvesting from Caterpillar for example would make you feel threatened.

      Saudi Arabia and Iran are blasted all the time on US campuses. Would it make sense for Muslims to start talking about how it made them feel unsafe and uncomfortable to be on campus? Of course not.

      • RoHa
        RoHa
        February 6, 2016, 9:35 am

        A bit off topic, but I came across this interesting story. It includes an allegation that the Iranians captured the U.S. boats because they were transporting a high ranking ISIS commander.

        http://investmentwatchblog.com/navy-seal-member-of-congress-drops-bombshell-about-iranian-capture-of-us-sailors/

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        February 6, 2016, 10:54 pm

        “I do not understand how disinvesting from Caterpillar for example would make you feel threatened.”

        Takes a little bit of the luster off one’s ethno-religious “status symbol” if organizations disinvest in Israel and occupation related stuff. It’s like they won’t be insulting the bosses kid anymore, just a regular person. That could make somebody feel threatened, like any perceived loss of status.

    • Misterioso
      Misterioso
      February 6, 2016, 10:44 am

      Precisely!!!

      Zionism is racism. Zionism is theft!!

    • gingershot
      gingershot
      February 6, 2016, 2:45 pm

      ‘Liberal Zionism is an oxymoron’

      You took my 5 word response straight out of my mouth – verbatim.

    • rosross
      rosross
      February 6, 2016, 8:20 pm

      So is secular or atheist Jew/Christian/Moslem etc.

  2. kalithea
    kalithea
    February 6, 2016, 12:10 am

    This is an excellent article, but I wish people wouldn’t refer to Palestinians as natives within a colonial enterprise. Native has been given derogatory connotations in history and society.

    Colonialism is not what the occupation is, and to express it as such is to conceal the crime behind the occupation and to undermine the rights of the occupied. My view is that many Palestinians are cultured and educated and hungry for knowledge and the word “native” implies otherwise. Zionists didn’t come exploring and settling and then take over spreading their religion and their own culture. They entered like terrorists, blowing up villages and ethnically cleansing and then occupying land through modern warfare segregating and marginalizing. This is a crime under the Geneva Conventions. Colonialism would also be a crime in modern time but because it took place in another era history explained it otherwise, like development and assimilation into a superior culture. In the case of superiority they overlap; but supremacy always implies ethnic cleansing; because supremacists cannot tolerate those they consider inferior in their midst. They are racists and bigots without redeeming intentions.

    The Palestinians were already an evolved society that was militarily occupied therefore Israeli Zionists are occupiers not colonialists even though there are overlapping similarities. We shouldn’t open the door for excuses and pretense at the benefits of colonisation, example: making the desert bloom that Zionists use as a cover for what they really did and use to pretend they brought civilization to the Palestinians when in fact all they brought is ethnic cleansing through terror and warfare. There is no excuse for an occupation of a nation of people by supremacists in our day.

    Now as far as this statement: It is precisely the more knowledgeable Zionists who run away from displays and conversations they know will be extremely challenging. There’s a PEP that immediately came to mind when I read this: BERNIE SANDERS.

    Bernie Sanders is one PEP that really needs to be challenged.

    • Mary T
      Mary T
      February 6, 2016, 7:00 pm

      Thank you for a perspective I had not encountered before. Makes complete sense.

    • annie
      annie
      February 7, 2016, 12:42 am

      Palestinians are cultured and educated and hungry for knowledge and the word “native” implies otherwise

      hmm, not sure i agree w/that. native means indigenous. it means it wasn’t transplanted and fits in with the landscape/environment and is most compatible with its natural surroundings. it doesn’t mean it isn’t or is less likely to have a developed culture, education or thirst for knowledge.

      native is a beautiful word. like breathe and alive and spring and first born.

      • diasp0ra
        diasp0ra
        February 7, 2016, 6:09 am

        I have to agree with Annie, I do not see the negative connotations of using the term native. It carries connotations of belonging and authenticity for me.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        February 7, 2016, 11:09 am

        “native is a beautiful word. like breathe and alive and spring and first born.”

        “And first born”? Speak for yourself, Annie. My Mom always liked my younger sisters better than me. Left them whole, too.

      • annie
        annie
        February 7, 2016, 12:46 pm

        i was thinking later ‘birth’ was more what i meant. but i like diasp0ra’s words better.

    • Talkback
      Talkback
      February 7, 2016, 6:31 am

      kalithea: “Colonialism is not what the occupation is, and to express it as such is to conceal the crime behind the occupation and to undermine the rights of the occupied.”

      Not at all. This has been the same colonialism since mandate times. And “natives” is not derrogative at all. Read the International Red Cross commentary to Article 49, IV. Geneva conventions:

      “This clause […] is intended to prevent a practice adopted during the Second World War by certain Powers, which transferred portions of their own population to occupied territory for political and racial reasons or in order, as they claimed, to colonize those territories. Such transfers worsened the economic situation of the native population and endangered their separate existence as a race.”
      https://www.icrc.org/applic/ihl/ihl.nsf/Comment.xsp?action=openDocument&documentId=523BA38706C71588C12563CD0042C407

      • nada
        nada
        February 7, 2016, 2:02 pm

        I am the author of this article. I have absolutely no problem with the word “Native,” I believe it only has negative connotations in the minds of racists who view the world in a binary of “civilized” (meaning colonizer, European) and native (savage, uncultured.). This is not how I view native, it is a neutral term, and happens to be the correct designation for the Palestinian people, who are indigenous to the land. As to my using the image of settler colonialism instead of occupation, it is because the “occupation” refers to post 1967. The establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 was fully a colonial enterprise, the early Zionist thinkers wrote and spoke of “Zionist colonization of Palestine,” modelled upon the European colonization of North America.

      • MHughes976
        MHughes976
        February 7, 2016, 4:15 pm

        I think that it was because certain terms like ‘the natives’ and ‘going native’ had or began to have negative overtones – though ‘this is my own, my native land’ did not – that ‘indigenous’ began to supplant ‘native’. But there’s nothing wrong, I think, with reclaiming words and removing those negatives.
        I think that the Zionists are would-be conquerors, not colonists.

  3. MHughes976
    MHughes976
    February 6, 2016, 3:28 am

    I don’t know why you describe the questions you want to put to the liberal Zionists as irrational, when they are in truth perfectly sensible and helpful in revealing that lib zio is what yourstruly says it is.
    What we face in the academic world is indeed a demand for censorship and it is based on the idea that any large scale event,, conference or suchlike intended to support the Palestinisn cause – anything that might get itself noticed – is objectionably one -sided and even that threats against them are understsndable. This is what happened here in the UK last year when a big conference was banned at Southampton University. Anyone trying to organise anything relevant anywhere now has to fear a similar fate.
    In truth there is nothing wrong with a one-sided proclamation provided that no one is compelled to listen and that the other side can invite the same audience to its own one-sided event another time.. No one has any obligation to bandy words, though I think occasions may arise in which you invite a response. It would be no bad thing if someone attempted to reply to your three questions: you would have made an impact.

  4. Maximus Decimus Meridius
    Maximus Decimus Meridius
    February 6, 2016, 8:22 am

    I always laugh at the idea that activism in favour of Palestinians’ human rights endangers the ‘safety’ of Jewish students. How? What kind of ‘safety’ requires that students fail to protest against an injustice taking place on the other side of the world?

    Another variant is that Jewish |(for which read ‘Zionist’) students feel ‘uncomfortable’ with these protests. Well, good. We all feel uncomfortable when our deeply held views are challenged. But why should Jewish students get special protection from that? I thought university life was supposed to make you reexamine your views and broaden your outlook.

    • Lillian Rosengarten
      Lillian Rosengarten
      February 6, 2016, 3:54 pm

      Maximus, Jewish and Zionist cannot be interchanged as the same. More and more Jews recognize that Zionism is an ultra nationalistic, racist and twisted ideology . Of course many Jews are Zionists . Orthodox Rabbis and the Settlers mentality who demand death to Palestinians are racist fanatics who emulate the Nazi credo of genocide.These people have propelled in part an onslaught of anti-Semitism and puts the spirituality and teachings of Judaism to shame.

  5. eljay
    eljay
    February 6, 2016, 8:47 am

    All Zio-supremacists favour Jewish supremacism in/and a religion-supremacist “Jewish State” in as much as possible of Palestine.

    “Liberal Zionists” just happen to favour a “kinder, gentler” version of it. And they’re more likely to “hold their noses” while their hardier co-collectivists do the dirty work.

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      February 6, 2016, 1:16 pm

      “And they’re more likely to “hold their noses”…

      He may have held his nose, but the cat never got his tongue sandwich.

      • eljay
        eljay
        February 6, 2016, 1:29 pm

        || Mooser: He may have held his nose, but the cat never got his tongue sandwich. ||

        Good thing it didn’t – otherwise, he wouldn’t have been able to “dialog” and we never would have had the privilege to enjoy gems such as:

        “I cannot consistently say that ‘ethnic cleansing is never necessary’.”

        ” … currently its [sic] not necessary.”

        “If I was an adult in 1948, I probably would have supported whatever it took to create the state of Israel, and held my nose at actions that I could not possibly do myself.”

        “I feel that the nakba [sic] was a necessary wrong … ”

        “The nakba [sic] that occurred in 1948 was accompanied by the independence, the liberation, of the Jewish community. So, I primarily celebrate … ”

        “My goal is peace, not ‘justice’.”

        “I personally don’t see a conflict with intentionally adjusting boundaries if the demographics change considerably to create a smaller Israel that is Jewish majority. ”

        “There is some merit to the theme of ‘stop the “rape”, then address the dynamics of the conflict’ … “

  6. Jon66
    Jon66
    February 6, 2016, 10:20 am

    From The Atlantic
    “The press has typically described these developments as a resurgence of political correctness. That’s partly right, although there are important differences between what’s happening now and what happened in the 1980s and ’90s. That movement sought to restrict speech (specifically hate speech aimed at marginalized groups), but it also challenged the literary, philosophical, and historical canon, seeking to widen it by including more-diverse perspectives. The current movement is largely about emotional well-being. More than the last, it presumes an extraordinary fragility of the collegiate psyche, and therefore elevates the goal of protecting students from psychological harm. The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into “safe spaces” where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable. And more than the last, this movement seeks to punish anyone who interferes with that aim, even accidentally. You might call this impulse vindictive protectiveness. It is creating a culture in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse.”

    College students are obsessed with micro aggressions and safe spaces instead of free speech and stretching their minds. They want to shut down or protest against those with differing opinions instead of interacting or debating.

    I also think that we have had at least two generations in the US in which some students think that the purpose of college is to protest, not to be educated by those who have more knowledge and experience.

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      February 6, 2016, 1:05 pm

      “I also think that we have had at least two generations in the US in which some students think that the purpose of college is to protest, not to be educated by those who have more knowledge and experience.”

      You have always struck me as a pretty simple-minded kind of goop, “Jon66”. Not half as clever as “Jon s”. Is bad college your problem, or is it something else?

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      February 6, 2016, 10:50 pm

      “College students are obsessed with micro aggressions and safe spaces instead of free speech and stretching their minds. They want to shut down or protest against those with differing opinions instead of interacting or debating.”

      Yes, Zionists are quite well-known for that. But I’m glad you approve of giving the Zionists exactly what they deserve.

  7. SQ Debris
    SQ Debris
    February 6, 2016, 4:38 pm

    “Complicated” is an interesting word in that it can be used as either an adjective or a verb. As in To Complicate. In that sense zionists, liberal or otherwise, are correct when they say the situation is complicated, i.e. a simple state of affairs is made to appear complex through the agency of individuals and institutions.

    • rosross
      rosross
      February 6, 2016, 9:00 pm

      It is only complicated because they seek to justify that which cannot be justified.

  8. rosross
    rosross
    February 6, 2016, 8:22 pm

    It has long been recognised that the human mind can readily hold two absolutely conflicting views at one and the same time. Perhaps it is an indication that the individual lacks understanding of themselves and does not access their psyche beyond the conscious.

  9. February 7, 2016, 1:08 am

    “Idiots and bigots do not shut down debate. Many thrive on it. They can debate to no end, because there is no discrepancy in their own minds and arguments. They are buoyed by ignorance, assuaged by a racism unchallenged by critical thought. They demand “dialogue.” When an SJP chapter puts on an event, they ask the university administration to allow them to be a part of it. Pro-Palestine students and speakers refuse to engage in such “conversations” because they reject attempts at normalization.”

    Excellent point, that I believe many progressive and liberals are clueless on. Physical violence is a legitimate means to secure justice and fight oppression. I don’t see why many progressives are so unrelenting on non-violence and “peaceful” means to achieve their objectives, even when it is clear that violence is the much more effective alternative. Violence always has a place, just as non-violence and diplomacy, and I believe those who are against violence are dishonest and irrational and cannot be considered as helpful members of the cause.

    • annie
      annie
      February 7, 2016, 2:09 am

      rugal, if you wanted to make a point, that “Physical violence is a legitimate means to secure justice and fight oppression” and go on about how clear it is “that violence is the much more effective alternative” in an article about campus activism, why did you bother prefacing it w/ copy/pasting that passage from the article which has nothing what so ever to do with physical violence?

      are you suggesting somehow that violent protest, or the faux violence Elia referenced in her article, when she wrote palestinian activists” brace for full assault from Zionist groups who want to shut down their events. The reasons given by these Zionists include claims that the events incite violence against Jews, aggravate anti-Semitism, and make Jewish students and faculty on campus feel unsafe. ” — are you advocating violence on campus?

      what are you saying? and why did you preface it with the passage

      Idiots and bigots do not shut down debate. Many thrive on it. They can debate to no end, because there is no discrepancy in their own minds and arguments. They are buoyed by ignorance, assuaged by a racism unchallenged by critical thought. They demand “dialogue.” – —-

      what do the two have to do with eachother? or were you just choosing some passage from the text to launch off into an inflammatory suggestion?

      • February 7, 2016, 3:33 am

        “what do the two have to do with eachother? or were you just choosing some passage from the text to launch off into an inflammatory suggestion?” – Annie

        How does my comments constitute as inflammatory suggestions? Anyways, the argument I was trying to construct out of the quoted passage was a fairly straightforward one.

        The quoted passage laments the pointlessness of engaging with those who are in support of oppression, such as liberal Zionists in US colleges, in a non-violent, peaceful manner through debate and dialogue. This is of course known to many people already, that non-violence only works if the opposing party also holds non-violence principles.

        Violence, or more specifically physical violence, is a high-status, high effectiveness stratagem that should be the first line of defense of any group. People who advocates strict non-violence are therefore irrational and non-helpful to any group intending to preserve their status and gain access to justice and liberty. If Palestinians had the capacity of violence matching or exceeding the Zionists in 1948 or 1967, none of the current problems would have existed, and we wouldn’t have millions living like animals without shelter in Gaza and various refugee camps scattered throughout the Middle East.

        Some people can’t be reasoned with, and only understand the threat of violence. Unfortunately, most in the Zionist camp are made up of people like this.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        February 7, 2016, 11:23 am

        “what do the two have to do with eachother?”

        Mr. Sit-n-Spin can pull more G’s than anybody, Annie!
        But when the centrifuge is spinning that fast, it get really hard to tell left from right, up from down, right from wrong.

      • annie
        annie
        February 7, 2016, 12:44 pm

        exactly mooser

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      February 7, 2016, 11:15 am

      “Physical violence is a legitimate means to secure justice and fight oppression.”

      Possibly. I can tell you that what you are doing with your keyboard isn’t.
      Try throwing it out the window at a passing rich, white person.

      • gamal
        gamal
        February 7, 2016, 12:54 pm

        “at a passing rich, white person”

        that’s Rich white man, you misogynist!

        but Mooser I cant believe you left the first law of non-violence

        “This is of course known to many people already, that non-violence only works if the opposing party also holds non-violence principles.”

        out there, only i dont know what to do with it, its already perfect, very Dzogchen.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        February 7, 2016, 1:38 pm

        “that’s Rich white man, you misogynist!”

        You are correct. I bar chucking peripherals at the fairer species, that’s just not done. Hard-boiled eggs at the electric fan, yes, under circumstances of bohemian bonhomie, but hurling the Dell at my vis-a-vis (or anybody elses), no way.

        I beg, on bended knee-replacements, a thousand pardons. I’m gonna need ’em, sooner or later.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        February 7, 2016, 1:42 pm

        “out there, only i dont know what to do with it, its already perfect, very Dzogchen.”

        Perfect? Oh, yes, perfectly perfect, like a circle.

  10. annie
    annie
    February 7, 2016, 2:13 am

    this is an excellent article Nada Elia. especially amazing :

    the chair of a program in the School of Psychology is the faculty member who led the attack against our SJP chapter’s events. …… the psychology program chair claimed that the Jewish students’ safety was endangered by our mock checkpoint. He did not complain about a possible disruption of the learning experience of the general student population, he most definitely did not express any concern for any Palestinian students, but was vehement about the “safety” of the Jewish students.

    When even psychologists cannot distinguish between “safety” and “comfort,”…..

    my hunch is the psychologist can very much distinguish between the two. that just wasn’t their priority.

    thank you so much.

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      February 7, 2016, 11:28 am

      “the chair of a program in the School of Psychology is the faculty member who led the attack against our SJP chapter’s events.”

      Apart from anything else, the social cost of actions like those of the “chair” will be devastating. And there will be a social bill for this kind of thing.

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