Trump is putting the crunch on liberal Zionism

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

Were you as impressed as I was by Roger Cohen’s column in the New York Times, last weekend: “The One State Two State Blues“? Cohen virtually thanked Donald Trump for ending the illusion that there will ever be a Palestinian state.

The two-state idea has become a fantasy divorced from the reality of Israel’s half-century occupation of the West Bank. No basis exists today for believing it’s achievable. American adherence to that goal has become an exercise in mental laziness allowing leaders to do their worst behind the “peace process” fig leaf.

So Trump’s trashing of two-state doctrinal orthodoxy — “I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like” — at least had the merit of constituting a break with a sham. (I say this with great reluctance as a longtime two-state advocate.) It places Israel and Netanyahu before the choice they face.

As Netanyahu knows, the only “one state” that Palestinians are going to “like” — let alone accept — is one in which they are full and equal citizens who get to vote. Demographics dictate that this, in turn, will spell the end of the Jewish state — unless Israel wants to be an undemocratic pariah state ruling over a vast disenfranchised Palestinian population.

The piece was the more remarkable because a couple of years ago Cohen wrote a book celebrating Israel as the just answer to the Jewish problem in Europe. Today he is just too tired of Israel’s intransigence to pipe that melody.

Ilene Cohen made a similar progression years ago: having visited the occupation, she acknowledged that Israel had defeated the two-state solution; and we have entered the struggle for equal rights. 1 State, 1 Person, 1 vote.

It seems inevitable that more and more liberal American Zionists will have this realization in weeks and months to come. Slowly but surely they will give up the dream of a Jewish state that they don’t want to live in themselves; because their dream did not entail apartheid, which is impossible to deny. And as they abandon their love for Israel, many will come out for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, or BDS, as the best way to pressure Israel to give everyone equal rights.

Liberal Zionism has never been under so much pressure as it is in the Trump era. For two reasons: Trump has rendered the death of the two-state solution a naked reality that is no longer deniable. And liberals who are vocally resisting Trump must affirm values that are inconsistent with Israel as it has turned out.

Under President Obama, liberal Zionists could say that we were about to get a two-state solution, any day or century now, if only Obama would put pressure on Israel; and Mr President, we are going to do our best to protect you against AIPAC; oh sorry, they just cut you off at the knees! Liberal Zionists have now lost the cover for that complicated political dance step. Donald Trump will give Israel anything it wants, and Israel is taking further steps to solidify its colonization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

When Trump said he could support one-state or two states last week, there was a collective gasp from liberal Zionists. Peace Now said the statement was “terrifying,” Jane Eisner of the Forward said it was “astonishing” for those who support a “democratic” “Jewish state.” But what can the liberal Zionists do to fight Trump and Netanyahu, when they were unsuccessful in achieving an ethnic partition of the land during far more liberal regimes, for 70 years now? Roger Cohen and Peter Beinart are at least conscious of the lived-reality for Palestinians.

(And as for Palestinians and Arab-Americans– not that they count as full citizens in the U.S. discourse– many welcomed the Trump statement, as an end to doublespeak, and an exposure of the fecklessness of the peace process, or, per Rashid Khalidi, an opportunity to imagine several possible just outcomes.)

Which brings us to the second factor for the liberal Zionist crisis. Liberal Jews are now among the leaders of the political/cultural resistance to Donald Trump. Every time I turn on the radio or television I see empowered Jews warning about Trump’s danger to democracy. Many of them are Zionists– notably Leon Botstein, Brian Lehrer, Dahlia Lithwick, Wolf Blitzer, and Jeffrey Rosen, the constitutional scholar who has written that Zionism was the best thing that happened to Palestinians in the early 20th century.

These two positions, resisting Trump while supporting Jewish nationalism in Israel, are today grossly inconsistent. Just consider J Street’s righteous opposition to Trump’s temporary ban on refugees here–

Tens of 1000s of US Jews have declared America must keep our doors open to refugees. Now we must be a powerful voice

even as it supports an ethnocracy over there, which has prevented hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees from returning for decades.

American nationalists are right to mock the contradiction between the two positions, as white supremacist Richard Spencer did in an encounter with a Texas rabbi. While left-wing Jews are increasingly making the point — as Suzanne Schneider does at the Forward, Yoav Litvin does at our site, and Brant Rosen did in this excellent blogpost, that Zionism has worked closely with anti-Semitic nationalists before.

Note well that Schneider’s piece appeared in the Forward, offering a paean to Jewish life in exile, which Zionists usually disdain:

Jewish life flourishes in pluralistic societies within which difference is not a “problem” to be resolved, but a fact to be celebrated. The alliance of right-wing Zionists and the alt-right should not be viewed as an abnormality, but the meeting of quite compatible outlooks that assert — each in their own way—that the world will only be secure once we all retreat to our various plots of ancestral land. Nationalist thinking of this sort wrought more than its fair share of damage during the twentieth century


J Street is holding its conference this coming weekend, and a lot of different viewpoints will be gathered under one roof. Roger Cohen will be a speaker; so will rightwing Zionist Yair Rosenberg, who has mocked J Street. There are no Jewish anti-Zionists speaking, but the conference will hear from the leader of Israel’s Joint List in the Knesset, Palestinian leader Ayman Odeh, who I expect will be a rock star for a liberal audience energized by Trump.

Liberal Zionists have had it both ways for too long: supporting a “Jewish state” that they also claim is a “democracy.” Trump has marked the end of that farce. Now they must give up a cherished dream; the liberal Zionists who want to shape the future will have to build coalitions with Palestinians and anti-Zionists.

From the Palestinian and anti-Zionist standpoint, what we are seeing is what activist and writer Sarah Schulman told us would happen five years ago: As you go from a vanguard movement to a broad-based movement, you must give up some of your litmus tests, egotism, and ideological purity, in the name of change.

Everyone, be nice.

Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Very exciting! I’m kveltzing. (Sorry, is that a word?)

… As Netanyahu knows, the only “one state” that Palestinians are going to “like” — let alone accept — is one in which they are full and equal citizens who get to vote. Demographics dictate that this, in turn, will spell the end of the Jewish state — unless Israel wants to be an undemocratic pariah state ruling over a vast disenfranchised Palestinian population. … So…to preserve Israel as a “Jewish and democratic” state, the… Read more »

I actually hope Ellison wins the DNC chair, even though he is anti-BDS. Why? Because first of all it would be a huge in-your-face to Trump (since he is Muslim) and secondly because I think that the country is starting to realize the hypocrisy of BDS bans (you can just as easily ban Israel) so they will be rescinded. This will accelerate progress towards one-state will full and equal rights for all. Also – thanks… Read more »

Perhaps Yirai Fleshler the “spokeperson” for the Hebron settlers should be invited to the J Street conference and asked to outline the five dynamic alternatives to the 2SS (RIP) which he outlined in the recent NYT Op Ed . That would give ” Liberal ” Americans a golden opportunity to experience up close and personal the virtues of their seriously democratic and moral fellow Zionists in the Light unto the Nations. Of the five I… Read more »

I’m a bit more pessimistic about how liberal Zionists will react. As we are seeing with Trump supporters, and here in the UK with Brexit supporters, it’s very very difficult to admit to yourself that you’ve been conned/made a fool of, let alone express that admission in public.