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Michael Walzer wonders if Israel ‘will let me in’

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Here is an important item about the degree to which the Israeli government is alienating important friends in the west. Michael Walzer has been nothing less than an intellectual bulwark of loyalty to Israel among liberals who are not sure what to make of the country. The political theorist at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study has long mixed ardent support of Zionism with reservations about Israeli governance of Palestinians.

Well, Israel’s legislature just passed a travel ban against entry into the country by those who support boycotts of Israel or of the settlements; and Haaretz’s Taly Krupkin reports that 100 Jewish studies scholars “have signed a letter in which they threaten to refrain from visiting Israel in protest.” The letter, which urges the Israeli courts to overturn the law, has not yet been published. One of the organizers of the letter, David Biale of the University of California, a regular visitor to Israel, said, “They want to push us into boycotting Israel.”

Walzer is evidently one of those scholars. A longtime opponent of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) aimed at Israel, Walzer told Krupkin the new law strengthens the BDS movement in two ways, by eliminating the distinction between those who support boycotts aimed at the settlements and supporters of boycotts aimed at Israel, and by showing that the BDS movement is working:

“I can assure you that it will greatly help the BDS movement, people who are critical of the government and also critical of BDS may think that the government is scared, that BDS is working.  There will be people moving towards BDS, and I have already received emails from people who have been critical of the Israeli government but also of BDS, writing that at this point, we might as well join BDS”.

Walzer said that he doesn’t think BDS in the U.S. is a threat to Israel, though it has gained the support of “the left intelligentsia in Europe,” which “is hostile not just to the occupation, but to the existence of the Jewish State, which is very dangerous.”

Then Walzer told Krupkin that though he has visited Israel every year, and taught at the Hebrew University, he doesn’t know if he will get in this time, because he has supported boycotting settlement goods.

“I wonder if they will let me in. I signed a letter calling for a boycott of goods from the occupied settlements but I have also been active in opposing BDS on campuses. I have been going to Israel every year starting from the 70s. I’m coming in June, and I would be very surprised and angry if they turn me away,” he said.

Walzer also told Krupkin that Israel’s need to shut down external critics is a very dangerous sign. Even France during the violent Algerian independence era didn’t go that far.

“I’m old enough to remember France during Algerian war, there was fierce opposition, and the opponents traveled to France. The French did not try to shut them out.”

For a discussion of why boycotting only the settlements fails to target the government that authorizes these settlements, see Yousef Munayyer’s argument at the New America:

I support full BDS, not partial BDS; because if you want to get Israeli state behavior to change, you must target the state not parts of the state or little hilltop settlements, but the state itself, until the decision makers come to a different conclusion than the conclusion that they have today, which is that the status quo is sustainable.

For a description of Walzer’s importance to the American Jewish understanding, see Jerome Slater’s critique of Walzer’s halfway-criticisms of the last Gaza onslaught:

For many years, Michael Walzer has been a significant obstacle to the possibility that the liberal American Jewish community—increasingly uneasy about Israel, but unsure what to believe—will realize that Israel is sliding into a moral, political, and perhaps, sooner or later, an existential catastrophe, which can only be arrested if it is forced to change its course as a result of the loss of its political, economic, and military support from the United States.

The fact that this scholar is now so alienated by the Israeli government is huge. We said here recently that the discourse of the conflict is polarized; and liberal Zionists are getting crunched between support for Greater Israel and the international campaign to delegitimize apartheid, with the need to choose one or the other. Walzer affirms that understanding when he says that some of his friends say, We might as well support BDS.

Thanks to James North. 

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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16 Responses

  1. Eva Smagacz on March 11, 2017, 2:11 pm

    This is good news, although this may not feel like it for Prof. Michael Walzer.

    It requires him, and others in a similar position, (like Peter Beinart) to examine the origin, progress, aims and responses to BDS.

    When you are put, even against your will, in the same sack as other people, all of you indelibly connected by being targeted for you opinions and beliefs, you cannot but try to find out more about why they are in a sack with you.

    Possibly the first opportunity ( even if forced on them) for many pro-Israeli Jews to see the Israel from non-Zionist perspective.

    • John O on March 11, 2017, 3:39 pm

      Well said, Eva. As others have (sarcastically) pointed out, where does this leave the “right of return”?

  2. echinococcus on March 11, 2017, 4:40 pm

    Walzer told Krupkin the new law strengthens the BDS movement in two ways, by eliminating the distinction between those who support boycotts aimed at the settlements and supporters of boycotts aimed at Israel

    There you have it, from the horse’s mouth. He should have added that the former is nothing but the sabotage of the latter.

    It would have added some precision to also observe that it’s not the boycott movement but its Zionist enemy that is in fact being strengthened by such a confusion between these two operations, maintained by using the term BDS for both.

  3. Keith on March 11, 2017, 5:05 pm

    PHIL- “The fact that this scholar is now so alienated by the Israeli government is huge.”

    Here you go with “huge” again. If everything you claimed was huge really was, the Earth’s gravity would have been affected by now. As for Walzer as a scholar, I think intellectual charlatan would be a better description. Just War Theory is, in reality, a means for intellectuals to gain employment justifying war. How appropriate that he teaches at one of the Ivies, those premier institutions of higher indoctrination.

  4. John Douglas on March 11, 2017, 8:16 pm

    I don’t know how much of the support of Israel by Jews in the US is based on the idea that if things go bad for Jews in the US, Israel is a safe haven. But I wonder why no one has posed the question of whether, in the worst case of anti-Semitism, the doors of Israel will remain open or to which US Jews they will be open. If Walzer wonders now if he is welcome, does he wonder too whether Israel really is a reliable safety net?

  5. RoHa on March 11, 2017, 8:53 pm

    And after he worked so hard at twisting his arguments to justify Israel’s wars, too!

  6. Brewer on March 12, 2017, 1:40 am

    As it must, it is falling apart.
    Spare me apologetics for the likes of Waltzer. The crime has been manifestly obvious to all with a modicum of humanity for decades. How come he didn’t proclaim it from his Ivory Tower?
    “an intellectual bulwark of loyalty to Israel” his “ardent support of Zionism” was built despite blatant atrocity and has been maintained through ongoing violence and mayhem designed to isolate, degrade and expel the other, the brother who had the audacity to embrace a different superstition.
    What form of “Intellect” can ignore the dastardly origins of the “Jewish State” – bastard offspring of colonialist criminals? Again I say spare me from these soft-brained pseudo-intellects, none of whom has understood a peasant’s cry.

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
    The darkness drops again; but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

    The likes of Waltzer are midwife to this horror.

  7. JLewisDickerson on March 12, 2017, 8:55 am

    RE: “Michael Walzer wonders if Israel ‘will let me in’”

    MY COMMENT: You just never really know. Likudnik Israel likes to keep you guessing. “Maintained uncertainty”* and “learned helplessness”** aren’t just for Palestinians anymore!

    * ■ FROM ALISTAIR CROOKE, London Review of Books, 03/03/11:

    [EXCERPTS] . . . It was [Ariel] Sharon who pioneered the philosophy of ‘maintained uncertainty’ that repeatedly extended and then limited the space in which Palestinians could operate by means of an unpredictable combination of changing and selectively enforced regulation, and the dissection of space by settlements, roads Palestinians were not allowed to use and continually shifting borders. All of this was intended to induce in the Palestinians a sense of permanent temporariness. . .
    . . . It suits Israel to have a ‘state’ without borders so that it can keep negotiating about borders, and count on the resulting uncertainty to maintain acquiescence. . .

    SOURCE –

    ** ■ FROM WIKIPEDIA [Learned helplessness]:

    [EXCERPT] Learned helplessness is behavior typical of an organism (human or animal) that has endured repeated painful or otherwise aversive stimuli which it was unable to escape or avoid. After such experience, the organism often fails to learn escape or avoidance in new situations where such behavior would be effective. In other words, the organism seems to have learned that it is helpless in aversive situations, that it has lost control, and so it gives up trying. Such an organism is said to have acquired learned helplessness.[1][2] Learned helplessness theory is the view that clinical depression and related mental illnesses may result from such real or perceived absence of control over the outcome of a situation.[3] . . .

    SOURCE –

    • MHughes976 on March 12, 2017, 1:56 pm

      Walzer’s remarks are not to be taken too seriously. Of course Israel will let him as often as he likes. He is in a state of maintained certainty about that. Israel and the liberal Z intellectuals of the West still need each other. The liberal agonies – and this is not even agony, but a sort of humorous, comfortable discomfort – have long validated Zionism in many eyes as a creed of obviously decent people.

      • JLewisDickerson on March 13, 2017, 3:47 pm

        Yes, you are most likely correct as to Walzer, but if he is truly principled, he will not even try to enter Israel as long as the new travel ban is in effect.

  8. oneangrycomic on March 13, 2017, 8:41 am

    Despite the unprecedented control of governments and the media that Zionists enjoy, they are doomed to failure. Their entire belief system is collapsing from within; they are under siege from all sides. We must press our advantage as they falter. Their destruction cannot happen soon enough for the civilized world!

  9. Kay24 on March 13, 2017, 10:17 am

    Max Blumenthal on the connection between pro Israel elements and the Islamaphobic fringe.
    The criminals behind the anti Muslim propaganda, and the campaign to turn the world against Muslims and their religion. Many people suspected that these two groups were allies in this hate campaign, I guess this is one reason. Over 1.6 billion Muslims are victims of this campaign.

    The Sugar Mama of Anti-Muslim Hate
    Philanthropist Nina Rosenwald has used her millions to cement the alliance between the pro-Israel lobby and the Islamophobic fringe

  10. Elizabeth Block on March 13, 2017, 10:36 pm

    When non-Jews ask me what is this thing that Jews have about Israel, I quote a friend, who experienced anti-Semitism growing up (I did not; I grew up in New York), says: “It happened once, it could happen again, and if it does, we can all go to Israel and be safe.”
    But if “it” happens in the US, Canada, Western Europe, we won’t be safe in Israel, because Israel won’t be safe. It depends on the support of the US and other countries.
    My friend is still a soft Zionist, but very soft, and softening more every day. He has the courage that few people have, the courage to face unpleasant facts.

    As for BDS not working: If it weren’t working, the Israelis would not be busting ass to fight it.

    • annie on March 14, 2017, 1:27 am

      As for BDS not working: If it weren’t working, the Israelis would not be busting ass to fight it.

      bds is moving in one direction and one direction only — it’s expanding. the only thing that would halt that expansion is a U-turn on israel policy, which won’t happen. no amount of screaming or hysterics or claims of anti semitism will halt the growth of bds. unless they come up with some way to close down the internet.

      people know what’s happening there and it’s (clearly) a crime against humanity. and the most robust hasbara they’ve come up with to stem the tide of criticism (besides the anti semitism ad hominem) is the claim israel is singled out and not treated like other countries? but what other county does the US support who is actively colonizing another? none. or maybe morocco. i would support a non violent boycott for equality in morocco. has anyone organized one? or is that something palestinians should do also, to not be accused of targeting their oppressors? why should palestinian not target israel??? and why should we not support them in their movement? fear of accusation/retribution? it makes no sense.

      • Maghlawatan on March 14, 2017, 8:14 am

        Morocco is as bad as Israel when it comes to Western Sahara

        BDS is good because it gets much better press than plane hijackings and suicide bombs. It is effective because it plays on Israeli bad faith. Most adults in the West are familiar with Israel’s phoney commitment to the peace process. I don’t remember a period before this when Israel had such a bad image in “peacetime”.

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