The following is dialogue from a dinner party I went to with four other liberal media/literary folk in their 50s and 60s, this weekend in the New York exurbs. (Names changed. Jewish/non-Jewish not a factor.)
Dave, the host, to me: And what is it you do, you write about Israel?
Me: I work for an anti-Zionist website.
Dave: But you do it because you’re pro-Israel?
Me: No. I don’t really like Israel. It’s not for me.
Dave: So what do you want– no Israel?
Me: No, I’m an anti-Zionist. I’m against the idea of a Jewish state. That’s where I put all my energy. It’s like if they said the U.S. was a Christian state, tomorrow, I’d throw myself into the struggle against a religious state here.
Dave: But we’re not a Christian state, and that is a Jewish state.
Me: Yes, and it’s in my name. I’m against it.
Dave: What do you mean by Zionist? That’s an awfully big word.
My wife: Yes Phil. Good question.
Me: It means people who are for having a Jewish state in Palestine.
Dave: But the world said there should be a Jewish state. The U.N. did.
Me: That’s true, back in 1947.
Dave: And you want to just end that?
Me: Well, it didn’t work out. That’s just what has happened. Communism was great on paper, but we saw how that turned out, and Zionism didn’t work out. It has just led to the oppression of other people. Not to mention the effect on U.S. foreign policy.
Amory, the hostess: I don’t like all the settlements. That they kept building homes on the land that’s supposed to be for Palestinians.
Dave: We’re not talking about that part. That’s after 1967.
Me: But Netanyahu and his ministers would say that they are just doing with the settlements what they did in the beginning. That it’s the unfolding of Zionism. Zionism turns out to be about one thing. Land without Palestinians on it. And everything follows from that belief. Ethnic cleansing and occupation and checkpoints. More land for Jews.
My wife: Yes, they were given half the land in 1947 and now they have 90 percent. And I’ve been there, and you go around with a Palestinian, it’s awful. They tell you, this is where our house used to be, then we got kicked out, this was our backyard before the Jews wanted to build a road. That’s where so and so lived and they got killed. It’s really like seeing what it was like in the South in Jim Crow or in slavery.
Dave: See that is why I really want to go there. To see that. But you can’t just get rid of Israel.
Me: I don’t want to get rid of Israel, I want it to reform. I didn’t want to get rid of the south, or white people, we wanted them to change the order.
Amory: But what would you do– right now?
Me: Israel should become a country of its citizens, not a Jewish state. Just as I would be against a Christian state here. Everyone under its governance should get to vote. That’s pretty simple.
Dave: I don’t see how that happens. It is a Jewish state. The world went along with that.
Me: I’ll tell you the wisest thing about the conflict I’ve heard. A friend who works there says she goes back to Spain and everyone says, What is the peaceful resolution of that conflict? And she says to me, you’ve been here so you know, There is no peaceful resolution to this conflict. They have heaped up the materials of a huge political conflagration. And they keep on heaping them up. So there is bound to be violence.
Amory: Here is the part I don’t understand. What about the Arab countries? Why are they so dysfunctional?
Dave: And the Palestinians don’t get along either.
Amory: But the Arab countries– they have come up with nothing.
Me: Well algebra and zero. Arabs invented that.
Amory: I mean now. What do they have to show for anything? And it doesn’t count that you wound up living on land filled with oil! What have they done? Where is the Picasso or even the Mark Zuckerberg, I don’t see it. And I think, it has to do with how the women are treated. If you treat women well a society will prosper. There will be achievements and great distinctions and culture.
The conversation shifts to a different subject. At a lull I touch my hostess’s knee.
Me: I want to return to something you said, Amory. The treatment of women. Some people would say that our society hasn’t treated women well. That we’re also on a path to greater freedom for women but they have much lower status.
Amory: But that’s not true. Women are treated very well here.
It’s late, and the conversation pitches on in another direction.