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Liberal Zionist nightmare: Netanyahu is defeated and — nothing changes

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In recent days, liberal Zionists have been confronted with a sobering prospect. Even if the center-left opposition to Benjamin Netanyahu manages to cobble together a slim majority after the April elections, and the great bogeyman of Netanyahu is finally brought down… Israeli policy may not change at all on what liberal Zionists regard as the country’s existential question: establishing a Palestinian state.

This is because the leading party in polls, the centrist Blue and White bloc of Gantz and Lapid, needs to run to the right to try and gain crucial seats, and in doing so they have come out firmly against a Palestinian state. As Guy Frenkel wrote three days ago at the Israel Policy Forum:

Voters and observers of Israeli politics hoping for a major sea change in Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians in the event of a Kachol Lavan victory may be disappointed if the party’s newly released political platform is any indication: its policies regarding the conflict include maintenance of the settlement blocs, retention of the Jordan Valley, and a united Jerusalem… 

[A]ny mention of a “united Jerusalem” (along with a permanent Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley) often coincides with a refusal to divide the city and share sensitive religious sites, leaving the idea of negotiations with the P.L.O. dead on arrival.

As James Zogby wrote:

I can’t see the difference twixt [Yair Lapid’s] position & Netanyahu’s on peace w/ Palestinians. Basically it adds up to Palestinian must surrender

Liberal Zionists have been frank about their dismay.

Yossi Alpher at Peace Now calls Blue and White’s positions a “Likud-like platform.” While Evan Gottesman at the Israel Policy Forum admits that the Israeli right has smashed the left to bits, using racism and the threat of terrorism; and that while polls suggest a majority still want a two-state solution, even Labor, with 9 seats in the latest poll, only speaks of “separation.”

Only two parties still lean in to the term “left:” Meretz, a social-democratic faction, and Hadash, the predominantly Palestinian-Israeli communist party [the two have a combined 15 seats in the latest poll]. Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid are likely to shun Hadash (and its electoral partners, Ta’al), while Meretz is a very small faction.

In recent weeks, Labor has to some extent restored its vocal advocacy for two states… [but] Even when Israelis do speak positively about the two-state solution and ending the West Bank occupation, it is in language that may sound foreign to outsiders. “Separation” is the codeword du jour, encompassing both an actual two-state outcome and incremental steps to prevent Israel becoming further embedded in the occupied territories. Separation, not two states, made it into Kachol Lavan’s [Blue and White’s] official platform…

The bottom line is that if Gantz Lapid do win, nothing is likely to change in Israeli policy. And liberal Zionists will lose their biggest argument for Israel as a democracy: Netanyahu got elected for the same reason Trump did, and we only have to get rid of him for Israel to be restored. Oh just save us from Netanyahu!

Instead, the election is shaping up to be a crisis for liberal Zionists. They have been telling us for many years that Israel is a successful “Jewish democracy” in a very tough part of the world.

But if it’s so successful, why does its Jewish society keep trending right? Why is the racism so embedded? Could there be something wrong with the recipe?

To his credit, Michael Koplow at the Israel Policy Forum examines the racism in the politics.

Across the political spectrum, there is a rush to assure Jewish Israeli voters that nobody is looking to form a government that includes Arabs; not Likud under Netanyahu, and not Kachol Lavan under Benny Gantz. Netanyahu, naturally, has made this pledge a centerpiece of his campaign.

Gantz on Monday ruled out forming any coalition with [Ta’al’s Ahmad] Tibi as well, and lumped him in with Kahane, which is an unfair comparison by any measure. Unlike Netanyahu, Gantz and Yair Lapid have not explicitly ruled out using Arab parties to form a blocking coalition, as Yitzhak Rabin did, and it is to their credit – factoring in the soft bigotry of low expectations – that they have not definitively closed that door…

Koplow is reminding us that no government coalition could actually include a Palestinian party, which is a sad reflection on a Jewish democracy. And that grieves him:

[I]t is hollowly cynical to use Israeli Arabs’ participation in political life to tout Israel’s greatness, and in the next instance portray Israeli Arabs’ participation in political life as something that must be negated and combated. The entire spectacle of using Israeli Arabs as props, raising them up for geopolitical benefit and keeping them low for domestic political benefit, is ugly and should stop. The best thing that Israel’s current election campaign could accomplish would be to demonstrate that this tactic does not work.

Of course even if Netanyahu’s race-baiting doesn’t work, you get a coalition that also disdains Palestinians and will only use Palestinian parliamentary seats as a block against Netanyahu.

What liberal would want anything to do with such a system? In the United States, we struggled to rid the south of segregation, and boycott was a primary tool in that struggle, 50-60 years ago.

This is why the Israeli election is shaping up to be a crisis for liberal Zionists. If they get their wish (and I’m pulling for them) the bogeyman will be gone. But then Israel will have to show itself capable of change. When the historical record is that Labor Party did as much to create the colonization of the West Bank as the rightwing Likud did.

So it appears that the policies that liberal Zionists have been inveighing against for nearly ten years now under Netanyahu are going to stay the same. Then what will they do? Or more to the point, if they continue to do nothing to pressure Israel over its racism, what does that say about their liberalism? That’s a crisis.

P.S. The best answer a centrist Zionist can make re Blue and White is, Keep hope alive.

The difference is that Gantz/Lapid support the 2-state solution without saying so explicitly, whereas Netanyahu opposes it despite having explicitly endorsed it. The former will strive for peace, the latter won’t.

While Yossi Alpher says that best hope is founded on a Trump peace proposal that will not be a real proposal.

“economic peace” [is] an idea promoted by Netanyahu and Trump based on the proposition that prosperity will persuade Palestinians to drop some of their most basic demands like a capital in Jerusalem, the right of return and a state based on the 1967 borders, and to coexist with the settlements (where they will work). It pretends the conflict is economic when in fact it is territorial, religious, and an issue of clashing historical narratives. It assumes wrongly, and condescendingly, that Palestinians with “full stomachs” will be compliant.

Thanks to Scott Roth. 



Philip Weiss

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

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25 Responses

  1. peterfeld on March 11, 2019, 2:19 pm

    Let’s hope every day that Netanyahu is easily reelected and crushes the spirit of the liberal Zionists. His value is priceless for helping American Jews break up with Israel. The centrists won’t change anything, true, but they would give enough lip service to a doomed peace process that the world, and liberal Zionists, will sigh in relief, normalize the government and end all pressure.

    • Maghlawatan on March 11, 2019, 4:25 pm

      Netanyahu is Gd’s gift to BDS
      He is such a shonda for the goys.

      I don’t think anybody can stop the decline and fall of Israel at this stage

      I disagree about Netanyahu doing nothing being the nightmare of Liberal Zionists.

      AIPAC becoming a polarizing election issue is the Liberal Zionist nightmare.

      LZs love the status quo and the liberty of being liberal on US issues and hardline on Gaza. They fear having to choose between the American people and Israel. If AIPAC loses its grip when the GOP collapses the nightmare may become real. LZs love sitting on the fence. They do not want to have to choose.

  2. eljay on March 11, 2019, 2:20 pm

    … So it appears that the policies that liberal Zionists have been inveighing against for nearly ten years now under Netanyahu are going to stay the same. Then what will they do? …

    They will stay the course and continue to wring their hands and moan and insist that Israel should be a “kinder, gentler” religion-supremacist “Jewish State”.

    … Or more to the point, if they continue to do nothing to pressure Israel over its racism, what does that say about their liberalism? …

    Nothing that hasn’t already been said about the hypocrisy of their “kinder, gentler” brand of supremacism.

  3. JWalters on March 11, 2019, 7:33 pm

    Another lyin liberal Zionist nightmare is this SPECTACTULAR article by ace reporter Chris Hedges over at Truthdig.

    “Israel’s Stranglehold on American Politics”

    • Maghlawatan on March 11, 2019, 10:18 pm

      It is not possible for nothing to change

      The world is always simple, the world is never simple.

      All systems have lives. They all die


      « Eventually, the secular trends move the system too near its asymptotes, and the system is unable to continue its normal, regular, slow upward push.

      Thereupon, it begins to fluctuate wildly and repeatedly, leading to a bifurcation—that is, to a chaotic situation in which a stable equilibrium cannot be maintained. «

      Zionism has been fighting the Palestinian people since 1882
      During Trump”s recent shutdown Federal employees had to resort to food banks to feed their kids. The Senate was busy working for AIPAC against Americans

      as part of Zionism’s strategy 25 Democrats voted to criminalize free speech under the first amendment.

      Zionism will throw everyone under the bus.

      This is Tammany Hall 2.0
      Mr LaGuardia destroyed Tammany Hall before he became an airport

      Tammany was a cruel , vicious , greedy machine

      They all go too far. They all collapse.

      There is no way back for Israel.
      Shafting American rights in order to neuter BDS is war with American voters

    • Kay24 on March 12, 2019, 7:09 am

      A well written article. He is able to articulate exactly what is happening in the US, and the truth of how Israel has a tight grip on our politicians, and political system. Right now it seems the US has no hope of getting out of that stranglehold.

  4. Kay24 on March 11, 2019, 8:04 pm

    The question is, if Netanyahu and his band of Kahane terrorists wins, how quickly would AIPAC, Congress, and America, reach out and embrace these vile people? Netanyahu has signaled to the world where he stands, is racist, has demonized Arabs once again, to win. If Rouhani had blatantly formed a coalition with well known terrorists, Netanyahu would have stood up at the UN and given yet another cringeworthy performance, urging the world to bomb Iran. America is just like Donald J. Trump, even if Netanyahu shot someone on the streets of Tel Aviv, he will not lose a single zionist supporter in America. America’s outrage is very selective.

    Jewish Liberals in the US should know that whether it is Netanyahu or Gantz, the occupation, land theft, and the senseless killing of Palestinian children, will go on.

    • Maghlawatan on March 11, 2019, 10:25 pm

      Zionism is out of control

      The DNA of the ideology is Jewish exceptionalism. Fuck everybody else.

      BDS is an existential threat to the ideology


      “We are saying there is no difference between a settlement boycott and a boycott of Israel,” Yossi Kuperwasser said. “If you want to promote the boycotting of Israel, any part of Israel, you are not a friend of Israel. You are actually an enemy of Israel. So we have to deal with you.”

      Fuck the goys , basically
      They couldn’t stop the machine even if they wanted to.

  5. iResistDe4iAm on March 11, 2019, 10:35 pm

    Israeli society has turned fascist, and such societies will tend to select the most fascist elements for its leaders. Netanyahu will likely be the winner with his coaltition of fellow supremacists, fascists and terrorists.

    Even if the opposition bloc win more seats and get first chance to form a coalition governemnt, they are likely to fail. When Netanyahu gets his chance, he won’t fail.

    • Kay24 on March 12, 2019, 2:56 am

      Whoever wins, Israel’s vicious policies regarding the Palestinian people will remain unchanged.
      The US should quit criticizing Iran, because their best buddies Israel and Saudi Arabia, are worse in many ways.

    • Misterioso on March 13, 2019, 9:49 am


      Given the stated objectives of the first Zionists, including Herzl, it was virtually inevitable that “Israel” (i.e., the “Jewish State”) would be fascistic, racist and expansionist:

      Herzl’s diaries not only confirm that his objective was the establishment of a “Jewish state” in Palestine, but that it would be an expansionist state. In the year of his death, 1904, he described its borders as being “…in the north the mountains facing Cappadocia [Turkey], in the south, the Suez Canal [Egypt] in the east, the Euphrates [Iraq].” (Theodor Herzl, The Complete Diaries, 11 p. 711)

      Even more revealing as to how Herzl and his fellow Zionists intended to deal with the indigenous Christian and Muslim Palestinians is the “Charter for Zionist Colonization of Palestine and Syria,” which he drafted between the summer of 1901 and early 1902. Much to his disappointment, however, he was denied the opportunity to present it to the Ottoman Sultanate. Article Vl of the charter called for Istanbul to grant the Zionists, in the form of the Jewish-Ottoman Land Company (JOLC), “complete autonomy, guaranteed by the Ottoman Empire” while Article III gave them in effect, the right to deport the native population to other areas of the empire. Article 111 “[pertained] to the Palestinian and other Arab owners and inhabitants of the three categories of land to be purchased/owned by the JOLC – the large and small private landholdings, the Sultan’s state domain, and the land for which there is no title.”

      Israel Zangwill, the influential Anglo-Jewish essayist and ardent Zionist, first believed that the Palestinians would simply “fold their tents and slip away.” It was he who first voiced the lie that Palestine was a “land without a people, waiting for a people without a land.” (Zangwill, Israel, “The Return to Palestine”, New Liberal Review 11, Dec. 1901 p. 627)

      In 1905, Zangwill contradicted himself during a talk in Manchester when he observed that Palestine was “already twice as thickly populated as the United States…. [W]e must be prepared to either drive out by the sword the [Arab] tribes in possession as our forefathers did or to grapple with the problem of a large alien [sic] population….” (Zangwill, Speeches, p. 210, quoted by Nur Masalah, Expulsion of the Palestinians, 1992, p. 10)

      In the February 1919 issue of the League of Nations Journal, Zangwill proposed that the Palestinians “should be gradually transplanted” in Arab countries and at a public meeting in the same year he remarked that “many [Palestinians] are semi-nomad, they have given nothing to Palestine and are not entitled to the rules of democracy.” (Jewish Chronicle, Dec. 12 1919, Masalha, p.14)

      In 1920, Zangwill proposed in The Voice of Jerusalem, that there should be an “‘Arab exodus’…based on ‘race redistribution’ or a ‘trek like that of the Boers from Cape Colony,’ which he advocated as ‘literally the only way out of the difficulty of creating a Jewish State in Palestine.’” He continued: “We cannot allow the Arabs to block so valuable a piece of historic reconstruction….To fold their tents and silently steal away is their proverbial habit: let them exemplify it now.” (Zangwill, The Voice of Jerusalem, p. 103, quoted by Masalha, EOTP pp. 13- 14)

      Other Zionist leaders saw the future Jewish state in Palestine not only free of Arabs, but the first step towards the creation of a much larger country. In 1918, Polish born Ben-Gurion (real name, David Gruen) described the future borders of the Jewish state as: “to the north, the Litani River; to the northeast, the Wadi’Owja, twenty miles south of Damascus; the southern border will be mobile and pushed into the Sinai at least up to Wadi al-`Arish; and to the east, the Syrian Desert, including the furthest edge of Transjordan.” (Teveth, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs, pp. 34-34; Nur Masalah, Expulsion…, p. 87)

      In 1930, when despite ever increasing immigration, Jews privately owned only about four per cent of Palestine, Arthur Ruppin, a pivotal figure in political Zionism wrote that displacement of Arab farmers was inevitable because “land is the most necessary thing for our establishing roots in Palestine. Since there are hardly any more arable unsettled lands in Palestine, we are bound in each case of the purchase of land and its settlement to remove the peasants who cultivated the land so far, both owners of the land and tenants.” (Rashid Khalidi, Blaming the Victims)

  6. wondering jew on March 11, 2019, 10:55 pm

    1. No Israeli government will make meaningful concessions to Palestinians as long as Donald Trump is president. Elect Bernie and the dynamic changes. Is Bernie electable? Not sure. Last time I said he was unelectable we got Clinton and got beat, so it isn’t up to me to declare Bernie unelectable.

    2. No Israeli coalition can include nonZionists, and there are no Zionist Arab parties. I’m not surprised that there are no Zionist Arab parties and I am not surprised that Israeli parties still feel anxious enough about their identity to need to exclude those who oppose a Jewish state. What is the platform of these parties regarding Zionism? That is the key point. But there is no question that racism is on the rise and the rhetoric against the Arab parties and the Arab citizens of Israel and the West Bank Palestinians and the Gaza Palestinians and against the Jerusalem Palestinians is of a very very disappointing variety and it is natural to associate the policy regarding coalitions not to some anxious ideological necessity to be all Zionists all the time but instead to consider it to be a consequence of rampant racism. The default position of somewhere between 40% and 50% of Jewish Israelis and between 70% to 80% of all religious Jewish Israelis or religious (Orthodox) Jewish American supporters of Israel is racist. (One should not approve of racism, but the intifada was a horrible blow to any concept of coexistence and besides whatever negativity is part and parcel of Zionism and religious Zionism that structure was put on steroids by the intifada and its lingering effect. When they blow up a bus on your bus route when you were 6 years old, the concept of coexistence goes out the window for 99 out of 100, an automatic attitude of “forget about it” is really to be expected. and “forget about it” leads to racism.)

    3. It seems clear (tonight) that Israel will not make concessions without american pressure and that leads to a rejection of aipac, and a rejection of “jewish independence”.

    4. the nakba is a bridge too far for most jewish israelis and for most jewish supporters of israel. to mention the nakba, to use the word without mockery is not acceptable to most jewish supporters of israel. bds might be the truest red line, but nakba mentioning is indicative of being a fellow traveler of the bds people.

    • Mooser on March 13, 2019, 8:02 pm

      ” to mention the nakba, to use the word without mockery is not acceptable to most jewish supporters of israel.”

      Oh, they’ll get used to it. What do they plan to do about it? Excise the nakba from history? Sort of hard at this point.

  7. Sibiriak on March 12, 2019, 2:05 am

    Anti-Zionist nightmare: Netanyahu AND Trump are defeated.

    Israeli “centrists” who “support the 2-state solution without saying so explicitly ” work with a liberal Democratic president (eg. Sanders) to invigorate the movement for two states. Trump’s policies are reversed in whole or part. A new peace process initiated. The two state dream lives on.

  8. zaid on March 12, 2019, 3:03 am

    Gantz: We’re willing to sit in government with ‘anyone Jewish and Zionist’

  9. umm al-hamam on March 13, 2019, 12:21 am

    Israel’s last Labor government was completely supported by “liberal zionists” despite being no different from Netanyahu in any meaningful sense or even rhetorically. This is after all the government that invaded Lebanon and launched the first war on Gaza that killed over 1400 people. The suggestion that a Gantz government will somehow be treated differently by the “liberal zionists”, or undermine the legitimacy of Israel itself for them, is naïve.

  10. DaBakr on March 13, 2019, 4:48 am

    Phil W nightmare: there is a split among liberal Jews about the Democrat party policy towards Israel and nothing changes. Americans still support Israel and a two state or entity solution.

  11. Kay24 on March 13, 2019, 8:00 am

    Looks like things are slowly changing. If Crooked Bibi is thinking of attacking Gaza at the slightest excuse, to win the elections, he’d better think again, a few pictures of poor kids killed and being pulled out of the rubble, will certainly bring American support even lower.

    “American Support for Israel in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Falls to Ten-year Low, Gallup Finds
    Gallup found Democrat’s support for Israel fell 6 percentage points compared to 2018’s poll, while support among those who identified as Republican dropped by 13 percentage points.

    Gallup’s annual World Affairs survey, published Wednesday, finds that American support for Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has dropped to 59 percent, the lowest figure in a decade.
    Support for the Palestinian side has risen to 21 percent – a historic high.”

  12. genesto on March 13, 2019, 5:06 pm

    Liberal Zionism, i.e. the branch of Zionism that still clings to the notion of the 2SS because it can’t shake its Jewish exceptionalism no matter how much Palestinians suffer, has long since been discredited. No one in the Liberal Zionist camp has been able to offer a feasible solution to removing a minimum of about 300,000 illegal settlers from the land that would be required to create this mythical state.

    I wish we wouldn’t give liberal Zionists the time of day at this point. All they do is obfuscate the issue. Let’s just turn our attention to the Likudniks and everyone to the right of them. They are truly evil and ruthless but, at least, they are honest. You know exactly where they stand. They make it much easier to argue the case for Palestinian justice.

    • annie on March 13, 2019, 5:29 pm

      Liberal Zionism, i.e. the branch of Zionism that still clings to the notion of the 2SS because it can’t shake its Jewish exceptionalism no matter how much Palestinians suffer, has long since been discredited.

      for the most part i agree with this. where i part ways is a think there’s a significant portion of so called liberal zionists who are run of the mill zionists (like alan dershowitz) and simply identify as LZ’s because it sounds better (liberal, being associated w/the left). iow, wolf in sheep’s clothing.

      and while i do believe there are LZ’s who truly do want a 2SS for benevolent reasons, there are way too many who merely make this claim with the full intent of staving off opposition – forever – as a means of keeping critics at bay while the remainder of palestine is colonized. but either way, LZ’s obfuscate the issue, and get in the way of facing the problem head on. LZ’s have no business turning left and pounding on us, policing our language, claiming we are the problem, etc, and many of those who claim want a 2SS for benevolent reasons spend their advocacy gatekeeping the left instead of turning their sites towards “Likudniks and everyone to the right of them”.

    • RoHa on March 13, 2019, 9:18 pm

      Liberal Zionism, is the branch of Zionism that wants to have its cake and eat it.

      • Talkback on March 14, 2019, 1:47 pm

        I always thought that “liberal Zionism” is the branch of Zionism that claims that it wants to return to the owner about 20% of what it stole, while embezzling it, too,

      • RoHa on March 14, 2019, 9:31 pm

        No-one spotted the superfluous comma? You should be giving me Hell over it.

    • umm al-hamam on March 13, 2019, 11:42 pm

      I mean I do know a good number of “liberal zionists” who are happy to abandon the 700k odd settlers to the mercies of the Palestinian Authority, especially since that would greatly disempower the Israeli religious right and give Israel back its Labor majority. But none of them are ever willing to address ’48, or accept the Palestinian right of return or the fact that Tel Aviv is as much an illegal settlement as Kiryat Arba.

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