Opinion

Liberal Zionists must drop the Zionism if they really want to build an Arab-Jewish political partnership

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“It’s a very black morning, and the Israeli left has received a serious blow.” Yael Patir, a leader of the liberal Zionist group J Street, was frank today about the huge defeat the Israeli left suffered last night.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the head of J Street, was just as direct. The left suffered a “radical defeat.” The liberal Zionist camp of “Jewish democratic values we all believe in… that camp received the fewest votes that it’s ever received and shows real signs of potentially going extinct in Israel.” There is an opposition to Netanyahu, but it’s not left, and it’s not proud and strong, he lamented.

Much of the disappointment of liberal Zionists today concerns their Palestinian partners. The Arab vote in Israel was low yesterday. Patir said that activists and the young told the Labor/Meretz Jewish leadership to work with Palestinian voters– “reach out across the Jewish-Arab divide” — to build a coalition. But the leadership did not heed the call. “It was not well received by the leadership of the camp or it wasn’t taken on as a mission.”

While pollster Dahlia Scheindlin said on the same call that the low turnout is a reflection in part of Palestinian fear. The (racist) nation state law that passed last year was a “real, real turbulent turning point for them, and a point of fear.” And now that Netanyahu has a stronger coalition than ever, “We have every reason to think that the law will be implemented in literal ways.”

That is scary. Especially if you’re Palestinian. And guess what: There were no Palestinians in the J Street discussion.

I share the romance of a Jewish-Palestinian political bloc in Israel and Palestine. It is a great dream, and worthy of lifelong struggle. But Israeli Jews will not be able to effect such an alliance without dropping Zionism as an ideology.

Palestinians are rightly fearful of the nation-state law. As they are of countless other discriminatory laws. And today’s news compels us to be clearsighted about the fact that This is how Zionism has worked out. However idealistic Zionism’s proponents were, however committed they were to Jewish liberation from Europe, and however cognizant they are of the history of ethnic cleansing in the land and prepared to take some responsibility: those people have lost resoundingly. Israel is a rightwing nation formed by Jewish nationalism.

The intolerance we see in the nation state law and the Judaization of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount talk and the annexation plans: that intolerance is inherent in Israeli Zionism as it has defined itself in very concrete ways in our time. And polling shows that it’s only getting worse, given the hard right views among younger Israelis.

Today everyone on the Israeli Jewish left is saying that Jews and Palestinians must build an alliance to take on the right wing forces. Jeremy Ben-Ami is right to champion a left revival as a response to Israel’s crisis, and Patir is right to say the left must offer a vision (rather than Avi Gabbay’s prevarications that cost Labor, deservedly).

The revival and vision are impossible so long as one adheres to the Zionist part of liberal Zionism. Palestinians don’t like Zionism for good reason. They know Zionism well; they have had 100 years of exposure to the ideology. Liberal Zionists should do some generous listening, and rid themselves of the Zionism.

If you tell me that even leftwing Jewish Israelis won’t accept the loss of the Zionist ideology, I say that is the struggle. And the burden is on American Jews– who enjoy minority rights and separation of church and state– to lead Israelis to a larger understanding. When Patir mentioned the pressure from the “younger generation”, she could be talking about IfNotNow in the United States. And believe me, IfNotNow is not championing Zionism. IfNotNow is championing human rights and equality and dignity.

Today is a crossroads for a lot of idealistic people who have tried to make liberal Zionism a meaningful term in the Israeli political scene. It’s not. It’s an oxymoron. Zionism is obnoxious to Palestinians. Privileged liberals who believe they can resolve the Jewish-Arab political divide should demonstrate their sincerity by respecting the hopes and desires of their oppressed partners.

Thanks to Scott Roth and Adam Horowitz.

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If y.f. and jon s are any indication (and I believe they are), I don’t expect “liberal Zionists” to stop being “kinder, gentler” supremacists any time soon. Sure, y.f. is prepared graciously to share Jerusalem with non-Jews and jon s wants “peace”, but like all Zionists neither one of them… Read more »

I am not familiar with what a partnership between Arab (Palestinian) Israelis and Jewish Israelis is supposed to look like, but leaving that goal aside, the means towards that goal of Liberal Zionists dropping the Zionism from their designation is not quite clear. If it means disavowing the history of… Read more »

“And the burden is on American Jews– who enjoy minority rights and separation of church and state– to lead Israelis to a larger understanding.”

If I had a Parker pen, I know what I’d write.

PHIL- “However idealistic Zionism’s proponents were….” Zionism is a throwback to the Jewish tribalism of Classical Judaism, hardly “idealistic.” What has happened and is happening is the logical trajectory of Jewish separatism based upon Jewish peoplehood. This logical outcome has the massive support of American Jewish fat-cats, American Jewish “liberals”… Read more »

and this is where PW will find himself bitterly dissappointed in the coming decade as even the jewish ‘youth’ he believes will hold a different view will not abandon zionism completely in order to identify as liberal. they are not buying the ‘cant-be-a-liberal-and-be-a-zionist’ garbage spewed by by Sarsour and ruining… Read more »