Another liberal Zionist group faces insurgency– a call to cut ties to Israel

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The crisis of Zionism inside the Jewish community continues to crumble and rumble.

A couple weeks ago we reported that more than 1000 alumni of J Street’s youth branch, J Street U, signed a letter to the liberal Zionist group saying its approach of urging Israel to end the occupation had failed and J Street should call for reductions in U.S. aid if Israel goes through with annexation.

J Street rejected the advice. “We believe that Israel should continue to receive from the United States the full amount of security assistance outlined in the MOU: $3.8 billion per year.” Though J Street calls for restricting that aid to certain purposes.

Well, here’s another group of liberal Zionist alums in an uprising. More than 500 members and alumni of a Labor Zionist group famous for socialist kibbutzim — the Habonim Dror movement— have signed a letter that is in some ways anti-Zionist. It calls on the organization to answer Israeli annexation by cutting off much of its relationship to Israel: stop sending North American youth to programs in Israel and encouraging Jews to move to Israel.

The signers say they are being true to their liberal, or socialist, Zionist values, but in effect they’re advocating for a break from the Zionist core mission of sending Jews to live in Israel. They also call for boycotting Israeli emissaries who come to work with Habonim here who are from occupied territories, including East Jerusalem.

And once again, this liberal Zionist parent organization– which is affiliated with the peace group Ameinu, an ally of J Street– is being stiffnecked about its alumni’s demand.

First, here is the letter, now signed by 548 current members and alumni of Habonim Dror North America (HDNA), calling for real action in support of “liberation and safety for all Palestinians and Israelis.”

We believe that HDNA must act now to ensure that we are no longer complicit in supporting the Israeli government and instead are working actively against its plan to go through with formal annexation. Thus, we are endorsing the following shifts in the movement:

1. Habonim Dror North America will immediately relocate or suspend all programming within Israel….

2. Habonim Dror North America will no longer actively encourage members to make aliyah [Jewish immigration], as aliyah made in the current political climate implicitly legitimizes the Israeli government’s ongoing efforts to marginalize Palestinian rights and their freedom to self-determination….

The third step the alumni call for is barring or discouraging Israeli members of the movement from participation in North American Habonim activities “until there are no longer members of Dror Israel who live or work over the green line/in settlements (including all suburban settlements around Jerusalem).”

These demands are dividing the organization. The leadership, rightly perceives the letter as a direct blow to its mission: “In short, this document calls for Habonim Dror to cease to exist as a progressive Zionist youth movement,” leadership said in a June statement.

In a subsequent email, the chair of the Habonim Dror Foundation said the organization should not separate from Israel, no, we should “further” that engagement.

Yudie Fishman, chair of Habonim
Dror Foundation, from Facebook

• With our voice, we urge the leaders and members of Habonim Dror to further their engagement with Israel, and to continue to focus educational and political work in opposition to unilateral annexation in any form, and to issues of peace and social justice here and in Israel.

• We urge leaders and members of Habonim Dror to join with and strengthen our allies in Israel who are on the front lines in the fight for peace and justice and not to apply litmus-tests from the comfort of the diaspora to those who stand in coalition with us.

Notice the old blackmail: “The comfort of the diaspora.” You’re not sending your kids to serve in the Israeli occupation forces, so who are you to judge? This is the core principle of the Israel lobby. And back on the home front, it should be noted that Habonim leadership has voiced support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Other liberal Zionists are also responding defensively to the insurgency. Here’s J.J. Goldberg, who first reported the Habonim “scandal” on his Facebook page, working the comfort-of-the-diaspora theme:

“It’s basically an exercise in self-expression. Nobody in Israel will notice or take it seriously. They’ll be called a handful of spoiled American kids who won’t suffer the consequences anyway … At the same time, it will reduce whatever political impact or credibility Habo has left within the presumed target audience. Politics isn’t supposed to be about self-expression. It’s supposed to be about changing things, figuring out how to get from A to B.”

The answer to Goldberg is, self-expression is an important function in a liberal democracy; and it’s obvious why he pooh-poohs the letter, more than 500 angry alumni are yet another surge in the Zionist defection we are witnessing today. I suspect that many of these liberal Zionist groups are not at all democratic in their decisionmaking, that leadership makes all the important decisions– and the self-expressions– and their outlook is quite conservative. But they are losing traction. Liberal Zionism is now under siege.

The famous lines from Hemingway’s first novel are, “How did you go bankrupt?” “Gradually then suddenly.” We seem to be in the sudden phase of Zionist bankruptcy in American Jewish life.