The 21-Year-Old Liberal Zionist: Youth not in Revolt

In recent years, a curious change in discourse about the State of Israel has occurred within study halls, university campuses, and newspaper pages all across the Western world.  It appears curious in that while logically we can see that right-wing … Read More

By / July 28, 2010

In recent years, a curious change in discourse about the State of Israel has occurred within study halls, university campuses, and newspaper pages all across the Western world.  It appears curious in that while logically we can see that right-wing Zionists definitely constitute one side of this domineering echo-chamber, few in the public grant them or their ideas consideration or even attention, except for the left-wing anti-Zionists.  Through ever-louder hectoring and posturing against each other, these two camps have begun to succeed in mounting a "pincer attack" to redefine liberal Zionism out of existence, marking it illiberal from one end and insufficiently Zionist from the other.  Since this wave of opinion has made the public mostly write off liberal Zionism, on the one hand, and few listen to the right-wing Zionists, on the other, the left anti-Zionist demonization campaign against Israel has set the agenda of thinking about Israel and Zionism in most of the Western world, though more in Europe than America.  It has even managed to fuel a rebirth of anti-Semitism, by placing "humanitarians" on the peaceful, left-wing end of its newly reimagined political spectrum and "Zionist Jews", all too often simply elided to "Jews", on the violent, right-wing end.

Hamas and the more rejectionist wings of Palestinian society have become bolder in proclaiming their aim of exterminating the Jews.  Iran may well be working on nuclear weapons, and in any case takes progressively greater steps towards breaching the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  Musicians, including those who don’t agree with the BDS movement or have even actively defied it, now make excuses about controversy and write mealy-mouthed letters to their defrauded fans to back out of playing in Israel.  Turkey’s government has blamed Israel for IDF soldiers’ defensive killings when attacked by the "activists" aboard the Mavi Marmara — though we have every reason and right to ask why those soldiers did not carry non-lethal arms into such a mission.  Most of all, the dominant narrative used to think about the Israeli-Arab conflict has changed from one of multiple sides, fighting over land to which they all have some claim, to one of Israel, an "apartheid state" or even "Nazi state", engaging in baseless aggression against defenseless Arabs who bear no responsibility, positive or negative, for the Israeli situation or indeed for their own.

In short, the movement to make Israel into a pariah state is growing and, in some places, making moderate but worrisomely solid gains.  This has happened whether or not any of us like it.  I believe that it’s downright dangerous, since Israel and Zionists now find ourselves having many military and economic allies but nearly no cultural or political ones.  

It is dangerous because the historical analogue of current-day Israel is not South Africa or Nazi Germany.  Afrikaners believed themselves to be justified colonizers and did not want the blacks to gain any kind of self-determination; Israeli Jews and Zionists think of ourselves as the native, indigenous people of the Land of Israel, we have good historical reason to believe ourselves in physical danger if we accede to Arab rule in a single state, and we have offered increasingly generous two-state peace proposals to the Arabs repeatedly, which the Arabs have uniformly, though not unanimously, rejected as insufficient.  Likewise, Israel is unlike Nazi Germany.  Nazi Germany used war and persecution of minorities to build itself back up from a defeated society with a collapsed economy, and it aimed for the utter extermination of all the world’s Jews — all of this openly, proudly proclaimed.  Israel has an economy that is currently doing just fine, has a working liberal democracy with a civil society that frequently questions and attacks the government’s actions, and even extremists in Israeli society have no aim or interest in exterminating the Arabs, while the Israeli mainstream rejects both extermination and ethnic cleansing.   

The danger lies in the way that these incorrect historical analogies inspire actions whose results we can elucidate through the correct historical analogy: Germany after World War I but before the rise of Hitler. The Allies needed a scapegoat for the Great War, and they imposed that role on Germany through the Treaty of Versailles. The conditions of the treaty destroyed German national dignity and crippled the economy, ruining lives and setting the stage for a resurgence of militarist nationalism.  Likewise, the more Israel is made into a pariah state, the further it is pushed toward the track the Germans took.  Already the beginning actions have matched up: a wave of defensive, reactionary nationalism has swept Israel in recent years as its international peers have ostracized it, heaping opprobrium disproportionate not only to Israel’s actions but to their own.  This has not been the correct reaction to Israel’s situation, but it has been an understandable reaction of a society that finds itself made into a scapegoat and a pariah by the rest of the world.  Were Israel really and truly in a world that totally consisted of committed anti-Zionists, I would even call it a justified reaction.  We can count ourselves blessed that we don’t live in such a world.  

We face the problem that the global anti-Zionist movement has convinced Western thinkers and the international community to take a behaviorist approach to relations with Israel: keep relations free and open, and Israel will do whatever it wants, punish Israel and it will conform to what the anti-Zionists perceive as justified  demands.  Of course, scientific psychology has long since debunked this nonsense, and in fact, anti-Zionist actions since the breakdown of the Camp David talks have provoked the exact opposite Israeli reaction as intended.  Rather than make further concessions to the Arabs or unite under a one-state peace plan, the concessionary leftist camp of Zionism has collapsed entirely, and Israeli society turned towards defensive, even sometimes racist, reactionary nationalism. The rise of Kadimah and unilateral disengagement from the West Bank and Gaza did temporarily halt this march, but the transformation of Gaza into a wholly owned-and-operated base of operations for the terrorist organization Hamas, and subsequent world condemnations of Israel for defending itself against Hamas and Hizballah in 2006 and 2009, caught the Israeli Right right back up again.    

Obviously, nobody wants to see Israel, the Arabs, and the world go further down this path, since it would most likely end in a large regional war that would damage or destroy Israel and its Arab neighbors alike. We then arrive at the question: how do we stop it? I believe the answer is threefold.    

First, we must strengthen the social covenant of Israeli society.  Since the ’90s a wave of neoliberalism has swept the country, widening socioeconomic gaps between Ashkenazi and Mizrachi, the Center and the Periphery, secular and religious, the settlers and everyone else.  While very few wish for a return to the old days of Mapai and rule by anti-religious Ashkenazi socialists, several basic Leftist concerns have obvious ethical merit.  Wealth must spread from Tel-Aviv to the development towns, Arab and Jewish municipalities must finally have equal resources, drug smuggling and human trafficking must be controlled, and every citizen must do their rightful army service or national service.  We need not do these things out of any kind of socialist eschatology but need simply remember the relevant verses in the Torah: "all Israel are responsible for each other," as repeatedly stated in the Oral Torah, and "You shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in Eretz Mitzrayyim," from the Written.  A house divided against itself cannot and will not stand successfully against its external enemies.   

Second, Israel must ride out the propaganda campaign.  During the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead, mainstream media, popular opinion, and activist attention were ablaze with anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism of the most unjustified kinds.  Now, however, even many on the once strictly anti-Israeli left wing have begun to question these views, and I think this shows that irrationality and hatred starve out when not regularly fed with frenzy, stress, and aggravation.  Israel thus has a few simple moves it should make: avoid engaging in any new wars unless under a land invasion, loosen the blockade of Gaza as much as security allows (as I write, the government has already moved somewhat in this direction), and place a two-state peace offer based on the final Camp David proposals on the table permanently, ready for implementation as soon as the Arabs accept it. Israel should not compromise one jot of its security requirements nor of its peace offer without direct, good-faith negotiations (since 2009 saw no terrorist attacks from the West Bank, I do think that the PA can negotiate in good faith), but it must peg the ball firmly back into the Arab court. The false world-view of radical anti-Zionism requires feeding with apparently-supportive facts; lacking these, it will collapse with time as people naturally question whether Big Bad Israel really can be as evil as its foes claim. With an offer firmly on the table, no matter which party heads the government in Israel, Arabs will be unable to employ their traditional sit-wait-and-reject approach, and they will eventually find it necessary to finally accept peace with Israel out of sheer necessity.   

Finally, the international community must reverse course and make every effort to integrate Israel into normal national existence. Israel must be given permanent membership in the WEOG regional group at the United Nations, until such time as it receives its rightful membership in the Asian Group, and allowed its rightful seat in UN working groups.  The United States and Europe should work with Turkey and Israel to repair relations between the two, aiming to enable the creation of a Middle-Eastern Union, Free Trade Zone, or Free Culture Zone.  Invitation into this Union should be extended to Jordan, to Lebanon provided that the government controls Hizballah (in the sense that Hizballah not be allowed to carry out military activity without a declaration of war by the Lebanese government), to Iraq, to Morocco, to Egypt, to Iran as soon as it will recognize Israel and renounce internal tyranny, and a standing invitation made to the pluralistic State of Palestine to join the very minute it comes into existence.  A translator corps should be created to ensure an interchange of views and culture between Turkish, Arabic, Persian, and Hebrew speakers.  As much as possible, favorable trade terms with major markets such as North America, Europe, and Asia should be provided to the entire Zone.

Nobody’s narrative of the past, including ours, can be satisfied entirely without doing some harm to another people at this point, so diplomatic and international effort must focus on building peace through appealing to each nation’s interests for the future.  The Zionist interest lays in normalizing Israeli and Jewish existence and in sacrificing less Jewish blood; so does the rational Palestinian Arab interest lay in normalizing their own existence through a nation-state and ending their own suffering.  The interests of Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, and Morocco lay in building a strong economic, cultural, and, quite possibly, military bloc with the strength and appeal that can secure each country?s future and influence while holding off the rise of Islamofascism.

I believe and hope that this way, the current rise of reactionary, defensive nationalism and religious messianism in the Middle East can be reversed, or at least arrested, war avoided, and long-term peace and prosperity for the region built.  Not only would my plan accomplish this, but it would also fulfill what has been, since the start, one of the long-term goals of Zionism: to integrate into the home region of the Jews as full members and normalize the national existence of Jews.  The rest is commentary.  Let’s get to work.

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