Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Myriad Deaths of Liberal Zionism

Every so often, just like its necessary counterpart "the two-state solution," a new obituary is written for Liberal Zionism.

The latest, penned by recently hired New York Times opinion columnist Michelle Goldberg, laments the Trump administration's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and promise to soon move the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv. Goldberg writes that, among other egregious consequences, the formal American recognition, "endangers whatever thin chance remains of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And the alternative to a two-state solution is one state, a greater Israel that includes the occupied territories. That state can be Jewish or it can be democratic, but it cannot be both. Trump's embassy decision was thus another nail in the coffin of liberal Zionism."

Liberal Zionism can be defined in myriad ways, but it is perhaps most generously described, as +972 Magazine's Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man wrote in 2014, as "the belief — or at least the hope — that Israel can reconcile and balance being a Jewish and a democratic state, serving both as the realization of Jewish national self-determination and as a modern liberal state that guarantees equality to all its citizens regardless of their religion or ethnic heritage."

Goldberg's new analysis is sharp, well-written, and a welcome departure from the usual automated Israeli apologia so frequent in the mainstream media, especially The New York Times itself. She doesn't shy away from using the term "apartheid" to describe the reality of Israel's oppression and deliberate destruction of Palestine:
Supporters of Israel hate it when people use the word "apartheid" to describe the country, but we don't have another term for a political system in which one ethnic group rules over another, confining it to small islands of territory and denying it full political representation.
Once the ruse of the ever-elusive "two-state solution" is finally revealed as the 70 year old sham that it is, the Palestinian-led campaign for full and equal rights will surely gain support. As this happens, Goldberg notes, "most of the world — including most of the Jewish diaspora — will have a hard time coming up with a decent justification for opposing a Palestinian campaign for equal rights." She even throws in an apt comparison of "Israel's apologists" to Jim Crow segregationists.

This is all well and good. But we've been here before.

Handwringing over the demise of an inherently anachronistic ideology - so-called "liberal" Zionism - is well-trodden territory.

Just three years ago, The New York Times itself published effectively the same article, entitled, "The End of Liberal Zionism."

Soon thereafter, Bernard Avishai published his own thoughts on the matter in The New Yorker, headlined, "Is Liberal Zionism Impossible?"

Soon thereafter, Rabbi Bruce Warshal chimed in via the pages of the Sun-Sentinel's Jewish Journal.

Michelle Goldberg herself has expounded on the same topic before. Days after the New York Times' 2014 obit, Goldberg published her own take in The Nation, entitled, "Liberal Zionism Is Dying. The Two-State Solution Shouldn’t Go With It."

The following year, also in The Nation, Ali Gharib wrote of "Michael Oren and the End of Liberal Zionism."

That same year, 2015, saw Damon Linker write in The Week "that American liberals are deceiving themselves when they insist, against overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that Zionism (in any form) is perfectly compatible with liberalism."

More recently, the death knell of liberal Zionism sounded from college campuses in the United States:

Closer to the beginning of this decade, it was Peter Beinart who sounded the alarm, and whose commentary was soon responded to in turn.

In 2012, The Atlantic's Jacob Heilbrunn even suggested Beinart might resurrect the ailing ideology:

Meanwhile, the right-wing FrontPageMag rejoiced in the ashes of this wishy-washy form of settler-colonialism.

Of course, the fallacy of these frequent pre- and postmortems was already revealed back in 2014 (if not decades earlier by Palestinians and others who were never fooled by the obvious contradiction of "liberalism" and the notion that the collective right of colonists to self-determination supersedes the human and civil rights of the indigenous people displaced and dispossessed by those colonists.)

In a rebuttal to the original 2014 New York Times oped, Ha'aretz columnist Asher Schechter wrote that liberal Zionism has never been anything but a fantasy - "a narrative" that "served as a powerfully convenient fiction, both for liberal diaspora Jews who wanted to be Zionists without some of the moral dilemmas involved, and for pro-Israeli lobbyists who tried to enlist the liberal intelligentsia in their fight to legitimize Israel."

Will we see more doleful obituaries in the future? Probably. But for those who believe in true equity, international law, and full human rights for all, let's hope Goldberg's new death notice is finally terminal.


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