America’s leading liberal Zionists are losing faith in Israel

Earlier this month, Tom Friedman bemoaned the fact that Israel’s leadership has become “disconnected from reality”.

Then came the New Yorker‘s David Remnick warning Israelis about the way the American Jewish community is changing:

A new generation of Jews is growing up in the US. Their relationship with Israel is becoming less patient and more problematic. They see what has happened with the Rabbinical Letter [proscribing rental and sale of property to Arabs], for example. How long can you expect that they’ll love unconditionally the place called Israel? You’ve got a problem.

And now comes Israel’s most loyal American liberal defender, Jeffrey Goldberg.

Before Christmas, Goldberg was fretting that the possibility of a two-state solution is slipping out of reach:

I would like someone in the Netanyahu government to please explain the plan here. It would make things so much easier to understand if we just knew the plan. Is the plan to continue settling Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] so that there is no chance whatsoever of creating a Palestinian state? And if this is the plan, then what happens to those Palestinians who are being denied a state? Will they be absorbed into democratic Israel, thus bringing about an end to the idea that there should be a single small country on earth where Jews can be a majority? Or are they going to be denied democratic rights, in which case, well, Israel as we know it will cease to exist. Or is there some other plan? Or — maybe — there is no plan.

And now Goldberg is acknowledging his grimmest fear: that Israel can all too easily dispense with democracy.

As I wrote last week, there’s very little Israel’s right-wing government has done in the past year or so to suggest that it is willing to wean itself from its addiction to West Bank settlements, and the expansion of settlements bodes ill for the creation of a Palestinian state — and the absence of Palestinian statehood means that Israel will one day soon confront this crucial question concerning its democratic nature: Will it grant West Bank Arabs the right to vote, or will it deny them the vote? If it grants them the vote, this will be the end of Israel as a Jewish state; if it denies them the vote in perpetuity, it will cease to be a democratic state.

I will admit here that my assumption has usually been that Israelis, when they finally realize the choice before them (many have already, of course, but many more haven’t, it seems), will choose democracy, and somehow extract themselves from the management of the lives of West Bank Palestinians. But I’ve had a couple of conversations this week with people, in Jerusalem and out of Jerusalem, that suggest to me that democracy is something less than a religious value for wide swaths of Israeli Jewish society. I’m speaking here of four groups, each ascendant to varying degrees:The haredim, the ultra-Orthodox Jews, whose community continues to grow at a rapid clip; the working-class religious Sephardim — Jews from Arab countries, mainly — whose interests are represented in the Knesset by the obscurantist rabbis of the Shas Party; the settler movement, which still seems to get whatever it needs in order to grow; and the million or so recent immigrants from Russia, who support, in distressing numbers, the Putin-like Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister and leader of the “Israel is Our Home” party.

Let’s just say, as a hypothetical, that one day in the near future, Prime Minister Lieberman’s government (don’t laugh, it’s not funny) proposes a bill that echoes the recent call by some rabbis to discourage Jews from selling their homes to Arabs. Or let’s say that Lieberman’s government annexes swaths of the West Bank in order to take in Jewish settlements, but announces summarily that the Arabs in the annexed territory are in fact citizens of Jordan, and can vote there if they want to, but they won’t be voting in Israel. What happens then? Do the courts come to the rescue? I hope so. Do the Israeli people come to the rescue? I’m not entirely sure. There are many Israelis who value democracy, but they might not possess the strength to fight. Does American Jewry come to the rescue? Well, most of American Jewry would be so disgusted by Israel’s abandonment of democratic principles that I think the majority would simply write off Israel as a tragic, failed experiment.

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10 thoughts on “America’s leading liberal Zionists are losing faith in Israel

  1. Renfro

    First, Israel is not and never was a democracy..just like the US wasn’t an actual democracy until civil right for blacks..and still , democracy is a meaningless word.
    Second, if polls are correct, the Israelis that don’t actually hate the Arabs and Palestine, don’t want to live next to them…so basically Israeli society equals German society of 1930’s.

    Israel is already a failed experiment.

  2. brodix

    The fallacy goes to the very core of the monotheistic construct. The universal state of the absolute is basis, not apex, so a spiritual absolute would be the essence of being from which we rise, not a moral and intellectual ideal from which we fell. The accurate metaphor for the pure spirit is the child, not the adult. Wisdom only tempers this awareness.
    It was not monotheists who invented democracy, but polytheists, since there was no ultimate deity to validate the authority of the powers that be. Monotheism has largely been a bulkward for various forms of top down rule. Ie, The Divine Right of Kings.
    Gods originated as what we would describe as memes today. Conceptual entities, from one’s tribe to various social functions, to geographical, astronomical, natural features. Out of this evolved a sense of connectedness that eventually solidified into the monotheistic model. It has had its advantages over the ages, but it also has had it flaws.
    Today, all of humanity and the earth’s biosphere are being sucked up into this social, economic and spiritual hurricane that will leave those left smashed up on rocks of a very unforgiving nature. Our idols are not going to save us.

  3. Norman

    Taking all this into consideration, also what Renfro writes, could it be in the realm of possibility that desperation will bring desperate acts? Will the Israeli’s incinerate the Middle East? Another failed state with the bomb. It makes sense why the American Jews are changing their opinion of Israel. This Country is still the land of milk & honey, while Israel is but a sandbox with a bunch of crazies vying to be the top bully. I wonder, would the Israeli’s who desire peace, move away if they could, or are they willing to go down in flames like the NAZI’S did?

  4. LKitsch

    I wish we could turn back the clock—the displaced Jews should have taken Alaska. Then they would have oil, no problems with the Arabs, and America would have been spared Sarah Palin!

  5. Renfro


    The Israelis don’t think they can commit ‘desperate acts” that will destroy them , for the simple reason that they think the US will always save them and condone whatever they do…that is where the danger is…..and what will prompt them to commit any act.
    Israel has in the past used their nuke threat to blackmail the US into supporting various of their agendas and will threaten to do this and that and might actually do this and that…secure in the knowledge that US Jews will make sure congress goes along with whatever they do.
    The country Israel will take down with them is the US. Whatever countries of the ME Israel damages will always come back ‘as they were’ eventually. Not so for the US, we are more complicated, we are in the’ too big to fail’ category such that when we follow Israel down that hole it will be catastrophic to us at every level .

  6. dickerson3870

    RE: “What happens then?” – Jeffrey Goldberg
    My Snark: [the sound of trumpets blaring] Mighty Abe Foxman to the rescue!

  7. dickerson3870

    RE: “Mighty Abe Foxman to the rescue!” – me, above
    ELABORATION: Accompanied by his major benefactors Haim Saban and Sheldon Adelson, of course!

  8. dickerson3870

    P.S. And bingo magnate Irving Moskowitz.
    P.P.S. Not to forget God-TV!
    P.P.P.S. And with “Pastor” John Hagee of the The Cornerstone Church™ and John Hagee Ministries® bringing up the rear!!!

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