“Liberal Zionism”: A contradiction in terms

Yousef Munayyer writes: Peter Beinart’s New York Times op-ed, “To Save Israel, Boycott the Settlements,” is an example of the increased volume voices described as ‘Liberal Zionists’ have garnered in the discourse on Israel/Palestine. But liberal Zionism is a contradiction is terms.

Peter’s piece expemplifies the “Liberal Zionist” narrative; “Liberal Zionists” cling to three central illusions to avoid confronting the reality that they are walking contradictions.

First, “Liberal Zionists” construct an artificial dichotomy between the state and the settlements; they pretend that the Israeli State and its settlements are somehow separate or separable. Beinart typifies this when he suggests renaming the West Bank ‘undemocratic Israel’ to distinguish from 1948 Israel. In reality, one cannot, in any serious way, separate Israel from its settlement enterprise.

The settlements were developed, continue to exist and grow precisely because of Israeli state policies. These policies are formulated by the government of Israel (all of it, not just the settlements). The settlement enterprise is not directed from the hilltops of the West Bank which it dominates, but rather from the central corridors of Israeli power which allocates resources to them, builds settlement infrastructure (and destroys Palestinian infrastructure) in and around them, supports the usurpation of Palestinian land and natural resources for them, and deploys Israeli military for support in this effort. This is why there is a strategic imperative for BDS to target the state, not just the settlements.

Further, as part of this self-inflicted deception, “Liberal Zionists” often attempt to mitigate the problem presented by settlers and settlements by dishonestly diminishing their numbers. Beinart excludes the residents of occupied Jerusalem (which the Israeli government has annexed), and cites 300,000 settlers in the West Bank. But as even the Israeli Prime Minister told Congress, 650,000 Israelis live beyond the green line.

Second, “Liberal Zionists” talk about an always-approaching-yet-non-existent deadline for two states. Beinart writes that Israel is “erasing” the green line; he worries what will happen “if Israel makes the occupation permanent…” and says that “we are closer to that day” than many may admit. But that day never seems to come for “Liberal Zionists,” it is always somewhere off in the undefined distance, although, we are told, it is approaching.

But by never defining a deadline, by never demarcating a point of no return, that day never has to come and “Liberal Zionists” never have to confront the contradiction inherent in their views. Rather, by failing to draw a line (which in reality we have probably long passed) and by failing to make a serious effort against the Israeli state for its colonialist policies, what “Liberal Zionists” are effectively saying is that there is no Palestinian minimum (or Zionist maximum) they would not accept – there is nothing “liberal” about that! [Continue reading…]

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2 thoughts on ““Liberal Zionism”: A contradiction in terms

  1. delia ruhe

    Munayyer is quite right, of course, but the myth of Liberal Zionism has its purposes. Attaching the word “Zionism” to your liberalism is a way of appeasing those you wish to critique. Wishy-washy J Street has turned it into an artform. Beinart is still evolving: give him a couple of years: he’ll get tired of trying to communicate with people who put their fingers in their ears and sing la-la-la.

    The UN was right the first time: Zionism really IS racism. And it isn’t that it has over the years transformed itself into racism. It always was racist, right back to Herzl, whose fantasy of a Jewish state were inspired by European imperialism.

    I think that the 80 percent of Jews who remain silent know that about Zionism, and that’s why they remain silent.

  2. examinator

    I don’t deny that on strictly purist/intellectual grounds Liberal Zionism is an apparent Oxymoron.
    However, on prosaic functional grounds I reject the definitional rigidity. After all politics is rife with other ‘powerful ‘ definitions being (mis)appropriated for political PR reasons. One need go no further than ‘conservatism’, ‘socialism’, ‘capitalism’. Any body who has read source document knows that current definitions as popularised by the Rabid Right bear no relation to their original definitions.
    Despite the label the USSR had nothing to do with socialism rather it was an oligarchic dictatorship all that changed was the origin of the oligarchs. The Leader’s of the USSR motives were clear, Likewise the right wing US powers to be (read Plutocratically inclined) wanted a simple definitions good of evil to support their powers. Different reasons same end.

    The other key strategy of the Right is divide their opposition and conquer. Ask your self what other reason can be offered for corporate sponsored laws via ALEC (USA) or the brain taxing conspiracy launched by an Aussie ‘conservative’ party leading light and mining magnate, linking the Aus Greens with a funding from the CIA just before an election. An election in which the Greens maybe an anti conservative wild card as they were in the Federal arena…. plausible denial?

    I would suggest that the “80% undeclared Israelis are so because the Right in Israel have successfully associated the term Zionism with the existence of Israel ….reject one reject all, emotional association.
    BDS while ‘pure’ is subject to deliberate (mis)representation and emotionally associative links.
    I see no real reason why the rest of the world shouldn’t provide an emotional space (wedge), means and motivation for the “80%” to emotionally separate the obscene settlements and Greater Israel.
    By appropriated the term it makes it harder for the the right to misrepresent because It also continues the psychological association to previous conditioning only now (the NEW improved !) Liberal Zionism= Better= real Israel.

    Like it or not for the greater number of people the equation go like this… SELF INTEREST provides the MOTIVE which drives EMOTION to make the DECISSION and REASON justifies it.
    Note the sequence and therefore the hierarchy. If you doubt any of this simply take a close look at advertising .

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