The end of liberal Zionism

Antony Lerman writes: Liberal Zionists are at a crossroads. The original tradition of combining Zionism and liberalism — which meant ending the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, supporting a Palestinian state as well as a Jewish state with a permanent Jewish majority, and standing behind Israel when it was threatened — was well intentioned. But everything liberal Zionists stand for is now in doubt.

The decision of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to launch a military campaign against Hamas in Gaza has cost the lives, to date, of 64 soldiers and three civilians on the Israeli side, and nearly 2,000 Palestinians, the majority of whom were civilians.

“Never do liberal Zionists feel more torn than when Israel is at war,” wrote Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian’s opinion editor and a leading British liberal Zionist, for The New York Review of Books last month. He’s not alone. Columnists like Jonathan Chait, Roger Cohen and Thomas L. Friedman have all riffed in recent weeks on the theme that what Israel is doing can’t be reconciled with their humanism.

But it’s not just Gaza, and the latest episode of “shock and awe” militarism. The romantic Zionist ideal, to which Jewish liberals — and I was one, once — subscribed for so many decades, has been tarnished by the reality of modern Israel. The attacks on freedom of speech and human rights organizations in Israel, the land-grabbing settler movement, a growing strain of anti-Arab and anti-immigrant racism, extremist politics, and a powerful, intolerant religious right — this mixture has pushed liberal Zionism to the brink. [Continue reading…]

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1 thought on “The end of liberal Zionism

  1. hquain

    This piece marks a major step forward, but because it contrasts an evil present with a brighter past, doesn’t quite cross the line to become what might be called a ‘maturation moment’ — the point at which pretense and fantasy drop away completely. For this we must turn to the remarks of ‘Julie’ in the comments section.

    Liberal Zionism was always a contradiction in terms, and this means that its supporters have had to expend considerable intellectual energy to cushion it with rationalization and wishful thinking. How could it possibly work? The social and political dynamics associated with expulsion, appropriation, and suppression have simply played themselves out, on both sides, the way they typically do. This means not only escalating brutality but also progressive moral corruption, depending more and more on the child’s “he made me do it” reasoning for self-exculpation. And the ‘odious comparison’ strategy you have eviscerated. The very idea — to gain perpetual security for a favored population by concentrating it in a small area where it could be wiped out by a victorious army or a couple of nuclear weapons — leads only to perpetual insecurity. Which leads only to the various unpleasant -isms all too familiar from the last century that are now on prominent display. Time for thoughtful advocates to re-think the whole project.

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