Sunday, October 18, 2009

Jonathan Sarna on Why Young American Jews Distance Themselves from Israel

In a recent op-ed in the Forward, Prof. Jonathan Sarna, the foremost historian of American Jewry, attempts to explain why American Jews, especially the young and non-orthodox, continue to distance themselves from Israel. In a nutshell, his answer is that many American Jews are disappointed that Israel has not fulfilled the utopian dreams of its founders and their parents' generation. Failing to understand that Israel's actions are necessary in order to survive in a dangerous neighborhood, American Jews hold Israel to an unreasonable, higher standard than any other state, including America.

Amicus Johannis vero, but I find his explanation unconvincing – and, surprisingly, anti-Zionist.

Why anti-Zionist? Because a central tenet of statist Zionism was that the Jews in the Diaspora were powerless, and that only in a Jewish state, would Jews become – collectively -- actors on the stage of history. The Zionist philosopher Emil Fackenheim called the establishment of the State of Israel, "the Jewish return to History". No longer would Jews sit around passively and wait for things to happen to them; they would act, for better or for worse, and their actions would have consequences.

But for Prof. Sarna, Israel is not really responsible for its actions, nor should it bear the consequences of its decisions. It is compelled to act in the way it does, because of self-defense, because it is in a bad neighborhood, because of Arab terrorism, and the collective Arab failure to accept as just the dispossession, or the partition, of their homeland. So the establishment of the Jewish State in the way that it was established, hastily and unilaterally, and culminating in Israel's refusal to let around 700,000 Palestinian Arabs return to their lands, which they later expropriated, along with the thousands of dunams of Arab citizens of the Jewish state, for the purpose of Jewish growth and settlement -- none of this, it seems, has an effect on Palestinian Arabs' attitudes towards Israeli Jews. The same can be said for the occupation and siege of the West Bank and Gaza -- the longest occupation in modern history. Millions of Palestinians are governed without their consent while their lands are confiscated in the name of Israel's security, or the settlement of Eretz Yisrael, or both.

Is it any surprise that Israeli and American Jews are starting to wonder whether the continued existence of the state set up in 1948 under these conditions is worth it? After all, no advocate for Zionism ever made the argument to the world that in order for there to be a secure, Jewish state, most of the Palestinian inhabitants would have to leave their homes, or that millions would have to be governed against their consent.

According to Prof. Sarna, Israel is acting the way any normal state would act under such difficult conditions. And so, idealistic young people with higher standards, are tired and upset with Israel.

Yet a closer look at his argument shows that Prof. Sarna is not describing the younger generation, but his own.

In place of the utopia that we had hoped Israel might become, young Jews today often view Israel through the eyes of contemporary media: They fixate upon its unloveliest warts.

Why should the younger generation, who did not have their consciousness seared by the movie Exodus, the Six Day War, and Jewish Federation "Missions," who have seen only a tiny bit of what Israel does in the Occupied Territories on the mainstream American media (was the Goldstone report even mentioned in the liberal MSNBC evening lineup?)—why should it feel disillusionment or disappointment that the Zionist dream has not come true? That may indeed by the case for those who were exposed to that dream, and disillusionment may indeed characterize the boomer generation of 67.

But what the younger generation has seen is a never ending cycle of "peace-processes," Jewish settlement, and suffering, both Israeli Jewish and Palestinian, but mostly Palestinian. And a gross imbalance and exercise of power which is as old as the State of Israel itself. Is it any wonder that, unlike thirty years ago, the young supporters of Israel today in the US are overwhelmingly Jewish orthodox or Christian fundamentalist, Republican, and neocon?

The same young progressive Jews who campaigned passionately for Obama, opposed the war in Iraq, and fight hard for civil liberty and equality, do not view Israel as a failed utopia. Rather, they view Israel as a failing state, one that offers to the Palestinians the shards of a state, a truncated, demilitarized, and powerless entity.

With Israel's Zionist left in disarray, and with a rightwing chauvinistic national consensus that is bolstered by religious fundamentalists and ethnonationalists from the former Soviet Union, who has distanced itself from whom? American Jews from Israel, or Israel from American Jews?

Still, while Prof. Sarna's explanation is not convincing, his call to action is:

The deepest and most meaningful of relationships, however, survive disappointments. By focusing upon all that they nevertheless share in common, and all that they might yet accomplish together in the future, American Jews and Israelis can move past this crisis in their relationship and settle in, as partners, for the long haul ahead.

Amen to that. The wrong thing for liberal Jews to do is to turn their back on Israel, to give up hope, to lose interest. On the contrary, liberal American Jews should apply at least the same energies to working for justice in Israel-Palestine, as they do in America. That means engaging with Israel, helping to transform the 1948 ethnocracy into a liberal democracy of all its citizens, fighting for justice for the Palestinian Israelis, the foreign workers, political refugees, and othe disadvantaged groups. Let there be a Birthright Human Rights, in which Jewish college kids join Israeli-Palestinian human rights groups like Ta'ayush, Yesh Din, B'tselem, and many others. There is so much that liberal American Jews can and should do. It is immaterial to me that they do it as Jews or simply as decent human beings, as yidden or as mentshen.

Who knows? Perhaps not only Zion, but also Zionism, can be redeemed through justice.


Sydney Nestel said...


This sounds more polemical than honest.

Or are you hitting the happy juice?

Do you really believe that liberal American Jewry can save Israel from itself? Halivay! But I am not holding my breath.

The old guard, Israel-no-matter-what, crowd has a strangle hold on the American Jewish Community. The only organization doing anything remotely like what you are advocating is the NIF. And they are tiny. And they walk a very fine line so as not to appear too pro Arab and they assiduously avoid ANY activity re the occupation. Don't get me wrong - I give the NIF money, but if that's the best American Jewry can do ... well it ain't gonna change the larger trends in Israel.

Any Jewish group sending volunteers to Tayush, would be drummed out of the organized Jewish Community, and be marginalized - lucky to affect 1% of American Jews.

I don't have an answer myself. How we keep Israel from ruining Judaism? That's a question I have no easy answer for. Maybe there is something to be learned from your inspiration - Jeremiah. How did he mercilessly criticize the Jewish State of his day, knowing that it was dooming itself, and yet stay engaged and loyal?

Jerry Haber said...


Who is talking about the organized Jewish community? When I said Birthright Human Rights, I didn't think that some progressive Bronfman and Steiner would put up the dough.

But I know of young American Jews who are increasingly going to Israel and getting involved in human rights groups, and they are coming back and talking about it on campuses and in seminaries. No, the numbers are not big. But they are a lot bigger than they were.

I didn't say anything about effecting big changes. On the contrary, given that Israel will sink deeper and deeper into the mire of Occupation, the only thing one can do in the short term is small change, alleviating the suffering of a family, to speak out about justice.

I suppose the real question is: why would progressive Jews be interested in Israel at all?

Anonymous said...

What about jstreet?

Eric said...

No,Syd, Liberal American Jewry will eventually return to its pre WWII position that America is the promised land of the Jews, and Israel is not a necessary for Jewish survival. Eventually Liberal Jews attitudes toward Israel will resemble Italian American's attitudes to Italy when it was under Mussolini.
Unless of course the fragmented opposition to Israel's present policies can get it together in time.

Dana said...

Eric, I tend to agree with you - the time is coming when jews will recognize America as the true promised land. A jerusalem of the spirit which will gather in the exiles. For years now, I've been saying that I made Aliya to the US (from Israel) and it always felt so. In the US I learnt about Judaism - not in Israel - where Judaism has turned into a vicious brew of ethnic nationalism, militant exceptionalism and narrow religiosity mixed up with a good dose of paranoia. At least that's how I learnt about it in school - being secular and all. Looking back there from here, I fear that you are also right about Israel turning its back on western values and taking solace in parochial xenophobia that's bound to give rise to a new kind of fascism. it'd be easy to dismiss such dire predictions if not for the utter disdain israelis have (for the most part; by no means all!) for the rest of the humans on the planet. Not to forget this one country is armed to the teeth, and with nuclear weapons, no less.

Jerry Haber is right to call for action - as small as it may be at first. because that's all there is between Israel and a downward spiral into an abyss; one which threates to draw in world Jewry as well.

Sydney Nestel said...

Jerry wrote:

"I suppose the real question is: why would progressive Jews be interested in Israel at all?"

Yes - why indeed, especially for young people who have never known "the progressive Israel" for whom the Holocaust is history, and who experinece littel or no anti-semitism in their daily lives?

Furhermore, I fear that the teaching of Judaism is now completely bound up with Israel,and that Israel's bad behaviour and bad rep will actually serve to distance young Jews from Judaism. Why associate with the Judaism, when through its major project in the world - Israel- it shows itself hypocritcal about its values? (Of course the Jewish establishment's response to this, is to redouble its efforts to defend the indefensable - thus further tainting Judaism in the eyes of young progressive Jews)

All good dynamic religions - at least in the past 200 years or so -have been oppositional religions; demanding better from society and the State. I fear that since Judaism has now turned itself into an arm of the Israeli State it will suffer the same fate as Anglicanism in the West - a withering of spirit and numbers.

As for Eric's comment that the American Jewish attitude to Israel will come to resemble the Italian American attitude to Italy when it was under Mussolini - Mussolini never suceeded in conflating Facism with Catholicism, so American Italians could hang onto their church at least. The conflating of Judaism with the State of Israel/Zionism makes that harder to do for liberal American Jews. Many, especially those uner 40, are likely to through out the baby with the bathwater.

Dana said...

Sydney, these are good observations, as worrisome as they are to those who'd like to keep the best of Judaism, such as jerry haber. Indeed, the more the establishment jewish communities use knee-jerk defense mechanisms to circle the wagons of the indefensible, the more Judaism itself is becoming contaminated by the seeds of evil, now sprouting in the fertile middle east soil. In the end, it'd indeed be a great irony that the Israel project which was viewed as Judaism's great success, would turn out to be its ultimate failure.

Jerry - is there a proper mechanism to unchoose the chosen (for either God or man)? it might lighten up the load,,,,,

ARTH said...

The cause of the separation between Jews in the United States and Israel is more basic than that. It it more because Israel has no unique Jewish cultural element to interest Jews outside of Israel. That cultural element does not necessarily have to be religious either. It is also because when one visits secular Israel, one sees that what truly interests secular Israel is American culture and for the more educated, European culture. Israel tried to imitate the United States as best as it can. Even the Modern Hebrew language which is used there attempts to duplicate the effects of American English to the best of its inadequate ability.
Moreover, many, if not most, Israelis have some interested in Emigrating and to a certain extent, hold foreign Jews interested in living in Israel in contempt. Secular Israel is a very cliquish society which means that a foreign Anglo Jewish immigrant there would be socially isolated from the Sabras and most likely, live and socialize in a community of other Anglo Israelis. It is the Israelis themselves who believe that the USA is the promised land of the Jews. It is the USA which might actually be the promised land of Judaism as well.
When the American Jews and the Israeli Jews were both one generation removed from Eastern Europe, there were still all basically the same people rather than co-religionists or people of the same religious origin. But over the generations circumstances have changed, and now there is a new reality: Americans of Eastern European Jewish origin and Israelis of Jewish origin, Eastern European and other.

Navi Mutazilli said...

I agree with your critique of Sarna’s main point, which is that American Jewish distancing is entirely delusional, and that Israel’s worst sins are merely passive and compelled. You're clearly right to call him on that.

But then you go too far, in a point I hope you made in careless anger: Israel, you say, boasts “a rightwing chauvinistic national consensus that is bolstered by religious fundamentalists and ethnonationalists from the former Soviet Union.”
Say what?? I’ll admit, I’m offended by the claim that most Israelis, a “consensus,” are racist. But insulting or not, it’s false. Most Israelis really do support a Palestinian state, an end to occupation and a dismantling of nearly all settlements, even if their leaders don’t have the political will to take on the strong minority who doesn’t. And you’d have to do much more empirical research to show that current “security hawk” policies are motivated by racism. An overreaction to terrorism, or to Palestinian rejectionism, seem as good an explanation for Israel’s current “national consensus,” and my anecdotal experience suggests it’s the correct one.

True, many Israelis are racist. Some, decidedly a minority, hate Arabs. Others direct their xenophobia at foreigners, like Russians. And some, like the Anglo Baka-German Colony “liberal” elites, tend to dislike Sephardim (the “oriental element” they used to say, in hushed tones, near the end of Shabbat meals) or less enlightened, less polished (read: “poor”) Orthodox Jews. Yes, racism, among certain marginal elements, is alive and well in Israel, as in the United States and nearly everywhere else. But it is simply not the national consensus.

And “religious fundamentalist”? Again, in the 80s, it made sense to describe Israel’s activities in the territories as a nationalistic or ideological expansion based on “Jewish” return. But – while almost no Americans were paying attention – Israel very painfully pushed out that part of its central core, voting Techiya and its supporters out of the Knesset and banishing Gush Emunim from the mainstream, and, in a true national consensus, supporting Ehud Barak’s call for returning 97% of the West Bank. I’m not claiming these deals were just; I’ll probably agree with you about many of the practical effects of Israel’s policies, which may be indistinguishable from the days of the 1980s willful conquest. But you seemed to make a claim about Israel’s attitude (“chauvinist, ethnonationalist”) which is not only false – entirely so – but deeply offensive.

Jerry Haber said...

"Most Israelis really do support a Palestinian state, an end to occupation and a dismantling of nearly all settlements, even if their leaders don’t have the political will to take on the strong minority who doesn’t."

Well, I don't agree. I don't agree at all, and I have blogged on this incessantly.

How many Israelis favor a withdrawal to the 67 line, including Jerusalem, no settlement blocs, and the establishment of a Palestinians state with a modern army that can defend itself against Israeli military incursions?

How many Israelis are willing to see a Palestinian state that is as militarily strong as Israel's?

How many Israelis are willing to transform an Israeli ethnic democracy -- which says that the state belongs to non-citizens (as part of its declaration of independence) and says that its citizens are not part of the nation represented by the state -- into a liberal democracy.

Now, you may say that this is not racism -- and your point will be well-taken -- but it is far from the state you describe.

Jerry Haber said...

I didn't say that the chauvinistic consensus (that is the term of Haim Baram, who writes in Ha-Ir) is religious, I say that it is "bolstered" by religious elements, and that is growing. Have you been to Betar Ilit lately?

Navi Mutazilli said...

“How many Israelis favor a withdrawal to the 67 line, including Jerusalem, no settlement blocs, and the establishment of a Palestinians state with a modern army that can defend itself against Israeli military incursions?”

Well, but doesn’t that rig the question a bit? I was talking about support for a Palestinian state and dismantling most settlements, not collective Israeli suicide. Which is what Israelis equate with an equally matched Palestinian army and a complete (as opposed to 98%) pullback to the 67 lines. But that’s a largely topographical and military debate we’re not equipped to have, nor should we – over a measly 2% -- right?

Anyway, isn’t it at least worth something that Israelis are now ready to part with almost all the West Bank, almost the 67 lines, and would dismantle nearly all settlements – especially all those that get in the way of a contiguous Palestinian state? Even most settlers say they’d move to accommodate a Palestinian state. And it’s a state Israelis overwhelmingly favor, even with at least some army, along with a full withdrawal of all Israeli soldiers and settlements in its way. That’s not nothing; it would amount to an end to occupation, to checkpoints and tanks patrolling your streets, blocking your movement and running your lives. Whatever they retain (Ofra, Baal Hatzor) would be entirely for security and survival reasons, at least as Israelis see it. And that’s plainly incompatible with a racist or ethno-nationalist consensus.

It would be equally wrong to ascribe to Israelis “consensus” the principles with which the state was established, 50 years ago, like the Law of Return. The special privileges offered for Jewish refugees in the wake of the Holocaust was, like affirmative action, a policy devised to redress a particular injustice, and plight, suffered by a particularly vulnerable minority. Countries do this all the time. But there is nothing in Israel’s system of laws today that establishes or recognizes a single ethnic “nation” within the state, from which some citizens are forcibly excluded.

I’m not talking about the Hatikva, which is ceremonious and cultural – and which was also written more than 60 years ago. The Israel I know, at least, is many things; but it’s not by design or consensus racist or chauvinist. It’s a complicated society stuck with an extra chunk of territory it mostly wants out of, but can’t find the (extraordinary) guts or the perfect moment to do what’s needed to give it up safely. Hence the mess.

Jerry Haber said...


"Well, but doesn’t that rig the question a bit? I was talking about support for a Palestinian state and dismantling most settlements, not collective Israeli suicide. Which is what Israelis equate with an equally matched Palestinian army and a complete (as opposed to 98%) pullback to the 67 lines. But that’s a largely topographical and military debate we’re not equipped to have, nor should we – over a measly 2% -- right?"

Navi, my claim is that what you call a "state" is not a state. And even if it is a state, it is the sort of state that the Zionists would never have accepted. Please read my post on the case against Palestinian nonmilitarization here:

Like many Israelis and their supporters, you don't creating what Bibi calls a "state minus" for the Palestinians. Pardon me, but that smacks of feelings of nationalistic superiority and condescension. You are not motivated by a concern for fairness for both peoples. You are motivated by your desire not have to rule Palestinians and be responsible for them.

98% of the West Bank? Does that include Greater Jerusalem? Does that percentage include East Jerusalem and Greater Jerusalem annexed to Jerusalem? No it doesn't.

Land swaps are in principle ok as long as the land swaps are for equal value of land, and provides a viable plan for Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital and for expansion. That means evacuating Maaleh Adumim, Efrat, and Gush Etzion, etc.

I am glad you provided for contiguity for the Palestinian state. Israel always argued that 67 borders were "Auschwitz" borders because they were very narrow in the middle. Will you allow for a similar narrowness in your contiguous borders?

You say that Israelis don't want to commit collective suicide. Do you think that the Palestinians do? What is to guarantee the Palestinians that at the slightest provocation, Israel will recapture lands? A foreign army.

Once again, I ask you -- would David Ben Gurion have accepted the nonmilitarized state that Israel is so generously offering the natives?

Anyway, you have proven my point -- virtually all Israelis are opposed to at Palestinian state in the accepted sense of that term. A state is not something with a flag and a stamp. A state is first and foremost an entity that provides security for its inhabitants.

"But there is nothing in Israel’s system of laws today that establishes or recognizes a single ethnic “nation” within the state, from which some citizens are forcibly excluded"

I am glad that you think that the Declaration of Independence does not have the force of a binding document today. I am also glad you appear to be in favor of repealing the law of return and the basic citizenship law. I am glad you feel that Israel is a state of all its citizens today, but not a state of the Jews. You will be surprised to learn how many Israelis disagree with you.

Read my posts on the Law of Return. I think you will find them challenging the party line.

Navi Mutazilli said...

“You are not motivated by a concern for fairness for both peoples. You are motivated by your desire not have to rule Palestinians and be responsible for them.”


I’m not sure about this business of ascribing motivations in these discussions ... But more to the point, that particular pair sounds like a false dichotomy. Why, after all, do Israelis now have a “desire not to rule Palestinians”? Gush Emunim never had such a “desire,” and neither did the first version of Ariel Sharon. Since I don’t think Israelis are generally selfish racists, I have to believe (and for some Likudniks I know) their desire not to rule Palestinians has at least something to do with its being wrong. In fact, Sharon II said as much in the Knesset, and never lived it down.

I want there to be a Palestinian state singularly and entirely because it’s right, and I don’t care what Israel gets back in return. In fact, I’m already fairly sure Israel will derive no practical or security benefit whatsoever from such a state. And I don’t care; it should be done anyway, for the Palestinians, not for Israelis.

But I agree with you – such a state, even on almost all the West Bank (22% of historic Palestine), isn’t nearly enough to give Palestinians what they would or should want from statehood, or what anyone else would want, either, if they could pick. If that were the only concern, or interest that needed respecting, we’d have to do much more.

Problem is, there are two interests at stake here, both legitimate, and both need to be respected, and that leads to compromised results on both sides. There are the self-determination rights of Palestinians and the rights of Israelis to their own state, free from perpetual, intentionally mortal, attack.

Neither can be unconditionally respected. If Israelis had a right to absolute security, they could justifiably stay in Gaza, set up Bantustans and Cantons on the West Bank and keep checkpoints operational even if there were no Hamas or suicide bombing and never had been (just to make sure, say). But that takes Israeli rights over the line.

On the other hand, a Palestinian right to a strong army, as you describe it…is that where we draw the line? Are states like Canada, Japan or Switzerland not real “states” in your sense unless they have as strong an army as thier neighbors? Does every state that can’t defend itself against an army like Israel’s stop counting as a true state?

That’s an awfully high bar, one we would use (if at all) only if we’re assessing the interests of Palestine in a vacuum, and there wasn’t anything legitimate to weigh them against. But we aren’t, and there is.

Jerry Haber said...


I apologize for the ascription of motives business. You are absolutely correct. I was out of line there.

But I want to press you on what you wrote:

"Problem is, there are two interests at stake here, both legitimate, and both need to be respected, and that leads to compromised results on both sides. There are the self-determination rights of Palestinians and the rights of Israelis to their own state, free from perpetual, intentionally mortal, attack."

Could you rephrase that as follows:

"Both Israelis and Palestinians have the right of self-determination. Both Israelis and Palestinians have the right to their own state, free from perpetual intentional mortal, attack."

I would be happy if you were to agree with me that Palestinians have as much to fear from the Israelis as the Israelis from the Palestinians. The Palestinians certainly have many more justified historical grievances against the Israelis than vice-versa. Neither side has a greater claim -- or cause to worry -- about security than the other.

I think Canada, Japan, and Switzerland are fine models...for both Israel and Palestine. I am not a militarist.

Again, please read my post, The Case against Palestinian Nonmilitarization for explanations.

The Palestinians wouldn't have to have an army as strong as Israel's in order to be considered a state. But they would have to have a very strong army in order to provide for Palestinian security against possible Israeli invasions and the threat of invasions. And, as I have argued, it would be good for Israel that they did. Again, please read my post on that.

But I cannot help but thinking -- and you will correct me if I wrong -- that you think that Israel has security needs that the Palestinians don't have; this despite the fact that for the last sixty years, Israeli (together with Jordan for the first twenty years), expropriated Palestinian lands on both sides of the green line, and prevented the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

On that basis alone, it is Israel that should be demilitarized before Palestine...but I will be content to see a Palestinian armed forces that has enough power to serve as a deterrent.

Frankly, the best solution would be an Israeli Palestinian federation for which there would be a joint army.

Navi Mutazilli said...

“But I cannot help but thinking -- and you will correct me if I wrong -- that you think that Israel has security needs that the Palestinians don't have.”


Guilty as charged: I do think Israel, for all its military adventurism, has unique security needs sufficient to justify a severely defanged Palestine. But I don’t think Palestine lacks a case for an equally defanged Israel alongside her (I’m less sure about it, to be honest, but I see your point). So…what do we do when both sides have legitimate, incompatible claims to having a weaker neighbor? My guess is it depends partly on whose need for military superiority is more dire, and less of a mortal threat to the other.

That’s an empirical question. And here, after reading your post on nonmilitarization, I find the most disagreement between us. It’s almost as though we’ve studied an entirely different 60-year conflict, starting with how the state was established and the sources of Palestinian grievances…

For me, Israel has much more to fear from demilitarization, because it has multiple powerful enemies, not only nearly-nuclear states like Iran, but also powerful forces within the Palestine community, who are expressly dedicated to a violent existential struggle against her. These enemies have a standing, expressed policy in favor of militarily dismantling Israel. Now, to me at least, it matters if that stance is a conditional reaction to Israeli policy, or a kind of religious-ideological mission (to which, if anything, Israeli policy is a reaction). If it’s the former, then Israel’s fears of reprisal are only as respect-worthy as the policies that provoke attack. But if it’s the latter, then Israel has a real case for a demilitarized neighbor, or at least one that’s much, much weaker.

And it’d be a case Palestine wouldn’t have for itself, in the other direction. Israel may periodically overreact to violence emanating from Palestine, but Israel has no independent policy of seeking Palestine’s destruction, or even its coming to harm in any way. And neither does anyone else in the region, unlike in Israel’s case. That’s not to say no worries at all; Israel will probably remain prone to invade, on occasion, or in other ways overreact to attacks from inside Palestinian territory. Some deterrent should, therefore, be in place, as you argue. But it’s a very different kind of threat from the one Israel faces. Its conditional, its policy-based, its temporary and reactive, its non-ideological. The threat from Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah, etc. is completely different. And that’s why Israel’s got a better case for extreme military superiority.

Jerry Haber said...


Empirically and historically, the facts are with me. After all,after sixty years, which side has all the power? You seem to say that this was a historical accident, that Israel's threat to Palestinians is not an ideological one. Excuse me? Have you heard of Zionism?

HOw do you explain a forty year occupation with three hundred thousand settlers without ideology -- since none of the settlers provide security. And I am referring not to the ideology of the settlers but to the ideology of the governments that sent them there.

I will simply state my view. No people has a right to security at the expense of another's people right to security. If Israel, in order to exist as a secure state, requires a demilitarized Palestine, then it has no right to a state. Certainly, no state of Israel would have arisen had the Zionists ever made that claim to the world.

There is no question in my mind -- and a hundred years of Zionism demonstrates this -- that the Palestinians have much more to fear from the Israelis than vice-versa.

And the willingness of the Zionists to accept partition in 1947 proves my point -- because as soon as they had the upper hand, they rejected the partition plan, and to this day would not accept a Palestinian state according to the partition plan, even adjusting for borders based on demographic realities.

I assure you that if you offer the same terms to the Palestinians and the Arab world, including Iran, that you are offering Israel now -- perpertual military superiority -- the Arab worlds and the Palestinians will take it! And Israel will be no less threatened than would be the Palestinians!

Navi Mutazilli said...


The question is this: does a Palestinian state need an army capable of threatening civilian Israel (rockets, short-range missiles, sharp shooters on Baal Hatzor, etc.) in order to realize its basic right to security?

Now, you can, if you like, point to all the reasons some people THINK the answer is yes. You can dredge up Gush Emunim, Kahane, Baruch Goldstein, Yigal Amir, or Shamir, Begin, even the Labor governments of the 70s and their hands in the settlements, or whatever.

If you wanted to portray Israel as a wilfull land-grabbing conquistador, you have the symbols and relics to pull it off credbily enough, though you’ll have to be selective: leave out the later Rabin, the later Sharon, Camp David 2000 and Oslo, and every Knesset election after 1991…Same for “Zionism” as you describe it: you can keep Jabotinsky, Begin, even Weitzman and BG in some phases (but not others), but you’ll need to leave out Ahad Ha’am, Brit Shalom, A.D. Gordon, me and most everyone I know who today calls himself a Zionist. But if you’re selective, and stick to the past, you can maintain the versions of Israel and Zionism that make them both ideologically threatening to Palestinian security.

But I don’t see how you can have it both ways: you seemed already to agree with me, above, that Israelis today favor – what you call a weak, nearly defenseless, negligible - Palestinian state in almost all the West Bank, and they want no part of Gaza. In other words, there is no standing Israeli policy objective of making the West Bank part of Israel, or of attacking Palestine as an evil or unholy entity that has no right to exist. Today’s Israel is simply not the expansionist, ideological land-worshipers you once knew. It is holding onto the territories, reluctantly and tentatively, for largely practical, political and security reasons, and that describes even most settlers! I’m sorry to keep on this, and to sound upset, but it’s a very serious problem: Israeli society underwent a painful, dramatic transformation to get to this point. So I wish someone would acknowledge it, even if it ruins the familiar image of Jewish zealots for zion fighting a holy war against natives for Biblical bliss. Or whatever the going image is.

I wish the same were true on the other side, but sadly it’s not. What Palestinians may fear is an Israeli ideological camp that no longer exists. Israelis, on the other hand, fear Hamas, Hezbollah and nuclear Iran, all of which maintain an open, standing policy that Israel should be destroyed as a matter of religious imperative. They are like the Zionists you imagine, but on the other side, and they seal the case for a militarized Israel. If only things were different.

This unfortunate ideological stance is, moreover, not justified by the Israeli occupation; it is, instead, the main reason there still is one.

Shabbat Shalom.


Jerry Haber said...


You raise important issues, and you deserve a longer response than I give here. You seem to divide Zionism into two camps. The first camp has been willing to seek territorial compromise because a) it is motivated by Jewish political sovereignty more than attachment to territory and b) it has no desire to rule over Palestinians undemocratically. The other camp denies the legitimacy of Palestinian national aspirations, certainly within the homeland which is Eretz Yisrael.

Now, given that perception of the divide, one can make the argument that fewer and fewer people belong to the second camp -- even the Likud of Ariel Sharon, or, for that matter, Netanyahu, has come to the realization that the ideal of total control of Eretz Yisrael is unrealizable.

This is how Jews generally have represented Zionism to themselves -as composed of these two great camps.

The Palestinians, by contrast, viewed all Zionists as European invaders. They were willing to have them live in an Arab Palestine, but they thought that they had no rights to sovereignty in any part of the land, since they were not natives. At best, given their numbers, they could have some sort of minority rights.

If one looks at the Zionist movement, from its inception, one can see that as it gained power, its demands became greater, ceding control only when the costs were too great. As I posted here, one of the earliest binationalists was David Ben Gurion,who did not argue for a Jewish state, but for a binational one. He did this not because he didn't want a Jewish state, but because he felt that the Zionist movement couldn't get more at the time. When Ben-Gurion accepted partition, he placated his many critics by saying that he had not given up the hope for liberating all of Eretz Yisrael. Did he mean it, or was he just trying to win over the conservatives. The same question was asked of Yassir Arafat.

In fact, labor Zionism was expansionistic (e.g., 1956 and 1967expansion of territory), and what stopped its territorial ambitions was the large number of Arabs that came with the WEst Bank and Gaza. But I need hardly tell you that labor Zionism was at best ambivalent about the territory.

It was not ambivalent about Palestinian nationalism. Until the 1st Intifada, and then the Rabin government, Palestinian nationalism was not recognized. To this day there has been no recognition of a Palestinian right to a self-determination in Palestine (nor is there one on the other side.)

I am getting to my point!

Every withdrawal from Palestinian land has come with high security demands, and demands for effective control over the areas. As you know, Oslo was a disaster for the Palestinians -- highly limited automony in enclaves, increased expropriation of land (under Rabin, Barak, and Netanyahu), bypass roads and checkpoints. Yes, there was serious terrorism during this period. But there has been little terrorism for the last several years, but Israeli control and expropriation continues.

The shift of mainstream Israel aspirations has been away from holding on to territory, but not away from holding on to control -- of resources and security.

But territory is still there. Can you give me any justification for retaining the settlement blocs except for the fact that Jews live there?

Now, why this sensitivity? Because Israelis have never been taguth to understand why it was right and just for the Arabs to view Zionists as foreign invaders. Had they understood why it made good sense for the Arabs to reject the partition plan in 1947; had they understood that the Arabs were acting no differently from how they would have acted were they in their place, then that would have helped immeasurably. Had they understood why Zionist settlement, would inevitably, and rightly, provoked Arab military resistance, they would not have demonized the Arab resistance.

Jerry Haber said...

Even now, how many Israelis are willing to apologize to the Palestinains for banishing them from their homes? How many Israelis are willing to take responsibility for the law that the sovereign Knesset passed, banning the return of the refugees?

Which side is more moderate? The answer is simple. The side that is weaker. When the Arabs had the upperhand, they did not wish to compromise; when the Jews had the upperhand, they did not wish to compromise. One side compromises only when circumstances compel it to. You know, of course, that after 1967, the Israeli government was advised by some of its military leadership to try to negotiate withdrawal from the West Bank not with Jordan but with the local Palestinian leadership, and to let the Palestinians establish a state. The offer was rejected. Israel did not recognize Palestinian aspirations -- it had divided Palestine with King Abduallah, and would hear nothing of that.

Since 1988, the more moderate side has been the Palestinian side. That was the year in which the Palestinian leadership officially ceded 77% of historical Palestine to the Zionists and accepted a two-state solution. Of course, they had hopes for recovering all of Palestine - just like Ben Gurion argued in 1947 -- but they were willing, after pressure and much dissenstion to agree to partition. Just as the Jews, when they were a s minority of the population of Palestine, were willing to accept Partition.

Neither of us can say that were the shoe on the other foot; were the Jews subject to the same occupation, expropriation, and expulsion, as were the Palestinians, for that length of time, that our resistance be less violent than theirs.

You will say that our rightwing is pretty pragmatic. I agree, and so is Hamas.

The better the deal for the Palestinians, if there will be a deal (and i don't think there will be), the greater will be Israel's security. Because the better the deal, the less the feelings of humiliation, insecurity, and lack of control. By the way, this is true no matter what the political framework will be.

Under the best of circumstances, terrorism will continue on both sides. The greater the compromise, the more equal the parties, the more powerful terrorism will be -- on both sides. Let's face it; that there has been Jewish terrorism at all has been pretty remarkable -- and a testimony to the violence inherent in these groups -- considering that the Jews are the big winners in Palestine.

Let the Palestinians have a free state in which they can breathe freely and feel that they have deterrence against Israeli reprisals for terrorist attacks, that Israelis can sit in their jails the way they sit in Israeli jails -- let them feel that they are in real control of their destiny and not under the economic or military control (or subordination) to the Israelis, and you will see, ultimately, a sea change.

But Israelis, unfortunately, are simply not willing to cede that control. And so we will not see a two-state solution, or a one-state solution, but for the foreseeable future, a situation in which one people controls the destiny of the others.

And that, of course, will mean the death of any justification for Zionism.

Anonymous said...

"After all, no advocate for Zionism ever made the argument to the world that in order for there to be a secure, Jewish state, most of the Palestinian inhabitants would have to leave their homes, or that millions would have to be governed against their consent."

Are we misunderstanding Jabotinsky's Iron Wall? And it seems to us that there were a lot of other examples we are too soggy-brained to recall at the moment.
This is an outstanding blog and we have bookmarked it, et cetera. That said it seems to us that gambling on the decency of people whose express object was to imitate European imperialism is rash; if anything a little digging will turn up something along the lines of, "well, that's gotta go."

Alan said...

what is so valuable about the opinions and feelings of American Jewish liberals? They couldn't change anything in the USA; they can't motivate the Israeli-expat-in-USA (which are plentiful)'s into thinking of themselves as "American Jews"; they can't even keep up a replacement number of children. In short, this is a population which clearly is suffering a slow Darwinian death. Goodbye forever. Someday, the American Jews will be a footnote in a dusty history book, next to the Kaifeng Jews. There will be african-american Ebonics-speakers claiming that they descended from Jews. Kind of like the Lemba of today. Who will visit Israel once or twice per lifetime, and then claim that they "split their time" between America and Israel.

good bye, and good riddance. Take the yiddishkeit with you into the trashbin of history!